Seattle Feed

On Whidbey Island with 'Farmer Bob' and His Inspiration Garden

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Farmer Bob's garden includes a greenhouse, barn, and chicken house. ©SueFrausePhoto

By Sue Frause

Editor's note: Today's 'inspiration garden' guest post is extra-special to me. I had the pleasure of working with writer Sue Frause back in 2007-09, when I served as deputy editor of Crosscut. Around the same time, I also had the privilege of staying at the guest apartment on Whidbey Island that she and 'Farmer Bob' offered to city folk like me. Whidbey is one of my most favorite places on the planet. It's a short ferry ride from Seattle but feels worlds away, and the Frause House easily undid me with its charm and the owners' hospitality. Here's Sue.

Welcome to Farmer Bob’s Garden on Whidbey Island. While many folks are sprouting green thumbs during the coronavirus pandemic, Farmer Bob’s turned green many moons ago. But first, a bit of backgrounder about Farmer Bob - who also happens to be my husband. 

Bob Frause and I were married in the summer of 1974, but his love of gardening started long before. “My first gardening experience was at age three at our home in Burien, south of Seattle,” said Bob. “It was always a large garden and a family affair, with work to be done.” That meant spading, laying down manure, weeding, and picking and preserving the crops. “One of my big dreams as a kid was to live on a farm and have a garden.” 

Bob in Garden
A three-year old 'Farmer Bob' pictured in the 1940s at his family's garden south of Seattle.

Although our first year as a married couple started out in a Seattle apartment, that didn’t stop Bob from growing a few crops. He built small planter boxes and placed them outside our fourth-floor kitchen window on the fire escape. “We had lettuce and tomatoes coming up until the Seattle Fire Department made us remove them just as the crop was in full bloom,” recalled Bob. 

After moving to Whidbey Island in 1975, where we bought a 1930s house on three acres in Langley, Bob planted his first ‘official’ garden - and he’s been digging in the dirt ever since. During those early years, the yearly plowing of the garden was always a chore. Our first springtime tilling of the soil was done by a neighbor who rotovated the garden with his tractor. The next few years, we rented a rototiller, but eventually ended up buying a Masport cultivator from New Zealand. It was a small machine and took a long time to till, but it worked for several seasons. And then Farmer Bob moved into the ‘real gardening’ category, purchasing a used Troy-Bilt rear tine tiller from a friend’s father. To this day, Bob continues to use the Troy-Bilt for smaller finishing jobs, but for the past 7-8 years, he’s been working the soil with his Kubota tractor and its five-foot wide rototiller. 

Sunflower

Ongoing improvements at Frause Acres are a big part of Farmer Bob’s garden. Fruit trees were planted early on and included apple, Italian plum, peach, and cherry trees (our neighbor’s goat devoured one of the apple trees down to the ground one year, but it survived and is now the largest tree in the garden). New structures were also added, including a large barn, chicken house, greenhouse, and a seven-foot high fence around the entire garden to keep out the deer. At the same time, we were also raising chickens, rabbits, turkeys, and cows - which resulted in plenty of free manure for the garden.

So what does Farmer Bob’s garden grow? Annual crops include arugula, beets, lettuce, radishes, spinach, garlic, onions, lettuce, carrots, beans (pole and dried), peas, corn, broccoli, cabbage, squash, cucumbers, 4-5 types of peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, basil, and sunflowers. Perennials in the garden include artichokes, herbs, raspberries, strawberries, horseradish, and a variety of flowers. 

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A basket of summer vegetables from Farmer Bob's garden. ©SueFrausePhoto

Over the past 40+ years, we established a farm business and sold beef, eggs, vegetables, and preserves - the idea being to defray the expenses of farming and gardening. And for a number of years, Farmer Bob sold basil to local stores and restaurants under the Bob’s Basil Factory brand.

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Farmer Bob brings in a batch of basil for pesto making. ©SueFrausePhoto

So what about harvest time? “Processing the bounty has been a chore, but fun,” says Bob. “We freeze, dry, pickle, and juice a lot of what we grow.” He even designed Farmer Bob labels for jams, jellies, and pickles. Vegetables from the garden (along with veggie starts from the greenhouse) are given to family, friends, and neighbors.

Farmer Bob Jam
Farmer Bob's Whidbey Island Raspberry Jam. ©SueFrausePhoto

Several aspects of Farmer Bob’s garden have evolved since those early days. For several years, we invited friends for a summer dinner party in the garden. The only requirement was that all the dishes (except the meat/fish of choice and beverages) had to originate from the garden. This was long before ‘farm to table’ became a global trend. 

In 2021, Farmer Bob’s Garden turns 45 years old. Let’s hope we can all gather around the table once again for a summer dinner party in the garden with friends. And raise a toast to Farmer Bob, whose childhood dream to have a farm and garden really did come true.

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Bob and Sue Frause's son Max and granddaughter Emilia head out to feed the chickens. ©SueFrausePhoto

H-l-about

Sue Frause is a prolific, long-time journalist and photographer whose work has appeared in print and online in the U.S. and abroad. For 15 years, she wrote an award-winning column for The South Whidbey Record. She currently writes not one, not two, but three blogs: Eat|Play|Sleep, Closet Canuck, and married to martha. She is also a regular on Around the World Radio. In her many travels, she's visited all seven continents, but her favorite place in the world is right there on Whidbey Island.

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How to Visit Seattle Like a Native Even If You're a Newcomer

Mossfigure

On a recent trip to Seattle, I asked my husband to ask me a question, any question. This is a good way to keep things interesting in a long relationship, as you learn something new every time, even if you've been together for years and think you've heard each other's stories already. He asked, "Of all your journalistic articles, which one do you think is your best?" Funny thing, I didn't even have to think about it. 

It's been almost a decade now since I wrote for the new media web site Crosscut. A for-profit startup back then, the skeleton crew of publishers and editors had high ambition that we were going to save journalism. Of course, that was a tall order during a time of massive newsroom layoffs, many papers across the country swallowed up by larger entities or simply folding. But Crosscut is a thriving non-profit now, and I moved on to writing games and books.

During those heady years of '07 to '09, I served as deputy editor and wrote more than 60 articles for Crosscut. Two of them stand out as my best, or at least my favorite, as it's hard to be objective about one's own writing. They're both travel pieces, which surprises me, as I'm not particularly well-traveled, although I've certainly lived in a lot of places. Both express a joy for local travel in and around Seattle. I share them with you now to help inspire your own travel to the Emerald City, my beloved home for a decade. Both excursions are still do-able today; Agua Verde is alive and well, as is Kalaloch, though I suspect they've since swanked the place up. 

 A newcomer goes kayaking

Agua verde

Six years in the Northwest and I’d never set butt in a kayak. Not that this should be that surprising. I know people who’ve been here for 20 years and haven’t so much as touched a kayak’s plastic skin. A friend of mine in her 30s who’s lived here all her life hasn’t been on a floating vessel of any kind except for the bridges and ferries.

But I used to edit Fishermen’s News, a gig that gave me access to 100-year-old halibut schooners and 100-foot ocean trawlers. I live in Ballard, where one sees intrepid kayakers come through the locks on a regular basis. There was no excuse.

On the kind of freakishly warm, sunny day in late September that makes Seattleites feel as if they’re getting away with something illicit, the hub and I went down to Agua Verde Paddle Club to brave the waters of Portage Bay.

| Kayakers look free, but they look awfully vulnerable, too.

At the check-in counter, they make you sign a release form. There’s nothing like a release form to up the anxiety meter. Not that I was feeling anxious. OK, a little. The kayaks are small and sit atop the surface of the water, and the ships passing by are very large in comparison. Kayakers look free, but they look awfully vulnerable, too. My kayaking experience thus far in 36 years of existence was limited to the waters off Miami, which were warm as a bath, and a basin in the Florida Keys where the water was actually hot. This Puget Sound water is so cold, I can’t stand to be in it further up than my knees, during the hottest part of the summer — you know, that one week in August when you partially break a sweat.

To say that I had a healthy regard for the realities of the situation would be euphemistically accurate. To say that I had a perhaps paranoiac fear of the water wouldn’t be inaccurate...

[Continue reading at Crosscut.]

It's stormy, and the Pacific coast beckons

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Seventy-three miles long but just a few miles wide, the ocean beaches of Olympic National Park in Washington have been — miraculously — left wild. There are no fried fish stands, no motels; no one beckons you to parasail or buy a hot dog. You are not to drive your car along the beach as is done with scandalous complacency just 20 miles or so to the south. To get to most of Olympic’s beaches, you must be willing to work, to walk in sturdy shoes for some time, and to climb a bluff or two, perhaps pulling yourself along by the fixed ropes provided for your safety. You must pay attention to the changing tides, as the beach may be for hundreds of feet decidedly walkable when you wake up in the morning, the sand seeming to stretch with flat, mirror-like grace to the far retreating surf, only to, by afternoon, disappear under the swirl and toss of water against the base of a bluff. The beach is there, and then it’s not.

| The beach is there, and then it’s not.

Visitors flock to Olympic National Park in ever increasing numbers — visitation grew 10 percent this past year over last – but a trip during off-season is a good way to avoid crowds and experience the beach in its wildest state. The hub and I stayed at Kalaloch Lodge over a three-day weekend in late fall, when the lodge had ample vacancy, and we nearly had the beach to ourselves, especially after sunset.

The Quinault word “kalaloch” means “a good place to land,” and that utilitarian mindset still characterizes it. Kalaloch Lodge is no high-end resort; nor is it a gem in the national park lodge tradition. Disabuse yourself of any vision that includes a massage, stone fireplace, 300-thread-count sheets, or complimentary cotton robe. The accommodations are old-school and basic. Not rustic – you’ll find showers, alarm clocks, and coffee makers in most rooms. But you won’t find a TV, phone, or wi-fi. The furnishings and decor are several decades out of date, and that’s not such a bad thing...

[Continue reading at Crosscut.]

I hope your travels are full of wonder and discovery. Happy Memorial Day!

All photos by me, with the driftwood image appearing previously on Crosscut. Want to read more of my articles for Crosscut? Visit the author page.


Seattle, A Love Letter

Heart coffee

Dear Seattle,

I'm leaving you now, but I don't really want to. But I do. I mean, I guess what I'm saying is, you're an incredibly hard city to leave.

I'll miss your concerts and your KEXP and your free neighborhood music festivals all the glorious summer. I took my stepson to his very first concert (Alt-J!) here. I saw John Prine and Paul Simon and Joan Jett and the Black Keys and The National and the Decemberists here, plus lots of other acts on small stages all over the city, not to mention every summer for ten years what I danced to at the Ballard Seafood Fest. I love how you keep the dream of the 90s alive, Jet City. Please keep on rockin' it.

I'll miss your foodie culture, which infuses everything with everything else and makes sure it's all organic, free-range, unionized, shade-grown, free-trade, cruelty-free, and so on and so on. I've made fun of you for all this, but the truth is, I'm glad someone's policing our food for us. It really needed it! And my belly has been so happy here.

Speaking of my belly, I don't know what I'm gonna do without your late-night happy hours, and all those cleverly named drinks with ingredients I can't even pronounce. Now when I want a Judy Blooming with chamomile-infused vermouth and a laphroaig rinse at 10 pm, I'll have to trudge down to the kitchen and make it myself. Which means I'll be drinking milk and Pepsi from now on.

And your art! Your investigative, inquiring, whimsical, at times silly but rarely disappointing art. I just want to hunker down in that ship's hull piece tucked into the cleft of Olympic Sculpture Park and stay here forever, admiring all the pretty things Seattleites make with their hands. Oh, God. Now that I'm writing this down, I can't believe I'm leaving all this art! How will I cope in the land of scrimshaw and scrapbooking? I guess I'll just have to come back here every once in a while and meditate in Light Reign.

While I'm on the culture train here, let me just say that I will pine for your live theater scene. Some of the best performances I've ever witnessed happened at the Seattle Rep, ACT Theater, and all those lovely little neighborhood theaters, Ghost Light Theatricals, the Green Lake Bathhouse, and Theater Off Jackson... Only you know how much I want to be a playwright when I grow up.

Glimpses of the water from any angle anywhere in Seattle. The sounds of seagulls and ship horns. That briny smell. It's in my bones.

The friendships you've given me. They know who they are and that they have an open invitation to visit me anytime. They're of course encouraged to bring you, Seattle, with them.

I'll miss your "openness within reason" attitude. You're a city in which anything goes, as long as no one gets hurt. I've felt safe to write whatever I want, to carry on as a middle-aged single person without kids, and to get married and worship God the way I want here. And I thank you for that.

Seattle, I've been happier here for the past ten years than I've been anywhere else in my life. And I've lived in a lot of places. While Tacoma keeps trying, you don't have to try; you just are. You care much more for your environment than Miami does. And while you certainly don't have to encounter the nuances of racism in the same way the average St. Louisan must, you're far more racially tolerant, on balance. And unlike the suburbs of my vast American military childhood, you have so much THERE there.

I would totally stay in you if it were possible for me to have both you and a comfortable retirement. But you see, you're making me choose. And that's not fair. In my new small town, I bought a house (a house! with a yard!) for a fraction of the price of one of your micro condos. I'm just sayin'.

Now I'm going to ask you to do something I know will be hard, especially since I don't believe in them. Can we try a long-distance relationship? I promise I'll commit to making it work. I really love you. I do.

Yours always,

Lisa 

P.S. I know you're uncomfortable with the fact that I'll be just as close now to Portland as I am to you, Seattle, but I promise there's no reason to get jealous. Portland ain't got nothin' on you. Don't give me that "Powell's Book Store" look. You know I love you.

 

 


Bye-bye, Bartell... And Seattle, Too

Bartell

I don't know why this one hit me so hard. I knew they were going to close my favorite Bartell store - they'd been letting us know in their characteristically customer-service-centered way for months. And it's not like there isn't a replacement Bartell nearby. The new one is in fact a Bartell on steroids, all swankified with New Seattle features like a place to refill your microbrewery growler. Plus, the building isn't special in any way, not Googie architecture like the Denny's they tore down or a beloved, Old Ballard 'third place' to hang, like Sunset Bowl.

But hit me hard it did. I was walking down the street, wondering if I needed to pop in and get something from Bartell, and there it was, already fenced up, a construction backhoe poised to begin ripping into the establishment like an angry beast.

For the past decade, I've popped into this Bartell thousands of times to fill a prescription or fulfill a chocolate craving. I've loaded up on discounted vitamins and bottles of salad dressing. The photos of smiling family members on my walls are framed by the high-quality but reasonably priced picture frames I've purchased here.

And I've been a long fan of the locally owned Bartell chain. I once pitched a story on it to an editor (rejected), and I tried to swing a gig writing the Bartell corporate history (scooped). See also: Making a living as a writer.

Oh, I know that all things must change, that the only constant is change, and that arriving here as a newcomer myself ten years ago, I was part of this change. Bartell had already changed apiece. I've just recently come out of mourning for the retirement of my favorite crew of elder statesmen pharmacists and their assistants, who knew me by name, treated me like a respected neighbor, and delivered on the best customer service I'd experienced at any drug dispensary, anywhere. Their youthful replacements are poster children for the Seattle Freeze, and they wouldn't know customer service from The Postal Service.

So many of the things that drew me to Seattle's Ballard neighborhood - its Scandahoovian fishing culture, the working class set of its jaw, its annexed-small-town vibe, seem to be slipping away. The sky used to be filled with seagulls; now it's construction cranes. A newspaper once listed each Seattle neighborhood by its residents' most likely attire, and Ballard's was something like "the jeans I left on the floor the day before." Now I think it would be "the $200 jeans I bought online." It used to be I couldn't wait on a street corner without having an overly polite driver insist on my pedestrian right-of-way. Now, I fear for my life in crosswalks even though they're brightly painted and marked with flashing lights.

I had a conversation recently with a woman who's moved from Ballard to Everett. "I can't afford to buy a house here," I whined to her, and she replied, "I can't afford to buy the house I just sold here." The house next door to hers had been sold to a developer, who promptly put up a block of four three-story homes, what I refer to as "stacks." The stacks blocked the light to her backyard, and the garden she'd cultivated for years could no longer grow. So she decided it was time to leave, even though she runs a business out of Ballard, for how much longer, I wonder.

For the past four years, I've been weighing the advantages and disadvantages of staying put. In the end, going won out over choosing to stay. My husband and I didn't think we'd be leaving for a couple more years, but opportunity elsewhere knocked at the same time that Seattle seemed to be shouldering us aside. In a couple of weeks, we'll be moving to a city with a population that is one-sixth the size of Ballard's.

I have no illusions about what small-town life will mean for me. So you can spare me the lecture about how isolated I'll feel, how bored I'll get of the handful of restaurants in my new burg, or how much more conservative it will be. 

But what I do have is hope. Hope for a more sustainable lifestyle where a person can afford to purchase a home and save for retirement without over-leveraging herself on a micro condo, its fancy "community room" full of partying techsters.

And maybe a friendly pharmacist who remembers my name.