It is always a treat to visit the Olympic Peninsula —especially the folks at Finnriver Farm and Cidery in Chimacum— to see how things are evolving. Since my last visit in 2015, Finnriver has considerably expanded their already ambitious project, continuing to build community coalitions through the three pillars of their mission:
- Rural Economic Development
- Land and Resource Conservation
- Sustainable Agriculture
Demonstrating that these principles can coexist and thrive, the human pollinators at Finnriver work tirelessly to build a model that benefits the community, creates jobs, and protects the land. Co-founder Crystie Kisler says that while the founding partners pioneered a successful model, the next generation has been pushing it forward, helping them evolve and perfect their ever-changing business, which these days is unfurling on a once dilapidated dairy farm that was purchased in late 2015.
At the time of purchase, the decaying 50 acre farm was representative of the area’s plethora of small dairies that have collapsed over the past 40 years, leaving a big hole in the agricultural spine of the community. But with their purchase, the Finnriver team recognized their opportunity to play an influential role in restoring the extending disconnection from the land that reverberated out from that loss.
Today, a conglomerate of small businesses and projects known as the “Chimacum Farm Collaborative” sit together on the property, bound not only by land, but by a shared vision of community and the provision of space for bringing people together to share food, drink and song.
The initial spark for the renovation was an 80-foot concrete feeding trough they found inside of a crumbling barn. Tied to their mission, the trough seemed to be a perfect metaphor for sustenance —of body and spirit— and fueled their decision to turn the trough into a colossal community table, placing old barn wood atop the immense structure. This table and the shelter above it are the heart of the collaborative, surrounded by a collection of refurbished buildings designed to draw people together. A stage for musicians stands along the edge of the large community space housing the trough, Finnriver cider is served out of an adjacent shed, and local food vendors come in to serve up meals on a regular basis. Children are invited to run free and explore the expanse of acres that stretch out from there.
The success of what began with a gut feeling has surprised even the founders as they witness the joy that ensues when people gather to enjoy food, drink and the beauty of the land in community. It is a simple but simultaneously profound gesture and the nearly a 100-foot-long table is full virtually all the time —sustenance for both body and soul.
But beyond the gatherings with food and drink and natural beauty, the Finnriver partners saw an opportunity to expose the public to the less visible components of their mission —the many projects devoted to sustaining the land and water.
With a variety of land partners running small-scale operations off of the property, there was a perfect opportunity to promote the three grounding principles (rural economic development; land and resource conservation; and sustainable agriculture) of their mission by way of introduction.
Organizations like the Organic Seed Alliance (promoting education, research, and advocacy,) the North Olympic Salmon Coalition (tending a riparian plant nursery by the creek on the FR property,) WSU Extension & The Bread Lab (conducting organic grain research,) a medicinal herb farm, an organic flower nursery growing for seeds, as well as a bioremediation pile behind the kitchen where they had to remove an oil tank and were permitted to have it become a fungal remediation site (inoculated with fungus to help convert the petroleum molecules back to water,) and even the “weeder geese” which mow the orchards (thus reducing tractor use, which helps reduce soil compaction and use of fossil fuels) all provide plentiful opportunities to inspire and teach.
Currently, the team is also working on a site map that will name all of the land partners and have kiosks at each of their plots to help explain the work they are doing and how it ties in to a living ecosystem, and new this summer, they will have guided orchard tastings following a guide “orchard ambassador” for educational sessions with each land partner and cider tastings at each stop.
Approaching land, animals and humans with creativity and a collaborative spirit, the Finnriver team continues to use their tiny corner in western Washington to generate a new paradigm of social, economic, and environmental resilience for the future.
To read more about the history and mission of Finnriver Farm & Cidery, click here.