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Ellensburg

News both big, small, and in between

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News both big, small, and in between

irrigation-project.jpg

Farm Sign There are so many changes and things moving forward I'm not even sure where to start. What kept us up at night most was installing a new sprinkler irrigation system with the help of conservation district grants and after over a year of planning, applying for grants, and 6 weeks of 14 hour days it is finally done and passed inspection with flying colors. We needed to hire a little help once we got into the project and it was worth its weight in gold. This was a concern as our year was already financially burdened with all the infrastructure additions, but it proved to be the best thing we could have done. Farmers seem to talk about three things when they get together: weather, any animals lost, and how difficult it is to find good help.

Irrigation project

Irrigation is not the most exciting topic but the results we have already seen on the pasture have made it all worth it. The plan we designed utilizes tail water so as of now we aren't using the irrigation water we pay for every year which amounts to something like 8,000,000 gallons of snow melt. A huge Thank you to Mark Crowley of the Kittitas County Conservation District for helping us see the plan through logistically and taking a couple of his weekends to help us get the project done. We would probably still be working on it if it wasn't for him. The boys were also thrilled to have his son Wyatt here who has been a farm boy all his life helping his dad raise pigs and cattle. The boy knows his way around a farm and his confidence was inspiring for the boys and in many ways for me to see. We also need to thank our neighbor Cleatus and everyone at the National Conservation Resource Services office, especially Erin who worked some magic for us many times.

Eggs

Our first Farmers Market season has been successful, we sold out of our first two batches of broiler chickens and our pasture eggs seem to be sold before we have them. The Roslyn market is done for the season just as our ladies egg production is ramping up and we will soon have more pasture raised lamb and chicken available so we started looking for new farmers markets to try out in addition to our Ellensburg one. We didn't have high hopes for getting in to the Seattle markets so late in the year, but just this week we found out we will have a spot at the West Seattle Farmers Market starting in October. We are really excited about the West Seattle one because it is our old neighborhood and we have had so many people reaching out to us wondering when they could get some of our pasture raised goodness. I am really looking forward to seeing friends and familiar faces from my food co-op days.

Heriloom Tomatoes

We had a harder time selling our produce. Partly because there is so many people selling it at the markets but also on this side of the mountains they don't put as many regulations on who can sell at farmers markets. In some of the Seattle markets they actually require that you put signs up if you spray your produce with pesticides and they make it their mission to support small sustainable farms so you are less likely to see large conventional farms selling at the Seattle markets. While growing a market garden isn't our focus, we are dedicated to a sustainable local food system so we hope to influence our local farmers markets and community in the years to come. This experience also put us on the path of looking into getting Certified Naturally Grown. It's a grassroots movement of farmers who could no longer afford the cost of organic certification or all the paperwork and record keeping that went along with it once it became a national certification program. Certified Naturally Grown bases their guidelines on organic standards but they make it much more economical to obtain. For a small diversified farm like ours certifying our pastures, compost, garden, and each different kind of animal organic is not economically feasible. We are already transparent when it comes to our farming practices but this will hopefully spark more conversations with people who are unaware or want to learn more. We often tell people at our market booth that if it isn't healthy enough for our family we won't feed it to theirs.

Scottish Highland Cattle

Our biggest piece of news is that we are adding a herd of Scottish Highland Cattle to our farm. We read about a farm down in Southern California called Apricot Lane Farms with a similar farm model to ours but on a larger scale. They also focus on mixed species rotational grazing and utilize compost tea, apple cider vinegar, and full mineralization to keep their animals and pastures healthy. I was reading about them and their Scottish Highland herd that put us on a path to finding some for our own farm. They are a very gentle and docile breed, but the other important quality to us is that they browse and graze similar to our Icelandic Sheep. So in a few short weeks we will have three cow/calf pairs and two older heifers arriving at the farm. We will still keep our family dairy heifer, Love and the four steers we got from Pride and Joy dairy but the Highlands will be our giant leap into breeding our own cattle. It's exciting, terrifying, but most importantly it means we need more infrastructure as far as a wintering shelter and a place to corral them. For now though I will leave you with a beautiful quote from John Chester of Apricot Lane Farms  "You have to trust the magic is gonna happen when your heart's desire is in sync with your conscience. Never in a million years would I ever have been able to predict that simply watching animals eat grass would make my chest feel like it's going to explode." 1

Corn Tassel

1. Quote from The Stockman GrasssFarmer Volume 13 #9 "California Grass Farm Focuses on the Symbiotic Relationship of Mixed Species Grazing"

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The New Normal

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The New Normal

chicken.jpg

( Photo by Mike Hipple)

After months of packing, getting settled into our new home and starting a dozen farming projects all at once we were excited to take a break and throw a farm bbq and camp out.  It was partly a birthday celebration for our son Harlow and his buddie Cam whose birthdays are a day apart , a 4oth birthday celebration for Farmer Matt, and a way to share all or our hard work with friends. A farmwarming. There was a maze cut into our cover crop of wild oats and alfalfa for the kids to run around in, lawn mower rides, water fun to keep everyone cool,  and of course lots of delicious food brought by our friends and grass-fed beef hamburgers from Heirloom Cattle Company. It was a happy accident that we planned the party on the same night of the Perseid meteor showers.  So the evening was spent sitting around a beautiful fire pit our neighbor Cletus made watching shooting stars while the wee ones slept in their tents.

(Photo by Mike Hipple)

(Photo by Mike Hipple)

(Photo by Mike Hipple)

(Photo by Mike Hipple)

Everyone enjoyed a huge breakfast spread the next morning while the kids played in the maze for the last time and then started to pack up and say their goodbyes.  The family and I spent the rest of the day catching up on sleep and giddy at how much fun we all had and how well our first big event on the farm went. Less than 24 hours later a dark column of smoke appeared across the valley in Cle Elum.  For a moment we were just in awe of its beauty and how fast it was taking over the sky.  The colors were constantly changing and it covered the sun in a way that made it look so small with barely any power to illuminate the sky anymore.  The smoke moved quickly and soon we saw flames on the horizon near the wind farms on Hwy 97.  It was time to start planning but for what we weren't sure. The areas that were being evacuated were so far away from us and the fire still looked far away. Eventually we did evacuate when the smoke got too thick.  We packed some travel bags, boxes of family photographs, and anything we couldn't live without and left for a hotel in town. It was our dog Lulu's first night sleeping indoors and she seemed upset about being away from her sheep.  Matthew and I spent the night listening to the scanners hoping the fire would not spread to our road.

Early the next morning Matt went to see if they would let him back on the farm so he could check on the animals and feed them. It feels weird to say we were lucky, the word doesn't feel quite strong enough, but after listening to other peoples homes being consumed by the fire all night its the first word that came to mind when we found out all of our animals were alive, the house, and even the pastures were untouched by the fire.  All around the valley in almost every direction there are houses and pastures that were devastated by the fire. No homes on our small stretch of road had any damage and most of the fires that were in our area are now contained or at least smoldering. The fire is still a powerful force in the Cle Elum and Liberty areas and they have fire fighters from all over the state working around the clock to put it out.

A couple of days after the fire started there was another large flare up in the Cle Elum area and more evacuations.

During this whole ordeal we had neighbors checking in on us offering help and advice, the boys new preschool teacher came down our road with her horse trailer looking for us to see if we needed help loading the sheep, and even one of the local land management authorities who we have been working with called to see if we needed any assistance. So in addition to feeling incredibly lucky, blessed, fortunate, or whatever combination of those words could possibly come close to describing how it feels to not have lost everything, we also have a new sense of community. Our friends in Seattle didn't forget about us either, we had dozens of phone calls and messages offering help, moral support, and also help in finding some of the best online resources for the progress of the fire. So we would like to give a huge THANK YOU to everyone that helped out in all different ways, near and far.

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