The first things you’ll notice on Mari’s Farm are the rocks. They’re everywhere - huge, ponderous obstructions-turned fence posts and mini-mounds throughout the property. When Mari Mankamyer and her husband Tim Mann started the farm in Yelm’s Bald Hill region, “You couldn’t even get into the soil with a rototiller,” says Mari. “You’d break it.”
Once you understand that the lush, vibrant gardens you’re viewing were the original home of those rocks, you’ll view your hosts with newfound respect and even admiration. After three years of solid work, the farm provides a weekly supply of fresh produce to the Yelm Co-op, Garden to Gourmet Restaurant, Ricardo’s Restaurant, The Yelm Farmers Market, and Local Flavors Market and Country Kitchen.
For Mari, the idea was born while she was working for her mother Susie Kyle at her kitchen in Centralia. “I was helping her cut up kale, and it dawned on me that I could grow this,” she says. “I know how to garden. As soon as I realized that, it wasn’t about selling it, it was just about how much we could produce.” From the beginning, the farm has been her full-time job, with Tim helping on weekends. “Now the farm is paying him for two days a week,” she says.
When they first started, the only thing standing on the property was an old telephone pole. Today, aside from the ever-expanding growing area and the couple’s home, the farm contains two greenhouses, one standard and one aquaponic, to help them grow year-round. “Everything out here is an experiment,” says Tim. “We’ve been testing different methods with making the greenhouses energy efficient and helping the plants grow.”
The aquaponic greenhouse includes three large fish tanks full of tilapia. “We feed the fish non-GMO food,” explains Mari. “Their waste in the water gets recycled through the grow trays, and that’s what feeds the lettuce.”
Despite the labor-intensive nature of their work, both Tim and Mari clearly love what they do. “What’s inspiring is that everyone loves my stuff,” she says. “I haven’t had one complaint about any one of my products because we’re always about quality, quality, quality. I try to pick and deliver in the same day so it’s as fresh as can be. People will have a bag of lettuce that sits in the back of their refrigerator for ten days or so and it’s still good. It holds up for a long time.”
“The other thing we both really like is watching things grow,” adds Tim. “That’s definitely a point of inspiration for us.”
For the future, rather than expanding the number of clients they serve, Mari prefers to focus on growing more of what her current clients need. Ricardo’s needs more spinach, she says, and Garden to Gourmet requires a great deal of beets. In the meantime, she’s grateful for the progress they’ve made. “It’s taken a community to get us here” she says. “If it were just me and Tim, we’d probably still be renting. It’s taken a lot of help from very dear friends and family to make all of this happen for us.” View Photos