Local Sustainable Farming at its Best


Last Sunday was packed full of fun and learning as I attended the Skagit River Ranch Farm Day. Here’s a recap in pictures that were taken with 10 month old Rodger strapped to my chest – a unique challenge. Unfortunately this means I wasn’t able to check photos out after taking them and an entire set of pics of the burger cook-off were over-exposed beyond repair.  : (   </excuses>

Skagit River Ranch has about 850 acres, so what you see the cows grazing on here is just a fraction of their grassland. Slaughter is done at the edge of this field in a mobile unit owned by their slaughtering co-op, the first of its kind. They believe this to be the cleanest, most humane and low-stress environment for food production.  Feedlot cows are not allowed in this custom-made stainless steel unit in order to reduce E. coli contamination.

Turkeys at Skagit River Ranch (SRR) run wild in the yard eating insects, grass and seeds, but their diet is also supplemented with spelt and other nutritious grains. Broiler chickens here are sent to market at 16 weeks old, as opposed to the typical grocery store bird which is slaughtered at 5 weeks. This makes for a more flavorful bird. SRR also grows Poussin (Rock Cornish Game Hen) specially for Tilth Restaurant.

Offal and manure at this farm are composted with wood chips from the city’s roadside cleanup. Farmer George demonstrates here his certainty that the compost is a natural inoculum of microbes.

Here are the Vojkovich family pets. “Sheepie” was hand raised in their home in Pampers with a hole cut out for her tail!

Is there anything cuter than chickies?

According to Farmer George, the biggest boon of organic vegetables is the trace minerals, particularly selenium.

The organic green bean seeds from which these plants came from were three years old when planted.

Some other facts about running the farm:  SRR has been making all of its fuel for the farm from local restaurant vegetable oil for one year now.  George has two guys help him on a daily basis and his wife Eiko has one and a half girls.

Randy and Jan are the grass farmers for SRR. In the first few months they worked with SRR, George came to their grass farm and mineralized the soil for them, so that it would meet his standards of nutrition for his cows. He and Eiko also helped them get their organic certification. Here are Eiko and Randy:

We ate burgers and snags from the ranch with lettuce grown in the family garden.  You could taste the nutrient richness of the soil in the lettuce.

Fresh buns from the Breadfarm:

Haggis Brothers perform:

The guest chefs participated in a sustainability panel with Farmer George as well as a burger cook-off.  George says sustainable means that when you write a check, there’s money in the account to cover it.  That’s a great analogy.  See commentary below for what the chefs had to say about sustainability.

Chef Greg Atkinson, cookbook author and teacher, quoted Michael Pollan in saying that Americans used to spend 20% of their income on food and 10% on medical care and that has now reversed, so we spend 10% food and 20% medical care.  He thinks it’s more fun to go eat at Tilth than see the doctor.  I’m with him.  (No offense Dr. Aeshliman!)

Me and Greg with the book he signed for me. Can’t wait to try out some recipes!  Rodger is not nearly as impressed with meeting local chefs as I am.

Greg’s burger for the cook-off:

Chef Craig Hetherington of TASTE Restaurant believes “schools are the place to start.” Educating the community is the key to bringing sustainability to our food system.

I won one of Craig’s burgers in the raffle – pureed caramelized Walla Walla sweet onions in the patty and Samish Bay cumin Gouda cheese and Pleasant Valley relish on top.  Yum!

Chef Maria Hines of Tilth, one of my favorite Seattle restaurants, says we should be moving away from calorie dense foods and towards nutrient dense foods. Luckily these are the tasty ones!

Maria won the cook-off. The prize was a Flintstones-sized rack of beef ribs. Congratulations!

Rumors on Twitter (@edibleseattle) say she may have won due to the adorable fingerling potato chips.

Judging is serious business:

Nancy Leson, Seattle Times Food Writer

“Oyster Bill” Whitbeck of Taylor Shellfish who totally schooled me on some camera points.  Don’t you hate it when you don’t realize who you’re talking to and they turn out to be a legend?  At least he was more pleasant than when this happened with Dave Winer!  Sorry Bill!

Carol Haven of Slow Food Skagit and Jill Lightner of Edible Seattle magazine

Carol Havens has a motto, “More food growing near more people.” I couldn’t put it better myself.  Thanks to everyone for a wonderful day, putting up with my nosy photography and questions and of course to George and Eiko for providing us with food that nourishes the body, environment and community.


Support Building Blocks Show and purchase one of Greg Atkinson’s books:

In Season: Culinary Adventures of a San Juan Island Chef
The Northwest Essentials Cookbook: Cooking With the Ingredients That Define a Regional Cuisine
Entertaining in the Northwest Style: A Menu Cookbook
West Coast Cooking
Recipes from the San Juan Islands

Or Oyster Bill’s:

The Joy of Oysters


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2 Responses to “Local Sustainable Farming at its Best”

  1. Traca | Seattle Tall Poppy Says:

    What a great recap! Totally wish I was there….

  2. Kim Says:

    Thanks, Traca. Maybe I’ll see you there next year! Are you an Aussie?

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