All in the Family

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A quick lesson starts off students' visit to Stoney Ridge Farm.

Farmers looking for another avenue of revenue might consider the tale of the Gavettes and Stoney Ridge Farm. It isn’t autumn in Whatcom County, in northern Washington, without a visit to “The Farm That’s Fun for the Family,” open each October. The owners of Stoney Ridge Farm, Derek and Debbie Gavette, promote a harvest theme and good, clean fun.

Billy Goat Gruff, a shaggy white fellow with horns, attracts plenty of attention. Children send tin cans full of grain up to the feeding trough by way of a hand drawn pulley, then crane their necks to see if Billy or his pygmy pals will trot up the gangway to eat.

Children with mothers in tow wander through a huge box maze, then stop to check out the pens of goats, pigs and ponies. Farther down the path, chickens, geese and one huge turkey strut around the pasture.

“The name Stoney Ridge comes from a field on top of the hill,” says Lewis Stremler, Debbie’s dad and farm co-owner. “It’s so full of stones, it takes a half hour to dig one fence post.” But visitors notice only the country charm at Stoney Ridge, where antique tools and kitchen utensils decorate the buildings.

Every few minutes, tractors pulling hay wagons stop near the pumpkin tree for a fresh group of passengers. As they head toward the pumpkin patch, a panoramic view includes green fields, neighboring farm buildings, even the Canadian Rockies to the far north. Hundreds of brilliant orange pumpkins scattered across the field mean no one goes home empty-handed.

Decorative gourds fill another field, covering the ground in yellow, green, orange, stripes and speckles. Bright-red Jonagold apples hang in trees nearby, crisp and tempting. It doesn’t take many of the large fruit – 4 inches in diameter – to fill a U-Pick bag. Extra apples find their way to the cider mill where Derek turns them into freshly pasteurized cider.

Carol Stremler, Debbie’s mom, explains how everyone in the family works together to make some 400 fresh apple pies each season. Pies are left unbaked and are frozen until needed. Then a tantalizing fresh-baked aroma draws visitors into the farm restaurant to enjoy warm slices, topped with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of caramel. Stoney Ridge apple pies are legendary around Whatcom County, but you’ll have to go there to sample them: The recipe is top secret, handed down from Carol’s mother.

An outbuilding displays local craft items. A cozy wood-burning stove keeps visitors comfortable while they examine quilts, holiday decorations or stone bird houses. Outside, boxes of freshly picked corn, apples and pears sit alongside bins of pumpkins and gourds. Two huge refrigerated cases hold gallons of fresh apple cider.

Recently Lewis “planted” a 15-foot-tall Y-shaped alder trunk in one of the fields. He attached bungee cords to the tops of the Y, creating a super-sized sling shot. Shoot an apple into the empty water tank set 50 yards away, and you’ll win a free gallon of cider. The attraction was designed for adults. Lewis says, “I wanted to have something more for the dads to do.”

Busloads of school children also visit the farm. One of their first stops is the barn auditorium, complete with hay bale seats. Once settled in, students learn about honeybee pollinization. “Did you know,” asks the instructor, “that honeybees can sense fear? That makes them more likely to sting, so it’s important to relax if you’re around a beehive.”

Children also enjoy looking into the glass-enclosed honeycomb to watch a queen bee and her helpers make honey.

Visitors from as far away as Hawaii, California, Arizona and Pennsylvania have come to Stoney Ridge Farm. Locals visit time and again. When some 5,000 people come here on an October Saturday, the farm takes on the flavor of a county fair. Apparently wholesome family fun is still in style. Just keep that apple pie coming.