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Posts Tagged ‘Suyematsu Farms’

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Trash that accumulated from Thom and Alia’s home in Queen Anne, Seattle, between January 01 and July 21, 2012. Does not include recyclable and biodegradable/compostable waste.

We promised in a previous blog entry that we would keep all of our accumulated trash for the year 2012. Due to two unexpected moves we were only able to hold onto our trash from January 1st to July 21st. Above is a photo of what we had accumulated during those seven months. We will follow up on this in the near future with some basic tips on how to reduce your non-biodegradable waste. The most important of these: Know Your Farmer. More to come….

We moved from Seattle to Portland last week. Alia has moved to the headquarters of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission in Portland and Thom is starting an organic garden consulting business. More on this later….

Although Thom’s back is getting some much-needed rest from the long hours of weeding, pruning, and planting at Bainbridge Island and Suyematsu Farms, Thom already misses Karen’s perennial smile and positive attitude, Mike’s congenial laugh and non sequitur humor, Carol’s infinite hospitality and amazing baking, and Betsey’s sage advice and dedication to her trade.  As Gerard wisely suggested to him, Thom aims to continue to tackle life’s challenges by keeping his hands in the soil and his head in the bottle (No, Gerard and Thom are not alcoholics; they are both winemakers).

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The pumpkins that Thom, Karen, Manuel, Elodia, Juana, and Heather planted and tended at Suyematsu Farms.

Ironically, it will be quite difficult for Thom to follow Gerard’s advice in the next two months, as he will be somewhere with neither soil nor drink to aid him in his pursuits.  For the next seven weeks, from September 27 until November 14, Thom will be participating in a research expedition with the Sea Education Association (SEA).  He will be sailing aboard a tall ship, the SSV Robert C. Seamans (RCS, pictured below), from San Diego, CA to Honolulu, HI while studying plastic pollution in the North Pacific Ocean.  For six consecutive weeks, the crew of 35 will have no land in sight as they explore the impacts of humans upon one of the most remote places in the world.  You may track the progress of the expedition, including daily blog and photo updates, on the Plastics at SEA website (this link will be updated for the 2012 expedition soon).

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Thom’s first voyage with RCS in 2003, from Tahiti to the Marquesas to Hawai’i

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Thom’s second voyage on RCS in 2005, from San Francisco, through the Santa Barbara Channel, to San Diego.

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Photo by Joel Sackett

Three generations of agricultural excellence at Suyematsu Farms on Bainbridge Island.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

“I guess I’m not going to be farming anymore,” Akio told Mike after repeated health problems and a difficult trip to the hospital.

Akio Suyematsu is the 90-year old patriarch of Bainbridge Island and Suyematsu Farms.  His parents had moved to the island from Japan before he was born, and he had lived his entire life farming the land where I now work, minus the shameful interval in the 1940’s when his family was swept off the island and relocated to internment camps for the purpose of “national security,” followed by a stint serving in the U.S. Army in the European Theater.  After the war ended, the family returned to their land and resumed farming.  Of all the Suyematsu children, eventually only Akio remained to continue growing what some consider to be the best strawberries and raspberries in the Puget Sound.

But his health is declining and gone are the days of weeding, planting, cultivating, and fertilizing his beloved fields of strawberries, raspberries, and pumpkins.  Try as he might, he could not bring himself to return to the fields he has seen through nearly 80 years of production.  I had the privilege last winter of spending a brief moment in the raspberries with Akio as we removed clips from the trellis wires.  After an hour out in the cold, Akio was too exhausted to continue and, to my knowledge, has not worked outside in the fields since.  To say that the brief moment of farming I shared with Akio was inspirational would be an understatement.  The man lives, breathes, and sleeps farming.  He is the real deal, an archetypal farmer who understands that life comes not just from the soil, but from the blood, sweat, and tears that growers pour into their profession.  What, then, is life for a farmer who is no longer able to be present with the soil and his crops?

When I heard Mike recount to me what Akio said, my reaction was unexpected.  I became incensed.  I couldn’t believe what Akio had said.

“Not going to be farming anymore?”  Utter nonsense, I thought.  Mike and Karen, my current employer, wouldn’t be farming here if it weren’t for him!

Every good farmer knows that life does not simply end with death, or in Akio’s case, with convalescence.  Life feeds on life.  Life grows from life.  Death produces compost that feeds more life.  What does a radish become once it enters our digestive tract if not the manure that becomes the compost that feeds the soil that supports the next crop’s conversion of solar energy into biodegradable biomass?  The linear, western viewpoint of life – and farming – terminating in death ignores the reality of the hardworking farmers who are only in business because of Akio’s endless knowledge, experience, and generosity.

Bainbridge Island Farms, Paulson Farms, Laughing Crow Farm, Butler Green Farms:  these farms only exist because Akio had the keen foresight and generosity to offer his land, tools, experience, and knowledge at well below market prices in the hopes that his legacy would survive.  Akio is legendary at these farms for his work ethic and humility, his stoic perseverance in adversity, his high threshold for pain, and his meticulously weed-free fields. There is only one Akio Suyematsu. But every legend is still a mortal.  As Akio’s mortal body undergoes what all of ours eventually will, let us not forget that the farms on Bainbridge Island owe to Akio their very existence and will be farming in his image long after he departs.  Mike, Carol, Karen, Betsey, Brian:  these farmers are the repositories of Akio’s knowledge and experience, they are his hands by proxy upon the land he worked, issuing forth a new generation of agriculture.  They are, in essence, his agricultural children.  His grandchildren are alive and well, too, carrying on the proud tradition of growing food from the soil beneath their feet:  Dana and Aaron at Around the Table Farm, Becky Warner of City Grown Seattle, Renee and Luke in search of land, and myself.

Regardless of one’s beliefs about an afterlife, it is a truism that the cycle of energy and matter does not merely end with death.  Our bodies are filled with the very same atoms that coursed through and composed the bodies of prehistoric dinosaurs and pterodactyls, of woolly mammoths and saber-tooth tigers, of giant sharks and ancient ferns, of massive redwoods and hulking Neanderthals, of ammonites and trilobites, of algae, fungi, and bacteria that were living billions of years ago.  Once our consciousness is gone, a mere memory in the eyes of our descendants, our energy and atoms will continue to cycle through life forms as diverse as the most colorful coral reefs and rainforests, for eons to come until the Sun devours the Earth in a fiery ball of plasma, the Universe collapses back upon itself, and we return to the stardust from whence we originated.

Akio is still farming.  He is farming because Karen is still farming, carrying on Akio’s weed-free cultivation style while growing organic raspberries, strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb, currants, pumpkins, winter squash, and sweet corn.  He is farming because Betsey is farming, plowing the earth with her draft horses to produce some of the finest potatoes, garlic, and onions in the Puget Sound.  He is farming because Brian is pumping out some of the greatest volume and diversity of organic vegetables in the county.  And he is farming because Mike and Carol of Paulson Farms are continuing Akio’s tradition of composting yard waste and maintaining the farm’s arsenal of tractors, while milling locally harvested lumber, producing handmade soaps, and growing organic vegetables, nursery plants, trees and shrubs, and eggs.

I think it’s high time we stopped viewing death and illness as an endpoint, but rather as a transitional state.  Akio has passed a formidable torch onto a new cadre of protégés, representing a small but significant transfer of knowledge and culture in an all but endless cycle of life and death, growing and composting.  Meanwhile, the pumpkins and corn are sprouting in the fields, the raspberries are flowering and buzzing vigorously with the activity of bees, and the first strawberry harvest of the season is upon us.  As Karen told me today while heading to the hospital to visit Akio, “The show must go on.”

Because of Akio’s deep commitment to the next generation of local farmers, the show will go on.

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