A Farmer’s Diary: Beginning Farmer Institute, Part 3

Event, Get Involved, Learn More, Molly Stepanski

Our third and final Beginning Farmer Institute (BFI) session took us to Washington state to talk business formation, business planning and long-term health, land tenure, credit, taxation, liability, regulatory compliance, farming cooperatives, and the logistics behind one of the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the United States. You think you know how to farm, start a small business, and market your product? Think again. This program will change your trajectory, and it has for our farm. Not to mention we now have a long list of reliable farmers/producers from around the country that can help us with our farming questions for life!

This was a whirlwind of a trip, but fifty degree weather and clear skies to the volcanoes welcomed us. On our first day, we visited Cherry Valley Dairy in the Snoqualmie Valley. This farm is a refurbished 122 acre dairy and new creamery that “demonstrates how artisanal practices and environmental stewardship can come together to nourish the community and respect the land.” In 2005, the dairy was purchased by eco-preneur Gretchen Garth. She envisioned a smaller operation with a focus on keeping a healthy, meadow-grazing herd, crafting traditional, natural dairy products, and employing innovative, environmentally-friendly principles to manage the historic farmstead.”

Between petting calves and cows, we learned about Cherry Valley’s milking system and what markets keep them viable. We got to sample their legen-dairy gray salt rose herbed butter, coho, and fromage blanc. Now, terroir is generally reserved to describe wine characteristics, but there was an undeniable distinctive taste and flavor imparted to the cheese and butter from the environment in which it was produced. You could almost smell the grass in the cheese. It was nothing short of divine.

We also got a behind-the-scenes tour of Pike Place Market in Seattle. This public market overlooks the Elliott Bay waterfront. The Market opened August 17, 1907, and is a place of business for many small farmers and merchants. This Market also provides local farmers and craftspeople the opportunity to sell year-round in the arcades from tables they rent from the Market on a daily basis, in accordance with the Market’s mission of ‘allowing consumers to “Meet the Producer.”’ Pike Place Market is also home to nearly 500 residents who live in 8 different buildings throughout the Market, and provides year-round services to the community.

Who would’ve thought a simple essay about our dreams for a sustainable farm and future would secure us such a stupendous opportunity? We filled out our application for the 2018-19 National Farmers Union’s (NFU) Beginning Farmer Institute (BFI) and little did we know what knowledge, mentorship, and free travel lay ahead. The application deadline for 2019-20 BFI is April 15th and they’re looking for more Michigan small farmers to apply!

Molly Stepanski is the Local Food Coordinator for Northeast Michigan. She enjoys digging, planting, and hiking in the dirt, cooking up her own recipes, drinking wine, and eating lots of fresh, seasonal produce (and anything deep-fried, in accordance with her southern heritage). She owns and operates Presque Isle Farm with her family and is a founding member of the Huron Shores Local Food Coalition. Contact her at molly@localdifference.org.

Read Molly’s diary from session one here and session two here;

Application deadline for 2019-20 BFI is April 15th.

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