Twenty-five years after emigrating from Japan, Jitsuzo Nakata bought a strawberry farm on Bainbridge Island in 1924. The family tended the soil, planted and picked berries, and raised their children. In the late 30s, with earnings from running Eagle Harbor Market, Jitsuzo’s son John (who later founded Town & Country Markets with his brother Mo and Ed Loverich) was able to pay off the farm’s mortgage. The land has remained in the Nakata family ever since, and is now producing organic vegetables for our Produce Markets.
For decades, however, the 15 acres lay fallow. About a dozen years ago several family members discussed possibilities for the property’s future. Ultimately it was decided that it would be transformed into a farm once again.
Meanwhile, local farmer Brian MacWhorter, who has as much passion for fortifying small farms and cultivating future farmers as he has for growing organic vegetables, longed to plant crops on the land where only grass and hay had been growing for decades. “I don’t know why, I had a lot going on,” Brian said. “I just like seeing farmland being farmed.”
And so it would be. Most parcels of the land were purchased by Town & Country Markets (also still owned by the Nakata family) from John’s descendants. Six years ago the farm was named MiddleField (in Japanese naka means middle, and ta means field), and the soil was tilled, amended and planted. Brian grew a few small organic crops to be sold at the Bainbridge Island store, where he had been selling his own vegetables for nearly 30 years. Joe Pulicicchio, our Produce Specialist, has since been working with Brian to plan and expand crops, four greenhouses have been built to lengthen the growing season, and now our stores are selling fresh squash, beans, beets, tomatoes and other vegetables from our own farm.
Because the crops don’t have far to travel and reach our produce departments so quickly, vegetable varieties can be selected for flavor and quality rather than for extended travel and shelf-life. Also, crops such as heirloom tomatoes can remain on the vine until they ripen completely, allowing sugars and flavors to fully develop.
While it is hoped that the farm will eventually be financially self-sustaining, it’s not about making a profit. The purposes of maintaining MiddleField Farm are to contribute to the local community by providing farmland on the island, preserve the Nakata family’s heritage, and offer our customers exceptional locally grown organic produce. Brian employs several young farm interns from around the country, and so the farm helps to nurture the growth of future organic farmers. The farm also represents the roots of Town & Country Markets, as it is there that the Nakata family entered into the food business.