Many of us have dreamed of waking up with the birds, putting on our overalls and jumping on an old tractor to work the land. But, very few have managed to harness that dream into an actual way of life.  Despite the odds, that is exactly what Chehalis natives Josh Hyatt and Melissa Henderson-Hyatt have managed to do with the Newaukum Valley Farm in Adna. The mature landscaping, beautiful koi ponds and historic farm house, all nestled in the Chehalis River Valley, present such a pastoral image that it is easy to lose sight of the labor, struggles and commitment that led these two hard working farmers to this idyllic landscape.

town center dentalBoth Melissa and Josh were raised in Chehalis and graduated from W.F. West High School.  Melissa attended Washington State University and studied communications, while Josh, who graduated a few years before Melissa, went to Western Washington University to study economics.  While Melissa dove into the very competitive world of entertainment marketing, working as a project coordinator for Country Music TV and later in Aspen, Colorado helping to produce events on the slopes, Josh returned to Chehalis and began farming. “He found a 1946 Ford 2n tractor with a rototiller attachment and started working the ground. He planted potatoes and a few other vegetables and a lot of cut flowers,” said Melissa of her husband.   Thus, in 2003, Newaukum Valley Farm was born.

It was then that Melissa and Josh met. “It was during his first season of farming,” she said.  Although she had become a worldly professional in the entertainment industry, growing up raising cows in Lewis County made it easy for her to commit herself to the farming lifestyle. Although she continued her work as a distributor of independent films, she managed to straddle both worlds for many years.  The two lived in town and worked a piece of land out on Newaukum Valley Road, west of Chehalis, commuting to and from work for years.

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Melissa holds a Gold Medal Heirloom Tomato. Photo courtesy: Newaukum Valley Farm.

Getting established in agribusiness is a challenging task, even for people as industrious and creative as Josh and Melissa. “Josh started attending farmers markets, offered a CSA (community supported agriculture) program and sold flowers to flower shops,” Melissa stated. Early on, Josh focused more on cut flowers and less on vegetables. But the struggle with the unpredictability of trying to run a startup farm continued. “We continued to grow both cut flowers and vegetables for a while. When the economy crashed, flowers became an extra for people and vegetables became our main focus.”

Eventually, their hard work paid off and they were faced with an opportunity.  The famous, multiple James Beard Award winning Seattle chef, Tom Douglas, discovered Newaukum Valley Farm’s delicious New Potatoes. “I had a friend who worked for Etta’s, a Tom Douglas restaurant. It was via this person we gained a direct relationship with the head chef at Etta’s.  Etta’s started buying direct from us,” said Melissa. This led to a close relationship between Tom Douglas, his chefs and Newaukum Valley Farm.  “Now we do all of his Seattle restaurants.”

“I think Tom Douglas is just amazing.  He’s always evolving things.  He’s always one step ahead,” Melissa explained, adding that forming this relationship was pivotal in making the farm profitable. In addition to the business relationship, it has also developed into a personal relationship as well. “A lot of his chefs are friends now and are vested in the farm.  Many of them have worked our “Chefs in our Field” events.”

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The table is set for a Chefs in our Field on Newaukum Valley Farm. Photo courtesy: Newaukum Valley Farm.

So how do these local farmers get their produce up to the Seattle restaurants? “We do all the driving ourselves,” she admitted.  “We like to maintain a personal relationship with our clients. Typically we drive to Seattle on Tuesday and Friday. Everything is picked the day before, and then we drive a big box truck up to Seattle to make the rounds.” She said that these trips can sometimes include up to twenty stops in a day. It’s a long day, especially with Seattle traffic. “On our way back we hit the Olympia Food Co-op. By then, it’s time to come home,” she sighed.

Another turning point for Newaukum Valley Farm occurred in 2012, when they were able to buy their current farm off of Spooner Road. They purchased the farm from former dairy farmer Tom Martin. “It’s hard to find what a farmer needs on a specific piece of land…the right soil and water,” said Melissa. But they had been working his land since 2007 and knew it was exactly what they wanted.  So when Martin was ready to retire, with the help of some Beginning Farmer/Rancher programs, their strong customer base and sheer determination, Melissa and Josh were able to cut their commute to a walk out of their back door. “We are so much more efficient now that we’re on the land and not commuting,” she said with a smile.

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Garlic grows on Newaukum Valley Farm’s scenic fields. Photo courtesy: Newaukum Valley Farm.

In addition to the convenience, it is an extraordinarily picturesque piece of land.  “It’s an extremely special property,” Melissa said. “(Tom Martin) had started farming koi, so there are lots of koi ponds on our 33 acres.” Ownership of the land was their crowning achievement, eventually allowing them to both commit full-time to working on the farm.

A typical season begins early on Newaukum Valley Farm. “We start planting mid-February.” Melissa is the greenhouse manager while Josh likes to be working outside in the fields. “I like to work where it’s warm,” she laughed.  Newaukum Valley Farm is a certified organic farm, which, as Melissa pointed out, is not an easy route for farmers to take. In addition to annual inspections, she said, “It adds a lot of paperwork and additional record keeping to the mix.”

Josh and Melissa have also found creative ways to deal with the curve balls that Mother Nature loves to throw at them. Last year they dealt with drought and tomato blight and this year they are starting off with a “bit of a problem with the soil.” Also, this spring has been so wet they’ve had very few opportunities to get outside and plant. In the end, they are proud of their organic status, and find it rewarding to be creative problem solvers in order to maintain that status. “Mother Earth is the real challenge in farming.”

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Newaukum Valley Farm’s Josh and Melissa Hyatt bought the land of their current farm in 2012. Photo credit: Rebecka Regan, Regan House Photo.

This year is shaping up to be an exciting year for Newaukum Valley Farm, not only for Melissa and Josh, but for everyone who likes good food.  They are currently developing a farm stand.  Melissa wants to make her produce available to local consumers right there on her farm.  She plans to be open Wednesdays, starting June 29 from 1:00 – 7:00 p.m. “This will allow for people to pick up produce after work.” Melissa added, “I’m hoping the farm stand will be a connection for our local consumers and their food.”

She is also looking forward to the Fat Tire Ride and Festival. This event will bring bicyclists from all over the region on a ride down the Willapa Hills Rails to Trails for a two day cycling event.  Riders will be passing through the heart of the valley June 25 and 26.  In response to the increased traffic, Newaukum Valley Farm and several other local established farms (including Rosecrest Farms, The Wedin Farm and Friends, Black Sheep Creamery and Willapa Creamery) have organized a farm tour called “The Tour de Farm.” They plan to lead riders to their farms and, in an effort to increase agritourism in Lewis County, a cause for which County Commissioner Edna Fund has been a key advocate promoting, introduce visitors to the bounties of Lewis County.

Also noteworthy is the Chefs in our Field event at Newaukum Valley Farm. Chefs in our Field gives consumers the rare opportunity to truly experience farm to table dining. These dinners begin with an educational farm tour and conclude with an outdoor, five course, professional-chef-prepared meal.  More information can be found on their website.

Melissa and Josh Hyatt have managed to turn a dream into a way of life.  Newaukum Valley Farm is a genuine example of how dogged determination and unwavering commitment can manifest a dream into reality, right here in Lewis County. Their efforts have already had an exciting ripple effect on our community, and for that, we applaud these farmers and tuck in to some tasty local veggies.

Contact Newaukum Valley Farm to schedule a visit.

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