We are proud of our farms here in Pierce County and want to showcase the great work they do for our community. When residents connect with local agriculture, they develop a better understanding of our food system and how we are all connected to it.
Land for veterans to learn and heal
In the Orting valley, a patch of land at the Washington Soldiers Home lends itself to healing and educating veterans through agriculture.
Carrie Little, Veterans Farm manager, is committed to building a place where vets can explore their agricultural interests in the fertile soil along the Puyallup River and access a network of programs, resources and earned benefits. This vision comes alive through half-acre parcels that veterans can lease for $50 per year for up to three years. They can use their leased land to grow row crops, raise small livestock and poultry and even cultivate beehives. The farmers receive support throughout their lease via education opportunities and an on-site intern. Vital resources like irrigation, cold storage and a tool library are also provided. Those who aren’t quite ready to jump into the deep end of the compost pile can dip their hoe into the dirt in a smaller demo area or through volunteer opportunities.
Building the farm
In 2015, the Veterans Conservation Corps, a behavioral health program for the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA), turned 11.5 acres on the 160-acre Washington Soldiers Home campus into a place that “provides veterans and their families with self-directed connections to nature.” From there, partnerships with organizations like Enterprise for Equity, Washington Farmland Trust and Washington State University were built to cultivate success through training and planning services.
Since taking over as manager of the Veterans Farm in 2019, Carrie has worked tirelessly to recruit new participants through their WDVA internships and revitalize the half-acre plots and surrounding acreage. The program has grown to seven half-acre plots being worked by veteran farmers as of summer 2021. Future plans include six to seven additional half-acre plots for lease and acreage set aside for the resident elk population. Honored veterans and transitional housing program veterans who reside at the Washington Soldiers Home can also benefit from the beauty of ever-changing veteran-maintained gardens in their backyards.
Pierce County, proud home to the Veterans Farm in Orting, also has supported the farm by providing personal protective equipment through CARES funding that allowed operations to continue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pierce County’s Agriculture Program also stands ready to provide permitting assistance to those who exit the program and wish to start a farm on their own land.
While some program participants aspire to run farms of their own someday, others use the land to improve their mental well-being. Regardless of whether someone is there to receive on-the-job training or for therapeutic purposes, all benefit from a connection to the environment and each other.
Supporting the farm
You can find produce from the farm at local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or the Orting Senior Center. If you would like to learn more about the Veterans Farm in Orting or get involved, please contact Carrie Little at (253) 258-1832. You can learn more about Pierce County’s Agriculture Program at piercecountywa.gov/farming..
July 29, 2021
We acknowledge that the land now identified as the Veterans Farm in Orting has for thousands of years been the traditional territory and home for the Puyallup people. We respectfully recognize them as past, present and future guardians of this land.
Tucked away in downtown Sumner, behind a windmill and adjacent to a popular flower shop, you’ll find an expanding family-run agriculture operation whose mission is to bring local, real food to people in Pierce County.
DeGoede Farms was established in 2016 by the DeGoede family as an addition to their existing successful horticulture business, Windmill Gardens. Inside their 6,000 square foot greenhouse, they grow three to four thousand heads of bib lettuce each week using sustainable hydroponic farming methods that allow for year-round food production.
When the family ventured into hydroponic farming, they had already established themselves as a respected local horticulture business specializing in flowers, producing roughly 9,000 hanging flower baskets and tens of thousands of starter annuals and perennials each year, all grown and sold on-site. The inspiration to diversify stemmed from a desire to do more for the community and the environment. “We want to help our local food system,” says co-owner Ben DeGoede. “We want to keep it local - from production to consumption.” His goal is to see even more of their product in local grocery stores, schools and even food banks. Staff from Pierce County and the WA State Department of Agriculture are working with DeGoede Farms to help them access more of these markets and link them to new opportunities.
When you first step into their greenhouse, which is kept at a comfortable 60-64 degrees Fahrenheit, you notice rows and rows of bib and red leaf lettuce at various stages of maturity resting on tables and bathed in violet light that promotes growth. Upon closer inspection, you recognize that the lettuce is not sitting in soil, but rather inside holes drilled into rows of gutters. This is a demonstration of a hydroponic farming method known as nutrient film technique (NFT). With this method, a very shallow stream of water containing all the dissolved nutrients required for plant growth flows through the gutters and past the bare roots of plants so they can absorb what they need to reach maturity - and your plate.
In the warm comfort of the greenhouse, plants are allowed to thrive with minimal human interaction and are only touched when transplanted from their starter home into the gutter and upon harvest. The controlled greenhouse environment also means that fewer pesticides are needed to keep the plants healthy.
Up next for DeGoede Farms is a relocation and expansion to a nearby and newly-constructed 40,000 foot greenhouse that will allow the family to produce four to five times more bib lettuce and add other leafy greens to their mix. “We believe the demand for local product supports expansion,” Ben says, “and we’re ready for it.” At the new location, they’ll also implement a new hydroponic farming method - the raft system. In this method, a raft floats on top of the water, and plants on the raft dangle their roots into the solution below. They are already experimenting with this method to grow basil in their existing location.
While DeGoede Farms does not currently sell their food products direct-to-consumer, the food distributors they utilize keep the product local, so keep an eye out for the DeGoede Farms cartons in your local grocery store. You can also visit Windmill Gardens’ retail operation in Sumner, which is open year-round, for flowers, plants and gifts.
February 7, 2021
Bib lettuce at maturity in Nutrient Film Technique
Ben DeGeode in greenhouse
Close-up of gutters used in the Nutrient Film Technique
Hanging flower baskets - contact them to sell flower baskets or poinsettias in your organization's next fundraiser
Construction of new 40,000 sq. ft. greenhouse
Raft System of hydroponic gardening