“I’m trying to grow healthy food and get it to as local a community as I can,” said Scott Chichester, owner of Chi’s farm (the “i” pronounced like “tie”), at 142 Towne Road, which opened in 2014.
“I derive my deepest satisfaction from knowing I feed my community.”
The 5 acres of earth at the heart of Chi’s farm were once part of a 100-acre alfalfa farm, according to Laurel Norman, whose husband bought the parcel some time in the 1980s. It is now home to eight greenhouses and a farmstand.
The stand is open seven days a week, all day, Chichester said. It operates on the honor system, offering salad mixes year round and in-season produce as well as eggs, bread and ferments from other producers. Currently, a mix of plant starts are available for sale.
“That farmstand is amazing,” said Lisa Bridge, who with her husband Joe Bridge leases the 5 acres to Chichester.
“I try to make it meet as many shopping needs as I can,” said Chichester.
Chichester also leases land at two other locations. He estimated that last year there were 10 acres in production.
Chichester said he built his business around salad greens (and purples), which are consistently the farm’s most popular produce.
“People find the salad mix to be super useful,” he said, noting that he steers away from spicy and bitter in the mix; components can vary but tend to include lettuce, spinach and mild brassicas.
One of the farm’s customers, Beverly Hetrick, said, “The salad mix is out of this world. I always stop here on my way home from the master gardeners’ meeting.”
Cherish Dahinden, produce manager at Country Aire in Port Angeles, said that Chi’s Farm is number one “for the volume of our local sales.” She said she has been working with Chichester for four years.
“The first year he started by just bringing us his salad mix and spinach to now supplying us with over 25 produce items during the spring, summer and fall months,” Dahinden said.
“He has cultivated a huge fan base here in Port Angeles due to the quality of his produce.”
Alderwood Bistro of Sequim is another long-term buyer. Jessica Shuenemann said they met Chichester when they were first opening the restaurant 16 years ago and he was working at Nash’s farm.
The restaurant uses a lot of great produce from Chi’s throughout the year, such as salad green mix, bok choi, kales, squash, carrots, cabbage, beets, herbs, hot peppers and radishes.
She said Chichester is “an incredible farmer with deep roots in the Dungeness Valley. The pandemic made his farm even more popular as more people were seeing the necessity to buy local.”
CSAs (community supported agriculture) farmshares are an important way the local community participates in a mutually beneficial economic relationship with farmers. By paying in advance for a weekly box of fresh produce, buyers have a steady source of nutrition and farmers have a revenue source in advance of the season.
Chi’s Farm offers spring and summer CSA farmshares at store.chisfarm.com/collections/farmshares.
Year-round salad mix is made possible by the greenhouses Chi’s Farm has been building in sets of two since the fall of 2020, and smaller caterpillar style tunnels since 2018.
“All eight have used the community funding model to purchase and build the structures,” said Chichester.
According to Bridge, for each set, 30 community members loaned $1,000 to build the greenhouses. Many offered more money and more than 30 people wanted to donate each time.
Said Bridge, “It’s been an incredible reflection of how much people really care and trust,” Chi’s Farm.
After construction is completed and they are inspected by the USDA, grant money reimburses the loans, Chichester said.
Joe Bridge, like Chichester, grew up in Sequim and both of them worked at Nash’s Farm.
Chichester, class of 1992, earned an associate of arts degree from Peninsula College and later attended (and graduated from) the Evergreen State College for three winters while working for Nash’s the rest of the year.
The Bridges are much more than lessors of the farmland — they are collaborators with Chichester, just as they were with the people the bought the land from, the Normans. Joe is the “facility support guy,” according to Bridge, and she writes the blog for the farm at chisfarmcom.wordpress.com/blog.
Lisa Bridge, originally from Massachusetts, has worked in the farming community most of her life. She said that in about 2008, she and Joe put an ad in the newspaper, “Young couple looking for a farm … ” explaining in the ad that they would be dedicated to keeping the land in farming and they would need special terms to buy it.
Eventually they connected with the Normans.
Laurel Ann Norman was a retired counselor from Los Angeles, Calif., and Robert was a ground handling engineer for the space shuttles, said Norman.
When they retired in Sequim she studied and became a master gardener. Robert built a water system on the farm that was “very complicated” and “worthy of a space engineers work.”
Said Norman, “It was really wonderful farming land. Glacial silt; it was one of these ancient rivers from when the ice melted off the ice age glaciers and ran down to the sound.”
They used about an acre of land for lavender.
Robert got older and the Normans began to think about the future of the land. They wanted to keep it farming. Bridge said it was Nash Huber who connected them with the Normans when they were looking for land.
Bridge said that they proved to Robert that they could take care of the land and the couples became friends. “We would sit every Friday at their stove,” and figure out the details until they had a deal that was manageable for their finances.
The Bridges worked hard to clean up the farm from the fallow period between the two couples. They grew produce on the land and sold it and built the farmstand.
“Initially we were selling produce and berries from the farm but were unable to quickly generate enough income from the farm to pay our mortgages. We had to pivot towards higher paid work while also revitalizing a somewhat abandoned farm. We knew we would always be stewarding the land in the direction of farming.”
They began to talk about leasing it to someone who could spend more time on it.
“When Scott approached and said he wanted to farm in Sequim, we had absolute confidence in his skill set and in his character and that we would be able to communicate well,” she said, noting that Chichester had worked at Nash’s for more than 10 years “in a huge leadership position.”
Said Bridge, “We knew it would be workable. It would be positive. We were just thrilled. The good communication has continued. That has been consistent. It’s amazing — it’s like a dream come true.”
Norman, too, is pleased with what the land has become. She said she goes there from time to time.
“It’s nice produce,” she said.
Norman said she wishes Robert had survived to see it.
“They know how to farm — they’re real farmers… the trees that he planted are mature and the berries are still there,” she said. “I hope he is looking down from heaven and seeing what he instigated there.”