By Nikki McCoy
It all started at a birthday party. As ten-year-old girls swarmed around Brighida DeVargas and Michelle Jackson, the two moms plotted plans for an urban farm and garden center, where their combined knowledge could be a resource.
One year later, their dream has come into fruition. The Eastside Urban Farm and Garden Center, located on Fourth Avenue in the space previously occupied by Curtis Lumber. The dynamic moms, joined by Michelle’s husband, Billy Jackson, opened the urban gardening store in March.
“Our first month has been really great,” says DeVargas. “A lot of folks are coming in and letting us know that they are really happy we are here. It feels good to know that we are meeting a need in the community and filling a gap.”
Walking into the store, the sound of peeping chicks fills the air, the rustic look of exposed wood beams and re-purposed shelving from pallets greet the eye, and displays, like top-bar beekeeping and cold frames for gardening, pique curiosity.
Products, like non-GMO seeds, bulk feed for poultry and supplies for husbandry line the shelves on the 10,000 square foot space that used to house Curtis Lumber. Bee-keeping supplies, gardening tools, and cheese-making kits round out the variety of items stocked at the new store. Gardeners are invited to feel the texture of the soil they buy by sinking their hands into bins of organic material. A large nursery and out back holds 1,000 berry vines and 400 fruit trees. A smaller greenhouse nourishes veggie starts from local suppliers, including Rising River and Scattercreek farms.
With extensive experience in farming and gardening, opening the center was an appropriate next step for DeVargas and the Jacksons.
DeVargas has been involved in the landscaping industry both in the UK and the Pacific Northwest, and is principal landscape designer of DeVa Designs. Her background includes design, permaculture, general construction, and fine horticulture. She raises quail, chicken and dairy goats all on a city lot.
“I think opening up (the store) is a natural progression for me,” says DeVargas. “Helping people to produce more of their own food closer to home has been the focus of much of my life’s work, and I think that both the Jackson’s and I truly believe that growing at least some of your own food is one of the most important things a person can do to improve their health, community, and local economy.”
Michelle and Billy have over 20 years combined experience in urban farming and keep a variety of animals on their small farm located just two miles from the store. The Jackson farm includes more than 30 varieties of unusual and rare-breed poultry, a herd of mini-La Mancha goats, small breed swine, honey bees and fiber rabbits.
Their experience of managing a growing farm helped pave the way for what type of products urban farmers need.
“We’ll have a little of everything at the store,” says Michelle. “We’re trying to accommodate city dwellers. When I lived in the city and just had a few chickens, I didn’t want to buy a 50-lb bag of feed necessarily…or if you have mini-goats, you don’t need a big old bucket (for milk) you need something to fit under your goat that is only 20-inches tall, so we’re trying to specialize in that urban feel.”
Another aspect to the store is the education room, where the community is welcome to sit and read reference books on everything from soil to fermentation. On certain weekends, the room transforms into a workshop, where a variety of topics will be taught by regional experts. Two organic gardening classes have already been well received.
“The class will continue throughout the year, letting people know what needs to be done in the garden each month and season,” explains DeVargas. “We are pretty lucky here in Olympia. We can grow food year-round, unlike most of the country. The gardening classes are fairly informal, with a lot of discussion and laughter all around, but packed with a lot of great information.”
Eastside Urban Farm and Garden Center continues to grow. At any given time, the store is busy with the hustle and bustle of individuals and families preparing for spring. Children giggle as they hold a fluffy chick, bales of hay will be loaded into the back of someone’s pick-up truck, and maybe, two friends will be busy plotting their next big dream as they dig their hands through soil.
For more information, visit eastsideurbanfarmandgarden.com or stop by the store at 2326 Fourth Avenue in Olympia.