Feel the Connection- Oxbow Farm
BY TARA AUSTEN WEAVER
PHOTOS BY RACHEL TOMCZEK, ROBIN WOELZ and AUDREY GUIDI
Every year, hundreds of school children make the trip along the sharp, u-shaped curve in the river that forms the 120-acre farm. Waiting for them are rows of carrots to harvest, magic beans, pumpkins, and a scavenger hunt that teaches them about the six parts of the plants. But that’s only part of what they learn.
“We want to help kids fall in love with vegetables,” says Sarah Cassidy, who, along with her husband Luke Woodward, runs Oxbow Farm. “Kids are absolutely blown away by the concept of growing and eating vegetables out of the ground. They might spurn it on their cafeteria tray, but when they pick it from the ground it’s like candy to them.”
Sarah and Luke are old hands at introducing young people to the natural world. For two years Sarah was the garden education coordinator at Seattle Tilth, while Luke formerly taught in the van program at the Pacific Science Center, where he traveled around the state bringing science education to elementary school students. But it was in Africa, where the couple met, that they became passionate about growing things.
“We fell in love with farming in Senegal,” explains Sarah of the West African country where Luke worked for the Peace Corps. “You walk out of your house and there are your fields. Here we have huge farms but there’s almost nobody in them.”
When the couple returned from Senegal, they each spent time working on small farms in Northern California. “We were crazy for growing and for organics,” Sarah says. One of these farms—Hidden Villa in the Santa Cruz Mountains—offered an educational youth program where Luke worked as an intern. “That really solidified my commitment to environmental education and sustainable stewardship,” he says. “Their program was really inspirational.”
It was a quirk of fate that brought Sarah and Luke to Oxbow. A neighbor told them about a job as property manager on a farm in the Snoqualmie Valley. “The family that owns the land wanted to put it into use but wasn’t sure how,” explains Sarah. “We said, ‘We can farm it for you,’” and started planting in 1999.
Within two years Oxbow was selling at the Ballard Farmers Market and had started their own CSA—“twelve of our friends that we talked into signing up,” says Sarah. “They got more summer squash than they knew what to do with.” Restaurant sales also became part of the equation, with the Oxbow name showing up on local menus.
“This is the closest farmland to Seattle,” Sarah says of the Snoqualmie Valley. “It’s important that people learn about it and maintain it.”
To that end, Oxbow opens the farm to school and social groups to visit and participate in the cycle of growing food. Their spring SowDown and fall HoeDown events invite the public to learn about seeds, planting, harvesting, beekeeping, composting, and cooking in a festive environment. “We want to entice people back to their farm roots,” says Sarah. “To give them a chance to fall in love with farming and farmers. We send them home with seeds and encourage them to plant them.”
Oxbow also participates in habitat restoration projects, removing non-native plants and working with Stewardship Partners to protect the Snoqualmie River, control erosion, and monitor water quality. They run a gleaning program that donates produce to local food banks—more than 7,000 pounds in a year—and are working to develop a farm program for adults with disabilities.
“We’re just trying to give more and more opportunities to feel that connection,” says Sarah about bringing people onto the farm. “We want them to take it home with them, so they can grow where they are.”
This is especially true of the school groups who visit the farm: more than 1,000 kids over the course of the season, many of them repeat visitors. One classroom from nearby Carnation Elementary School planted and harvested 100 pounds of potatoes this past year, which were cooked and served for school lunch.
Summer brings a day camp to Oxbow as well, run through the auspices of Wilderness Awareness School in Duvall. Their Wild Sprouts program is designed for kids starting at four years old. They learn about wild edibles, sprouting seeds, harvesting, and cooking crops. It fosters a deep connection between the participants and the land.
“We’re their farm,” explains Sarah. “They develop such ownership, they have a stake in this place. I’m hoping this is where it begins.”
To learn more about Oxbow’s CSA, class field trip opportunities, summer camps, or Spring Sowdown event, visit oxbow.org
Tara Austen Weaver is a freelance writer who focuses on food, travel, culture, and the environment. She is the author of The Butcher & The Vegetarian and writes the award-winning blog site Tea & Cookies.