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Rising River Farm at Olympia Farmers Market: 29 Years of Sustainable Farming and Fresh Produce

Rising River Farm is a thriving mixed vegetable farm at the Olympia Farmers Market run by Jim McGinn and Jennifer Belknap. In this interview, Jen shared her experience with farming and what sets their farm apart from others. Their production process is intentional and hands-on, focusing on what works best for their land and what they enjoy growing and eating. Rising River Farm cultivates 11 acres of land and produces a variety of fresh veggies, including their famous carrots and pickling cucumbers. They encourage people to try fresh veggies and are proud to produce plant starts for the community. As they celebrate their 29th growing season, they continue to bring their fresh produce to the Olympia Farmers Market.

Rising River Farm is a thriving mixed vegetable farm at the Olympia Farmers Market run by Jim McGinn and Jennifer Belknap. In this interview, Jen shared her experience with farming and what sets their farm apart from others. Their production process.

Can you tell me about your first experience with farming?

The first experience I had farming was on a mixed vegetable CSA farm in Vermont. It was a start-up farm started by two women. I did an internship with them during their May through September season. It was a cool experience because it was their first year in production, and I got to see all the struggles involved in the first year of farming. After working at the farm in Vermont, I started a farm in the Skagit Valley with two women and spent two seasons there.

When was Rising River started?

Jim McGinn started Rising River in 1994 with two friends. It was their first season. In 1997, the friends moved on, and I joined Jim at the farm.

What is unique about your production process? Can you describe some of it for us? 

We’re very hands-on and intentional in the work we do. We try to be efficient and work with what we are given. We pay attention to what is possible on our piece of ground such as the soil conditions, weather, and any pest pressure there might be. Over the years we have focused on what we enjoy growing and eating. We’ve been farming for a long time and we’ve dialed in what works well for us.

How many acres are in cultivation?

The farm started as three acres and we’ve slowly worked our way up to 15 acres. We’ve dialed it back in recent years and Rising River is now cultivated on 11 acres. Every year is so different. We could have the exact same production plan every year and we would still find ourselves adapting to the unexpected. In reality, so much of it is based on weather.

You and Jim are business partners, are there certain specialties you take the lead on versus what Jim does?

 It’s pretty amazing how well we divide things. We collaborate on a lot of stuff. We’ve worked together for so long and at the end of the day we know what the other thinks about how best to manage the farm. It works out really well with what we both like to do and what we have a skillset in. I manage all the greenhouse work, field seeding, CSA, and dealing with the produce that comes in from the field. I also take care of administrative and behind the scenes tasks like seed and supply orders. Jim does the majority of the tractor work, crew management irrigation, and is our main fix-it guy. There are very few tasks that neither one of us wants to do. We both get to work at what we enjoy and what we’re good at doing. I think a lot of people struggle working with their life partner and it has potential to cause conflict, but it works well for us.

Do you have a product that you are most proud of?

There’s a couple—carrots! We’re really well known for carrots. Pickling cucumbers are also a huge thing. We grow a variety of sizes and sell them in bulk bags at the Market. We have also increased our plant start production over the past 10+ years. That’s my favorite—the greenhouse plant care is my favorite thing.

What product do you want more people to try?

 Instead of just one product, I highly encourage everyone to try fresh veggies in general. The things they think they hate—they should try the freshly harvested version. I tell this to my CSA customers all the time. I grew up hating vegetables. They weren’t fresh; they were canned or frozen or just from the grocery store. When I started growing vegetables and trying them right out of the garden, they were completely different. They are almost like fruit.. more flavorful and much sweeter. I feel like even though I’ve been doing this for 30 years, there are still vegetables that I decide I like when I previously thought I hated them.

You mentioned the difference between a grocery-store vegetable and a farm-fresh vegetable. In comparison to the vegetables found at farmers markets, grocery store vegetables are harvested when the fruit is younger so it is ripe by the time it arrives at the store. When do you harvest the veggies that we see at the Market?

**It depends on the item. Most things are harvested within 24-48 hours before they appear at Market.

Do you have a favorite recipe that incorporates your product?

Chocolate Beet Cake is good one! The recipe is on our website. I also like a quiche. They’re adaptable depending on what is in season. Quiche is like a blank canvas of eggs and milk that you can throw whatever seasonal veggies are available at that time and it’s always different.  

Is there anything special you want to promote this year? 

Currently we have a lot of spring plant starts—annual veggies and flowers mostly, with some perennial herbs and flowers too. We’ll likely continue to bring plant starts through mid-June. We’ll have an abundance of produce at that time and we’ll phase out of bringing the starts to Market.

Is your business celebrating any big milestones this year?

This is Rising River Farm’s 29th growing season.

Do you have a favorite product made by another OFM vendor?

There’s a lot of them… my favorite thing is Bread Peddler. Their morning rolls are my kryptonite!