By Judy Spiers
Two years ago, Requel and Bob Roos started Organic by Nature Farm and Garden, a six-acre parcel in Eatonville where they sell heirloom plants, seeds and fresh organic produce. For now, most of their crops are grown in about twenty raised beds and not in agricultural production fields, so their operation is more of a very large garden than a farm.
“I love the raised beds,” Requel said. “They make weeding easy on my back, and one of the raised beds has spinach that is still growing from last year – and Swiss chard is up, too.”
Organic by Nature cultivates a variety of vegetables, with an accent on maximizing nutrition and health benefits.
“We raise zucchini and acorn squash, peas and beans, which are important because they’re so nutritious you could practically live off them.”
Before they started their venture, the Roos conducted plenty of research, getting stacks of books from the library on nutrition and how food is commercially raised, transported and marketed.
“We’d sit and read them to each other and discuss them. Did you know that it can take two to three weeks from picking to delivery to the stores, and then another week before produce is unpacked and shelved before we can buy it? Every day it’s loosing its food value.
“We thought we could beat that: and we do. We pick Wednesdays and sell Thursdays at Parkland’s “Fresh Fridays” farmers market. Then, we pick Fridays to sell to the public from our farm on Saturdays. Our produce is fresh.”
The Roos’ don’t use chemicals either, which is something an educated public cares about.
“Our business is based on trust,” Requel said. “It’s about people. I love spending time with them and building relationships. It’s very personal. I can work all day in my gardens without a care in the world, because I know what we are doing is right.”
Of the three crops that are easiest for people to grow on their own, potatoes is one. Not everyone can grow a garden, but many are interested in organic potatoes. Requel already has trenches dug for theirs.
“Backfilling as they grow increases the yield. On the other side is asparagus,” she said.
More curious, though, was what appeared to be a huge greenhouse that’s been framed-in and covered with heavy plastic. Requel explained that the ends will be covered and a door installed by fall for year-round food production.
Bob’s been experimenting with ideas on how to economically heat an un-insulated green house. That called for a stroll over to the existing one.
“Ours is a family business,” Requel explained, as she carried her five-month-old granddaughter in her arms. She opened the door wide. “Take a look in the corner.”
There, next to the wood stove in a large raised bin with pepper and cucumber starts surrounding it, was a five-foot tall, massive tomato plant with fruit already growing on it. It grew throughout the winter. The problem though is that someone, during the cold months, had to keep the wood stove stoked or the plants in the green house would have frozen.
Bob Roos had just removed the wood burning stove that he’d used to heat the building last winter.
“I’m replacing it with a prototype I’m experimenting with called a Rocket Mass Heater,” he said as he showed me the one he’s building. “It’s a work in progress. It uses a minimum of wood, gives maximum output, and is extremely efficient. The heat transfers to a clay-packed chamber that holds and slow-releases heat. I don’t have them on yet, but I already have the bricks for it,” he said, as he shared his vision for the future.
“I’m going to build one for the big new green house. I’ve got all summer to fine tune it,” he said confidently. “This way, starting next winter, we’ll be able to grow produce even in the coldest months of the year.”
As we left the existing greenhouse with its luxuriant crops, Requel pointed toward an enormous lavender plant and the field beyond it where blueberries, raspberries, grapes and apple trees grow, although they’re just getting going.
We had yet to see how vegetables get started.
The Roos’ garage has been converted into a nursery with trays of vegetables with grow lights over them. Requel held them out so we could examine the plants.
“We grow mascara red lettuce, which is delicate and delicious. There’s nothing else like it,” Requel purred. “We have beets, kohlrabi, carrots, cauliflower and spuds. I have heirloom varieties of all kinds, including tomatoes three kinds that are proven to grow in our short growing season, and others, including Delicious, which are oh, so, good,” she said, clasping her hands together and rolling her eyes.
“I’ve got celery, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. As a kid I never liked them. This year I’m going to try them and see if my tastes have grown up,” she said laughing.
“I have red peppers, yellows, purple, cayenne peppers, and even jalapeños, plus garlic, onions, and several varieties of shallots and spuds.” Her obvious pride was merited.
Organic by Nature Farm and Garden has made great strides just as more people have increased demand for high quality, organic food. I asked Requel about their vision for the next five years, and she didn’t hesitate.
“With the exception of things like oranges and bananas, we’ll be growing one-hundred percent of our own produce and eating it as it comes into season.
“Very soon all our landscaping will be edible. Herbs are decorative, and so is asparagus with its feathery tops.
“We already sell soil amendments, organic fertilizers, and organic chicken feed, but we’ll offer more variety.
“I think Bob may offer ready-to-install frames for raised beds, and maybe even Rocket Mass Heaters, too, so more people can garden year ’round.
“We want to be a strong partner in helping people buy either food locally, or in helping them get the plants they need to grow their own. Most of us can learn how to build soil that is rich in worm castings and compost so we can grow at least some of our own food.
“We are committed to being a real asset and resource to this community and to local co-ops. There will never be a better or time than now to move in these new and better directions.”
Before we left the farm we bought some soil amendments. And after watching Requel salivate over the “Delicious” tomatoes, we bought some starts of them, too, along with some others.
Starting this Saturday, Requel will have a stand at the farm open to the public from 11 am to 4 p.m. It’s at 36521 102nd Ave E, Eatonville, which is reached via Jensen Rd, off of Meridian near Northwest Trek.
She’ll also have produce available at the Parkland Farmers Market on Fridays from 3-6 pm, starting May 6th. It’s located on Garfield Street between C and Park Avenue, just west of Pacific Ave.
For more information on Organic By Nature, please call (253) 377-8787, or email Raquel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2011 Judy Spiers
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