August 19th, 2006
Name: Sea Breeze Farm
Owner: George Page
Location: Vashon Island, WA
Animals: 5 cows (1 Holstein, 2 Jerseys, 2 Milking Shorthorns), 6 goats (mash up of breeds), chickens, ducks, sheep (for meat and for pasture management), pigs, one pet rabbit
Cheeses/Products: Variety of goat and cow milk cheeses, raw milk, creme fraiche, feta, eggs, meats, wine
More Info: seabreezefarm.net
There I was pitching our project to Kelli Estrella (Estrella Family Creamery) at the Ballard Farmers’ Market unknowingly standing right next to another farmer. When I strolled away the farmer walked up to me and says he wants to tell me about his farm and I give him the green light to let it rip. This man is George Page and he owns Sea Breeze Farm on Vashon Island. He and his wife and daughter live in a house on 8.85 acres (3.85 when they first purchased it) with a whole raft of animals (see list above). George doesn’t do it all alone, he has a farm manager, Matt Lawrence, who was manning the stand at the market with him that day. As he was describing how he runs his farm- graze cows, goats and sheep on grass, run chickens after them, move pigs around to clear roots and prepare land for more pasture- my mind instantly went to the section of Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” that covers Polyface Farm. I mentioned this to George and his eyes lit up. He had just finished reading the book himself and explained how confirming it had been for him. He explained that people are continually pressuring him to specialize rather than diversify and yet whenever he removes a single part of his operation the whole of it doesn’t run as well.
We decided to visit George for a number of reasons not the least of which was that everyone we met told us that Vashon Island was amazing. There was also the fact that Sea Breeze is not only producing cheese, milk, eggs, and chickens but they are also making wine under the label Sweetbread Cellars. Nothing short of our dream farm… were we to be so bold as to go into farming ourselves. So we went to visit our dream on Vashon Island which is as beautiful as everyone promised. When we arrived at Sea Breeze a pack of naughty piglets came tearing down the gravel drive until one of the farm hands spotted the escape artists and rounded them back towards their pen. George was in the commercial kitchen that they installed in part of their home so he had a place to produce cheese legally.
George is doing something in cheesemaking that we hadn’t encountered in our other visits- rather he is not doing something- he does not add any cultures to his milk during cheesemaking. This means that whatever bacteria are present naturally in the milk are what develop the cheese (break down fats and proteins, develop on the rinds, etc.). Once the cheeses are made and have adequate time to drain they are stored in the cellar in a sort of open air cabinet surrounded by mesh to prevent flies from getting in. The house they purchased had a considerable in-ground cellar which is where he built the cupboard and also where he matures his wine. In no uncertain terms this cellar is where one would want to be in the event of any unfortunate disaster.
We sat at his kitchen table and had coffee with some kicking milk (from the farm of course) and he talked to us about the evolution of the farm. George loves food and wanted to be closer to his ingredients. He started in 2001 with goats, chickens and rabbits and then he found out there was a Holstein for sale on Vashon. The operation has grown steadily since then and George admits that he is constantly being pushed to be bigger than he ever thought he would. He is selling primarily at farmers’ markets and to select restaurants in the Seattle area. We walked around the farm while sampling some of his wine (I know- life is good on this trip) and he explained his plan for expanding his pasture. The plan includes borrowing land from neighbors- some are more formal agreements and some more casual but in the end it all seems very European to be walking your animals around on an island for new grass.
The milking parlor is the smallest we’ve seen yet but it gets the job done and passed muster with inspectors. There is also a small building that George calls the humble farmstand. Neighbors come and help themselves, write down what they bought, and leave cash or checks in the jar. We love that the honor system is still thriving on a number of small farms. Sea Breeze milk is delicious and the cheeses though they may be less predictable than others (due to the absence of commercial cultures) are truly a taste of the farm. It is slightly upsetting that these products are available only on the farm or at a handful of farmers markets and restaurants. However, if you find yourself consuming Sea Breeze goods it will mean that you are either on Vashon Island (score), at the Ballard farmers’ market (hoppin’), or in one of Seattle’s finest restaurants (mmmm). We look forward to our next visit and champion George’s fight for the small, diversified family farm.