There’s a lot to feel lucky about when it comes to life in the North Puget Sound. From the mountains to the bay to acres upon acres of sprawling pastures, we live in one of the most beautiful– and bountiful– areas of the U.S.
With summer just around the corner, this issue is all about celebrating the (delicious) abundance of our region. From farming fun facts to business spotlights and even recipes you can make at home, there’s plenty to learn, try, and– of course– taste. Thank you to the Community Food Co-Op for generously providing many of the food products pictured.
BY THE NUMBERS
- 1,712 farms
- 102,523 acres
- $373 million market value for products sold
- 2,982 producers (1,678 male-identifying and 1,304 female-identifying)
- 97% of farms are family farms
- 1,041 farms
- 97,664 acres
- $287 million market value for products sold
- 1,838 producers (1,044 male-identifying and 794 female-identifying)
- 96% of farms are family farms
*Source: 2017 Census of Agriculture county profiles (released every five years)
Why Eat Local?
Homegrown food has plenty of perks; for starters, it leaves less of a carbon footprint and contributes directly to the local economy. It’s also a matter of personal preference: Some people feel that locally grown food connects them to their community, and others find that it just tastes better. Whatever your reason, it’s never a bad idea to eat local– and this issue includes a few of our favorite ways to do just that.
From Berries to Dairy (and Beyond)
Where does all our bounty end up? You probably already know that Whatcom and Skagit have a wealth of small family farms selling directly to consumers, at farmers markets, or through U-Pick options. Scaling up distribution is a challenge, but there are wholesale farmers cooperatives (such as Puget Sound Food Hub) that aggregate and distribute local goods regionally.
Our area also has several export commodities (namely raspberries and seed crops) that get distributed on a national– and even global– level. It’s crazy but true: Given the reach of our agriculture, you’ve probably eaten local without even realizing it.
Harvest Season: Summer
Photo by Dean Davidson
Whatcom County’s berries are some of the best, juiciest, and most flavorful in the world– but you don’t have to take our world for it. According to Whatcom Family Farmers, the county has the largest per-capita raspberry crop in the entire world and produces 65% of U.S. red raspberries for the frozen market.
Wild berries have thrived in our region for centuries and played a major role in various Indigenous cultures; however, berries such as raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries were introduced by European settlers. Now, 60 million pounds of red raspberries are harvested in Whatcom County each year. Blueberries are also a big deal for both Whatcom County and the state as a whole: According to the Whatcom Conservation District, 2,500 acres in Whatcom County are devoted to blueberry production.
So where do all those berries go? Some are grown for the local market, but others are exported for use in products such as ice cream, jams, and other processed foods. Since our berries end up in foods produced by many national corporations (including Kellogg, Haagen Dazs, and Smuckers), it’s likely that you’ve eaten way more Whatcom County berries than you realize.
Whether you’re getting them from farmers markets, the grocery store, or U-Pick farms, berries will do right by both your body and your taste buds. They’re low in calories, high in fiber, and loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants. With harvest season coming up, make sure to stock up on berries for smoothies, snacks, desserts, salads, and more.
Lynden’s Berry Bash
Photos Courtesy of Lynden Chamber of Commerce
If you’re looking to express your love for the humble raspberry, the best place to do it is at the annual Northwest Raspberry Festival. Since 1997, the festival has grown from a sidewalk sale to a full-on celebration of Whatcom’s most notable commodity.
Mark your calendars for July 15 and 16– the event is set to return this summer after a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Visitors can expect live entertainment, a salmon barbecue, a car show, food and craft vendors, and more.
Spotlight: Paul Sangha of Whatcom Berry Growers
Paul Sangha was born and raised in Whatcom County and is a first-generation Indian-American farmer. In addition to a blueberry farm, he owns Whatcom Berry Growers, an agriculture-value company that bridges the gap between growers and buyers. Through Whatcom Berry, Sangha helps to distribute local bounty to retail outlets as far away as Florida or New Jersey.
Farming is a major part of Sangha’s identity, and knows firsthand how the younger generation is rediscovering a love for growing food. In addition, he is also one of roughly 100 Punjabi Sikh farmers in Whatcom County– a group that produces a substantial fraction of the county’s total berry crop (including more than half of the total raspberry crop). He is a fierce advocate for young farmers, minority farmers, and Whatcom County’s farming community as a whole.
Photo by Jennifer Mare Photography
Sangha urges the community to learn more about agriculture’s role in our region, as well as the issues facing farmers today (he notes that management of natural resources is the No. 1 priority). The next time you’re at the store, maybe stop to think about where that blueberry came from in the first place– or better yet, pay a visit to a local farm. Sangha himself is happy to welcome visitors.
“The present of farming and the future of farming is nothing like the past; it is a lot more hands-on,” Sangha says. “The general way I put it is to thank a farmer [and] the fact that we have the ability to grow our own food here. I think that gets overlooked quite a bit.”
Photos by Kelly Pearce
Got milk? Dairy has taken a backseat to berry farming in recent years, but milk is still a big deal in Whatcom County. Whatcom is first among Washington’s 39 counties in overall dairy production, and it’s certainly not a new endeavor: The county’s first creamery was established in Custer way back in 1892, selling milk for a whopping nine cents per gallon. As you can guess, times have since changed.
Nowadays, the majority of milk produced in Whatcom County is sold in bulk through Darigold, and Lynden’s processing plant sells dried milk to a variety of multinational food corporations. In addition, there are several dairies in Whatcom County that bottle and sell milk under their own label.
Spotlight: Larry Stap of Twin Brook Creamery
Photo by Cocoa Laney
As far as family dairies go, Twin Brook Creamery is one of Whatcom County’s shining stars— and its roots in the community go back more than a century. Look out for Twin Brook milk at Community Food Co-Ops, Haggen Food & Pharmacy, Safeway, as well as locations in Seattle, the Olympic Peninsula, Eastern Washington, and more.
So what makes Twin Brook stand out? For starters, they package their products in reusable glass bottles as opposed to plastic. They also use a low-temperature pasteurization method and never homogenize their milk, making it easier to digest. In addition, if you’re making cheese or yogurt at home, Owner Larry Stap says this style of milk gives a much better result.
Photo by Cocoa Laney
The other thing that makes Twin Brook so notable is their compassionate, family-oriented approach to business. Stap is the fourth generation to carry on the dairy farming legacy. Alongside his children and grandchildren, he operates Twin Brook with a great deal of care– and each and every one of Twin Brook’s dairy cows has a name. (I met quite a few cows on my visit, but Juliet was my favorite.) twinbrookcreamery.com
Photo by Dean Davidson
Harvest season: fall
Photo by Maia Binhammer
When it comes to apples, the biggest name in our region is Bellewood Farms. They have the largest apple orchard in Western Washington, growing more than 25,000 trees plus 22 apple and pear varieties (plus operating a distillery!). They also ship their apple products across the United States.
But Bellewood is just the tip of the iceberg: Whatcom and Skagit have a large variety of orchards offering U-Pick apples and, in some cases, tree-to-bottle hard cider. For example, Garden Path Fermentation and Alma Cider make fermented cider from apples grown in their very own Skagit-based orchards. Renaissance Orchards in Ferndale also grows many varieties of apples and ferments cider using ancient French methods and wild yeast.
To be clear, apples are not nearly as economically important as berries in our corner of the state– but they’re a big deal to Washington as a whole. In fact, apples are the state’s No. 1 commodity. Plenty of varieties do grow well in our region, but even so, apples are only the beginning when it comes to growing fruit in the North Sound.
Photo by Bella Coronado
“For 30 years, we’ve run a fall fruit festival at Cloud Mountain which has hundreds of varieties of fruit grown on-site,” says Elizabeth Hayes, director of Cloud Mountain Farm Center. “That’s everything from small fruits and berries to kiwis, peaches, apples, table grapes, peach plums, European plums, Japanese plums– everything– mostly to get folks aware of the diversity that can be grown here.”
While COVID restrictions have put the fall fruit festival on pause since 2019, Cloud Mountain will be returning to on-farm tastings and harvest showcases this year.
Meet Elizabeth of Cloud Mountain Farm Center
Photo Courtesy of Cloud Mountain Farm Center
To learn more about local agriculture, I spoke to Elizabeth Hayes, the director of Cloud Mountain Farm Center in Whatcom County. Cloud Mountain is a nonprofit teaching and research farm dedicated to building knowledge, experience, and community to expand dynamic local food systems.
“We want to see more organic fruit grown west of the Cascades. It is what we are good at, and we know that it can add a ton of value to local farms– both new farmers and existing farms,” Hayes says. “Our goal is to support resilient farm businesses across Whatcom County and the wider region that can bet, diversified, profitable, and provide multi-generational livelihoods for folks.”
In addition to organic fruit market development and variety trials, Cloud Mountain also hosts organic grower field days to network current and future fruit farmers and farm workers for collaborative research, shared resources, and developing best practices for west-side growing.
So what makes Whatcom County so special? For starters, we can grow an enormous variety of crops here– and many of them do well under organic management. Though just 2% of farms in Whatcom County are certified organic growers, Hayes knows there is plenty of potential for that number to increase.
“Whatcom County is pretty incredible in terms of growing season, soil quality, water, and temperature,” Hayes says. “On our incubator farm, we get folks that come and farm from anywhere. We had a woman who just started farming this year from Southern Oregon [Em Blood of Sonder Farmstead] and she was incredulous when she was crop planning. She was like, ‘You can grow anything!’”
As regional and local food systems grow and evolve, Hayes notes that communities have the opportunity to prioritize fair labor, just access, ecologically sound growing, and high quality in the North Puget Sound and beyond.
“People can purchase in line with their ethics—to support new and minority farmers, to prioritize regenerative grazing, to keep rural economies vibrant, or to support sustainable fisheries,” she says. “We have the chance, as our local and regional systems evolve, to weave those values in as we gain efficiency and impact.” 6906 Goodwin Rd., Everson, 360.966.5859, cloudmountainfarmcenter.org
Goods From Our Neighborhood
Looking beyond agriculture, there are many well-known food companies with home bases right here in the North Sound…
Photo by Dean Davidson
- Bellingham might be known for its beer, but the city also has its fair share of artisan chocolatiers. K’UL Chocolate is one of our favorites, and for several good reasons: Their chocolate is delicious, ethically sourced, direct-trade, and hand-crafted. kulchocolate.com
- Acme Valley Ice Cream is a Fairhaven favorite, but despite being locally owned, the brand’s reach extends far beyond Whatcom County. You can pick up a pint of their “full strength” ice cream in locations across the U.S., from California to North Dakota. acmevalleyicecream.com
- With baked goods ranging from muffins to brownies, cookies, cakes, and more, Flax4Life’s products are both yummy and allergen-friendly. This Bellingham-based bakery has been around since 2001, and many of their products are available nationwide. flax4life.net
- You’ll find products from Jack’s Paleo Kitchen in grocery stores across the country, but their roots are right here in Ferndale. Their paleo-friendly treats range from edible cookie dough to Snickerdoodles, and you can join their “cookie club” to get goodies regularly delivered to your door. jackfrancisfoods.com
Photo by Dean Davidson
- From linguine to fettuccine, Bellingham Pasta crafts fresh noodles that even the pickiest Italian nonna would be impressed by. Their products are available at farmers markets, Haggen Food and Pharmacy, and Community Food Co-Ops in Whatcom and Skagit. bellinghampasta.com
- Crank up the heat with HOSA Hot Sauce, a popular slow-fermented hot sauce crafted in Bellingham. They aim to support local farmers and makers whenever possible, even when shipping hot sauce to the other side of the country. hosasauce.com
- You’ll find tortillas from Tortillas con Madre in stores from Blaine to Seattle. They’re made with just five ingredients, including artisan flour and locally sourced organic pumpkin oil. tortillasconmadre.com
- Here’s a surprising but true tidbit of snack trivia: Moon Cheese is in stores all over the U.S., but the manufacturer is actually located in Ferndale. mooncheese.com
Unexpected Ways to Eat Local
Eating local doesn’t mean exclusively shopping at the farmers market– and it also doesn’t require breaking the bank, or even dramatically changing your shopping habits.
“There may be local products on the shelves in the grocery stores that you go to that you don’t know are local,” says Hayes. “We have great buyers in local wholesale markets, be that through Haggen or through local co-ops or small specialty markets. And there are incredible resources to find all of those things.”
Washington Food and Farm Finder
According to Hayes, Sustainable Connection’s Food and Farm Finder is a “statewide listing of farms, processors, and businesses” meant to “[encourage] folks to look at their immediate area, and then see where you can get access to that produce– it might not be as difficult to find as you think.”
If you’re aiming to add more locally-made items to your shopping cart, the Food and Farm Finder helps customers know what to look for at the grocery store. In addition to produce, the tool aids shoppers in finding locally-made desserts, honey, seafood, and much more. It even connects folks with resources such as community gardens and food banks.
Eat Local First CSA Finder
CSA (community supported agriculture) box subscriptions are an excellent way to support local farmers. That said, everyone has different needs in regards to budgets, pickup, and taste– so finding the perfect fit can be tricky.
If you’re considering a CSA, Eat Local First’s CSA Finder can help guide you. It provides comprehensive info on seasons, sign-up windows, contents, costs, distribution methods, and more, so you can rest assured that the subscription you choose is ideal for you and your family.
To utilize these tools, visit eatlocalfirst.com.
Harvest season: fall through winter
Skagit’s brassica crops– think broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale– might not be as big of a cash cow as seeds or potatoes, but they certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. Most brassica crops from Skagit are eaten semi-locally, with 60-80% being consumed in Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia according to WSU Skagit Extension. In addition, according to Skagitonians to Preserve Farmlands, Skagit Valley is “quietly supplying the Brussel sprout renaissance” as the crop surges in popularity across the country– and Skagit Valley Farms LLC is the biggest Brussels producer in the state.
Spotlight: Rika Wong of Buu Chan Eats
Photo by Cocoa Laney
We’ll admit it– most of us aren’t jumping for joy over the thought of cabbage on its own. But kimchi? Well, cabbage in kimchi is another story. This Korean fermented side dish is a tangy, spicy, salty flavor bomb, and if you haven’t tried it before, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Luckily Whatcom County has Rika Wong, the chef behind Buu Chan Eats. Buu Chan Eats is a Bellingham-based small business that produces hot sauce, chili garlic crisp, and kimchi, and it’s named after Wong’s grandmother’s childhood nickname (Buu Chan translates to “little piggy” in Japanese). As far as kimchi goes, Wong offers four varieties throughout the year: traditional spicy cabbage, Korean radish, cucumber, and white kimchi. The majority of her ingredients are locally sourced.
Wong, who is originally from Seattle, notes that she was nervous about whether or not Bellingham customers would be receptive to kimchi’s signature funk. However, she’s since found that local demand is high, and many of her farmers market customers are eager to try new things.
“I just would like people to open their minds a little bit, and if you’ve got a curiosity to try something, just go for it,” she says. “The worst thing that can happen is you don’t like it.”
You can find Buu Chan at the Bellingham Farmers Market or place an order online. For customers based in Whatcom County, Wong will deliver products for free to your doorstep. buuchaneats.com
Harvest season: summer
The Skagit Valley has about 34,000 acres devoted to field crops, a category that includes corn, cotton, rice, soybeans, and grains such as wheat. Historically, grains grown in Skagit were sent to be processed in Portland or Seattle, mixed in with wheat from other places, and shipped internationally through the commodity market. This started to shift around 2010, as farmers began spreading the word about the unique value of Skagit-grown grains.
You’ve likely heard of terroir in regards to wine, but the same concept can be applied to wheat or barley– Skagit’s climate, soil, and natural irrigation make for a uniquely delicious crop. Our local grain farmers aren’t large enough to compete in the commodity market, but specialty Skagit flour is becoming an increasingly big deal.
Researchers at WSU’s Breadlab are leading the way by working outside the commodity system. Their goal is to create tasty bread that’s affordable, healthy, and regionally produced. In addition, two local flour mills– Cairnspring Mills and Fairhaven Mill– produce high-quality flours that are utilized by restaurants and bakeries throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Even if you don’t realize it, you’re probably already familiar with Skagit-grown grains: Local businesses such as SconeGrown, Saltadena, Mount Bakery, and even Storia Cucina all utilize local flour for some of their goodies.
Spotlight: Sophie Williams of Raven Bakery
Photo by Bella Coronado
Raven Bakery is a standout at local farmers markets, and for good reason: Baker Sophie Williams’ whole-grain, sourdough bread is some of the best in town. From seedy rye to rustic pastries and rotating sourdough specials, there’s lots of fresh-baked goodness to bring home.
Williams started Raven Bakery in 2014 and has been operating out of various commissary kitchens ever since. She does deliveries by bike and sells baked goods via farmers markets, bread subscriptions, and some wholesale.
Williams is passionate about using seasonal ingredients that are both sustainable and local. Curious customers can visit the Raven Bakery website for a full list of ingredient sources; for starters, her flour comes from Fairhaven Mill, whereas milk and cream are sourced from Twin Brook Creamery. As for herbs? Those come straight from Williams’ own garden.
Given her academic background in natural sciences, Williams enjoys the science behind developing bread recipes. She also likes the technical challenge of working with local whole wheat flour, which is more varied that commodity white flour. For aspiring home bakers, Williams says consistency is key.
“Find flour you like and bake the same bread over and over and over again, until you’ve created something you like– and then keep making it,” Williams says. “I feel like cookbooks are always telling you to make a million different things. But I think that the way that you learn an ingredient deeply is by just staying with it.” ravenbreads.com
Harvest season: fall
Photo by Bella Coronado
Perhaps one of the most versatile crops, potatoes hold a near and dear place in our food systems. While Idaho reigns supreme when it comes to potato production, Washington currently holds second place. The main potato growth areas can be found in Skagit and Whatcom, South Basin and Yakima Valley, and the North Basin regions.
Most common to Whatcom and Skagit are reds, whites, yellows, purples, and fingerling potatoes. The growth of potato crops has soared over the last decade, working alongside vegetable seed crops, cucumbers, flower bulbs, and small fruits to overtake green peas as the top crop of Skagit County.
Skagit Valley’s Best Produce
Skagit Valley’s Best Produce primarily distributes red potatoes – round to oblong potatoes with red skin that are best when boiled, roasted, or steamed. The potatoes are grown and harvested through an established partnership of farms: Smith and Morrison farms in Mount Vernon.
Alongside beets and Brussels sprouts, Pioneer Potatoes offers a variety of potatoes that all start with hand-selected seeds, optimal soil locations, and a closely-watched growing process. This family farm dates back to the mid-1800s when the family’s ancestors migrated to the valley – establishing a farming legacy that would go on to sell potatoes on a local and international market.
Double-N Potatoes gets its name from founder Norman W. Nelson, who began farming potatoes in Skagit Valley in the 1930s. Today Double-N Potatoes offers four “flagship” varieties: White Harmony, Purple Majesty, Yellow Satina, and Red Chieftain. Visit them at The Potato Shed, their retail shop in Burlington.
While you may not know it, you’ve probably seen Knutzen Farms Potatoes more often than you think. This six-generation family farm packages them under a variety of labels including Chuckanut Valley, Naturally Healthy, Highland View, Western Washington, and Country Harvest.
Wine and Grapes
Harvest season: late summer through fall
Photo Courtesy of Skagit Crest Winery
Whatcom and Skagit counties both have excellent wineries to choose from, ranging from Vartanyan Estates in Whatcom to Skagit Crest Vineyards in Sedro-Woolley. It’s important to note that most of them utilize grapes imported from other regions of Washington– but this is not always the case.
The North Puget Sound might not be as famous as the Yakima or Columbia Valleys, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have something to offer in terms of grape production. Our maritime climate is similar to that of France or Germany, and the Puget Sound was designated as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1995.
Wine grapes aren’t the only thing to get excited about: Hayes notes that table grapes do especially well in our region under organic management and are gaining traction as a specialty crop with Western Washington growers.
Spotlight: Donna and Chuck Jackson of Skagit Crest Vineyard and Winery
Photo Courtesy of Skagit Crest Winery
So how is it that wine grapes can grow in our rainy region? According to Donna and Chuck Jackson of Skagit Crest Vineyard and Winery, it comes down to two major factors: location and grape varietals. Anacortes’ rain shadow makes their location ideal for wine production, and the Jacksons have taken care to choose cool climate grapes that ripen early.
Chuck, who has been making wine since 1978, started in Skagit at Eagle Haven Winery in 2004. He began planting vines for his own venture in 2011, and the Skagit Crest’s first production year was 2016. Rather than opting for more obscure varietals that are known to grow well but lack broad recognition, his winery specializes in more famous names– think sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, chardonnay, et cetera– all made with a Skagit Valley twist.
“We will tend to have lighter, crisper wines– a chardonnay is a great example. In Eastern Washington, they grow quite well, but they have a lower acidity and a much higher sugar content,” Chuck says. “Ours have higher acidity, lower sugar, therefore lower alcohol levels. We make them in a clean, crisp, clear style that shows a lot of citrus flavors and melons.”
To find out more about why Skagit Crest’s award-winning wines are so special, try a glass at their tasting room in La Conner. 105 N. 1st St., Ste. 1, La Conner, 360.333.9819, skagitcrest.com
Pairing Skagit Wines
If you’re stumped on what to serve with Skagit Crest’s libations, here are a few suggestions for your next dinner party…
2018 Chuckanut White + scallops from Taylor Shellfish
“I absolutely love it with scallops pan-fried in butter– no garlic, just butter. And it’s absolutely stunning,” Chuck says.
2017 Pinot Noir + pasture-raised chicken from Oak Meadows Farm
“[Pinot noir] can go with pork or salmon, it can hold it up to a steak, or chicken,” Donna notes. “So it’s pretty versatile.”
2018 Cabernet Sauvignon + grass-fed beef from Skagit River Ranch
“We make our [cabernet] with a little bit more acidity so that they pair well with the fats in meat such as a prime rib or a really nice filet mignon,” Chuck says.
Harvest season: late summer to early fall
Photo by Bella Coronado
When it comes to seed production in Skagit, “prolific” doesn’t even begin to cover it. 95% of U.S. table beet seed– and 50% of the world’s supply– is grown here; beyond that, 75% of U.S. spinach seed and 25% of global cabbage seed stocks are grown by Skagit farmers. Beyond the U.S., roughly 90 countries import seeds that originated in our humble soil.
Why is this? It all comes down to dirt: Most other countries don’t have the very specific conditions required to produce the quality of seeds that come from Skagit Valley. As a result, the seed crop industry is vital to Skagit’s economic lifeblood– and the global vegetable industry as a whole.