It’s safe to say that for most of us, 2020 was a long and difficult year. So it may seem strange that when we look back at the last 12 months on the farm, the word that comes to mind is “Gratitude”.
What’s true is that during a phenomenally unique and challenging time, our Island community rose up in an equal measure of strength and support. This, coupled with a whole lot of hard work, resulted in a year of incredible growth for our farm as we completed our first full year leasing the Coffelt Farm Preserve from the SJC Land Bank. We are indeed deeply grateful.
We’d like to share some highlights:
Simply put, our goal on the farm is to feed Islanders. This year we put food on Island families’ tables through our farm stand, the Orcas Island Farmer’s Market, Island restaurants and the Food Bank.
We are proud of the long list of Island restaurants and businesses that serve Lum Farm food: Botanical Kitchen, Buck Bay Shellfish Farm, Catkin Cafe, Chimayo, Girl Meets Dirt, Hogstone, Inn at Ship Bay, Island Hoppin’ Brewery, Kingfish Inn, Orcas Island Distillery, Orcas Island Winery, Roses and Seabird Bake Shop.
Our meats and cheeses are available for purchase through Island Market and Orcas Village Store, as well as at our farm stand along with produce. Every Saturday from June to September, Eric headed to the Orcas Farmer’s Market to join with other farmers and crafters on the Village Green.
We were able to host other Island farmers and makers: Matt’s Fresh Fish (of Friday Harbor) visited the farm to sell his Alaskan caught Sockeye Salmon (which we now have stocked in the farm stand). Norris and Peter Carlson brought Alala Farm’s beautiful winter squash for our fall customers, and Christina and Bruce Orchid brought their Red Rabbit Farm jams.
When the Montessori school ran out of holiday wreaths, Emmy Gran of Fabled Flora and Reeb Wilms both stepped in with handmade wreaths to sell. Our “Wooly Winter Pop Up Shop”, featuring the ornaments of Bossy’s Feltworks and our own sheepskins, helped to fill the chasm left when the Artisans Faire and other larger holiday art fairs were cancelled.
Community Support: Giving and Receiving
As 2020 hit families and businesses hard, Islanders stepped up. We’re honored to be a part of this amazing island tradition of bolstering our neighbors in need.
We were especially thrilled to be among the many Island farms who turned towards the Orcas Island Food Bank to lend a hand. The Orcas Island Community Foundation raised $117,000, which was extended through the Agricultural Guild to Island farmers who could help in hard times. We were among the farms chosen for the FARM Fund grant, and used it to increase our pork and cattle numbers, providing meat directly to the Food Bank. Through the Community Resource Center’s “One Canoe” program, we welcomed many Island residents to the farm to pick up bags bursting with farm produce (a fair number were long-time Island residents who exclaimed: “We’ve never been here before!”). Outside of the grant, we made donations of lamb and garden produce to the Food Bank in honor of Amy’s dad, Lincoln Fenn.
With our abundance of space and covered outside areas, we were able to offer a pandemic-safe classroom to local students, hosting a “Farm Day” once a week with Salmonberry School’s 4-7th graders. Salmonberry kids collected eggs and milked goats, explored all the nooks and crannies of the valley, and during quiet times cleaned garlic while listening to teacher Kari read.
And then there was the Christmas Tree Fundraiser (Whew!). Acquiring trees was tricky this year, due to the fires in WA and OR, and farms being short-staffed due to the pandemic. In all the Christmas Tree sales we’ve done over past years, we’ve never sold more than 150 trees. This year we were scrambling to keep trees in stock, selling over 350 trees in 10 days and still running short.
When all was said and done, we had thousands of dollars to donate! It was a glorious morning when Amy and Mandy, over cups of tea, wrote cards and mailed checks to the Orcas Montessori, Children’s House, Kaleidoscope and Salmonberry schools, the Orcas PTSA, and the Community Resource Center. We see loads of potential in this fundraiser, including getting the school families more involved and having the tree sales be a hub for some winter-time community fun.
The Newly-Licensed Lum Farm Dairy
Perhaps our biggest undertaking of 2020 was to become a certified and licensed dairy. We increased our dairy goat flock, updated the buildings to pass inspection, and Eric and Amy passed the pasteurization certification test. Our hard-working herd of (roughly) 20 dairy goats are milked twice a day during peak season. The chefs/mad scientists in the cheese room got to work perfecting Myers Creamery recipes while also dreaming up new products (Cajeta, anyone?). Through this whole endeavor we were deeply indebted to the mentorship of Jenny Myers, and are so grateful that she chose to pass the Myers creamery baton to us.
The Farm Stand
Over the course of the year, our farm stand has had some serious growth spurts. We kept regular hours at the beginning of the year, but closed to the public as the COVID threat became evident. Our daughter Martha spotted a challenge, though. In the midst of completing her senior year online and applying to colleges, she set up a website and ordering system so that folks could keep buying food from the farm online and with contactless pickup. As Martha set her sights on heading to university, Mandy Troxel stepped into the role of Farm Stand Manager, as well as taking care of marketing and generally getting the word out about Lum Farm happenings
As we close out the year, the farm stand is a welcoming and bustling center for Islanders who are putting together family meals, stocking up their freezers for winter, nabbing their weekly allotment of eggs, shopping for homespun gifts, or simply needing a yummy apple-and-cajeta snack after hiking Turtleback. We’re proud that we’ve been able to offer this while also safely keeping COVID protocols. It’s not hard to imagine the fun that can be had once we are through these pandemic times.
Each year, hay season is a five month long marathon! With one eye always out for clouds, Eric set to work cutting and baling in order to feed our animals, as well as the beloved critters of many other islanders. Additionally, marsh mulch bales have become a staple for island gardeners. Eric broke his own record this year with over 10,300 bales of hay. To put this in perspective: at 50 pounds a bale, this is over half a million pounds in hay! To quote Eric: “Yeah, I’m tired when it’s over”.
Everyone’s Favorite Part of the Farm: The Animals
Before we had the space at the Coffelt Farm Preserve, we kept our animals on various parcels of land all over the island. Now, having so many acres of contiguous pasture has allowed us to increase the number of animals in our care.
Currently we have about 60 pregnant ewes who will start lambing in a few short weeks. Our 30 pregnant goats will be ready to kid in February. Due to demand, we’ve grown from raising a handful of pork and beef to intentionally growing our numbers in order to keep freezers full.
If you’ve visited the farm recently, you’ll have noticed that we seem to be overrun by chickens! This past summer we were not meeting the egg demand, and so tripled our flock. We currently have over 40 weekly egg subscriptions, with room for more. With this increase we were also able to sell layer hens to island families who wanted to become more self-sufficient. We raised broilers, selling out each harvest, even when Amy accidentally ordered twice the number of broilers she intended (we’ll never let her live that one down)!
Our one miss this year was turkeys — we had beautiful turkeys big enough to feed an army during the one year no large gatherings were allowed. A number of brave islanders took home 30-40 pound turkeys. We expect they are still deep in leftovers even as we speak!
On a personal note, we had a big year full of the family ups and downs that would be a lot even in “normal” times.
Martha graduated high school and headed off to a surreal first year at Washington State in Pullman. Amy had surgeries twice on her hands, and is finding some relief now from carpal tunnel and trigger-finger pains. Not to mention the fact that we were among the first in San Juan County to be confirmed COVID cases (back in early April — we all recovered fully in a matter of weeks). We said goodbye to Amy’s beloved father Lincoln Fenn, known by many islanders due to his frequent visits. Amy was able to go visit him at home in Vermont in July, and he died in August. We miss him deeply and love catching glimpses of many of his endearing quirks in Amy!
Martha and Rachel continued to participate with their 4H projects, entering artwork and animals in the San Juan County Virtual Showcase and auction in August. Eric and Amy will continue to support 4H and hope that this coming year will offer more opportunities for our island youth to get involved.
The Year Ahead
As we look to 2021, we see a whole lot of potential!
Of course, so much of it depends on circumstances out of our control… but we are feeling hesitantly hopeful about this summer. Once COVID restrictions are lifted, our focus is going to be on making the farm experience more accessible to everyone. We’ll see how this will manifest.
We imagine “lamb-loving” parties full of rambunctious kids, human and otherwise. We would love to hold seasonal festivals again, such as the holiday festival we hosted in 2019 with Salmonberry. We are anxious to invite local schools to bring their students to the farm. Mandy and Amy even have had some very animated conversations about bringing Amy’s famous summer “Farm Camp” back into rotation. Eric has long-held a dream of a you-pick market garden. Our heads are buzzing with ideas, and we’ll see which ones bubble up to the surface first!
Appreciation to Our Steadfast Crew
We want to close out this year-in-review with recognition to our positive and hard-working crew: Benson Laurie and his faithful sidekick Bee, Kyle Jepson, Lucy and Mandy Troxel and the intrepid shopdog Toby, Nisha Woolworth, and our daughters Martha and Rachel have all showed up with strong hearts and backs to do the work that needs to be done to keep everyone watered, fed, and behind the appropriate fences. Crystal Mossman has lent her culinary artistry to the dairy, and we are eager to share some of her newest recipes with you.
In addition to this core crew, we had a very capable list of folks who filled in when we needed extra hands, and we are indebted to them as well: Mary Jo Ahern, Ed Andrews, Emmy Gran, Brian Moss, Tessa Ormenyi, Kari and Margot Van Gelder, Charly Taylor and Rosie, and the Salmonberry 4th-7th grade farmhands: Cole, Hayes, Luke, Maeve, Soren and Serafina.
Finally, we offer huge thanks and love to Sidney Coffelt, whose presence on the farm is a gift. We are so grateful to her for opening the farm up to the island community, sharing the deeply fulfilling act of caretaking animals and land, tending them with care and extending these gifts to our neighbors. We offer thanks to Sidney and also to Vern Coffelt for this legacy to which we are now adding our own chapter.
We are grateful to the SJC Land Bank for supporting and encouraging local agriculture and land stewardship. It is an act of constant grace and action to manage and maintain this Island treasure, Coffelt Farm Preserve, that we all know and love. Agriculture in the San Juan Islands has a long history, but it is not for the faint of heart. Farms are disappearing, while at the same time there is a growing movement toward locally produced foods. We feel extremely fortunate to be able to continue the work towards regenerative and sustainable farming on this historic land.
A Short-Term Lease and Long Term Plans
We have been running our farm at Coffelt Farm Preserve now for 1½ years. Our short-term lease with the Land Bank extends to the end of December 2021. It’s pretty evident how much we love being here, and we hope that our time here continues for years to come.
As it happens, the Land Bank is currently soliciting feedback from community members. As written in the press release in the Sounder: “The Conservation Agriculture Resource Team (CART) is holding an online public meeting, on January 14th 2021 from 5:30-7pm, to gather input on their draft report of recommendations for future agricultural operations at the Land Bank’s Coffelt Farm Preserve. CART will present an overview of their process, public survey results, and drafted recommendations. A community discussion will follow.” (full article here)
The draft report can be found here. Your opinion matters! Please consider attending the zoom meeting, and/or submitting written feedback to Charlie Behnke, San Juan County Land Bank Agriculture Program Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’ve liked what you’ve seen this past year, let them know!