Quit Your Job! Start a Farm!
I have a dream – a dream where thousands of people quit their day jobs and return to the land to grow healthy produce and raise animals in a sustainable way. Sure, it’s a Pollyanna dream but who can argue with the concept being a good one? I know that not everyone is going to trade a laptop and a BMW for a pitchfork and a tractor but for some – this represents a lifestyle to aspire to. I’ll take 40 acres and a farmhouse over a six bedroom home in Clyde Hill or a McMansion somewhere any old day.
Over the past several years there has been a resurgence in the number of people wanting to know where their food comes from and how it’s grown. People are leaving their ‘traditional’ day jobs and getting back to the land – just like Alice and Craig Skipton who left their ‘big city’ endeavors and headed off to Bainbridge Island seeking to incorporate food and farming into their lives.
Alice was a consultant for Foundations and Non-Profits while Craig was a Landscape Architect and Board member of Seattle Tilth. And while the Ballard lifestyle was fine, they craved something closer to traditional farm life. So, in 2009 they created a plan to sell their place in Seattle, rent on Bainbridge and network with folks looking for an opportunity to farm on a full-time basis.
Through some local connections, Alice and Craig heard about a couple who had purchased the property and nearby land that would become the Heyday Farm – and they pounced on the opportunity. They met with the owners and presented their vision and business plan and struck a deal. Alice and Craig would run the farm while the owners would finance its build out and operations.
Given that the Skipton’s had never farmed professionally before starting Heyday, the learning curve was steep. When I asked Alice how they compensated for their lack of experience in running a farm she said, “We have a lot of creative skills combined with practical business knowledge. We both learn on the job and network with other farmers – all help is welcome”
Dutch Belted Dairy
The farm has diversified with the addition of a full dairy operation including six Dutch Belted cows (two of which they are currently milking) to product a mild yogurt and for cheese. Heyday will always be a micro-creamery based on the amount of land they have to work with as it will only support a maximum of eight cows. They currently sell yogurt and are working on simple cheeses including a fromage blanc, bovre (a cow’s milk chevre) and the Eagledale Tomme which is a havarti-style aged cheese. Skipton is also headed out to the University of Wisconsin in Madison to continue her cheese making education in preparation for developing their flagship hard cheese.
Steve Philips of Port Madison Farm has consulted with the Skipton’s in building out the creamery and in cheese production. Skipton added, “He is a fabulous cheesemaker and he and his wife Beverly ran a goat dairy and creamery for many years and they recently retired. He came when the first cow calved and taught us how to milk.”
This Little Piggy Went to Market
Livestock is also a growing part of the operation as the farm raises Standard Bronze Turkeys as well as Berkshire/Duroc pigs with a few Old Spot thrown in for good measure. The couple moved on from working with Tamworths early on as Alice mentioned that, “they were like crazy wild animals – we were really excited when they came of age!”
Renowned butcher Tracy Smaciarz of Heritage Meats out of Rochester, Washington does cut and wrap for Heyday as well as sausage production. When I asked him about the quality of meat being produced there he stated, “They are doing a great job with their hogs. They are passionate about their work and I can see how well the animals are taken care of based on the carcasses coming in to my shop.”
I also asked him about the benefits of Heyday raising their hogs on pasture and he added, “Environment and feed play a tremendous role in hog production. If you don’t take care of them, or any animal, they won’t take care of you. One of the most important factors in raising hogs is to get consistent fat cover. Without it, the meat generally gets overcooked by most consumers. You want an inch of back fat on hogs – it’s what chefs and savvy meat buyers look for.”
The farm has grown and diversified over the past 4+ years starting with eggs that are now known Island-wide for their quality as evidenced by the lineups at their farm store in Lynwood Center. Restaurant clients also include Greg Atkinson at Marche and Brendan McGill at Hitchcock. It also doubles as a B&B as well as a teaching space offering classes in the farmhouse kitchen on a variety of topics including whole animal butchery, canning and cooking for kids.
Heyday Farm = Sustainability Personified
The Skipton’s partners in the business, Ty Cramer and Steve Romein stated, “We both feel a deep satisfaction for the shared farm and food legacy to which Alice and Craig are contributing here on Bainbridge Island. They are committed to the hard work and ethics of providing local, sustainably grown food and improving the broken food system. We could not do it without them.”
After going through such significant lifestyle changes both from a work and life perspective, I couldn’t help but wonder if Alice had any advice for those who want to embark on a similar path. She said, “This Island used to be covered with farms. With people thinking more about what they are going to eat and the changing dynamics towards sustainability – I believe that what we’re doing is worthwhile.”
If you’re interested in visiting the Heyday Farm to stay, plan an event or take classes – check out their website.
*Portions of this story originally appeared in Seattle Weekly
** Photo credit – Paul Dunn