by Phil Vogelzang
Permaculture: an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that are modeled on the relationships found in natural ecologies. (wikipedia.org).
Permaculture is exactly what Janet Aubin was trying to explain to me recently as to why she and Jeff Horwath, are doing fewer row crops and instead concentrating on perennials such as raspberries, blueberries, black currants, strawberries and heirloom apple and pear trees on their 33 acres of paradise in Center Valley. Janet and Jeff answered the call to come manage the farm from Keith and Crystie Kisler in 2008, when it became apparent to the Kislers that Finnriver Farm needed a full time farming couple to make the endeavor a success, both economically and environmentally. Janet had just received a degree in ecology from Macalester College in Minnesota and was taking nursing prerequisites in Seattle. Jeff was realizing that being on the land was his true dream, having just completed a “7 year degree” from the University of Minnesota in “mathematices, pottery and art history”. The idea of working and living closely with the land in a place like Chimacum appealed to both of them, especially Janet who had grown up in Jefferson County and was familiar with the bubbling agricultural scene of Chimacum Valley. So they picked up their few belongings and made their way to a special little place next to West Chimacum Creek.
See, most people think of Center Valley as bottom land with rich peat-based soils that grow superb vegetables. But Finnriver’s sloping hillside, above the creek and valley floor, has relatively poor glacial till as soil. After struggling with the thin topsoil growing annuals like lettuce, carrots and brussel sprouts, they’ve realized that focusing on perennials is the answer. Berries are what the farm is known for after all, and berries seem to be what thrive the best. This fact was clearly demonstrated by the foresight of their predecessors, Elijah and Kay Christian, who purchased Finnriver’s 33 acres and planted 2000 blueberry bushes in the 1990’s. Lige and Kay’s vision has served as the basis for the Farm’s direction. With the blueberries firmly established in the peat bog, the folks at Finnriver have continued this philosophy, expanding the cane berries, planting traditional cider varieties of apples and pears, and starting an on-farm cidery which produces a wide variety of ciders, fruit wines sold at the tasting room on the farm.
But plants aren’t the only things that get this pair going. Think livestock. Just check out their latest acquisitions on the farm. Four kid goats from Rachael Van Laanen’s Mystery Bay farm, 8 weaner pigs from Port Angeles, and over 400 chickens. The goats climb all over Janet and Jeff as they enter the spacious pen they’ve prepared for their guests, wagging their tales and nibbling at fingers, ears and clothing. Because they’re males their future here is short. But this couple is determined to see that their short life is a happy one. These little boys are the byproduct of any female-driven dairy operation. And it wouldn’t make financial sense to feed them over the winter. So no matter how cute and cuddly, Janet remains clear-eyed and realistic about the goats’ role on the farm. These animals will be raised over the summer when grass is long and lush, then butchered for meat in the fall. It’s not romantic, but this couple is anything but unrealistic. They have their feet (and souls) firmly rooted in the ground.
The same goes for the 8 weaner pigs they’re raising. “They’re the perfect farm animal” Jeff points out. “We can get them in the spring, feed them the surpluses of the summer, and in the fall, bacon and pork chops. They eat your scraps, root up your soil and provide solid entertainment. What’s not to like?”