“Quillisascut Farm School instills an awareness of a sustainable planet. There can be no greater connection to food than to be immersed in the place where it is grown, where all of your senses are involved…your hands in the dirt, the heady smell of cheese in process – each meal a culmination of the days work.” – Karen Jurgensen, Executive Chef, Baci Catering and Cafe
Enthusiasm for adventure, love of country living and a dream of farming brought Rick and Lora Lea Misterly to the Huckleberry Mountain range of Northeastern Washington 23 years ago where they founded Quillisascut Farm. Lora Lea has a background in small-scale dairy farming and cheese making. Rick attended Pierce College of Agriculture and is an avid gardener. Today, the Misterlys hand-milk approximately 35-40 goats and maintain a herd of just over 50. In addition to dairying, the couple also maintains a working garden, an orchard and a vineyard on their 36 acres.
While Rick handles most elements of animal husbandry on the farm, Lora Lea preserves her family tradition of creating farm-made cheeses. She has been expanding on her mother’s recipes and techniques in order to distribute a variety of cheeses to local markets and restaurants.
“Our main market is Seattle area restaurants, and most local chefs have no taste memory for farm made cheese. In other countries, where there is a market in every town, people have a greater connection to where their food comes from,” Lora Lea says. “Just as it takes loving care to cook good food, it takes loving attention to teach people about where it comes from.”
This holistic approach to understanding and appreciating food was not always something that her buyers understood or valued. Rather than dismissing this lack of understanding in her customers, however, Lora Lea and Rick devised a plan. The couple decided to use their farm to teach chefs and food professionals a new respect and understanding about the very beginning of food. Thus, the Quillisascut Farm School of the Domestic Arts was born.
“Our students often say that they believed in our ideals before the retreat, but after going through it they really understand the wholeness of it all.”
The school, which is aimed at culinary professionals and students, consists of week long seminars entitled: “Farm Culinary 101: the Sustainable Kitchen.” The first lesson that students learn on the farm is about water usage and conservation. The farm runs on the resources of one well. Their crops are not irrigated and the ground is fairly dry. As a result, one too many showers can result in under-watered crops. Every action on the farm has a direct impact on how food is grown and cared for. According to Lora Lea, students are invigorated by learning to create positive change: “once people understand how their actions are directly connected to harming or improving the quality of something (like a dry crop or under-watered willows) they are excited to try and improve their practices.”
Over the course of a week, students learn to milk by hand, make four kinds of cheeses, butcher a lamb, build raised garden beds, make sausage and can fresh foods. All the while, the students harvest and prepare meals with whatever food is in season on the farm. In this way, Rick and Lora Lea foster in their students a greater understanding of the food chain from the very initial stages of growth to the final preparations. They are “teaching people to look at the bigger picture towards a new way of thinking” Lora Lea explains. “Our students often say that they believed in our ideals before the retreat, but after going through it they really understand the wholeness of it all.”
The final cornerstone of the Quillisascut curriculum consists of farm tours on other farms in the area. Rick and Lora Lea are very conscientious about the role of farms in maintaining a sense of community and stimulating rural life and economies. Because curriculum keeps them on the farm, students are often the most removed from this element of the farm lifestyle. Through farm tours and hearing local farmers’ stories, students learn about the management practices on neighboring farms and gain a deeper understanding of the importance of farming and vital rural communities. According to Lora Lea, the students are forced to confront “the faces, knowledge and enthusiasm that can be lost with disappearing farmers and farm practices.” Students are often surprised at the tremendous wealth of knowledge that farmers possess.
Farm to table, communities to economies, the Misterlys are guiding a whole new generation of Washington chefs and food professionals through a food chain that sadly remains a mystery to most Americans. Through an understanding of the way people relate to their food and how it is grown, positive change is evolving rapidly. This particular farm family is not concerned with the enormity of their task: “People feel paralyzed about how to make change. Its not hard if you do it one step at a time.” Two goats, five goats, fifty goats, a cheese factory, a culinary farm school and a new philosophy: Lora Lea and Rick Misterly are churning out change as we speak.