EVERSON — On overcast days, Cloud Mountain Farm Center lives up to its name, with low-lying clouds abutting the 20-acre property at the foot of Sumas Mountain.
But even on gray, late-summer mornings, color can easily be found at the farm that grows more than 75 varieties of organic fruit in its orchards and vineyards. Honeycrisp apples are ripening into shades of red and yellow, Lynden blue grapes are ready to be harvested, and a number of ornamental flowers in the outdoor nursery space are still putting out blooms.
The nursery, open to the public through Nov. 6, is also a nonprofit education center. It was founded in 1978 by Tom and Cheryl Thornton and became a nonprofit in 2011.
Fruit Program Manager Maia Binhammer has led tours of the facility but said visitors are encouraged to explore on their own. Educating the public is something she looks forward to, and people shouldn’t hesitate to ask questions, she said.
“Our main mission, especially in the nursery and our food production, is getting people educated on how to grow perennial fruit here, west of the Cascades, and that they can,” Binhammer said. “We’re showing that you can produce beautiful, high-quality, nutritious fruit.”
Cloud Mountain focuses on growers of all scales, whether it’s in a backyard garden or on acres of land. To that end, upcoming hands-on workshops include Site Design (Sept. 30 and Oct. 7) and Sustainable Beekeeping and Beeswax Candle Dipping (Nov. 5). A tasting event on Oct. 12 will also provide a way for people to sample various kinds of fruit and give their feedback.
Binhammer said Cloud Mountain’s partnerships with other farmers and food purveyors is another way to tap into the regional food system.
Entities such as the Puget Sound Food Hub and Foothills Food Bank use Cloud Mountain’s cold, dry and frozen storage to preserve their products; fruit that has fallen on the ground is sent up the road to feed pigs at Alluvial Farms; and Bellewood Farms presses Cloud Mountain’s “seconds” apples to make cider, so it’s still able to get a little profit from fruit that it otherwise wouldn’t be able to sell.
Additionally, an incubator farm located nearby on Lawrence Road gives beginning farmers assistance by providing affordable land, infrastructure and business support.
“We have our hands in lots of buckets, and helping out local farmers is a big part of what we do here,” Binhammer said.
Rachel Wood, a nursery retail associate at Cloud Mountain and a board member of Twin Sisters Farmers Market, agrees that everything the center does is part of a bigger picture. Educating the public and getting them set up with the resources they need creates a more resilient environment and community, she said.
“It’s nice to engage them on a scale like this,” Wood said. “Basically, we say, ‘You could be doing this stuff at home.’”
Signs and labels set throughout the rows of fruit trees, native plants, ornamentals and berry plants also offer guidance to customers who may feel overwhelmed by the number of choices available to them.
It’s a lot to take in. The nursery sells more than 30 varieties of apples, almost as many varieties of pears, and plums, peaches, currants, gooseberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, kiwis, figs, elderberries, strawberries, grapes, currants, apricots, cherries, flowering garden trees, hops, olives, Japanese maples and shrubs.
This year’s nursery catalog also draws attention to other perennial plants people may be unfamiliar with, such as evergreen huckleberries and red candy lingonberries.
“I have a particular affinity for a lot of the crops that are less well-known here, like quince and aronia berries,” Binhammer said. “I love educating folks about different varieties and getting people excited about more than the varieties they’d find in a local grocery store.”