South Whidbey Tilth celebrates 25 years today

Let them eat organic cake. The chime that rings in the 25th birthday of South Whidbey Tilth this morning at 10 a.m. will signify sustenance, and you can bet their cake will taste good.

  • Saturday, June 16, 2007 6:00am
  • Life

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Let them eat organic cake.

The chime that rings in the 25th birthday of South Whidbey Tilth this morning at 10 a.m. will signify sustenance, and you can bet their cake will taste good.

To sustain life is to nourish oneself and others with healthful food. And that is done by tilling the soil and growing crops organically.

Tilth was founded on the belief that responsible agricultural practices are the key to the safe nourishment of all.

South Whidbey Tilth will celebrate its big birthday with festivities from 10 a.m to 2 p.m at Tilth market off Highway 525 at Thompson Road in Freeland today.

Tilth guests can enjoy games, prizes and music as well as the usual offerings of fresh produce, culinary treats and the best of island art from Tilth market vendors. Every visitor will receive a potted basil or parsley plant as a special gift.

Whidbey’s Tilth began a quarter century ago when a group of gardeners who were interested in organic agriculture met on the summer solstice at the Greenbank Clubhouse. Gathered there were Rose and Jerry Dobson, Marianne Edain, Steve Erickson, Stevie and Peter Linton, Myrna and Sean Twomey, Linda Alband, Tom Voorhees, Lance Porter, Vivian Stembridge, Gregg Merrick and Gerry and Edith Sherman.

At that time, the organization was named the Tilth Association and met at the Prague Tree Farm in Arlington.

Locals and early members Susan Prescott, Michael Seraphinoff, Edain and Joan Soltys remembered the early days.

They recalled how early organic farmer Mark Musick showed islanders how he was introducing the Seattle community to wild greens, harvesting chickweed and pigweed in damp paper bags destined for the Pike Place Market and local food co-ops.

Tilth’s original roots stretch back as far as 1974, when the Northwest Conference on Alternative Agriculture met in Ellensburg and more than 800 people, including locals Voorhees and Michael Pilarski, came together to share the bounty of the earth.

Sue Ellen White recalled how Voorhees used his truck to haul loads of fruit from eastern Washington and how a friend in Toppenish arranged for his family’s cannery to be available for food preservation.

“We were sharing food and building community,” explained White.

Another catalyst was agricultural poet and essayist Wendell Berry, who sparked a fire at the “Agriculture for a Small Planet” symposium in Spokane that same year and a Northwest movement of Tilth was born.

Chapters began springing up in several areas ranging from northern California to Idaho and western Montana. A monthly publication by the Tilth Association contained a map of the latest practices that showed farmers and home gardeners how to grow food organically.

Meanwhile, White and others hosted the Rural Living Conference at the Island County Fairgrounds with demonstrations on farming and husbandry.

“Hundreds of people came, many from Seattle,” recalled White.

“It was huge, it was exhausting and it was great,” added Edain.

In 1982, members of the group announced plans to start a Tilth chapter on Whidbey and South Whidbey Tilth was born.

“I mostly credit the real need for organized efforts to address the serious food issues that our society and the world face today,” Seraphinoff said.

“Everyone who eats food ought to be concerned about the damage to the environment, to those who grow our food, and to the health of consumers caused by irresponsible agricultural practices,” he said.

Seraphinoff was one of the founders of the chapter and is presently the Tilth council member responsible for outreach education.

“The thing that astonishes me is the stubborn persistence of the mostly volunteer, non-profit service organization, South Whidbey Tilth,” said Seraphinoff. “Twenty-five years now and no sign of closing up shop any time soon.”

Patricia Duff can be reached at 221-5300 or

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