Opinion

Farm embraces future, respects past

You catch your breath as sunlight opens up a valley and exposes a brilliant array of greens. Rolling hills gently guide you and your breathing slows as cares flutter away.

Passing a large sign put out by artist James Kelsey that reads “Buy Art” with a tiny “my” wedged between the huge words, you smile.

Water comes into view and you see Mount Rainier looming large and majestic in the distance. You don’t question where you are, because you know you have arrived.

You feel the tender loving arms of the quiet hamlet reach out to embrace you and you recognize simply and deeply that you have been welcomed to Southworth.

If you are lucky enough to live there, or have a long family history of folks living there, you are lucky indeed.

Cynthia and Tony Mora, owners of Rodstol Lane Farm, located just off Southworth Road, know that they are lucky.

They express those sentiments frequently. This is home.

It’s home, too, for their son Andre, a 1999 South Kitsap High School graduate, who returned after a stint as a graphic designer in New York City. Having attended Emerson, a fine arts college in Boston, he planned to make his way in creative writer, but found himself in print design after accepting a challenge to create a magazine with some college friends.

He spent several years working as an art director in design studios and in print design on publications like Oprah and Nylon.

Still, when he got the call that his parents were renovating his great, great-grandparents’ farm home, it wasn’t hard to leave.

“It wasn’t so much that I was ‘leaving’ New York.’ It was more that I was coming here,” Andre said. “I could spend time with my family, out of doors and create.”

The flyer he designed to announce his parents’ invitation to The Southworth Art and Garden Fair is, as many people remark, one of the most beautiful ever seen.

The event, held last Saturday, is just the beginning, the start of a future of tapping into the past.

The five acres that make up the Rodstol Lane Farm were part of an original 10 purchased in 1916 by Ole and Pernille Rodstol, who arrived from Romsdalen, Norway, to settle in Harper in 1910.

As the farm’s Web site details, the original home built on old Harper Hill burned down in 1916. So they built a two-story, five-bedroom home in which to raise their six children Margaret, Olaf, Oswald, Laurence, Leonard and twins Harry and Henry.

The farm with its gardens, orchard, dairy and beef cattle sustained the family.

The children went to the one-room schoolhouse where a Southworth beauty salon now sits and caught the ferry to a high school on Vashon Island.

Margaret, Cynthia’s grandmother, married Charles Westlund, whose father Edward Westlund with his wife Anna, served as a Swedish pastor for the Harper Evangelical Free Church from 1922 to 1932.

Margaret’s three bachelor brothers stayed to farm the land and lived in the old farmhouse, which lacked central heat, until the last, Leonard, passed away a few years ago.

The extensive Rodstol clan wanted the land to stay within the family. Cynthia and Tony took classes in sustainable agriculture through the Washington State Extension Service several years ago, exploring various alternatives that would make the farm productive and able to sustain a family once again.

This is where I must inject a little opinion. I keep reading these diatribes attacking “green” this and that, suggesting that the concept of sustainability is crazy and new-fangled, put out by people removed from the ordinary fray.

I have to laugh. My parents and grandparents had “sustainable” farms, as did Cynthia’s great grandparents.

Sustainable, which I haven’t found in the dictionary, just means that an enterprise can sustain livelihood.

Sustain itself means to “to hold up, endure, carry on.”

The debate reminds me of one that my daughter’s school had when she was just a wee kindergartener.

The school wanted to introduce multi-age classrooms and parents were up in arms. They didn’t want any crazy, new teaching structure and voiced their anger and opposition forcefully.

I found myself timidly raising my hand at a loud and raucous meeting to say, “I went to a one-room school house.

My parents went to a one-room school house and I suspect my grandparents did before them. One teacher taught multiple grades in these one room schools.

This concept is not new, it’s actually very old.”

So it is with the concept of sustainable farming. Like teaching, the best practices come from taking what worked in the past and melding it with knowledge, both cultural and scientific, that we have gained over the years.

Our challenge is not to forget the lessons of the past and assume that what we see is all there is.

What the Moras saw were old cherry and apple trees in need of pruning and land that desperately yearned to be worked.

They debated what to plant and how to restructure the gardens.

Andre toiled, crafting terraces that will hold flower and vegetable gardens, while his parents talked crops.

They considered heirloom tomatoes, which they figured they could sell at the farmer’s market for $4 a pound, but finally settled on something entirely new – truffles.

They planted 150 hazelnut trees inoculated with truffle spores, which in seven years should produce a crop that they can sell for a $1,000 a pound, if all goes well.

Continuing to merge the old and the new, they are reclaiming the cherry and apple orchards, have added four Cotswold sheep and one Chilean llama to graze the land and are renovating the farmhouse, adding central heat and expanding rooms to add light, while keeping the essence of the farmhouse intact.

The designed around the elegance of the old farm kitchen, adding cork floors they selected for their “green” properties from About Floors on Bay Street.

Their countertops are made from recycled wood and bamboo produced with water-based resins.

Cynthia, an artist like Andre, created the cabinet pulls, designing them from polished rocks and the farm is already beginning to be filled with their art creations.

Looking like a giant cluster of flowers, reclaimed rebar holding antique blue bottles greet visitors to the farm.

The goal of the family is to establish a farm that welcomes the community in the way that old family farms always have.

We hope, the family writes, for Rodstol Lane Farm “to be a gathering place for community affairs and blueberry picking, market produce and flower gardens, and even live music. There is a wealth of history here — and surely more to be made.”

If you follow the rolling hills to Southworth, you will find it all there.

Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.

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