Family, Healthy Living, Nature and Creating Community Connections – Bluetree Farm & Forest

Just off of SR305 on the north end of Bainbridge Island sits a 4-acre farm nestled in a shallow valley. As you approach, you’re mesmerized by the open landscape, rows of lavender, a quaint farmhouse and outbuildings, and a meandering trail that disappears into a lush forest. The family owned and operated lavender farm is a serene and inviting place, that beckons visitors to explore, learn about, and connect with Bainbridge’s flora and fauna through permaculture and sustainable practices. Products offered at the farm include lavender lemonade, lavender cotton candy, and more. However, the journey to creating the farm would be a three-year process, that is still evolving today.

Bluetree Farm and Forest - image 1Bluetree Farm & Forest (BFF) is the creation of the Leong Family, who landed on Bainbridge Island after spending more than twenty years serving in the US Military. I met with Dr. Stephanie Leong*, the “visionary” of Bluetree, to learn more about the farm and the family that brought it to life.

Stephanie, a graduate of the Military Medical School (Army), and Aaron, a US Marine and mechanical engineer (who retired from the military in 2008), spent time in Hawaii, where their children, Audrey and Charlie, were born, and in Germany, before settling in the Pacific Northwest. In 2020, with retirement from the military on the horizon for Stephanie, they needed to figure out what their next step would be. They’d spent quite a bit of time visiting small experiential farms while stationed in Germany, and finding a place where they could spread out, enjoy nature to its fullest, and create their own farm-like paradise was at the top of the list. As luck would have it, Aaron was offered an engineering job in Kitsap County, and with family in the area (Stephanie’s sister in Issaquah and her cousin in Poulsbo), they were already familiar with the PNW and loved the idea of moving here.

With the help of Stephanie’s cousin, a realtor out of Poulsbo, they purchased a 4-acre parcel of land in 2021, that had once been part of a larger farm. The property included an 1890’s farmhouse, a barn/garage structure, pastures, open land for planting, a forest, and a stream that feeds into the Manzanita watershed.

Getting started would have its challenges though, the house needed quite a bit of work, and they worked with a local construction company to restore the home for safe and modern living, while respecting the original charm. The land, while beautiful, was wild and overgrown, and the forest access was cut off by the stream and riddled with boggy areas, making it impassable in many parts.

Bluetree Farm and Forest - image 1While the house was under construction, they began to lay out their plans for the farm business. Drawing upon her years in the mental health field, Stephanie wanted the driving mission of the farm to promote connection to self, community and nature. She registered with The Blue Tree Project, a not-for-profit created in Australia having the slogan “it’s ok not to be ok.” Their mission is to increase hope and use blue-painted trees as a conversation starter to talk about our mental health. This of course, inspired the name, Bluetree Farm & Forest.

With the name and main focus of the farm in place, it was time to decide the next steps. Some were obvious, like creating access to the forest. They decided to place the entrance near a large Bigleaf Maple, carving out a trail, which would connect to a bridge that Aaron built to cross a wide area of the stream. Using a technique called corduroy construction, they collected fallen tree branches and other organic matter from the surrounding forest and placed it perpendicular to the direction of travel over the swampy areas of the forest where they wanted to create the trail. This allowed them to reuse much of the overgrowth and preserve as many of the native species as possible for visitors to learn about and taste as they make their way through the forest.

Bluetree Farm and Forest - image 1In order to make the trail comfortable for visitors throughout the forest and the property in general, they turned to a local “ChipDrop” service, which allowed them to obtain enough woodchips in an economical and sustainable way. Stephanie explained that Audrey and Charlie spearheaded that work, taking a few hours after school each day to spread the chips along the trail system.

Of course, what would a farm be without plants and animals? Initially Stephanie thought of raising alpacas, but with an active middle-schooler and junior high-schooler, she quickly discarded the idea as more work than the family wanted to take on. She also tried her hand at raising cut flowers, and although successful, she decided to refocus on perennials. She was especially attracted to lavender because of its culinary attributes and took a class at Michigan State University, as well as consulting with Victor Gonzalez of Victor’s Lavender Farm in Sequim to learn more about the varieties, soil needs, and growing process.

They planted their first field with Grosso lavender, a classic French hybrid known for its tall, fragrant dark blue flower spikes, used to make essential oil and sachets. They also planted Hidcote Pink lavender, which can be used to add flavor and decorative elements to dishes, desserts, and beverages. It too can be used for sachets, potpourris, essential oils, and of course, beautiful bouquets. The plantings, which were done in the spring of 2023, was a community event, where participants helped plant, and many “adopted” a lavender starter, which they’ll come back to help harvest this spring.

Bluetree Farm and Forest - image 1Although the forest path is full of native edible plants, like salal, salmonberry, blackberry, Indian plum, red huckleberry and more, they also wanted to enjoy cultivated fruits and planted a separate food orchard. The newly planted orchard, which should be ready for harvest in the next 3-5 years, contains apple, persimmon, and apricot trees, as well as blueberry bushes.

However, it wouldn’t be a farm without animals, and that’s where Sir Walter “Waffle” came in. The scruffy, go lucky guy was a “foster fail” from Hawaii and serves as the “lead dog” on the farm.

They also adopted Captain Nemo, a barn cat, from the Kitsap Humane Society. Captain Nemo had a bit of a rough beginning at the farm. After following all the proper acclimation rules for barn cats, Nemo ran away one August day, devastating the family, who’d become quite attached to him. Eight months later, they got a call from the Day Road Animal Clinic, saying that Nemo (who was chipped) had been found and taken in by another islander who no longer wanted him…and of course, the Leongs very much wanted him. Nemo doesn’t stray anymore and if you visit the farm, you’ll likely see him casually lounging about, and if you’re lucky, stopping by for a scrub on the head.

Captain NemoMore recently, they adopted Whiskey Lou, an energetic beagle, who was rescued from the Texas heat and is a new addition to the farm. He loves walking the trails with Sir Walter, Captain Nemo and the family.

Why not bees? Aaron loved the idea of raising bees for honey and pollination, and so he claimed a quiet section of the farm to set up his apiary. He began with two packages of bees to start his hives, and things were going well, until that bear showed up… They woke one day last year to find the hives decimated, it was obvious what got to them, so they turned to social media to warn other beekeepers that a bear was on the island (which isn’t uncommon in the spring/summer months). That simple warning would connect them with some wonderful neighbors, Justin and Adrienne Dominguez, owners of Bees & Greens, a honey and microgreen farm on the island.

Bluetree Farm and Forest The bear had killed one of their new queens, and Justin gifted Aaron one of his over-wintered hives, complete with a queen, brood frames, and some honey stores. Aaron eventually transferred his frames into his hive box and returned the borrowed equipment to Justin. Justine and Adrienne also offered a ton of useful advice and information on creating sustainable (and mostly bear-proof) hives and harvesting of the honey. The bees will eventually pollenate the lavender, which will add more flavor to the honey. The domesticated bees are not aggressive (their main concern is feeding their hive) and Aaron has taken great care to make sure the hive isn’t in the path of visitors where accidental impacts might cause conflict with the flying bees.

Inspired by permaculture principals, they introduced a rain garden, which helps reduce runoff and control erosion, and allows the filtered rainwater to flow into the existing forest stream. In addition, they’ve created several hugelkultur systems, and are in the process of planting a hedgerow, which will break up the expansive upper field area. All of these will provide food and shelter to many native pollinators, and offer protection for songbirds and other small wildlife.

By the spring of last year, much of the farm design was in place, but the new plantings wouldn’t be ready for at least another year, and the farm wasn’t quite ready to fully open to the public. However, the family had already been experimenting with various culinary treats infused with lavender, and wanted to participate in the local farmers’ market scene and other events, so they turned to making lemonade and cotton candy. As it turned out, Audrey was especially excited about learning to spin cotton candy and has since become quite a “Spinmaster”, showing off her talents at the Bainbridge Island Farmers’ Market, the Sounds of Summer and Movies in the Park at Battle Point Park last summer, and provided “clouds” for specialty cocktails at BPA’s annual gala this past January.

Bluetree Farm and Forest In addition, Stephanie is a founding member of the Kitsap Agritourism Coalition, which serves to connect farmers and educate the community about agricultural tourism. She was one of five committee members who planned and organized last year’s first annual Kitsap Farm Tour, where Bluetree had a booth at Winney Farm here on Bainbridge. The 2024 event is scheduled for August 11th, visit their website for details: https://extension.wsu.edu/kitsap/regional-small-farms/kitsap-farm-tour/.

Visiting the Farm: the farm is open seasonally (late spring and summer – and by appointment only) to take advantage of all the best sights, sounds, and smells that Mother Nature has to offer. Of course, you’ll see them at the BI Farmers’ Market, which opens in April and they hope to again participate in the Battle Point Park movies and music this summer. For hours and scheduling, click here.

This year they’re introducing a fun Spring event: May The Fourth Be With You: Join Bluetree in Celebrating Spring (and Star Wars… if you are a fan) and drop by any time between 10am -1pm and “Adopt” and plant a little Miss Katherine Lavender plant and place a stone with your name near her.

You can visit and harvest her for years to come. Miss Katherine is a beautiful pink hue (YES, lavender can be pink) and is the flavoring for their unique Lavender Cotton Candy. You are invited to linger awhile and enjoy some Lavender Lemonade, Lavender Cotton Candy or bring your own snacks as BFF shares their slice of paradise with you! Visit https://www.bluetreefarmandforest.com/events/adopt-a-baby-lavender for more information.

What to expect when you visit: the forest walk offers an immersive experience, complete with an audio tour (using your phone) narrated by Audrey, Charlie, and their cousin Sawyer. You’ll also be able to taste some of the native plant species on your forest walk.

BEE Experience: Coming Soon! While the exact structure and details are still being developed, Aaron plans on offering educational opportunities to learn about honeybees and native pollinators in the near future. Visit their website for updates.

The Gift Shop: their “micro” gift shop focuses on the uses of lavender, including cotton candy and currently features Norwood Farms lavender culinary mixes until Bluetree’s lavender matures.

Bring your event to life with an in-person Spinmaster! Bluetree will bring their cotton candy cart to you. Enjoy Bluetree’s very own Lavender Cloud flavor, plus choose from 12 classic and creative cotton candy flavors. You can customize your event with cotton candy colors, sprinkles and toppings, custom cotton candy cart logo and decor, drink bombs, party favors, stickers and more! It’s a great way to add a bit of whimsical and delicious fun to birthday parties, baby and bridal showers, graduations, school events, fundraisers, corporate events, and more. Every event is UNIQUE. Contact them here to customize your event!

Events at the Farm: Nestled between the lavender fields and the forest entrance, you’ll find a quaint greenhouse sitting on a concrete slab that was once a sports court. In the near future, Bluetree hopes to offer event space for small gatherings of 25 people or less.

*Stephanie is a ABPN Board Certified Adult and Child Psychiatrist, providing both tele-psychiatry and in-person services to children, adults and families on Bainbridge Island and beyond. To learn more about her services, visit her website:  About — Stephanie Leong, MD (stephanieleongmd.com)

*Images provided by BFF and TIWB

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