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Tani Creek Farm not impacted by sludge spill
A Fort Ward organic farm wants to separate itself from misconceptions over the recent sewage spill.
Tani Creek Farm is a family operation run by the Sassenfelds. It sits on a serene hillside on the south end of Bainbridge Island overlooking fields of kale, spring onions, potatoes, mustard, chard, spinach and more. Beyond the greens are duck ponds filled with egg-laying ducks. Large white geese sit along the shore not far from cattle and goats who all enjoy a rather nice view of Rich Passage.
The serene image was tainted by word of the recent sewage spill into local wetlands and Tani Creek, leading to the misconception from some that the farm may have been effected.
“We are to the west of Tani Creek Road. The wetlands and Tani Creek are to the east of it,” said Helmut Sassenfeld, co-owner of the farm. “The wetlands or the creek do not touch us. Our farm is almost a kilometer away.”
The farm grows a significant portion of a healthy diet — and it’s all organic. The operation fills subscriptions as part of its community-supported agriculture program. Produce and meat from the farm is also featured on menus at prominent island restaurants and cafes.
But when news broke of the nearby Fort Ward sewage spill, Tani Creek Farms’ orders suffered.
“Pretty much, this is the first week that I haven’t had any restaurants order anything,” said Max Sassenfeld, co-owner and head farmer. “And we have multiple orders every week.”
When the sewage spill was discovered more than a week ago, sludge had leaked into the wetlands next to the Fort Ward treatment facility. It was contained there.
While no pollution from the spill was found in neighboring Tani Creek or Blakely Harbor, the Kitsap Public Health District officials put out a cautionary warning for the water bodies.
Understandably, the public was wary of the farm that shared the same name as the creek, co-owner Helmut Sassenfeld said.
There is just one problem: The farm is nowhere near Tani Creek.
“The farm is called ‘Tani Creek’ because it’s on Tani Creek Road, but we don’t use the creek for any water. We are on a higher elevation,” Max Sassenfeld said. “We are being associated with something that has nothing to do with us.”
Access to the farm can be reached through Tani Creek Road, however the creek itself runs over half a mile away, downhill from the farm that faces the opposite direction.
“Geographically they are not connected,” Helmut Sassenfeld said. “Our farm is on a public utility district for our water, and all our ponds are independent of Tani Creek.”
Water for the farm is collected on site in irrigation pools. In fact, even the electricity to run the farm is collected on site through solar panels. It is entirely self-contained.
Over the last week, news of the spill had been getting around. The Sassenfelds were unprepared for what happened when the news spread, too.
“I’d say 90 percent of our customers don’t come to our farm,” Max Sassenfeld explained. “So they don’t know our relation to Tani Creek.”
Sassenfeld has spent much time in the last week sending out emails to customers and speaking with merchants who sell their produce.
“I didn’t even read the paper yet, and I had people coming up asking me about it,” Sassenfeld said. “A store down the road we usually sell to, they also asked me about the spill because they are selling our products and few customers had also asked them about it.”
When they went to a meeting for the upcoming farmers market, Helmut Sassenfeld said that other farmers were surprised to see them.
“All the farms on the island assumed we were swimming in sewage,” Sassenfeld said.
The farm’s active effort to get the word out is starting to take hold.
Pane d’Amore at Lynwood Center, who carries Tani Creek’s products, posted a sign next to their produce explaining the situation and how the farm is unrelated to the spill. They report that customers are still buying from the farm.
Local restaurants have gotten the word, as well.
“I stand behind it,” said Brendan McGill, chef and owner of Hitchcock restaurant on Winslow Way.
“If there was anybody who was equating the name of the farm with the spill, I’ll tell them different,” he said.