When I first arrived to San Juan Island, someone handed me an apple and, with a sly grin, said, “Close your eyes and take a bite.” At first glance it resembled a Granny Smith, but with a more subdued green skin and subtle hints of red. The flavor however was off the charts with tangy sweetness. When I opened my eyes, I was shocked to see a deep pink flesh that looked as though it hand been pickled with red beets. This was my first exposure to both Dancing Seeds Farm and their wonderfully-grown Pink Pearl Apples.
Over the years, the land that is now the home to Dancing Seeds Farm, had been a dairy farm, a communal living community, a bed-and-breakfast, and eventually a bio-intensive organic farm. Now under the ownership of Gail and John Kretchmer and farmers Greg Meyer and Zach Rowland, they have already become a staple partner for Coho Restaurant, well as providing wonderful produce for the San Juan Island community. Recently, I had the opportunity to tour the farm and chat with these two amazing guys that make it all happen.
How’d you two get into agriculture?
Greg: My story? I really got interested in sustainability when I was in college at Western Washington University. I bought two zucchini plants at the Bellingham Farmer’s Market, left for the summer, and asked my roommates to watch them. After two months I came back and they were huge and full of squash. I was hooked. In college I worked on a cookbook called Pacific Feast. This played a big part getting me into farming.
Zach: So I graduated college and joined the Peace Corps. After that I was hoping to teach. With a Masters in Science the only things that were available were agriculture-related. I ended up going to West Africa. They taught me the basics, but what I really started to appreciate was just how important and valuable a backyard garden could be. I was also very impressed how growing empowered both the African women and their community.
Greg: I’ve heard Zach’s story before, but hearing it back-to-back with mine… has led us both to the same place. They’re vastly different stories, but we both believe in the importance and need of supporting local agriculture, in your own backyard and our local farms.
Zach: My biggest inspiration is building soil. My motto is basically “build soil or die.”
Can you expand on that a little more?
Zach: Soil is a lot like us, full of many different organisms. Having a happy and healthy body means it wants variety. So, treat the soil like you should treat yourself.
Any tips for people with gardens at home?
Greg: I think the key is just getting started. For people that have no experience, just get a few plants and start with them. It also helps to begin with something that is easier to grow as you ease into it; a hardy Mediterranean herbor zucchini, for example. It is incredibly inspiring to use what you grow in your own cooking…just a great feeling. You will be hooked. Grow something you want to eat, then share with your neighbors.
What are your future plans for the farm?
Zach: To provide for as many people as we can.
Greg: I think we have a really interesting balance of growth models. We are in the process of boosting our production but using nature as a guide — feeding the soil. As you know, we have a variety of apple, pear, and plum trees. The farm is continually experimenting with new crops. We also have some new baby chicks!
What are your favorite things to cook?
Zach: My cabbage wraps. I like to use the outer leaves to make wraps and burritos. I love using red cabbage with sweeter ingredients and the green leaves with more savory things.
Greg: It depends on the season, but definitely breakfast – using fresh farm eggs and seasonal greens. Also, always a big salad with tomatoes and basil and cucumbers.
Where can people find Dancing Seed Farm produce and eggs?
Greg: At the San Juan Co-Op. We have had a CSA (a member program that provides a fresh box of seasonal produce), which is closed, but please contact us about upcoming seasons. We also have a store at the farm, and ou can also find our produce at Coho Restaurant and Duck Soup.
Zach: One more piece of advice…It’s dandelion season. Dandelions and a lot of other “weeds” are edible. So, do your research. Go on a scavenger hunt. Find out what grows around you and why it is so abundant. There are some great YouTube Videos about the most common edible weeds, which arealmost always more nutritious than what you can find in a supermarket. There’s also a great book called Eat the Weeds that I recommend.
Video: Chef Ryan Visits Dancing Seeds Farm
Farm Visit Photo Gallery
Thanks so much to Greg Meyer and Zach Rowland. Learn more about Dancing Seeds Farm on their website, social media, or give them a call at 360-622-2330. You may also visit them — and several other of our amazing island producers — at the San Juan Island Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings at Brickworks on San Juan Island. Photos and video by Lindsey Smith.