One of the biggest producers of vegetables in Sequim could be calling it a career. Maybe.
Mary and Herman Horst, owners of M & H Farms, have harvested produce for 32 seasons in Sequim and continue their annual tradition of selling fresh, chemical-free, naturally grown produce at the Sequim Open Aire Market on Saturdays.
Their produce available now or soon includes beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, raspberries, rhubarb, spinach, sweet onions, Swiss chard, tomatoes and zucchini.
The married couple are retired general contractors from Alaska and choose to farm as a labor of love.
“This isn’t what I need to be doing,” Herman said, “but I don’t mind it because we love it.”
Mary said she still gets up at 5 a.m. to weed and tend to things every morning.
“I’m not sure when we’re going to hang it up,” Mary said. “I thought we were done when I had cancer.”
Both Mary and Herman are cancer survivors. She survived lymphoma and a cancerous spot on her lung a few years ago. Herman had prostate cancer 13 years ago and beat it.
He said their perseverance through cancer shows that anyone can make it and get back to the life they love.
No matter their decision to do another season of the market, Mary said they’ll always have a garden.
“I love to plant seeds and see them grow,” she said, “It is part of life.”
The farming family has eight children who reside in Alaska.
Herman grew up in El Paso, Texas, and moved to Alaska in 1950 after being drafted for the Korean War, eventually going into counter-intelligence.
Mary is originally from Hope, N.D., and moved to Alaska after her dad lived in Greenland as a cook and fell in love with the climate.
They contracted various projects for years, including cleaning up the Kodiak Island U.S. Naval Base for the U.S. Coast Guard. Mary even became one of Alaska’s first certified female barbers.
She said they chose to live in Sequim because on vacations their plane always flew over the area and they saw the green grass.
“We told ourselves we’d go check it out when we retired and then we moved here,” Mary said.
“Sequim is a melting pot of a whole mess of people with interesting stories,” Herman said.
They were eager to start a garden of their own here: Much of the produce they received in Alaska was near expiration because of the time it took to travel there. They’ve also raised dairy cows, cattle, sheep and hogs, which Mary said wasn’t really profitable, but they had a lot of land and hay to manage, so the animals served their purposes.
They have two large produce fields, which are overflowing with vegetables this time of year. Chickens take care of weeds in one of the fields during the winter and the Horsts are considering using them to keep both fields tidy and fertile.
“In the spring there’s not a blade of grass in there,” Herman said. “They do a good job of upkeep.”
Herman said they sifted all of the large rocks out of their gardens when they leveled and landscaped their property, some of which they’ve sold over their time here. They have no yard garbage, either, because it all goes into compost.
The cold and wet weather hasn’t stopped the Horsts’ gardens from looking like a giant, delicious dinner salad.
But Herman’s haying business was hit hard. He said it hasn’t been close to being this bad in 20 years.
He’s kept in touch with local farmers and it’s been hard all around for farmers.
“We’ve never seen a harvesting season as late as this,” Mary said. They’ll be harvesting vegetables until mid-September.
Lisa Boulware, co-owner of The Red Rooster Grocery, said she worked with the Horsts in their fields to learn more about growing and harvesting produce.
She describes their farm as a market farm, meaning their produce definitely caters to the Sequim crowd.
“They have a really nice display,” Boulware said. “It feels like a shopping market.”
Boulware’s husband, Mark Ozias, co-owner of The Red Rooster Grocery, said a lot of folks in town depend on the Horsts for produce.
“What motivates them is that they want people to have access to fresh produce,” Ozias said. “They are a complete anchor at the Open Aire Market.”
Boulware said the Horsts are humble, modest people. It took her some time to convince Mary to charge $2.25 for lettuce from the farm to the store because Mary wanted to keep the price lower so even more people could afford it.
Mary said one motivator to keep doing the market would be if the economy continues to be poor and people need food.
M & H Farm’s food stand is open 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays on Cedar Street at the Open Aire Market. For more information, visit http://sequimmarket.com.
Reach Matthew Nash at email@example.com.