MiddleField Farm supplies Town & Country Markets with fresh-picked produce daily. Both businesses are owned by the same family. Credit: Patrick Bennett
Independent grocer Town & Country Markets is gearing up to mark 100 years of growing food and training farmers at its Bainbridge Island, Wash., farm, MiddleField Farm. Owned by Town & Country Markets, the Nakata family business, the farm was originally purchased in 1924 and given its name because the name Nakata means “middle field” in Japanese. Currently, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, sunflowers, green beans, radishes, lettuce, beets and assorted winter squash grow there.
“Our family bought the farm, at the time a strawberry farm, 25 years after emigrating from Japan, tending the soil, planting and picking berries, and raising their children,” noted Susan Allen, senior director of brand development at Town & Country. “The land went fallow for decades, bringing the family together to discuss its future. After this gathering, my dad, Don Nakata, wrote a family mission for the land – it would offer a sense of belonging, the pride of association, the comfort of connectedness, and the power of idealistic purpose – aligning with our family’s values. There was no question – it would be transformed into a farm again.”
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The farm is now operated by organic farmer Brian MacWhorter, who joined the enterprise in 2005 and is raising organic fruits, vegetables and flowers and passing along his years of organic farming experience to interns interested in creating a healthier food system.
A founder of the Eugene, Ore., grower marketing cooperative Organically Grown, McWhorter currently supplies Town & Country Markets with fresh-picked produce daily. “It’s a unique, one-of-a-kind thing [Town & Country] is doing for their consumers,” he said. “They’re growing it on their family farm, allowing people to take home the best quality and healthiest food. That’s why I partnered with this company — because they have that integrity. And that’s what it’s all about.”
To impart his organic growing knowledge to future farmers, McWhorter created an internship program to teach organic growing techniques in the area’s challenging climate, hosting three to four interns annually. Graduates of the program, which runs from March through the end of October, have gone on to run farms, food banks and gardens across the country.
Founded in 1957 by brothers John and Mo Nakata and their friend, Ed Loverich, Bainbridge Island, Wash.-based Town & Country runs six stores across Puget Sound.