If you show up at the Chocolate Flower Farm on Whidbey Island and don’t see anyone around, just ring the cowbell.
“I’m likely working in the commercial kitchen, the greenhouse or the farmhouse basement pouring candles,” says a sign posted by owner Marie Lincoln. “Don’t be shy!”
Lincoln’s nursery, specializing in dark-colored plants, seeds and chocolate-themed products, is one of a growing number of farms opening their barn doors to visitors searching for COVID-19-safe ways to enjoy the outdoors this summer and fall.
U-pick blueberry patches, groomed nature trails and gardens shaded with umbrellas for sipping cider invite lingering longer than one might just stopping for produce at a roadside stand.
Think live music, wood-fired pizza and rustic farm stores stocked with artisan products, and in Lincoln’s case, seed packets for growing your own chocolate-scented flowers.
Here are three suggestions the next time you are looking for a day trip for out-of-town guests, or just a relaxing escape from the city.
Take the Washington state ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island or from Edmonds to Kingston, cross the Hood Canal Floating Bridge and you’ll find Wilderbee Farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Port Townsend.
Owners Casey and Eric Reeter built Wilderbee as a visitor destination, evident from a nearly full parking lot on a recent Sunday afternoon.
Their invitation to explore what was once a cattle ranch in agriculturally rich Jefferson County: “Bring a picnic. Feed the sheep. Pick a bouquet. Sip some mead. Walk our nature trails. Enjoy the day at Wilderbee.”
U-pick lavender fields surround a farm store stocked with essential oils made from lavender distilled on-site along with wooden birdhouses and cutting boards crafted by Casey Reeter’s 81-year-old father, Larry.
The Reeters took a farming course offered by Washington State University before selling their West Seattle home and founding Wilderbee in 2011. They also raise bees, and tend fields of organically grown U-pick pumpkins, cut flowers and blue berries.
“The first thing they told us was to diversify,” says Casey Reeter. The couple raise a conservation flock of British Soay sheep whose wool they pluck rather than shear, and sell to a local fiber artist. In 2019, they opened the Mead Werks meadery.
Spotting a niche among the many distilleries, wineries, cideries and breweries in the area, they and two partners began making small-batch traditional and barrel-aged mead — like white wine, only made with honey instead of grapes — after taking a class at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle.
Recently reopened is a cozy tasting room, furnished with comfy sofas and chairs, open for weekend tastings, occasional live music and picnics on the back patio.
Using blackberry blossom honey from Yakima as a base, the meadery likes inventing new twists on what’s considered one of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages. On the horizon: a lavender-infused mead, of course.
Finnriver Farm & Cidery
South from Port Townsend is rural Chimacum, where you’ll find the Finnriver Farm & Cidery and its garden, with tables and heaters under a covered pavilion — or sit outside under umbrellas on the grounds of a former 50-acre dairy farm.
What began with the purchase of an organic blueberry farm in 2004 by Keith and Crystie Kisler and partners has evolved into what is now Finnriver Farm & Cidery, as much a neighborhood hub and meeting place as it is a thriving local business.
Finnriver grows organic produce and grains such as quinoa, wheat and buckwheat, but its main focus is fermenting organic apples grown locally and in other parts of Washington into a line of hard ciders and fruit wines sold in stores and farmers markets around the Puget Sound area.
On weekends through Labor Day, Finnriver hosts lead visitors through its 10-acre cider apple orchard, pulling a cart filled with ciders and fruit wines for sampling along the way.
“We want to help people make the direct connection between what you drink in the glass and what you see in the ground,” says Crystie Kisler. She hopes to begin cider barn tours this fall after discontinuing them during the pandemic. Meanwhile, other outdoor activities have resumed, including live music on weekends.
A walk-up cider counter dispenses draft ciders in jelly jars. Visitors can order wood-fired pizzas, vegan ice cream, and call up a QR code to peruse locally sourced offerings from the Finnriver kitchen. On the menu is a jackfruit barbecue sandwich, a vegetarian burger made with pecans and a locally made bratwurst served with spicy kimchi.
More improvements are coming as COVID-19-related restrictions and staffing shortages ease. Says Kisler, “We just added ’emergence’ to our list of core values.”
Chocolate Flower Farm
Board the ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton on Whidbey Island, and drive north toward the waterside town of Langley. Look for the pink umbrella on a roadside farm stand to know you’ve arrived at Marie Lincoln’s Chocolate Flower Farm, a nursery specializing in rare maroon or chocolate-colored flowers, vegetables and plants, along with Lincoln’s homemade raspberry-chocolate jam, fudge and chocolate-scented candles.
“It’s all about fun and color,” she says, walking me through a patch of black watermelons (dark on the outside and red on the inside), miniature “chocolate” bell peppers and a chocolate-vanilla swirl garden planted with 200 dark Brownie tulips and white daffodils.
Lincoln combined her love of chocolate with a passion for gardening to come up with the idea to cultivate the unusual plants on a pasture where she once raised Arabian horses.
The farm itself was closed for six years while she focused on a mail-order seed business and ran the Chocolate Flower Farm store in Langley.
When COVID-19 hit, Lincoln closed the store and reopened the farm along with the nursery and two small shops selling seeds, gardening supplies, chocolates and chocolate-themed products.
While most of the plants she raises are chocolate in color only, there are some that smell like the real thing, including a best-selling chocolate cosmos that produces maroon-colored blooms from June to late frost, and a bright yellow chocolate daisy. Seed kits include annuals and perennials to create a do-it-yourself chocolate garden.
Coming in the fall are colorful pumpkins (white, blue, chocolate and pink) and colored glass gem corn for popping. French chickens (Marans) lay dark brown eggs.
Lincoln is excited about future plans for a picnic area, a deli, farm store, camping area and a kids’ chocolate garden where her miniature goats can wander.
“Everything we do,” she says, “is aimed at making people smile.”
If you go
Always check opening hours before heading out. Many businesses have had to adjust hours due to staffing shortages.
Interested in visiting other farms? The annual self-guided Jefferson County Farm Tour will resume this year from Sept. 18-19, with 14 participants offering in-person tours, and two planning digital presentations. See st.news/farmtour.