Imagine walking across a lush hillside pasture and coming upon a magnificent view of Mount Rainier. That's what Linda Styger and her family get to do any time they want, because their farm lies in the Chehalis River Valley in Washington State. Linda and her husband Andy were hobby farmers for years before deciding to "go all the way" and become full-time dairy farmers. Today they raise a 70-cow herd that grazes on natural, nutrient-rich grasses. Their operation became certified organic—and a member of the Organic Valley Family of Farms—in 2004.
The Stygers have three grown children: Sheena, a rock-climbing geology student; Shane, a diesel mechanic-in-training; and Samantha, who handles "record-keeping, milking, and you-name-it" on the family farm. Linda herself manages the pastures, rising as early as four a.m. to begin her day. "That's the prettiest time," she says.
Linda speaks with confidence and enthusiasm about everything from the benefits of farming organically to the pleasure of making apple pie. Asked how her friends would describe her, she laughs and says, "They'd probably say I'm a little nutty!" But she also admits that they might use words like "honest," "hard-working" and "as organized as you can get."
She adds, "I guess people either think you're a liar or a hippie." And if that's true, then undoubtedly people view Linda Styger as the latter.
What made you decide to go organic?
In 1999 we read a book called Fatal Harvest, which talked about things like nuclear waste in commercial fertilizers. It scared the heck out of us. We hadn't been using a lot of fertilizer as it was, and had already been pasturing our animals—I guess you could say we were kind of hippy-ish. We realized we wanted to go back to what was best for the cattle and we didn't want to expose ourselves to pesticides. Now we really believe in the process and the product.
What does "the harvest" mean to you?
I love the fall as a season because it's when the land provides. To me, harvest means the bounty of the garden. My dad has one, and he supplies me with things like fresh corn, potatoes and tomatoes. (I eat so many tomatoes, in fact, that I sometimes end up with a sore mouth from the acidity!) The harvest usually hits here in mid-October, but we have even picked until Thanksgiving.
Do you preserve any of the bounty?
I pickle Blue Lake green beans, sometimes beets, and I store a lot of potatoes. I have a box that holds over 300 pounds—I supply the box and my dad supplies the potatoes!
And what about fruits?
We have a number of old fruit trees on the farm, so for years when we didn't have extra money, we used to can 500 to 1000 quarts of fruit every year. We still do a lot—things like canned apple pie mix and apple slices, but we also dry pears, plums and apples. They're perfect for my daughter Sheena's back-packing trips.
Could you tell us about a favorite fruit dessert you make?
I make something called "Flat Apple Pie". I make in an old, well-seasoned cookie sheet pan. You roll out a pie crust and line the pan with it, then add cornflakes and sliced apples—I use early Gravensteins—big, gorgeous five- to six-inchers. (The cornflakes help absorb their juice.) Then you add cinnamon and sugar and add a top crust. It's great because you can cut the pie and eat it with your fingers…you can walk right outside with a slice of pie in your hand!
What's your overall philosophy of cooking?
To try to be as natural as possible. To read labels and cook from scratch. I mean, we're farming like our grandparents did, so I'm trying to cook like my grandma did, too.