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West Side farm plows for a purpose

Mon., April 13, 2009

Produce goes to shelters, food banks

TACOMA – Otis Jackson Jr. celebrated his 21st birthday by touching a horse.

Jackson was a member of a Pierce County District Court crew working to satisfy a community service requirement at the nonprofit Mother Earth Farm near Orting where, for the ninth consecutive spring, teams of draft horses turned five acres of an eight-acre field from flat dirt into soft, soddy furrows.

“I’ve never been this close to horses,” said Jackson, of Parkland, outside Tacoma.

Most of the horses were done for the day and stood patiently, waiting for their harnesses to be removed and their feedbags affixed.

“I petted that one,” Jackson said, pointing. “They’re soft. I was kind of nervous. Every time I come out here, I learn something. Last time I learned what a squash was. I thought it was a potato.”

Said the crew supervisor, a woman named Bonnie: “There’s life outside the city.”

And out near Orting, there is an organic farm, where there’s no need for chemical fertilizers.

Last year, Mother Earth Farm produced 75 tons of food – all of it destined for Pierce County food banks, shelters and hot-meal sites.

The farm grew 75 tons from eight acres, all organically grown. The peas, fava beans and garlic are already in for the 2009 season, and the spinach, broccoli and cabbage come next. Then it’s beans, squash and tomatoes, and all the rest, including the onions and potatoes.

“All the food that people love to eat,” said Carrie Little, farm manager.

Mother Earth Farm, she said, “is an instrument to fulfill the mission that nobody goes hungry.”

Overseen by Pierce County’s Emergency Food Network, the farm is funded through donations. The produce is grown with the help of volunteers, including the 10-man crew working thanks to District Court, and a crew of nine women working four days a week from the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Purdy.

“Today, we’re the center of the universe,” Little said Saturday, ignoring the gently falling rain. “This is the convergence of horse and earth.”

The steel blades of the plows cut furrows six to eight inches deep, up and back again. Instead of the sounds of tractor engines, the only noise in the fields was the purr of the soil turning and the jingling of the horses’ rigging.

Greg Johnson, of Spanaway, drove his team, Bert and Brutus, both 16, both Belgians. Johnson is a member of the Hames and Tug Draft Horse Club, as are the other drivers at Mother Earth Farm.

Clarence Stancil, 89 of Tenino, drives Bird, Belle and Burt, 7, 8 and 21 respectively.

“I’m an Okie by birth,” Stancil said. Stancil bounces, a light hand on the reins. He’ll plow three fields this year, volunteering at a farm near Ephrata, at a field near Ethel and at Mother Earth.

“It’s a good cause, and an excuse to work my horses,” he said.

As the afternoon deepens, Tom Stumpf, of Enumclaw, unbuckles his harnesses and unhooks the yoke from Dick and Don, both 18.

“We like to go plowing,” he said.

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