The Olympia Farmers Market is a vibrant community of farmers, artisans, and entrepreneurs, each with their unique story and inspiration. One such vendor is Maurrie Aukland with Maurrie's Garden, a vendor whose passion for gardening and farming was ignited at a young age. Maurrie's love for plants and agriculture was nurtured by her grandmother, who taught her the basics of gardening and the joys of growing your own food. This passion led Maurrie to start her own business, Maurrie's Garden, where she grows and sells pre-1940's heirloom seeds, carefully hand-collected and sorted for quality and diversity. Maurrie's Garden also offers a range of gift gardens, perfect for everyone from herb lovers to flower enthusiasts. In this interview, Maurrie shares her journey into farming, her unique production process, and her advice for anyone interested in growing their own food.
Can you tell me about your first experience with farming?
I began gardening with my maternal grandmother, who was the only person interested in landscaping and nurturing fruit trees in the new-build house my parents bought when I was 5. I liked to help dig the holes for the plum, pomegranate, apricot trees, rose bushes, and strawberry patch. Not real farming, but as close to it as my Gran could get in the city.
What inspired you to start your business?
Several events all encouraged and inspired me to begin Maurrie’s Garden. The events reaching the farthest back are when my grandmother let me garden with her at age six and took me to Los Angeles Farmers Market in 1959 when I was just 7.
When I learned to tell the weeds from young seedlings, she let me weed with her and showed me how to let some of her plants go to seed so she would have fresh seed for the following year. By the time I was in middle school, she had taught me how to prune fruit trees and roses at our house, and I became the caretaker of my mom’s house, mowing the lawn, edging and trimming, watering, composting, fertilizing, and collecting my own seed.
I still remember a mechanical bucking horse at the Los Angeles Farmers’ Market, one of the longest-running markets in the country. The bucking pony was attached to a machine on the top of a meat counter that ground these funny root-like lumps and filled the air with a smell so pungent it burned my eyes. The butcher who cut his own meat for customers also ground fresh horseradish for them as well. Watching him hew roasts and steaks and grind beef to customers’ specifications, scooping freshly ground horseradish into containers, was very different from a grocery store experience. And buying our flowers at the market alongside our vegetables wasn’t even possible in city grocery stores in the ’50s.
My Gran also took me to the Los Angeles county fair about that same time. We didn’t spend time on the midway, but instead, we visited all the livestock barns and the Grange exhibits. She was an Indiana farm girl, one of 10 children, and knew the names of cattle breeds, dairy goats and chickens. I saw vegetables I never saw in a grocery store, and she knew their names too. By my freshman year of high school, I was entering my first county fair.
No matter where I lived for the next 30 years, I always had a garden, from my college dorm balcony to apartment steps to postage-stamp garden beds to hacking out a vegetable bed and strawberry patch in rentals in Elma to the day I bought my 5-acre farm in Elma, Washington in 1994. I also continued to enter county fairs in Idaho, where I finished college, and Washington, where I came to Elma to teach English and art when I graduated. I was a role model for my students because I entered my artwork and showed horses with my daughter in 4H. I became a 4H leader and a superintendent of the rabbit barn and later the fine arts barn at the Grays Harbor County Fair. I loved curating produce to exhibit, and when I won Best of Show for my dried beans in 1997, the judge told me it was the first time in 40 years of judging he had ever awarded Best of Show to dried beans. My friends began to encourage me to sell here at Olympia Farmers Market. I didn’t think I could do it, but I decided to try. My Gran died just a couple of years after I purchased my little farm. I knew she would like to see me pass on the gardening gifts she had given me, and I honor her by helping others in their agricultural and horticultural endeavors.
What is unique about your production process? Can you describe some of it for us?
Most commercially available seed is harvested indiscriminately by machines, not hand collected, wherein in the culling process, the seed saver can sort out seed from weak, diseased or atypical plantings. Most commercially available seeds are hybrids, and despite all the bad press, many genetically modified (GMO) varieties are still available that are not labeled as such. All my varieties are pre-1940’s which is when genetic modification of our food sources began.
Do you have a product that you are most proud of?
I love my new gift gardens. There are four carefully curated and colorfully presented gardens for children, herb lovers, flower lovers and an “all the basics” vegetable garden.
How do you recommend people incorporate using your product into their lives?
I hope that everyone will try gardening. Many started during the pandemic as an activity they can do together without leaving home. Growing your own food is the smallest carbon footprint, and beautifying your home actually increases its value and curb appeal. You can start as small as herbs on a window sill, balcony or doorstep. Community gardens are becoming neighborhood staples. Gardening takes us outside to ensure our vitamin D intake, provides us exercise and fresh air, and the fruits of our labor give us something to share with neighbors and friends and even our local food banks and senior centers.
Do you have a favorite product made by another OFM vendor?
I love and appreciate the work of so many of our crafters, but Shari Trnka’s upcycled clothing designs and embellishments, many of which feature botanicals, are my favorite! Her work is one-of-a-kind wearable art.