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Tieton Farm & Creamery

Farmstead and Artisan

We all love cheese, but who among us would ditch the day job, buy acreage and animals and start a farm and creamery? Apparently Lori and Ruth Babcock. They gave up jobs at a company making reporting software ("We wish it was a software company that made us millions, but it wasn't," laughs Ruth) and bought 20 acres of land in Tieton near Yakima.

But of course, that's not where it really started. Lori (right, at farmers market) studied at a Cordon Bleu school in London and lived in France for two years. Ruth's father was a Master Gardener and she learned about raising food and plants from him. In 2003, a cousin had 1-1/4 acres, mostly wild blackberries and tall grass, in Bellevue. Ruth, with her love of animals, thought it would be best to bring in goats to take care of the brush. Lori, with her love of French cheese, thought it would be best to get the right kind of goat, so she could make cheese. They bought two goats, started a company called Emerald City Pastures, started making cheese, and growing and selling vegetables. "We realized we loved the farm aspect and real food. Lori loves to cook and she'd make six-course gourmet meals for friends; we'd sit around, eat, laugh. So the dream became owning a B&B situated on a working farm where guests would have great meals made from what we grew on the farm," recalls Ruth.

They bought the acreage, had an architect draw up the whole plan and built the creamery and storage portion. They had a Small Business Loan ready to submit and then 2008 hit and things crashed. Lori and Ruth were told their SBA loan had to be pulled. "Maybe it was a good thing," says Ruth. "It saved us from the fun insanity of running a B&B and a value-added production farm." Now they "just" have the farm and creamery, opened in May 2010�a more than 24-hour a day job for two people. "Despite the fact that we really tried to understand what this would be like�we worked the Bellevue acreage for five years, had animals to take care of daily�it's much more than we anticipated. There are seven months of the year when it gets dark early and you feel there just isn't enough time to get it all done. But we're hanging in there and enjoying it."

Their focus has been on growing a dairy herd of Nubian goats which have one of the highest milk fat content. They also produce the least amount of milk, but the best for cheese. Sheep, with the highest butter fat content, are also on the farm. They started with two goats and about a year later, one sheep. They're now milking over 40 animals a day, in a licensed milking parlor/truck that only allows one animal to be milked at a time while a second is prepped. "We do 32 or so in the morning and 8-10 in the evening." Everything is done in the most natural way possible. Ruth does Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) using moveable fences. "Five days is the longest the animals graze in one area. This helps us avoid parasites and we don't have to de-worm, which keeps things more natural. It also lets the grass re-grow: it's a whole science, just watching the grass grow. Our cheese tastes so good because the animals eat healthy. Sixty percent of their diet should be from browsing. If they eat grass only, their milk production isn't as good. We get local alfalfa hay and they eat some grain on the milk stand."

Ruth Babcock: there's always time for affection on the farm

Another reason their cheese is so good is that they handle the milk gently. There is no pumping, just hand pouring. "We have premium milk; we're farmstead cheesemakers which means that we actually produce the milk, we don't buy it. It's also artisan cheese; each piece is unique and handmade." They started with ch�vre, then Lori worked for a year ("Lots of food for the pigs," laughs Ruth) on their Sonnet, a bloomy rind. Their Cendres (to be renamed Black Pearl) is an ash-covered bloomy rind, and Halloumi is a Mediterranean cheese that can be grilled. They offer a feta, and "the goddess of wash rinds," Venus, made with sheep and goat milk. Bathing it in cider from Tieton Cider Works makes it even more of a local terroir product.

Goats, sheep and pigs aren't the only animals on the farm. "We have over 100 animals now," says Ruth. "We have 65 non-milked animals, 32 milking animals, two bucks and three does. We have Scottish Highland (foreground) and Irish Dexter (in distance) cattle for a short time before they're butchered. They're grass-fed and grass-finished. We have whey-fed Berkshire pigs, pastured free-range chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese." They choose breeds for the quality of their products as opposed to looking for production quantity. They sell grass-fed beef, pork, goat and lamb to their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) customers, and butcher their own chicken and lamb. "We don't want to eat what's out there, we want real food." And, or course, they have their guardian dog, Dante (hiding in the shade on a hot day).

Hopefully in spring 2013, they'll have a new milking parlor so they can milk more animals at once. "We're small but growing," explains Ruth. "We sell all our cheese now and just started selling at the Columbia City Farmers Market. That's the market we used to buy our food from, so it's great fun to be there as a vendor. We need to grow, so we've hired part-time milking help and part-time creamery cleaning help."

The original B&B/working farm dream seems a long way off right now. They're taking one step at a time, like the milking parlor, to move in that direction. Maybe a tasting room, small apartment, cheese room expansion: realistic steps toward their dream. For now, it's a good idea to click here to see where you can find their cheese and get it now before it's sold out! 

Tieton Farm & Creamery
18796 Summitview Road
Tieton, WA 98947

Rush hour at the farm

Connie Adams/August-September 2012

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