Illness affects the food community: Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farm diagnosed with cancer

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Nigel Walker is the farmer of Eatwell Farm in Dixon, California. I recently moved out of San Francisco after twelve years. It was a long goodbye with tons of get-togethers, there was a lot of dust as I rummaged through long-forgotten drawers, and many, many tears were shed. On the last Saturday I was in the city, I was packing a box of old journals. I flipped one open and saw the following note from June 7, 2003.

"First day working at the farmers market. Head spinning, so many things to say. Working behind the scenes is so different than being a customer. Happy."

I remember that day pretty vividly. The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market had just opened in its new location six weeks prior, and I had learned from a friend that Nigel Walker of Eatwell Farm was looking for someone new to work at the booth. Up until this point, I was a regular customer when the market was on Green Street, and was quickly becoming fond of the farmers and vendors. I had learned to love green garlic from Eatwell, and often gave my money to Nigel's five-year-old twins as they learned how to make change.

Working at the market that first day was long, hard work. I arrived at 6am, and left the market exhausted but exhilarated at about 4pm. I hauled produce, set up tents, talked to customers and just watched in awe as the thriving market community swirled around me.

I didn't know the import that day would have. In hindsight, I realize it was the beginning of everything: of long-time relationships with farmers at the market, of a passion about local food that would lead to my blog, to being published nationally, to friendships among a community of like-minded folks that would change the course of my career and my social life. It was a rare moment that changed the course of my life.

At the hub of my memory was a kind, funny, brilliant farmer who was willing to answer any question honestly. And when I say "honestly," I mean it. Nigel didn't always give the politically correct answer to a question, and often didn't tell me what I wanted to hear. I watched as Nigel left his booth to meet with other farmers, interested not only in selling his produce, but in shaping the way that the market fundamentally worked.


My friendship with Nigel and the entire Eatwell Farm community continued. To be honest, I breathed a sigh of relief on my very last trip to the farmers market this past December that Nigel wasn't there; the idea of that good-bye was just too difficult.

And I'm not the only one so affected by Nigel and Eatwell Farm. So many people have a specific affinity for Nigel that is separate from the terrific produce and eggs that his farm brings to market. We've stood in admiration as we learn how well he treats his workers, we've watched his twin boys grow up at the market, and we welcomed his wife Lorraine (of Drinkwell Soda) into the market community recently.

That's why it's been such a blow in the past month to learn that Nigel has stage 3 multiple myeloma, which is a type of cancer of the bone marrow. He has spent most of January having radiation on his spinal column and treatments to force a retreat of the cancer. And it seems to be working. The latest I've heard is that the cancer is responding well to the treatments, and instead of heavy duty chemotherapy, Nigel will soon be starting a more mild form of chemo.

As anyone who has spent time talking to farmers knows, Nigel is lucky to have health insurance. The financial realities of providing good, healthy food to the public—even at a place like the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market—means slim margins, and personal health insurance is often last on a long list of priorities. However, the Walker family is still facing significant costs associated with his care that are not being covered by insurance.

If you are so moved—if you can relate to the effect of Eatwell Farm on the Bay Area scene, or you have a personal connection with Nigel—there are a few ways that you can help Eatwell Farm during this time.

  • CUESA, the organization that runs the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, is hosting a fundraiser in conjunction with Tacolicious this Sunday, February 26. One hundred percent of the proceeds for this fundraising reception will go to Nigel and his family. It's sure to be a fun evening.
  • Keep apprised of Nigel's health, and any needs of the family, on the Eatwell Farm Facebook Page.
  • Donate to the medical bill fund via Crowdrise.
  • Encourage friends and family to try out a CSA box from Eatwell. The Walker family and the Eatwell Farm family is ensuring that delicious produce is still being grown and sold during this difficult time and one thing we can do to support the farm is to ensure that the produce sells out.