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Bellingham
Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Not your garden variety farm

The neighborhood of apartments may have grownup like weeds around it, but one garden has stood resolute through it all, sticking out like a green thumb.

Joe’s Gardens was established on Taylor Avenue and 32nd Street in 1933, according to its website.

The garden was passed down from Bellingham-native Carl Weston to his sons Nathan and Jason Weston in 2007. Nathan Weston runs the farm’s wholesale and retail, while Jason Weston oversees the fields, Nathan Weston said.

From the two to 20 workers the garden typically employs, about four to six are Western students, he said. Those numbers are dependent on the season, if it’s harvesting time or if school is starting, Weston said.

It was a last-minute job opportunity for Western student Laurel Fugden, whose application for a research internship in molecular biology fell through just before the program began, she said. But the farm quickly exceeded her expectations.
“I had figured it was going to be fun since I got to spend time outside and be around some cool people, but I didn’t realize just how awesome it was going to be,” Fugden said.

Joe's Gardens // Illustration by Nicole Smith
Joe’s Gardens // Illustration by Nicole Smith

Fugden grew up in Montana and decided to apply to Joe’s Gardens based on the experience with farming she gained there, she said.

“When I was growing up my parents always had a garden and they kept making it bigger every year and were wonderful gardeners,” Fugden said. “I grew up working the garden all summer and at the end of the summer, harvesting.”

In addition to her work in Montana, Fugden has also worked at a nursery for three years, she said.

“It made me realize it’s so much fun to work outside instead of inside and being around living things and food and plants and not just tinker at computers,” she said.

Working outside is what draws many students to Joe’s Gardens, including Western student Justine Johnson, who worked there from April to a few weeks ago, she said.

The idea to work at the farm came from Johnson’s curiosity about organic farming and how it functions, she said.

She had no prior experience working on a farm before being hired at Joe’s, but she said this wasn’t a problem.

“They have three people who do a lot of the farming work, like cultivation and planting and picking,” Johnson said.

Although Johnson did some of this, she works primarily in the barn, selling the produce, she said.

Working retail in the barn is a common position for students, she said.

This position involves restocking items, sorting through produce to make sure it isn’t blemished, cashiering, answering questions and orienting people around the farm, Fugden said.

“Mostly it’s kind of a mini-grocery store that’s outside and a lot more fun than real grocery stores,” she said.

Having access to the farm’s produce was also a major contributor to Fugden’s appreciation for working at the farm, she said.

“It’s given me such an appreciation for food,” she said. “To pick a tomato off a vine and to have this big, juicy, red, gorgeous thing in your hand that you can eat — that’s so amazing.”

A crew that works well together helps the farm to operate smoothly, Weston said.

Courtesy of Joe's Garden's
Courtesy of Joe’s Garden’s

The farm offers different crops and produce in each season, according to its website. Even though the farm is closed for the next month and a half, employees are held accountable to prepare for the next season.

“There’s so much stuff going on in the background, from plant orders to environmental things,” Weston said. “It’s just endless.”

The garden has been at its current location for over 80 years, however, its practices have not changed much, he said.

Affordability was ingrained in his mind since childhood. His parents, often in tough situations, had to be conscious of finances and wasted nothing, Weston said.

“Ninety-nine percent of customers never even [bat] an eye at my prices,” he said. “But it’s that one percent that does, and they’re the ones that it’s worth keeping it at a point that anyone can come in.”

Depending on the season, employees can work 60 to 70 hours a week, causing them to miss out on a lot in their personal life, Weston said.

“I have a 9-year-old son,” he said. “I leave before I see him in the morning. I get home and it’s a rush to eat dinner, do homework and go to bed.”

In the time Weston has lived in the area and worked on the farm, the community has largely remained the same, he said.

“Yes, it is that there’s a lot more population here, there’s a lot more construction and stuff around, but really the general attitude of Bellingham is still pretty much in the same grain,” Weston said. “You can’t really put a pin on it and say exactly why it stayed the same, but it still has that Bellingham vibe.”

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