'Growing a Farmer'

For people who have romantic notions of becoming small farmers, Kurt Timmermeister's book "Growing a Farmer" details how farming can be much more complicated — and enjoyable — than most assume.

A Seattle chef, Timmermeister became a farmer bit by bit after buying blackberry-infested acreage on Vashon Island outside Seattle.

Through the sale of a restaurant, he was able to buy himself time to eventually turn the unpromising piece of land into a farm that produced milk, artisan cheeses, vegetables, apple cider and fruit, honey and other bounties of the earth.

But the journey to that point was fraught with setbacks.

One of Timmermeister's first business ventures was to pre-sell boxes of vegetables to 25 families through community supported agriculture, or CSA, subscriptions. Each would receive a full box from June 1 into October — never mind that Timmermeister had little experience growing crops.

"Some weeks there were just a few vegetables ripe and ready to harvest, and some later weeks we had too much produce available," he wrote.

Tensions mounted as Timmermeister fought to keep enough vegetables for the CSA boxes, while his farm assistant — working on sales commissions — sought vegetables to sell at a farmers' market.

At the end of the growing season, the two made $17,500 total, but had $10,000 in expenses — not counting the cost of the farmland.

Timmermeister detailed his adventures in raising bees for their delectable honey. He marveled at bee society and the insects' work ethic. Bees must make 155 trips to flowers to produce just one tablespoon of honey, he wrote.

Timmermeister never figured out how to keep his bees alive through the damp, cool Seattle winters, so each spring he had to buy new shipments of bees.

Dreaming of orchards, he planted 130 apple tree saplings and admired his handiwork, until one day when he found deer had nibbled away the leaves.

"I felt despair, anger toward the deer, and utter disbelief that my trees were essentially ruined and all my work for naught," he wrote.

His own mischievous, intelligent goats also seemed out to destroy his plans, watching him as he fawned over a beautiful tree specimen, then squeezing through fence boards when his back was turned to head straight for the tree.

"Their goal is not nourishment, but rather to inflict punishment upon you. They want you to know that they are in charge, that you are merely there to assist them in their life on your farm," he wrote.

Timmermeister found that by not weeding one area of new trees and allowing blackberries to take over, the saplings were shielded from nibbling animals and many survived.

The creation of apple cider with an apple press made all the work worthwhile.

"It is miraculous. The juice is fresh and sweet and golden. It is alchemy, this transformation of knobby, warted fruit to golden, clear, sweet juice," he wrote.

Timmermeister finally landed on a successful business model when he realized that people not only wanted to eat the food he produced, they wanted to experience his farm.

He began hosting weekly dinners and charging $100 a head for guests to enjoy wine and a full dinner made with vegetables, meats, cheeses, honey, herbs and fruit from the farm.

"My food-yielding 'hobby projects' finally had a purpose: to stock the kitchen for simple but delicious weekly meals," he wrote.

"Growing a Farmer" is available through local bookstores and the new books section of the Ashland library.

Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@mailtribune.com.

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