Turning off Highway 12 and driving 40 minutes north of Montesano leads to an area still stuck in a time where what’s put on the dinner table was raised or grown right outside the front door. There are no big box stores, cows are the only ones to look up at passing cars and the homes aren’t cookie-cutter dwellings down a long, paved street.
A narrow dirt road leads down to Elk Valley Farm, a place Lisa Barton, her husband, Sean, daughter Aly and many animals call home. A large barn sits in the center of it all, often filled with the sounds of ducks, turkeys and chickens scurrying around in the hay along with tame rabbits during the day.
Pastures, cages and kennels fan out from the barn. A long trailer home serves as a temporary place until a house is built. Across from the temporary home is a long building for food storage and eventually a larger area for canning.
Until a propane stove is installed in the more spacious work room, Lisa uses the small kitchen in the trailer she currently calls home.
Lisa says she’s looking forward to this addition because much of the family’s food comes from the farm or just around the corner and they can, smoke and freeze meat, veggies and fruit to keep throughout the coming year.
STEP ONE: Boil and blanch the tomatoes to peel off skins
On a sunny Friday morning, it’s all about tomatoes. They will be used for spaghetti, soup or other recipes calling for crushed tomatoes. Earlier that week, Lisa called her “vegetable guy,” a local farmer, named Nicholas Pouch, who lives just down the road. Pouch grows organic veggies the Bartons don’t. Lisa says only potatoes and carrots have had a successful run in her garden.
This is the first time she has canned tomatoes and glances at notes she made in a large notebook after flipping past veterinary instructions for her injured dog, a polar-bear-like Great Pyrenees named Titus, and other recipes.
“I make lists for everything, it keeps me on track,” she said.
The first step is to peel off the tomato skin.
The skins are taken out to the four large pigs. They don’t often get fruit and veggie skins, as Lisa likes to keep them on her canned projects. Today, she decided to can half the tomatoes with the skin on, to check out which tastes best.
Canning has not always been a part of Lisa’s schedule. It wasn’t until her father-in-law, who often buys the family needed equipment for the holidays, brought a pressure cooker into her life that Lisa began learning.
Her first canning experience was with pears two years ago. The peeling took most of the time, which made her vow to keep the nutrient-rich skins on for future projects.
STEP TWO: Cook down tomatoes
Lisa enlists the help of her daughter Aly to mash and stir the tomatoes. The 10-year-old groans a bit at the prospect of stirring, but begins to enjoy herself as she finds the right rhythm.
Barton said she has dreamed of owning a place like this since she was a little girl.
“I always wanted a farm, mostly for all the animals,” she said. “It came to be because as an adult I wanted to know where my food came from and this is the best way to do it.”
A large part of this is raising animals. The feeding, care and protection from wild predators, especially coyotes, takes up much of the family’s time.
From spring into early fall, the Bartons are preparing for the colder seasons. For Lisa, this includes ensuring perishables stay fresh in the cool room set aside in the storage shed.
The ability to store so much is one big reason the Bartons ended up in Matlock. In 2009, the family was looking for a place similar to the piece of land Lisa’s mother owns just a few miles away.
Lisa’s family moved to Elma in 1990, when she was just 10. She grew up in the area, meeting her husband when she was 15 on a school field trip to a fish hatchery. They were later married in that very spot.
Lisa said she couldn’t think of another place she’d rather live with her family.
“I always said this is the kind of place where I want to raise my daughter, I always knew that,” she said. “It’s just the perfect mix of community and the rural atmosphere. It’s so much safer than in the bigger towns. I’d be surprised if no one stopped to see who’s in my driveway. We all check up on each other and watch each other’s backs.”
She relays countless stories of neighbors stepping up to help others.
STEP THREE: Sanitize lids, pour in lemon juice and salt, bring cooker to a boil
Lisa puts the lids into hot water, allowing them to soak while she pours salt and lemon juice into the already sanitized empty Mason jars. She uses lemon juice because it is more concentrated than using fresh fruit.
Lisa quit her job at Doug’s Small Engine Repair Inc. in Hoquiam, after realizing gas prices and driving time were not worth keeping it. Sean continues working in the logging industry, which serves as their main income, while Lisa manages the farm, which is a full-time job.
“We don’t get breakfast and I don’t get my coffee until all of the animals eat. They eat first, they are always the priority here” she said.
The animals raised here are either sold or used for food. Although she purchases much of the fruit and vegetables from off the farm, their meat comes from the farm or hunting. A smoker and freezer keep the meat fresh through the cold seasons.
Lisa says she wants to do everything she can to be self-sufficient. Not every project ends in success. She points to jars full of bright yellow liquid, pale sludge lurking at the bottom of the mason jars.
“I tried to make my own liquid dish soap using my blender. It ended up with those and a broken mixer I can’t replace any time soon.”
Both her successes and failures are shared on her “Farm Mama” Facebook page.
“I always try to teach people the things I’ve learned,” she said. “I’m not going to make any money off something readily available to everyone.”
STEP FOUR: Put jars into pressure cooker, monitor time and pressure
Lisa seals the pressure cooker lid tight but without cutting off a way for air to escape. She lowers each jar into the hot bath using tongs before putting the cooker’s lid back on.
“This is the part that most people like the least because you are rooted, you are on lockdown watching the pressure,” she said.
Ensuring balance is important in canning, and Barton says she hopes to help kids find that as well.
Lisa and her husband mentor local kids looking to learn how to manage a farm. She also spearheaded an activity she saw on a MTV show, which she then brought to the Parent Teacher Organization at the local high school. Called “Challenge Day,” the day-long event is full of activities centered around building empathy and relationships within a school.
Lisa said it seemed that many of the teachers woke up and realized what many of their students went through on a daily basis.
Lisa said this was important to her, because she graduated from Elma High School after leaving Mary M. Knight High School due to extreme bullying.
“My main goal was that nobody else there went through what I did and feel alone,” she said. “Nobody is as alone as you think you are and that’s what I wanted them to learn.”
Although the farm keeps her too busy to still be part of the PTO, Lisa still keeps her doors open to those looking to learn.
“This farm, what Sean and I do, our hobbies, we bring kids into as much as we can,” she said.
STEP FIVE: Take out of cooker, ensure lids have sealed air tight, allow to cool before storing
The Mason jars now sit on a white towel cover protecting the dining room table. Lisa dries each jar off, checking the tops to ensure the small indent at the top hasn’t popped up, which would mean there wasn’t a good seal. All of them have successfully closed. She admires them by holding them up to the light with a smile.
“Some of the friends I have up here who can too will geek out over how beautiful food is when it’s preserved in its pretty little jar,” she said. “You just want to put it in the window like a stained glass ornament. But light breaks down the food so you can’t quite do that, but they’re still nice to look at.”
Once cooled and labeled, these jars will join the canned pears, peaches, salsa, various kinds of jam, pickles, gravy, carrots, pre-made taco meat, turkey, chicken, tuna and more in the cold room across the way.
Before the jars have even cooled, it is time for Barton to start planning for the next project. There are many more things to can, fish to smoke and store, and a hunting trip to pack for. The duck pond will also need to be cleaned soon. In the far future, there is a house to pay for and build, turkeys to breed and a farm to grow. It’s a slow process, Lisa said, but they’ve made progress already.
“When we bought this place, I was 29 and my husband was 33,” she said. “We were just kicking ourselves for not getting a mortgage sooner so it could be paid off sooner, but as time went on, I realized all those years when I was younger where I was being boring and not partying is what got me here and we’re not that far off from where a lot of people are.”
And there’s always a duck pond to clean, which Lisa is always happy to have volunteers for.
Follow Lisa on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/matlockfarmmama