As the Puget Sound region continues to grow, it’s not uncommon to see housing developments emerge from open space that was once used as farm land. What you don’t see every day is a farm emerging from a development and reclaiming the land as its own. But that’s precisely the case with The Farmstead, a goat creamery and homestead 20 minutes outside of Olympia.
The Farmstead entered our market system in 2016, bringing with them homemade chevre, feta, and halloumi, a fried cheese that remains soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. The cheese, often made with herbs from their garden, is a small window into what’s happening on their 11 acres in Thurston County.
Ever wonder how those beans dry? We took a peek at how Dorcas from Lesedi Farms does it and then shucks them by hand! An amazing farmer with an amazing product. Stop by her booth at the University District Farmers Market any Saturday and starting this week, West Seattle Farmers Market on Sundays.
Winter isn’t always the best time to visit a farm, especially if you’re hoping to see the verdant abundance that populates our romantic notions of the good life. Instead of robust fields full of the promise of crops to come, you’re more likely to see the remnants of a fall harvest, with hardy brassicas picked thin and the remaining plant material decomposing back into the soil.
But there are also many reasons why winter is an ideal time to visit a farm. Without the adorning foliage and technicolor fruits and flowers, one can view the operation in its most stripped down form, much like viewing the blueprints of a building. Plus, winter is also when farmers have the time and capacity to plan, dream, and show the odd visitor around their fields and home. Such was the case when the NFM showed up at Skinny Kitty Farm in late January.
We asked some of our farmers to recount their love and how it connects with the farmers markets and the community we all create. There is so much love at the markets and growing on these farms that it's impossible to tell them all, but here are a select few to brighten your Valentine's Day.
Ruth and Lori of Tieton Creamery
Ruth and Lori were just starting to date around Valentine’s day , 21 years ago. They met the cheap way, at work! While they had desk jobs with 9 to 5 sentences, Ruth desperately wanted to farm. They both wanted to be around animals. They had a chance to practice with an urban farm in Bellevue on their cousin’s property where they farmed veggies and raised chickens, turkeys and a few goats for about five years, while working full time jobs. They searched most of King and surrounding counties for land they could afford to farm, never finding anything. Thanks to a meeting with Michael Pollan at Lark Restaurant, they were seated next to friends of the Mighty Tieton folks and things started to fall into place. They found land that had not been in use for over seven years, and it was ready for a pasture. In 2008, it was near impossible to find a bank to lend money, so they funded the building of the creamery and setting up all the pastures. It was all a labor of love for each other and for what they loved doing. Ruth does all the animal husbandry, Lori manages the milk. They did not want anything but a chemical free farm with a happy, healthy life for the animals and to do things in cheese making that respect the ancient ways of food preservation. So far, so good.
Brent and Kira of Olsen Farms
Brent and Kira met at the Capitol Hill farmers market where he was vending and she was a manager with the NFMA in 2010. After a few failed attempts by Brent to get Kira to grab a beer after the market, Kira finally snagged Brent to come out after a long summer market day at U-District. They continued to flirt, exchange notes, and Brent even gave Kira potato hand warmers for the colder days, all the while attempting to keep their fondness for each other on the down low. Despite Brent's dream to get married at the U-District market, with all their friends and customers throwing potatoes down the aisle, they eventually took their love outside the farmers markets and instead to the farm. They now work together on the farm and raise two girls, Nora and Lila, who often join at the market.
Chad and Brooklyn of Iggy's
Chad says, "Working the markets alongside Brooklyn has been a beautiful experience. Brooklyn and I met just a few months before we started slinging our fermented creations at the Seattle farmers markets. So, our relationship has grown around our weekend grind of slinging sauerkraut. For me, every customer is a new chance to hear how Brooklyn explains what she deeply loves; connecting people to herbs, plants, and probiotics. Even if she tells the same story twice, it's never the same. Before we met, I dreamed of learning more about plants, and how to heal myself through their gifts. The farmers market has provided that stage. Our customers are the instruments. And I am the audience. Thank you very very much."
George and Eiko of Skagit River Ranch
George and Eiko met when they both worked for a large fishing company, George as a captain of a fishing vessel in the Bering sea, Eiko as a marketing executive traveling overseas. They fell in love and got married. When their daughter, Nicole, was born, they wanted to stay home and watch their daughter grow, so they started farming their Skagit River Ranch. That was 20 years ago. Eiko says, “We just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, we still love farming together. Our Farmer’s Market customers have become our extended family. We have 2nd and 3rd generation market families at our booth! Life is good!”
In this week’s 'Behind the Stand', Siri Erickson-Brown gave us a peek into her farm Local Roots and gave us some tips she hopes you’ll use on your next trip to the Capitol Hill Farmer’s Market.
How the Farm Took Root
“Luck of the draw.” Siri found herself working as an apprentice at Nature’s Last Stand, a farm located in the Snoqualmie Valley who also happens to be a vendor at the Capitol Hill Farmers Market. Surrounded by other Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance (NFMA) farms, Siri’s excitement for the field grew.
Just one year into her apprenticeship, Siri was approached by a landowner who was looking to start a new farm. “We had no idea what we were doing. [It was] an unofficial incubator type situation.” A situation in which many talented farming hopefuls find themselves when faced with the steep start up costs of a new farm. After farming the land for 4 years, Siri and her husband, Jason, went from incubation to a full-fledged farm.
Is Local Roots Organic?
Local Roots isn’t certified organic, but their practices sure are. “We’ve been growing with certified organic growing practices since we started,” Siri said. The main reason farms like Local Roots don’t get certified is the cost, which can include everything from the time it takes to maintain records to the various application fees. Since Local Roots sells direct to customers via the farmers markets, they are able to tell the story of how their produce is grown to each shopper.
“My favorite [response] to people when they [ask], ‘Are you certified?’’ is ‘No we’re not. What are you concerned about?’” When people look for the organic label, they tend to care about pesticides, labor practices, and the carbon footprint of the farm. The list goes on. With the organic label, the only guarantee you have is on the matter of pesticides. “There’s no labor standard associated with organic.” An organic tomato available elsewhere could still have been grown using exploitive labor practices.
“If you’re driven by ethical or health concerns, the best place to buy food is the farmer’s market because you can have a face to face conversation with the person who grew it. Maybe you can even go to the farm and see for yourself.” Siri’s farm has an open door policy... “Just email us before you show up on my driveway,” Siri said with a laugh.
What Makes Local Roots Stand Out?
“Every single week we will have the best lettuce you can find.” Salad greens, escarole, frisee--if it’s leafy; Local Roots does it right. “We really love it and we have an expert crew. We plant fresh crops of lettuce once every week, but there’s really one day a week where every head of lettuce is at its peak. Sometimes the stars align and the perfect day for a particular variety of lettuce is the day we pick for the market. Just ask [us which variety]. Don’t be afraid!”
This is especially true of their radicchio, a farm favorite. Siri drives their passion for radicchio into practice by both providing the same care they put into their other greens, and by selectively sourcing their favorite seed varieties from Italy. Local Roots greens aren’t just fresh produce, they are the culmination of experience and painstaking decision making. Now that’s a salad to sink your teeth into.
Any other produce I should check out at Local Roots?
Local Roots also grows a lot of other delicious produce. Garlic, fennel, peppers--there are a lot of options. The zucchini they grow is dense and sweet with few seeds. This is in stark contrast to the watery, seed filled, and blander zucchini you tend to find elsewhere.
“We started growing melons for the first time last year and holy smoke, I thought I didn’t like melon.” These new melons might not be displayed front and center, so be sure to ask what’s available when you stop by their stand.
Want to get in touch with Local Roots?
Stop by the Capitol Hill Farmer’s Market! We’re open every Sunday, 11 AM to 3 PM. When you come make sure you follow Siri’s advice:
Thanks to volunteers John Espinosa and Ricky Wozniak for sharing this story!
Checking out their stall at the Friday Phinney Farmers Market, you see two things: a large and varied row of potatoes on one table, and an array of deep freeze foot lockers on the other two tables. Not very picturesque, compared to the displays of other stalls, but the proof is in the eating.
Brent and Kira Olsen’s family farm, located near Colville in the mountain valley in Northeastern Washington, comprises about 300 acres, plus much more leased land nearby. According to his wife Kira, Brent started farming in the mid 1990s with a vegetable crop, then switched to growing potatoes, then to hayfields. Sticking with the potatoes and the hayfields, he then got interested in raising livestock.
Today their cattle are raised on green grass pastures and are fed their hay and potatoes in the winter. “We feed the cows only what we grow on the farm, no outside food sources or animal by-products,” affirms the farm’s website. “Our pigs are fed barley grown just across the road from where they live and our lambs are moved throughout the region to remain on pasture for as much of the year as possible.” The farm’s animals are naturally raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics.
Kira Olsen is one of those multi-taskers: farmer’s wife, mother, and office worker (including at the farm’s USDA-certified meat processing plant nearby). And with Kira there’s a personal connection to our farmer’s market: She managed it in 2009, then met her husband through that connection. With all that, the couple have two daughters, 15 months and 2 ½ years.
Oh yes, the potatoes…the farm’s huge variety in both flavor and color lends itself to tasty recipes—suggested likewise on the Olsen Farms website, www.olsenfarms.com.
Oh and heads-up: there are only three more Fridays left for the Market this season.
story by Dick Gillett
Why does Skagit River Ranch (SRR) meat taste so good? That was the question asked by Capitol Hill and Columbia City Market Manager, Patrick Law, as the NFM team drove up to Sedro Woolley to tour the SRR operation. As we stepped out of the car and into the farm shop, owners Eiko and George Vojkovich greeted us with warm smiles and plenty of coffee.
George took a seat in his nearby rocking chair and answered the posing question with a simple answer, “you never stress an animal”. Skagit River Ranch is a certified organic farm that operates on 3 guiding principles, with the humane treatment of animals at the top of the list. The other two principles they stress are sustainable farming and chemical-free, organic practices. Through rotational grazing and the avoidance of harmful chemicals, antibiotics, and unnecessary hormones, Eiko and George ensure their animals are healthy and their fields are full of nutrient rich grass and grain.
As we strolled through the pastures, Eiko pointed to the gawking turkeys and said “our job is to give them what they want.” She and George continued walking past, calling the turkeys and listening as they squawked in reply. The cows were also looking happy as they munched on fresh green grass and clover. George explained how he measures the sugar content of the grass using a refractometer, which helps him determine the best time to move and feed the cows. Skagit River Ranch ensures that the cows eat their nutrition rather than getting injections, so if the soil is missing something, so are the cows.
Contrary to how some large, conventional operations do it, another practice that sets Skagit River Ranch apart is they begin calving in April, rather than February. Doing so is more in line with the animal’s natural cycle and therefore puts less stress on the animal’s body. What is more, Skagit River Ranch butchers the majority of their beef from April through December when pasture grasses are at optimum nutritional levels.
The amount of hard work and labor that goes into every step to ensure the animals and their feed are organic is tedious and painstaking. But the rewards and benefits are beyond justified. Organic methods are healthy for you, healthy for the animals, and healthy for the environment. Grass-fed beef has almost 6 times more Omega-3 fatty acids than grain finished beef and the recommended level of Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio of 3:1.
However, instead of rewarding these healthy, good farming practices, certified organic farms like Skagit River Ranch have to pay more to the government in order to obtain their certification. The annual fees and mandatory inspections by the USDA are costly and require multiple days’ worth of administrative paperwork that could otherwise be spent working on the farm. According to the USDA website, “certification costs may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Typically, there is an application fee, annual renewal fee, assessment on annual production or sales, and inspection fees.”
But for the last 17 years, Skagit River Ranch has been committed to providing their customers with the most wholesome, best tasting, organic grass-fed beef, pork, chicken, turkey and eggs. They believe it is their job to be good stewards of the land and their hope is that their daughter Nicole will take over the family farm one day and continue farming in harmony with the environment. What we can do as consumers to support farmers such as George and Eiko is to continue buying directly from them, either online or at the farmers markets. We should also teach future generations the importance of using local, organic food to benefit our physical health as well as our physical home.
Photos and story by Anna Sparks
Are you hankering for some organically grown chiles or peppers to light up your taste buds? How about being able to check out dozens of varieties —from sweet to spicy—in one place?
Then the Alvarez Organic Farms stall at the Friday Phinney Farmer’s Market is the place to go. I chatted briefly with Erin, who was hovering over a huge assortment. “The peppers are so good,” she enthused. “We eat them like apples at my house.”
The 90 acre organically sustainable farm at Mabton in the Yakima Valley also grows a huge variety of vegetables. Squash, beans, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant and corn were on display along with several varieties of potatoes at the crowded August 5 Friday market. “We have three or four harvests in just one year”, said Steve Alvarez, the farm’s wholesale manager as he waited on customers.
Steve and his brother Eddie are the two farmer sons of owner Helario Alvarez, who farmed in the state of Michoacán, Mexico before coming to the Yakima Valley in 1980. “My dad farms the way my ancestors farmed in Mexico a hundred years ago, before the chemicals,” said Steve proudly. “And you know what? Now people are realizing that’s the best way.”
By Dick Gillett
by Dick Gillett
Business was brisk last Friday at the Phinney Farmers Market, with Rainier cherries piled high on the table at the Tonnemaker Farm stall.
Serving the customers were Kayci and Alana, both from Seattle, but both deeply familiar with operations at the 128 acre farm in Eastern Washington. The farm is big on fruit (including several varieties of cherries, with apricots and peaches coming in early to mid-July) and has 60 acres of orchards. A few of the cherry trees are three generations old and still producing. And speaking of generations: four generations of Tonnemaker farmers have farmed in Eastern Washington.
But fruit isn’t the only product you can find at their booth. In season are veggies from most of the rest of their acreage, including summer squash, tomatoes, rhubarb, zucchini and cucumbers. Friday one table featured a variety of packaged organic peppers. “Our crops are rotated annually for soil preservation and also keep pests to a minimum," said Kayci.
But who actually picks the cherries off the trees and the peppers from the plants? Amazingly, Tonnemakers are involved. Writes a member of the farm team: "Our current harvest crew consists of 2 generations of Tonnemakers, a couple of local long time year-round employees, local high school and college students on summer break, Japanese Agricultural Exchange Trainees and a seasonally variable number of members of 3 Hispanic families, several of which have helped with the short but intense cherry harvest for more than 20 years. Everyone here from the top down is a picker of one crop or another."
"Hand harvesting crops is hard work and everyone here participates - even 80 year old Gene Tonnemaker insisted on donning a picking bag and pitching in.” Whew!
But, happily for us customers at Phinney Farmers Market, “Life is just a bowl of cherries.”
Spring is a thriving time on a farm - the days are getting longer, the sun is starting to shine, buds are beginning to sprout, and the chickens (or ducks) are laying almost every night. Our visit to Sea Breeze Farm happened during this ideal time and George Page (Owner/Farmer) and Rose Allred (Marketing Director/Butcher) were kind enough to show us around.
We first met Rose at La Boucherie, their charming farm-to-table restaurant located in Vashon Village. Rose showed us their new walk-in cold storage, where they age and store their meat. We then helped unload more than a dozen crates of duck eggs, which will eventually make their way to the market or restaurant plates. Chris Koerber, Head Chef, was busy cooking what would be our dinner in a few hours. Koerber also crafts the ever-changing seasonal restaurant menu inspired by French cuisine. It was here at the restaurant where Sea Breeze experienced a fire a little over a year ago that destroyed their smoker and walk-in storage, resulting in $50,000 worth of damage. The Neighborhood Farmers Markets were able to provide them with $3,000 through our Good Farmer Fund to help offset some of the damage. They also received help from private donations and other investors and now sell at 4 different farmers markets every week.
Sea Breeze Farm utilizes multiple land plots around Vashon Island to ensure their animals receive a constant supply of fresh pasture. However, in order to get the full 'Farm Experience Dinner' this evening, all of their cows, pigs, sheep, ducks, and chickens were at their farm house located on the North end of the island. As we made our way onto the farm, George explained how he selects different animal breeds for specific traits. He then asked the guests to begin herding the cows in for milking. After George demonstrated the proper milking technique, guests were invited to try for themselves on Chocolate Soup - a 14 year old Jersey cow who has been a farm favorite for years. Those lucky enough to milk a few ounces got to try a taste of this warm, creamy, flavorful milk that was simply delightful.
We continued on to see the rest of the farm, which included pigs, chickens, baby ducklings, and sheep, as well as a wine cellar and cheese aging room in the basement of the farmhouse. George described his role on the farm as being a "shepherd of organisms" which might explain why they are able to do so many diverse things so well.
After the tour, we made our way into the beautiful farm house where the sunset and warm light filtering through the windows made everything glow. The other 12 guests, George, Rose and ourselves sat around a long cedar table, where we were greeted again by the Head Chef and Head Butcher. This decadent 8 course meal and wine pairing started out with duck liver mousse, and continued with asparagus soup, beef tartare, golden beet salad, duck egg tagliatelle, pork belly with polenta and corona beans, pan-roasted duck breast and finished with a chocolate pave with spring cherries and freshly whipped cream.
There is no doubt that farm life is incredibly hard work - but this impeccable meal and experience left us feeling ripe with rewards. Knowing where your food comes from and about all of the hard work that went into it makes you feel that much more grateful for the land, the environment and the people doing the hard work.
For more information about Sea Breeze Farm or to make reservations for one of their Farm Experience Dinners - visit their website