Just tell them it can’t be done

By Tim Fry originally posted on Project468 December 8, 2014

After people have lived on Lopez for a while, they find themselves giving out free advice for how to make the most of life on the island – everything from when to line up for the ferry to where to catch the best Dungeness crab. Well, after my meeting with two amazing women last Friday, I have my own advice to give out: If you want to drive meaningful change on Lopez, just tell Sandy Bishop and Rhea Miller it can’t be done.

In 1989, when Lopez land prices rose 189% in a single year, long-time Lopezians told Sandy and Rhea they couldn’t create affordable housing on the island. As of today, the Lopez Community Land Trust, for which Sandy and Rhea are founding members, has built 4 neighborhoods with 37 households – providing permanently affordable access to quality housing, sustainable agriculture and cottage industries. Under Sandy’s and Rhea’s watch, hundreds of interns have developed valuable life skills, equipping them with the means not only to find meaningful work, but also to become leaders in the community. The LCLT is looked upon as one of the best community land trusts around, which is why they repeatedly win awards like the Home Depot Foundation National Award of Excellence for Affordable Housing Built Responsibly for its Common Ground project, among so many others.wpid-img_20141205_104228589_hdr

As I’ve biked my way around Lopez to uncover stories for Project 468, so many people have told me I need to meet Sandy and Rhea. I was finally able to spend two hours with them on Friday to hear why they started LCLT on Lopez 25 years ago, along with stories of their challenges and successes along the way. Sandy is originally from Hanford, WA. Rhea, daughter of a rural Methodist minister, grew up on a farm in Iowa. Both have been community activists all their lives and needed a place to “rest” from that work in the 80s. “Rest” is clearly the wrong word; these are two of the hardest working people on Lopez.

LCLT’s intern programs change people’s lives. For example, a few years ago one guy reached out to them from Miami. He was working in a pizza joint and hadn’t been able to break into the construction industry. Rhea told him to get himself to Lopez, as they were starting a project within two weeks. His response was, “Are you for real?” Understandably, that’s a question many people ask given just how much LCLT does for the community. They do way more than affordable housing projects and internships. They manage a seed library for the island. They co-founded the Lopez school garden. They developed a mobile processing unit for use by local farmers. They manage a Grain and Bean CSA. And they are a constant source of education, counseling and training for the people of Lopez Island.


The impact of LCLT is far-reaching. One quantifiable example is the energy use of their net-zero-designed affordable housing projects, which is an order of magnitude lower than the national average for U.S. homes. This is made possible by a systems approach to resource use – everything from smart construction methods, rain catchment and the use of solar power, to name just a few.


There is so much to learn from what LCLT is doing, but the biggest learning, according to Sandy and Rhea, is that the Land Trust has become an incubator for business – something that most people probably don’t associate with affordable housing projects. It makes sense, though. When you alleviate one of the biggest financial pressures – the cost of housing – people are freed up to create, experiment and contribute back to the community. That’s exactly what LCLT has enabled Lopezians to do. And to be clear, the LCLT isn’t providing handouts – they are one of the only community land trusts that requires sweat equity from their home owners.

I left my two-hour visit with Sandy and Rhea feeling pretty inspired, not to mention humbled. If you haven’t met them yet, I recommend you do. You can find the LCLT offices in the Mixby app. Go visit – They love to give tours. Just try telling them it can’t be done.


The Biggest Science Experiment in the San Juans

By Tim Fry published December 4, 2014 on Project468.com

These days, the mention of science and farming in the same breath immediately brings to mind the hotly debated issue of GMOs (against which, by the way, San Juan County recently scored a victory). But that’s not necessarily what comes to mind for Nick and Sara Jones of Jones Family Farms. Step inside one of the buildings on Jones’ Sweetwater shellfish farm on Shoal Bay, and you’ll understand why. Alongside the tubs holding millions of baby oysters and clams is an array of objects you’d associate more with a mad scientist than you would a shellfish farmer: beakers, pipettes, microscopes, tubes with fluorescent lights running through them, and – my favorite – human-sized bags full of green liquid. It’s a scene right out of a science fiction movie. But this isn’t somebody’s little science experiment. This is home of the largest supplier of clam and oyster seed to independent shellfish farms in the region, and producer of some of the highest quality shellfish for Seattle, one of the most discriminating restaurant markets in the world.


Nick Jones graciously offered to spend time with Sue Roundy (of the Bounty Project) and me earlier this week – to give us a sense of what it has taken to earn their enviable position within the rapidly growing farm-to-table movement. For starters, it takes a lot of hard work and determination – especially when temperatures hover around 30 degrees, threatening to freeze the hoses that bring food and water to the dozens of tanks housing their precious shellfish. It also takes a healthy dose of optimism. As Nick gave us a tour of the facility, he said his favorite thing about farming is that, “there’s always something to look forward to.” And finally – and this I think is the key to Jones’ success – it requires constant experimentation and improvisation. I’ve visited Sweetwater a half dozen times over the past few years, and every time I come back, Nick and his team have completely rearranged the facility. Every few weeks it seems they’re moving the buildings around or re-plumbing the entire operation – no small feat when you consider the miles of PVC pipe that draw water from the nearby lagoon, bring it to the right temperature, circulate it through dozens of oyster tanks, and return it to the sea. Sweetwater is the definition of work-in-progress.


Even more impressive are the experiments aimed at scaling a shellfish farm operation despite significant challenges such as location and the high cost of supplies. Because tiny oysters eat algae, and lots of it, Jones had to find a way to grow his own. A small bottle of algae costs about $35, making it prohibitively expensive to buy the amount required to feed the tens of millions of oyster larvae growing on Jones’ farm. Enter science – and the marine biologists Jones has hired to make sure they get this experiment right. In the middle of the shellfish farm sits an old shipping container, the walls of which are lined with bags of seven different species of algae – to accommodate the diets of oysters at different stages of development. They must be doing something right, because the Sweetwater team is in the process of tripling the size of their algae production – transitioning from the algae room (pictured above) to what the guys are calling “the algae dome.”


Power is another big challenge. Algae needs light to grow. Fluorescent lights require a lot of electricity, not to mention throw off a lot of light that Sweetwater’s neighbors probably wouldn’t appreciate. Which is why Nick is experimenting with ways to transfer light efficiently inside dark vats of algae using polarized tubes – a method he’s borrowed from another farming industry (one that until very recently hadn’t been legal in Washington State).


It’s innovations like these that are allowing Jones to produce head to head with any shellfish producer in the world. And it’s what’s driven the steady growth of all of the Jones Family Farms, now one of the biggest employers on the island and one of the region’s leaders in sustainable farming – something for which Lopez is becoming more and more known. According to Nick, shellfish farming, given the ability to tap into an infinitely reproductive system, is going to drive the future growth of Jones Family Farms. This provides a glimpse into Jones’ philosophy, which is based on the belief that the world does not have to be a zero sum game – there are ways to benefit from natural resources without necessarily constantly diminishing our supply. There are those who disagree with Nick on this, but it’s hard to argue with him given what he’s accomplished with Sweetwater.

There’s a lot more to learn about Jones Family Farms. They have a whole other side of their business focused on producing grass-fed meats on Lopez, which will probably be the focus of another Project 468 blog post. They also own a sausage making company, Link Lab Artisan Meats, in Seattle – acquired in April. You can find their products around Lopez and the San Juans – at the South End General Store and farmers’ markets. If you’ve eaten at a Seattle restaurant recently, food from Jones Family Farms has probably been on the menu. And back on Lopez, during the warmer months, you can stop by Sweetwater to buy fresh fish, crabs, clams and, of course, oysters. Find the shellfish farm in the Mixby app.

So, where will Nick and Sara Jones turn next for experimentation? Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if you started seeing more of the Jones’ farms growing grain. I think Nick has his sights set on a distillery.


“Like the Amish without the religion”

by Tim Fry, originally published November 9, 2014 on Project 468

My brother and his wife visited us on Lopez this weekend. They insisted on cooking dinner for us one night. In search of something local for them to cook, we visited a produce and meat farm I’d been meaning to check out on the north end of the island – The Horse Drawn Farm. I really didn’t know what to expect. My only knowledge of the farm before today had been seeing one of the owners, Ken Akopiantz, plow his field with a team of horses.

468 horse-drawn-farm

I didn’t get a chance to speak to the owners, Kathryn Thomas and Ken. That’s because the Horse Drawn Farm’s products for sale – frozen meat and all kinds of vegetables – are sold via the self-serve honor system. With nobody to ring you up, you simply calculate the total cost of a purchase using the scale and calculator, and leave cash or a check on the counter.

468 horse-drawn-payment

While adding up the cost of our broccoli and squash, I introduced myself to another patron who told me he used to work there. He described the operation as “being Amish without the religion.” Like so many endeavors on Lopez, the Horse Drawn Farm is the epitome of sustainable innovation. Leftover produce is fed to the livestock, and livestock waste is used as fertilizer to grow produce. It is so inspiring to see a team of horses pulling the plow that tills the soil. The result of all of this is not just a self-sustaining farming operation. The food is amazing. The broccoli we bought there was the highlight of my brother’s dinner. And there is so much more grown right there on the farm from which to choose: beef, lamb, pork, and a wide variety of vegetables.

468 horse-drawn-vegis-and-meat

Horse Drawn Farm is a must-visit on Lopez if you want to taste locally grown food. Look for it in the Mixby app within Lopez Island.

Seattle Times article featuring Bounty members

Congratulations to Marney Reynolds, Ken and Kathryn of Horse Drawn Farm, and the Seed Library for being featured in the Seattle Times!

“Where GMO crops aren’t likely grown is on the rocky San Juan Islands, where truck farms sell almost all their output to local residents and chefs. So why the initiative?

I pose that question to Lopez resident Marney Reynolds, a semiretired graphic artist from Seattle who helped Akopiantz in his campaign. The growing concentration of seed resources in a few large corporations, she says, is “cause for great concern because it means you and I have a diminishing supply of unadulterated seed.”

Check out the full article here 

(Little San Juan County takes on the GMO goliaths):


Bounty at the Harvest Dinner

By Heather Gladstone and Robert Harrison

Bounty premiered to a full house at LCLT’s 25th anniversary Harvest Dinner.


It was a fantastic event celebrating our local farmers and the food they provide for the Lopez community.


What a “Bounty” of food!



A delicious dish from Skyriver Ranch

Harvest-Dinner_3Horse Drawn Farm’s First Place Dishes


Meg Ryan receiving an award for her local potluck dish


Sue Roundy introducing the Bounty slideshow

A 25th anniversary cake and dancing capped off the evening.

Harvest-Dinner_8 Harvest-Dinner_9

Bounty Premiere this Saturday at the Harvest Dinner

We are getting close to the Bounty Premiere!

The photographers have worked most of the spring and summer getting images of the 27 Lopez Farms that are participating in the project. We have just finished editing the slideshow of the images that will premiere at the Harvest Dinner this Saturday at the Lopez Center! We hope that you can make it!

The events starts at 5pm with a potluck and LCLT presentation. The Bounty slideshow is at 7:30 and there is a dance at 8:30.

Here is a sneak peak of a few of the images.

Photograph by Summer Moon

Photograph by Summer Moon

Photograph by Steve Horn

Photograph by Steve Horn

Photograph by Summer Moon

Photograph by Summer Moon

Photograph by Summer Moon

Photograph by Summer Moon

Photograph by Summer Moon

Photograph by Summer Moon

Photograph by Summer Moon

Photograph by Summer Moon

Photograph by Robert S. Harrison

Photograph by Robert S. Harrison

Photograph by Summer Moon

Photograph by Summer Moon

Photograph by Steve Horn

Photograph by Steve Horn

Photograph by Steve Horn

Photograph by Steve Horn

Photograph by Summer Moon

Photograph by Summer Moon

Photograph by Steve Horn

Photograph by Steve Horn

Photograph by Steve Horn

Photograph by Steve Horn

Photograph by Steve Horn

Photograph by Steve Horn

Photograph by Steve Horn

Photograph by Steve Horn

A Bounty of Food and Photos

In case you didn’t see it, make sure to check out the fantastic article, “A Look at Bounty of Food and Photos”,  written by Iris Graville in the Islands’ Weekly.

“Our goal is to use photographic art to acknowledge and educate our community about the abundance of delicious food available on Lopez,” Sue says. “Some people don’t realize it’s being grown just down the road and they can buy it right here.”

View the article by clicking on this link: http://www.islandsweekly.com/news/279069091.html


Work Party at the School Garden

By Iris Graville

Three bald eagles circled overhead last Saturday morning as a group of us joined Suzanne Berry and Valerie Yukluk for a work party at the L.I.F.E. school garden (a BOUNTY participant).

work party

Through this garden program, Lopez students learn about where food for their school lunches comes from, and they help grow it.

 It’s time to put some of the garden’s plots “to bed” for the winter, though the tomatoes in the greenhouse are still producing 60 to 70 pounds of fruit per week!


“We’ve harvested over 1000 pounds of tomatoes since August,” Suzanne says. “We’ve been making tomato sauce for the cafeteria freezer, and last week I made spicy pizza sauce.”

Eight volunteers spent the morning harvesting a few tomatoes plus the last of the cucumbers, tomatillos, and summer squash, and preparing beds for garlic.


Erika Davis, Dixie Budke, and I helped Suzanne and Valerie weed along the garden fence


and create a small berm to keep the rabbits from digging their way through to the tempting cabbages.


After the productive morning, volunteers stopped in the Garden Classroom for snacks

garden ingredients

and to admire some of the bounty the garden produced.


Looks like the kids will be eating well all winter long.


Community-Supported Grape Harvest

By Iris Graville

The sun warmed our backs as the thermometer inched toward eighty last Saturday morning. Bounty project manager Sue Roundy, Lopez Community Land Trust (LCLT) Assistant Director Rhea Miller, Bounty participants Bruce Dunlop and Debbie Young of Lopez Island Farm, and I joined a couple dozen other folks to harvest Siegerrebe grapes at Lopez Island Vineyards (LIV—another farm involved in the Bounty project). Conversations swirled among the vines as locals and visitors clipped the salmon-colored clusters. Vitrologist (grape-grower), enologist (winemaker), and former LCLT board member Brent Charnley has been growing this German-bred varietal on Lopez since 1987.

grape cluster

Bounty is the right word to apply to this year’s LIV harvest. Brent went so far as to call it “historic,” with a record-breaking yield of 1000 – 1500 pounds of grapes per block (five rows), almost twice the usual production. Brent attributes the abundance to the maturity of the vines (they’re a couple years older than the LCLT!) and the warm
summer that stayed dry long enough for the grapes to ripen to perfection.

basket of grapes

The Bounty subtitle—Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community—also was in full swing that day at the vineyard. Ever since Brent, his partner Maggie, and a group of their friends planted those first three acres of Siegerrebe (they now have six acres in grapes and are one of only four certified organic vineyards in the State) they’ve relied on the help of the Lopez community (and beyond) to bring in the grapes each fall. A long list of visitors and locals looks forward to e-mails notifying them of the harvest dates.

pickers in rows

Spending a few hours in the vineyard was a treat. Voices danced among the vines as people philosophized and clipped, commented on the state of the world and clipped, and caught up about work and families. Mid-morning, Brent urged everyone to break for water or coffee, fruit, nuts, and home-baked zucchini bread. Soon, everyone gathered clippers and buckets and returned to the vineyard, adding more grapes to the bins at the end of the rows.

bins of grapes

Just before one o’clock, Maggie and Rhea filled a long table with spanakopita, green salad, roasted beets, and dolmas (made with Siegerrebe grape leaves). Brent called everyone in from the vineyards, and as we clasped hands, he expressed thanks for the bounty of fruit, food, friendship, and good work.


It’s no surprise that lunch included wine, and this year, there was an added bonus. Brent set up a vertical tasting (different vintages of the same wine type from the same winery) of LIV Siegerrebe, starting with a bottle from 2006.


We noted some of the differences from one year to the next, but each vintage’s off-dry finish and flavor notes of grapefruit, litchi fruit, flowers, and spice complemented the harvest lunch. When we polished off those bottles (well, there were quite a few thirsty pickers), Brent poured Dry Rosé and Sangiovese, just right with the apple crisp dessert.

Because of the high volume of grapes, Brent put out a call for volunteers the following two days, too; more folks appeared, clippers in hand. “Our connection to our community is part of who Lopez Island Vineyards is,” Brent said. “Your smiling faces and best wishes mean a lot to us. The wine is looking like a real winner!”


“Growing grapes is an ancient human task,” Brent says. “Weather ultimately determines the size of harvest, but the labor of human hands can help nudge this event in the right direction.”