the unrivaled team: tieton farm and creamery
Earlier this year I was looking for some cheese that I wanted to use for a recipe and to photograph for a feature. The requirements for this cheese were specific; it must be from a local farm, creamy and white like a chevre but with a milder flavor. It was a tall order, but I lucked out; the cheesemonger at PCC had just the thing, and I was introduced to Tieton Farm and Creamery and their Bianca cheese.
Just a few months later, I had the opportunity and jumped at the chance to meet farmer Ruth and cheesemaker Lori of Tieton. I was traveling with two women farmers to Walla Walla; Cindy of Dog Mountain Farm and Anne of Cherry Valley Dairy. We made a quick diversion off our route to visit Tieton. The visit was short and sweet since we did not want to interfere with the business of chores and cheese making. While the animals were mildly interested in us, they were anxious to be fed and milked.
On this windy and cold day, I was able to see the teamwork first hand. Ruth was busy with chores on the farm; hauling supplies and feed, corralling the animals for feeding time and milking. Lori was in the cheese room making the wonderful cheese that Tieton is known for and why local cheesemongers are quick to recommend. Ruth gave us a tour and shared with me the challenges and rewards of launching Tieton Farm and Creamery.
Ruth is originally from Eastern Washington and was raised around gardening by her Master Gardener father, she has always wanted to farm and have animals. Lori studied at Cordon Bleu in London and studied cheese making while living in France and has a great fondness for farm-grown food production. Between the two of them, they had the skills needed and in 2002 the siren call of farming proved to be too irresistible.
They began to incubate their farm and test their business model on a cousin’s one and half-acre lot in Bellevue, Washington while both working for an accounting software firm. Like so many women farmers today, they left the comforts that the technology sector careers provided agreeing that with deciding to be a farmer and farm owners is that the benefit is in being a farmer.
“It is far from glamorous, but it is glorious!”
Their little farm did well and with that experience in hand they took their nest egg and headed east. In 2008 they found 21 acres in small town Tieton, just outside of Yakima and in 2009 started building the structures needed to start the farm. The Yakima area has long been known for its apple orchards but there has been a shift and a revival of sorts and with artisan businesses moving to town. Tieton now boasts Tieton Cider Works and Wilridge Winery along with manyartist studios.
On May 1st in 2010 they opened their doors and launched their first cheese, the beautiful Bianca. Unfortunately 2010 was also the mid-point of the economic downturn and Ruth and Lori found they were unable to build and expand as quickly as they had hoped and planned.
At one time Ruth was able to pick up consultant work but that too disappeared with the downturn. This has forced the farm to be financially self-sufficient. In real terms that means very long hours of hard labor for both --hiring help on the farm is just not financially an option.
“Farming is HARD work, which is why the family farm has almost disappeared; no one wants to work this hard anymore. ”
The workload remains their biggest challenge. There are long work-days of chores, making cheese, running the business, as well as the long drive to Western Washington to make deliveries to stores, restaurants and farmers markets. When asked if there was any specific disadvantages to being a female farmer, they agree that physical strength. Especially as one ages, men are just physically stronger. Balancing farm and any recreation seems to have just disappeared.
“We have no time for so many other things, we have lost count.”
Despite the setbacks due to the economy, they are continuing to grow both the business and build more permanent structures on the farm. Over the winter, while the animals’ milk supply is low, a new milking parlor is underway. It is to be completed in time for the animals milk supply to ramp up this spring.
The tide is turning for small farms like Tieton. Through person to person sales at markets and having their product featured at high end restaurants through the Seattle area; people are becoming aware of the value of well cared for animals and the difference that makes as well as the incredible flavor that comes from farmstead and hand crafted cheese. They are well poised for the future with wonderful herds, product and their unrivaled Teamwork.