Little Big Farm: Small But Mighty


Just perfect. That was my first thought when driving up the lane to visit Maya Wood and Phelan Pagano on one parcel of land they lease as their “Little Big Farm.” The 2/3 of an acre that I visited, leased to them by one of their teachers and mentors at Evergreen College, was packed as full as possible with row after row of beautiful produce along with hoop houses, which, as it turned out, were packed full with crops as well.

Maya and Phelan kindly took time out of their busy harvesting and tending schedule to show me around, so I didn’t want to take up too much of their time. Little Big Farm is the cleanest, neatest, most organized farm I have ever been on. I was immediately struck by how beautiful everything looked; everything had a place and purpose. This is very intentional. When you’re growing the amount of food they’re growing (on 1 acre total), you have to be organized and efficient. And, they are. Every row has a plan for what it’s going to be used for after the crop that’s currently on it is done for the season. This biodynamic approach to farming allows Maya and Phelan to have high yields on such a small piece of land.


We began by looking at their starts, and they explained that each start must live and thrive in order for them to obtain the yield they need for their fall lettuces. That’s a tall order – it’s no wonder that starts are tended to so carefully – Maya and Phelan literally HAVE to grow for the continued success of the farm.


As we walked along the rows, Maya and Phelan explained to me what each crop was and what their plans for the next crop were. I was taken aback at how neat and beautiful everything is. It’s no secret that since our first day at market last season (it was the first day at QAFM for all three of us), I have been obsessed with taking photos of Little Big Farm’s display and produce. I probably have 1,000 photos of their peppers, basil, tomatoes, eggplant, carrots, radishes, and lettuces. So, as I walked along the rows and saw these same crops in the ground, I was just as enamored. In addition to the crops we’ve come to love from Little Big Farm, Maya and Phelan are also growing some interesting varieties of chicory that they’ll be bringing to the market this fall. I don’t know about you, but I am SUPER excited about the chicory.


We went into their hoop houses next. It was like going into a secret garden of plants; an amazing wonderland of plants, all trellised from ground to ceiling, with some even touching the roof and curving over the walk way. There were cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers in the houses (and probably more plants that I missed). Not too long ago, Maya posted a photo on their Instagram of her lying on the ground in the tomato house and I totally get why. It was a magical place. I could have stayed there forever.


The hoop houses can easily be taken down and moved, which will make it easier for Maya and Phelan to move them to when they get their own land (hopefully) in the next few months.

We talked about soil and how different the soil is in Washington than it is in Hawaii (where they first worked on a farm together and where they had originally planned to start their farm – lucky for us that plan changed). We discussed irrigation and how they adjusted where they plant based on the fact that their land is on a bit of a slope. Every answer they gave was thoughtful. And, that’s what kept echoing through my head during my entire visit – thoughtful.


They recently hired one part-time employee to help with weeding and harvest, but that’s it. They do everything themselves: from starting to tilling to planting to weeding to tying up the trellises to harvesting to washing to packaging to packing up to traveling to and selling at farmers markets. Every step is thoughtfully, perfectly executed. After my visit to Little Big Farm, I was incredibly inspired and a little awestruck. They grow SO MUCH in such a small space and are passionate about it – they don’t want to expand – this works for them and allows them to be a part of every step of the process. And, that is just perfect. This tiny piece of land in Olympia that is feeding so many people.


Women Who Farm, an organization that encourages and supports women farmers, recently featured Maya on its social media, and Maya’s quote just took my breath away, so I thought I would share it with you all, as it encompasses what I felt when visiting Little Big Farm: "I started farming because it made tangible a deeply romanticized purpose: cultivate life, so that others may cultivate theirs. It's relentless and the work incessant, but it keeps me focused, keeps me humbled, keeps me gratified and grateful. People gotta eat. People need real food. And somebody's gotta grow it. Why not here? Why not me?".


Women Who Farm: Orange Star Farm Edition

This story starts with a kitten with more than 9 lives.

A few weeks ago, an orange kitten showed up on market day, looking scared and rather lost. Fortunately, Alana from Tonnemaker immediately took it into her arms, kept it safe, got it scanned for a micro-chip (it was too young to be chipped, it turned out), reported the kitten to all the vets and clinics on Queen Anne, and found it a temporary home with one of her friends. I didn’t hear from her over the weekend, so I was going to reach out the following week to see if there were any updates.

Cut to that following Monday, when I rolled up to meet Libby of Orange Star Farm for our scheduled farm visit, and when I popped out of the car, I saw an adorable, tiny orange kitten (much like the one from market the past Thursday) playing on Libby’s porch. After greeting me, Libby immediately asked if I had heard about the story of the kitten from market on Thursday. I told her that, of course, I had heard about the kitten and did what I could to get the word out about the kitten Alana found. She then asked if I had heard the full story:  The little kitten from market that was lost and scared was Libby’s kitten, Carl, from her farm. He had crawled into the undercarriage of her van prior to her trip from Monroe to Seattle and rode under the car the entire trip (even through a delivery stop that she made). So, when she arrived at QAFM, he dislodged himself from the van’s undercarriage and made a run for it. Libby said that she kept thinking the kitten Alana was holding looked a lot like Carl, but she thought Carl was safe at home in Monroe. It wasn’t until later, when Libby got back home after market, that her husband said he hadn’t seen Carl all day – and it clicked. Fortunately, Libby and Carl have been reunited.

I realize that story doesn’t have a lot to do with the actual farm that Libby owns and runs, but it does have a lot to do with the community and friendship that we have at QAFM. So, it’s as good a place as any for us to start the story about Orange Star Farm.

Libby Reed started Orange Star Farm in 2015. Located in Monroe, the farm sits on this beautiful piece of land right next to Woods Creek (for the record, I was really tempted to just forego the farm tour and float down the creek with a cold beverage, but I’ll have to save that for another day if I’m lucky enough to go back). Libby's daily schedule looks something like this: she wakes up at 4:30am, lets the ducks out to their pen from their house, does some work on her row crops, answers some emails, then heads to her other job (at SnoValley Tilth), works a full day there, then comes home, does more farm work, moves the ducks back into their house for the evening, and then around 8:30pm she “falls over” and repeats it the next day. Libby is an incredible powerhouse -- kind, funny, inviting, thoughtful, a hell of a farmer, as well as a baker, a partner, a pet mom, a friend, and a daughter (and so much more).

Orange Star Farm mainly consists of row crops, and Libby prides herself on growing unique varieties that chefs love (including David Glass, the former head chef at How To Cook A Wolf, now head chef at Staple & Fancy) and that draw people from the market to her beautiful stand. Before getting to these row crops, we started our tour by walking among the newly planted fruit trees by the creek, and Libby explained how Snohomish Conservation District (SCD) planted them and took her requests into consideration so she could grow the trees she really wants to grow on her farm. We walked past the creek to the ducks. Libby raises two heritage, critically endangered breeds of ducks, and it was amazing to see them all just hanging out in their pen. They responded to Libby’s voice and came to her when she called them. Duck eggs, if you haven’t had a chance to try them yet, are absolutely delicious. They’re a bit larger than chicken eggs and have a richer yolk, making them perfect for baking and in omelets, quiches, and hard boiled (deviled duck eggs, anyone?). Plus, ducks are just so darn cute.

We moved on from there (although, I could have stayed there, hanging out with the ducks, all day) to the row crops and hoop houses. From magenta spreen (or unicorn greens as we like to tell kids at market) to Jamaican cucumbers (tiny, spiky, delicious bites of cucumber deliciousness) to rows and rows of heirloom tomatoes, Libby is growing incredibly unique, delicious produce. As we walked among the rows, Libby pulled one sample after another for us to munch on as we talked. Each bite was something new and special, from borage to sorrel to spigarello to thimble berry and beyond! Libby is right to take pride in the special food she is growing.

We stopped to talk to Libby’s mom, who was out weeding one of the rows, and I was struck by the incredible kindness and power of these women. They treated each other with such mutual respect and admiration, all while talking about weeding. It’s something truly special. We then returned to Libby’s house, where we pet the dogs and took a look at her awesome cold storage and cleaning facility. Before I left, we checked the car and grounds to make sure we knew where Carl was (never fear, he had not crawled up in my car...he’s safe and sound at the farm).

Libby is a powerhouse woman and farmer, and I am so proud to know her. We are exceptionally lucky to have her at QAFM, and I look forward to seeing what new things she has at market each week (For instance, have you discovered the deliciousness that is a corn shoot? No? Make sure you stop by the market this week to ask her about it.).

Perhaps the best way to describe Orange Star comes from Libby herself, so I’ll leave you with this perfect paragraph that encompasses Libby’s farming philosophy:  In a world where we are constantly bombarded with excess - super sizes, social media sharing and special sales - we are proud to be a small farm. Every small farm is living proof that small doesn't mean insignificant.  In the realm of food and life, small to us means the everyday - talking, cooking, moving, asking, exploring, working, laughing, observing, creating.  All of these things make up our everyday and at Orange Star Farm those are the things that matter to us and inform the way we approach growing your food.

Finding Myself at Lost Peacock Creamery

“Don’t worry if you’re making waves simply by being yourself, the moon does it all the time.” That’s the phrase on the sign that welcomed me to Lost Peacock Creamery recently. It was a fresh reminder of how wonderful it is to find our own special paths, and that’s exactly what Rachael and Matt, the owners of Lost Peacock Creamery, are doing.

It’s hard to imagine a place more perfect than Lost Peacock Creamery. I drove up the driveway, welcomed by a flock of happy chickens and a friendly farm pup roaming freely among the main house and farm buildings. Matt met me, and we immediately started the tour; he was eager to show us the beauty that is his and Rachael’s farm (and I eager to see it). We walked down the path to the pigs. Matt fed them a snack of spent grain the farm gets from a local brewery, explaining to me that it’s high in nutrients and so great for the pigs even though the pigs prefer to be fed whey from the goats (a by-product of the cheese making process). I gushed over the piglets that were running around and could have spent the next hour playing with them but there was so much to see.

We moved on to a large field with two horses – one large, one tiny.  Matt explained that Rachael had just gotten Trouble and couldn’t be happier. (He also said they were in the process of changing his name, but considering that he had just bucked Rachael off the day before, Trouble may actually fit fairly well.) I shared my stories of being bucked off horses (I used to ride back in Kentucky), we laughed and moved on.

Goats! We walked up to the area where the goats hang out (and where the goat yoga takes place, led by Matt), and they quickly ran over to us – all wanting attention (and possibly a nibble.) Seriously, these were the nicest goats I’ve ever come across. And, they were so happy! Matt talked about them as old friends, and I petted them while trying to take some photos (slightly unsuccessfully).

Rachael came out to meet us, and we went into the event space that they’re finishing up. It’d be the perfect spot for a farm-to-table dinner, a gorgeous wedding, or even prom. Rachael explained how she and Matt love having people on their farm (they currently host two WOOFers – Nora, who sells at QAFM, is one of them) and are excited about the possibility of this event space.

Then, I got to see where the magic happens – the creamery. We started in the cheese cave, where Matt explained to me the process of aging the cheese, picking up and inspecting the wheels as we speak. We then moved on to the cheese making room. Bags of chevre hung on one side of the room, soon ready to be brought to market. Let me just say that there are few things I love more in the world than the scent of goat’s milk (because it smells just like it tastes – and it’s one of my favorite things to eat), and there are few places where you can be completely enveloped in the scent of goat’s milk like you can be in a cheese making facility. I was in heaven.

We then moved to the milking room. Matt showed me where the goats came in, were fed some delicious grain (a custom mix that he and Rachael make – with a lot of alfalfa, which they feel makes the milk taste better, and as a fan of their cheese, I agree).

We left the creamery to make a quick visit to the bucks, all three being super sweet (and not as smelly as they’re rumored to be). We then took a short tour around their family garden, to see where they store their hay, and then Matt showed me their brand new (to them) tractor.

It’s the middle of the summer, and you’re always busy when you’re a farmer, so although I could have easily stayed there all day (or forever, really), it was time to go. With arms full of goat cheese and quail eggs (did I mention they have quail?!), I drove back down the driveway, stopping to grab a few more photos of pigs and quail and left this perfect little slice of heaven.

If you’re ever in Olympia and want to stop at an amazing farm for some goat yoga or if you’re planning a special event, then Lost Peacock is the place. You can find their goat cheese and quail eggs at QAFM every week. Their pork is available through their website.

How did they get their name? There are peacocks freely roaming, adding beautiful color to an already colorful place.