Exploring the Small Farms of Bainbridge Island – Chateau Poulet – Backyard Farming at its Best!
Bainbridge Island has always been an agricultural community in one form or another. Prior to the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855, the harbor, beaches, and forest resources were utilized by people known as the sakh-TAHBSH band of the Suquamish tribe, and even after the Treaty, they continued to use the beach area resources as American settlers began to clear the land of timber and claim homesteads on the island.
In the latter half of the 1800s, farming shaped the island’s economic foundation, as many settlers grew fruits, vegetables, flowers, and livestock to provide sustenance for their families, and for sale to other settlers, as well as off island communities such as Seattle.
Today, Bainbridge Island is still a farming community, with larger farms such as the Johnson Farm, Suyematsu-Bentryn Farm, Bainbridge Island Farms, Morales Farm, and Heyday Farm. However, smaller farms can be found all over the island, but just how many small farms are there? I reached out to Heather Burger, Executive Director of Friends of the Farms (FotF)* to find out, and discovered there’s no easy answer.
“How many farms are on the island. That’s a great question I get a lot,” Heather told me. “And I usually ask back, how do you define a farm? Someone who is selling something to the public, growing food for donation to a food bank, growing food for their families, selling eggs on the roadside from their handful of chickens, someone who receives an ag exemption from the assessor? All of the above?” And she noted that she doesn’t think anyone has put much effort into tackling that type of information gathering as there are few farm maps out there to reference.
That’s where islanders Caroline and Christopher come in. They’re foodies and they love to buy local farm-fresh produce, eggs, flowers, poultry, meat and more. In 2021 they created Finding Fresh Bainbridge*, a website that is constantly updated with information on local “backyard” or “hobbyist” farms and farmstands (as well as the larger farms), and generally features 20-30 locations throughout the year (visit the Finding Fresh map here).
Wanting to know more about what goes into owning a backyard farm, I reached out to my friend, Linda Meier, who, along with her husband Stephen Hubbard, own a small farm on 2.2 acres in the Eagledale neighborhood.
Linda and Stephen were inspired by friends who lived on Bainbridge to begin looking for a place on the island. In 2001, they found the perfect spot, a small historic farm in the Eagledale neighborhood. The property already had a house and a few outbuildings on it, and sported a large meadow and another area that would eventually become their fruit, flower and vegetable garden. In addition, the acreage included a lush ravine with a Conservation Easement in place. As Linda noted, it was ideal because the easement meant no one could sub-divide or build there.
Stephen spent time on a farm raising chickens as a youngster and was in the local 4-H Club. Since one of the outbuildings, which is located in the middle of the pasture, had previously been used as a chicken house, they decided to start there. The property can accommodate up to 50+ chickens, and today they have 30 hens and 23 chicks, and a very handsome and protective Dark Brahma rooster named Pretty Boy. Stephen explained that chickens require at least 14 hours of light a day to produce eggs, so they needed to install lights and a timer inside the chicken house. Although they don’t breed their chickens for sale, they do produce 12-24 eggs per day, which Linda and Stephen sell to their neighbors. In addition to the chickens, they have a few Muscovy ducks.
They loved the large pasture, which gently sloped down in front of the house, however it was very labor intensive to keep up with and it wouldn’t take long for Stephen to tire of the constant mowing. “So why not sheep,” he told me. Today they have three ewes and a ram, which produced five babies this year. They’re the perfect lawn mowing janitors he noted, and as a bonus (for their neighbors), Stephen and Linda open up the perimeter fence and let the sheep “mow” one of the neighboring properties. Stephen said they did try their hand at goats, but they were quite mischievous and escaped through the old fencing, so they decided to rehome them and stick with their low maintenance small flock of sheep. The sheep are not “wool” sheep, so when the lambs are old enough, they will be slaughtered for meat.
The garden was the next labor of love for Linda and Stephen. They chose a rectangular area bordering the street side of the property, and fenced it off. Stephen built an arbor, which is covered in grape vines and they built multiple planters for vegetables and flowers. In addition, they added fruit trees and rose bushes. Running along the boundary fence is an espaliered apple tree. They also have a cherry tree nearby. At the end of the garden, they built a hooped greenhouse, but found it didn’t stand up well to the elements, so a few years ago they replaced it with a greenhouse, where they grow tomatoes and Shishito peppers, among other things. Along the driveway side of the garden enclosure, you’ll find a variety of elderberry bushes, which was a gift to Stephen when he resigned as a volunteer leader with the island’s local 4-H Club. This year, they’re growing fava beans, potatoes, squash, strawberries, beets, radishes, parsnips, raspberries, blueberries, and marionberries, all of which are for personal use.
Aside from mowing, other upkeep issues arose, such as providing enough water to keep things green in the dryer months. At one point, they even ran their well (almost) dry, which prompted them to take action. Knowing they’d be adding a garage and ADU to the existing house, Stephen decided to incorporate a rainwater catchment system into the new building and had three tanks, which hold three-thousand gallons each, installed on the slope below the new garage. Stephen then built a series of gravity fed pipes that water the animals and garden. In fact, the rainwater catchment system collects so much each year, they divert the excess to the ravine and only tap the aquifer for use inside the house.
Stephen is always looking for ways to make the farm more efficient and run more economically, and collecting rainwater isn’t the only sustainable practice they utilize. They’ve also installed solar panels on the house and they compost all the animal and plant waste, including the water from the “duck pool”.
What’s in a name? Playfulness and themes, at least that’s how Linda and Stephen approach things. They named their little slice of heaven, Chateau Poulet as a nod to the chickens, but it also follows a long-standing theme, having named their little crabbing boat Bateau Poulet and their RV Chateau Roulez (both gone now). They also had fun naming the ewes, which they call Cewetie, Bewetie and Ewephoria. They didn’t stop there though, naming the lambs Uno, Dos, Tres, Quatro and Cinco. When it came to their beloved feline family members, they went with a dance theme for two of them, naming them Foxtrot and Tango. However, their third feline fur baby had an unusual moon-shaped marking, so they named her Luna.
The property held many mysteries too, and Stephen has spent the last 20+ years researching it. The old tree trunk fence posts may date back to one of the original owners, who he believes bought the land from the Port Blakely Mill and farmed it from 1896 to 1903. Then there’s the long metal pole and heavy-duty chain lengths that sit in the crook of the limbs of a large maple tree. Stephen discovered that the property was owned in the 1990s, by a man who won the first Washington State Lottery, and then built the house. They believe the owner used the pole and chains to hoist car engines up so that he could work on them (the tree has since grown over both the pole and chains). Stephen is also trying to determine if the large cedar at the bottom of the meadow is “old growth” and has applied for heritage status to preserve the beautiful evergreen.
It’s not all cute animals, fresh produce, and fun fact-finding though. As Linda explained, “We do it all. Something every day, maybe an hour minimum to several hours depending on (the) season — planting and harvesting, mowing the garden and the outside lawn by the ravine.” But they have a lot of fun with it too, and they love that local families frequently visit to pet the sheep and visit with the chickens. “We’re the neighborhood petting zoo,” Linda said with a smile.
After 23 years owning Frame it on Broadway in Seattle, Linda retired in 1998, and has continued her love of art through her volunteer work at the Bainbridge Public Library (BPL). She served as BPL Board President for several years, and later, on the Board of Bainbridge Friends of the Library (FOL), where she now currently serves as a Director and manages the Gardening and Foreign Language sections in the FOL book room. She is also on the Art Committee of the BPL Board and coordinates the monthly First Friday art exhibits.
Stephen, a retired cardiologist at Harborview Medical Center and professor at the UW School of Medicine, happily participated in the Covid-19 vaccination program with Bainbridge Prepares, and is a proud member of the Geezers of Fury bicycle club and Soul Crashers book club. In addition, he’s an avid amateur musician, a painter, and a photographer. His paintings and photographs have been exhibited at both Harborview Medical Center and the Bainbridge Public Library.
*If you’d like to learn more about the FotF managed properties and Finding Fresh Bainbridge, visit our previous articles: Johnson Farm, Suyematsu-Bentryn Farm, Morales Farm, the Bainbridge Island Native Food Forest, and Finding Fresh Bainbridge. If you’d like to read our previous “Exploring the Small Farms of Bainbridge Island” article, visit: The Wanderers’ Nest Farm – A Nature-based Therapeutic Farm
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