Several weeks ago a slender, glass bottle of golden liquor was gifted to me. It was not the elixir of life but a Brandywine. I have to say, it was the best wine I have ever tasted. I would go so far as to say it tasted like heaven - but now I know its taste comes from the rain, the sun, and the soil of the Chimacum Valley.
I decided I must track down where this Brandywine originated. What I found was not a conglomerate business or big factory filling endless bottles. I found FinnRiver Farm and Cidery, an organic farm and community of growers producing small-batch, craft cider. I also discovered a lifestyle and a life philosophy.
Crystie Kisler, the co-founder of FinnRiver, described it best with their mission, “ to celebrate the beauty and bounty of the earth, to reconnect people to the land that sustains us and to grow community”.
Over the last 15 years, they have grown community right alongside their growing business, a business where they seek ways to be a force for good.
This can be seen as you enter this once-old working dairy farm. Walking past a large silo at the entrance you enter into a wide-open community space lined with long wooden tables and covered with a rustic style metal roofing. Raindrops rattled against it as we talked with Kisler about the vision and philosophy driving FinnRiver Farms.
We began chatting first about their recent addition of a bio-digester which breaks down much of their organic material produced on this 50-acre farm. An addition Kisler seemed energized by and clearly speaks to their commitment to using sustainable practices along with ecological farming methods.
FinnRiver is a certified organic farm that has grown and branched into three areas. First, there is the cidery where they grow, source, and ferment organic apples into farm-crafted, small-batch ciders. This is really where it all began. Second, the farm, in conjunction with some of their land partners, grows organic veggies and fruits (besides apples) which in turn are sold at local farmer’s markets and through CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture). Third, there is a grainery, growing and milling their own wheat crops into organic flours which are used by many local bakers including restaurants in nearby Port Townsend.
Each section of this working farm celebrates the beauty of this maritime climate and certainly the bounty it yields.
With community building at its core, FinnRiver has partnered with several non-profits to ensure a bright future for agriculture in this area. Organizations such as the Organic Seed Alliance, Friends of the Trees, and Jefferson County Land Trust. The latter ensuring this agricultural land remains just that, agricultural, with no possibility of losing its beauty or the bounty it gives to all.
As we sat in this open community dining space overlooking the fields and orchard now bedded down for the winter, I listened to Kisler describe what she called a “renaissance”. Their way of life in developing a rural economy while at the same time pursuing a vision of healthy food culture. Much of their growing and fermenting practices harken back to traditional ways while bringing these agricultural methods forward into life today.
She walked us down to the cider barn pointing out the orchard where 24 varieties of apples and pears are grown. The fruit from this land produces a specialty line of their ciders. To augment their own orchard they partner with other organic growers mostly out of Eastern, WA. Their resources and networking community reach all areas of our state, connecting and supporting other farmers.
Andrew Byers met us at the entrance of the barn. He is the head cider master brewer. Inviting us in he handed us each a shot glass and walked us over to a row of his vats. As we talked, he poured cider. Brewing cider is an art form for Byers as well as a science experiment that seemed to satisfy his curious mind.
Byers began his career as a culinary chef and through a series of life events found himself working not just in agricultural settings but in a small, craft cidery in upstate New York learning the trade of fermentation. Eight years ago he arrived at FinnRiver where he has found not only a living but also an ethos of equity, authenticity, and sustainability.
There is a new line of ciders he is very proud of and handed us a bottle to sample. The Social Justice Cider Project spotlights BIPOC projects working for positive change throughout our region. Two dollars of every bottle purchased will go to fund the grass-roots organization listed on that specific bottle. As it explains on the label, “these are organizations working for justice, healing, and liberation” and by igniting this project FinnRiver Farm and Cidery has demonstrated once again their purpose and core belief that we are all one community.
FinnRiver Farm and Cidery is located in the Chimacum Valley about 30 minutes outside of Port Townsend, WA. They are open Friday through Sunday 12-6 pm for first-come, first-served outdoor dining or take-out. For more information regarding their Cider Garden Menu, Pizza orders, or their mission visit their website FinnRiver Farm and Cidery.
Disclaimer: While some products, services and/or accommodations in this post were provided without charge, all of the opinions within are those of the author and the Seattle Refined editorial board.