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.
After driving past a number of empty lots, most of which have been on the market for several years now, you arrive at cul-de-sac overlooking a long driveway, and the rolling hills that make up one of the only occupied lots in the stalled housing development on Cross Creek Lane. And instead of some gaudy McMansion, visitors can see a network of fences, several outbuildings, a colorful home, and menagerie of happy animals.
Two dogs came screaming down the driveway when I pulled up to the gate on an afternoon in late January. A third—a shaggy livestock guard dog—came lumbering up to the fence and barked a warning. After pushing through the gate and driving up to the house, the owners of The Farmstead welcomed me to their farm.
Rachael Taylor-Tuller and Matthew Tuller began farming only a few years ago. They started with chickens, but their operation quickly expanded to include several different species of farm animals. Matthew began the tour by showing me a small group of alpine goats that serve as pets, and occasionally, as pack animals on family outings. Next, he showed off the enclosure that often houses heritage breed pigs. The pigs are fed spent grain from a local brewery and finished on excess whey from the goat dairy.
The dairy and creamery are the main thrust of Matthew and Rachael’s operation. After viewing the pig enclosure, I was led into the milking room, which can handle six goats at a time. With a herd of roughly 36 goats, they spend quite a bit of time in this bright little room. Matthew next showed off their production facility, where they make the cheese. Since the goats are dry during the winter months, most of what they showed me was equipment and supplies waiting in anticipation for the upcoming season.
After exiting the certified Grade A creamery, we entered the first in a series of pastures where the goats were resting, grazing, and doing other goat stuff. The herd is a combination of Nubian and Nigerian dwarfs, which, according to Matthew, are known for having higher butter fat content, which can make for better cheese. The goats are known by name to Rachael and Matthew, who launched a Kickstarter campaign for their farm by offering goat naming rights to anyone who donated.
Mixed in with the goats were a number of Katahdin sheep that are used for both milk and meat. “Some are grazers and some are browsers,” Matthew said, while explaining the benefits of having multiple species rotate throughout the same pasture. In addition to the forage that’s available in the pastures, their animals are fed mostly alfalfa sourced from Washington State.
There were a number of fat pigs in among the goats and sheep. The meat from these pigs helps feed the Tuller family, as well as the families of those customers who make their way out onto the farm. They also sell halal certified goat to people who come to their farm. Matthew and Rachael prefer to process their animals onsite, a practice that means they cannot bring their meat to market, since any meat sold to the public needs to have been processed in an USDA approved facility. But the benefit of slaughtering their animals onsite is they can avoid inflicting the trauma of a long journey to an unfamiliar facility, where their pigs, goats, and sheep are just a few among many animals waiting for their demise. Instead, Matthew and Rachael allow their animals to live out their last days on familiar pasture among animals they know and are comfortable with.
Animal welfare is an important consideration on The Farmstead. In addition to the way they process their animals, Rachael and Matthew try to give away baby male goats as pets instead of having them euthanized, which is the more common practice. They also occasionally take in rescue animals. Another important consideration on the farm is the environmental impact of their operation. Right now, 100% of their energy needs come from renewable sources. They are also working hard to eliminate plastic packaging from their product offerings.
Although maintaining the farm should be considered a full time job, Matthew and Rachael still have off-farm jobs that help support their young family, including their two small children. Even so, they still find time to host on-farm events, like goat workshops or butcher workshops, as well as participate in off-farm events, like the upcoming Cochon555 event, for which they donated one of their heritage breed pigs.
Find out more about Rachael and Matthew on their website, or come visit them at the Capitol Hill Farmers Market when they return with their cheese this spring.
Post By Patrick Law, Capitol Hill Farmers Market Manager