Local Authority: Herbfarms' New Student Assistants

The Herbfarm's head gardener digs into spring with a crop of new assistants

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The Herbfarm's head gardener digs into spring with a crop of new assistants

NAME: Bill Vingelen
TITLE: Head gardener for The Herbfarm
EFFICIENCY MEASURES: “We have chickens and we’re able to use their manure.”
THE BENEFITS OF NICE NEIGHBORS: “Landscapers from Chateau Ste. Michelle down the road dump the local leaves on our farm, and we turn it into compost.”
ON HAPPY TRAILS: “We bicycle produce to the restaurant [about two miles away from the farm] on the Burke-Gilman Trail.”

Bill Vingelen, 39, is the head gardener at the entirely organic 5-acre farm that supplies Woodinville’s renowned Herbfarm restaurant with unique ingredients (such as Ozette potatoes and Ardwyna paste tomatoes) that are so fresh, each day’s menu is finalized just hours before the meal. Despite this last-minute aspect of his job, Vingelen (who marks his fifth anniversary with The Herbfarm this month) exudes a pleasant sense of calm.

Perhaps that’s because for the third year he’s calling upon four apprentices and four volunteers to assist him on the farm (March through November). He’ll guide this new yield of helpers—Edmonds Community College horticulture students—in getting their hands dirty and their thumbs green.

SM: What qualifies someone to be a gardener at The Herbfarm?
BV: When I was going to the University of Oregon [for environmental studies], I was managing four or five different residential gardens. So that gave me hands-on knowledge of plant care and how to grow organically and naturally without using chemicals or pesticides. I became the production farmer [at The Herbfarm] for one season and worked under the previous head gardener, who had plans of tapering off. So that made the transition smooth.

SM: How did the idea for an apprentice and volunteer program come about?
BV: Part necessity and part wanting to give something back to the community in the form of education and knowledge about farming. The number-one thing we look for is a real strong interest in the whole farm-to-table idea, and, of course, an interest in gardening and food production. Experience is not necessary, just a willingness to work hard.

SM: What advice do you have for locals gardening for their own dinner tables?
BV: We can grow a lot of things here that other parts of the country can’t. [But] the rain makes it a challenge. You need decently well-drained soil. You can create a raised bed on a small scale using railroad ties and wood, adding compost and sand.

SM: What’s most important for Northwest gardeners at this time of year?
BV: Patience. It’s important not to start rototilling or turning the soil when it’s too wet. And starting some seeds indoors—whether it is in a green house or by a window—is important because we have a short season. Farming is not guaranteed, and there are going to be failures. But we learn from the failures and, oftentimes, we try it again. Like life itself, with enough patience you can succeed.

Originally published in March 2010

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