Cate’s Description of our Farm

this article appeared in the Chinook Observer

Wild ‘locavores’ roam a fertile farm-forest in the Valley
Web Posted 7/28/2009 1:37:00 PM
By Cate Gable
Article :

WILLAPA VALLEY – It’s a typical afternoon on Sandy Bradley and Larry Warnberg’s farm off Hurt Road in Raymond, or simply “the Valley” as locals call it.

We sit down at the end of James David’s seed-saving workshop to a lunch of hand-pressed corn tortillas, fresh garden salad with homemade goat ricotta and wild berries, and a farm-egg fritatta with cheese and potatoes.

The capper is rhubarb wine, just a tad sweeter than an elegant ros̩ but with a good strong kick Рprobably something the resident billy goat, Dollar, might deliver if you got too close.

We’re learning from David the best ways to save seeds from this year’s plantings to provide for next year’s crops, part of a larger discussion about self-sufficiency – something Warnberg and Bradley are tackling with a passion.

Warnberg grew up in Longview and lived on the Peninsula for 30 years, cultivating and selling organic oysters from his stand on Sandridge Road just adjacent to Phil Martin’s Captain’s Coffee.

Bradley was an auctioneer for KMUN fundraisers over the years and eventually moved down from Seattle permanently in 1999.

“We’ll celebrate our 10th anniversary in November, “Larry shares.

Like friends Sally and Larry Holland, Bradley and Warnberg wanted more elbow room to develop a sustainable lifestyle. They found their farm online at Craig’s List – 100 acres in a 1,350- by 3,300-foot rectangle encompassing an entire watershed, with an attached five-acre house lot.

Twenty acres is open pasture and 80 acres is upland forest that was clear-cut in the 1980s and reseeded itself with alder and vine maple. Sawmill Creek runs through a corner of the their land.

LocavoresThe farm is comprised of a ranch house, a huge barn and workshop, plenty of room for goats, chickens, cattle, a garden, the requisite farm cats and three enormous trees – 100 years old at least – a cedar, a redwood and a Sitka spruce, shading the outdoor picnic table.

And – bonus – a big blue tractor came with the deal.

Bradley and Warnberg are exemplar “locavores,” a recently invented word to describe folks who eat locally grown food (a variation on omnivore, carnivore, etc.).

Becoming a locavore is a great idea for many reasons.

To eat local, you spend money locally which keeps dollars cycling inside the community, going to support small farmers and fishermen – and secondarily service purveyors, landlords, and shop owners – rather than being lost to large and distant commercial enterprises.

As more of us demand fresh, healthy, organically grown local food, we create a market that provides more local employment options.

Additionally, it is good for the planet in that it drastically cuts down on the carbon-footprint racked up to transport food over long distances.

Eating local creates a system that positively reinforces itself – everyone benefits.

Bradley and Warnberg’s ‘local’ just happens to be their own backyard.

Farm bounty and skillsIn our corner of the world, we are graced with a great variety of fresh food options, both from the land and the sea. Warnberg and Bradley are taking advantage of as many of these as they can to create a self-sufficient farm.

In the garden they are growing “just the usual” as Warnberg says – all kinds of squash, beans, peas, potatoes, cabbage, lettuces, spinach, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, berries, and an array of herbs.

“We’ve got corn, too, but it looks pretty wimpy,” he admits, “but we also put in an orchard of peaches, apples, plums, even Filberts adapted to our climate. And we’re trying cantaloupe.”

This lifestyle takes plenty of expertise and hard work, but the rewards are everywhere.

Two orange tabby kittens, future mousers, are sleeping in the shadow of a solar cooker. Warnberg bottle feeds Sylvia and Cherry, two baby goats who kick up their heels and jump straight in the air. The kitchen is a bustle of energy – there was a canning workshop last week. And the sun shines down on pasture and forestland stretching up the hill as far as the eye can see.

A big wire pen houses little white and black chicks, either peeping and running around or asleep in a pile.

“We’ve got a permit from the state to sell up to 1,000 chickens, “says Bradley as she refills the water containers. “They’ll be dressed out, chilled and ready for pick-up in the fall.”

“Folks can order from us in advance. They’ll be $4.25 a pound and will be between four to seven pounds, all organic,” she adds.

Warnberg is making goat milk cheese, both ricotta and chevre. He is also perfecting his wine making.

Fermentation is one of earth’s little treasures. James David, the visiting agriculture expert, and Larry exchange tips on how to use it for homemade vinegar as well as wine and other spirits.

“You can make vinegar with leftover wine. Get an organic vinegar that has a ‘mother,’ put it in the wine and let it work at about 75 degrees with a cheese cloth over the top of the bottle – it needs an exchange with the air,” says David.

A “mother” is a bacterial mass of yeast cells that can be added to wine or cider: it works with sugar to make acetic acid. Another common use for yeasty fermentation is in dough to make a sourdough starter.

Salting, drying, fermentation are all natural process, which would have been second nature to Pacific County homesteading pioneers for food preservation. New age farmers are returning to these useful old-fashioned skills.

International WwoofersThe farm is registered with Wwoofers online and has attracted a range of mostly 20-something individuals who want to learn and work part-time in exchange for room and board.

The Wwoofer program gives Bradley and Warnberg some extra hands around the farm and allows them to pass on their considerable knowledge about farming ways.

Sitting around the table are Anthony Vickestaff, who recently arrived from Carlmandel, New Zealand. Comments about his first hours in the U.S. are comically simple. “Why do your toilet stalls have gaps in the doors?”

But Vickestaff also shares, “We’re served up a lot of propaganda in New Zealand. Like that the typical American acts like someone from L.A. It’s not true.”

Also helping with the chores are Tierney Creech, from Redmond, Calif.; Stacy Hall, a fashion stylist turned farmer from New York City; and Robin Moore, from Fountain, N.C. These young people are apprentices in the adventure of self-sufficiency.

Tierney says, “My specialty is the garden, knowing what needs to happen every day, and documenting and mapping out what’s planted where.”

Hall is the business-minded one of the bunch. “She’s been great at organizing the other Wwoofers and thinking creatively about the marketing aspects of what we’re doing,” says Bradley.

“I’m going back to New York City to pack,” Hall shares. “I love the Pacific Northwest. I’m a West Coast girl now.”

Moore laughingly says she’s best “at slicing bread.”

“What attracted me to Bradley and Warnberg’s farm was their saying that we eat meals together. I’m not a very good cook,” she adds.

“But she’s getting better,” Bradley puts in.

The Wwoofers work hard together, not only on the farm, but on other projects that benefit the neighborhood.

“We’ve built a greenhouse for a neighbor, mended fences and done some “spiling” [weaving branches into secured posts to make a water break] for local river and stream bank restoration,” says Bradley.

Bradley and Warnberg and the four young Wwoofers obviously have a lot of affection for each other – around the table inside jokes are exchanged, there’s lots of laughing and teasing. This appears to be the 21st century version of the farm family sitting down to lunch.

A simple, authentic life Warnberg has been working with experts from both the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and the Northwest Natural Resources Group, a nonprofit in Port Townsend, to understand how best to manage their 80 acres of forestland.

“We’d like to keep the land as wildlife habitat. We’ve seen elk, coyote, river otter, weasel, owls, wild turkey, bear, beaver and bobcat on our land,” says Bradley.

“At the same time, there are ways to selectively and sustainably harvest,” says Warnberg who is exploring a Forest Stewardship Council certification for the land. “We may start some selective commercial harvesting when the market gets better.”

“We can take up to 5,000 lineal feet of timber for our own use without paying an extra timber tax. I’d like to get a portable saw mill so that we can make our own lumber to construct raised garden beds and composting toilets to sell.”

Warnberg is an internationally known expert in the field of composting or dry toilets. He has developed a design that he presented at the International Dry Toilet Conference in Finland several years ago.

“With over 30 countries represented, we were the only Americans at the conference, and the only ones to arrive by bike,” says Warnberg.

Before the conference, Bradley and Warnberg took three months to travel by tandem bicycle. They rode over 2,000 miles through seven countries.

That’s just the kind of folks they are – teaching, learning, exploring, giving – and living light on the earth.

Anyone leaving the farm is loaded up with gifts: lots of information about best varieties of garden vegetables to plant, maybe seeds for Mexican black beans or red lettuce, packages of homemade ricotta or chevre cheese, and heads of garlic pulled down from where it’s drying in the rafters of the barn.


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