Farm Fund Spotlight: Growing Garden
Mike Long (right) is bringing new ideas to the farm: planning to extend the growing season, add more bunched and packaged herbs, and add a new line of dried culinary and medicinal herbs. Brent Harrison (left) will continue to offer guidance and a veteran presence as the farm takes a leap in size and scale.
The Growing Garden is preparing to continue its impressive legacy by combining a solidly established farm with the innovative ideas of a young farmer, backed by the Co-op Farm Fund and the community.
If you’ve ever brought home fresh, local basil, dill, mint, and other herbs from the Co-op’s produce department, you know why the Growing Garden, one of the longest-operating organic farms in Whatcom County, is also one of the most beloved.
Owner Brent Harrison—pivotal in local, organic market development for over 30 years—has been supplying the Co-op with herbs, tomatoes, and veggies since 1983.
Receiving a Next Step grant from the Co-op Farm Fund couldn’t have arrived at a better time for the future of the farm, as Brent is turning over the business to young farmer Mike Long, who has been managing the farm for the last six years.
Listening to Brent and Mike talk together, as they surveyed the existing greenhouses and fields, it’s obvious that there is a strong thread of continuity in their values and approach to the land. Brent said, “Michael can keep the farm alive. It’s a lot of work and you get compensated, but not to the level of a lot of other occupations. You have to value the lifestyle, a lot, and then you’re well rewarded.” Mike agreed, “Just being able to come and hang out with plants and bees and really cool farmer owners that got me into this, it’s like I’m just in my dream spot. Brent had the energy to build all this from scratch. I couldn’t get to this level of trying new things if it weren’t for a really core, solid foundation.”
Mike and his wife Molly recently purchased a 5-acre farm that is certified organic as a second site for the Growing Garden. The Next Step grant will be put to use at both sites to add a greenhouse, upgrade the existing packing shed in preparation for the next 20 to 30 years, and to build a new, USDA-certified packing facility. A cooler and possibly a solar dryer are also in the plans.
Mike has observed an increased demand over the last decade for herbs, tomatoes, and cucumbers. “We just need to zero in and boost our production a bit so we can meet those demands,” he said. Adding dried herbs is a way the farm can create a market for something they already have a lot of—herbs that need to get cut back anyway will now be marketable.
Both Brent and Mike see the Next Step Project boosting the vitality of small local farms.
Brent stressed the need for farms to scale up gradually, “I think this thing’s fabulous for the local producers and some of those may jump to a larger scale. But first it’s designed to pick up the small producer to be an efficient local producer, and that’s a big step.”
What we can be sure of is that we can look forward to all the wonderful produce we’ve been accustomed to from the Growing Garden, and an exciting array of delicious and healthful new products as the farm continues its journey as a mainstay of local organic farming.