Modern-Day Homesteaders Take Root on Bainbridge Island
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Written by Jessica Hoch
Wednesday, 22 June 2011 21:39
Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder would certainly smile at the small Rolling Bay Farm, where two reformed city-dwellers are learning from the land in a modern-day homesteading adventure.
The family of four embodies the possibilities for anyone looking to make small steps towards a life of less waste, deeper connections and discovery. It started small as Adrienne and Mark Wolfe began their adventure on their two-acre, micro-farm after leaving the city for Bainbridge Island seven years ago. Early this year they upgraded to an eight-acre parcel of land off Lovgreen Road that is now populated with chickens, lambs, a llama, turkeys and pigs on the way.
"This is an entire lifestyle for us," said Adrienne. "This is how we want to raise our family, this is the service we want to provide to our neighbors and the connections we want to make in our community."
The road to operating a farm has been a humbling learning experience for the Wolfe family. Both Adrienne and Mark work full-time jobs in Seattle, while caring for their seven and three-year-old daughters and a host of ever-changing barn animals. It's a process everyone takes-on, as they laugh and learn at their own mistakes and relish in the joys of their working farm.
The story Adrienne wants to tell of their Rolling Bay Farm is the story of its future. The vision is an operating farm providing customers with chicken, turkey, pork, lamb and eggs at a farm stand on their property. The stand will be open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It will also be a venue for other home goods like soaps, fleece and eggs and a place where their commodities serve as an active symbol of a connected community valuing the land and hearts it works to feed.
This "community farm" is the payoff of the family's evolution from their original two-acre "neighborhood" micro-farm to a farm that will take on a bigger role and priority in the Wolfe's daily life. It's a life that certainly wasn't on anyone's radar, but a life they've come to cherish.
Adrienne, who grew up in the mid-west as a self-titled "stable brat," developed a love for horses and animals at an early age. But up until her mid-30's she found herself living in cities like Boston and Seattle. Mark, a city-bred Boston native, developed an expertise with pea-patch gardens in the city, but that is where his experience ended. When Adrienne urged their move to Bainbridge to raise horses they decided to get a little more use of the land, and thus their farm life began.
Adrienne said the farm has turned into a thriving part of their marriage dynamic. It is a shared, common interest with an important division of labor that provides a separate
sense of accomplishment for both. Adrienne is in charge of the lambs, chickens and marketing while Mark manages the pigs, turkeys and construction. Through the ups and downs they each can manage and control their own challenges with a partner to share in the joys, laugh at the mistakes and plan for the future. Nothing, Adrienne said, made Mark happier than buying his first tractor, thus disproving the old adage that an old dog can't learn new tricks. A boy from the city can certainly find his passion in the seat of a tractor.
The trials of homesteading aren't for the faint of heart. Adrienne and Mark take a great deal of pride in how their animals are treated in both life and death. For Adrienne that means paying respect to the animal by being present for its slaughter, and working with their young girls not to take on the animals as their pets. It also means they don't want their animals carted away in trailers, packed in with other livestock or put under stress through the butchering process. This means a butcher comes to their property where their animals are killed, before they are taken away by the butcher who packages the meat and returns it to Adrienne for the costumers.
Through word of mouth the business has grown and demand exceeds supply. Every turkey was spoken for last Thanksgiving, and Adrienne expects the same again this year. They also sell their meat animals by the whole or half, with the customer deciding how the meat should be packaged. The first time with a new customer takes a little hand-holding as Adrienne walks them through what it's like to order from a butcher sheet, which is more complicated than the grocery aisle. By the end, Adrienne says, customers end up with a competitive price that is often less expensive than buying organic meat by the piece.
Due to the evolving nature of their farm they've learned what works, and what doesn't. Though their eggs are truly "local" they don't qualify as "organic." As Adrienne was managing the chickens she began to realize that while feeding her chickens the expensive, all-grain diet from the Canadian plains meant she could label her eggs as "organic", it wasn't much of a carbon-neutral process. She decided to find a diet closer to home. Now she picks up leftover greens from Town & Country Market once a week and gives her chickens a commercial grain. Though it's not an organic diet, it gives the chickens more of their natural diet, and it embodies the family's own philosophy.
For their young girls, Bryn and Cailinn, they will one day be able to pull a book off the shelf and find a written history of their early years on the farm. Adrienne has chronicled their journey through their blog, Rolling Bay Farm, and says she will one day turn it into a book so their family can look back and revisit their joys and failures learning to farm. For now, the girls have a curiosity for the farm that varies with their age. A year ago B Save ryn was curious about the butcher process, and got a real life anatomy lesson as they looked at the heart and liver of their farm animals. This past year, she wasn't so interested.
"We are going to introduce them to every part of the farming process," said Adrienne. "Though the animals are cute we teach them that they aren't our pets to scratch and play with, but we want them to develop a respect and love for the animal."
The girls don't have a whole lot of farm chores yet, Adrienne joked, so their love for the farm may be tempered with their satisfaction of its associated errands as they get older.
The Wolfe's plan to continue investing in their farm as the home that they will never leave. Ideally, they hope the farm stand will become successful enough that they never have to leave to sell their products. Though the Saturday Market is a great option for farmers, it takes away an entire Saturday for a family that still has two parents commuting to Seattle for work multiple days of the week, every week. The farm stand, just yards from their front door, allows the family to stay close to home and connect with their customers on a truly personal level.
One look at the Wolfes' rural farm oasis could make even the most content city devotee ponder the possibilities of a healthy set of hands, a small plot of land, and a will to grow.
Rolling Bay Farm
7988 NE Lovgreen Rd, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110