Photo by Peggy Sturdivant
Jeanene Miller on her "farm."

At Large In Ballard: Take me to your Tigerella

By Peggy Sturdivant

As a little girl growing up on Samish Island Jeanene Miller loved to garden despite her family’s location by salt water and a rocky slope. It reminds me of the nursery rhyme, “How does your garden grow? Quite well, with silver bells and cockleshells.”

The little gardener grew up and left the island shores for school in Bellingham, an arts degree, work as a textile artist, 15 years working and teaching at Weaving Works in the University District. When she bought a house a few blocks above Salmon Bay she was looking to become part of a community closer in spirit to her island home. She began growing more flowers, but still found that her community was mostly that of longtime students and customers in a different neighborhood.

Then she met a carpenter who loved to cook. When Eric Clark moved in with her he said, “Can’t we have more vegetables?” Now, some years later the flowers have become secondary. Jeanene had added more above ground beds, vegetables in pots, a greenhouse for veggie starts. Then Eric started to worry, “How are we going to eat all this?”

So Jeanene started putting out plants and vegetables, priced below retail price, using the honor system. She already liked to save her seeds and to experiment with her crops, early starts and overwintering. Her philosophy was, and is, “the more the better.” With 600 tomato plants ready to go out for sale on May 9th she has achieved that “more.”

The parking strip, front yard, back yard, filling the sides of the driveway, and yes, the neighbor’s backyard…Jeanene’s garden has grown up along with her, such that she has 24 raised beds and they have had fresh vegetables to eat throughout the entire year. Through word-of-mouth Jeanene started providing others with fresh vegetables, five families last year, in what’s known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Unlike most CSAs she allows each family to choose what they receive on a weekly basis. She’s planning to open a few more slots this season.

When the garden started to grow sales helped her to pay for the compost. Since she doesn’t pay herself wages it’s increasingly possible that she may be able to cover her costs and even earn money towards the chicken coop she wants to add, the cistern that would help offset water costs, and paying someone to water so that she can take a vacation during the prime growing season.

“It’s built on the plants,” Jeanene said, sitting for a moment by the tables of plants in the back. Although her official tomato sale doesn’t start until May 9th there had been shoppers all day at her table in front. Devoting herself to the garden fulltime “is like a gift to myself. I thought I’d try it. I never planned on potting plants all day or starting a CSA.”

Established some 25 years ago CSAs allow the producer to sell shares in advance and allows the gardener and the consumer to have a relationship, in this case a very local one. It’s not even a matter of seeing the fields in the distance, the food being grown is no farther than her next door neighbor Kathryn’s backyard. Her list of 40 Heirloom tomato varieties reads like a riddle for me solve: Cosmonaut Volkov, Earl of Edgecombe, Northern Lights, Thai Pink Egg, Tigerella.

“I meet lots of people,” Jeanene said, a statement that will be truer every day as people find her new website, her nearly year round CSA and her tables of potted herbs and vegetables on a street just north of Market. If she interacted with all her customers she wouldn’t be able to get any gardening done. That morning she’d been interrupted several times before she could even feed Gus the cat.

Meanwhile inside the cheerfully painted Ballard farmhouse a DIY kitchen remodel is going to have to wait until the relative quiet of winter greens. “Oh, poor Eric,” Jeanene said, surrounded by1000s of baby plants and more experiments to try, “So many projects.”

As if the evidence wasn’t everywhere Jeanene looked at her winter spinach now seeding and incredibly healthy celery, “You can grow a lot of food to eat.”

I’m not worried. I think Jeanene Miller and Eric Clark are going to have a lot of help.

To read the tomato, pepper and eggplant plant lists in full and learn more about the upcoming sale the website is www.abundantgreensurbanfarm.com. Or contact Jeanene at jeanene2@aol.com.

Contact Peggy atlargeinballard@peggysturdivant.com.

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