Fyi, Chi rhymes with Fly 🦋
When Scott was in his early 20’s, he got interested in where food came from. Having worked in retail produce, selling vegetables at Sunny Farms for a stint, he got curious about where all the vegetables came from. He wanted to know how they were grown. Scott was also getting keen to learn about organic growing, so he decided he wanted to work on a farm, an organic farm. Looking around, Nash’s and Salt Creek were the only organic ones in the area. He asked Nash for a job.
Scott’s first job was in the fall working at the Port Angeles Farmers Market, he quickly realized that he had the skills and know-how to sell vegetables. Having made a great start, Nash offered him a job for the coming season. That was the kick off of a long tragectory saturated in organic farming; lots of learning by doing, going to school at Evergreen for agriculture-related classes such as soil sciences, biology, microbiology, etc…
Scott shares that, “A lot of the learning regarding the many facets you need to know to be a successful farmer came about with hands-on practice, professional networking, and from exposure to other farmers and university people.”
Quickly given a lot of responsibility, Scott became production manager for all the vegetables grown at Nash’s. When he started, Nash’s farm consisted of about 30 acres, when he left, 14 years later, Nash was growing vegetables on at least 130 acres, plus managing about 400 acres of land. “It was an amazing amount of increase in vegetable production during the time I was managing that element.” During that time Scott also served as the lead on the thriving Port Townsend Farmers Market, which he loved.
As the organics market grew, the space for organic seed growing became a needed and lucrative business enterprise, Nash’s endeavored to fill that with several braassicas, beets and chard. This part of the growing was fascinating for Chi, he found himself drawn to the seed production aspect of farming. He points out that “Growing vegetebles for seed is far more different than simiar to growing actual vegetables, I got really into growing vegetables for seed and the plant breeding work taking place on the farm.”
After leaving Nash’s, Chi helped some folks start an organic farm in Chilliwack, this was his first exposure to abundant greenhouse growing. This farm had an acre of glass greenhouses! After establishing that farm, he spent a year exploring the next place to farm and determined that Sequim had the farmland and other facets of life that he wanted. Chi’s Farm was then started in 2014, 2021 was its 7th year.
Initially had wanted to start a small seed company, but then he quickly realized that the busiest time of the year for a seed company is the winter, cleaning, packing, marketing. This wasn’t so compatible with his wife’s plan of traveling in the winter.
Ironically, he shares, “I now have vegetables growing year round. At the time I didn’t want to work winters because my partner wanted to get away in the winter, plus seed growing is not an easy business to start from scratch and develop a quick financial stream from.” In a seed growing business you wait at least a whole season before you have anything to sell. Scott says, “I didn’t walk in with a year of overhead to kick off seed growing and vegetables were more attractive as a way to have something to sell right away.” Additionally, he was drawn to having a connection with the people that were eating the food. Part of his love for the farmers markets was connecting with the people. “The vegetable growing allows for that deeper conection with the folks eating the food.”
He thought he could meld some seed growing into the vegetable growing, but says it’s been a wild ride just growing the vegetables. Plus it turns out that it isn’t easy to try and do just a small amount of seed, it’s still simmering on a back burner.
In 2014, Chi’s Farm CSA started with 35 members. At the time Scott was teaching full time at Sequim High School, actually the first 4 seasons he was teaching Agricultural Science at SHS. For the first two seasons he grew vegetables for a small group of CSA members, then for the next 2 years he was growing salad mix for wholesale plus a small salad-mix-only CSA, all while teaching. Then he started stocking small amounts of salad mix in the farmstand.
As wholesale accounts were building up, he decided to leave the teaching to jump in full time with the farm. He dug back into the vegetable CSA but with the CSA package built around the awesome salad mix. “The first year was a tight financial year, not teaching, just farming, just enough income to keep it going, the two years since then have gotten much better.” It was year 6 before the business was truly profitable beyond just paying the staff and himself, that was a relief.
Chi says, “I am proud of the fact that we have created something that people are drawn to, they go out of their way to buy our food. I realize it is another stop that is different from where they are going wherever else they are getting the rest of their food. I am proud we have created something that people are willing to go out of their way for.”
He also shared that, “All of this is driven by a force, one that I don’t really understand, a deep satisfaction that comes when we harvest really good food.”
For 2022, Chi has had the opportunity to build a lot of greenhouse space thanks to grant funding, now the challenge is to use it well. The greenhouses were intended for growing salad mix all winter long, to keep feeding people. Getting the timing and transitions down is one learning curve. “It’s a fun new challenge, it’s part of what is intriguing for me, it keeps me engaged when the farming’s not repititve. The challenges create the learning and the greenhouses are the biggest challenge of how to do well for now.”