The first real meal I ate after moving to Bellingham was roasted chicken. I cooked it with a dear friend, and since our activities often center around food, he bought a bird from a specialty farm in honor of the occasion. We spent hours preparing the meal, snacking on locally baked bread and sipping wine before finally sitting down for dinner at nearly 10 p.m. Luckily our efforts were well rewarded– it turned out to be the most naturally flavorful chicken I’d ever eaten.
I later learned that the bird in question was purchased from Spring Creek Heritage Farms. Spring Creek is a small, family-run farm local to Bellingham, and they specialize sustainability and chicken preservation. Every bird is treated with the utmost kindness, respect, and care. Through careful breeding and extensive knowledge of poultry genetics, the lineage of some of their purebreds can be traced back for centuries.
Spring Creek is also a “no-kill chick farm,” meaning that every hen and rooster roams the pasture until adulthood, and no chicken is ever exposed to pesticides. This policy also allows the farm to select the best roosters for breeding, thus continuing the lineage of high-quality birds.
The operation is headed by Matthew Nelson, who is continuing a tradition of farming with his own family. To maintain an environment that’s bio-secure and free of contaminants, the farm itself is closed to the public. Still, Nelson takes care to build relationships with his diverse client base, and his passion and knowledge is immediately evident.
“If [customers] are out shopping and they say, ‘Hey, I’m going to be in town,’ we’ll just go meet them,” says Nelson. “We get the one-on-one, spend some time, and they can learn a little bit more about us.”
In addition to their menagerie of rare and heritage chickens, Spring Creek Heritage Farms grows produce and specializes in plant genetics. When I spoke with Nelson, the farm was in the process of harvesting sweet corn. It’s a labor intensive process; for maximum quality, sweet corn must be hand-picked at night and distributed the very next morning.
Some of these fruits and vegetables are fed to the chickens, adding another layer of complexity to their taste. Customers can reserve birds “finished” with produce such as pumpkin, apples, or blackberries, and offerings change with the seasons. Like steak, each breed of chicken has a unique flavor and texture. Spring Creek also offers artisan chickens that aren’t available anywhere else in the United States.
“I think we’re probably the only place that offers a poularde, which is a fattened hen, kind of that French model,” says Nelson. “We’re one of the few that do that because it just takes some time, and it’s the premium.”
Though Spring Creek ships birds across the country, some customers will even drive from Seattle to meet with Nelson in person. He also does occasional consulting with new farmers who are learning about how to raise poultry.
Given their quality, it’s important to cook these chickens with care. Not sure how to prepare your bird? The farm offers a how-to guide as well as additional recipes on their website. As for Nelson, he loves his mother’s chicken dumplings as well as a whiskey chicken dish invented by a friend (the recipe for which is available online).
Thanks to the generosity of Nelson and his family, I had the privilege of touring the farm and trying the whiskey chicken alongside vegetables such as carrots and sweet corn. With Nelson’s guidance, we picked vegetables as the chicken cooked, and the freshness and quality of these ingredients made all the difference.
Knowing that our food was raised in such a caring and sustainable manner made our dinner even more satisfying. Even the white meat of the chicken tasted rich and flavorful, and the sweet corn practically melts in your mouth without butter or salt. At the end of the night, my partner and I agreed that it was the most delicious meal we’ve eaten in a while.
Spring Creek Heritage Farms sells birds directly to consumers and offers free delivery within five miles of the Bellingham airport. Visit their website to reserve your bird and learn more. Bellingham, springcreekheritagefarms.com