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Couple transforms 5 acres into interactive farm

When people visit Black Rabbit Farm, owners Grace and Thomas Michaud have little idea what questions they'll hear.

Are you selling rabbit meat? Are you feeding your animals well? Can I give you a horse?

After just a few months working the five-acre plot just off Sequim-Dungeness Way, the Michauds hardly seem surprised by any of the queries.

What they do seem surprised by is that they're opening a farm at all.

In April, the couple hopes to open Black Rabbit Farm as a multilayered, interactive farm experience, offering not only locally-grown produce and farming educational tours but also a home to harvest banquets, weddings, hay rides and more.

The Michauds want to show how a modest five-acre chunk of land can produce organic food and crops without damaging the land's own natural resources, a process dubbed "historical sustainable agriculture."

The former New Hampshire residents were seeking a change when they decided to switch coasts. When they started looking at Washington state, they found Sequim's climate perfect for what they wanted: gardening for Thomas and a place to grow grapes for Grace, a chef who had worked in an East Coast winery for two years and as a fine wine director for eight years.

On the south end of the property sit about 100 pinot noir grape plants, a piece of land that seemed perfect for the Michauds unborn wine business ... until the people started coming.

People asking about the farm.

People giving them random farm animals.

People helping with an addition to the farmhouse.

People wondering why the cows in the field are undernourished (they're not - the cows are full-grown miniatures).

People just stopping by to look at what's going on down on the farm.

After getting connected with groups like the Friends of the Fields and Sequim Prairie Grange, the Michauds affirmed their belief that not only could they make their farm work but they also could make it pay.

In addition to wine grapes, the farm already features a half-acre of strawberries, potatoes, tomatoes and native mint plants, with plans for a hothouse for squashes, cucumbers, eggplant and snap beans planned for spring 2009.

"The soil is unbelievable," Thomas insists, noting he can get good, healthy-looking tomatoes into late November.

A small orchard features trees bearing plums, pears, apples and hazelnuts while free-range chickens and ducks provide farm-fresh eggs.

All farming, the Michauds insist, will be done with concern to the environment, a tenet to true organic farming, with an eye toward crop rotation, water conservation, prevention of land erosion and reintroducing heirloom varieties - plants commonly grown during earlier periods in human history but not used in modern, large-scale agriculture - to the farm.

Beyond the food and crushed ice drinks for sale, Black Rabbit Farm will provide a farm "experience" for the whole family, the Michauds say. They propose tours for adults and children alike, showing how organic farming works and what modern farming looks like.

Plans include an off-site commercial kitchen to produce jams, pies, homemade sausage and more.

And then there are the animals. Grace and Thomas' highly-visible farm unknowingly became a prime target for people who needed to find homes for wayward animals including unwanted rabbits and sickly horses - another twist to the couple's plans.

Not that the two are total strangers to working with animals. Thomas had some experience working with his cousin raising black Angus cows and a number of years as a hobby gardener. Grace grew up in Colorado raising sheep and organic alfalfa.

The couple did the research about Sequim's rain-shadow effect and, in particular, the soil well before they bought in about 15 months ago. When they were considering the Sequim-Dungeness property, however, their eyes fell upon a farmhouse and land that had been considerably neglected.

"Thomas kept telling me, 'It's a diamond in the rough,'" Grace says.

For up to six months, the Michauds were busy pulling three dumpsters worth of garbage out of the barn, adding another 600 square feet and a new roof to the farmhouse, rebuilding fences and plowing land.

And like a scene from "Field of Dreams" - minus the creepy voice in the cornfield - the Michauds threw away the business plan and made way for plans for an interactive farm.

"We're trying to listen to the market," Grace says.

And listening to the community: The couple has plugged into local farm-friendly groups.

"That definitely turned us on to saving the farm,"

Thomas said.

But isn't farming hard work?

"I've heard it said that no one in their right mind would want to be farmers," Grace says. "We're telling people we're going to make it work."

Black Rabbit Farm is set to open in April and remain open until pumpkins ripen in the late fall. Look for updates about the farm's schedule in the Sequim Gazette in coming months.



Michael Dashiell can be reached at miked@sequimgazette.com.



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