Morales Farm – A remarkable place full of remarkable people!

Morales Farm SignAs you’re driving north on Highway 305, you’ll notice several “hoop” greenhouses at the intersection of 305 and Lovgreen Road, and beyond that, rows and rows of grapes. The 5-acre property known as Morales Farm, is one of Bainbridge Island’s oldest working farms, and the home to sublease farmers Brian MacWhorter of Butler Green Farms, John Chang of Peaceful Morning Farm, and Mike Lempriere of Perennial Vintners.

Teddy Morales, a Filipino immigrant, arrived in the U.S. in 1929 and eventually made his way to Bainbridge, where he worked as a farm hand for decades before joining the World War II effort. After his return from the war, Teddy was able to acquire the 5-acre parcel which became known as The Morales Farm. He and his growing family farmed berries, a variety of vegetables, and a prolific crop of sweet corn. The main farmhouse, which is still intact today, was built in 1953.

In the 1990s, the Morales family moved to the Philippines and the property was eventually purchased by the City of Bainbridge Island via an open space bond approved by voters in 2001. Since 2012, the property has been managed as a publicly owned farm by Friends of the Farms (FotF).

As part of my ongoing series on the Friends of the Farms, I met with Heather Burger, Executive Director of FotF to learn more about Morales Farm. I was a bit early for our tour and wandered around, taking a few pictures and enjoying the sunshine. A particular plot, located near the entrance on Lovgreen Road, stood out. I assumed it was a “p-patch” or part of one of the other leased farm parcels—it was a little bit of both. A small Ukrainian flag was placed at the head of the plot, and I initially thought it was there in solidarity for the current situation, however, it was much more than that. When Heather arrived, I pointed out the small patch, and the story she told is wonderful and heartwarming.

Ukranian refugee family plot at Butler Green - Morales FarmAs Heather explained, islander Lena Levin contacted Heather because her parents, Lidia and Vitaly, had recently arrived on Bainbridge after escaping war in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. “All they had with them was a small bag each with two changes of clothes, and miraculously, their cat, Vasya,” she said. To help them heal and find peace, they wanted to plant a garden, and Heather offered them a p-patch at Johnson Farm at no cost. When she mentioned it to Brian MacWhorter, owner of Butler Green Farm, he offered them the small plot, plant starts, seeds, tilling, and assistance learning how to grow in our climate. In addition, John Chang of Peaceful Morning Farm, offered fertilizer and tomato starts. Learning about this small act of kindness was a wonderful way to start our tour and is only the beginning of the story… to read more, click here.

Butler Green signWe began our tour with Butler Green Farms. Owner Brian MacWhorter has been farming for more than 45 years and has been farming on Bainbridge Island and further afield in Kitsap County since the 1980s. He and his family currently farm approximately 25 acres at various locations throughout the island, where they Butler Green Farm raise biodynamic produce. Brian is known for his ability to cultivate beyond the normal growing seasons, operating several greenhouses and low tunnels to produce high-quality greens, root vegetables and heirloom tomatoes. His biodynamic practices build biodiversity and soil health while producing nutrient dense foods.

Butler Green Farm CSA ShopThey also offer “market style” Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) where members can purchase, through their CSA account, the exact amount they need from a selection of vegetables, meats, and fruits and other fun surprises, such as Brian’s homemade tomato sauce. Brian’s CSA model differs from others because it is more like a Butler Green Farm at Morales Farm - flower greenhousefarmers’ market (no boxes of random veg, and you control your account balance instead of a flat rate per month that you might not utilize).  To learn more, click here. CSA members can visit the stand at 8862 Lovgreen Road, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:00 until 6:00 PM, and Saturdays from 9 AM until 12 PM.

In addition to his produce, Brian has an impressive greenhouse full of beautiful flowers and plants (including my favorite, giant Snapdragons) and provides intern education programs. You can find his produce at local stores and restaurants, such as T&C, Central Market, Bay Hay & Feed Farm Stand, Harbour Public House, Jake’s Pickup and Restaurant Marche as well as the Bainbridge Island Farmers’ Market.

Peaceful Morning Farm logoOur next stop was John Chang’s Peaceful Morning Farm. John grew up in Milwaukee and participated in a farm internship program while at UC Santa Cruz where he studied software engineering. Although he took a job in the tech industry after college, that internship, which he described as “the best six months of my life” resonated and when he was able, he relocated to Bainbridge Island and leased some acreage from FotF at Morales Farm, where he began growing organic produce. Early on he sold his produce at Farmers’ Markets and CSAs, but soon realized it wouldn’t be enough to support his growing family. He continued his work in the tech industry and adjusted Peaceful Morning Farm at Morales Farmhis farming model to donate everything he grows to local food banks, such as Helpline House.

Today the main function of the farm is to provide nutritious, fresh organic food to those who might otherwise not be able to afford it. For John, it’s important to help promote healthy eating habits for children and adults. Peaceful Morning Farm at Morales FarmSeveral times a week, Peaceful Morning Farm delivers strawberries, kale, chard, brussels sprouts, corn, raspberries, and much more to the foodbank.

As a nonprofit, John depends on the help of volunteers and interns. They vary in age and experience, such as his Bainbridge High School interns, but one thing they have in common is the sense of community they garner from working together and the knowledge that their work benefits those in need. To read more about John, click here.

Original Morales FarmhouseThe final part of our tour took us over to the old Morales farmhouse, which is managed and maintained by Friends of the Farms, who provides affordable housing for farm interns.  The rooms are currently rented to interns from Butler Green Farms and Hey Day Farm. Internships are an integral part of sustainable farming practices both here on Bainbridge Island and throughout the United States. The hope of the intern program is to create a pipeline for the next generation of farmers on Bainbridge Island. In addition, the knowledge gleaned from their time on small farms like we have on Bainbridge can be taken back to their hometowns or new communities, which in turn can provide organic local food sources for their communities. Unfortunately, the cost of land and housing for interns is limited both here and elsewhere, making it a challenge.

Morales FarmhouseHeather explained that the house was in rough shape when FotF took over management of the property. In 2011, FotF teamed up with PHC Construction to take it down to the studs and make it livable for interns. However, it simply isn’t enough to house the 12 or so interns that come to work and learn on the island annually. A solution was needed and FotF partnered with Housing Resources Bainbridge, Clark Construction and Coates Architects Design to come up with a solution.

Enter project reHOME, the brainchild of Matthew Coates, Principal Architect of Coates Architects Design. After witnessing the amount of construction waste generated by his designs and the lack of affordable housing locally and nationwide, he launched the reHOME initiative, whose goals are to build affordable housing using recycled, repurposed and orphaned materials.

Morales Farm site for Re-Home buildingsAt Morales Farm, they are building three new living spaces adjacent to the original farmhouse, which will provide housing for up to two non-related adults per unit, including a unit that’s fully handicap accessible. Each unit will consist of two private sleeping areas, a small common area, and a bathroom with a shower. Almost everything will be sourced and constructed using recycled or repurposed materials. Firms involved in the reHOME project work on a pro-bono basis.

Morales Farm site for Re-Home buildings
L-R: Marty Sievertsen, Spencer Hicks, Rachele Turnbull, Matthew Coates, Heather Burger, Tina Gilbert, Kiley Brennan, MaryClare Kellett

I was fortunate to be at the farm while the team met to discuss the status of the project. In attendance was Marty Sievertsen, Spencer Hicks, and Rachele Turnbull from Clark Construction, Matthew Coates and Kiley Brennan from Coates Design Architects, Tina Gilbert from Housing Resources Bainbridge, and MaryClare Kellett and Heather Burger from FotF.

Rachele Turnbull began by explaining that the donations towards the project have been so bountiful that they’ve run out of storage space. In addition, as Clark Construction is working on the renovations at the new Police Department (old Harrison building), they’ve been able to salvage a tremendous amount, such as insulation, wooden wall paneling, cabinets with sinks and storage, carpet tiles, wood studs and much more.

Matthew and Kylie with Coates Design Architects have been working with local plumbers and electricians to obtain the necessary supplies and labor for the project as well. Matthew also explained that they’ll be using the donated supply overage for other projects around the island, such as the Hyla School, the Rowing Club and hopefully more intern housing at other FotF farms. In addition, they hope reHOME will become a model to address community-based, sustainable and socially responsible housing for the growing need in our community and throughout the country.

reHOME Construction Volunteer FlyerIn addition to the three units, the main Morales farmhouse will be revamped to provide a communal kitchen and gathering space for the interns. The project is scheduled to begin in mid-July 2022, with completion by the end of the year.

Volunteers for construction, both skilled and unskilled are needed throughout the summer. If you’re interested in volunteering scan the QR code to the right, or click here.

Although we didn’t tour Perennial Vintners this time, I had the pleasure of writing about them in 2019. To read about them, click here.

*Images and logos provided by Friends of the Farms and Margaret Millmore

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