Meet more of Washington state’s small farmers here — from the godmother of the modern small farms movement to the owner and operator of a 100-percent grass-fed dairy and more.

Introducing: Lora Lea Misterly (Quillisascut Farm), Jill Smith (Pure Éire Dairy), Martin and Charlotte Frederickson (One Straw Ranch), and Jason and Margaret Parsley (Omache Farm)

Read about small farmers and WSU support.

 

Lora Lea Misterly

Lora Lea Misterly

Quillisascut Farm, Rice

Lora Lea Misterly was a 4-H kid. Growing up on a small farm near Leavenworth, she raised dairy calves and livestock as well as did cooking and sewing projects. Her parents raised chickens, cows, and livestock, and sold milk and eggs. Her mother had an egg route.

“She took a couple of weeks off when I was born,” Misterly notes. “I like to say I was on the job when I was two weeks old.”

After she grew older, Misterly says, “Whenever I had a question about something, my mom would say, ‘Let’s go to the Extension office.’ And that’s what we did. Whenever you had questions, you’d go to WSU. Extension was always in the back of my mind.”

Decades later, it still is. “I started out in 4-H with all of the things I Iove now,” says Misterly, who’s been farming in Stevens County for 40 years and is considered by many to be the godmother of modern small farms in the state of Washington. She and her husband, Rick, founded their farm in 1981, expanding it over the years to become Quillisascut Farmstead Cheese and School of the Domestic Arts.

“Extension is always there, ready to answer questions about pasture management, livestock care, all kinds of things,” says Misterly, who has served on the advisory board for WSU’s one-time Small Farms Program and hosted farm interns, culinary and nutrition students, and experiential classes from WSU. “As new questions come up, you can always ask them.”

In 1985, as she was beginning to think about adding cheese-making to their business model, Misterly says, “I got a hold of WSU to see if they had any info on micro-dairying and what you had to do to get set up as grade A producers. They connected me with the creamery over there and sent me photographs of some of the vats they had. It was very helpful.”

She had making cheese for personal use with milk from Quillisascut’s small goat herd. It was something her parents did with summer surplus cow milk when she was growing up. In 1986, she took a cheese-making course at WSU. “It opened my eyes to a whole new level in the world of cheese, more of the technical aspects that helped to answer questions that I had come up against,” she wrote on Quillisascut’s website.

In 1987, the farm got its license to start producing raw milk goat cheese. A year or two later, Misterly spoke at a WSU workshop about getting set up to make cheese and what it entails to have a small-production farm.

“The thing about farming is you have to jump right in and learn as you go,” she says.

The couple had met in Republic when she was 25. He was 28 then, an escapee from Southern California who was living in a cabin with 20 acres in the woods in Ferry County. “We decided we wanted to go somewhere we could grow tomatoes and fruit trees. We were going to be self-sufficient. We were going to grow all of our own food,” Misterly recalls. “Somehow, we were going to rub two sticks together and we’d magically have everything we need.”

They went looking for property accessible by a county road with southern exposure, gravity-flow water, and lower elevation. They didn’t find land with everything they wanted, but they came close. “We don’t have gravity-flow water, but we do have water,” Misterly says. “First thing we did was put in a well. Then we added electricity. Slowly, over the years, we built our farmstead.”

Named for a nearby creek, Quillisascut Farmstead started out as a 26-acre operation. Thirteen years later, in 1994, the couple added another 10 acres.

In the late 1990s, “we decided we wanted to start doing something else,” Misterly says. “When Y2K was coming, there was a lot of interest in our food system. We wanted to try to generate another source of income for our farm. We came up with the idea of doing on-farm education and workshops. It was part of WSU’s Cultivating Success. I took that class, and it really helped me think through all the different steps. How can we do this? What are our needs? We didn’t have a plan at the beginning.”

They started the now-defunct Northeast Small Farms Association, publishing a farm guide for Stevens County. And, in 2002, they started the farm school, teaching workshops and hosting chefs. In 2008, Mountaineers Books published Quillisascut’s cookbook, Chefs on the Farm.

Today, Misterly says, “we’re in a very good position. We don’t have any debt. We own our land. We have all the skills now. It’s almost 40 years on the farm to get to the point where we can live the dream. We can be self-sufficient. We can live off what we produce. You start out to come full circle. Now we have the skills to do it, but do we have the energy? Back then, I had the energy to do it. Now it takes me longer to get it done. You’d like to think you can keep doing this forever. It’s hard to give up the things you love.”

Now, the big question is: “What does retirement look like for us?”

Just like 40 years ago, she says, “We’re planning to make a plan. We’re looking for different models and ideas to pass on our legacy.”

Meantime, they’ve scaled back on cheese production. There are only five goats this year, down from a high of around 60, so production is very limited. Misterly makes about 20 pounds of cheese per day, selling mostly to restaurants and natural food store and co-ops in Washington state.

“I’m grateful for all of the people who have come through here,” she says. “We’ve built a lot of community around us during the last four decades. When you eat here you’re tasting a piece of Quillisascut. It’s part of you. You’re taking it with you when you go. Building community around a place and food—that still inspires me.”

 

Jill Smith with calf

Jill Smith

Pure Éire Dairy, Othello

Jill Smith started her dream with seven cows.

Just over a decade later, the milking herd at her family-run farm has grown to about 200 animals and Pure Éire Dairy products are available statewide. Offerings now include not only milk and cream but kefir, half-and-half, eggnog, buttermilk, and more.

Pure Éire butter has been used in foods prepared for the Seattle Seahawks, who are also able to select Pure Éire chocolate milk and yogurt at fueling stations at their training facility. Its yogurt has been served on campus at WSU Pullman through dining services. And—don’t hold this against them—Pure Éire products have also been part of the University of Washington Husky football players’ nutritional program.

“We’ve made so many good friends through the dairy”—on both sides of the Apple Cup field, says Smith (’97 Agribusi.), who runs the dairy with her husband, Richard. “We’ve gotten to meet and know such a diverse group of people. That’s one of the best parts of the business: working directly with consumers and connecting with them.”

The Smiths run a certified organic, 100-percent grass-fed dairy, meaning its animals aren’t fed any grain or grain by-products. “The flavor of our milk changes with the seasons based on what kind of forage the cows are eating and the time of year,” Smith says. “My favorite milk is in the spring when the cows go out to fresh, lush grass in the pastures.”

Pure Éire’s grass-fed certification comes from A Greener World, which also certified the dairy as “animal welfare approved.” Both are badges of honor for Pure Éire. “We are the first and only in the country to have both of those certifications under the A Greener World umbrella,” Smith says, noting, “We are audited at least annually for these certifications.”

The organic certification comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Pure Éire is also Non GMO Project Verified. And its cows are DNA-tested to make sure they are—through breeding, not genetic modification—free from A1 beta casein, a protein in milk that some studies suggest may lead to digestive discomfort. All cow’s milk contains casein, but the percentage of A1 and A2 varies between breeds. The Smiths breed and test specifically for A2 beta casein.

“We take a simplistic approach to processing our milk,” Smith says. “We’re kind of doing things the old-fashioned way—back to basics—and working with Mother Nature.”

The Smiths got into organic milk production in Oregon in 2005. Four years later, they cherry-picked—through testing—seven Jersey cows from their herd to start Pure Éire as an organic, grass-fed, raw-milk dairy, selling to grocery stores and farmers markets just over the state line in and around Walla Walla. Soon, Smith says, “recognizing that not everybody wanted raw milk, we added a pasteurizer.” And, within six months, the new operation had outgrown its small facility.

At the same time, the Smiths were helping her father with his farm in Othello, transitioning it to all organic ground. They rehabbed an old workshop on the property, then relocated their start-up dairy to her hometown. “We were led here to do this,” Smith says. “The stars just aligned for us.”

Before the family was able to make the move to Othello, Smith would drive up from Oregon to bottle and label milk. “I had a little refrigerated trailer I’d hook up to my pickup to deliver the milk to the stores with my kids in tow. They were three and five at the time. This is and always has been a family affair,” says Smith, whose children are now both in their early teens, “

Today, the Smiths live a few miles from the dairy, which has continued to evolve and expand. They’ve added cream separators, a second pasteurizer, and an automated yogurt line. They’ve also grown distribution, which now includes Tri-Cities, Spokane, Seattle, Tacoma, Walla Walla, and more. And they’ve grown their herd.

“We’ve completely grown our herd internally,” Smith says. “Our dairy’s growth has happened organically along with how fast our herd has grown. We still have room for growth, which is exciting. But there will be a point where our herd growth may stop because we’re committed to our mission of being completely grass-fed and organic.”

Pure Éire farms several hundred acres. The Smiths rotate their cows through their pastures for grazing during the warmer months and grow their own feed for winter.

“We’re lucky. We have a long growing season out here in eastern Washington,” Smith says. “We want our cows to have a consistent diet throughout the year and know exactly what they are eating. With their grass-based diet, we don’t get as much milk as a dairy feeding its cows corn or soy, for example. Grass is a lower-energy diet, and we understand that. We look at the welfare of our cows, and we don’t try to push our cows too hard. We don’t want them stressed. We want them in good health. And we see that it pays off.”

Early on, though, the Smiths faced some skeptics. “We were told you couldn’t have an entirely grass-fed dairy, that it wouldn’t work if we wanted healthy cows,” she says.

The average lifespan of a dairy cow in the U.S. is about three to four years. But that isn’t the case at Pure Éire. “We’ve got some teenagers in our herd,” Smith says. “Everything is about the cows for us; they are the stars of the show.”

And they’re getting noticed. Pure Éire’s mango yogurt won third place in the world at the 2020 World Championship Cheese Contest for flavored whole-fat cow’s milk yogurt. In 2019, its lemon yogurt won best of class in the same category at the U.S. Cheese Championship Contest. And, in 2017, Pure Éire won the same award for its Organic Irish Homestead Strawberry Whole Milk Yogurt as well as bronze for its plain yogurt.

Pure Éire is also the exclusive provider of milk and cream for Sweet Annie’s ice cream in Spokane. And the dairy supplied the competition milk for 2014 U.S. Barista Champion Laila (Ghambari) Wilbur, then of Seattle’s Cherry Street Coffee House.

“As rewarding as this has been, it’s definitely been the most challenging thing we’ve ever taken on,” Smith says. “Milking cows is one thing. Processing milk is a whole other aspect to our operations.”

Pure Éire now employs about a dozen people. Smith handles the marketing, packaging, and finances. Her husband manages the herd and pastures. At harvest, they both pitch in. So do their kids. While they have a distributor for western Washington, they do all of their own distribution in eastern Washington. And they are continuing to explore additional products, such as cream cheese and sour cream.

This time of year, Pure Éire’s heavy cream “is like liquid gold,” Smith says. “There is such a demand for it around the holidays”—as well as seasonal favorites like eggnog.

“There’s a lot of beauty in being this size,” Smith says. “We’re small enough to be nimble and pivot quickly to meet consumer wants, yet large enough to supply our special market. Our goal isn’t to become a large-scale operation. Our focus has always been on Washington state, staying local and selling our products as close to home as possible.”

Still, Smith says, “We want everybody to have access to milk and nutritious dairy products. If we can get people into the dairy aisle because they have choices, then it’s a win for everybody in the industry.”

 

Martin and Charlotte Frederickson

One Straw Ranch, Chimacum

When the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, small farmers Martin and Charlotte Frederickson focused on web-based retail, not only for their own beef, pork, and lamb, but also for other sustainably made, grown, and raised products by local farmers and food producers. Wild Alaskan salmon from Cape Cleare Fishery. Yogurt and cheese from Mystery Bay Farm. Relish and other preserves from Hopscotch Farm and Cannery.

“We’re trying to use our platform to support other outlets in the community and work together to try to adapt to the reality of the coronavirus. Most of the other vendors don’t have their own online retail sites. It’s been really rewarding for us to get to collaborate with them,” says Martin Frederickson, who co-founded One Straw Ranch in 2015 with his wife, Charlotte.

Today, the Fredericksons farm multiple locations around Jefferson County, including their own 20 acres in Chimacum. They also lease a portion of a nearby 80-acre farm as well as acreage at WSU’s 26-acre Twin Vista Ranch on Marrowstone Island, where Martin Frederickson works as caretaker.

He started at Twin Vista in 2013 as the first farm manager after serving with the Peace Corps as an environmental education specialist in Morocco and completing a livestock apprenticeship in the Methow Valley. Working at Twin Vista, donated to WSU in 2012, was mutually beneficial. He was able to use his expertise while gaining experience.

“WSU played a key role for us,” Martin Frederickson says. “When I was hired, part of the arrangement was that I was allowed to farm some of my own animals around WSU activities on an under-utilized part of the property. It was a big deal to be able to do that.”

Through WSU, he was also able to meet and work with experts in the field. “One of the great things of working for WSU has been getting to interact with so many knowledgeable people from across the WSU system,” he says—from soil scientists and livestock specialists to seed and alternative crop experts.

Mutual farmer friends introduced the couple shortly before he started working at Twin Vista, and they married in 2014 with the dream of turning their personal farming projects into a direct-marketing retail enterprise. The Fredericksons are committed to raising their livestock as naturally as possible—non-GMO, without unnecessary medications nor additional hormones. Their beef and lamb are 100-percent grass-fed, and their pigs and chickens are fed locally sourced, non-GMO grain.

“One Straw Ranch is not certified organic—it’s a financial and logistical hurdle for small farms—but we’re very focused on the health of our animals. Our livestock are rotationally managed on pastures to stimulate as much biological activity in the soils as possible. It’s good for the environment, it’s good for the animals, and it’s good for us as farmers,” says Martin Frederickson, who mixes the feed for One Straw’s pigs and chickens himself.

Both he and his wife came from families interested in agriculture. Charlotte (Bemis) Frederickson grew up in Chimacum Valley, where her parents raised cows. “It wasn’t the main income stream for the family, but we all worked together and the knowledge I acquired has been invaluable,” she says.

To complement the farm skills she learned at home, she took an introductory farm course through WSU Jefferson County Extension.

“I really should be a WSU grad,” she says. “My grandma was one of 10 siblings who grew up on a farm in Eastern Washington. Her parents”—Jacob Ott, a rancher in rural Irby who was born in Germany in 1886, and his wife, Victoria—”sent them all to WSC.” For 23 years—from 1934 until 1957—at least one of the Otts was enrolled. Eight of the 10 married fellow WSC grads. And, when the youngest graduated in 1957, the Powwow alumni magazine ran a full-page story on the family’s longtime tenure, quoting then-president C. Clement French at that year’s graduation. French commended the immigrant rancher and his wife, and, “Do you know what they said to me? ‘We’re not the ones that deserve credit. We are fortunate to live in a country where this could have happened to the children of an immigrant father.’ I would in all seriousness ask you to think about that as you leave today.”

Martin Frederickson, a landscape architect, was born and raised in Port Townsend. His parents had moved there in the 1970s during the back-to-the-land movement, starting a 10-acre homestead. “We had all sorts of animals and gardens and orchards,” he says. “But it was a side thing for them as well.”

During his 2010 to 2012 Peace Corps service, he says, “I realized I wanted to try farming as a profession.” He returned to Jefferson County, seeking out farmers and agriculture experts including Laura Lewis (’96), then the director of WSU Jefferson County Extension and now the director of WSU’s Food Systems Program. “She was in the midst of guiding the donation of Twin Vista. There was a cattle herd on the farm, and WSU needed someone to manage the animals. Laura brought me on board at that point.”

Back then, Charlotte Frederickson had four or five cows of her own as well as a flock of a couple of dozen chickens for eggs. “We got six pigs the year we married with the idea in mind that one would be the right size in time for our wedding reception,” she says, noting they also started out with a flock of 15 sheep they bought from another local farmer who was retiring.

There are no sheep at One Straw Ranch at the moment. But, nearly six years into their farming venture, the Fredericksons generally sell about 80 pigs and nearly 30 cows per year. In addition to raising their own cows, they also buy weaned calves from her uncle, who farms outside of Odessa. They also keep about 200 hens and a covey of quail—for eggs.

For now, One Straw is a mom-and-pop ranch, along with “farmhands” Eli, 4, and Vera, almost 2. But, “for us to be sustainable,” Martin Frederickson says, “it needs to be larger than us. We need to grow to support a staff. From a practical standpoint, if someone’s not feeling well or injures themself or needs to take a break, right now we don’t have anyone else to rely on.”

Early on, they began developing their customer base at the Port Townsend Farmers Market, then established and grew their wholesale accounts: Port Townsend’s Food Co-op, Finnriver Farm and Cidery, Chimacum Corner Farmstand, Silverwater Café, the Fireside Restaurant at the Port Ludlow Resort, and Crust Pies.

They also participated in the annual Jefferson County Farm Tour, presented by WSU Jefferson County Extension. “We did that a few years at Twin Vista, showcasing the work that WSU has done, as well as at One Straw Ranch to show people what we’ve been working on,” Martin Frederickson says, noting this year’s event was held online due to the novel coronavirus.

When Washington state’s pandemic lockdown took effect last March, restaurant orders disappeared overnight and the Fredericksons were potentially looking at a surplus. “The shutdown happened when we had a large number of animals ready to be butchered. No one knew what the spring and summer season looked like. It was a little nerve-wracking,” Martin Frederickson says. “We were fortunate that we had established a customer base and online presence before the pandemic. We had developed a web store that we utilized primarily in the winter as well as for pre-orders, and it really took off. We saw a huge surge in demand right away, and we’re still seeing strong growth locally.”

One Straw transitioned to a new web host with back-end accounting and integration to help handle the additional traffic. And, as the pandemic persists, the Fredericksons plan to continue to expand, offering local home delivery as well as shipping throughout western Washington and Oregon in 2021.

“We were and are definitely in growth mode and want to continue to grow,” Martin Frederickson says. “It’ll be interesting to see what happens this fall and winter. The pandemic has really exposed the fragility of our national food system. Especially early on, there was a lot of uncertainty about our food supply. Hopefully, we’ve gotten through that. But the pandemic is not the only stressor. If we can support our local economies and our local food systems we’ll be stronger and more resilient.”

 

Jason and Margaret Parsley

Omache Farm, Pullman

Jason and Margaret Parsley came to Pullman to study farming, fell in love with the rolling hills and distinct seasons, and stayed to establish their own agricultural enterprise. Today, the husband-and-wife team regularly sells their produce at the Pullman and Moscow farmers markets with their children— HannaMae, Alethea, and Oak—in tow. Learn more about Jason Parsley (’14 Organic Agriculture Systems), Margaret Parsley (’12 Animal Sciences), and their farm: