Skipley Farm is located in Snohomish, WA, about 45 minutes north of Seattle. The owner, Gil, purchased the 7 acre plot in 2008, and has been working to pack the land with as many varieties of everything he can think of. The farm boasts an official count of 126 apple varieties, as well as growing grapes, strawberries, blueberries, jostaberries, hearty kiwi and something called an autumn olive.
I arrived on a Thursday, which is market day for the farm. In addition to getting ready to go to market, the imminent arrival of rainy season is putting pressure to get the winter squashes and potatoes out of the field soon. After a brief introduction to Gil, the owner and his business partner, Chris, and honey crisp apple, Gil took me on a brief tour around the farm.
I have never eaten a grape straight from the vine before, but Gil kept handing me gold and red grapes, rapidly listing what type they are, where they came from, and what they are best used for.
After the tour, we grabbed our canvas picking baskets and headed to the first row of apple trees. The trees are planted in rows that run north to south, I am told to even out sun exposure. Gil shows me what to look for in ripe fruit, and how to pick them. WIth two hands, he says. He points out surface blemishes like apple scab, or the patina around the apple that gives it a good color. Every so often he will hand me an apple to try, something that happens frequently here. I am taught what sound a crisp apple makes when you flick it. (Thwick, not thwunk or tink)
After we filled our bags, we loaded up the truck with potatoes, apples, and grapes, and the display equipment for the farmers market.
Gil also selected some potted blueberry bushes, apples and wintergreen. (Another berry I’ve never eaten but was handed.)
The farmers market was slow, but it gave me a chance to ask Gil about why he keeps so many varieties. “Joy,” was his answer. Gil is a horticulturist and loves to propagate plants and all kinds and strains, and he just seems to love handing people apples for them to try. He will discuss with customers what kind apples go best in pie, what makes a good cider apple, and as a landscaper, who best to grow an apple fence in their yard.
Both Gil and Chris are working with the farm with diversity in mind. And why not after all? There isn’t anything in the rule book that says you can only grow one strain of anything. And they aren’t the only ones concerned with preserving diminishing varieties. On the other side of the country, others are trying to locate and catalogue rare apple varieties. This article from Mother Jones’ March/April issue chronicles a Maine agriculturalist’s campaign to keep diversity going.
It’s already apparent to me that Gil and Chris are here on Skipley Farm because they love plants, and the outside. They have the knowledge and experience to grow food for themselves, their friends, and the public, and are eager to share what they accomplish.