Meet a Real Farmer

Richard Smaby
Meet a Real Farmer

I talked with Terry Carkner of Terry's Berries about starting and managing an organic fruit, vegetable, and egg farm in Puyallup, Washington.


PPO: Why did you decide to start an organic farm?

Terry: It was 25 years ago that Dick and I decided start a farm. We had degrees in economics and had both grown up on a farm. We wanted our children to share that experience. So, we bought a 20 acre raspberry farm in Puyallup. Berry farming is easy. The chemical companies will teach you. Of course, they teach how to farm using their chemicals. With a mono-crop you really have to use chemicals. Otherwise, the pests and disease take over.

PPO: So, what made you decide to change to organic methods?

Terry: Initially the money. You can get a higher price for your crops. And we were able to sell locally. When we were selling nationally, we would ship to Chicago for a quoted price and then would be told that the price was going to lower, because the shipment supposedly had some bad berries. Cascadia Farm helped us get started. They are always looking for organic suppliers. They also provided advice. We needed to rotate the berries with other non-berry crops, to fight pests without chemicals. We decided to rotate with vegetables, instead letting fields go fallow. You can sell vegetables. We now sell out of our store, to local markets, and at farmers markets.

PPO: Is a small organic farm economically viable?

Terry: Farmers take out a line of credit with a bank at the beginning of the season to buy the seed and equipment. Ninety percent of the time you end up at the end of the season not being able to pay off the line of credit. It's OK says the loan officer; we'll just roll the remainder over into next year's line of credit. The CSA's save us. [A CSA is a customer share account. Customers pay at the beginning of the season for the food. People who want local organic produce are typically happy to support the farmer by paying up front.]

PPO: How do government policies and laws affect your business?

Terry: Pierce County regulations don't impact us so much. The County DOES need to make sure that we have a strong local farm base; having control over your food provides food security. I AM worried about legislation at the federal level. Laws are in the works that, in the name of food safety, would restrict our ability to avoid chemicals, e.g., to forestall e. coli outbreaks. Clearly the chemical companies and non-organic farmers support such legislation. Such legislation could put small organic farmers out of business. Real food security comes from local farms, face to face sales. I have to look my customers in the eye every day. Imagine how I would feel, if my customers or their children got sick because of food I produced!

PPO: What goals do you have for the future of your farm?

Terry: We have young people we train working on our farm. We hope that there will young people to take over the farm and continue our work.

PPO: Thank you. This has been an education.

Terry: Let me recommend some more things for your education. Food, Inc. and The Future of Food are important films. Check out websites: http://www.localharvest.org, http://www.eatlocal.com, and http://pickyourown.org. The book Food Rules by Michael Pollan is a must read. Attend Harvest Fest on October 1st to visit local farms in Pierce County.