I have a dream—a dream in which thousands of people quit their day jobs and return to the land to grow healthy produce and raise animals sustainably. Sure, it’s a Pollyanna dream, but who can argue with the concept? I know not everyone is going to trade a laptop and a BMW for a pitchfork and a tractor, but for some this represents a lifestyle to aspire to.
Over the past several years there has been a surge in the number of people wanting to know where their food comes from and how it’s grown—just like Alice and Craig Skipton, who left their big-city endeavors and headed to Bainbridge Island seeking to incorporate food and farming into their lives.
Alice was a consultant for foundations and nonprofits while Craig was a landscape architect and a board member of Seattle Tilth. And while the Ballard lifestyle was fine, they craved something closer to traditional farm life. So in 2009 they created a plan to sell their place in Seattle, rent one on Bainbridge, and network with folks looking for an opportunity to farm full-time.
Through local connections, they heard about a couple who had purchased the property and nearby land that would become Heyday Farm—and they pounced on the opportunity. They met the owners, presented their vision and business plan, and struck a deal: The Skiptons would run the farm while the owners would finance its build-out and operations.
Given that the couple had never farmed professionally, the learning curve was steep. I asked Alice how they compensated for their lack of farming experience. “We have a lot of creative skills combined with practical business knowledge,” she said. “We both learn on the job and network with other farmers—all help is welcome.”
Heyday has recently added a dairy operation that includes six Dutch Belted cows. The farm will always be a micro-creamery because of the amount of land (25 acres) they have to work, and they are currently making yogurt and simple cheeses, including a fromage blanc, a bovre (a cow’s-milk chevre) and the Eagledale tomme, a havarti-style aged cheese.
Steve Phillips of Port Madison Farm has been consulting with the Skiptons in building out the creamery and in cheese production. “He is a fabulous cheesemaker, and he and his wife Beverly ran a goat dairy and creamery for many years and they recently retired,” Craig says. “He came when the first cow calved and taught us how to milk.”
Renowned butcher Tracy Smaciarz of Heritage Meats in Rochester, Wash., does cut-and-wrap for Heyday as well as sausage production. About the quality of meat being produced there, he says, “They are doing a great job with their hogs. They are passionate about their work, and I can see how well the animals are taken care of based on the carcasses coming in to my shop.” I also ask Smaciarz about the benefits of raising hogs on pasture, as Heyday does. “Environment and feed play a tremendous role in hog production,” he says. “If you don’t take care of them, or any animal, they won’t take care of you.”
The farm has grown and diversified over the past four-plus years, starting with eggs that are now known Island-wide for their quality, as evidenced by the customer lines at their farm store in the Island’s Lynwood Center. Restaurant clients include Greg Atkinson at Marche and Brendan McGill at Hitchcock. Heyday doubles as a B&B and as a teaching space, offering classes in the farmhouse kitchen on a wide variety of topics including whole-animal butchery, canning, and cooking for kids.
The Skiptons’ partners in the business, Ty Cramer and Steve Romein, say that “We both feel a deep satisfaction for the shared farm and food legacy to which Alice and Craig are contributing here on Bainbridge Island. They are committed to the hard work and ethics of providing local, sustainably grown food and improving the broken food system. We could not do it without them.”
After going through such significant changes in work and life, does Alice have any words for those who want to embark on a similar path? “This Island used to be covered with farms,” she says. “With people thinking more about what they are going to eat and the changing dynamics towards sustainability, I believe that what we’re doing is worthwhile.”