Couple Combine Innovative Farm, B&B
Published: August 21, 2004
by STARLA POINTER of the News-Register
Plaid signs and a black archway topped by a graceful “A” mark Abbey Road Farm, a collection of turquoise-painted buildings resting on a hillside between Carlton and Lafayette. The 82-acre site is the future home of an innovative bed and breakfast, plus a retreat center and horse boarding and training facility. It’s already home to a cherry orchard and a variety of animals, including Nubian goats that produce milk for hand-crafted cheese.
John and Judi Stuart relocated from Las Vegas and put together a three-year plan for getting the farm and business going. They are now about one year into their plan. Goat-milking and cheese production are well under way. Other projects are at various stages of completion. “So far, we’ve cleaned everything up, painted and put up decorative rail fencing,” John said.
Their large new house should be finished this fall. It will provide space not for just for living, he said, but also for hosting wine dinners with top chefs and local winemakers. Once the house is finished, work will commence on the B&B. The Stuarts expect it to be a perfect place for city dwellers to relax and get a taste of farm life. Visitors will have opportunities to actually help with the farm work. “What’s better for bonding than mucking out stalls together?” John said.
Round bed and breakfastAbbey Road Farm’s two grain silos will be converted into bedrooms, as will a new silo. The round rooms will be furnished in contemporary styles, with fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs. The tallest silo also will include a conference room, which the Stuarts see being used for corporate retreats and conferences. A reception area and lounge will be constructed in front of the silos, facing toward a natural wildlife area and a formal English garden honoring John’s British mother.
The natural area already is attracting native ducks and geese. John, who has been a member of the environmentally oriented Tuscany Research Group board for 20 years, raises pheasants and quail to release to the wild. He plans to sponsor a birdhouse building contest at local high schools, using black walnut and other wood cut from the property. Finished birdhouses will go up in the wildlife area.
The English garden is not yet planted. Nearby, however, an extensive vegetable garden already is producing a bumper crop. “We’re dumbfounded by what grows here,” he said. “Everything grows!” The only thing that’s missing is citrus fruit, he said, so they are planning to add a large greenhouse.
Inspecting outdoor plants loaded with cucumbers, corn and melons, he credited the former property owner, horse trainer Arlene Cloepfil. “She left me with about 200 tons of horse manure,” he said, explaining that he tilled the natural fertilizer into the soil. Cloepfil’s 168-by-70-foot arena and 30-stall boarding stable are empty now, but they will be returned to use soon, the Stuarts said. The couple is looking for a trainer to oversee that aspect of the business.
The farm’s former combine shed is being converted for hay storage and shelter for more animals. In addition to goats, Abbey Road Farms has a guard llama, pet dogs, two miniature donkeys and a full-size donkey, Gabriel, who is eager to pull a cart in area parades.
“We want to be part of the community,” John said. “We want to make a profit, of course, but we also want to be good citizens. We want to get more out of this than just dollars.” Toward that end, the family has donated defibrillators to the Carlton Fire Department and the Trappist Abbey. They are working with Carlton firefighters to help with the purchase of a new truck, as well. The Stuarts also want to be a presence in the community, volunteering as well as donating money. Abbey Road Farms was the major sponsor of Carlton’s recent A Walk in the Park fund-raiser, and both John and Judi were among those working at the festival.
Mild goat cheeseThe farm already is producing goat cheese in small batches. The plain, mild cheese and seven flavored varieties are available. The Stuarts eventually will have about 100 goats and buy milk from other local producers as well. But they are developing their own herd slowly. “It will be emblematic of what we’re doing here – a very happy, healthy herd, with horns intact and grass-fed as much as possible,” John said.
Judi is the cheesemaker, as well as the farm’s bookkeeper. Her six does provide two to four gallons a day. Two gallons is enough to make 17 to 18 four-ounce logs of goat cheese. Cheesemaking is a 24- to 48-hour process, Judi said. She first heats the milk to 162 degrees, then shocks it, cooling it quickly to 86 degrees. After adding rennet and acids, she lets it hang in cheesecloth for 24 hours. The result is very mild, a good introduction for Americans skittish about eating goat cheese, she said.
While the plain cheese is very good, she said, many people enjoy the flavored varieties she creates by adding hazelnuts, chives, garlic, pepper, dried cherries or a mixture of sundried tomato, garlic and basil. Judi said she and her husband like to spread the creamy cheese on crackers or toast points. It also can be crumbled into salad, such as the one she makes with romaine lettuce, toasted walnuts and raspberry vinaigrette, she said. “I’ve always loved goat cheese,” she said. She grew up on a farm in Kentucky. A few years ago, when she and her husband were staying at a bed and breakfast in Maine, she couldn’t resist going along when the owner went out to milk the goats. “I fell in love,” she recalled. And the idea of owning a herd and making cheese herself was born.
Around the same time, she and her husband were preparing to make a huge change in their lives: retiring from a busy, high profile insurance career in Las Vegas. They were looking for new challenges. Or, in John’s words, “Making our migration from success to significance.” Born in London, he is the son of an American serviceman and a British mum. His father’s Air Force career took the family to France, Germany, Luxembourg and Italy. He spent part of his time in local schools in those countries. The eclectic education left him multilingual, with an understanding of many cultures. After finishing graduate school, he settled in Las Vegas. He spent the next 25 years in the insurance business, building from a local company to a national one. He also was involved for a decade with a hotel/casino, The Rio, which featured 15 high-profile restaurants overseen by the late chef Jean Luis Palladin.
Over the years, business took the Stuarts to the Portland area many times, and they had visited Yamhill County as well. They loved the area. “We’re enamored of the beauty here,” John said. He remembered the farm country when he sold his insurance business, then the hotel, in the late 1990s. “I was about 50 and found myself with nothing to do,” he said.
Farming challengeAn avid hunter and fisherman, he wanted a lifestyle with a chance to be in the country and work outdoors. Running a small farm seemed a welcome challenge. He was attracted not only by Oregon’s beauty, but also by its land-use rules, which require farms to be no less than 80 acres. “That means there will be a continuation of the rural scheme,” he said.
The Stuarts started looking for property in 2000. They were seeking 80 to 100 acres located within an hour of Portland International Airport. In addition, he said, they wanted an area that wasn’t going to change much in the coming decades. They discovered the former Cloepfil stables, located between Abbey and Oak Springs Farm Road, about five miles east of Carlton and three miles north of Lafayette. “We took the time to find what we really wanted,” John said. The location is beautiful and the neighbors are great, he said, mentioning nearby property owners like the Stonebridges, the Laughlins and the brothers at the Trappist Abbey.
Yamhill County planners and other officials also have been great to work with, he said, as have Carlton residents like Ken Wright and Carla Chambers. “We’ve had a great reception here,” he said. The Stuarts have assured neighbors that they’re not trying to rebuild Las Vegas in Yamhill County. However, they’ve also joked about it with some of them. “When they ask where the casino is going to go, I say right behind the brothel,” John said.
The Stuarts have a blended family of three kids each. Their youngest son, Anthony, graduated from Yamhill-Carlton High School in June. Their youngest daughter is finishing high school in Las Vegas. They also have five grandchildren, thus far. “Our kids won’t take over the farm, but I want my legacy to be a piece of the land,” John said. His brother has similar feelings. The Arizona physician came up to visit Abbey Road Farms and now is looking for his own piece of property nearby. “Our dream is catching,” John said.
“This is a labor of love. This is spiritually satisfying,” he said. “Every day we wake up and pinch ourselves. Then we start feeding goats.”