Eatwell Farm: How Your Support Is Essential to Small Family Farms
December 14, 2023
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Lorraine Walker did not set out to be a farmer when she married Nigel Walker, the founder of Eatwell Farm, which has been part of Ferry Plaza Farmers Market for three decades. But when Nigel passed away in 2017, Lorraine knew she had to keep the organic farm going for its loyal CSA (community-supported agriculture) members and farmers markets shoppers. Inspired by Nigel’s vision and her own passion for food, she dove into managing the farm alongside Eatwell’s dedicated and knowledgeable crew.
Lorraine shared her journey at Eatwell Farm, as well as the importance of community members like you showing up at the farmers market and supporting education that engages young people in our food system.
From Market Shopper to Sudden Farmer
My introduction to Eatwell Farm and to Nigel was actually by way of skincare, which I sold inside the Ferry Building. I had met him a few times when I was out shopping in the farmers market, and he would come talk to me inside about our products. The friendship grew, and eventually we started dating.
I quickly realized that, as somebody who loves to cook, dating a farmer was pretty smart. He opened my eyes to a different world of food. I had worked in the natural foods industry, but it really wasn’t until I started shopping at the farmers market that I was introduced to the fact that buying your fruits and vegetables directly from a farm is a whole different world than what you get in a store.
I look at Eatwell from the perspective of the kitchen. Nigel and I would walk the farm together, and he would look at everything. He would look at the rows of crops with the eyes of a farmer, and I would look at them with the eyes of a cook. I think it made for a very good partnership. But I definitely miss the eyes of the farmer, his particular eyes. He always saw things in such a fun and unusual way.
Today I don’t really consider myself a farmer, more of a farm’s wife. I don’t drive a tractor, and don’t really work out in the fields, but I do manage this farm and everyone working here. Taking it over after Nigel passed has been challenging, but I have a great crew who is always there for me and really know what they are doing.
Farming through Wildfires, the Pandemic, and More
If I think about what has happened in the last six and a half years since Nigel passed, the world kind of turned upside down. I can talk about my own experience, but honestly, my experience was shared among many farmers. Until recently, no seasoned farmers had grown through seasons where you cannot see the sun for days because the sky is completely filled with smoke, and we don’t know if it’s safe for our crew to be out in the field.
Then we rolled into a pandemic, and everybody was scrambling. When Mayor Breed announced the shelter-in-place, I remember I was at the market and I was checking our CSA orders. The number of new memberships kept coming in, like watching a ticker tape. And at that time, Foodwise fought to keep our farmers markets open in San Francisco. When a lot of towns and counties shut down their markets, we were able to be there for our market customers who were willing to come out.
After the shelter-in-place was lifted, a lot of our new CSA members disappeared. It feels like since the pandemic, the market hasn’t really bounced back the way it was before. Our restaurant sales are not what they used to be. Everything has gotten more expensive. Gas costs us twice as much as it did six years ago, and diesel for our tractors is up. Wages have gone way up, which they should, but we have not been able to increase the price of our vegetables to keep up with those costs.
It is hard living in California, for everyone, because our life is so expensive here. But one of the reasons why we love living in California is because we have access to some of the best food in the world. We have this beautiful, gorgeous state that has a lot of open countryside. And if we want farmland to remain farmland, we have to support the farmers. Farmers, absolutely, 100 percent, need your support.
Educating Young Eaters
One of the biggest challenges that we face as farmers is that we need more people to cook. What started out as frozen TV dinners and canned food is now home delivery and prepackaged meals that you buy in a store. When you have a couple of generations who have never really cooked, then they don’t have a parent who cooked.
That’s why what Foodwise is doing, teaching kids about fruits and vegetables, is really important. We have to get kids interested in fresh food. Kids don’t like the taste of fruits and vegetables that come from the supermarket, but they almost always love the fresh ones at the farmers market.
When we can get the kids to come to the market and taste the difference, then eventually they become market shoppers. But not only that, they go back and they tell their parents, “Hey, actually, I do like chard, I do like kale. I like the ones from the farmers market!”
Creating Community at the Farm and the Farmers Market
One of the things I learned about Nigel early on, and that really connected us, was his desire to create community. Creating community around food and educating people about food are some of the more important aspects of what he wanted to achieve with Eatwell Farm.
A big part of why people shop at the farmers market is they want that connection. The pandemic really disconnected us. We’re slowly and systematically eliminating connections with human beings throughout all aspects of our lives. But the farmers market is one of the few places where you can go and talk to people.
Over the years, Foodwise has been committed to supporting the farms, supporting the producers, and supporting those in our community who have been underserved. Foodwise has focused on bringing all of us together, so we can all learn from and share food with each other.
The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market is where we have met many people in our CSA program, so it’s really the place where Eatwell Farm got its start. At the Ferry Plaza, we meet a lot of customers who live all over the world, who love our value-add products and then order from us. It has also given us the opportunity to meet other amazing food producers. We now sell Volcano Kimchi, Aedan Fermented’s miso, Brokaw Ranch’s avocados and other fruit through our CSA program.
We need to remind people that cooking is a beautiful thing: sitting down and making even a very simple meal, feeding yourself and your family, and being able to say, “I bought this ingredient from a farmer I met today.” Having that connection makes your food taste better, and certainly makes you appreciate it more.
Keep Small Family Farms Thriving
Support Eatwell Farm at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays. California’s organic farms need your support at the farmers market and beyond. Donate today to support farmers and help educate future farmers market shoppers, so that organic farms like Eatwell can continue on for generations to come.