Many hands make light work at Prairie Bottom Farm

Posted in Culinary, Feature

Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
May 22, 2013

Eighteen-month-old Henry Purdue is one of the sixth generation of Rockwell bean farmers in his family. (Susan Wenzel photos)

Eighteen-month-old Henry Purdue is one of the sixth generation of Rockwell bean farmers in his family. (Susan Wenzel photos)

Plentiful is a good word to describe Prairie Bottom Farm, where there are plenty of hands making plenty of food.

There are still a dozen or so Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares left for Prairie Bottom Farm’s 2013 growing season.  The first of 22 weekly baskets will be available for pickup Tuesday, May 28 and will most assuredly be packed full of the fruits of Wilbur and Julieanna Purdue’s labors.

And labor, they do.  Despite their busy schedules, Wilbur, fresh from his other job as science teacher and History Day advisor at Coupeville Middle School, and Julieanna, with 18-month-old Henry in tow, gave this reporter a sneak-peek, row-by-row tour of tiny carrots, beets, kohlrabi, peas, sweet corn, popcorn (yes, popcorn), garlic, lettuce, potatoes, beans, and much more, all slated to be part of the CSA shares, as well as offered for sale at the Coupeville Farmer’s Market.

“We staggered the plantings to maximize the range of items available to our CSA members,” Wilbur said while he pulled errant weeds from a row of sprouting daikon (a white, mild-flavored Japanese radish perfect for pickling, served julienned in a salad or as an addition to Asian dishes, soups or stews).

Next, the family showed off a new area of the 20-acre farm set aside for a pumpkin patch (“The plan is to let CSA members come out and pick their own,” said Wilbur), and a section where perfect-for-homemade-jam red raspberries are taking over.

“We also offer a canning class,” added Julieanna.

There’s also a plot reserved for growing the storied Rockwell beans.

“I’m the fifth generation to grow these same beans, and Henry is the sixth.  He does try to help. He’d rather be outside working, even in the rain,” said Wilbur.

Rockwells are an heirloom bean that have thrived on farmland in the central part of Whidbey Island since the late 1800’s.  These nutritious, versatile dried beans are delicious in chili, as baked beans, or even in ham and bean soup.  (See recipes here.)

As for the ham, Prairie Bottom Farm has that, as well.  Pork shares will be available later as an add-on for CSA members, but for now the eight little piggies are living high-on-the-hog in a temporary pen on the farm.

Prairie pigs join in the weeding work at Prairie Bottom Farm.

Prairie pigs join in the weeding work at Prairie Bottom Farm.

“They are naturals at weed removal.  They dig up the whole plant, way down to the roots.  When they finish here, I’ll move them to another area,” Wilbur said as the pigs worked diligently, alternately amending and weeding the soil.

Indeed, everywhere on the farm, everyone and everything was busy cultivating the spring crops.  Battalions of nematodes waged microscopic battles on vegetable preying pests. Wilbur’s mother, Sara (Sherman) Purdue, thinned a row of carrots. Miriam Maier and Josh Jones, the farm interns, weeded garlic with the help of Archie the dog.  Even Henry did his part by sampling chives in the herb garden where CSA members are welcome to pick bundles of fresh culinary seasonings, such as sage, parsley, oregano, tarragon, fennel, dill, cilantro and lavender.

“Everyone here works,” said Julieanna, with a smile as she scooped Henry up into her lap.  “Everyone.”

To sign up for a CSA or learn more about this local family farm in the heart of Whidbey Island’s Ebey’s Reserve, visit the website or send an email to

Susan Wenzel, food writer, believes in the power of locally produced food to fortify the health and well-being of both the individual and the community as a whole.  


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