Story by Andrew Grubb
Those of us who live in the steep valleys of the North Cascades are aware of the difficulties of short days, torrential rain and cold nights. Few are as deeply cognizant of those challenges as the people who choose to make a living from the land. Kragnes Family Farms, nestled at the foot of Black and Bald mountains, just east of Maple Falls is an inspiring testament to an intimate knowledge of these unique conditions. In a landscape that is naturally carpeted in firs, cedars and moss-covered maples, Ben, Tyne and their farm dog Timber, have transformed overgrown, waterlogged fields into a vibrant mosaic of nutrient-rich vegetables, endlessly colorful flowers and sustainably managed grasslands for a variety of livestock.
Before moving to the Northwest, Ben and Tyne started and operated a successful 13-acre vegetable and chicken farm in the Red River Valley of Minnesota on a small section of a large conventional farm owned by Ben’s father. Their plot produced enough food to supply 175 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members as well as various restaurants, stores, schools, food shelters and farmer’s markets. Both raised on farms in the region, Tyne and Ben had access to the knowledge and resources of family and friends and honed their skills growing vegetables and raising animals without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizer. As their operation grew, they dreamed of being able to farm in a place where they could explore the mountains and ski during the winter months. In 2014, they found a classic Cascadian farmhouse on a bend on the Nooksack River, historically known as the Loop Ranch. After a few more seasons back in Minnesota, they moved across the country with their favorite tools and broke ground.
While many of us may struggle to grow a few tomatoes or onions during our short growing season, Ben and Tyne have expanded their operation to seven acres of organically grown vegetables, a small orchard and 15 acres of verdant pasture, home to cattle, sheep and chickens. The success of their operation can be attributed to their past farming experience and taking the time to learn to work with the environmental conditions of a microclimate in which few others would choose to farm. As part of their mission to provide fresh local produce to their community at an affordable price, they market over 50 varieties of vegetables through a weekly CSA box program as well as local farmer’s markets. During the summer months there is always a diverse selection of vegetables, herbs, flower arrangements and handmade soaps available at their onsite farmstand.
Much of their success comes from deep knowledge of organic farming practices and utilization of rare machinery and tools from a bygone era of small-scale farming, such as their three post-war era Allis Chalmer G cultivating tractors. Ben’s mechanical prowess and careful planning saves thousands of hours a year of arduous manual cultivation, even if some hoeing of weeds is occasionally necessary. Tyne once told me that Ben’s father had warned them to avoid any tool with a handle or else they would end up working too hard.
While they’re still two of the hardest working people you could have the pleasure of knowing, the care and intelligence put into their work results in a scale of production seemingly impossible for one couple with occasional help from friends. When combined with a climate most farmers would not even consider for growing, Kragnes Family Farms is a miraculous blessing for those who desire healthy local food in the foothills. Find Ben and Tyne working in the fields, moving chickens through the pasture or creating a variety of farm products from soaps to dried flower bouquets, available at their self-service farmstand/walk-in cooler.
Anyone interested in learning more about how to grow healthy food in our climate without chemicals should take the time to stop at Kragnes Family Farms, 7996 Mt. Baker Hwy, the next time they drive east on Highway 542. Even the most seasoned farmers and gardeners can learn a lot from the work Ben and Tyne have done there. They can also be reached through their website at kragnesfamilyfarms.com or by calling 360/599-1095. x