Farm Life: Part 2, The Family Homestead

In Part 1 of my trip to the Swannack farm, we covered the activity in the fields with the wheat harvest, and now we're going to turn to the inner-working of the house, the animals and what mealtime looks like.

Wheat harvest

There is steer on the Swannack farm that’s eaten and sold, as well as chickens that serve as compost, egg dispenser and parts for cooking. The flock of animals has fluctuated with various conditions and is the right size for the family operation now, but could be an area for expansion down the line.

Every farm operation needs a dog and this one is no exception, though Elly no longer joins Steve in the fields since her old age has made her more comfortable as a doorstop to the house.

The house is part B&B for the harvest workers, offering meals and accommodation to those who participate. One truck driver this year was a young, spry gal from Brazil who’s transitioning to a new life in the states and thought she’d try her hand operating an enormous truck through remote farmland before embarking upon her next chapter.

Lucky for us, she also knows how to cook and treated us to a local specialty of feijoada one night. Black beans were flavored with the prior evening’s venison and then a host of other toppings were included to create our own stew including rice, dressed collard greens, fresh salsa and a delicious cornmeal-sausage “sand.”

Harvest mornings start with a hearty all-hands breakfast around 7am. Crab omelets were made one morning with leftovers from the gift the previous night’s guest left. Stephanie whipped up waffles one day, and another day we had eggs with fresh cut bacon. Oh yes, that was mighty fresh. The Swannack’s don’t keep pigs anymore due to their nasty nature, but there’s much swapping of animal parts in the neighborhood so everyone is indeed eating farm to table.

The grill is usually going and luckily for me, there was a steady supply of homemade and smoked sausage. I'm already trying to figure out how I can go back up for the 3 day sausage making weekend. Potatoes were plucked straight from the garden, along with fresh rosemary and they were all roasted on the grill to perfection.

Lunches are packed every day in individual coolers for the crew to take into the fields for an uninterrupted workday that usually went until 7pm or until storms hit. Then there’s a re-congregation in the kitchen and on the beautifully landscaped patio for more fresh from the farm food. Steve is also quite the chef and prepared some melt in your mouth marinated deer and antelope. Sides were fruits and vegetables right from the garden that Steve’s wife, Ann has taken a fond interest in planting.

Steve met his wife Ann while they were both in school at Washington State University. Steve took Ann from Seattle’s city life to join him on the farm, and Ann adapted quickly. Ann’s work at the USDA helps to fight for a lot of the causes that Steve stands for and keeps them up to date on best practices. She has an enormous green thumb that gives way to beautiful colors and landscaping in the yard. There were snickers that she’s slightly out of control, but I’m guessing everyone needs their own project to stay happy and satisfied on the farm, and fortunately her project is quite pretty.

My friend Stephanie often thinks about the future of the farm and her role. She’s still living and working in Paris, but I could see how much she feels in her element back on her family’s farm. While she’s not yet ready to make a firm commitment, she also knows the farm will always be a part of her life because again, farming is something that’s just in you.

Stephanie and her father Steve

Stephanie and her father Steve

When I asked Steve what he’d do if he wasn’t farming. He just shook his head and repeated, “No.” It wasn’t an option. Farming is his life.

I was humbled by the warmth and generosity of the Swannack’s for welcoming me into their home during one of their busiest times of year. There was always an extra seat at the table for whoever called or was in the area. Pull away beds appeared out of nowhere, sheets were stripped, washed and remade on a daily basis. Steve spent several hours with me in the combine answering my city girl questions about farming and I learned many things that I’ll take with me through many future meals.

I appreciate the amount of effort that goes into the food I eat. Farmers like Steve wear many hats. They have to be businessmen, salesmen, negotiators, marketers, and risk takers. They need to play the parts of mechanic, bookkeeper and weather man.  Then there’s all the knowledge needed around agriculture, soil, best growing practices, irrigation and erosion. There’s also necessary qualities like patience, energy, optimism and unflappability. These are all things I’m going to think about the next time I take a bite of food. This food didn’t just fly down from the food fairy. It comes from people who have not just taken a job, but rather, created a life where producing the best product is their daily goal. So thank you Swannacks and fellow farmers, for the work and life that you’ve created, and that benefits so many.