Dean and Jan Pigman have been working the loamy, fertile earth of their 10-acre farm in the Nisqually area for about 26 years. Over those years, they have nurtured not only their soil and the plants they have grown, but also their community. Since the beginning, back in 1989 when they first settled there, they have been a constant and dependable presence at Olympia’s Farmer’s Market. And as time passed, their CSA Farm Share program developed, allowing them, for 22 weeks of harvest time, to share their many nutritious and Certified (in 1994) Organic offerings of fruit and veggies with their CSA members.
In the early 90’s, as their farm grew in its ability to produce larger and more dependable crops, the Pigmans began offering their produce for sale at the Olympia Food Coop. Throughout the harvest season, Co-op members can purchase a variety of wonderful veggies grown on the Pigman’s Farm, including Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, cylindrical beets, Brussels sprouts and onions. Nearly 150 varieties of vegetables and fruits are also produced on the farm. Most of these go to their CSA members or can be found at their Olympia Farmer’s Market stall. Their strawberries, raspberries and pumpkins are also offered up as You Pick–one of their favorite venues.
It was back in 1989 when the Pigmans first went on a quest to find the place where they could fulfill Jan’s life-long dream of being a farmer. One of the main qualities they looked for was land with a close proximity to a well-traveled road, so that they could sell their wares roadside. Once they found the perfect spot, their invitation to the community to come and pick their own succulent goodies directly from the farm was sent. You Pick was born on the Pigman Farm.
Spreading over the entire harvest season, and depending on the weather and what is ripe and ready for picking, folks from all over the area can come and pick their own raspberries, strawberries and pumpkins. It is a perfect venue for family outings!
My own recent visit to the farm gave me the opportunity to see, firsthand, the labor-of-love that the Pigmans have created over these 26 years of farming. Jan shared with me her story of how they came to settle here.
“I grew up on a little city lot in Southern California,” she told me, “and I always just wanted to grow things. My parents grew shrubs and a few flowers–and I wanted to grow something to eat! We had a vacant lot across the street and my dad, bless his heart, got permission for me to have a little garden there.” She was just ten then. “I would take vegetables around the neighborhood and sell them. It was safe back then to do that.” She was saving her money to go to horse camp. “I always really wanted to have a farm of my own,” she added. On family vacations, when driving through farm country, Jan told me that she would ride along, looking out the window at passing farms, wondering and trying to decide what they were growing. Then one time they drove past a farm stand with a sign that read, “From tree and vine, to thee and thine.” That phrase further inspired her, and stuck in with her until she was able to use it for her own farm.
Dean, on the other hand, grew up with a father who raised commercial carnations in Colorado and spent much of his childhood living around greenhouses. So as a young person, he wanted nothing to do with farming. “Oh no! I don’t ever want to do anything like this!“ he told himself at the time — but now? “And now, here I am!” he says, apparently quite pleased with his farmer life.
Upon his retirement from 21 years of service in the Army, serving in Vietnam, Korea, Germany and the US, Dean kept a promise he had made to Jan early in their marriage. “He agreed,” Jan said, “ that we would do his career for 20 years then my career for 20 years, and here we are 26 years later, still farming!” Having been stationed in the Pacific Northwest, it was only natural that they begin their search for farmland here. “We drove the realtors crazy,” Jan laughingly admitted, “I took a little shovel with us when we were looking for property and I would check the soil. I didn’t want to farm on clay or rocks.” That sandy loam they discovered in Nisqually, while only pastureland, an irrigation well, and a barn at the time, has become, with much tender loving care, an amazing farm with a home they built themselves, greenhouses, and rich organic soil. Working with a friend, they are adding trace minerals and beneficial soil microbes in order to create balanced environment for the things they grow. “We are consistently adding them to the soil,” Jan said. “The theory is, you feed the soil, that feeds the microbes, that feeds the plants, that feeds us.”
June is Strawberry Month, and the Pigmans produce two ever-bearing varieties of strawberries that offer sweet succulent fruit for us from June to sometimes as late as October. The Tristar is a smaller berry, but has a more intense wildberry flavor, while the Seascape is a much larger berry with a little less intensity of flavor, but fills the basket more quickly and is more like the strawberries customarily found at the market.
I walked with Jan through the early-spring beginnings of the strawberry patch, its plants still mostly dormant, lined by an outdoor fabric covering the walkways that will help folks avoid stepping on the plants and mud during the You Pick this summer. The plants produce for two seasons, and then are replaced by 1,500 new ones on a revolving schedule, so that berries are always available for picking. Slugs, moles, voles and robins are the major pests to the strawberries and raspberries–but there is always plenty of fruit available for You Pick as their season of harvest arrives. The blueberries even have a netting to cover and protect them from the robins during this abundant time of year.
The Pigmans also host a You Pick Pumpkin Patch the whole month of October. With 15 varieties of organic pumpkins, weighing in from a few ounces to three hundred pounds, you’ll have no problem finding your perfect pumpkin!
Anyone interested in joining their CSA or visiting their farm for You Pick can find out what is available by calling them at 360-491-3276 or checking their website at PigmansProduce. You can also follow them on Facebook for updates and more current photos.
Article and all photos by Desdra Dawning, Co-op Member