You might say Brian McWhorter has a following. Chief among that group is his little dog Bo-Bo, who plods along behind Brian on daily rounds to the many fields and farms where he and his crew grow fruits and vegetables for Butler Green Farms. Other followers, of the human variety, keep up with Brian via his cell phone, which rings musically in his pocket on a regular basis.
On a typical spring day at the Day Road farm facility, a friend calls to ask Brian what the frost date is in this area. A few minutes later the phone rings again. "No, I can't meet you at the gym today," Brian says. (He's trying to "get in shape" -- farming is hard on the back and body.) Ten minutes later, a berry farmer calls to get Brian's take on a technicality of organic farm regulations. Sometimes, Brian has more than one conversation going at once - one in person, one on the phone.
It's all in a day's work for "the farmer without a farm," as Brian calls himself -- a familiar experience he was born into, has nurtured, and made work for him. An "orphan from Ireland," Brian is originally from Buck's County, Pennsylvania, where he grew up on his adopted parent's farm. Later he migrated to the West Coast via the United States Air Force and found himself at the University of Oregon in 1974, where he intended to make his way through medical school. The "back to the land" movement was in full swing, and Brian started doing a little growing on a farm outside of town where he rented a cabin. Eventually, he helped start a vibrant farmer's market and food co-op in Eugene, both of which are still going strong. Organic certification was just getting off the ground then too, and Brian became one of the first certified organic growers in the area. By the time he graduated in Biology from Oregon, it was clear Brian was destined to be a farmer instead of a doctor.
So it was that Butler Green Farms was born in Eugene, and ten years later, moved with Brian and his wife Amy Kuhl to 30 acres on Bainbridge Island's Lovgreen Road, where once again Brian farmed someone else's land. His CSA farm store is still located on this site, just west of the highway, although Brian, Amy and their two daughters eventually bought a home in North Kitsap, where they now live.
Since large tracts of farmland are expensive to buy in this area and small-scale farmers are not usually wealthy, Brian has over the years found ways to utilize various sites that may otherwise have remained idle. In this way, he has not only helped to preserve farmland, he has also developed healthy, sustainable farm practices by rotating crops and allowing fields to rest between intensive growth cycles. Currently, Brian's farm operation includes half-a-dozen Bainbridge locations -- the city's Day Road site (adjacent to the Bainbridge Winery), the original Lovgren Road piece, the Morales Farm, Valley Road, Dolphin Road, and Weaver Road (Nakata family property) -- as well as at Farm Kitchen, in North Kitsap.
During his 25 years of farming on Bainbridge, Brian's talent for locating fertile, available land has created a multi-faceted organic farm business, which includes not only direct-to-customer sales through CSA and the Farmer's Market, but also sales to local restaurants and retail supplies to Town & Country and Central Market grocery stores. This diverse base of sales parallels Brian's flexible, rotating growing practices, forming a truly flexible, sustainable business -- no small achievement, considering the growing popularity in recent years of large-scale organic farming and Costco-size retailing.
Now that local food is gaining attention, Brian expects his CSA business will continue to grow, especially since restaurant demand is slacking off a bit, due to the economic recession. Butler Green Farms is a constant juggling act, but Brian's been doing it for so long, the ongoing tweaks and adjustments seem like part of his DNA -- and maybe they are. Someday, he hopes to retire on a little piece of property he and Amy own in Mexico, where he pictures growing lush, tropical crops in his own backyard -- and plenty of siestas.
You'll find Butler Green Farms at the Bainbridge Farmer's Market, where you can buy produce, sign up to join the CSA, and find spring vegetable starts. Last year, 160 families participated in the farm's CSA, which operates a little differently than most. Families deposit $500 for one year, and deduct the price of their fresh produce from the total every time they "shop" at the Lovgreen farm store. Couples can join for $250. "This allows everyone a little more freedom and flexibility," says Brian, who prefers this method to the classic "one box a week" system many CSAs offer.
For more information about Butler Green Farms, visit their website at www.butlergreenfarms.com. If If you'd rather catch up with Brian in person, he's happy to answer your call on his cell phone, (360) 620-5181. You may have to get in line, but the wait is worth it.
(Above) Inside the big greenhouse at Day Road
(Above and below) Hoop house at Day Road
(Above) Brian walks his talk (and talks his walk)