BY KARI HUMPHREYS
Cloud Mountain Farm Center, with a culture of sharing not only its food and vibrantly growing plants, but also deep-rooted knowledge of food and farming, shares a common interest with Boundary Bay Brewery in nourishing the people in our community. That's why we're proud to have partnered with Cloud Mountain for many years, bringing fresh fruits and vegetables into our kitchen and restaurant from right here in Whatcom County. Last month, we visited Cloud Mountain Farm Center to witness just how they do it!
Boundary Bay On The Farm
...Cloud Mountain Farm, that is! This farm is a unique and special resource to Whatcom County and beyond for a number of reasons.
DELICIOUS produce. And I mean, scrumptiously delicious! You’ll be hooked on the cherries upon the first taste...
Workshops for aspiring farmers, experienced farmers & home gardeners
Existing-farmer education programs and roundtable groups
Agricultural farming internships that are intensive, educational, holistic and paid
Expert advice for customers about the plants that grow best in our region & how to care for them. They gain the expertise by running extensive research trials on a variety of plants including wine grapes, cherries, peaches and more.
Propagation. From seed to plant, they grow 90% of all the plants they sell for you to take home and grow in your garden.
Incubator Farming Program that houses beginner farmers for up to 3 years to start their business with cooperative access to land, equipment, expertise, and coaching
How are they able to do ALL of this?
In 2011, Cloud Mountain Farm Center converted from a family-owned, mostly-fruit-tree farm on 20 acres to a sustainable agriculture farming nonprofit. This wasn’t something Cloud Mountain Farm originally set out to do, but the education programs they were already involved with contributed to the belief that they could be the right fit for a group attempting to create the nonprofit in Whatcom County.
The group, which included members of Washington State University’s Small Farms Program, initially searched for land to create a farm that would provide incubator farming programs, internships and more, designed to support new farmers and help grow the agriculture industry in a sustainable way.
Not finding any land available in Whatcom County that could meet their needs (water being a BIG one with the current moratorium on water rights in our county,) they searched for an existing farm that would consider converting to a nonprofit.
Seeing the opportunity to further support the agriculture community, expand their education programming, and take their farm in a new direction, Cloud Mountain Farm (with its water rights on not one, but TWO streams!) jumped on board.
A sunny afternoon, a tour of the farm, and the opportunity to lend a hand.
Upon arrival to Cloud Mountain Farm, we were greeted by Cheryl (farm co-founder and our main point of contact at Boundary Bay,) and Tom, who runs the internship program.
A quick run-through of the program tells us how interns gain real (and paid!) farming experience by working alongside farmers 4 days a week, putting into practice the skills learned in the classroom. One day per week is dedicated completely to intern education offering field trips, workshops, and lectures.
The internship program goes beyond the ins and outs of running a growing farm; looking at things like marketing, sales, community partnerships, and distribution; giving farmers the tools to manage a successful business.
We paired up with interns to assist in adjusting vine trellises and tucking grape vines. A fairly simple process, but something that takes consistent attention to keep from growing wildly.
Chatting as we work, I learn that some people come back to Cloud Mountain after their internships to help advance the program and support new farmers. A healthy mix of veteran farmers and new interns allows for supportive, educational experiences around every corner!
For more than 15 years, Cloud Mountain Farm has been running trials on a variety of grapes, (and other plants too!) to learn which types grow best in Western Washington, and how to care for them. Washington State University and South Seattle Community College take samples to evaluate the quality of the grapes for winemaking. Because of this practice, they are some of the most advanced and knowledgeable grape growers in the area. Understanding their intent to grow the best wine grapes around made us regret not being able to stay for their Friday Afternoon Wine Tasting. Next time, it's a definite to-do!
Walking around the farm, we got the low-down on what’s happening with each crop this season and tasted everything that was ripe: cherries, strawberries, black red and white currants. Although not quite ready to taste, we heard rave reviews of their hearty kiwis. Giving tours of the farm to school children, Cheryl says she often hears kids say they've "never tasted anything like them before!" They leave astonished at this little fruit that packs a flavor stronger and yummier than most candy. It's a joy for Cheryl to share this experience with visitors of the farm.
We checked out the cherry tunnel, (it's exactly as it sounds... a gorgeous tunnel of cherries above and around you as you walk down the path!), learned about their hoop-house building workshop, listened to dozens of frogs in the stream-fed pond, saw where they wash and package produce to sell, picked basil leaves, walked rows of tomatoes, onions, squash, and kale. Everything was beautiful, smelled incredible and inspired dreams of home gardens and fresh, colorful home-cooked meals.
In awe of the beauty around us, my coworkers and I felt grateful to witness the farm in action and inspired to participate in local agriculture by buying local, attending Cloud Mountain workshops, paying attention to farm-to-table plates highlighting our local farms, and perhaps even growing some fruits of our own!
At the heart of everything they do at Cloud Mountain Farm Center is the idea that helping other farmers creates a more successful, supported, and sustainable agriculture community in Whatcom County. “I’ve always said that if we can help young farmers fall, (and we all fall, don’t we?) 10 feet instead of 50, we’re doing our part,” says Cheryl.
Here at Boundary Bay, we value our community and the partnerships that make our community so interconnected and special. We're proud to partner with Cloud Mountain Farm Center and to support their mission to keep our local food system healthy and thriving. Thank you Cloud Mountain Farm Center for a wonderful afternoon on the farm, and for everything you do to help make our community great!
Keep your eyes peeled for an extra special farm-to-table dish at Boundary Bay, in partnership with Cloud Mountain Farm Center, coming this fall. For more information on Cloud Mountain Farm Center, visit their website!