Fresh from the farm to you, Whatcom County is filled with ways to meet the people who grow your food. Plan a tour while harvest time is on us. Photos courtesy of Sustainable Connections Food To Bank On program, photography by Diane Padys.
Bellingham-Whatcom County: Eat Local, Culinary Loop
by Mary Vermillion
Cradled between Mount Baker and the Salish Sea and crisscrossed by fertile river delta farmland, Bellingham and surrounding small towns have long been home to fishers, farmers and food artisans. September is a great time to savor the harvest for yourself.
our friends at Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism suggest you craft your own tasting
tour any time of year.
“Foodies love to drive a culinary loop around the Bellingham region,” says Annette Bagley, Director of Marketing at Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. “Many of our local foods are available direct from the producers year-round including fresh milk, artisan cheeses, oysters, distilled spirits, craft beer and wine. Others are especially abundant in the summer and fall.”
Area farm production ranks in the top 3 percent of all counties in the United States. Locals harvest fish and shellfish, berries (the nation’s top producer of red raspberries, growing 60 percent of the U.S. crop), flowers, and field crops like corn, tomatoes, asparagus, carrots, and potatoes. Dairies are also part of Whatcom County’s culinary heritage – first in the nation for milk production per cow and No. 1 out of 39 Washington counties in overall dairy production. Today, breweries, creameries, farmers markets, and farm-to-table restaurants thrive here, too. With this much bounty, where do you begin? Follow me.
September is a great time to savor the Whatcom County harvest for yourself whether you join Eat Local Month events or craft your own tasting tour.
As the local harvest hits full swing, Eat Local Month is an annual tradition each September. Activities include month-long restaurant specials, a Sept. 8-9 Farm Tour, a farm brunch, farm-to-pint beer pairing, wine, cheese and chocolate tasting, the Sept. 21-22, 2018 SeaFeast, and social media contests with culinary prize packages on the line. Find all the details at eatlocalfirst.org.
During the September 8-9, 2018 Whatcom Farm Tour Weekend, 12 farms and 4 farmers markets will welcome visitors with hands-on experiences. “It’s a great way to make a connection with where the food you eat is grown,” says Maressa Valliant, Sustainable Connections food and farming coordinator. Meet farmers who harvest vegetables and flowers and others who raise cattle, pigs, chickens and yak. Taste local cheese, apples and farmhouse ale and find more temptation at refreshment stops along the route. Don’t forget a cooler. The tour is free, but purchase a $15 Farm Tour VIP badge for exclusive swag and special offers at select stops.
“The Whatcom County farm tour is exceptional,” Valliant adds. “We’re unique because of the beauty of our location. You can drive out to farms and see a glacial mountaintop (Mount Baker). And there’s also the relational aspect. Here, we’re small enough that when you visit a farmers market, you’re talking to the farmer not a contracted worker. You’ll meet the people who are planting, growing, harvesting and selling with dirt on their hands from picking that morning.”
Eat Local Month activities extend to October 6-7, 2018 with Cloud Mountain Farm’s annual Fall Fruit Festival. The event showcases the farm’s 200 varieties of fruit. There’s also live music and a pumpkin patch.
For the ultimate seafood experience, plan your trip for the Sept. 21-22 Bellingham SeaFeast, a festival along Bellingham’s working waterfront that celebrates local seafood and the community’s maritime heritage. When you’re done slurping oysters, cracking crab and savoring salmon, stroll the dock to meet fishers and watch industry skill competitions. On Friday night, explore the maritime-themed music, art, film and literature events downtown.
General entry is free, but you’ll need tickets for activities such as Bellingham Bay cruises and Seafeed at the Harbor, featuring Dungeness crab, open-pit grilled salmon by Lummi Nation, grilled oysters and scallops. Buy tickets now.
Craft your own culinary tour
Ready to craft your own culinary tasting tour? Ask the experts at Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. They can recommend a farm tour itinerary perfect for you. Pick up a copy of the Whatcom Food & Farm Finder or Culinary Agritourism Map and get advice about lodging and dining at the Bellingham Visitor Information Center, open 7 days a week.
You may want to start by heading north on two-lane Hwy. 9, which winds through farmland and flows like a ribbon along the base of the Cascade Range. Stop at the iconic Everybody’s Store at the bend of the road in tiny Van Zandt. The “exotic grocery” sells everything from gourmet sandwiches for a Mount Baker picnic, to custom-made sausage and Tibetan prayer flags and innertubes for floating the nearby Nooksack River. There’s also wine and beer, local honey, ice cream, specialty candy, and fresh produce from the on-site garden. Load your cooler then drive north past Christmas tree farms and fields of corn.
Rumble over the railroad tracks and turn south on the Mount Baker Highway (Hwy. 542). You’ll pass Mount Baker Vineyards where its new owners are gearing up for a grand re-opening. If you’re lucky, the Twin Sisters Farmers Market will be open when you pass through Deming. But don’t miss your turn to Hwy. 9 north and the sister cities of Everson and Nooksack. You’ll know you’re close when you see blueberry fields and a sign for Tuxedo Gardens Flower Farm. If you’re here in late summer, look for roadside stands selling dinner-plate-sized dahlias, sweet corn and dime-sized blueberries. Continue on Hwy. 9 until you intersect with the Guide Meridian (Hwy. 539). Turn south and set your navigation system for Bellewood Acres.
Located 6 miles north of Bellingham, BelleWood Acres is home to one of northwest Washington's largest apple orchards. Depending on the season, you can pick apples or pumpkins. Buy locally grown produce or gifts at their farm market and have lunch at their excellent café and bakery. Expert tip: try the pie. If you’re traveling with children, Bellewood’s wide-open field is a great place to run off road-trip energy. “It’s my favorite place to take my kiddos,” says Maressa Valliant. “There’s a sweeping view of Mount Baker. We have lunch. I have a cider and they play.” Bellewood is also Washington’s first farm-to-glass distillery, handcrafting small batch vodka, brandy, gin and liqueur from BelleWood Acres apples, locally grown berries and Washington grains.
From here, continue south on Guide Meridian and zig-zag cross-county first by turning right on Hemmi Road. Just over a mile later, turn right on Aldrich then left on Piper then another left on Northwest Drive to find Boxx Berry Farm, home to u-pick fields and a market store. You’ll find fist-sized peaches, sweet corn, a riot of fresh-picked floral bouquets, and fresh or frozen berries.
Just when you thought you’d tasted it all, there’s cheese. Head south from Boxx and turn right on Axton Road to Ferndale where you’ll connect with I-5. Drive north to Appel Farms , which makes farmstead artisan cheese from their own dairy cows, or Twin Sisters Creamery, a family owned business making artisan cheese from local milk.
A Bellingham culinary loop isn’t complete without a stop at the Bellingham Farmers Market, voted among the top 10 farmers markets in the Pacific Northwest. The downtown Bellingham market is open Saturdays 10 a.m.-3 p.m. through Dec. 22.