Viewpoint – Mar 2016 – Susan Prescott – South Whidbey Tilth

Tilth, cultivating healthy soil and community since 1982
Susan Prescott, president of South Whidbey Tilth Council of Trustees

PresidentPrescottbwMy cousin, owner of a cherry orchard in Cashmere, introduced us to the regional organization called Tilth. It had been created by young farmers from all over the Northwest who had been inspired by author farmer Wendell Berry’s words at the Spokane World Fair in 1974. He had addressed a growing concern that global, corporate agribusiness was showing far more concern for profit than human health.

The word tilth is an old English word for judging the quality of cultivated soil. These activists chose this name because it inspired them to look deeper, to find wisdom and insight from daily observation of the web of life that they depended on as farmers and ranchers.

My husband Michael and I organized a first meeting of our local chapter on June 19, 1982. Jerry and Rose Dobson and Sean and Myrna Twomey came, as well as Sue Ellen White, Marianne Edain, Steve Erickson, Iris and Peter Linton, Jerry Hill, Vivian Stembridge, Lance Porter, and a number of others.

South Whidbey Tilth was born. We were invited to manage a farmers’ market organized years before by some of our members, and Bill Lanning, former owner of what is now Bayview Corner, offered his land for it. A market has flourished there ever since.

As Bayview corner changed hands several times in the late 1990s, Tilth accepted a generous offer of 11 acres just down the highway on Thompson Road. From that land base we have continued to address the food crisis in America; the epidemic of chronic, food-related illnesses in our society today. The fact that more young people than ever before suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes, and statistics suggest that too many of their generation will not live as long as their parents.

Tilth members continue to teach, learn and share with the community. The weekly seasonal Farmers’ Market opens Sunday, May 1. Families and friends meet to enjoy fresh, healthful produce, quality handcrafts, and nourishing concessions for breakfast and lunch, while children play and musicians entertain. And, now we’ve become a WiFi site as well.

Tilth offers classes about soil building, gardening, seed saving, invasive weed control, mushroom identification and more. Kids in a small, nature-oriented private elementary school, Calyx, spend at least one day a week on the Tilth land exploring and working in their own on-site garden. Families and individuals lease community garden plots where they have access to water, fencing and tools. Dorcas Young of Lesedi Farm also leases a quarter acre from Tilth to grow produce and sell from a farm stand, open daily.

The land has native plants and trees to protect the watershed and provide wildlife food and habitat. This includes a Garry oak meadow and a woodland trail leading through a restored native understory of plants under a mature fir forest. Tilth maintains the roadside edges without herbicides, relying on native vegetation.

This year we welcome a capable young intern, who will be managing the market and garden plots, while learning new skills through the WSU Master Gardener Program and through programs with other interns on Whidbey.

Visit Tilth at 2812 Thompson Road or virtually on the website or leave a message at 360-321-0757.