With 130 miles of marine shoreline and 100,000 acres of highly productive farmland, Bellingham and Whatcom County, Washington are a fresh food haven stretching deliciously between the Salish Sea and snow-capped Mount Baker, near the U.S. – Canadian border.
Hungry travelers begin with the Whatcom Food & Farm Finder, which lists more than 70 local farms and fisheries open to the public, and 44 local eateries.A wide range of seafood, berries, apples, pears, vegetables, wine, fresh organic meats, cheeses and dairy products tantalize and satisfy every taste bud. Although a new version of the Whatcom Food & Farm Finder is produced each April by Sustainable Connections, most of the locations welcome visitors year-round. The free guide is available on the Sustainable Connections website as well as at the Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism office, and at 200 locations across the county.
Proximity to the water makes Bellingham a natural seafood destination. On the south side of town, Chuckanut Drive hugs the shoreline as it carries visitors to Taylor Shellfish Farm. Specializing in native clams, geoducks, mussels and oysters, Taylor Shellfish farms 1,700 acres of tideflats in Samish Bay. Products fresh from the sea are available direct to customers in the farm store, and can be eaten at picnic tables overlooking the water or taken home to enjoy. If oyster eating is the plan – don’t forget the proper wine. Each year Taylor Shellfish conducts a West Coast wine competition to find the 10 best bottles to consume with oysters. The Oyster Wine winners are listed on their website at www.taylorshellfishfarms.com.
In the early 1900s, Bellingham was home to the largest canning operation in the world. Although the industry has been replaced with modern businesses on the waterfront, seafood eateries are still abundant, including the Skylark’s Hidden Café, Fairhaven Fish & Chips, the Cliff House, and Anthony’s Homeport.
Each year, the Fairhaven Historic District celebrates its culinary past and present with the Dirty Dan Days Seafood Festival. The weekend event features a variety of seafood demonstrations, contests and nibbles. On Sunday, 15 local restaurant chefs compete for bragging rights in the Chuckanut Chowder Cook-off. Past entries have included such varieties as Chipotle Corn, Smoked Salmon, Pumpkin Corn and Seafood, Manhattan Style and Traditional New England style. For $10 visitors can sample as many as they’d like and enjoy a bowl of their favorite, while voting for the People’s Choice champion.
To the north and east of Bellingham, farm production in Whatcom County ranks in the top three percent of all counties in the United States. Whatcom County is also the nation’s largest producer of red raspberries, growing 60 percent of the U.S. crop, first in the nation for milk production per cow, and first out of 39 Washington state counties in overall dairy production.
An abundance of local milk also means an abundance of local cheese and ice cream. Northern Whatcom County was primarily settled by Dutch, who brought their tradition for Gouda making with them. Today, highly acclaimed Gouda and other varieties are produced by three talented cheese makers in the region. Pleasant Valley Dairy on Kickerville Road in Ferndale is known for its Farmstead and Mutschli, as well as Gouda in mild or sharp, with flavors including cumin, jalapeno, fine herbs and peppercorn. An abundance of Gouda flavors at Appel Farms on Northwest Avenue includes mild, sharp, aged, smoked, cumin, jalapeno, black pepper, sweet red pepper and garden herb. Paneer and Quark are newer varieties at Appel. Alongside its classic Gouda, Silver Springs Creamery also creates LaGouda from goat milk, and combines a unique blend of milk from its Jersey cows and Lamancha goats to create La Jersey cheese. The choice between cow or goat milk yogurt and ice cream are also available at Silver Springs and worth the trip to taste.
Raspberries take center stage in July, which happens to be National Raspberry Month. Whatcom County celebrates at the Raspberry Festival in Lynden. Events include berry farm tours, raspberry ice cream sundaes, live jazz, sidewalk sales on Lynden’s Front Street and more. Take a leisurely drive through the raspberry fields to find Samson Estates Winery on Van Dyk road near Everson. Here raspberries are harvested steps away from a wine making facility and tasting room. Samson Estates has made award-winning artisan raspberry, blackberry and hazelnut wines, as well as classic varietals with grapes from the Yakima Valley. Numerous locations invite visitors to pick their own berries. Boxx Berry Farm offers strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, as well as a grassy playground and picnic area surrounded by towering evergreens – a perfect spot for fresh shortcake after collecting a bucket of delicious gems.
Whatcom County’s locally grown products are also available weekly at the Bellingham Farmers Market in two locations. The downtown Saturday market at Depot Market Square runs April through December, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. In the Fairhaven Historic District, the market operates on Wednesday afternoons from noon to 5 p.m. Both feature a variety of fresh produce and unique items.
In the fall, local apples arrive. Bellewood Farms in Lynden, is known as the Honeycrisp headquarters, with 24,000 apple trees, as well as pumpkins and gourds. Owners John & Dorie Belisle invite visitors to tour the orchard and view their packing and juice lines. The farm store is open daily September through December, featuring farm-grown cider, sliced apples with caramel sauce, honey-roasted peanut butter, dried apple chips, lavender and holiday decorations. This award-winning orchard is proudly Food Alliance and Salmon Safe certified.
Each October thousands venture into the Mt. Baker foothills for the annual Fall Fruit Festival at Cloud Mountain Farm in Everson. Taste 200 varieties of common and uncommon apples, pears and table grapes, as well as hand-pressed cider, nuts, rare fruit jellies and sauces. Farm experts teach the names of each variety and advise how to grow them at home. Live music starts toes to tapping as tummies fill with homegrown goodness.