Doubletree Farm is a small, but growing, operation
By Marcy Stamper
Sam Thrasher got her first dairy cow eight years ago, but developing a licensed commercial dairy was always more of a long-range dream. Thrasher thought she’d be able to pour concrete for a dairy barn in five years and acquire the necessary stainless-steel equipment for the dairy every few years.
But after the barn at her farm south of Twisp burned in an electrical fire four years ago, Thrasher’s plans to launch her own dairy were accelerated. She and her husband, Paul Soodak, were able to rebuild the barn with dedicated milking and processing rooms, along with areas for cows, horses and hay. Thrasher’s dairy, Doubletree Farm, started selling milk commercially in the valley at the end of July.
When Thrasher moved to the valley 11 years ago, her first job was helping on the farm at what later became the Methow Creamery. When that dairy closed, Thrasher kept one of the cows, Precious, a Jersey that only milked from three of her four teats. Precious had been born on the farm while Thrasher was there and she knew the cow wouldn’t have much commercial value. “But she was a real sweetheart,” she said.
Although she grew up around horses, before working at the Methow Creamery Thrasher had no farming experience. “I was always going to have some kind of critter — I like critters,” she said.
She did have lots of skills that have proved invaluable on a farm — she went to school to become a welder and learned to run heavy equipment, but her main exposure to agriculture had been to huge, industrial farms.
“I didn’t know real farming existed until I met Ron [the owner of the Methow Creamery],” she said. Thrasher started at Ron’s farm even before it became a dairy, so she had an in-depth understanding of what goes into building and permitting a dairy, as well as of the day-to-day operations.
Today, Thrasher has four brown Jersey cows (Buttercup, Moon, Honey and Ginger). Moon’s twins, Honey and Ginger, were born two years ago, and they will both calve in a month. All the cows are Jerseys, which are smaller than the more-familiar black-and-white Holsteins typically used in commercial dairies in this country. Jerseys also have a gentler demeanor, and produce milk with a higher milk-fat content, she said.
Doubletree Farm is selling milk that has been vat pasteurized, the most minimal processing possible, said Thrasher. Because the milk isn’t homogenized, the cream floats to the top, giving people the option of skimming it off to use as cream (leaving low-fat or skim milk) or shaking it for rich, whole milk.
Doubletree Farm is licensed by the Washington State Department of Agriculture as a dairy and as a processing plant — meaning that the pasteurization and bottling are done on site.
While Thrasher is raising the cows on her pasture and hay without using any chemicals or pesticides, she decided not to seek official organic certification. “It was just one more hoop. I wanted to be local — I will mostly sell to people who know me,” she said. “They can be my certifying body — if they want to know, they can ask me.”
Thrasher’s approach to farming is at the other end of the spectrum from a major industrial operation. She has three draft horses for mowing, raking and planting and uses a tractor to put up hay for the cows and horses. Doubletree Farm is named for the tool that hooks a team of draft horses to the implement they’re pulling, not for a pair of trees.
Thrasher is milking two cows twice a day, but once the others calve, she expects to increase production. She is currently selling milk in Twisp through Hank’s Harvest Foods and the Glover Street Market. She also sells at the Mazama Store and the Methow Valley Farmers Market in Twisp. Thrasher hopes to sell milk through the Evergreen IGA in Winthrop in the near future.