Seattle’s Ken Wray, and his 7-year-old son Johnny were stopping to get coffee at Fremont’s Vif when they saw The Letter Farmer van parked out front. Pretty soon, Johnny was writing his first ever handwritten letter, to his mom, penned with a feather quill and ink.
“Basically, [I wrote] I love you mom,” Johnny said.
The Letter Farmer is a popup letter writing experience created by graphic designer Rachel Brandzel Weil.
“We provide one free letter or postcard per person and the postage to go with it,” Brandzel Weil said. “I have cue cards that I’ve written, 55 first sentences, to get people started, so there’s some letter juice there for people to get thinking what they want to say. They pen it, maybe using a quill, maybe using a fountain pen, and we have fun, special postage and we mail it off for them.”
Brandzel Weil got the idea for having a van full of letter writing supplies when she was at a food truck festival.
“It’s making letter writing as accessible as a fish taco!” she said.
The Letter Farmer
In nice weather, she will park the van at a park, and set up tables and chairs under the trees so people can write letters and seal them with wax. But when the weather turns cold, wet and rainy, she sets up at indoor venues, corporate events, teaches letter writing to kids at schools and does private parties.
In fact, it was her friend Rachel Hart who summoned the truck for her birthday party.
“I am a big letter writer,” Hart said.
Hart invited a group of women to Vif to write letters.
“I have been for decades,” she said. “I love the feeling of the paper, first of all, and I’m also a big pen nut. It’s just the whole tactile experience. But also, it forces you to slow down and be thoughtful about your words.”
In the old days, when letter writing was the only way to stay in touch, you might write about your life and ask questions that would be answered in the return letter. But today we do all that via text, email and phone calls. Party attendee Katrina Sharpe says sending a letter is simply a way to show someone love, that you took the time to write to them.
“It’s like a gift, it’s like getting a present,” Sharpe said. “It’s different than getting an email or a Facebook post. It means somebody took some time. That’s a gift in itself.”
“The time it takes and the intention,” Brandzel Weil said. “I wanted to sit and write to you. It wasn’t like ‘LOL’ or some quick little quirky response. We’re all like, ‘I’m busy, I’m busy, I’m busy.’ So what’s a great gift? I wasn’t too busy for you.”
Wray was thrilled and shocked to see his son so excited to write a letter. So I asked him if he ever does.
“Never,” he said. “I mean, honestly. Not for years. Twenty years ago I would say yes. But now everything is digital for me. I don’t think about it. It happened over time and having a 7-year-old and this, showing up at a coffee shop, it brings me back. It’s cool that he’s excited about something he’s obviously never seen. Ever!”