Meet the Farmer: Skagit River Ranch



Market founder Judy Kirkhuff shares her experience at Skagit River Ranch Farm. 



By Judy Kirkhuff


             September 24th was a beautiful morning. On the road before 7 o’clock, I headed north on I-5 to be there by 9am.  Since they only do this once every 3 or 4 years, I intended to be there from the beginning of the farm tour. Warm welcomes greeted me from everyone as I arrived with time to park, change into my rubber boots, and check in.

           Located behind their little farm store was a large shed that could accommodate as many as 200 visitors.  There was an area set up for kid's activities and lot of long tables where folks could eat lunch and chat.  A display of 5 raffle prizes sat just inside the door on a table and someone selling tickets for $1 each.  Down the side of the room were four local crafts people’s tables.  A woman was there with her jarred produce and recipe books displayed.  She helped me find a Green Tomato Pickle recipe to take home.  There were also herbal lotions, and soap makers, and handmade items.  On the room’s other side, was a sound system with benches and chairs for the audience of presentations scheduled for later.  

         About 10 am about 60-70 of us gathered around George who guided our tour of the Ranch.  All of us loved seeing the baby goats and chicks.  We passed through their family garden as we headed toward the cattle pasture.  Continuing on we saw the 3-4 months old pigs’.  They delighted everyone when they all came up to watch us, while we watched them.  George pointed out that our rainy Northwest climate meant our soil have an overabundance of certain elements, some not good, and a depletion of other nutrients.  For this reason, he regularly tests the beef to evaluate the status of their diet, and if he spots a deficiency, he adds other plants into the pasture that will provide the nutrients that the animals need.  Such efforts are a humane way to conduct animal husbandry.  

         We found the cattle pasture located along the beautiful Skagit River and the animals were grazing about 3 city-blocks away from where we stood.  We also spotted a large hen house with chickens scratching around the field nearby the cattle.  It was a perfect day with sun shine and a bucolic scene to enjoy.  Suddenly George gave a huge yell. He sounded a lot like Tarzan in the jungle.  The herd obviously recognized it because all of them lifted their heads and looked our way.  Maybe because we numbered so many people, the animals seemed to stand a while and consider what to do.  After a minute they began to meander slowly toward us.  In no hurry, some of them stopped to nibble the grasses along the way and we were given the chance to admire the river and foothills around us.

          As the herd came closer, George told us his was the first ranch in the nation to get a USDA grant for a “mobile processing unit” that is located on his property.  It’s this reason, the animals are never stressed by the only bad day in their lives: their last.  The normal procedure is to load them into a truck, travel many miles, then be herded into pens, often standing for hours with other animals they don’t know, finally they’re prodded into a noisy building that smells of blood.  This upsets the animals, and the mobile unit eliminated the flood of stress hormones into their bodies from the ordeal.  The result is a huge improvement in the quality and taste of their meat.  Some readers may have already experienced that for yourselves.  The best part of this tour, for me, happened as the cattle came closer, some of them called out with low and long “moos” that seemed to say, “We’re coming, George”.   After they arrived, we enjoyed the serene animals staring at us as we stared back and took photos.  We heard the dinner bell and headed back for lunch.

            Nicole Vojkovich organized an informational seminar that began during lunch.  The first speaker was Head Chef at the Microsoft campus, Elijah Coe.  He spoke of his project to keep the menus at Microsoft seasonal and local.  After lunch, Dana Mead, an Herbalist, presented how to forage and save herbs and medicinal plants for home use.  Then we heard Janice Strand, a Nutritionist, who discussed the importance of a diet rich in pro-biotics and amino acids.  These build the favorable bacteria in the gut that provides health benefits that health professionals are only beginning to discover.  They now understand that such diets improve our body’s absorption of vital nutrients, boosting the immune and central nervous systems.  The last presenter, Dr. Gary Moskovich, gave an entertaining speech about the basic things that are important for a healthy life.  Finally raffle prizes were awarded with a lot of humor.  After a day full of information, nice people, and a comforting farm atmosphere, we all felt wonderful as we said our goodbyes and thanks were everywhere as we headed home.