|The cider pavilion at Finnriver Farm|
If you show up at the Chocolate Flower Farm on Washington State's rural Whidbey Island, but don't see anyone around, just ring the cowbell.
"I'm likely working in the commercial kitchen, the greenhouse or the farmhouse basement pouring candles," says a sign posted by owner Marie Lincoln. "Don't be shy!"
Lincoln's nursery, specializing in dark-colored plants, seeds and chocolate-themed products, is one of a growing number of farms opening their barn doors to visitors searching for Covid-friendly ways to enjoy the outdoors this summer and fall.
U-pick blueberry patches, groomed nature trails and gardens shaded with umbrellas for sipping cider invite lingering longer than you might just stopping for produce at a roadside stand.
Think live music, wood-fired pizza and rustic farm stores stocked with artisan products, and in Lincoln's case, seed packets for growing your own chocolate-scented flowers.
Here are three suggestions the next time you are looking for a day-trip for out-of-town guests, or just a relaxing escape from the city:
From Seattle, take either the Washington State ferry to Bainbridge Island or the Edmonds ferry to Kingston, cross the Hood Canal Bridge and find Wilderbee Farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Port Townsend.
|U-pick lavender at Wilderbee Farm|
Owners Casey and Eric Reeter built Wilderbee as a visitor destination, evident from a nearly full parking lot on a recent Sunday afternoon.
"Bring a picnic. Feed the sheep. Pick a bouquet. Sip some mead. Walk our nature trails. Enjoy the day at Wilderbee," is their invitation to explore what was once a cattle ranch in agriculturally-rich Jefferson County.
U-pick lavender fields surround a farm store stocked with essential oils made from lavender distilled on site along with wooden bird houses and cutting boards crafted by Casey Reeter's 81-year-old father, Larry.
The Reeters took a farming course offered by Washington State University before selling their West Seattle home and founding Wilderbee in 2011. They also raise bees, and tend fields of organically-grown U-pick pumpkins, cut flowers and blue berries.
|Baskets reading for U-pick at Wilderbee Farm|
"The first thing they told us was to diversify," says Casey Reeter. The couple raise a conservation flock of British Soay CQ sheep whose wool they pluck rather than sheer, and sell to a local fiber artist. In 2019, they opened the Mead Werks meadery.
Spotting a niche among the many distilleries, wineries, cideries and breweries in the area, they and two partners began making small-batch traditional and barrel-aged mead (like white wine, only made with honey instead of grapes) after taking a class at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle.
|Mead tasting at Mead Werks on the Wilderbee Farm|
Recently reopened is a cozy tasting room, furnished with comfy sofas and chairs, open for weekend tastings, occasional live music and picnics on the back patio.
Using blackberry blossom honey from Yakima as a base, they like inventing new twists on what's considered one of the world's oldest alcoholic beverages. On the horizon: A lavender-infused mead, of course.
Wilderbee Farm, 233 Cook Ave. Ext CQ Farm open: May-October, Wednesday-Sunday noon-5 p.m. Meadery open: Saturdays, Sundays noon- 5 p.m.
Finnriver Farm & Cidery
Head south from Port Townsend to rural Chimacum, and find the Finnriver Cider Garden, with tables and heaters under a covered pavilion or outside under umbrellas on the grounds of a former 50-acred dairy farm.
What began with the purchase of an organic blueberry farm in 2004 by Keith and Crystie Kisler and partners has evolved into what is now Finnriver Farm & Cidery, as much a neighborhood hub and meeting place as it is a thriving local business.
|Ciders on tap at Finnriver|
Finnriver grows organic produce and grains such as quinoa, wheat and buckwheat, but its main focus is fermenting organic apples grown locally and in other parts of Washington into a line of hard ciders and fruit wines sold in stores and farmers' markets around the Puget Sound area.
On weekends, through Labor Day, Finnriver hosts lead visitors through its 10-acre cider apple orchard, pulling a cart filled with ciders and fruit wines, for sampling along the way.
“We want to help people make the direct connection between what you drink in the glass and what you see in the ground," says Crystie Kisler. She hopes to begin cider barn tours this fall after discontinuing them during Covid. Meanwhile, other outdoor activities have resumed including live music on weekends.
|Local artisans sell their products at Finnriver's farm store|
A walk-up cider counter dispenses draft ciders in jelly jars. Visitors can order wood-fired pizzas, vegan ice cream, and call up a QR code to peruse locally-sourced offerings from the Finnriver Kitchen. On the menu is a jackfruit BBQ sandwich, a vegetarian burger made with pecans and a locally-made bratwurst served with spicy kimchi.
More improvements are coming as Covid concerns and staffing shortages ease. Says Kisler, "We just added 'emergence' to our list of core values."
Finnriver Farm & Cidery, 124 Center Rd., Chimacum. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Cider garden open Thursday- Sunday, noon-to 9 p.m. Guided orchard tastings on weekend afternoons. Bottle shop open for purchases Wednesdays, noon- 6 p.m.
The Chocolate Flower Farm
Board the ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton on Whidbey Island, and drive north towards the waterside town of Langley. Look for the pink umbrella on a roadside farm stand, and you've arrived at Marie Lincoln's Chocolate Flower Farm, a nursery specializing in rare maroon or "chocolate" colored flowers, vegetables and plants, along with Lincoln's homemade raspberry-chocolate jam, fudge and chocolate-scented candles.
|Marie Lincoln on her Chocolate Flower Farm|
"It's all about fun and color," she says, walking me through a patch of black watermelons (dark on the outside and red on the inside), mini "chocolate" bell peppers and a chocolate vanilla swirl garden planted with 200 dark Brownie tulips and white daffodils.
Lincoln combined her love of chocolate with a passion for gardening to come up with the idea to cultivate the unusual plants on a pasture where she once raised Arabian horses.
The farm itself was closed for six years while she focused on a mail-order seed business and ran the Chocolate Flower Farm store in Langley.
When Covid hit, Lincoln closed the store, and reopened the farm along with the nursery and two small shops selling seeds, gardening supplies, chocolates and chocolate-themed products.
|Marie Lincoln makes her own chocolate-scented candles|
While most of the plants she raises are chocolate in color only, there are some that smell like the real thing, including a best-selling chocolate Cosmos that produces maroon-colored blooms from June to late frost, and a bright yellow chocolate daisy (Berlandiera lyrata). Seed kits include annuals and perennials to create a do-it-yourself chocolate garden.
Coming in the fall are colorful pumpkins (white, blue, chocolate and pink) and colored glass gem corn for popping. French chickens (Marans) lay dark brown eggs.
|Mini-goats on Whidbey Island|
Lincoln is excited about future plans for a picnic area, a deli, farm store, camping area and a kids' chocolate garden where her mini-goats can wander.
"Everything we do," she says, "is aimed at making people smile."
The Chocolate Flower Farm, 5040 Saratoga Rd., Langley, Whidbey Island. Open daily 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.