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PROFILE: Anne Schwartz, Owner, Blue Heron Farm

Jan 7th, 2012 | Category: Community, Farms

by Marnie Jones

For Anne Schwartz, former Tilth Producers of Washington president and proprietor of Blue Heron Farm, farming sprang from “a lifelong need to be outside and a desire to leave things better than [she] found them.” Her career is also rooted in a lifetime of activism. Schwartz grew up in New Jersey, rallying around environmental, women’s equality, and anti-war issues before coming west with her husband Mike Brondi in the 1970s.

Anne Schwartz at Blue Heron Farm. PHOTO BY MARNIE JONES

“Skagit Valley in 1975 was a magical place,” Schwartz explains. “Jobs were mostly resource-based and people still lived by the seasons.” Sustainability, Schwartz came to realize, hinges in part on how we grow what we eat.”

As a pre-vet student studying livestock production systems, she began to see the non-sustainability in our food production system. Looking beyond her own diet to the bigger issues of food policy, Schwartz joined a growing cadre of small-scale organic farmers and activists and  became involved in what was then known as the Tilth Producers’ Cooperative. Over the ensuing years, Schwartz has assumed a key role in Washington State’s organic food movement. She describes her transformation from New Jersey radical to Skagit Valley farmer as “a natural evolution,” noting that her early interest in agriculture and dairy production has never waned.

Schwartz’s enthusiasm for a more sustainable agricultural model led her from Pullman, where she studied animal sciences and dairy science at Washington State University (WSU), to Sedro-Woolley, where she worked with for a dairy farmer and became more involved in hands-on farming. Joining Cascadian Farm in Rockport, Washington in 1979, while she also started Blue Heron Farm. Schwartz and Brondi now grow over a hundred types of bamboo as well as native plants, blueberries, and an assortment of vegetables on their own property and on two leased parcels nearby.

In addition to serving as a Tilth Producers board member and tending the farm, Schwartz serves on several advisory boards for other non-profits and WSU centers. She describes the primary focus of these volunteer committments as “advocating for change in research priorities and public policy issues.” She farms full-time, while Brondi manages the youth education and volunteer program for the North Cascades National Park. Schwartz says that a typical season at Blue Heron Farm involves growing nearly 10 acres of veggies and an acre of blueberries and selling produce to the North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center (ELC), the Skagit Valley Food Co-op (as part of a farmers’ coalition), at two Skagit farmers’ markets, to a large food distribution business in Stanwood, and for a small CSA. “[I] usually hire two to four people per season,” she goes on, “and I’ve had some longtime employees.” A nematode problem forced Schwartz to scale way back last year, but with expert nematologists helping her approach the restoration of soil health, she remains optimistic that she’ll be back up to full production soon.  “2010 and 2011 have been challenging years, weather-wise,” she admits. She has nonetheless kept four healthy acres in production, continuing to provide organic produce for her CSA members, the Co-op, and the ELC kitchen.

Schwartz hopes to return to her Farmers’ Market booth in seasons to come. “People would love to see me come back, and I would love to be back,” she says. With her reputation being what it is, it’s no surprise she’s missed.

Blue Heron Farm is located at State Route 530 in Rockport and can be reached at (360) 853-8449. For more info, visit www.fidalgo.net/~als/

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