Food Lovers Guide

Meet 15 Washington Farms Putting Food on Your Plate

From the pastures of Washington to the farmer's market to your favorite dish at the restaurant down the street, here's a closer look at the people making it all happen.

By Allecia Vermillion June 23, 2016 Published in the July 2016 issue of Seattle Met

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Image: Sarah Flotard

Local Roots Farm

Few foods illustrate the advantages of buying local like lettuce heads; they’re at their tightest and most tender when picked within 24 hours of landing in your reusable tote rather than being submitted to the bruising indignities of a lengthy supply chain. Pristine lettuce is just the beginning of what happens on this small Duvall farm. Owners Jason Salvo and Siri Erickson-­Brown grow hard-to-find heirloom radicchio vari­eties, administer a huge CSA, and avidly mentor other young farmers. 

Rama Farm 

Rama’s Red Haven peaches have a flavor that captures August sunlight and a fan base ardent as Beyoncé’s. When such mic-­dropping, juice-dripping fruit comes from just three acres of trees along the Columbia River, acquisition can be a challenge. Loyalists preorder boxes through the CSA months in advance, and the small amount that makes it to the U District farmers market sells out in the first hour. To prolong the peaches’ short season, Lecosho chef Zephyr Paquette buys dried Rama peaches and grinds them into dust, which she sprinkles on popcorn with dried shiso. ­ 

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Photo courtesy Rama Farm 

Nash’s Organic Produce 

It’s rare to meet a carrot that inspires the rapturous emotion of the ones grown here in the fertile Sequim–Dungeness Valley by one of the state’s earliest certified organic farmers. But 74-year-old Nash Huber has become an emblem of meticulous land management just as much as meticulous carrots (Nash’s whole-grain flour lineup is great too). The 700-acre farm is big enough to supply grocers like PCC, but employees still bring their A game—lush displays, eagerness to chat about vegetables—to ­Seattle’s year-round farmers markets. ­ 

Stokesberry Sustainable Farm 

The eggs Jerry and Janelle Stokesberry sell to restaurants and at the U District and Ballard farmers markets (and to Sea­hawks team chef Mac McNabb) range from wee ones that might garnish a delicate salad to the palm-size “jumbo jumbos” that frequently pack a double dose of deep yellow yolks. Whatever the size, they’ve become the farm egg by which to measure all others in this town—brought to us by 1,500 laying hens that feed on organic grain and peck their way through forest land planted with varied grasses. 

Goose and Gander Farm 

Farmer Meredith Molli also co-owns (and still occasionally cooks at) La Medusa in Columbia City. Her six-acre Snoqualmie River valley plot reflects a chef’s penchant for uncommon herbs and obsession with heirloom varieties, like the 40 types of tomatoes and 16 types of garlic she’s growing this season. No surprise, Molli’s CSA newsletters and interactions at the Columbia City and Magnolia farmers markets brim with details on how to cook with her lesser-known products. 

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Image: Sarah Flotard

One Leaf Farm 

Sure, plenty of farms grow kale and beets and cucumbers and tomatoes, but the ones co-­owners Alice VanderHaak and Rand Rasheed raise in the Snohomish Valley stand out to buyers who know their stuff: aka chefs. Jason Stoneburner of ­Bastille and Stoneburner appreciates the farm’s quality and consistency: “They use interesting heirloom varieties of seed stock, always harvesting at the perfect size for each particular vegetable.” Pro details like meticulous washing and consistent bunch sizes belie the fact that Rasheed started the farm back in 2011, when she was just 23 years old. 

Skinny Kitty Farms

Strong opposition to the industrialized food sector lured Bonnie Briggs and David Mackie from jobs as theater techs to a 12-acre farm on Skagit Valley’s Fir Island. The unusual combination of alder forest, fir stands, orchards, and pasture grass give their heritage Red Ranger chickens a broad diet that’s reflected in the flavorful meat. Skinny Kitty’s nonanimal signature crop is brassica, particularly flowering versions like the leafy Italian broccoli spigariello, a gift from their mentors at Local Roots.

Olsen Farms

No matter the season, Brent Olsen usually has about 20 heirloom potato varieties for sale. The vivid purple, rose, and yellow hues are fun, but Olsen regulars learn the difference between waxier ones that retain integrity when sliced or fried, or starchier numbers that deliver a fluffier mash. Then there’s the beef, lamb, and pork raised entirely on farm-grown feed and slaughtered and butchered at Olsen’s own facility, meaning you can request a specific cut, like a 10-pound standing rib roast, and it will be waiting for you at next week’s market. potato1123.­ 

Tonnemaker Family Orchard

Four generations of Tonnemakers have made their surname synonymous with peerless stonefruit—peaches, apricots, so many types of cherries—but anything seeded thrives on their farm in the bull’s-eye center of the state, from melons to squash and a host of peppers. The family recently added a 14-acre farm in Woodinville, mostly for vegetables and apples, and with it a new farm stand that’s open on Saturdays.  

Oh Yeah! Farms 

It’s unusual for a small farm to grow grain crops like wheat—most of the necessary machinery is scaled (and priced) for operations larger than Chris Petry’s four acres in Leavenworth. Aided by a little 1940s-era combine borrowed from his farming mentor, the mountain guide and ski bum turned farmer harvests heirloom wheat that becomes freshly milled whole-grain flour, pancake mix, or loaves of sourdough bread. Staple veggies like garlic, onions, and potatoes round things out. 

Present Tense Farm 

Sharp-eyed diners might have noticed celtuce—a crunchy spindle of a vegetable with a slightly nutty flavor—making appearances on menus from Restaurant Marron to Canlis. You can probably thank Present Tense Farm out of Carnation, where Neil Subhash and Jayme Haselow have built strong relationships with local restaurants and are game to plant ingredients those restaurants can’t find elsewhere. Home cooks who visit Present Tense at the farmers market can also benefit from these adventures (and pick up more traditional crops grown with the same care). 

Alvarez Organic Farms

Hilario Alvarez began farming his own Yakima Valley land in 1981 and soon discovered the Eastern Washington climate shared his enthusiasm for peppers. Now his sons Steve and Eddie grow more than 200 varieties, from standard bells to padrons and fiery ghost peppers, including maybe 25 unique creations cross-pollinated right there on the farm. Alvarez peppers fuel our local hot sauce boom, though customers like Le Petit Cochon chef Derek ­Ronspies are just as enamored with nonpiquant crops like tomatoes, okra, eggplant, and summer corn. “The stuff comes in so perfect it almost looks like its fake,” Ronspies says—especially impressive considering Alvarez has been farming without chemical pesticides since before it was de rigueur. 

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Hilario Alverez, Skagit River Ranch (Photos: Zachary D. Lyons; Courtesy MCD Photography)

Skagit River Ranch 

Certified organic grass-fed ­Wagyu—a combination of rigorous sustainability and tender, marbled decadence—sounds about as real as a unicorn. But it exists, raised on achingly beautiful pastoral acres outside Sedro-Woolley (and crossed with Angus cattle to temper the marbling ratio). Farmers George and Eiko Vojkovich count Maria Hines and Michael Pollan among their fans; anyone who’s not a renowned organic chef or national authority on food ethics can find the Wagyu (and chicken and pork) at Seattle’s year-round farmers markets. 

Rockridge ­Orchards 

An implacably flavor-curious farmer by the name of Wade Bennett grows 17 types of pears you don’t see much around these parts, mostly Japanese varieties like caramel-sweet Ichiban Nashi or Kosui, which he swears taste just like brandy. Pears share market stall space with bottles of cider and root beer (Bennett grows his own root beer botanicals) and outstanding balsamic-style “Rocksalmic” vinegar, made with raw apple cider vinegar aged for seven years in barrels of new French oak, which you can thank for the vanilla notes. 

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Image: Sarah Flotard

Growing Washington

Customers buy those fat raspberries or bags of peppery salad mix because they’re pristine and tasty, but they’re also supporting the organic Skagit and Whatcom County farm’s mission to incubate a new generation of people who feed others. Growing Washington produces everything from fruits, vegetables, and livestock to jams, vinegars, and sauces. Aspiring farmers learn the agricultural and commercial particulars of their chosen crop, then get help striking out on their own. Alums include the group Growing ­Veterans and Sunny Honey in Pike Place Market. growing­

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