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The new face of farming
When Dustin Calery first saw George Page manning Sea Breeze Farm’s booth at the Ballard farmers market almost a decade ago, he was surprised and intrigued at the new face in local farming.
Calery, a chef and lover of all things organic, was immediately drawn to the meats, raw milk, cheeses and wines that Vashon’s only commercial meat farm produced using traditional farming methods.
“Everything is done the hard way but the good way. … I was kind of jealous of the people that were working there,” he admitted.
Today, as the farm celebrates its tenth anniversary, Calery is thrilled to find himself with Sea Breeze ingredients at his very fingertips, working as head chef at La Boucherie, Sea Breeze’s sister restaurant.
And though Calery has only been at the restaurant for about a month, he said working there is a dream job for a chef like him.
“These ingredients are so incredible, you don’t have to do much to make them good,” he said. “Every meat product we have here is raised on the owner’s farm. That’s almost unheard of.”
La Boucherie, opened by Sea Breeze owner George Page two years ago, has been serving home-grown cuisine with a French flare on Vashon for about two years now. The restaurant is fully supplied by Sea Breeze meat and local produce. In addition, Islanders looking to pay a little more for their meat can purchase Sea Breeze beef, pork and even veal and charcuterie at La Boucherie, which doubles as a full-service butchery.
Page said the secret to producing the quality meat and dairy products he sells is simple: grass.
Walking the grounds of his 10-acre farm at the north end of the Island, just beneath a row of modern homes, he pointed to each group of animals — cows grazing on a bluff overlooking the Sound, pigs burrowing in the mud and chickens and geese perambulating the grounds — and explained that in a month they could all be in different places.
Page constantly moves the herds at the farm, as well as his flocks of sheep on other parts of the Island, in order to give them the fresh grass that sets them apart from commercially raised livestock and produce.
“It takes a fair amount of time every day just to move them,” he said. “It’s very labor intensive, but the quality is incomparable. The quality and flavor of the meats is unsurpassed.”
Page was drawn to farming in his own quest for quality ingredients. As a software engineer with a passion for cooking, Page, frustrated by the products he found in stores, decided to produce his own. He started with a few chickens, which he kept on the veranda of his Queen Anne home, and it wasn’t long before friends and neighbors took notice, asking to purchase chicken and eggs.
When Page and his wife Kristin Thompson Page moved in 2000, they chose to come to Vashon, where they could be closer to Kristin’s family and purchase a large plot of land for the same price as a bungalow in the city.
Almost immediately, Page expanded his small farm to include a goat to supply milk and cheese. And less than a year later, tired of commuting and thinking of the possibilities his newly acquired cows and pigs presented, Page quit his job at a medical device company in Redmond to become a full-time farmer.
“Once I got cows things changed,” he said. “It seems the the cows and pigs are really at the core of the farm.”
Now, a decade later, Page employs 10 people and sells his products at farmers markets on Vashon and in West Seattle, Ballard and the University District, in addition to running a restaurant, meat market and retail shop at La Boucherie.
“It was kind of an accident. I never intended to be a commercial operation,” Page said as he stood in his long dirt driveway with farm manager Liz Coppola. Both kept an eye on two large pigs copulating in the distance, pleased at the prospect of piglets in the spring.
“Go, Elvis!” Page shouted, laughing and cheering the male pig on.
Page was humble when speaking about his business’s growth, but said he has been pleased to break even and even make a slight profit in the last few years.
Coppola, a young woman with short blonde hair and dressed in farm garb, was less shy about Sea Breeze’s success. She said that while normally farms are lucky to begin making a profit after 10 years, Page has managed to do so in less time, all while offering a wide range of products and services.
“Most farms that are doing it for a living, it’s rare for them to be this diverse,” she said.
Joanne Jewel, co-owner of Plum Forest Farm, said she believes Page’s passion for faming and commitment to quality have allowed him to find success as the only commercial meat farm on Vashon. From teaching himself traditional farming techniques to personally training his employees how to butcher meat, she said Page refuses to cut corners.
“He has so much energy for all aspects of food and farming. … He’s always going and seems to be really positive all the time,” Jewel said, “I think that’s very inspiring.”
In addition, Jewel said Page has found a market in what she called Seattle’s progressive food community, people who are willing to pay more for quality, locally produced meat, produce and dairy products.
“That’s kind of the way the market is moving for small farms. ... The more people find out how beef is raised on (big) farms, the less they want to do with it. They know grass fed is better for them and the animals.”
As Sea Breeze celebrates its 10th anniversary and La Boucherie its second, Page is making changes that he hopes will allow Sea Breeze to reach out to the Vashon community even more.
Page and Calery, head chef at La Boucherie, have decided to create more options for La Boucherie diners, who previously chose between three-course and six-course meals.
A new menu now offers small plates such as seared Brussel sprouts with farm bacon or pink lady apple and prosciutto salad, and heartier entrees such as pork chops or slow braised pork with tomato ragu. The new options, which change weekly like the course meals, are lower priced and less time consuming, Calery said.
“People would have to block out a lot of time to enjoy a meal. … Now if you want to come in for a quick bite after work you can do that at a comparable price,” he said.