Nestled on Port Townsend’s scenic back road of Cook Avenue is a 12-acre home to free range chickens, honey bees, a flock of British Soay sheep, eight varieties of lavender, rows of cottage …
Nestled on Port Townsend’s scenic back road of Cook Avenue is a 12-acre home to free range chickens, honey bees, a flock of British Soay sheep, eight varieties of lavender, rows of cottage garden flowers, pumpkins in the fall, pomme fruit and berries, Brina (one livestock guardian dog), and owners/farmers Casey and Eric.
Once an idea for a traditional blueberry U-Pick, Wilderbee Farm has grown into a diverse, dynamic, and beautiful local space that offers not only seasonal specialties, but also the opportunity to enjoy and interact with the grounds.
Looking to retire from Seattle with a dream of farming in mind, Casey and Eric Reeter began searching for the land and community they could grow with, and after looking around the western Washington area – visiting places like Whidbey and Vashon islands – they remembered Port Townsend and decided to revisit the area.
In 2007, after multiple visits to Port Townsend, they decided that they had found their spot and purchased the acreage.
“What grabbed us was visiting the land in winter, there was snow on the ground and the pond was covered in ice. After that visit we put in our offer,” said Casey.
Over the next few years, the couple continued working and living in West Seattle where they had an urban micro farm. They also used that time to attend a sustainable farm course through Washington State University where they learned about the advantages of diversifying crops to fill out the seasons.
From there, the dream of a traditional blueberry U-pick farm began to evolve.
By 2012, Wilderbee Farm was open to the public, and in the fall of 2014, they decided to make meades with the pomme fruit and berries they were growing.
So came another opportunity for the couple to expand their knowledge base and skill set – they attended a meade-making course at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, entered a period of home brewing for about four years, and started participating in homebrew competitions. They continued their meade-making education by taking courses at the University of California-Davis campus.
Wilderbee specializes in traditional and barrel-aged meades, and has 12 flavors available currently that you can find at the farm, and also locally at The Wine Seller, Aldrich’s Market, Chimacum Corner Stand, and the Marina Market in Poulsbo. They recently collaborated with The Food Co-op in Port Townsend to create a flavor celebrating their 50-year anniversary; an oak barrel-aged, traditional sweet meade called “Groovylicious.” For the summertime, their special meade release is “Mango! Mango! Mango!” a crisp, dry meade infused with mango and hints of strawberry, pineapple, and tangerine.
Back in 2008, the couple came across an article in Hobby Farms magazine about the rare and primitive British Soay sheep that originate from the islands of St. Kilda off the coast of Scotland.
They became interested in being a part of the U.S. breeding program, and their discovery led to another opportunity to educate and add to their farm scene when they interned with Kathie Miller of Southern Oregon Soay Sheep Farms for four years, getting to know the breed. Eventually, they acquired their starter flock from the same farm.
The Soay are designated as an at-risk breed, meaning there are less than 1,500 breeding ewes in the world. The United Kingdom recognizes Wilderbee Farm’s 16 Soay sheep as a satellite flock to their own, and they are registered with the UK’s Rare Breed Survival Trust which records genetic data in an extensive database.
Wilderbee goes about rooing (hand plucking) the Soay’s in the spring; the resulting wool is a soft, fine fleece with short fibers.
For those interested in working with natural fibers, the wool is available for purchase at Wilderbee Farm, and they are currently in collaboration with Taylored Fibers mill in Quilcene where the wool is cleaned, carded, and made ready to spin.
Throughout this summer, there are many opportunities to interact with Wilderbee farm and enjoy the bounty of the seasonal offerings, from U-Pick lavender and flowers to floral design workshops and services.
In addition to a variety of “casual farm favorites” like dahlias, cosmos, zinnias, sunflowers, and bachelor buttons, this year the farm is growing Chinese forget-me-nots, Echinacea, Black-eyed Susan, and green fillers.
Wilderbee is on the Eat Local First farm directory and will be participating in the Jefferson County Farm Tour during the month of September while hosting Jacobs’ Fleece Farm.
The farm also has a fully equipped ceramics studio, and the fee for open studio time includes an orientation to the facility and the use of tools and equipment. When you are ready, they will fire your piece in the kiln for you. Check out the farm website at wilderbeefarm.com for more information about times and rates.
As a farm, Wilderbee is an awe-inspiring example of what can be done with land and a diverse population of plants and animals. As a community member, Wilderbee is a wonderful resource that has found a way to weave in local folks with skills that accentuate and make goods with what the farm has to offer. Drop by for a visit, and as the website says, “Bring a picnic, explore our nature trails, meet and feed the sheep."
Taylor Austin lives and works in Port Townsend, Washington, and enjoys seeing what fellow community members are up to.