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Friday, July 15, 2011

What’s Croppin’ in the Valley…

Crop Mapping

It’s a nice summer morning. Gladys and I are leisurely wheeling along the Lower Loop Road. I notice an official looking SUV parked on the shoulder. We pass by a gentleman apparently doing official work in his portable office. He looks up as I pass. I smile and nod. Gladys sends a cheery ting-a-ling. He smiles, returns my nod and continues his business.

On up the road we go enjoying the refreshing cool of the morning. As we pedal along, I notice the trunk of Gramma Frohning’s Honda is open and brimming with petunias. Gramma's Planter boxNow I’ve seen creative planter boxes but never the trunk of a car as a floral destination (excepting, of course, our other Gramma, Gramma Snow and her rosebush in tow when she was giving one of her rosebushes, much to its surprise, a ride to town attached to the bumper of her black Mercury Sable). Gramma F. was puttering about, so I thought I’d stop and compliment her on her creative floral display. She laughed at the joke, and I let her get on with her transplanting.

I round the corner above Swiss Hall and there’s that white Blazer again, creeping along on the shoulder just opposite Broers’ Farms strawberry patch where it comes to rest. The same gentleman I saw earlier is entering information into a portable computer. The Ripple, as always, is curious. “Any news for me?” I say. The fellow looks up from his work, smiles, and says, “I know those are strawberries.” As do I, I tell him, and share that I should know: I picked berries myself in that same field last year. “The last time I was in the Valley,” he replies, “there weren’t berries here.”* I read the official message on the side of his vehicle: “WSDA Washington State Department of Agriculture.” Ah, another official government intrusion in the Valley, I think, and wander over to the side of the SUV. Unlike the County bridge inspectors I met last month, this gentleman is friendly and more than willing to talk about his mission. He presents an official card introducing “Mr. Rodney D. Baker, Crop Mapping, Western Washington Natural Resources Assessment Section.”Mr. Baker, I learn, is cruising the Valley, recording its crops and acreage in production. He is one of only two Department of Agriculture crop mappers: Western Washington his jurisdiction. Rodney’s Eastern Washington counterpart is responsible for mapping over three hundred different types of commercial crops in that part of the state. “Any commercial crop of two acres plus we map and record,” Rodney says. “What about my quince tree?” I ask. “If you have a two acre quince orchard,”he replies, “we’ll map and put it on record.”

I ask Mr. Baker if the Department records any of the exotic crops that are a recent phenomenon in our state’s National Forests. Rodney smiles; he understands my reference immediately, shakes his head. “Thank goodness the National Forests are not our responsibility,” he laughs, “but if the State designates medical marijuana as a legal commercial crop, we’ll map and record acreage and location.”Mention of  exotic agriculture prompts Baker to tell me about other experimental crops farmers are trying in our state. I learn one grower in Eastern Washington has planted ten acres of tobacco. A farmer in Skagit County is growing black tea. (“It grows well, belongs to the camellia family,” says Rodney.)

“What about the Sky River Driving Range?” I enquire, alluding to Alden Farms’ one time golf lawn. Rodney said it was commercial turf: mapped and recorded acreage. “What about now?”I asked, thinking about the farm auction, the empty Victorian house, the Aldens’ migration to Florida, and the plowed under turf of the driving range. The reply: “I’ve got it recorded as ‘fallow ground,’ now.”

I thank Mr. Baker for taking the time to share his mission in the Valley with me, tell him about the “shy” County bridge inspectors. Rodney says he’s more than willing to explain his presence to curious folks, talk about his job and what he’s up to in their area, says people are entitled to an explanation. When I ask if I could take his picture, though, Mr. Baker said he’d rather not pose and offered the white Explorer as his proxy. “It’s not at all about the publicity,” he explains: “In all honesty I just don’t take a good photograph.” “That makes two of us,” I laugh and tell him about the fellow who, when making a store purchase, was asked for some identification. The customer produced his driver’s license, and as he presented it for examination, said of his portrait photo: “I look like I’m dead, don’t I!” “Oh, no,” the clerk replied, “You’ll look a lot better than that when you’re dead!” Rodney chuckles, we say our good-byes, and I go on my way.

I know this might seem presumptuous of the Ripple; it’s not meant to be, but perhaps for the record the Department of Agriculture might like to know of Tualco Valley’s great truffle experiment ( “Trifling with Truffles…” May 29). And the Driving Range lying fallow? As of this post, there’s a new stand of corn where golf balls once sailed through the Valley air, bounced and skipped along the turf….

*After I parted with Mr. Baker, I stopped to chat a bit with Ginnifer Broers. As we were talking, the white Blazer crept passed, stopped a ways up the road. I shared with her the mission of the driver and his official white SUV. She shook her head and said she found it strange the Department of Agriculture didn’t know to the season just what crops were planted where and when.“What’s the point then of all that paperwork we’re required to file each year?” she wondered.” I think-- but don’t say it--Ginnifer, just one more example of the many mysteries that lie between “us and them.”

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  1. your meanderings with Gladys should be turned into a book

  2. Rachel: just the opposite happened. Over the years I've been taking notes on my experiences in the Valley (have several "adventures" archived) with the intent of one day compiling them in book form. The Valley Ripple happened instead. But perhaps someday.... Thanks for reading!