Written by Carolyn Goodwin
Thursday, 14 July 2011 13:22
Oh, the changes Horace’s tree has seen.
Seventy-odd years ago it would have watched as Horace and Nellie Winney built a house and barns beneath its shadow as they created Winney Farm. Now it will oversee another young couple’s efforts to bring the land back to life, reincarnated as Heyday Farm.
The Winneys moved to Bainbridge Island from Texas in the 1940’s and raised buffalo and other livestock on their 18 1/2 acres of rolling pastureland. The huge Douglas fir, which Horace Winney protected from the saw for as long as he lived, still towers over the center of the farm.
The Winney Farm was recently purchased by Ty Cramer and Steven Romein, the local couple who purchased and restored the historic Lynwood Center building. They bought the land for the express purpose of saving it, both as productive farmland and a pristine piece of open land. The couple also purchased the nearby Pederson farm, adding another 6 ½ acres to their holdings.
Enter a third energetic young couple, Craig and Alice Skipton. They had moved to Bainbridge Island from Seattle with their two young children in 2009 and began raising poultry, growing produce, and making cheese on their small patch of rented land. The agrarian lifestyle fit their skills (Craig is a landscape architect and environmental scientist, Alice a marketing communications consultant) and their passions, so they looked toward making it a full time occupation. But they lacked the resources to buy the land.
When they heard of Ty and Steve’s farmland purchases, wheels began to turn. The Skiptons drew up a proposal that would make them stewards of the land, and full time farmers. After months of discussions, the plan was finalized and Heyday Farm was born.
Now the Skiptons are hard at work bringing all of these plans to life. Ty and Steve agreed to make an initial investment in equipment and infrastructure, with the goal of moving the property toward being a self-sustaining enterprise. Houses are being relocated and renovated. The pastures are now home to a colorful collection of chickens, turkeys, and pigs, and new garden beds are already producing Heyday Farm’s first harvest.
“Our goal is to get the farm working as soon as we can,” Craig said, “At the same time we’ll be bringing the land back to health and preserving the open space.”
The first order of business is to reinvigorate the pastures, using a rotating system popularized by farmer Joel Salatin of Omnivore’s Dilemma fame. This system produces nutrient-rich grass and maximizes the composting of animal waste. Each species on the farm is dependant on another.
“We’re really just grass farmers,” Craig explained. Right now their newly-acquired pigs are hard at work at rooting up and loosening the soil, as well as adding much needed nutrients. In another pasture, gleaming alien-looking “chicken tractors” protect turkeys and chickens. These movable coops allow the Skiptons to move their fowl around the pasture to feast on grass and leave behind lots of poultry poop. Eventually, the roughed-up pastures will be reseeded with high-nutrient grasses, and the Skiptons will bring shaggy Highland cattle into the mix. They’ll also raise goats and sheep on the Pederson property, where they will turn milk into artisan cheese in the planned commercial kitchen.
At the same time that they’re bringing a lot of animal life back to the farms, they’ll also be working to draw the island’s human inhabitants into the mix. That’s where Alice and her communications background come in.
“Bringing the community to the farm is key to everything we’re doing,” Alice explained. Heyday Farm already has a blog, a Facebook page, and
a Twitter account. The Skiptons plan to use a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model and commercial sales to restaurants to market the farm’s products. They’re already building a mailing list of potential CSA subscribers.
They’re also working with Global Source Education to create opportunities for Island children to participate in the farm. There is a large Children’s Garden on the Winney property that is connected to Blakely Elementary. Eventually there will be a path leading directly from the school to the farm.
The Skiptons are also establishing links to other local farmers and food producers. They use whey, which is a byproduct of cheese production, from Port Madison Goat Farm to feed their pigs. The pigs also chow down on peanut hearts from CB’s Nuts, and brewer’s mash from Bainbridge Organic Distillers. “Lauren and Garth, our friends from Dropstone Farm, told us about the peanuts,” Alice said. “We’ve also helped them butcher their chickens, which taught us a lot.”
The property will become home to local farming interns, six whom have already moved into the old Winney farmhouse, which has been rented by Friends of the Farm to use as intern housing. And the Skiptons envision creating a showcase farm on the Pederson property that will include a B&B and offer “Haycations,” tours, and educational experiences.
The Winney Farm will be the workhorse property, reinvigorated and full of life. Craig hopes that one day scientists might do ecological research there. One can only wonder what Horace’s tree will see in the years to come.