Living on a farm is the ultimate dream, am I right? Ok, maybe it’s not for everyone, but I urge you to find someone who has not, even for one nanosecond, fantasized about farm life. Farms bring dinner to the table people! What is not to like about that? Today, I am thrilled to share with you a couple who did decide to live on a farm and in doing so, created a thriving business.
Crystie and Keith live on a farm, with their two sons, that boasts berries upon berries, veggies, fruit trees and also honey bees, layer and meat chickens, and, sometimes, cows, pigs, sheep or goats. Now this is a full-fledged working farm my friends. But the best part about it? It is home to Finnriver Cider! For someone who doesn’t drink a fair amount of beer, cider is my go-to beverage of choice for BBQs, boat rides, camping…you get the idea. I love me some cider. Finnriver makes some of the best ciders I have tasted and its local (to me at least) to boot. Here I am excited to share with you some insight as to how one runs a farm, a cidery and a business all while raising two young boys. Enjoy!
Q: Please introduce your family and where you live.
Our family includes parents Keith and Crystie Kisler and boys River (9) and Coulter (4). We live on a 33 acre organic farm called Finnriver in the Chimacum Valley on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula. River was named both for Keith’s love of wild rivers and my sense of how birthing him carried me into the ‘flow’ of something much larger than myself. Our farm was named “Finnirver” when River was a toddler, in honor of him and our then partners’ son Finn. And Coulter was named for the ‘coulter blade’, which cuts the sod in front of the plough. After he was born, we realized that Keith and I feel in love living on Old Coulterville Road. At Finnriver, we live with a community of farmers who grow mixed berries and vegetables and raise chickens, goats, pigs and ducks for meat and eggs. We also have a small-scale craft Cidery where we ferment hard ciders and fruit wines.
Keith was raised on a farm family in eastern Washington (he was 4th generation born to the farm and his nephew, the 5th generation is now farming there) that was very connected to their place and their livelihood on the land. I, on the other hand, moved a lot as a child and lived in some major metropolitan areas, New York City, LA, Phoenix, San Francisco…Keith and I met working in Yosemite National Park in California doing environmental education with kids as we hiked up and down the Sierra Nevada mountains. After we fell in love, we began to explore what kind of life we hoped to have together. We wanted to continue the work of helping to re-connect people and nature and, in considering Keith’s farm background, we realized that people eat “nature” three times a day. You don’t have to go into the wilderness to discover ‘the environment.’ We consume earth, air, water and light with each meal! We began to dream of our own farm and ways to build community on the land.
Q: Did you move to this farm knowing you would get so involved in the cider business?
We did not come to the farm with cider in mind. I had never tasted a hard cider until five years ago! Our neighbor Lige, from whom we bought the farm, first introduced us to the notion of hard cider. He had planted an apple orchard years back and was experimenting with fermentation. He brought a bottle down one day and we all enjoyed it. Lige suggested that the south-facing field in front of our farm would be a great place to plant cider apples. Keith then caught the “fermentation fever” and got inspired to take classes, tour cideries around the west coast and study up on the traditions. We inadvertently stumbled into a hard cider revival in the Pacific Northwest and around the country.
Oh my, well our lives are fully, firmly rooted here. Finding HOME was quite a quest for Keith and I, and we wandered a bit trying to find the right thing. I always suspected that Keith needed to be farming but it took him some time to re-discover that essential part of himself. I had some romantic notions and a little farmhand experience from college. Once we chose this place, we felt deeply grounded in terms of our purpose and our romantic notions have matured into a fierce commitment to keep our farm alive. We are so grateful to wake every day and have that sense of purpose, which ranges from “keep everything growing well” to “help sustain vitality in rural culture” to “pursue wise land stewardship” to “build community on the farm.” The practical logistics of farm life also create patterns and cycles in each day and each season that keep us tuned into the land and to the seasons. Our children witness the hard work of dedicated farmers every day; they pick berries from the field for breakfast and kale from the garden for dinner.
Yes, they do…they are not old enough to question too much yet though and our older son is getting pretty engaged with his friends in town. But we are continually reflecting on our blessings and speaking aloud our gratitude for what we have here together. The kids have room to roam, great food to eat, a creek to play in, cool farm crew around all the time and lots of community events on the farm to entertain them. They are starting to get more chores and responsibilities but we struggle a bit with how to integrate them into the daily workload at this age.
The boys do the chicken chores two mornings a week and this takes about an hour each time. They have to feed four different flocks in different corners of the land and it’s a matter of scooping grain, climbing fences, replacing lids, using hoses etc. They empty compost, help plant and weed gardens. These are all great skills. This week they are going to help buck hay bales. We have a long way to go before our boys have the work ethic of a farmer. I think they are pretty excited to learn to drive the big tractor though!
Q: Is it harder having children on a working farm as opposed to just living in the country?
Keith and I work long days and the tasks are dynamic…there are no “off” hours and so work/life are very much the same. Finnriver is our livelihood and our living. We do not leave the farm very often and our friends make jokes about it when they see us in town. We do not travel frequently or far. It’s hard to leave when there is so much happening on the land. But we like that we are rooted. For the kids, I suspect they would enjoy more frequent adventures off the farm which could happen if we were not farming I suppose.
Q: How do you think living on a farm will shape your family?
My husband is hard-working, non-complaining, very skilled in the practical arts, and grounded in a quiet, soul-deep way. I credit his farm-childhood with much of his character and want our boys to grow up with this potential. We want them to understand the hard, good work that goes into making a living, an appreciation for the beauty and integrity of the land, the necessities of cooperation, the practical skills of agriculture, engine repair, construction etc. We want them to see that nature is broader than us but not separate.
Q: In running a farm and a business, what is your biggest challenge? Biggest indulgence?
There is a very long and always growing TO DO list! Indulgence and great bliss is walking down to the blueberry field to collect berries for the morning cereal in summer. Another classic challenge with farm life is of course the variable impact of the elements. Yesterday we left 400 bales of hay in the field thinking that the forecast was clear and bright, only to experience a thunderstorm and pounding hail and rain. We had a sleepless night thinking about soggy bales and berries getting knocked off bushes. It’s a good reminder that we are subject to larger powers. There’s a quote I like from poet Marge Piercy, “Let us make our gardens half artful and half wild to match our love.” That’s how farm life is, half art (which we can practice and learn) and half wild (which cannot be bent to our will but only embraced).
Q: Do you partake in adventure? How do you bring it into your family life?
The whole operation is an adventure! Every day we are figuring our ‘what’s next?!’ We do a number of seasonal community events like an Orchard Blessing and Harvest Party that bring a lot of music and good cheer to the land. We make visits to see family members and any road-trip is an adventure of course. But we do not have much “adventure” in the classic sense. Perhaps this is something we like about farm life…that we like being here and find plenty to keep us enjoyably occupied right out the front door.
Q: What are some of your hobbies/free-time activities? Does living where do you shape these activities?
I would say that there is not much ‘free-time’ on a farm but we like to be together as a family as much as possible. Keith feels best when he has accomplished what he set his mind to and can be with the kids while he’s doing it. I love to read at night, as does my son River. Coulter likes to dig and ride his toy tractor and pick berries. We put most of our energy into family life and farm living and cidery business.
Q: What are your family’s values – what is important to teach your children?
I made a virtue calendar that we use every winter holiday season. Each day for twelve days the boys reach into a pocket with a treat inside and also pull out a homemade ornament with a “virtue” written on it– then they hang it on the tree and we usually discuss it. We chose: generosity, integrity, humility, compassion, gratitude, love, peace, kindness, respect and three others we cannot recall…but good things! At night, we often recite a verse I wrote for my boys as a night-time blessing:
Now that the sun is setting,
it’s time for me body to rest;
that I may wake tomorrow,
prepared to live my best.
I sent blessings to my friends,
for the joy and growth we share.
I send blessings to my family,
for all their loving care.
Thank you earth for carrying me,
on this journey that I live.
I honor you Great Spirit,
and my humble thanks I give.
I also like this one, which I found in a Richard Scary book:
Good night, sleep tight, wake up bright in the morning light, to do what’s right with all your might!
Q: If you had a magic wand, what would be one thing you would change or improve?
I would slow down TIME.
Q: Any favorite products so far when it comes to home or farm life?
Mason jars, cast iron skillets, wool sweaters, bog boots.
Keep peace in our hearts, get it all done and done well, love each other through thick and thin, grow something that has a positive impact on our community.
Thank you to Crystie from Finnriver farm for taking the time to let us take a peek at her family’s farm life. All photos are property of Finnriver. For more information about this farm and its products, please visit Finnriver.com for all the goodies. And if you ever come across their cider, it is a must buy. I highly recommend it.
Oh, also, Crystie writes a fun blog called the Farmwife Diaries – she is a great writer and I have enjoyed reading her stories for some time now. Take a look.