Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone—Joni Mitchell
Seattle’s Ballard Farmers Market regulars were in for a shock yesterday when we were greeted by the sign pictured to the left. No! It can’t be! Another small farm that many of us probably took for granted and assumed would always be around is quitting the farm.
This loss particularly hurts all around. For Marie (Debrusca) Oliver, who started Anselmo Farm with her mother Arlene and Arlene's husband Chuck in 1998, the loss of her livelihood is laced with grief for the death of Arlene last year and Chuck last week.
“Chuck died, and I can’t do it alone,” says Marie.
Ten year ago, when the Ballard Farmer’s Market just began to stay open year-round, Anselmo’s was the only farm that sold fresh local produce there in January. Today this farmer’s market is hugely popular and draws people from all over Seattle, but back then Marie and her mom set up their stand in the small alcove off Ballard Avenue with only a few other crafts stalls. These two friendly, adorable women sat behind a table full of big zip-locked bags of washed braising greens, lettuce, kale, and a rich purple-green spinach called orach, along with leeks and beautiful bulbs of dried shallots, garlic,onions, and more.
It was actually the orach, which I’ve never seen anywhere else, that first got me talking to Marie. “What is this?” I asked. She explained it was a type of spinach and suggested a few ways to use it. I was hooked.
Anselmo Farm was truly a small family farm. Some of the larger, local small farms set up at several of the many Seattle area farmers’ markets and hire people to work at the stalls, so you don’t meet the farmer. Anselmo’s just did the Ballard Farmer’s Market in Seattle. Marie was always there with Arlene (until she passed away last year) and often her sister.
Until yesterday morning, I didn’t fully realize that I looked forward to saying hello to Marie each week as much as seeing the gorgeous produce at the market. Pretty, olive-skinned Marie is everybody’s girlfriend—friendly, gently sarcastic and funny, sympathetic, always greets you by name.
After a moment of panic upon seeing the sign, I find Marie at the stall where her husband cooks up sweet mini-donuts each week. She’s leafing through her small notebook where she records the CSA subscribers and their weekly balance. “Here’s your name,” she tells an older woman. Marie is about to tell the woman how much she’ll be reimbursed, but the woman refuses the refund.
“Your beautiful produce has meant a lot to me over the years, please keep the balance.” Marie’s eyes well up with tears at this kind gesture. “Oh, you’re making me cry!”
I move in and give Marie a hug (I bet Marie got a lot of hugs) and then ask, “Will you be okay?”
“I don’t know. What can you do?” she says circumspectively. “We owe a lot of people money.” They’re going to harvest their garlic when it’s ready and sell it off. Then that will be it for Anselmo Farm.
“But hey,” Marie adds with a smile, “I’ll get to sleep in on some Sunday mornings now.”
So here’s to Marie and Anselmo Farm. Thank you for your hard work, commitment, and wonderful produce over the years. We’ll miss you!