In July, it will be two years since Cloud Mountain Farm became the nonprofit organization Cloud Mountain Farm Center, at 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson. I visited with Cheryl Thornton, the original farm founder with her husband, Tom, to see how their innovative transition from private farm to organization was going.
Cheryl explained there are three "legs of the stool," or areas of emphasis: New farmers, existing farmers and consumers. She went on to describe projects in each area.
Their main activity for assisting new farmers is their eight-month internship program. Cloud Mountain currently has five full-time interns and eventually plans to have 10. Interns are paid and also go through an extensive educational curriculum that emphasizes agriculture "with a big A," Cheryl says.
Training includes exposure to all aspects of agriculture - policy, sociology, business, marketing and more - in addition to traditional farming activities. The idea is to expose interns to the big picture, so they can later choose work in whatever interests them most.
Since many new farmers are not from family farms, internship programs have become a popular way for would-be farmers to learn necessary skills and develop a support network to later operate their own farms.
Cheryl laughed when asked what interns have done when they leave the program. "We trained them with the idea they would go out into the world," she says, "but many of them are buying or leasing farmland nearby."
After talking with Cheryl, I also spoke with intern Miranda Bowman. Watch for an article soon about what it's like to be a farm intern.
For existing Whatcom farmers, Cloud Mountain is focused on research and trials for crop varieties and growing techniques to extend the traditional growing season. By being able to grow crops earlier in the spring and later in the fall or winter, farmers may improve their profitability. Cloud Mountain is trying to remove some of the risk for farmers by doing the testing themselves with grant funding.
For example, they are working with Washington State University doing leafy greens trials to see which varieties do best in those shoulder seasons (early spring and late fall). The Community Food Co-op is supporting the project by funding taste testing.
Cloud Mountain is also experimenting with growing strawberry plants in hanging beds. Strawberry plants usually produce only one or two new plant runners each. Using the hanging method, it appears that number can be multiplied. The goal is to have more strawberry plants available in the fall, the optimum time to plant for maximum berry production the following spring.
Other programs for existing farmers include buying expensive equipment to share. Five Whatcom farms are currently using vegetable bed preparation tools, for example.
Finally, Cloud Mountain is working with the Northwest Agriculture Business Center, Sustainable Whatcom and others to develop a food-crop processing facility that will be available to multiple farms. It will be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Currently going through the permitting process, it is hoped the facility will start operation this fall. Several farms are already on board to participate.
A licensed facility will help local farmers get local product into local institutional markets, such as Western Washington University, PeaceHealth and schools. "People are willing to change," Cheryl says of institutional food purchasers, "but we have to make it easier and workable for them."
Cheryl emphasized that Cloud Mountain is careful to use the funding they receive as a nonprofit to develop programs that are "in addition to" what other Whatcom farms are doing, not "instead of."
For example, in January Cloud Mountain does a survey of local buyers to learn which products are missing locally that those buyers would like to have.
Cloud Mountain shares the results of what they are learning about varieties, pest control, and growing techniques with other farmers who express interest.
For consumers, Cloud Mountain offers an extensive educational program, including workshops, blogs, email newsletters and special events. See their website, cloudmountainfarmcenter.org, for workshop schedules, or call the farm for more information, 360-966-5859.
Many Whatcom residents are familiar with the annual Fall Fruit Festival, scheduled for Oct. 5-6 this year, where literally hundreds of fruit varieties can be sampled. New this year will be the Summer Harvest Day on Aug. 18, with both fruits and vegetables, and tours of the farm.
One of the biggest developments at Cloud Mountain has been the purchase of another 25-acre farm. They plan to develop it as an incubator farm, a place where new farmers can get started for the short term while they figure out how to lease or purchase their own land.
Cheryl says the hardest thing about the transition to nonprofit status has been letting people know "we're still doing what we're doing." The nursery is still operating as it has for years, and the farm is still a working farm. It is now also certified organic for most of the vegetables they raise.
The highlight of the visit was biting into my first ripe tomato of the season. Ahh ... nothing like it!
On the way back from visiting Cloud Mountain, I stopped at Shumway's Berries u-pick field for strawberries, 6010 Siper Road, Everson, and spent a few minutes picking some of their perfectly ripe ruby beauties. If you take your family with you, you'll be lucky if any berries make it home, but if they do, try this simple recipe below. It was so tasty and filling, our family ended up eating this as a main dish for dinner.
3 cups fresh strawberries (Shumway's Berries, Everson)
1 cup yogurt (Grace Harbor Farms, Custer)
1/2 cup white wine (use your favorite Whatcom white)
1/3 cup honey or to taste (Red Barn Lavender, Ferndale)
1 teaspoon fresh oregano (or mint), finely minced (home garden, Lummi Island)
1 teaspoon smoked cayenne pepper, finely minced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
Put all ingredients except smoked pepper in a blender. Puree until smooth. Taste and adjust herb flavor and sweetness, if necessary.
Garnish with a light sprinkling of smoked pepper and a whole leaf of the herb you used.
Makes about 4 cups.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.