Category Archives: Olalla

Speaking of Farmers Markets

Note: There’s news somewhere in this post. Hang with me.

Where but in Port Orchard is the local farmer’s market more controversial than a city council meeting? Oh, that’s right … Bremerton.

But let me not pick at old scabs.

The story we ran today — about a rule clarification for vendors at the Port Orchard Farmers Market — garnered some strong opinions in the comment section. It’s nice to know people are passionate about their vegetables.

I should mention that an e-mail we received last week, harshly critical of the farmers market, was the reason we checked into what was going on. I almost hesitate to bring this up … the contents of the e-mail that is. That would mean I’d have to mention what has become known as “the great tomato controversy.”

Let’s just say that, as we reported at the time (June 20, 2010), there was a widespread smattering of disgruntlement last market season over prices South Kitsap Helpline was asking for its tomato starts. Market officials suggested Helpline raise its prices but, as we reported, did not force it to do so.

Rumors that the dust-up turned into World War III are greatly exaggerated, market officials say.

“I want it made perfectly clear I did not receive death threats. I received some rather nasty phone calls,” said acting market manager Barbara Fangen Monday. “We just chose to not respond, because it made us look more ridiculous.”

Instead, as the Kitsap Sun reported, the farmers market membership affirmed Helpline’s right to sell on the waterfront Saturday mornings for the remainder of the season, “even though it doesn’t entirely meet the organization’s guidelines. Vendors who sell out of commercial stores are not eligible. Exceptions are allowed with members’ approval, however.”

As we reported in today’s story, the membership revisited the no-storefront rule in February and decided a clarification was in order. Period, end of story. Suggestions (including those in the e-mail) that there is a direct connection between the tomato pricing issue and the rule clarification were not substantiated by my research.

With that said, let’s move on to other farmers market news (and thanks for your patience).

Olalla will have its own farmers market this year. The Olalla Valley Farmers Market kicks off April 15 and will meet 1 to 5 p.m. Fridays in the field next to the Olalla Bible Church annex, 13053 Olalla Valley Road Southeast. The last day of the market for 2011 will be Oct. 7.

Olalla residents Sandy and Roy Denton, who helped found the Gig Harbor Farmers Market in 1991, have helped plans for the Olalla market coalesce. So far 13 vendors have stepped forward, and Roy says, the more, the better.

According to Roy, farmers markets are more and more being regarded as commodity outlets for those seeking that fresh-off-the-farm taste, not just quaint destinations for a weekend jaunt.

The Olalla Valley Farmers Market is co-sponsored by the Olalla Grange #1125, the Olalla Community Club, Olalla Bible Church and His Playschool.

Organizers will host a meeting for interested vendors at 7:30 p.m. March 17 at Olalla Bible Church. For more information, call Roy or Sandy at (253) 857-2691 or e-mail

Banner Forest: Folks Needed to Keep an Eye on the Woods

Kitsap County is forming a Banner Forest watch group to monitor Banner Forest and help implement the Banner Forest Master Plan.
The county purchased the 635-acre Banner Forest from Washington Department of Natural Resources in 2000. The 2002 master plan included recommended steps to preserve the forest’s ecosystems while accommodating recreational uses.
The county is reassessing the plan, partially in light of conflict among users earlier this year.
South Kitsap Commissioner Charlotte Garrido is seeking applications from citizens willing to work with County Park staff to assure that the forest is sustained into the future. The watch group will be made up of people interested in environmental education, flora, forestry, hiking, biking, equestrian activities, wildlife, wetlands, photography, land conservancy and recreation. The group also will include residents living in the vicinity of Banner Forest.
Obtain an application and position description from Jan Koske, Kitsap County Volunteer Services Coordinator at (360) 337-4650 or Complete an application online at Applications should be submitted by 5 p.m. Aug. 23.

Come to Al’s Sunday and Tell a John Robbecke Story

If you’ve ever stopped by Al’s Grocery in Olalla, you’d know there’s no more fitting location for the memorial to be held for John Robbecke, at noon Sunday.

Ever since he took the business over from his dad — the guy who put the “Al” in Al’s —John was the life and breath of the store. He learned the butcher trade from his uncle and opened a meat counter where you could get choice cuts of steak, chops and freshly ground burger.

John carried on his parents’ tradition of having Santa in a tractor visit his Olalla neighbors at Christmas time. And he also carried on the Robbecke tradition of generosity and caring, extending short-term credit on sundries from the store to families and individuals in need.

I called John’s widow, Wendy, on Thursday to check on the details of the memorial. I thought perhaps it would be a potluck, but, no, Wendy has it covered.
“I don’t think anybody needs to bring anything,” she said. “Just come and bring a John story.”

I’m going to be out of town Sunday, so I guess I’ll have to tell my John story now. As long as I’ve lived in South Kitsap — since 1979 — I had never met John Robbecke. I was sent to Olalla to check out a report we’d heard that the store was for sale. I called the real estate agent listed on the flyer at the front of the store, and she told me the business was fine; John was not. He was ill and not expected to live much longer.

The agent put me in touch with John, who hesitated then agreed to give an interview. It was important to him, he said, that this not be a big boo-hoo story. I told him I didn’t see it that way, but people would want to know his plans for the store, an Olalla institution, and wrap their heads around why it was for sale.

For well over an hour, John told me about the history of the store and his family. About the “North Pole” mailbox his parents put up, so they could help local kids hook up with Santa. Some of their stories were heart-rending, John said. Good families rough times.

“We started looking at these letters, and they were children’s desires and needs, so we answered them,” Robbecke said. “You could read, there’s a kid out there with a special desire and their mom and dad couldn’t afford it. Some of those kids we bought them their present. It was a very heart-fulfilling venture on both sides of the coin.”

Then there was the now legendary start of the Olalla Polar Bear Plunge, in which John and friends participated. During the interview he had a great description of how just cold the water was, but it was not something I could write in a family newspaper … so I put it on the blog.

His exact quote was, “New Year’s Day is kind of amateur drunk day on the couch. If you’re not drinking, what do you do? And if you don’t like sports, you’re pretty out of it. So we said, ‘OK guys, if you have enough testicles, come on down and join us, and we’ll do something different. We thought, at high noon, we’d jump off the bridge.”

Here’s an aerial view of Al’s, the bridge and the lagoon.

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John and Wendy have two beautiful, talkative cats. The female had recently had kittens, and I took notes with one of the crawling around my lap, as Mama gave me the beady eye. After I relinquished the kitten and she had it safely back with its siblings, she kept watching me suspiciously, which John chuckled about.

John may have been terminally ill, but there was nothing wrong with his sense of humor. At one point, I heard a scratching noise and turned around to see the male cat relieving himself in the litter box. John said, “Now, aren’t you glad you looked?”

John had some emotional moments, for sure, as he recalled the past and thought about the future. But there was nothing pitiful or diminished about him. Despite his illness, I could see his personality shine through, and what a great guy. I’m sorry it was under the circumstances, but I’m glad I had a chance to meet him, hear all his stories and share a laugh or two.

As reporters we get to — sometimes have to — step in and out of people’s lives at the most intimate moments. It is a mixed blessing. I definitely feel blessed that I got a chance to chat with John that afternoon.

I’m hoping people who knew him better will jump on here and share their own John stories.