At Fat Turnip Farms in Eglon, owner and longtime farmer Bryan Custer’s mission is to give back to the community and provide opportunities for youth to put their hands in the dirt and learn about agriculture.
Custer has owned the near-11-acre vegetable farm since 2019 and has over 40 years experience. He began picking berries as a young boy in places like Vashon Island and Monroe before buying his first farm in Snohomish after college, where he worked until about 2001.
He then went to Wisconsin for nearly a decade and worked with farmer George Vernon, who prioritized giving back to the community and getting youth involved. Vernon, who has since passed away, was a mentor for Custer.
“He had a real passion for helping people,” Custer said. “Tons of kids grew up learning how to grow food out there in challenging northern Wisconsin. We were able to deliver a lot to the food banks.”
Custer said he and landowner/friend Barry Bryant talked about having such a farm when they were 10 years old. “It took forty years of talking about it before we finally made it happen,” he said.
Once it started, he reconnected with an old friend from church, Erin Porter, whose family all got involved. “The connection goes way back — a family friend,” Custer said. Porter’s husband cares for the nine beehives and does maintenance.
Fat Turnip Farms represents Vernon’s same values. Custer has started to hand over more duties to young employees to grow crops and harvest. Sisters Sophie, Addie and Lillie Porter have shown the most interest in farming. Overall, the farm has about 10 employees.
“The girls got involved immediately, along with the neighborhood kids,” who although they don’t work there they come to learn. “It’s a community venture.”
“I really kind of caught that vision,” Custer said about Vernon. “I’m hopeful that these girls someday will want to take over and run it themselves. Every year I turn over more responsibility. We talk every day about why things work and how they work. They take that knowledge and apply it to the field. They’re largely responsible for the production on the farm now.”
Custer said he wants to share his knowledge of farming. “I’ll forget more than I’ll ever remember,” he said. “I’ve threatened to write a book.”
He said, “society has eroded the infrastructure” for kids to learn work ethic. Many don’t even think of working until they’re 17, and by then “it’s too late for a lot of kids.”
That’s just one of the reasons he loves his teaching farm. “It’s blossoming,” he said of Fat Turnip Farms.
By now, the farm stand would usually be open, but Custer said the warm weather got a late start so they’re hoping to before the end of June. The farm will be open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through October.
The farm also utilizes local producer-owned cooperative Kitsap Fresh to sell its products. Customers can go online to order then pick up the product at six locations, including Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island. They also make appearances at Poulsbo and Sequim farmer’s markets.
They’ll start with vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and spinach. Other veggies offered throughout the season include artichokes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, onions, peas, potatoes, tomatoes and zucchini. The farm also grows and sells flowers and offers a pumpkin patch in the fall. Those can be U-pick.
“It’s a full-service vegetable operation,” Custer said, adding it’s a certified organic farm. “There’s a tremendous amount of variety here. By the time you get through it, it’s really hard not to find something to be really in love with here.”
Custer appreciates the community’s support. “When you make an investment in any business you don’t know how your community is going to accept you,” he said. “There’s always the element of risk, with farms especially.
“Our customer base is growing, and they’re very in-tune to what’s happening in agriculture. People, in general, seem to want to support the local farmer. Kitsap is blessed with a tremendous number of small farms. It’s people who have really devoted a lifetime to growing great food…that you just can’t get out of a truck.”