Last weekend we were delighted to have the chance to visit Martiny Suffolks, the farm from whence comes the lamb we’ve been eating all summer. As part of the Skagit Festival of Family Farms, many small farms up and down the valley opened to the public for the day, including great places like Taylor Shellfish, Golden Glen Creamery, and Gordon Skagit Farm (to see the festivities at Gordon’s, check out this post at Willow Basketmaker). There were all sorts of activities, but we were there for the free samples and to give a few sheep noses some scritches.
We probably would never have ended up as customers if Linda Martiny (who owns the farm along with Mike Donnelly) hadn’t decided to try running a booth at the Mount Vernon Farmer’s Market this year. We saw the sign for local lamb on the first day and made a beeline, immediately buying a selection of chops and ground meat. We ended up buying half a lamb, and I suspect it will only be the first of many.
Martiny Suffolks is in Birdsview, a lovely area tucked into the valley bottom along the Skagit River. There are small farms all around, surrounded by the sudden foothills of the North Cascades. Just down the road is an Angus Cattle farm, and up the other way is the Ovenell’s ranch. There are plenty of trees and lush green grass, paradise for a herd of sheep.
Linda and Mike raise Suffolks, as you might guess from the name, and sell them for both meat and breeding stock. They’re a very common meat breed, and very tall and handsome, with narrow, pitch-black faces and legs. Back in the day when I raised 4-H lambs, most of my classmates raised purebred Suffolks, but I usually had some sort of Suffolk-Hampshire cross-breed (I should find the picture of myself with Smiley, one of the oddest-looking sheep ever).
In the barn there were some two-week-old lambs, who would have been irresistible if their mother hadn’t been standing firm guard against anyone even looking that direction. She really gave me the hairy eyeball.
For the purposes of the open house, some sheep-raising colleagues brought along a few other breeds to show off. I was smitten by the Scottish Blackface sheep. Compact, with adorably freckled legs, they also have cute curly horns and are very sturdy.
And there was food! Someone had put together tiny triangles of pita filled with a single bite of lamb and a bite of cheese, with a bowl of tzatziki sauce on the side. Linda was hard at work (as long as we didn’t keep distracting her) skewering marinated chunks of lamb and grilling them. And there were bits of lamb bratwurst and breakfast sausage as well.
Even though an open house like this isn’t quite like visiting the farm on a regular working day, I really think it’s worthwhile to give the customer a glimpse of their meat as a well-cared-for living animal. Not only does it help dissolve the disconnect many Americans have between their food and where it actually comes from, but it’s very reassuring to those of us trying to eat ethically, to see a clean, well-run business whose owners take their responsibility seriously to produce quality meat.
Plus, sheep are just plain cute.