Just outside the city of Kent, nestled between curves of the Green River, lies an enchanting place. With corn twice as tall as the farmers carefully tending it, distant Mount Rainier peeking through the trees, and blue dragonflies weaving around stalks of rainbow chard, Horseneck Farm looks like something out of a picture book.
The 30 acres of Horseneck Farm are owned by King County and dedicated to increasing diversity in the local food system. Plots are leased to immigrant and refugee farmer-focused organizations, as well as individual farmers and farm businesses.
Bringing together diverse farmers has created a patchwork of plots with dozens of unique vegetables and styles. It is clear that the beauty of Horseneck Farm comes not only from the natural setting, but the passion and dedication of the farmers.
Krishna Biswa has steadily worked up from farming half an acre on the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) section of the farm to 4 acres all his own. He grows and sells 25 varieties of produce from his farm, Nemuna Garden.
Krishna began farming in 2010 at a community garden, and gradually continued expanding his acreage over the years with help from IRC and other organizations to the point where he now farms full time. His goal isn’t to have his own land or a huge business, but simply to be his own boss.
“At first I worked at the airport and hotels, but my experience was frustrating with a lot of people controlling me,” Krishna said of the inspiration behind Nemuna Garden. “I wanted to work on my own and not have other people pushing power over me, and farming has been my passion for a long time.”
Krishna does every step of the production process himself, from planting seeds to harvesting crops, and finally washing and packing the produce. From there, he sells to local food banks, through the IRC’s New Roots program, and at two farmers markets.
While he has built a successful farming business completely from scratch, Krishna remains humble. “I love the soil and growing things is very enjoyable. It’s hard work but there’s pleasure in it.”
Kezama LLC also began humbly, at community garden plots in Living Well Kent’s greenhouse three years ago. They now lease 2 acres at Horseneck Farm. Kezama LLC is a farm business co-owned by four women, the farm business named for their home countries of Kenya, Zambia, and Malawi.
Naomi Kagichu, Thandiwe Manganda, Angeline Nzuki, and Amanda Trowbridge all come from farm families and quickly found they shared a passion for growing food and a strong work ethic when the four gardened neighboring plots with Living Well Kent.
It was a natural progression for them to partner and begin developing Kezama as an independent business when the opportunity came to lease a larger plot for the 2023 season. Their goal is to purchase land and sell enough produce for the four to become full-time farmers.
“It’s a good thing to belong to. This year I have had a lot of medical challenges, and the other women all picked up the work I couldn’t,” Amanda said. “We’re a great team.”
Beyond the farm, Kezama has a mission to grow produce for the East African community and continue their farming heritage in a new environment. A goal for the future is to bring children out to the farm to learn about where their food comes from, and potentially inspire the next generation of growers.
“Another reason that I started farming is that when I would go to the supermarkets, I couldn’t recognize the produce. It was all foreign to me, besides the lettuce. I asked around for seeds of vegetables from home, tried planting them, and boom, they grew,” Thandiwe said. This drive to find familiar crops is shared by the rest of Kezama as well as their communities. “The East African community was starving like we were starving for the things that they can’t find here. We serve our community culturally familiar vegetables.”
The most iconic of these crops is the East African corn, with stalks as wide as a baseball bat soaring 10 to 15 feet into the sky. It is distinct in flavor as well as appearance – the heartier, less sweet taste is craved by many of Kezama’s customers. “We send out a message that the corn is ready, and everyone in the community comes to pick it,” Thandiwe said.
Both Krishna and the Kezama farmers stress the importance of hard work and dedication to the success of their farms.
“Farming is not easy. You have to be devoted because it takes a lot of time and there’s a lot to learn,” Krishna said.
“When it’s hard you have to be here, when it’s raining you have to be here,” Angeline said. When asked what advice Kezama would give to other starting farm businesses, Amanda adds: “Come in with an open mind and don’t be discouraged, because you will be discouraged. Have an open mind and be hard working.”
While farming with dozens of neighbors at Horseneck isn’t always easy, the opportunities to share knowledge and hard lessons about what works and what doesn’t in this environment are priceless.
Amanda recalls a neighboring farmer walking past her strawberry patch and being surprised to see it thriving while their patch had been destroyed by pests. At Kezama, spices had been planted between the strawberries and seem to have deterred the pests. With farmers from around the world, there is always a new technique to learn about.
Sometimes neighbors realize that they are growing and eating the same crop but in different ways. Both Kezama and Nemuna Garden grow pumpkin but prepare the harvest differently for their communities. The whole plant, woody stalks and all, is eaten by many Asian communities, but Kezama harvests only the tender leaves for their customers. “We realized that East Africans are picky,” Amanda said with a laugh.
Kezama LLC is not currently accepting additional customers but plans to expand their clientele next year. Individual customers are invited to visit the farm.
If you would like to learn more about Horseneck Farm and the Farmland Leasing Program, please visit Farm King County.