BY CAROL BANKS WEBER
For Alice VanderHaak, a small seasonal Snohomish farmer, moments are everything. A registered dietician who never really wanted the farm life, she eventually came around while weeding in her parents’ garden one day on a break from college.
After working other farms, she started her own —Lowlands — on almost four acres, three of them leased with Chinook Farms. Owner Eric Fritch bought the 132-acre property bordering the mighty Snohomish River about 12 years ago, clearing out Poplar trees, and gradually transitioning the forest into a working, community-supported farm, shared by three tenants: Lowlands Farm, One Leaf Farm, and the Holy Cross church’s Farm Bank.
VanderHaak managed to turn earth into fertile ground for her small flower and vegetable farm, growing her own cottage business, one cauliflower at a time. She primarily supplies weekly and bi-weekly boxes of seasonal produce and blooms to a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), vends regularly at the Snohomish Farmers Market, and supplies a lot of those blooms for interested wedding parties.
Incubating her farm for harvest proved “a bit of a challenge” she admits, “trying to restore the soil, get it living and breathing again. Now, I’m starting to see a lot of awesome soil improvement and healthier plants.”
Another challenge, seasonal flooding. Chinook Farms sits in a corner of the Snohomish River Valley, scenic, but fraught with tumult. The river tends to overflow the banks in early spring and winter, and there’s very little the community farmers can do, but roll with it.
“When that happens, if we have food growing in the field, we can’t sell it,” VanderHaak says. “It could be contaminated, we just don’t know.”
She wisely uses cover crops, reads the weather, and supplements her produce, every vegetable you can think of, with gorgeous blooms, dahlias and dahlia tubers. Call it her rainy-day insurance.
Sustainably farming according to the whims of Mother Nature, not to mention the cost, can be brutal.
Alice VanderHaak wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s in, 1,000 percent.
I come to work, because I love to grow cauliflower, I love to do this. The idea that me doing this could change someone’s life or make their life better, that’s incredibly humbling. Especially with the CSA, where people are signing up and relying on you to deliver something interesting that’s gonna nourish them, that sits with me in everything I do. It’s sometimes easy to forget that when you’re getting lost in the weeds.
Lowlands Farm | 10890 Elliott Rd., Snohomish
Photo Credits: all photos are courtesy of of Melissa Morrin