Jonathan and Petrina Fisher checking their bees for honey.
Ballard couple digs out new career path and reaps a harvest
By Christy Wolyniak
Everything changed for one Ballard family when a husband and wife quit their office jobs and took to the open fields.
Jonathan Fisher was working grueling hours as a lawyer in downtown Seattle, while his wife, Petrina, was working long hours doing nonprofit work. After the birth of their first son, Petrina quit her job, and soon after Jonathan joined her. They wanted to refocus – to enjoy life together again as a family.
“We never really talked about farming, but then Jonathan began researching about what we could do if we did have land to make it productive, and we both always had an interest in that sort of thing,” said Petrina Fisher.
The Fishers were already religious Ballard Farmer’s Market shoppers and soon their dreams culminated into purchasing a farm.
Located on the lush banks of the Snohomish River, Skylight Farms reaps a bountiful harvest and is never short of surprises. Bought in 2012 the same year their daughter was born, working 20-acres of farmland was much like having two babies in one year, said Fisher.
Fields had to be plowed, a well relocated, and a barn door repaired in the freeze of winter. The Fishers quickly understood the challenges of farming – such as an 80-foot tree falling on their power lines leaving them unable to wash their produce –but also the satisfying payoff of hard labor.
Jonathan Fisher harvesting some early tomatoes. Photo by Shane Harms.
Committed to sustainable, ecological and ethical farming, Skylight Farms uses non-GMO seeds without the use of chemical sprays and practices farming methods that replenish the soil such as planting cover crops, compost and crop rotation.
Sandy loam soil – a mixture of sand, clay and silt, is rich in nutrients, partly due to its floodplain location, which provides super-sized vegetables; Their chard and kale are always a surprise.
“We want to build the soil back up and leave it in a better condition than when we came. We see ourselves as stewards of the land,” said Fisher.
Even the chickens are happy: 200 hens lay the best eggs you could possibly eat, according to Fisher.
“We want our animals to have an amazing life,” said Fisher, and that they might, “Eat. Play. Live.”
Jonathan Fisher with his happy chickens. Photo by Shane Harms.
Beginning in late July through September, their vegetable harvest hits a crescendo, with colorful varieties of squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.
Within their first two years of operation, Skylight Farms introduced the Community Supported Agriculture model, weekly distributing boxes of fresh produce to 108 members in the greater Seattle area, including 20 families in the Ballard area.
“The food comes from our farm and to your plate within 24 to 48 hours, so it has amazing flavor,” she said.
CSA customers commit to supporting the local farmer and all of their operations, even in unexpected circumstances that affect crops.
“I am constantly amazed when what we’re doing works,” said Fisher. “We have abundance for our CSA, but we are also at the mercy of the weather. It’s given me a greater appreciation for the challenges that other famers have.”
Skylight Farms posts up at the Queen Anne Farmer’s Market on Thursdays, where a validating farmer-to-farmer compliment might be, “Wow! Your broccoli looks great!”
Now in the business, Petrina wishes people would take bigger leaps in trying new vegetables.
“You have to be willing to cook and not mind experimenting,” says Fisher for her CSA customers. “I always tell people when in doubt you can slice it, roast it – grill it.”
Eye-catching romanesco broccoli is a hybrid between broccoli and cauliflower- tasty eaten raw or grilled. Other lesser-known veggies include dragon tag beans and, in the romaine family, flashy trout’s back lettuce - whose speckled leaves might freak people out.
“I think it’s important to have people widen their perception about what a vegetable is supposed to look like,” said Fisher.
“We get so conditioned to see the beautiful red tomato or the perfect orange carrot, and the truth is that these things come in a wide variety of colors and shapes. Even if they’re a little bit lumpy or lopsided, chances are that they still taste delicious.”
“If you buy that vegetable from your farmer you’re helping the farmer out rather than going to Whole Foods and buying one that fits your idea of what that thing is,” she said.
Granted, the Fishers still shop in grocery stores, as their farm cannot yield all the things that their children enjoy such as bananas and avocados. However, farm life has given their children an impeccable vegetable vocabulary and an appetite envied by mothers everywhere.
“It’s better to be lucky than good,” jokes Jonathan, who knows firsthand the unpredictable nature of his new occupation. He works full days in the fields along with four other farm hands, while Petrina manages business and makes the deliveries.
Skylight Farms distributes about 200 pounds of fresh produce to Ballard restaurants weekly including Porkchop and Co., the Walrus and the Carpenter, Bloom, Stoneburner, and the Bastille Café and Bar.
“The more we learn about what grows well and what people like to eat, the stronger our farm will be,” said Fisher.
This weekend, they will be harvesting honey.
For more information, visit http://skylightfarms.com/.