It took the former Seattle restaurateur (he owned Cafe Septieme) about 2 decades to build Kurtwood Farms on Vashon Island into what it is today.
He shares the ups and downs of the adventure in Growing a Farmer (W.W. Norton) published this month, January 2011.
I read the book over the holidays and recently interviewed Kurt. Here it is.
Q: Kurt, can we describe 'Growing a Farmer' as combination of love for your new path with warning of difficulties ahead to aspiring farmers?
I hope that 'Growing a Farmer' is a realistic portrayal of small farms - both the good and exciting and the difficult and frustrating.
Oddly, the folks that I run into who grew up on farms have little or no interest in farming in their adult life. It is only through my sheer ignorance that I was able to delve in head first.
Absolutely. I had no great plan to be a farmer from the outset.
Absolutely! If I had had to immediately make a living from this plot of land I would have long since gone under. It is only with that safety net was I able to make this farm work.
LOL. Ah, yes. In reality I still think that. By personality I always take on too much and contiunually feel that it will all come crashing down. It still might, but I hope not.
At this same time I started raising my own meat so little by little I would switch to my own food. I also continued eating beef for example as I -- possibly mistakenly -- felt that it was healthier than pork or chicken.
Hmmm. I really don't. If I was to be catty, I would say that there are chefs who walk onto farms such as mine, get their photo taken with a cow for a PR shot and then head home.
A little of each. It is only friends and not open to the public and also paid. As of December 26th I am now only making cheese.
I raise everything on the farm except flour, sugar, salt, pepper. I do also occassionally sneak out for chocolate, oranges and bananas for myself.
Absolutely. That is the most dramatic seachange. If you grow everything yourself your only option is to be attuned to the seasons. I do freeze raspberries for example but it is very difficult to fudge the seasons.
I can only hope that it is in fact self sufficient. I am only recently increased the volume of cheese in the hopes that it is truly self sufficient.
Bees amaze me everytime I see them. They are simply miraculous. I cannot comprehend how they make honey. Absolutely incomprehensible and beautiful. Vinegar to me is one of the easiest and most dramatic changes we can do to out cuisine. Store bought vinegar is terrible and easily replaced by very high quality vinegar.
As I had cows for the past seven years I would at times have extra milk. It is only natural to try to find ways to utilize the surplus. I did not train with an established cheesemaker as once you have cows it is very difficult to leave the farm for any reason. It would have saved some time though...
Hmmm. A great piece of cheese is truly amazing. The idea of transforming milk into an aged piece of cheese with an entire spectrum of flavors is entirely alchemy. I love it even with the challenges.
Sally Jackson quit more because she had been making cheese continually since 1979 I would say and was ready to retire. I don't have an insurance policy against disaster. It is always a possibility and only diligence in cheese making can solve it.
A writer in Seattle read my monthly emails and suggested that I do something more with them. She hooked me up with Maria Guarnaschelli at WW Norton and I had a book deal quickly. It took about 2 years to write, but I would guess that I could do it much quikcker with the experience I have today.
Q: Do you have words of wisdom to offer to those 'romancing' the idea of owning a farm?
Like all endeavors -- if you have to do it, do it. If you don't have to do it, keep your day job.
Q: To conclude, looking back which were/are the rewards of going from fork to pitchfork?
Great food, spending more time on the land, meeting great people, tremendous challenges.
The pleasure was mine, Kurt.
(* Photos by Clare Barboza)