20 September 2014
Last week I spent five days in the far northeast of Washington State, with Rick and Lora Lea (farmers) at Quillisascut ("Farmstead Cheese and School of the Domestic Arts") in Rice (near Colville). It's a six hour drive from Seattle, which gives you plenty of time to contemplate your fate and gaze at the beautiful and varied terrain of eastern Washington. I went to the farm to attend a workshop: Farm Culinary 101. The goal of the program is to give culinary students and professionals a chance to experience life on a farm, and to make "farm to table connection" a personal experience (rather than the textbook concept it might be to a new student - and certainly was to me).
The photo above is of the kitchen and dining area of the building that houses the school. The house also has a big living room, a baking room, a walk-in cooler, and upstairs there are four rooms, each with three single beds, and two bathrooms (the upstairs is the student living area). There were 10 students, mostly women, so it was like living in a lively dorm. We were split into three teams, with every day filled with farm activities, demos, and tours of neighbor farms; also we cooked lunch and dinner every day (under the very patient and expert direction of Chef Karen, who teaches at Seattle Culinary). Practically every ingredient was sourced from the farm itself or from neighboring farms.
Above, Suncrest peaches from Cliffside Orchards, a neighboring farm that we visited.
The whole week was an intense immersion into farm life. My first day included starting the morning at 6, out in the yard, where Rick demonstrated how to skin and clean a (freshly killed that morning) goat. After breakfast I dug potatoes and weeded for a couple hours in the huge farm garden; after lunch we all met with a beekeeper for a lecture and then a walk to some beehives to look at the critters close-up. I was on dinner prep that day and the menu was pizza in the farm's wood-fired outdoor oven.
Other days I learned hands-on how to butcher and clean a chicken; made some goat cheese; did a couple rounds of morning chores (feeding the chickens and goats); observed milking of goats; baked bread in the wood-fired oven; did lots and lots and lots of dishes... and many more things. You can see a sample schedule here, but it's hard to convey how busy and involved we all were. One day I don't think I sat down all day except to eat.
Above, the "girls" (the milk goats).
Speaking of eating, the food was wonderful and much more abundant and varied than my usual diet (dessert for dinner EVERY DAY). The farm-to-table connection becomes very apparent when you realize that 10 of us (plus farmers and chef) are working all day mainly to feed ourselves or to stockpile food for less abundant times... such as this goat cheese we helped make, which has to age for two months before it is eaten:
I came home with a head full of images and ideas, a half flat of peaches, a quart of Snowberry honey, a loaf of wood-fired bread and a round of chevre, feeling both mazed and amazed. I'll be processing the whole experience for a long time... but I need to turn my attention in another direction now: Fall Quarter starts next Tuesday!