Make cheese, feed a lamb and sip homemade hard cider at hands-on farms in the Chimacum Valley on Washington's Olympic Peninsula.
Mandy McCaslin, an 11-year-old home-schooler from Bellevue, describes herself as a “fanatic” when it comes to lambs.
With hopes to someday be a veterinarian, she’s indulged her passion by reading about sheep, drawing pictures and amassing a collection of lamb-related kitsch — everything from slippers to stuffed animals to a robe and pajamas.
But she had never seen a real lamb. Then two weeks ago, she took a field trip with her mother, Kim, to Solstice Farm Bed and Breakfast, a working sheep farm in the rural community of Chimacum on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
There she helped owners Linda Davis and Jim Rueff care for more than 30 newborn lambs. The high point: helping with the morning and evening feedings using a beer bottle filled with milk and capped with a rubber nipple.
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“I was thrilled,” she said over a breakfast of iron-skillet pancakes and hand-picked blackberries on her second morning.
For Davis, 63, and Rueff, 65, finding ways to give visitors a hands-on farm experience fulfills the mission they had in mind when they bought 33 acres of horse and cow pasture land a few years ago.
Passionate about the environment but with almost no farming experience, they set about creating an old-time family farm filled with pasture-fed sheep, free-range chickens and organically grown fruits and vegetables.
“Our hope was that we would be doing things that others would be interested in, and we could all learn together,” said Davis.
They’re not alone.
Chimacum has become a hub for new-school farmers honing old-school farming techniques.
A rural community just south of Port Townsend, the area was named for the Native Americans who once lived there. For more than a century, dairy, cattle and horse farms thrived in the valleys and hills surrounded by the Olympic Mountains.
As small farmers look for new sources of income and more city people show an interest in growing and raising their own food, “a lot of people are thinking of new ways to bring visitors out and give them a sensory experience,” says Crystie Kisler of Finnriver Farm & Cidery.
Along with roadside stands and farms where you can pick berries or relax and sip cider, there are classes and workshops in everything from cheesemaking to pickling; farm tours; and opportunities to press apples or grind your own grain — all within 1.5 hours travel time from Seattle, including a scenic ferry ride across the Puget Sound.
Solstice Farm Bed and Breakfast
6503 Beaver Valley Road
360-732-0174 or www.solsticefarmstay.com
Linda Davis and Jim Rueff spent 15 years living on a sailboat and a year traveling around Europe in a camper van before “settling down” to farm in 2002.
With a degree in theater, Davis played guitar, flute and sang professionally, filling in breaks to rest her voice by learning how to do home construction, carpentry, plumbing, stained glass and gardening. She describes herself as the “problem-solver” on the farm. Rueff, with a background in finance and teaching, handles the business end.
The couple opened a two-room B&B last June in the farm house Davis built and designed next to a large garden and pond. A sunny atrium overlooks the sheep pasture. Upstairs rooms have shutters and planter boxes reminiscent of a Tuscan villa.
Visitors are invited to pull on rubber boots and follow Davis and Rueff to the barn in the morning to gather eggs or help with morning vet care and birthing during lambing season (April-May).
Davis offers two-day bookbinding and bookmaking classes by appointment ($75) and dill pickle-making classes in the fall ($25 plus cost of materials). Check the Web site for other classes including basketry workshops, using willows from trees on the property.
Finnriver Farm & Cidery
62 Barn Swallow Road
360-732-6822 or www.finnriverfarm.com
Crystie and Keith Kisler are examples of a new breed of young farmers short on cash but long on creative ideas for preserving land that had been worked for years by an older generation now retiring.
They met as natural-history educators at Yosemite National Park. After moving to Washington state and buying a Chimacum blueberry farm with partners in 2004, they struck a financing deal with local land trusts to maintain the property as a working farm and developed a plan for cider and grain production.
Keith, 40, a fifth-generation wheat farmer from Eastern Washington, and Crystie, 39, a teacher, set about to find ways to grow organic wheat in the wetter Western Washington climate. They harvested apples from an old orchard on the property and began production of European-style sparkling hard ciders (a blueberry version is due out this summer). Flours, cereals and pancake mixes made from grain milled on the farm are for sale in a small cindery and tasting room.
Visitors can stay overnight in a two-bedroom house on the property, or come for the day, visit the cidery and tasting room, tour the farm and grind their own grain on a mill powered by a bicycle.
This summer, Finnriver Farm plans “hands-on” field brunches. Plans are for guests to gather vegetables, eggs and fruit from the farm to be cooked by local chefs. The outdoor feasts will take place on the banks of a restored salmon stream.
Check the Web site for dates on seasonal culinary “Farmstead Adventures” to include cooking, apple-pressing, berry-picking and grinding grain.
Wild Harvest Creamery
734 Wind Ridge Road
360-732-0771 or www.wildharvestcreamery.com
Thinking about starting your own family farm? Suzanne and Mike Tyler, owners of Wild Harvest Creamery, offer classes on raising lambs and goats as well as cheesemaking workshops on their 120-acre farm atop a windy plateau. A cabin built by homesteaders in 1895 sits near their farmhouse made of hand-peeled logs.
Mike Tyler, 51, a veterinarian, and Suzanne Tyler, 50, an enthusiastic cheesemaker, raise dairy goats, sheep and heritage turkeys, and offer monthly “open farm days” for those interested in learning about sustainable agriculture.
There’s usually a waiting list for cheesemaking workshops ($90, offered in fall and winter). Apprentices spend a day in her creamery learning techniques for making feta, chevre and “45-minute mozzarella.’
Cheesemaking, she says, “is a combination of science and art.” Among her creations: delicate rounds of goat cheese flavored with nettles and a blueberry-ginger breakfast chevre.
Check the Web site for the open farm days, usually held one Sunday a month when the Tylers give tours and explain their system of rotational grazing. Chickens, ducks and turkeys roam through fields cleared by grazing goats and sheep. Whey-fed pigs root though the soil, tilling up dirt to prepare for the planting of the next season’s harvest.
Mystery Bay Farm
P.O. Box 285, Nordland, Marrowstone Island
360-385-3309 or www.mysterbayfarm.com.
Not in Chimacum, but close enough for a visit if you’re exploring Fort Flager State Park or any of the pocket beaches on nearby Marrowstone Island.
Mystery Bay is a small-scale Alpine goat farm and dairy owned by teachers Rachel Van Laanen, 33, and Scott Brinton, 36. The goats feast on a mixture of grasses, blackberries, roses and grain, and all have horns, unusual, but Van Laanen resists the usual method of removing them — by burning them off — and sees benefits. “They sweat through them,” she says.
Basic farm tours are $10 per person, minimum $40, with kids under 10 free. Call for directions.
Carol Pucci: email@example.com