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Quillisascut Farm School of the Domestic Arts

LoraLea and Rick Misterly use small-scale farming methods to provide high-quality products and hands-on education for aspiring chefs.

LoraLea and Rick Misterly have devoted their lives to preserving small-scale farming traditions and providing discriminating customers with unique, high-quality products. With Quillisascut Farm School, the Misterlys have gone one step further, providing hands-on education for aspiring chefs — education that demonstrates the value of locally-sourced, small-scale food production.

The curriculum at this pastoral school includes goat milking, cheese making, chicken plucking and eviscerating, wild edible plant gathering, and lamb sausage making. The urban chefs and culinary students who gather here may know a lot about the later stages of food preparation, but at Farm School retreats they experience – first hand – the work of cultivation that is usually taken for granted.

Quillisascut Farm is named for the creek that winds through scenic Pleasant Valley before it drops into the Columbia River in the northeastern corner of Washington. The valley used to be called “Peaceful” before warring neighbors necessitated the switch to “Pleasant.” These days the wild turkeys are the only ones disturbing the peace in the valley, at least until the goat kids arrive in the spring.

Fifty goats and a Jersey cow range over much of the 36-acre farm. LoraLea and Rick strive for self-sufficiency and grow most of their own food. In addition to the dairy, LoraLea and Rick’s farm has a small vineyard, fruit trees, two commercial kitchens, organic vegetable and herb gardens, a wood-fired brick oven, and an energy-efficient strawbale bunkhouse and dining room.

LoraLea has been selling her handmade goat cheeses to top Seattle restaurants for over a decade. She first invited chefs out to Quillisascut Farm as a way of thanking them. She explains, “I’ve really been appreciative of the chefs that use our products, that they are willing to take the extra time to buy from a lot of small producers, instead of just going to some big wholesaler. So I thought, how can I give something back to that community?” A farm visit/retreat seemed just the thing, and in 1993 the first “fude ranch” brought Seattle chefs out to the foothills of northeast Washington’s Huckleberry Mountains for farming, wining, and dining.

The success of that first retreat led the Misterlys to expand the occasional farm retreat for restaurant staff to a more structured on-farm school for those in the culinary trade. Rick explains, “Our first idea was to get the chefs out here, have them cooking with fresh ingredients, and get all excited about it. They were excited about it, but as they got more famous, it was harder to get them out here.” Culinary students have proven to be the most receptive audience, and several culinary schools now offer scholarships. The Quillisascut Farm School of the Domestic Arts “introduces culinary students to the source of their work: from the farm to the table.” Small groups spend seven days on the farm in the summer, learning by doing farm chores and preparing elaborate meals with ingredients they have harvested.

“Farm Culinary 101” focuses on the early stages of food preparation, what happens before cheese, meat, and produce arrive in a kitchen. Farm days start at 5:00 AM in the milking shed. Presentations on heirloom plants, seed saving, and the benefits of grass-fed meats are interspersed with wild food walks and garden glove tasks like composting, transplanting seedlings, and building raised beds. Farm students visit other local growers to learn about beekeeping and orchards.

Slaughtering animals may be one of the more daunting aspects of the farm school agenda, and also perhaps one of the most transforming. “People have this horrible mentality of blood and gore, but that’s not what it is about. The inside of the animal is all very orderly and it’s a respectful process,” says LoraLea. “A lot of the students leave feeling better about eating meat, and they want to find a source of meat that is grown in a respectful way.”

Every afternoon and evening, students work to outdo each other preparing culinary delights using the fruits of their labor: sweet corn flan, lamb terrine with chokecherry mustard, purple potato gnocchi, lavender honey ice cream. Says Rick, “They see what it takes for a small farmer to get products from the seed or the tree to the market. I want them to realize why a farmer might charge more than a big distributor. But what you’re getting for that extra cost is the freshness and the difference in flavor.”

LoraLea grew up eating cheese her mother made by hand in Leavenworth, Washington: “I remember the taste of fresh curds, real creamed cottage cheese, and butter. It is a taste that isn’t duplicated in anything found at the local grocer.” When she and Rick first moved to their land in 1981, they lived in a tent with no electricity while they built their house and outbuildings. LoraLea learned to make cheese in their outdoor kitchen, storing it deep in their well to keep it cool in the summer. She now has a state-approved kitchen for cheesemaking, and produces about 5000 pounds of cheese a year.

The Misterlys style harkens back to an earlier time, and perhaps signals a wave of the future. “I am interested in the way people have been making cheese for centuries,” LoraLea says. She strives to teach American culinary students an approach to food that is more common in small European communities, where production speed is not valued over quality and tradition, where seasonal, locally grown ingredients are the centerpiece.

The Misterlys offer retreats tailored for students, professionals and food lovers of any persuasion. Culinary students aren’t the only ones who are disconnected from their food source. Local kindergarten and elementary school kids have been visiting Quillisascut Farm in the springtime for over a decade. Rick explains, “When they first started we thought, ‘Well, that’s kind of stupid. These kids live in this area, they must know all of this stuff.’ And then you realize that they don’t.” In fact the Misterlys are one of the few families in their agrarian community that rely entirely on the farm for their income.

 

The Misterlys enjoy sharing the bounty of their farm and their passion for sustainable agriculture, and having extra farm hands and income has helped to keep their operation viable. Says LoraLea, “There are a lot of things that are missing when you just go to the produce section of the grocery store. It’s about passing on our tradition.”

For more info visit: www.quillisascut.com.

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