Sue Ujcic is an innovative farmer and a champion of what’s possible when communities work together. She is as adept in connecting people to good food, good health, and good times as she is harvesting potatoes.
As co-owner of Helsing Junction Farm in Rochester, Washington, just outside of Olympia, Sue and her business partner, Anna Salafsky, have worked since 1992 with almost the same crew of 12 people to farm and grow 30 acres of organic vegetables, fruit, and flowers to serve their 800-member CSA program, one of the most established in the country. Much of their produce throughout the growing season is also donated to the local food bank where they deliver weekly CSA shares directly to recipients, a program funded by donations from their members, which they match.
What issues have you been focused on?
Linking low-income people with fresh organic produce. We’re a very established farm and that gives us a great opportunity to share our produce with food banks and soup kitchens. Volunteers come to the farm to glean and through our CSA we run a food bank farm. Our members donate funds and we match them, so that we can donate CSA shares to the food bank. That way people who rely on the food bank participate in the whole program. My other big focus is nutrition, linking low-income people to good food in particular.
What inspires you to do this work?
After more than 25 years of farming I’m still inspired by being with nature. The mystery of a seed germinating is still something that puts me in awe every year. I never take anything for granted and the fact that seeds carry so much information and have all this nutrition for you and can feed your soul and your physical body… that alone motivates me to start out every spring. And then with running a CSA program, my relationship to the farm and the community of eaters that we created also excites me.
What’s your overall vision?
To come from a place of gratitude and generosity. I truly believe that if you’re a really generous person and you have the resources to be generous, you’ll just have more to be generous with. I feel that the process of abundance is very real to me as a farmer. It just feels like the more we are able to give food away to people who are in need, the more we are given to give away. That’s been my consistent experience.
What books and/or blogs are you reading right now?
I was reading a book called Northwest Weather, a really great book about weather. I’m reading a book by Irène Némirovsky, a collection of short stories, she was the author of Suite Française. I’ve been reading about organic farming methods and different tillage methods, since we’re making some changes on the farm. Civil Eats is the one blog I read regularly. I read the New Yorker regularly, the Sunday New York Times (we take turns going out to the town to get them for each other, it’s been a ritual for years).
Who’s in your community?
Certainly my family. My immediate community is a really great group of farmers. Our whole valley is almost all certified organic now, so I live amongst dairy farmers and produce farmers. My diet is essentially a five-mile diet. Then there’s the community of eaters with the CSA—half of our members have been with us 10 or more years. So I feel connected to them as community.
What are your commitments?
My commitments are to my family, to my immediate community and I’m really committed to always making decisions from a place of love and faith instead of from fear. I think decisions made from that place are most successful.
What are your goals?
Ultimately to put really good, positive energy out in to the world and appreciate all the beauty around me.
What does change look like to you?
A place where people are in closer relationship to one another and are more integrated in their community.
Regarding the practicalities of enacting change, what planning is involved? What kind of outreach?
The most important outreach is to engage children first and foremost and in regard to changing our food system and our relationship to farming and food in particular, we have to engage children. That’s why we have all these places and programs on the farm where we work with children to teach them about agriculture, nutrition, healthy eating, and whole foods.
What projects are affiliated with yours?
Food banks and Boys and Girls Club of America, K-Records which is a local music label with which we co-host a musical festival on our farm, which is also a fundraiser for a food related cause. Local schools. And, we have several farms that partner with our CSA.
What projects and people have you got your eye on or are you impressed by?
I am really impressed by anyone who is saving seed and developing new varieties suited for wherever they are. I think the magic in creating life through seeds is fascinating and I’m totally inspired by that work. Vandana Shiva and her ability to synthesize and impart so much information in such an integrated way. It’s beautiful.
Where do you see the state of agriculture/food policy in the next 5-10 years? Is real policy change a real possibility?
I don’t see a lot of real change in food policy. I think fundamentally corporate ag will try to hold on as long as they can. But that said, I think in 20 years, farms are going to become more important and there will be far more mid-sized farms. They will also be more widespread despite any blocks in policy simply out of sustainable need. That said, marketing and distribution models like CSAs aren’t involved in any kind of policy, we’re just farming. People are paying you to grow their food and it takes out the need for any subsidies or loans. Just creating an alternative model and showing it can be successful. That’s new agriculture.
What does the food movement need to do, be or have to be more effective?
We need to have some way to help people become aware of who farmers are. Rather than subsidize crops, the government should subsidize farmers. I’d love to see farmers drive their tractors to every state capital, not even farm anymore, and create the awareness that people need to understand who is exactly growing their food. We need to change food in schools, we need to feed children healthy nutritious food while they are developing so they will develop curiosity and be able to question things.
What would you want to be your last meal on earth?
Some amazingly made eggplant Parmesan and my Mom’s blueberry pie.
Learn more about Sue and Helsing Junction by checking out Leslie Hatfield’s podcast interview with her today on the Ecocentric Blog. Yay Sue! We love you.