When John Chang was just starting out, software engineering work paid the bills, but growing fruit and vegetables was his passion.
While studying political science at Stanford, Chang thought he wanted to be a lawyer, but that wasn’t a good fit with his gardening aspirations. Instead, he decided software engineering would be his full-time job; gardening would be part-time.
But after finishing a six-month internship and one-year apprenticeship on an organic farm at UC Santa Cruz, it was clear he was hooked on farming. For a time, he sold produce in Bay Area Farmers’ Markets, but as the area grew more densely populated, Chang yearned for the Northwest to be near family.
Today, Chang is director of Peaceful Morning Farm, a small but productive half-acre plot on Morales Farm, a publicly owned area managed by Friends of the Farms near the north end of Bainbridge Island, which provided 8,200 pounds of fruits and vegetables to food pantries throughout Kitsap County in 2021.
After Chang heard about the Trust for Working Landscapes on BI (which became FOF), he moved here in 2002 and started leasing farmland in 2005. Chang began to grow food for those in need, and Peaceful Morning Farm has become one of the main suppliers of strawberries, garlic, raspberries, greens, sweet corn, tomatoes and more, for the Helpline House food bank.
Chang’s efforts have filled a gap to supply fresh produce for communities throughout the county. Originally, he started with Helpline House but has branched out to Kingston, Suquamish little pantries and at least four food banks in Bremerton.
“Giving somebody something to eat that you grew is an incredible satisfaction. And, every season, I aim to do better,” Chang said.
Chang works at the farm in the early morning hours before starting his software work. “It’s quiet. I just love listening to birds, and I feel quite peaceful up there. It’s kind of tough in life to find things that have that balance, and that’s the way it works for me,” Chang said.
Peaceful Morning Farm is a nonprofit, all-volunteer operation that also trains interns in sustainable growing practices on the no-till, organic farm. Currently, three high school interns are helping.
One intern, Evan Gray, a 2022 Bainbridge High School graduate, met Chang two years ago while filming a short documentary for a school project. Gray said he could see Chang’s passion for farming. “It was very inspirational to me. I was just ready to go all in because I had so much free time. I thought, there’s nothing better for me to do, and I committed,” said Gray, who worked 320 hours at the farm for his National Honor Society community service requirement.
Gray has learned a lot about crop rotation and no-till farming, but his contributions go beyond weeding and planting. He’s also a talented photographer whose work appears on the www.peacefulmorningfarm.org website. His images reveal the dirty work of farming in beautiful and colorful detail, which helps to expand Chang’s message.
After watching two full growing cycles, Gray enjoys the harvests most because it’s a culmination of everyone’s efforts, and he enjoys delivering the produce to Helpline House. “It’s really empowering and inspiring to deliver all these different vegetables and fruits that you’ve grown with all of your friends in this really cool community, and all those people have put the effort into growing this stuff,” Gray said.
Gray will begin college at the University of Washington this fall to pursue environmental studies and possibly sustainable agriculture. “I really want to figure out how to bring the methods that we use at Peaceful Morning Farm on a greater scale across the U.S. and the world. It has a humongous effect on our environment,” Gray said, adding for the rest of the summer he will continue working with his mentor.
Peaceful Morning Farm is always in need of volunteers to help with planting and harvesting, along with administration work including; communications, community outreach and more. If you’re not sure what you can do, “You can also show up, and I’ll put you to work,” Chang said.