After a picture perfect early fall evening for the pig roast the night before (story here), my daughter and I awakened to leaden skies for the farm tour. At some point in the night, the stars had disappeared behind clouds. “Marine air,” I said… “I’m sure it will burn off.” It was chilly, so I pulled on long-sleeves and a lightweight jacket over my t-shirt before taking off from the Chimacum Corner Farmstand.
24 farms participated in the event. Looking over our map, we traced a route which seemed reasonable and covered about half the farms – as much as we thought we could manage before 4pm. Since the epicenter of Chimacum Valley’s farm scene, Center Road, is familiar territory, we decided to go to Marrowstone Island first, saving this strip, and Finnriver‘s pizza oven, for the end of the day.
We rode fast, hoping the eight mile jaunt would warm us up. At Twin Vista, I walked my bike, but Charlotte road straight across the cattle guard at the entrance. We roamed around, tagging along on an official tour of this experimental research farm and educational facility donated by its previous owners to WSU extension and serving Jefferson County’s agricultural community.
I was crouching in the grass, trying to get a better angle on some sheep, when a couple drops of rain landed on my arm. Stubbornly, I dismissed them as a passing sprinkle due to heavy fog. But I had underestimated those drops, and by the time we were back on the main road, the sprinkle had become a heavy shower.
Mystery Bay Farm
Mystery Bay Farm, with its familiar cozy barn and friendly goats was a short hop and a welcome next stop. We ditched our bikes and dashed inside. I had spent a long afternoon here following Rachael around learning about the farm and dairy (see Mystery Bay Farm story), so while she gave out cheese and yogurt samples and talked to visitors about the products, I showed Charlotte the farm. I knew that she’d be captivated by these beautiful, funny animals, who, like dogs, generally love to be petted, scratched and generally doted on.
Plus, there are the kids! Born in the spring, they weren’t tiny any more, but they still had that unmistakable “baby animal” air about them. When I was last here, Rachael had recently acquired a young buck. This year, he was all grown up. A sign in front of the fenced yard holding the two bucks explained rutting (male goat “heat”), and the rather distinctive odor in the area.
We stopped rather briefly at Marrowstone Vineyards… something about drinking wine on basically empty stomachs early in the day just wasn’t going to work for us. Its a beautiful place; vineyards rolling down a shallow hillside toward the Salish Sea from the “barn”, which holds an art gallery and a tasting room as well as the pristine winemaking area. While they are still waiting for their first vintage from Marrowstone grapes, Ken is very knowledgeable about making wine from grapes grown West of the Cascades and has four different offerings from Oregon and Washington grapes.
Before their barn burned down a couple years ago, I often bought SpringRain eggs at the Red Dog Farm stand. But the community came together to support them, and they started over with the chickens. Now they’re back in business with their own self-service honor system farm stand.
The only evidence of the fire is a charred area near one of the chicken trailers. Yes… trailers. Most farms I visit have chicken tractors – moveable chicken coops. At SpringRain, the chickens roam free in the fields around hoop houses, greenhouses and barns, but roost in gutted RV trailers refitted with nesting boxes for laying eggs. The heritage turkeys have the run of the orchard, and rabbits get mobile hutches where they have access to fresh grass every day.
We were offered an egg carton on arrival, in case we wanted to collect our own dozen. Though we’ve never owned chickens, it had never occurred to me that my 22 year old daughter had never reached into a nest box or under a chicken to get an egg.
Its not often that I can surprise my world traveling college educated daughter with a new experience any more, and it touched me as much as if she’d been a kindergartener.
Red Dog Farm
Red Dog Farm was next, but we stop at their farm stand often and it was much later than we’d planned, so we ate a snack while listening to some local musicians and hopped back on our bikes. At this point we had to admit that we didn’t have a prayer of a chance of getting to some of the farms we had originally intended to visit, and made a drastic revision in our route.
I wanted to visit one of the farms raising beef cattle, so we plotted a loop down West Valley Road via Westbrook Angus, where we had the opportunity to talk to Chuck and Julie Biggs not only about what it takes to run a beef cattle operation, but also about the changes they’ve seen in the valley over the last 40 years. Their land was originally her family’s farm. Chuck talked to Charlotte and I about the changes he’s seen in demand for beef, about the fact that people used to want grain finished beef, but the demand has shifted almost completely to grass-fed. The challenge for him is that the grass on their land doesn’t have enough nutrients in it to feed the cattle during the winter months and grass-fed cattle take longer to mature, which requires that he feed more hay. He still finishes some cattle on organic grain, but has shifted primarily to 100% grass fed.
Finnriver and the storm
After standing and chatting with Chuck and Julie under threatening gray skies in our bike shorts with our coats zipped up to our chins, we didn’t object to climbing the hills of the rolling terrain crossed by West Valley and Egg and I roads. To our delight, the pizza oven at Finnriver was still hot, and they had the makings for one more pizza when we arrived. We were sitting in the shelter devouring the hot food, when, after threatening all day the real rain began. The forecast had said thunder showers starting at four. It was right on schedule. Needless to say, we didn’t linger and visit much.
Riding up Center up Center Road back toward our car and dry clothes, I was wiping the water out of my eyes. Its a quick two and a half mile hop, so we weren’t really worried when thunder rumbled in the distance. Still, we pedaled fast. As we passed the sign for Red Dog Farm, a bolt of lightening struck the power pole on the opposite shoulder. The wet pavement in front of us shone as if lit by a powerful spotlight. That was too close! I knew that the fact that I was on a bike and that I was no where near the tallest thing around meant that I wasn’t in real danger, but the air crackled with electricity and I felt a little breathless. We arrived at our car, and the Chimacum Corner Farmstand, soaked to the skin. I peeled my bike gloves off under their awning and realized that my fingers were still pulsing with the electrical charge from the lightening.
The next day, I saw a post by Red Dog Farm that they had watched the lightening hit in various places around the farm including a strike on Center Road which had shattered a giant tree. This had to have happened within a few minutes of our passage as the storm moved on fairly quickly. Apparently the tree exploded, covering the road with fragments of the trunk and branches. We were very lucky…