Pigs and cows and goats, oh my! A visit to Sea Breeze Farm

Each year, the King County Extension Office, in association with Washington State University, holds their Harvest Celebration on the first Saturday of October. The Harvest Celebration is a chance for consumers to get to know their local producers and for farms to introduce their products to new users. Typically, the farms provide tours, cooking demonstrations by local chefs, market stands, and other events. This year, one of the participants was Sea Breeze Farm. Sea Breeze has a stand at the Ballard Farmers' Market, from which Man of La Muncha and I have purchased milk, eggs, cheese, and wine, all of which we have been highly satisfactory purchases. We have, however, been curious as to how they manage to produce so much, so when we saw that they were included in the Harvest Celebration, we checked the ferry schedule and headed to Vashon Island.

After getting a bit turned around upon disembarking from the ferry, Man of La Muncha and I finally found our way to Sea Breeze Farm, high up on a hillside. We parked the car under a tree, got out, and looked around. We were amused to see that a chicken had escaped from the larger fenced area where the rest of the poultry were happily pecking and dust-bathing. As we moved closer to the runaway, she started to run, quickly finding the hole in the fence through which she had emerged, thus rejoining her flock. Pleased that the chicken had found her way back, we started up to the farmhouse, where we were met by Mike, a volunteer with the King County Extension. He informed us that a tour was about to begin, and pointed us towards the steps of the house, where a crowd of people had begun to gather around Jeff, the resident cheesemaker.


Jeff has been at Sea Breeze for about three months, so he has not had a chance to see the entire process at work. His relative inexperience, however, did not keep him from providing us with a wealth of information about the workings of the farm. The poultry, for example, are given supplemental feed--the only animals on the farm to receive food above and beyond what the pasture can provide. The reasons are simple--even though the chickens, ducks, and geese are free-range and move about the pasture, it still takes 1 acre of land to provide enough food for three chickens. Sea Breeze doesn't have enough land to support the number of chickens they produce; as a result, the poultry receive supplemental food. Even so, the chickens we saw were healthy, happy, dust-bathing chickens; and the eggs, which we've purchased in the past, are very good, with the bright orange yolks that are the calling card of foraging chickens.


Next, we visited the goats and cows, who had been brought up to an adjacent field for the Harvest Celebration. The goats, including an inquisitive and peckish La Mancha, were friendly, if a bit pushy. The cows looked at us with interest, but did not come any closer. The chickens ran through the background, eagerly searching for grubs and other tasty bits. After ruminating with the ruminants, we moved on to the cheese shed, which is located in the basement of the morecheese.JPGfarmhouse.

The cheese shed provided one of the more interesting sessions of the tour. Jeff is the primary cheesemaker, and talked extensively about the types of cheese he produces, how it all works, and the dangers of trying to make your own rennet (apparently, if you leave the calf's stomach in the refrigerator too long, the enzyme can no longer be retrieved). The cheese is stored with wine casks and chunks of slowly curing prosciutto; the room smelled like a combination of sweat socks and wine must.

At this point, Jeff needed to make a trip to a barn down the hill a bit, where the wine grapes were busy fermenting. Man of La Muncha and I, never ones to turn down a trip to see wine being made, tagged along, as did another couple and a man and his young daughter. Man of La Muncha will write more about that episode in his post. The grapes were pushed down and samples of each type were taken. The tubs were once again covered, and we trudged back up the hill, where Jeff checked the brix and made notes while the rest of us looked on and sampled the juice.

By this time, it was late afternoon, and the cows and goats were being brought in for milking. Man of La Muncha and I watched briefly--the cows are milked one by one using a machine, while the goats are milked by hand. The animals were eager to be milked, and looked much relieved as they exited the milking shed. We decided it was time to head home.

As we boarded the ferry for our return trip to Seattle, we talked about the challenges of trying to produce so many items from a single, fairly small farm in a way that is sustainable. The people at Sea Breeze work incredibly hard to produce the food that we buy from the farmers' market, and they are doing it, in large part, because they believe that producing food in a sustainable manner is the only way to produce products that they can sell in good conscience. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the work that they are doing, and will do my part to keep them in business going forward.

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