After graduating from Seattle Pacific University, Anna and Geoff Martin were sleeping in a 20-foot tepee at the base of Mount Hood, literally living off the land and plotting a course for their future when they wondered, “Why can’t we live like this forever?” Just over a decade later, what started out as an exercise in self-reliance has grown into the 15-acre Osprey Hill Farm in Acme, Washington, that supplies fruits, vegetables, eggs, chickens, ducks, and heritage turkeys to families in the area through several means, including a community supported agriculture program. It’s not an easy life, but easy isn’t the goal. Sustainability is.
ANNA: We got married in college and were living in campus housing when it just hit us: We have to put some food in the ground. So we took our parking spot and converted it into a garden. We had corn growing where our car should be. It was pretty unsuccessful, but thrilling, you know? You can put a seed in the ground and get food
GEOFF: After school we got really intrigued by permaculture. You’re basically designing a living system to grow food for yourself, which involves animals and trees and plants—but you’re designing it so that it all functions together and so that everything has multiple functions.
A: We had kids at that point, and I felt really reliant on other people. It felt like a dangerous position to be in, to not know how to take care of my own basic needs.
G: The first handful of years, Anna had a second job making cheese, and she talked her boss into letting her go to the farmers market to sell it for him. We’d take our eggs, too, and split a booth with him. And all of a sudden we were growing a quarter acre of stuff. It was beans and potatoes and things like that that we’d be harvesting with headlamps after work. It kept growing and growing, and then we realized there were a lot of people who were relying on us.
G: People will come up to me when we’re selling at the market and say, “Oh, that’s so great. You’re living the simple life.” There’s absolutely nothing simple about farming. It’s like taking care of a kid, but it’s a 15-acre kid. It’s a long way from simple.
A: The farmers market is a great way for businesses to get exposure. And it’s a fun place to be. But it was clear to see that the market was saturated. Plus, it was killing us. Every Friday is a good 17-, 18-hour day. Saturday is a 13-, 14-hour day. By Sunday, we were comatose.
G: People expect cheap food. And we’ve done our best to keep our profit margins low so they don’t feel like they’re getting ripped off. But I swear, I’m making 20 cents on that bunch of carrots, and still some people will argue with the price at $2.50. And then they turn around and buy a bag of candy for two bucks.
A: At the beginning of this season, a metric ton of organic feed cost $750. Now it’s $950. In a matter of months.
A: Industrial agriculture was able to breed standard turkeys so they can go from a little hatchling to slaughter in three and a half months and be 50-something pounds and have an enormous breast. But they’re dying of sudden heart attack. They’re being fed Benadryl to calm them down
because of the overcrowding in the poultry housing. And then they’re being fed caffeine to stimulate their appetite and keep them awake so they continue to eat so that they gain weight. And the ligaments in their legs are snapping because they’re putting on weight so quickly. That model didn’t work for me.
A: When we started raising turkeys, the only books I could find were from, like, 1963—yellow pages, no information. I’d spend days at a time with these little baby turkeys because I couldn’t figure out how to get them to eat or drink. I read that they like shiny objects, so I put marbles in their water. They’d peck at the marbles but not drink the water. This is why you hear that turkeys are stupid.
G: You hear that they’ll drown in the rain, looking up at the sky.
A: But then one day I just moved my hand and suddenly they were following it. I moved it again, and I was like, “Holy crap, they’re following my hand around.” So I made a beak with my hand, pointed to the food, and they’re like, “Oh, food!” They take really well to mentoring.
A: Commercial turkey has an almost foamy breast. The meat is really soft. The breast meat of the heritage birds is firm and moist. And then they’ll pick up the terroir of the area: the different grasses and the herbs, the clovers. When you eat a bird that’s raised on pasture, you’ll notice the difference.
A: Once people come out and experience the farm, they get it. And they really appreciate it. I have somewhat of an educational goal: I want people to take responsibility for some of their own needs. Like food—how much more basic could that be? And if they don’t really want to produce their own, that’s fine, as long as they understand what it takes to produce it when they go to the store and see it wrapped up in a little bag, ready to go.