I’ve wanted to tell this story since the beginning.
Sitting down to write about the farm that spawned my love affair with the Chimacum valley, I realize that I don’t have one story. There are too many options; the cider, the cidery, the land, the people, the market farm, the orchards, the animals…
My daughter introduced me to Finnriver. I’d driven past the sign, heard they were making great cider, and purchased a bottle or two at the Port Townsend farmer’s market. But not until three or four years ago, after she returned from introducing her Southern California boyfriend to the Olympic Peninsula, did I finally turn down the dirt road leading to the farm. During a typical June rainstorm, they had stopped in to taste cider and hit it off with Crystie, who owns the farm and cidery with her husband Keith. She came home and told me that it was my kind of place and that I’d get along great with Crystie.
A few years, and many bottles of cider later, I’m still turning down their dirt road, sometimes just to say hello, but they’re always coming up with enticing new flavor combinations, so I usually leave with a bottle or two tucked under my arm. On one of those trips, I told Crystie about this blog idea and she quickly invited me to show up with my camera. Last September, I spent a day on the farm, but with a little different mission than I’d first imagined.
One of Finnriver’s major products is their blueberries. The berries sometimes go into cider, but the bulk are sold at market. With two acres of organic blueberry bushes, its a substantial part of their business. The current plan is to expand their blueberry production, but they need to raise some capital in order to do so. My goal: to photograph the pigs and ducks at work for a kickstarter project.
The existing blueberry patch had been under attack by a tenacious fungus. In a last ditch effort to retain its organic status, farmers Janet and Jeff acquired a flock of ducks and invited them into the blueberry fields with the hope that they would find the fungus to their liking as a tasty snack. It worked. The ducks now waddle happily between and around rows of blueberries, gossiping loudly. Where one goes, they all follow.
When I climbed over the fence with my camera, I’m pretty sure they thought I was a wolf or equally dangerous predator. Trying to capture them just “doing their thing” meant sneaking up on them through the blueberry bushes doing some kind of combat crawl.
As soon as one of them caught sight of me, she would sound the alarm and they’d all waddle off as fast as their webbed feet and three inch legs would carry them. I realized that the only hope was for me to just hang out for a while and hope they’d get used to me. I’m not sure we ever really made friends, or that they realized that I wasn’t interested in eating them, but as long as I didn’t move too fast, or get too close, they stopped freaking out.
By the time I had enough duck images to work with, I had filled a section of my camera bag with their eggs which I had come upon dropped willy nilly into the mud. I was anxious to set down my bag of fragile goods wrapped in random bits of paper and baggies, so I headed off, “over the river and through the woods”, or at least across the creek, to find the pigs.
Their job was to dig up and fertilize the field for the new blueberry patch. Before I’d spent much time around pigs, I had this idea that they, like Wilbur, of Charlotte’s Web fame, were content lolling around in the muck (or manure pile).
Not so the Finnriver pigs! While fearful ducks made it challenging to catch them at work eating fungus, aggressively friendly (or insatiably hungry) pigs initially proved an equal challenge. They came galloping toward me as I approached their enclosure. I didn’t even know pigs could gallop.
When they realized that I did not come bearing gifts, or food, they quickly went back to work. I guess they figured that they were wasting precious time poking at my camera when they could be munching on weeds, roots and bugs.
When Janet told me that the tilling of the field was being done by pigs, I imagined a rough mess consisting of chunks of overturned sod, uprooted weeds and muddy holes. But by leaving the fences in one place long enough, their relatively tiny feet, carrying oversized bodies, combined with voracious appetites had left the pigs previous enclosure looking as if a rototiller just left the field, seemingly ready for planting.
I must admit that the day I spent chasing ducks with my camera was one of those extraordinary fall days when you can feel the chill in the morning air but the afternoon is warm and sunny; the kind you remember all winter as blue skies are rare in the PNW.
I had the pleasure of passing a few hours on another one of those perfect days at Finnriver a couple of weeks ago, an early spring day, where I caught up with Janet about the Kickstarter project which is still in the works. We visited the ducks, who still think I’m the devil, and checked on the blueberry patch which is ankle deep in mud.
The new field is too wet to work, and the pigs are currently housed on a field up the road where they get up to all kinds of mischief.
I would have liked to have been there when a friend from a neighboring farm called Janet to tell her that they were running loose on the main road by the Chimacum Corner Farmstand.
Shedding my sweatshirt while walking up the hill from the feeding the ducks toward the chicken tractor felt like a luxury, my bare arms unfamiliarly exposed as a gentle breeze brushed them, ruffling the chicken’s feathers.
Before leaving, we stopped into a small greenhouse where Janet hand pollinated the previous owner’s prized peach trees, which led me to thinking about peaches and summer… Not hard to imagine when you’re standing in a greenhouse in short sleeves, even in March.
I’ve been to Finnriver in the rain (see story here), but most recently, it seems to have fallen under some kind of enchantment involving rainbows, pots of gold and warm sunshine. I haven’t seen any unicorns, but there are a couple of farm dogs who come and go during the time I’m there. Kingston, the pup, seems to have settled down a bit over the winter.
Keep your eyes open for a Kickstarter project starring pigs, ducks and blueberries… This is not advertising, but hey, you could be part of the magic. Or you can go buy a bottle of one of their ciders and taste it.