Vicky Brown brings life on the farm into fall and winter focus

Posted in Blogs, Culinary

BY VICKY BROWN, Nov. 30, 2012

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Oh, wait.

Those are just big maple leaves.

At farmers markets, people often ask me what a day is like on the farm. I think they want to know what goes into the product in their hand. I love that they are curious about where their food is coming from.

One of the largest rewards at Little Brown Farm in Freeland is for people to actually care about it. However, it is a challenge to answer such a question concisely. There is a lot of routine on the farm, but no two days are the same. Usually I address the question from the point of view of what is going on in that moment.

For instance, right now it is autumn; the full-fledged frost-on-the-pumpkin autumn, and now racing towards winter.

A chicken pecks at a pumpkin at Little Brown Farm in Freeland. (Vicky Brown photo)

Although the seasonality of farming means things start slowing down, the preparation for winter requires a certain amount of frenetic activity. For farmers, autumn often feels like the squirrel rushing to collect nuts and seeds for the imminent winter ahead. Things are different now at Little Brown, with less cheese-making, less milking and fewer farmers markets. But we are no less busy.

The animals still eat twice a day. They are still giving milk. The milk and cheese still need tending. The bills still need to be paid. This means changing gears, trying to figure out where to obtain the funds to sustain the farm through the long winter months, when expenses far exceed income.

We certainly aren’t unique in this shift. Our friends growing produce are fighting off the frost to keep produce available for holiday meals. They are harvesting and hardening off the squashes and curing potatoes for winter storage. They are dehydrating and drying to make goodies for their community member’s soups and pantries. Life is different for them, too, this time of year.

Autumn is part of the cycle. Seasonality is part of what sustains a farm. Our milk, at this time of year, is the richest and most luscious milk we have. Unfortunately the girls (goats) produce so little of it, as they prepare for their winter respite, and we can barely collect enough to make cheese. Oh, but when we do, the results are spectacular! Soon the girls will quit lactating completely, and their rest cycle will begin.

When the animals are recharging and the fields are resting, is when farmers scramble to maintain income streams. Some of them make wonderful crafts, as Pam Mitchell of Pam’s Place Produce on South Whidbey does. She makes hats and mittens and fingerless gloves for winter! Others create market gift baskets with their products, such as does Georgie Smith of Willowood Farms in Coupeville. Some farmers make toffee and sweets that recall the delights of grandma’s house at Christmas time. That would be us and we make Little Brown Farm’s Laughing Bellies Toffee.

Just because you don’t see your favorite farmers at market every week now doesn’t mean they are resting on their laurels, and it certainly doesn’t mean they don’t need your support now.

As the frost is on the pumpkin when you look out your window in the morning, don’t forget the farmers that grew those pumpkins, they have some hard months ahead.

Want to help your farmers through the winter and help make our local food system secure? Whether you’re buying some squash, cheese or a hat, your dollars matter. If you’re not sure where to go to support your favorite farmer, ask them. Call them up or send an email. They know best where their products are available.

Here are some ideas to point you in the right direction:

Little Brown Farm has just opened its Farm Store! Now in a shop in the barn, you can purchase cheese and the that now famous Laughing Bellies Toffee.

Hours are limited, so check the website for details at  Cheesemaking classes have started, as well.

Here are some other markets still available in this colder season:

Bur Oak Acres – a farm stand open year round, except Mondays, offering produce and products from its commercial kitchen and other local producers. Bur Oak Acres is easy to get to, offers plenty of parking and exceptional quality. Their stand is right outside of Langley center on Andreason Road, just off of Bayview Road.

Bayview Holiday Market – in Bayview Hall Saturdays,  Dec. 1, 8, 15, and 22 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be many local farmers selling there, as well as local artists and craftspeople that have created wonderful local gifts for holiday shopping (and don’t forget the BAKERS)!

Whidbey Green Goods – did you know you can get local products delivered right to your door? WGG has taken the running around out of it for you. They source all of your favorite products from farmers and offer them to you, you pick what you want and it shows up on your doorstep. Talk about green goods – fresh and environmentally friendly.

Endless Summer – Several local farms have joined together to make a weekly fresh-sheet offering for you for as long as their produce will hold out. Pick up is available at a few spots on the Island for your weekly goodies!

Don’t want to cook?  Brand new in Freeland is the Roaming Radish. In Greenbank you can pick up Thai Food from Whidbey Rice Café. Both offer food you can take home to keep in your fridge or freezer and just heat up for dinner, so it isn’t just dining out it’s chef quality food on your dinner table without the cleanup. Also check with your favorite restaurant – ask them about their local fare (hint: you can get an excellent Whidbey Island Grown burger every day at the Clover Patch Café in Bayview!)

Also, don’t forget about the Whidbey Island specialty shops for certain holiday needs on all areas of the island, including bayleaf  in Coupeville and Oak Harbor, the Second Street Wine Shop in Langley,  and The Greenbank Store & Grille in Greenbank.

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