Growing a Legacy
A farmer honors the legacies of his parents — one from the farm and the other from Pike Place Market.
STORY BY MEGAN HILL
PHOTOS BY NOAH FORBES
Ras Peynado knows a thing or two about herbs. His Greenwood home is surrounded by them, far more than your average decorative lavender or run-away mint. Ras has packed every inch of his property with fragrant tufts of thyme, sage, rosemary, parsley, marjoram, and plenty more. And then there’s cayenne, habanero, and Scotch bonnet peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onions, ginger — even turmeric.
Ras, who sells spice blends and seasonings at Pike Place Market under his Herbn’ Farm NW business, started planting herbs soon after he bought his house in 2009.
“I did all kinds of remodeling and working on the house and the yard,” he says. “There were a whole bunch of overgrown bushes, and I started ripping them out and planting herbs.”
At the time, Ras’s farming knowledge involved the colloquial “herb” — medical marijuana. But he soon found that his talent for growing prolific culinary herbs was a more attractive venture.
“I could fill up my whole yard with herbs, and it was legal to grow as many plants as you wanted to,” he says. Soon, Ras had planted nearly every inch of his front and back yards with herbs — even replacing the grass. He then built vertical gardens on the side of his house, hooking the rain gutters to drip lines for irrigation. “Last year, I had parsley growing up the side of the house,” he says.
Pike Place Market was an obvious landing spot for Ras’s business. His mother worked at the market for decades, first as a teenage busker, then selling silk-screened T-shirts and hand-carved wooden boxes. She later moved into the market office, working as a market master and farm program manager. She’d take Ras along with her.
“I spent a lot of my younger years crawling around behind the table,” he says. “In some ways, I grew up at Pike Place Market.”
The business, which has evolved to include culinary spice blends, sauces, salts, vinegars, and teas, became a way for Ras to honor his father’s legacy.
Ras’s father, who was a subsistence farmer in Jamaica, died when Ras was a teenager. Around the time he bought his home, Ras made his first trip to Jamaica after his father’s death. He visited with his father’s family and friends, visited his dad’s old farm, and reconnected with his history.
“It really inspired me and made me want to do something that not only would make him proud, but would also make me feel good,” Ras says.
Early on, Ras relied on trial and error, his cannabis-growing expertise, customer feedback, and — he says with a hint of embarrassment — YouTube videos and Google searches to help him learn more about cultivating herbs and crafting blends. But over all, “culinary herbs are very forgiving. They’re very low maintenance,” he says. His mother and grandmother also pitched in, helping him with recipe development.
“In the beginning, I would forage out of my grandmother’s yard, and she’ll never forgive me because I completely took all of her rosemary,” Ras says. “When I was a kid, she used to pay me to work in her yard doing little things like weeding and trimming.”
Now, Ras’s property is licensed by the Washington State Department of Agriculture as an urban farm. The bottom floor of the house is an approved processing kitchen, where he dries and processes the herbs and crafts his mixes and sauces. It’s also where, in winter, he starts seeds for annuals like basil, Scotch bonnet peppers, and tomatoes. He lives on the upper floor.
Ras’s portfolio of products continues to grow: hot honey sauce, pepper sauce, more than a dozen herb blends, a Moroccan mint tea, and Scotch bonnet pepper sauce. One of his many herb mixes is a dry jerk rub, an homage to his Jamaican roots, containing traditional ingredients like thyme, allspice, ginger, and Scotch bonnets.
And that means he has naturally outgrown his urban farm. Ras recently purchased land on Vashon Island. He’ll seek organic certification for his products there, and the bulk of his production will soon move to Vashon, too. He has more than two acres of land there, but will start small, developing only a half acre for now.
“Within the next two years, ideally, what I’d like to be doing is growing all the perennials on Vashon and then growing the things like peppers and tomatoes and basil that I have to keep more of an eye on, here in the city. It’s not a huge space, but compared to what I’m working with in Greenwood, it’s a lot,” he says.
It’s a move that will help him continue to honor the legacies of his parents — one on the farm and the other at the market.
Megan Hill freelances for a number of food and travel publications. When she’s not writing, she can be found enjoying the beauty of the Pacific Northwest via sailboat or hiking trail.