Why does farm fresh, height-of-the-season sweet corn taste so much better? Why do local strawberries burst with flavor that you just can’t find at the grocery store? Why are farmstand peas so much crisper and juicy? At Helsing Junction Farm they know it’s all about the soil, and the freshness of the product.
“We grow stellar strawberries. We grow amazing greens and peas. There are certain crops that we grow, and that small farms grow, that you will just never get in the grocery store,” explains Sue Ujcic, co-owner of Helsing Junction.
“Sweet corn loses 50% of its sugar in the first hour after it’s picked, so if you’re getting that corn at the grocery store five days in, it’s just not the same thing. Same with fresh peas – you can’t replicate that. People really rave about our strawberries. Our greens are super crunchy and juicy, and we’re known for our carrots, too. They’re super sweet.”
Sue and her business partner, Annie Salafsky, along with their team, recognize that great flavor and nutrition starts with healthy soil. “We work to build incredibly healthy soils so that our food has a lot of nutrition in it. That’s something that we are paying a lot of attention to. Our food reflects that. It has really great flavor, is really high in brix ratings, high in sugar, which indicates more nutrition, and the actual hold ability in your refrigerator is longer, because the cell structure of the plants is really strong. Soil health is something we’ve been working really hard on.”
Sue and Annie met while working on different farms in the Independence Valley, and have co-owned and managed Helsing Junction Farm for the last 25 years. The farmers both relocated to Thurston County to attend The Evergreen State College, Sue from New Jersey and Annie from Chicago. “We both came from the suburbs of major cities, and we had to get out of there,” Sue shares.
“I studied painting and print-making,” she continues. “I’m an artist. I did not study farming. I am a completely self-taught farmer. I grew up with a Croatian grandmother and we had a giant garden. I grew up gardening and eating seasonally my whole life, and so even when I came to college, I kept a garden and always ate that way.”
“Annie, who studied agriculture and writing at Evergreen, was also very influenced by her European grandparents, and her mom from Switzerland,” shares Sue. “Both of us had a very European influence in the way we ate seasonally and fresh and cooking all the time. The junk food thing wasn’t a part of my growing up, and so I’m lucky that way. I think that that was a big influence.”
Helsing Junction Farm’s primary focus is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), in which customers purchase a share of the harvest at the beginning of the season and receive weekly boxes of farm fresh produce. When Sue and Annie started 25 years ago they had 75 CSA members, and today they have 1,000 CSA members. Helsing grows enough produce each year on their certified organic 80-acre farm for abundant CSAs, a farmstand, and to sell to the Olympia Food Co-op and Farm Fresh Market.
Helsing Junction founded one of the first CSAs in the nation. “When we first started there were only a few in the nation, interestingly enough the first CSAs in the nation were women,” says Sue. “Organic food is far more driven by women. So that’s been an interesting trajectory, since organics and small farm interest has grown, so have the number of women farmers. It’s a movement.”
Helsing Junction’s primary mission is to provide better access to healthy food, for everyone. “We don’t see this as a luxury item. It’s a basic human right to be getting fresh, organic, highly nutritious food. We found that when we focus on places that are underserved, we get a great response. We donate 30,000 pounds of food annually to the Thurston County Food Bank Gleaning Program. Once again, it’s access, we should be creating less barriers for access instead of more.” Helsing Junction also accepts EBT, and is working with Cornell University to improve EBT access for CSAs and farmers markets nationwide.
Sue’s love of farming, and the community, is obvious. “The best part of farming is being able to work outside and have access to the most amazing food,” she says. “Annie and I really like to cook, host, party, and share, and this kind of business really lends itself to creating a community of eaters. That’s the best part, and the most fun part.”
“We’ve become really great friends with our employees, and have created a whole family atmosphere. It’s a real privilege to be able to run a business in this manner. We’re pretty lucky. We wake up every day full of gratitude,” Sue shares.
“What drives us is that we want to work in community. We want to create the most nutritious healthful food that we can, and get access to as many people as we can. We just really want to help people eat well, make it as easy as possible,” Sue adds. “We’re taking CSA members for the 2016 season. Join us for a season of eating well!”