A-l-l-i-g-a-t-o-r…. b-i-n-o-c-u-l-a-r-s…. C-a-r-n-a-t-i-o-n…., as in Carnation, Washington, our intended destination on a wet Saturday in October. My husband drove intently, squinting through the rain soaked windshield while my daughter Annabelle and I passed the time spelling words by seeking out letters on license plates and roadside signage. Located a mere forty minutes east of Seattle, Carnation is home to more than a dozen local farms and we were headed to one of them.
Our destination was Oxbow Farm’s 11th Annual Harvest Festival and we were eager to muddy our rain boots with a healthy dose of authentic farm culture. Good food was a given: the organic farm provided plenty of roasted salmon and grilled vegetables, straight from the field, while two rows of tables adorned with brightly hued oilcloths were heavy under the weight of side dishes and desserts, presented potluck-style. My own contribution was a twist on my standing pumpkin cookie recipe: Instead of icing the tops, I sandwiched maple buttercream between two cake-like cookies in an autumnal take on whoopie pie.
Nothing says ‘farm to table’ quite like platters heaped with roasted salmon filets, caramelized brussel sprouts, grilled squash, marinated carrots, pickled beets and local artisanal cheeses. A large rectangular basket cradled just baked, dimpled foccacia while paper thin slices of rosy radishes and cool lemon cucumbers adorned an enormous bowl of mixed greens, straight from the garden. Another massive bowl spilled over with luscious purple black concord grapes. Every dish had been made from scratch or plucked from nearby fields in an impressive showing of late harvest bounty.
With a wealth of delectable offerings to choose from, our plates were soon brimming with beautiful, delicious food, an edible still life in muted shades of green, orange, crimson and violet. Just as we poised our forks for the first bite, someone called out, “Time for the pumpkin parade!” and in a testimony to her sorely lacking farm prowess, Annabelle opted to run through a mud slick with inevitable results. The subsequent look of bewilderment was almost as amusing as her exceptionally muddy bum. She quickly recovered and joined a group of children assembled near the pumpkin patch. Many girls were dressed as fairies, their rubber boots peeking out beneath the hems of gossamer gowns and glittering wings sprouting from sensible rain jackets. Just in time, a kind young woman handed Annabelle a posy of wildflowers and tucked a brown-eyed susan behind her ear. Then off the children marched, weaving through the pumpkin patch and on to a magical pumpkin fairy house.
Near the fairy house, a greased pole challenged thrill seekers to scale its lofty heights in pursuit of pats on the back and a chance at grabbing hold of envelopes fastened up top containing farm stand coupons. Live music drifted out from a canvas tent where three toe tapping musicians performed a steady stream of lively bluegrass melodies. Annabelle sagely bypassed apple bobbing from a deep tub of water teeming with the collective saliva of countless children before her. We eluded pouring rain in the warmth of a greenhouse whose skeletal frame and diffused glow gave the distinct feeling of being cozily situated in the belly of a beguiling whale. Annabelle plopped down on the hay strewn floor where she found abundant supplies for fashioning a gourd adorned necklace and enchanting marigold crown.
Bedecked in her harvest accoutrements, Annabelle led the way to the children’s living garden, a lush wonderland replete with a nonsensical winding tunnel and dizzying sorghum maze. Hushed silence filled the nearby bean teepee where a handful of children contentedly shelled and munched on edible beans plucked from walls comprised of trailing vines. A tractor engine rumbled in the distance and moments later, both tractor and hay wagon came into view. Passengers disembarked and as the driver hopped down, we anxiously inquired, “Are we too late for a hay ride?”
“Nah,” he replied. We’ll keep running as long as people keep coming.
Relieved, we clambered onto the truck bed, bracing ourselves for a bumpy ride as the tractor lurched forward, pulling the wagon along a makeshift dirt road forged between two fields. Steady rain proved no match for the fervor of our guide, Oxbow farmer Adam McCurdy. His love of the land was deeply apparent as he impassionedly detailed the workings of the farm, from glories to pitfalls. Caught up in the beauty of the moment, Annabelle whispered longingly, “I want to live here." Before heading home, we trudged through tangled vines and mucky muck to pick our first ever pumpkin patch pumpkins, jubilantly emerging with three fat and jolly, mud-flecked specimens.
During the drive home, rain drenched and rosy cheeked, we cranked up the heat and relived memorable moments of our day at the farm. My husband grew up surrounded by farmland in Northern Holland and relished in the opportunity to reconnect with his childhood and to share that connection with his daughter. Annabelle was smitten with the children’s living garden and pleased as pie with her great orange pumpkin. I came away with an empty dessert platter, a full belly and a profound respect for the farmers who grow our food.
In recent years, our family has increasingly supported organic, local farming. What began with small changes has grown into a greater sense of responsibility to both ourselves and our community at large. The food tastes better, is better for you and benefits the local economy. In addition, buying locally grown food benefits farmers and their families. A day at the farm provided newfound understanding of the vital connection between the food on our plate and the farmers who grow it.
Special thanks to Katherine Anderson of Marigold and Mint for graciously inviting our family to this delightful event. Katherine’s grandfather bought the land on which Oxbow farm is situated, back in the 50’s. Her father now owns and operates the farm with the help of a talented and devoted farm crew.