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Posted on November 22, 2023 at 11:31 AM by Laura Wagner
To the Freys, finding land to start a farm was a dream of theirs for years. According to Claudia Frey, the core of this dream has always been community connection. "We always knew we wanted to do organic farming. To us, providing good food for our community means being organic." Thanks to the years-long resource and planning help of Pierce Conservation District's farm team, that dream has become a reality. It stands as an excellent example of how farming and ecological restoration can go hand-in-hand
The Frey Family Farm is situated on the lands of the Nisqually and Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) near the edge of the Mt. Rainier National Park. The farm is 40 acres, 2.25 acres of which is organic market garden and 32 acres of hay production. The products of their labor include vegetables, berries, microgreens, herbs, and eggs. Before the Frey Family moved onto this land, it was a turn-of-the-century dairy farm. Though the space is no longer used for dairy farming, they still embrace the dairy roots of the farm. You'll even find that the historic milk house has been converted into a chicken coop!
The Freys utilize various regenerative practices on their farmland, largely in part to their commitment to stewardship and community. If you would like to learn more about their ongoing projects or additional farm information, visit their website.
The Frey Farm is located next to a gravel road and a mountain-fed seasonal creek that runs alongside it. Prior to this creek restoration project, the creek had extensive tangles of invasive blackberry running along its banks. With such an overwhelming invasive plant presence, the creek channel and its fresh mountain water struggled to fulfill their ecological roles. One negative impact of the creek's invasive-dominant banks was that it would seasonally flood, stretching onto the gravel road and over to neighbors' property.
A rough example of the thickness of the invasive blackberry that used to dominate the creek's length
As a family that cares deeply about responsibly stewarding the land and "being good neighbors", the Freys knew that restoring this creek area was a time sensitive project. The Freys pursued grant funding from Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), facilitated through Pierce Conservation District. Thanks to NRCS funding and Pierce Conservation District partnership, a restoration work crew then came out and removed the heaping stretch of blackberry tangles. After the area was cleared, Pierce Conservation District staff and volunteers came together for three work parties to plant nootka rose, snowberry, and Oregon grape. Once the plants were in the ground, mulch and secured mosaics of burlap were laid down for plant health and weed suppression.
By the end of this work party series on November 17th, we planted 231 total native plants along a 1307 sq ft strip (the total area of about half of a tennis court). Thanks to the work our team and community volunteers did, we provided lasting, positive physical impacts for their farmland.
A timelapse video walking the length of the completed area that we planted, mulched, and burlaped.
At the final creek restoration work party, Claudia explained the many reasons her family answers the call to responsibly steward the land they live and operate on. This particular farm is fairly isolated from human development and doesn't have many detrimental impacts to the land such as past chemical farm treatments or timber harvesting. Additionally, the water they have access to is good quality, fresh mountain water; meaning that the water has no need for chemical additives. Lastly, there is a deep cultural significance of mountain land for the Indigenous peoples surrounding Mount Tahoma.
When they moved onto this farmland, the Frey family immediately knew that they needed to protect this land to respect previous generations of caretakers and provide for current and future generations of caretakers. Claudia also explained, "It's very important for us to take care of all of the land and not just what we are 'using' or harvesting. This is one of the reasons why we're so passionate about this creek restoration project."
Claudia views her experience farming as a personal lifelong learning opportunity. Thanks to Pierce Conservation District's years-long resource and planning help, she has learned about regenerative farming efforts for their farm, how to provide for this generation and the next, and gained access to tools and guidance to fulfill the family's commitment to stewardship through organic farming. Since the start of the partnership, the Frey Family Farm has been able to implement regenerative methods such as rotating crops, pollinator plantings, rotational grazing, and using plant buffers between crop and non crop areas of the farm.
Not only is running an organic farm a lifelong personal learning opportunity, but as an experienced teacher, Claudia views running the farm as a great learning opportunity for the community. She often invites students to come learn about the farm and its practices firsthand on field trips, with the nearby seasonal creek being the subject of one high school class's visit.
A collage of Pierce Conservation District workers & volunteers throughout the restoration work party series
These work parties offered an opportunity for community members to make new connections and strengthen bonds with one another. At the first work party, the farm owner Claudia and a PCD staff member rekindled a friendship after many years apart. They were able to share memories over bags of mulch and ignite their shared passion for the Pierce County community.
At the first work party, Claudia Frey immediately recognized Laura's face when she arrived. This was because Laura used to be Claudia's student many years ago! After years without seeing each other, their life paths brought them back together through the important conservation work we do. During the work party series, they connected over shared memories from those middle school years, such as Laura's 8th grade science project entitled "Lady vs Onion", and caught each other up on life since then. For Laura, the chance reunion with Claudia was a reminder of the people who made her who she is now and that her upbringing in the Puyallup community continues to influence her wherever she is and will be.
There was also a volunteer- Greg- who drove from his home in Tacoma to the base of Mount Rainier to get in on the fun. His energetic presence lifted the community, with conversations about invasive plants, the Ashford area, experiences at college, and actor Josh Hutcherson.
Lovely work party moments even transcended interactions between human connections! On the first work party, the farm cat Hank decided to grace us with his presence. Hank is an adventurous Oreo colored cat who is very friendly and curious around people. While he paid a visit to every work party attendee from Claudia's friends to Pierce Conservation District workers, he definitely had a favorite; Kyrstin! You could often find Hank sniffing Kyrstin, rubbing against her leg, being pet by her, climbing on her leg as she crouched, or even resting on Kyrstin's jacket as she planted.
While these are only three examples of memorable work party moments, there were even more that reflected the little happy moments throughout the work we do. The collage above reflects more examples of the happy moments with the group that worked together to restore a part of the Freys' "dream come true" organic farm.