Whimsy is palpable at Sun Island


For The Beachcomber

Geese is my name. So say the three blonde Yarkin daughters. We have just met.

It’s barely August, and the blackberries are in full form. Fresh out of college, I am new to Washington and to farm life. The girls hound me for wearing sneakers, and I tell them I have bad feet.

“Oh come on!” says 6 year-old Ella. I say I don’t mean ugly, I mean structurally damaged. She shows no mercy. The other volunteers wore bare feet, and so will I.

Ella takes me on a nibbling tour. I am smitten with tomatillos and swoon over rainbow chard, but couldn’t be more clueless.

“Chard? You don’t know chard?!” Arms outstretched, she is scandalized. She points out edamame, kiwi, bitter melon, Jerusalem artichoke, stevia, an experimental loofah and the farm mascot — a towering sunflower.

Sun Island Farm has blossomed on Maury Island since 2001. These five acres once belonged to the Garner Farm, which grew apples, currants and sour cherries. When Joe and Celina Yarkin arrived, baby Adri in tow, the land had long been untouched. Joe had aspirations of farming, while Celina was eager to build upon her gardening experience. But first, a house.

During three and a half years of construction, the Yarkins lived in a souped-up Sealand shipping container. Since their freight train-hopping college days, Celina says Joe had always wanted to live in a converted train car, “and it ended up being the most practical thing.” A second container now sits near the corner of 75th and 248th. This is the latest incarnation of a newly developed farm stand, open four days a week.

Sun Island’s mainstay is the Vashon Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Alongside organic produce, the farm prepares food and drinks on site with the freshest farm ingredients. Past menus featured vegetable crepes with blackberry sauce and crème de kuri squash soup.

“We want our food to draw people to the market, where you find the best produce on the Island,” says Joe.

The Yarkins’ blending wand is an instrument of beet evangelism. The vegetable has inspired Sun Island’s new line of “Super” drinks.

“It’s the whole vegetable getting blended, so you’re getting your fiber — not just the juicing extract and the sugars and some vitamins,” he explained.

The overwhelming favorite Super Beet drink is made with raw beets, blended with ice and apple juice for sweetness. Joe says the Super Green drink “will evolve with the seasons,” and may include wild crops that turn sweet in the winter — like Douglas fir, which is high in Vitamin C. Currently greening the green drink is kale, parsley and mint.

As for Sun Island’s evolution, the Yarkins are looking to expand their business model. One possibility is a small Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to serve local Maury Island. There’s also talk of a co-op with other farms. Guiding the flux of ideas is their mission to develop agriculture on the Island. Joe said he believes that “if we all work towards that, Vashon could come around back to its history of providing food to the greater Seattle-Tacoma area — a community that not only feeds itself but exports food to the city.”

Also central to the Sun Island philosophy is minimizing energy use. Joe often draws on his work as a solar engineer: “I did a bunch of calculations, and I realized by growing food, I lowered our carbon footprint by more then most of the solar projects that I do.”

One month into farm life, I’m starting to get attached. The work is always cathartic, sleep is of a different breed, and of course, it’s good politics. The big picture checks out. But its most welcome effect on me has been the simplest. After an ironically sobering college experience, the farm has reminded me how to play.

At times Sun Island’s whimsy is Wonka-esque. An “everything tree” grows in the orchard — each branch a different fruit. A composted avocado pit sprouts among the beets. The watermelons are technicolored golden and yellow. And sometimes, if only sometimes, the blender’s grating sound is music to my ears.

— Elise Garrity, a Willing Worker on Organic Farms volunteer, is a former Sun Island intern.

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