Family farms prepare for the season on South Whidbey

The grass is greener, the birds are singing and people are outside again preparing for spring.

Bill McInvaille stands in front of his nearly 3 acre farm

The grass is greener, the birds are singing and people are outside again preparing for spring.

For family farms on South Whidbey, that largely means nicer weather to continue their routine and prepare for the upcoming peak season.

Select farms will be featured during the Family Farms Forum starting at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 3, at the Freeland Library, 5495 Harbor Ave., Freeland. The forum is a chance to learn about family farms and sample products including vegetables, meats, fibers and other products South Whidbey farms have to offer.

Two South Whidbey farms provide a glimpse into life on the homestead for this upcoming season.

Picking the produce

On the edge of Bayview, farmers at Bur Oak Acres are picking early produce, pulling weeds and setting up a drip system for their growing crops. The nearly three-acre farm has five greenhouses and features a year-round farm stand supplied with salad, soup, cookies, granola and nuts.

Gearing up for their peak season from June to August, the farm will have 125 different varieties of produce including 17 different tomatoes.

For owner Bill McInvaille, that kind of diversity is important, especially when it comes to tomatoes — his favorite.

“We try to have as much variety as possible, and try lots of different ones,” McInvaille said.

“I’m always trying different tomatoes.”

McInvaille said he is interested to see what a new strain of produce is like. Trying a range of tomato varieties is what led him to boast some of the best tomatoes on the South End.

McInvaille has been farming since 1996 and moved to South Whidbey from New England in 2008.

“I read books and tried things. I made my own way of doing it,” he said of farming.

His goal was to have a farm that he and his family could be engaged with. Both his sons, now adults, and his previous wife were very involved in running the farm. His children first learned how to tend cash and deal with people through the farm stand.

Today, he runs the farm with his sister, a baker, and three interns. He hopes to pass on what he’s learned over the years to the interns, which he describes as some of the best students in years.

For the upcoming year, McInvaille aims to add more products available on a daily basis, including the popular kale juice and eggs.

“It’s important there’s something to attract the public year round,” he said.

The farm and farm stand are located on the corner of Andreason Road and Bayview Road. Produce at Bur Oak Acres can also be purchased at the Bayview Farmers Market.

Agricultural tourism

Fern Ridge Alpacas, a family farm located in Clinton, offers year-round farm tours of their alpacas and a yarn clothing store in a yurt.

The farm is run by Gretchen and Hal Schlomann, who started raising the animals in 2007 with three females. Now, the two have 20 Huacaya alpacas and three llamas to guard against coyotes.

Throughout the year the farm hosts visitors to view the animals and shop in the store. Last year, more than 900 people toured the area, many from different countries in South America and Europe.

“It’s amazing how many people come from all over the world,” Gretchen said.

For Hal, he enjoys having the alpacas because they allow him to meet new people through the tours.

Alpacas have 22 different colors for their coat, which is primarily used for weaving rugs, gloves, scarves, socks and yarn. The fiber is soft and has no lanolin wax, making it hypoallergenic. At the store, each yarn label shows a photograph of the fiber source from the alpaca outside.

Choosing the right fiber from the alpaca is one of the challenges of raising alpacas. Each is evaluated by their fleece and lineage. Hal and Gretchen determine which alpacas to pair to get the desired combination of genes for different fur types and color.

“Breeding is fun, putting all those things into consideration,” Gretchen said.

But, no matter how much they calculate, the results of a newborn can’t be guaranteed, Gretchen said.

The coats for alpacas are sheared once a year, the first week of June for Fern Ridge. After that Gretchen works to sort the fiber by coarseness for different uses. Coarse fiber is primarily used for rugs, while softer fibers are used for scarves and gloves.

This year the farm is part of the Whidbey Island Farm Tour, Whidbey Island Fiber Quest and a supporter of the Whidbey Art Trail.


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