Saturday, May 26, 2012

Goodbye Grandma Roberta!

Today my family will honor the woman who played a huge part in my ability to be farming today and a very very large reason the Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve exists today.  My grandmother Roberta Mae Smith (Haegar).
Grandmother Roberta passed away earlier this week.  She was 94.
My grandmother was a young woman of just 54 when my grandfather Knight passed away suddenly in 1970.  Then, within a year, his brother George died.  This left my grandmother and her sister-in-law Maryon crippled not only with the debt of our family's Ebey's Prairie farm, but huge inheritance taxes as well.
Struggling with how to pay the bills, many widows would have simply cut their losses, sold the land and moved on.  But my grandmother refused to "lose the family farm" which had been in the family since the last 1800s.  So ensued many years of struggle.  She traveled to Alaska and drove a bus on the pipeline to make some quick cash.  At one point, the farm went on the "auction block" but Grandma was able to buy it back on the courthouse steps.  Eventually, my grandmother and Maryon hatched a plan to develop along the west, top side of the prairie.  Sell lots to pay off their bills and keep the rest of the farm.
And that sparked the property rights battle that eventually ended in the creation of the Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve.
The Smith Farm was the iconic "heart" of the reserve and, I hope, remains so to this day.  My grandmother Roberta was vilified by some as being an attempted "developer" of the reserve.  That always pissed me off.  Although yes, that could have been what happened, Roberta was certainly not looking at the prairie as a potential cash cow.  She was merely trying to survive.  I remind people that when her husband and brother-in-law first died, and the tax man was waiting impatiently and there was no solution at the time on the table for the federal government to buy our farm land and keep it forever in farming.  That came many stressful years down the road. Roberta's goal had simply been to just not loose the farm. Even if some of it had to be sold to save the rest.  And this, of course, is why we have lost so so so much great farmland in this country.  Because farmers have to pay their bills in the end too.  And so an acre here, an acre there....until it is more concrete and suburbia than fields and dirt.
We are lucky that the solution found for central Whidbey was so much grander and broader.  My grandmother lived to the end of her days thrilled to see the land still in production, the many visitors to the reserve enjoying it's great beauty and the fact that, strangely enough, her eldest granddaughter felt the undeniable allure of farming and returned back to the 20 acres we still owned on Ebey's Prairie and well, started growing a few things.  And because the prairie WAS saved back in the 1970s (back when I was just a young girl), I started farming in a community that supported agriculture, with farming neighbors and surrounded by not just our beautiful farmland, but all the farmland of the prairie which is now (mostly) without developmental rights.  I tell people all the time that I'm very lucky because, unlike most young folks who want to farm today, when I decided to farm I had easy access to amazing, fertile farmland and the structure and resources to support that crazy dream.  In that wouldn't be the case if it hadn't been for Roberta Mae.
So today, we honor a lady who, if she hadn't been determined to save her family farm, wouldn't have ended up saving land that so many today find invaluable.  We love you Grandma!
Meanwhile...of course, the veggies march on.  So while I'm at services, my fabulous crew will be at the Coupeville and Bayview markets.  Bringing a great selection for a beautiful weekend.  Here goes....
From Willowood:
* Mesclun mix
* Arugula
* Head Lettuce
* Braising greens
* Broccoli Raab
* Radishes
* Garlic Scapes
* Walla Walla Spring Onion bunches
* Kale
* Peregion Beans
* Rockwell Beans
* Rhubarb
From Prairie Bottom Farm:
* Chard
* Herbs
* Beets
* Limelight Beans
From Mikey at Whidbey Green Goods (Bayview Market only):
* Cauliflower
* Basil
* Cucumber
* Meat!
* Golden Beets
* Broccoli
Also grains from Georgina and emmer from Ebey Road Farm.
Hope to see you there!
Farmer Georgie
Willowood Farm of Ebey's Prairie


  1. Thanks for sharing these great memories of your Grandmother's life. What a better way to honor her than do do what you are doing...farming!

  2. Georgie what a wonderful story, beautifully told. God bless you and your farm. And thanks for all the vegetables!