Mixed Greens Blog

Mixed Greens Blog
Living Sustainably in the Pacific Northwest


Growing Our Food: Billy’s Organic Produce


Billy's tomatoes

Shopping at Farmers Markets pretty regularly for several years now, I feel this camaraderie with the farmers that I admit is a bit of a stretch since we don’t actually know each other. I like to think that we have a symbiotic and friendly relationship anyway. I want to high-five, say thanks. And Billy’s organic produce (Billy’s Gardens) is one of the best.

My own roots might have influenced this reverence. My grandfather and father were farmers and ranchers in eastern Washington. I observed their hard work, but little did I understand the intellectual conviction, and that faith and imagination were also required, along with hardcore agricultural, scientific and climatological expertise . . . political and marketing savvy . . . and what else?

Billy Billy's Market StandBilly’s an organic farmer from Tonasket in northeastern Washington’s Okanogan County.  Each week he delivers an assortment of succulent vine-ripened tomatoes to Farmers Markets in the University District and West Seattle, plus some other great stuff, but the tomatoes take the cake. Get there early if you want cherry tomatoes. I missed mine this week, though he kindly gave me the last few, a handful. Piles of basil, the tomatoes, all kinds of peppers, these items seem to characterize his particular niche; there are strawberries in late spring, some rhubarb, eggplant, tomato plantings. Awesome salsa available in the summertime. He roasts his peppers right at the market in late summer.

Billy and his crew have come to feel like neighbors to some of us, which is true in the sense that Seattle is his home every weekend for much of the year now. Sometimes he has a minute to chat about, what else, tomatoes, his and ours. Different climates on the east and west sides of the mountain, still we have a lot in common when it comes to growing tomatoes and he’s shared his wisdom repeatedly through the years.

A couple of weeks ago he had a few moments to spare and we discussed the ups and downs of web site maintenance – his is down at the moment; he offered innovative ideas and encouragement about our MixedGreens blog.

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Billy and his organic farming operation are featured in the film, GOOD FOOD, An intimate look at the growers of sustainable food in the Pacific Northwest, which premiered at SIFF this spring. So he’s in the movies, and in a sense gets a standing ovation every weekend. People line up to buy his food, wait patiently, leave smiling with bags of organic produce and return the next week for more. Applause is deafening. Thanks Billy.

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7 Responses »

  1. A number of years ago I started chatting with Billy about the tomatoes I was growing in West Seattle. He was curious, said bring some in, he’d like to see them. He wondered about varieties I was growing, what varieties faired better here than in the Okanogan Valley (not much), ok, which did well enough here. I brought some in, he commented on what nutrients my soil was rich in, which were missing, based on skin thickness, color, etc. I was impressed.

    For years now we’ve been trading stories, like why the Brandywines grow funny-shaped, and are the shapes different in Seattle than on the east side. Different ways to prune and train Sungolds. And the conversation has moved on, to life dreams, health, and more. A wonderful man.

  2. I’ve been buying Billy’s tomatoes for four or five years — they are the best.

    Today (Tuesday) I got home from a two day work retreat to discover that my 22 year old– who has never found a tomato he likes — had sampled and then gone on to eat the ones I bought from Billy on Saturday! Sigh.

    At least he knows something good when he tastes it. And Saturday will come again.

  3. Amazing story – and the loss of your weeks’ tomatoes worth it for your son’s tomato epiphany. Thanks for sharing this story. For me, not liking tomatoes is like not liking a banana. Who doesn’t love a banana? But there are a few.

  4. If we didn’t get to the University Market right when it opens at 9:00 on Saturday mornings, I might not offer the following advice. Billy usually has, on the far side of all those perfect tomatoes, several crates of “#2’s” — ripe and imperfect in appearance, but just as delicious and a bargain.

  5. I bought Billy’s tomatoes for the first time this week at the Bellevue Farmers’ Market. I am born again. I grew up eating my mother’s delicious garden produce in Wenatchee and finally I found tomatoes that made me call Mom and tell her I knew it would make her jealous. My husband, who remembers volunteer tomatoes from Georgia, was just as rapturous. I can’t imagine missing the Farmers’ Market for the rest of the season!

  6. We just went to the University Farmer’s Market and you were not there! (5-14-2011)
    Where are you? Are you doing any Seattle farmer’s markets?
    Missed you!

  7. Seeking organic vine ripened produce. I live in Shoreline WA.