Written by Lorraine Nay, Alliance for Puget Sound Natural Resources. Photos by Courtney Baxter, Nature Conservancy’s Puget Sound Conservation Coordinator
We met Paul Fantello on the weekend, because Monday through Friday he’s driving a truck from Enumclaw to Blaine for his freight transportation business. He gets an early start on his mornings, milking the cows before he leaves the farm for the drive north on I-5. Adding to his busy schedule, he’s working with King Conservation District on implementing several projects on his farm in the Newaukum Creek watershed funded by the Puget Sound Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
The Fantello family has been farming in this Mount Rainier community for over 100 years, getting their start in 1918 when the family emigrated from Italy. It was his grandmother, Filomena, who started the dairy operation in 1940 and actively worked on the farm until she was 81. A farming accident left her a widow in her 20s with four children to raise while supporting the family milking cows and working the farm. Inspired by his grandmother’s legacy, Paul rekindled the dairy operation in 2014. As he explained, “it’s exciting to continue on with the farm because I've grown up here, witnessing everything my grandma accomplished.”
Some food lovers credit cheese as being the ultimate “secret ingredient”. Cheese is the ingredient that’s breathing new life into the Fantello farm. While Filomena brought her cheese-making skills from Italy, Paul Fantello and his wife learned much of what they know about cheese-making in France. “We went to France and studied with a farmer and learned to make cheese and continue to consult with him on cheese recipes and any issues we might have,” he said.
There are hundreds of small creameries in France and it was the French farmer who explained that they could build a profitable cheese-making operation with their 20 Jersey cows. That sounded promising to Paul who would like to work on the farm full-time and experience the rewards of “creating a product from cows that are eating the grass grown on your own property.” The vision for Fantello Farmstead Creamery includes a retail store on the farm where customers can see the cows and serving as a model for other small farms seeking to pursue similar things.
Paul is proud of his grandmother’s legacy on the farm and he aims to pass it on to the next generation. He explained his aspirations by saying “I want to give this place to my next generation better than I received it. If I'm able to do that, I feel that’s success, because I feel so lucky to be here. What my grandma, a widow with four children, was able to accomplish is amazing, to keep this place and create what she did. So it's my obligation to do the same. And if any of my kids or grandkids want to be part of this, it’s set up.”