Down a blackberried lane outside Olympia is a milking shed. The door is magenta with stained glass, and there’s a turquoise chandelier. And goats, who fit right into the family. This is The Farmstead, one of the newest kids on the South Sound goat-cheese block, that will be at the Washington Artisan Cheese Festival Sept. 24 in Seattle. But they also represent a new, millennial style of farming, where social media and animal compassion are just as important as milking machines.
“We felt the community needs to know where their food comes from,” says Matthew Tuller, who began the goat dairy and pig farm with Rachael Taylor-Tuller a few years ago. The couple married there in January. “You can raise animals in a loving way and still have high-quality food. And if people can see our farm, how clean it is, how well we’re treating our animals — we’re accountable.”
We love being on the farm, love the animals. And we love to see people light up when they taste fresh cheese for the first time.
Matthew Tuller, The Farmstead
The Tullers aren’t exactly your typical farmers. As he rinses out the milking hoses for the 8 a.m. session, Matt’s dressed in worn blue overalls and a red beanie — but he’s also an emergency room nurse with two chemistry degrees who loves to get nerdy about the Ph factor in goat milk. Rachael, who ushers in the first batch of goats with the help of 3-year-old Isadora while carrying baby Banzai in a sling, looks more photogenic than farmhand in a teal shirt and jeans. In fact, she’s a model for Duluth Trading Co. and an Air Force veteran, as well as holding down an email marketing job that supports the family until the farm can.
Both in their early 30s, neither has a farming background. What they couldn’t find out through Google they learned from a dairy mentor on Whidbey Island — or figured out the hard way, like when their pasteurizer recently malfunctioned and ruined 40 pounds of cheese.
At The Farmstead: 24 goats, around 15 pigs, quail, guineafowl, peacocks, two dogs and one turkey. They’ve lost count of the chickens.
The Farmstead isn’t your typical farm, either. Nestled into low hills near Hawks Prairie, it’s actually made up of several residential lots, surrounded by subdivisions. Around the grassy slopes animals wander happily: a dozen pigs, chubby and free-range enough to be making their own nests in the woods; a gaggle of roaming chickens, quail and guinea-fowl; 24 inquisitive black-and-white goats who think they’re human; two guard dogs and a very protective turkey. Oh, and a random white peacock that “just appeared one day,” says Rachael. The goats all have diva-ish names like Scarlett O’Chevre and Sparkle Shake, the result of a Kickstarter campaign that let supporters choose names.
The Tullers recycle as much as possible, feeding the pigs the leftover whey and partnering with local breweries to truck in mash to supplement pasture grazing. They don’t use antibiotics.
But above all, says the couple, their animals are happy and content. Male baby goats are sold as pets, not bludgeoned to death, as some bigger dairies do. Pigs and roosters live in paradise right up until the moment they’re killed for meat — on-site, in a swift, humane way. And they’re clearly treated like family — especially on Instagram, where goats regularly photobomb wedding snaps and baby shots.
In fact, the whole farm looks like a social media feed: garden gates made of vintage doors, succulents in pots, an aqua 1970s VW delivery van and chandeliers everywhere.
“The ReStore is my favorite place,” says Rachael, who’s cultivated more than 1,700 Instagram followers and nearly 13,000 likes on Facebook, as well as managing an intimate blog with posts like “Artisan is a Verb” and an Etsy page for goat-printed merchandise.
Behind all this millennial-style thoughtfulness and flair, though, is a hard-working creamery. Just licensed in spring, The Farmstead already has five farmers markets and three co-ops under its belt, plus a spot on the menu at Olympia restaurant Our Table. Working in a small, unfussy room in the ground-floor basement of their house, the Tullers make a plain chevre that’s silky and just a bit tangy, another subtly spun through with local honey and organic vanilla, a feta and a grilled halloumi with mint. In a 30-gallon pasteurizer they turn out roughly 70 pounds of cheese a week, working long hours both on the farm, on their day jobs and with their children. Only in the last two weeks have they hired someone to help.
But it’s their dream.
“We rarely go grocery shopping,” says Matt, after the milking’s done and the shed rinsed down. “We raise our own meat and eggs, grow our own garden. … We love being on the farm, love the animals. And we love to see people light up when they taste fresh cheese for the first time.”
It’s clearly also a paradise for children: Banzai rocks happily as he watches the goats munch, while Isadora emphatically points out her favorite goat (Mama Spot), helps hand-milk Mary Jane and climbs around the milking shed like it’s a jungle gym.
The Tullers’ goal is to eventually work full-time on the farm, debt-free. But they also want to involve the community in how they produce food. They offer group and school tours, as well as visits and a pig roast for pork customers. Coming up in October is a public open house — with a professional photographer, of course.
“We’re filling a void,” says Rachael. “No-one else is doing this with fresh cheese. And the community needs it.”
Visit The Farmstead
Where: 5504 Cross Creek Lane NE, Olympia.
When: Open house 3-5 p.m. Oct. 23; group tours or customer visits by appointment.
Try The Farmstead cheese
What: Plain chevre, honey vanilla chevre, feta and halloumi.
Where: Farmers markets in the Seattle University District, Capitol Hill, Puyallup, Steilacoom and Tumwater; Westside and Eastside Olympia co-ops; Farm Fresh Market; Our Table restaurant in Olympia and the Washington Artisan Cheesemakers Festival.