By Camille Cody
Did you know that it’s been an unusually wet spring? Of course you did. But did you know that we’re nearly half-way through 2011 and many livestock farmers have only just now been able to get their animals out on pasture? Each little nook and valley here on the peninsula has its own unique microclimate based on how deep the ground water sits and whether it’s situated in the threatening flood zone near a river, not to mention the concept of ‘banana’ or ‘sunshine’ belts laced through the sandwiching mountain ranges of the Olympics and the Cascades. Sun and wind have been doing their best to dry out the land this year, and it’s been a long time coming.
The good news is that farmers in our area are finally able to make use of their land and pastures; just ask the Brown and McCarthey families who own and operate Dungeness Valley Creamery in Sequim. With 60 head of dairy cows and new calves being born all the time, their sheltered areas, despite being large, multi-stalled and smartly designed, are in tight demand. With nearly 38 acres of fenced, rotational pastures for their Jersey herd to munch on, they’re thankful to finally be making use of it this year.
The multi-generational farming family has seen a few changes in their lifetime, but cows have always been the constant. Father Jeff Brown began milking cows at age 10 in Sequim where he grew up, then owned a dairy farm in Whatcom county for 15 years before heading back home and starting up Dungeness Valley Creamery in 1989. In the beginning, DVC sold all their milk to Darigold Inc , but when daughter Sarah returned from school at WSU with a degree in Animal Science and a desire to carry on with the family farm, the family decided to go out on their own and find a more financially secure route. The search for a niche market began. Originally they were told that running a raw dairy was illegal, but after further research, they found out that raw milk is, in fact, legal in Washington state, and for the past 5 years have proved it to be not only legal, but healthy, tasty and successful. It hasn’t been easy, but the family believes in what they’re doing and in supporting and being a part of the network of local farmers.
Though mainstream dairies in the US can hold up to thousands of cows, DVC is the largest raw dairy in the state of Washington with their rotating 60 head count. Human-scale farming is how they operate and even with 13 part-time employees, the full-time-working family isn’t exactly in the habit of taking vacations away from the farm. Milking happens both at 7am and 6pm every day (a process that takes a good 4 hours with prep time, milking machines and clean up) and the milk gets transferred to 600 gallon chilled holding tanks before being bottled and stored in the refrigerated trucks for delivery the next day. In case the safety or cleanliness of raw milk worries you, it may comfort you to know that since becoming a raw-certified dairy, DVC is inspected every month (as opposed to every 6 months for a regular dairy) and has never once been found to have a trace of harmful bacteria in any of their milk.
Gallons of fresh, raw, whole milk are their most popular item, but you can also purchase half-gallons, quarts and pints of their milk too, as well as sides and pieces of milk- and grass-fed bulls. As summer closes in, think fresh whipped cream for your fruit desserts, home-made whole milk ice cream, and BBQed steaks and burgers. (Sarah also loves to make yogurt, pudding, smoothies and local potato-bacon soup with her family’s raw milk.)
If you want to celebrate with them their 5 years of independent, local and raw milk business, they invite you to a celebration on Saturday, June 4th at the farm for BBQ, buttermaking, hay rides and lots of other family fun! See their website for more details.
Also coming in season soon on the peninsula are hothouse raspberries grown by Chimacum’s own SpringRain Farm. John Bellow has worked tirelessly since moving here 3 1/2 years ago and starting SpringRain Farm and Orchard which boasts quite a varied operation; everything from bamboo to bunny rabbits to numerous varieties of laying and broiler chickens and turkeys to sheep to fields of perennial and annual fruits and vegetables (look for signs for a local U-pick coming up in the near future!)
He has chosen his raspberry varietals specifically for an early spring harvest and another in late fall – his edge on a niche market, to be the first AND last producer of local raspberries, taking a break mid-season when other berries are abundant. Now in their third year, the canes in the greenhouse are trellised higher than your head to support the weight of the heavy crop of raspberries ripening away. Expect to see your first pints available for sale mid-June.
In gardens across the area, the first sowings of crops are finally available for harvest after a slow and stunted spring. Radishes, spinach, baby kale and Asian greens, arugula and peas are coming on strong and Finnriver Farm is excited to provide their first harvests of super-sweet head lettuce at the Corner Store as well as the weekly farmer’s markets – take advantage of the first, tender spring salads while you can! The strawberries are ripening away and you can expect your first juicy, red bite sometime this month and the broccoli, cabbage, turnips, rutabagas and potatoes are firmly rooted and taking in as much light and nutrients as they can for harvest later in the summer and early fall. But the planting agenda never gets a break – now is the time to be sowing heat-loving summer crops like cucumbers, squash, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, all of which are available at the market through farms like Finnriver, Red Dog and Dharma Ridge.