By Karen Biondo
For The Beachcomber
Food Security and sustainability have found their way into each and every one of our lives during this time of COVID. Seed sales are soaring as many engage or re-engage in growing food for ourselves both as therapy and as a vital need. With no farmers market at this time, we risk losing touch with our essential farmers who grow gorgeous and delicious abundance for our tables, often inspiring us with their wisdom and helpful hints. This series of farmer profiles will help us stay in touch with our neighbors and friends in our community who work the soil to grow the food that heartily sustains us.
Kelsey and Ben Killian are the creators and farmers of Venison Valley Farm & Creamery, a Grade A dairy.
Kelsey tasted her first Brie cheese when she was eight years old. Until that ripe age, she had only experienced cheddar, mozzarella and parmesan. She thought the Brie most incredible and proclaimed to her mom, “when I grow up I will get a cow and make Brie.” Her ever-supportive mom simply advised her to make sure she got a Jersey cow, as they have the prettiest eyes and the creamiest milk.
For the next several years, Kelsey spent her time researching and attending cheesemaking classes, dragging her parents to Jersey cow farms, practicing milking and cheesemaking with friends goats, until at 14 she got her first Jersey cow, Iris. Kelsey milked Iris, made cheese, taught cheesemaking classes, then went off to New York to the famed Culinary Institute of America. She did not take Iris.
Fast forward a few more years when she met Ben through their mutual appreciation of bovines. Ben was herdsman at Kurtwood Farms and spent time dreaming about one day having his own dairy farm. Ben also owns a horse hoof care practice, Feral Feet (feralfeet.com). Reading his hoof care website, I believe Ben might be a secret philosopher, as he states about his practice with horses, “I am in awe of the horses I work with and I wish to serve them with intention, attention and a full heart.”
My guess is the Killians bring that philosophy into their dairy life every day.
At their Venison Valley Farm, Ben is the primary milkmaid and Kelsey the primary cheesemaker. Ben said one of the best parts of his day is the early morning milking when the world around him is quietly waking.
Currently milking Belle and Willow, a Jersey and a Jersey-Normande, the volume of milk is about 16 gallons a day during peak production. The Killians have chosen to raise grass-fed dairy cows, which makes their milk a seasonal product. Towards the end of summer as the pasture grass begins to wane, so does milk production. Fall and winter milk is often richer, which may be delicious for drinking or dipping a chocolate chip cookie but challenging for cheesemaking.
Every year, Kelsey and Ben take a “milk break” in January and February to allow their cows a maternity leave. In March, after Willow and Belle’s calves are born, the milking cycle begins anew with the taste of spring pasture in each drop of milk.
Do not think for a second that Kelsey and Ben take two months away sunning on the beaches in Hawaii with their toddler daughter Darby. They are farmers and the list of non- milking/cheesemaking farm chores far exceed the two-month break from milking.
Ben says what is hardest about their dairy life is being a two-person operation — they do it all and are “on” seven days a week.
Simultaneously, Kelsey and Ben love the rhythm of milking, being outdoors most of their day and nourishing deep relationships with their animals. They have fun in the creamery and are always amazed at the delicious results of their work.
The farm and their young family is their priority and their passion. Our community is the beneficiary of their commitment and labor.
The product focus of the dairy is cream top whole milk yogurt, raw milk aged cheese and a fresh, pasteurized Fromage blanc. We all look forward to the summertime return of mango lassis (a yogurt).
They also sell vat-pasteurized cream-top whole milk by subscription, which is currently full, with a waitlist. But wait! They just acquired a bigger pasteurizing vat that will allow them to process larger batches, so you may want to get on their list.
Collaborating with Gracie’s Greens at the Venison Valley Farm Stand has been a delicious cross-pollination for both farmers. Stop by for some cheese, and you can also pick up some Gracie’s Greens to enjoy with your cheese.
Venison Valley Farm & Creamery is located at 9617 SW 192nd St., Vashon, and open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Their bounty is also available online at vashonfresh.com. Alternative currencies accepted include VIGA Farm Bucks, SNAP and SNAP Match. For more information, visit dairycouple.us or contact email@example.com.
Karen Biondo is a farmer and chef who currently cooks home delivery lunch for the Vashon Senior Center. She is also a member of VIGA’s Food Access Partnership. She enthusiastically encourages everyone to try anything in the garden (and in life). She practices curiosity on a daily basis. Reach Biondo at firstname.lastname@example.org.