Despite a late spring, Western Washington is gearing up for farm tour season. At Seattle’s U-District, Ballard, and West Seattle farmers markets (as well as the flock of smaller, seasonal neighborhood markets), stalls are advertising celebratory summer kick-off tours of dairies, cheeseries, farms, and ranches. One of my favorite vendors is Tonnemaker Family Orchards, a 132-acre, third-generation, certified organic farm in Central Washington’s Frenchman Hills. The family grows over 400 different varieties of fruits and vegetables. At the height of summer, their stall is an explosion of color, overflowing with crates and bins of melons, heirloom tomatoes, and up to 230 varieties of peppers. The family’s produce turns up in some of the Seattle region’s most acclaimed restaurants, including Spring Hill, Tilth, Poppy (chef/owner Jerry Traunfeld recently vied for the title on an episode of “Top Chef Masters”), and The Herbfarm.
The Tonnemaker’s are hosting a farm tour on June 27th, to coincide with the beginning of their cherry harvest: they grow over 12 varieties, including esoterica like the Black Republican, and Sonata. There will be a guided walking tour led by the Tonnemaker brothers (farmer Kole, and his brother, market manager Kurt), and a chance to shop at the farm stand. Lunch is by Seattle chef Matt Dillon (not that Matt Dillon, but still a celebrity in the world of chefdom), using ingredients from the farm. Dillon, co-owner of The Corson Building and the opening-at-any-second, relocated Sitka & Spruce, is a 2007 Food & Wine Best New Chef, and champion of local farmers and food artisans.
The Corson Building, a miniature urban farm-in-industrial-neighborhood, is one of my favorite restaurants on the planet. It’s not cheap, but it’s a beautiful example of how the parameters of “locally-sourced” food are changing within the restaurant industry, and how communal dining can be a unifying experience. Did I mention Seattle has what is perhaps the most progressive urban farm scene in the nation, and that summers are spectacular, even if you never leave the city?
Farm tour tickets are $60.00 self-drive, or $100.00 with chartered bus; registration deadline is June 13th. Fees for all farm tours help support family farms, local food security, and education about sustainable food systems. Local Harvest is a great national resource for finding farm tours, markets, and other events in your area.