Tuesday, September 1, 2009

First Annual Skagit Valley Ranch BBQ

On what very well may have been the last absolutely perfect day of the summer, my husband, 5-year-old son and I headed north to the Skagit Valley Ranch for their First Annual BBQ. Less than 1 1/2 hours north of Seattle, the ranch is on 850 acres on the beautiful Skagit River. I must confess that I had no idea the river itself was so pretty. The water is a pale gray-blue, and it makes a quick turn past the ranch. They have a big sandy beach where all the visiting dogs were having a fabulous time swimming and chasing sticks. My son absolutely could not resist getting his feet wet, even though he was wearing socks and sneakers. The path to the river is very dusty, and it winds its way between walls of blackberry bushes, heavy with fruit. So by the time you inch your way down and back, you're pretty dirty. The definition of heaven for a 5-year-old boy.

We met "cow puppy" and watched Farmer George and a young helper (another bbq attendee) feed her a bottle. She shares a pen with some beautiful goats named "Goaty" (all of them) and a sheep named "Sheepy". There were also a few horses, and hundreds of chickens and turkeys. The cattle were off grazing but we were too busy checking out the family garden, the fruit trees, and the baby chicks to really miss them.

The farmers, George and Eiko, went to a lot of trouble to make the bbq a real occasion and it was so much fun. They had burgers and sausages for lunch, live music, a burger cook-off between James Beard award-winning chef Maria Hines, cookbook author and culinary instructor Greg Atkinson, and TASTE chef Craig Hetherington, a neighbor brought over a bunch of chickens to play Chicken Poop Bingo (our new favorite game), and they had a big box of hay with plastic animals hidden in it that was a huge hit with the little guys.

There were two highlights for me. One was a sustainability panel with Farmer George and the visiting chefs. They took questions from the audience, and it was clear that this bbq was really a meeting of the local, sustainable, organic food fan club. The panel was joined by a number of other "food dignitaries" and Seattle Times food critic Nancy Leson said something that really resonated with me. It could go without saying, but sometimes I forget that it should really be said - if you believe in eating local, it doesn't mean that you can't eat anything that isn't. And when you don't buy local it doesn't mean that you've failed. You do what you can do - you vote with your dollars. If you believe in buying local, do it when you can. That's me paraphrasing Nancy. I taped the panel (I think), and when I get a chance to listen to it, I'll post her words.

The other highlight was that the farm was on display as is. I've been shopping at the farmers market for more than ten years now, and have been bringing my kids their whole lives. I'm glad they get to see carrots with the tops on and that they get to meet real farmers. But the farmers market is still a far way from the farm. George and Eiko had made signs around the farm and one, posted over a small open shack of a building filled with the cutest, fluffiest bundles of baby chicks running around under heat lamps said "Broiler chickens. Two weeks old." They were really, really cute, but that sign made their destiny pretty clear.

At home I have a pair of shoes I refer to as my "poop shoes". I wear them when I pick up after our dog. They don't often come up in conversation. But over the course of our day on the farm our feet got really dirty. We should have worn galoshes (if I had been thinking straight). We stepped in puddles, and dust, and the river, and horse poop, and chicken poop, and more dust, and finally Harry asked me how long Farmer George has been farming. "15 years" I told him. "He must have at least TWO pairs of poop shoes", Harry yelled with glee. Indeed.

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