Forks in the Road: Visit to Willapa Hills Sheep Farm

We were three hours from Seattle and at least a half an hour from cell coverage when we hung a right at the Willapa Hills Farm sign.  We continued down a long driveway toward a farm nestled on the banks of the Chehalis River — 100 acres of beautiful timbered hills and lowland pastures populated by over a hundred milking ewes grazing in the fields.

Willapa Hills Sheep Dairy and Farmstead Cheese owner Amy was there to greet us and she flashed me that universal mom smile of understanding as my brood and I tumbled out of the minivan (Amy and her husband Stephen have three children: Willem, 10; Lucas, 8; Lillian Grace, 6).

In 2005 Amy, a naturopathic physician, and Stephen, who worked in faith-based non-profits, left behind city life to raise their family and milking sheep at the historic Stannek family farmstead.

I’ve often had a similar dream. At home we have our own “working” farm: A half-acre for our dog, cat, gerbils, guinea pigs, chickens and rabbits to graze upon.  The chickens were attacked and eaten one night by raccoons and the guinea pigs by our neighbor’s dogs… Farm life isn’t easy or for the faint of heart.

My daughters — Sophie, 13 and Amelia, 9 — are anxious to experience what it’s like to work on a real farm, or, more specifically, what it is like to help farm animals being born and to milk animals for food.

I figured it was beyond time to get these kids to a real milking farm the day Amelia ran into the house and blurted out, “Mom!  I just milked Roxy!”

Roxy, her rabbit, had recently given birth to a litter and Amelia had been heavily involved in the breeding process.

“How exactly do you milk a rabbit?” I asked.  I had seen Roxie’s “teats” and the feat seemed nearly impossible.

“Like this,” Amelia said, pausing to lift her hands into the air, she pinched her thumbs and pointer fingers together into micro crab pincers and wiggled them up and down.

“I wanted to see for myself what bunny milk looked like,” she explained matter-of-factly.

Amelia’s curiosity is infectious.

“What does it look like?” I asked her.

“It looks clear, kinda like tap water that’s a bit cloudy.”

I’m always thrilled when my kids are curious about how stuff works, and part of what I love about being a mom is figuring out how opportunities and wasy to encourage their curiosity that don’t include buying a goat.

That day spent on the Willapa Hills Farm our farming curiosity was sated. We learned how to make cheese, milk sheep, collect eggs from chickens; we caught and released a frog down by the Chehalis River that runs through the property; we toured a shipping container that Amy and Stephen transformed into the new Willapa Hills Country Store that sells cheese and wine; and watched a pack of pony-sized wooly white “working” dogs whose job it was to fend off coyotes.

Willipa Hills Fresh Sheep Milk Cheese With Marinated Tomatoes


One to two fresh rounds of Willapa White or other fresh lactic-style sheep milk cheese (cut into 1/4 inch round slices)
8 large tomatoes (cut into 1/4 inch thick slices)

2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 chopped green onion
4 Tbsp. capers
2 cloves of crushed garlic
1 to 2 tsp. salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Fresh chopped basil to taste
Fresh parsley to tastes


Place sliced tomatoes in a glass serving dish or deep plate. Set a sliced round of Willapa White onto each tomato slice. Spoon dressing over tomatoes and cheese and marinate for several hours in the refrigerator.

We also learned how the Whole Foods Local Loan Producer Program has been instrumental in making Amy and Stephen’s farming dreams come true.

That day on our visit to the farm we had the pleasure of meeting Denise Breyley, Whole Foods Market Forager for the Pacific Northwest region. Denise grew up on a small family farm in Ohio and has worked at Whole Foods Market since 1985. Denise’s job is connecting Whole Foods customers to the people who grow, raise and produce the products stocked in Whole Foods stores and sharing their stories.

More Forks in the Road

“The Local Producer Loan Program provides low-interest loans to help local producers flourish.  In addition to featuring local products in our stores we’re putting our money where our mouths are by providing up to $10 million in low-interest loans to independent local farmers and food artisans. We’re proud to support small producers who need a hand, not a handout, to help them make their dreams reality.”

As a mom of five, I spend a lot of time in grocery stores.  I love supporting local farmers and artisans. I became curious about Amy and Stephen’s story after reading about them at Whole Foods and devouring their delicious award-winning Big Boy Bleu artisanal cheese spread.

For farmers like Amy and Stephen being discovered by Denise at their local farmers market where they sell their cheese was as life-changing as a small-town musician being discovered by Simon Cowell.

“The Whole Foods Market Local Producer Loan Program has opened up a world of possibilities for us.  The equipment we purchased from the proceeds of their low-interest loan more than doubled the shelf life of our artisan spreads, significantly expanding our potential market area and enhancing their accessibility for consumers.”

“And as for Denise… We have a very select group of family and friends who I call the ‘True Believers’ and Denise is one of them.  Denise has been unwavering in her belief in our products and in us as small producers.  As we have faced any number of challenges, Denise has always had our back.  She is family and any success we achieve is in part thanks to her unwavering support!”


Interested in making your own cheese? Here are some terrific suppliers for families who want to make cheese at home:

The Cheese Connection

The Cellar Homebrew (online store that sells cheese-making supplies and kits)

Get up close to your food! Visit a local farm near you:

Willapa Hills Sheep Farm

Fox Hollow Family Farm

Remlinger Farms

Kelsey Creek Farm Park

The Farm at Swan’s Trail

Jubilee Biodynamic Farm

Learn more about supporting local small producers:

Denise Breyley blog, The Local Forager

Information on Whole Foods Market Local Producers Loan Program

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Life Skills Bread Baking Program

The King Arthur Flour Life Skills program teaches children how to give back to the community while learning practical skills that coincide with those they are learning in school. Mom and blogger Carolyn Ossorio and her daughters demonstrated a quick, kid-friendly bread recipe that is part of the Life Skills Bread Baking program sponsored by King Arthur Flour.

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D.I.Y Kid-Friendly Pizza Recipe

Thanks to all the moms and kids who joined us today at IKEA. It was a bit hectic, but moms came around behind the counter and were helping and the kids had a great time! As promised here is this easy-peasy recipe.

In a mixing bowl…
1 cup Flour
2 t sugar
1 t salt
1 package of Fleishmans pizza dough yeast
mix these dry ingredients and then add
2/3 cup warm water with 3 T olive oil.

combine these ingredients into a sticky ball and then add 1/2 cup flour
mix together and then flour your surface and start rolling into a flat pizza.

Here’s where it gets creative. Smear some tomato sauce onto the flat dough and start adding toppings!

Sophie made a peanut butter and jelly pizza.
Amelia made a german sausage and mozzarella cheese pizza with baby onions
I topped my pizza with red and green peppers, zucchini and mushroom…vegetables that I tossed with a little olive oil and Chef Tom’s vegetable rub. I added it to the pizza with IKEA Swedish Meatballs and awesome IKEA shaved cheese.


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Frog Catchin’

I love it that my kids love to catch and with a little (no, a lot of prodding) release them back into the wild. I remember doing the same thing with my sister when I was a kid. There’s nothing like that rush of waiting and wading knee deep in the swampy ditch on the side of our house and then, grab! Caught one.

Our neighbor who’s lived on our lake for years said the frogs used to jump in the hundreds around their murky habitat pools on the side of the road…now it’s a real find when Amelia observes a few. So you can imagine her delight when she actually feels the slimy, delicate froggy between her gentle fingers. Both are so precious.

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Inspired Quote

“There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people shoud see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.”

– Theodore Roosevelt, Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter 1905.

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