Tanzanian Coffee Experience–Yum!

Mt. Meru at almost 15,000 feet, the fifth highest mountain in Africa, capped in wispy clouds, towers over the Tanzanian village at the end of the paved road at the entrance to Arusha National Park. Meru’s taller and more well-known “mountain cousin”, Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak on the African continent, bursts from the African plain only 216 miles as the crow flies east of Mt. Meru.

We stationed ourselves at Meru View Lodge, just one-half mile south of the Arusha National Park entrance to rest and recuperate in late January after a 24-hour travel day and 11-hour time zone difference from our Seattle home. Not wanting to miss any opportunity to learn more about Tanzania, I signed up for a walking tour with Abraham Mkope of Riziki Tours for a coffee tasting, Tanzanian lunch, and a walk in a neighboring forest preserve established to protect the local water supply. Trained as a civil engineer and being a lover of land and how it is used, curiosity drives me to experience how different cultures and countries build their communities. Touring the village at the end of the paved section of Momela Road opened my eyes to how differently people can live across the continents.

Leaving the Meru View Lodge with Abraham, we literally jumped across a two foot deep by 2-1/2 foot wide storm drainage swale lined with cemented in paving stones. Thankfully, January and February are typically drier months in Tanzania with the “long rains” or the rainy season beginning in March and lasting until May or June every year. With no rain in sight, these storm drains appeared excessively large, so I could only imagine the rushing water in the wet season. There must be a reason there is so much drainage capacity!

A Farm near Arusha, Tanzania

On an early Sunday morning, when many Tanzanians are in church, Abraham and I sauntered on the dusty dirt pathway adjacent to the paved road for a few minutes until crossing the weekend-quiet two-lane road. Our jaunt into the neighborhood on a rutted dirt road quickly changed to a dirt path. Sometimes we were caverned between concrete block walls and other times, surrounded by small farms, homes, and views of the countryside. In the hour walk to our destination, the terrain varied regularly between dirt roadway to narrow dirt pathways depending on the jigs and jags in our journey. Occasionally a motor cycle would scoot past, but mostly we walked alone in peace. Even the children were at church! Different land uses abounded. Small farms were tucked between homes, little wood and mud homes stood next to newer, larger half-finished brick homes. Occasionally we passed a completed home with a metal roof slathered with a white finishing material to conceal the brick building materials and a car parked out front. From a Seattle strict zoning code perspective, no sense of a land use plan was evident other than that there were no cul-de-sacs and always a path to follow. Some homes were only half finished and even looked forgotten or abandoned with a full grown banana tree in the foyer. Abraham said, “Villagers build their homes bit by bit as they earn extra money. Bank loans and mortgages are rare because reliable family income is not common.”

Small Farms in the Mt. Meru Region

Ripening Coffee Berries

Small farms, really almost large country garden plots, farmed by the neighboring homeowner dotted the landscape. Most families grow corn, more commonly known as maize, bananas and perhaps, Arabica coffee. Maize and bananas are the Meru region’s major crops as they are easy to grow and sell in local markets. Banana roots spread so easily, likely similar to the America’s raspberry bushes, and new banana trees just show up, hence the banana tree growing in the middle of an unfinished house. Despite being challenging to grow and sell, Arabica coffee is still an important export crop for the 400,000 family farmers that grow it. Tanzania is the 3rd largest coffee producer in Africa, but far below Brazil and Vietnam as the world’s biggest coffee producers. The Meru/Kiliminjaro region has the ideal Arabica coffee growing conditions between 4,500 and 6,000 feet above sea level with the rich volcanic soils. Despite this, Tanzanian coffee production has been significantly challenged by pests, climate change induced erratic weather conditions and just getting the crop to market. 

After weaving our way between houses and farm plots, we arrived at our coffee stop where Sonia was waiting for us outside her parents’ home. The small, adobe finished home was compact and stout with the television dish on top. The home could have been easily found in an older American neighborhood! Sonia did not speak English, so Abraham led me through the 30-foot square family farm plot. Even though most of the ripe red beans had been harvested, there was still one stray white coffee flower and several handfuls of ripening berries on the bushes. The entire farm was protected from the equatorial sun with a smattering of banana trees and several taller trees providing shade for the coffee.

Producing a great cup of coffee takes time. After pollination, coffee berries grow into an oval shape about ½ inch in their longest dimension on chest high bushes. The berries start their life green and turn red when they are ready to be harvested by hand between July and December. All berries are air dried by Mother Nature on drying trays and rotated and turned to remove the fleshy portion of the bean leaving a thin almost fascia-like fibrous tissue covering on each bean. Each berry contains two beans unless there is only one bean, which happens only about 10% of the time, creating an extra special peaberry coffee and a premium price.

Grinding Coffee

Back in Sonia’s front yard, she brought out a couple cups of dried beans that still had the second covering or thin shell on them. Our first task was to remove the second shell. The beans were dropped into a huge mortar, an 8-inch diameter hollowed-out tree that stood about hip height. A 3-inch wide piece of aluminum flashing was secured to keep the “tree mortar” from splitting. The pestle was almost four feet tall and rounded on the bottom and made from another tree piece. Sonia pounded the beans loosening and shedding the second cover from the coffee bean. As the guest, I milled the beans for a few minutes until the pestle weight exhausted my arms! 

The beans were dumped from the mortar and spread out on a woven platter. Abraham shook the platter lightly allowing the fibrous flakes to drift away with the breeze. Meanwhile Sonia started a small fire with dried twigs and branches. Perched on top of the flames was a small cast iron vessel into which she dropped the freshly cleaned beans. Stirring the beans regularly to prevent burning allowed the waft of freshly roasted beans to permeate the air.

Abraham Mkope removing the second shell from the bean.

Next step was putting the freshly roasted beans back into the mortar. The same pestle was used to grind the beans. We sang, “Saga, Saga–Saga” (Grinding, Grinding–Grinding) as the rhythmic song to ease the pain and monotony of a very physical method of coffee grinding! The ground coffee was sifted to separate the fine ground from the medium ground allowing an extra chance to grind all the coffee to a fine texture!

Now, the coffee is ground and the water is boiling. The grounds and the water are mixed to infuse flavor and caffeine. Sonia knew the optimal time to brew and poured it into my mug. I was offered sugar and put in a pinch since no milk available, to ward off any anticipated bitterness I was expecting. Wow! Was I amazed! No bitterness. My second cup was sugar free. The complexity of the flavor was stupendous!

Making a great cup of coffee took about 30 minutes. It is not a process for the caffeine craving morning wake-up routine but rather for enjoying a special time with good friends and family. No wonder my Ethiopian friend once said, “Being invited for coffee you know you are a true friend. Being invited for tea, not necessarily so.”  

Kathryn Gardow, P.E., is a local food advocate, land use expert and owner of Gardow Consulting, LLC, an organization dedicated to providing multidisciplinary solutions to building sustainable communities. Kathryn has expertise in project management, planning, farmland conservation, and civil engineering, with an emphasis on creating communities that include food production. Kathryn’s blog muses on ways to create a more sustainable world and good food!


Taste Wheat: Cereal Box Bakery

Imagine every Wednesday, before the sun rises, a bag of baked goods is delivered to your front doorstep. With anticipation you open the front door to retrieve  the large bag with a box and several smaller bags filled with delectable flavors. You first look for the breakfast treat: pastries, muffins, scones, or bagels. Taking your first bite, you are transported to a memorable bakery while savoring the flavors in your own breakfast nook. This is no ordinary delivery. Instead it’s the best baked products from the finest flavored, heritage wheat cultivars available. The baked goods are only offered by Cereal Box Bakery and can be delivered to your door, too. You explore the rest of the delivery:  sourdough, sandwich bread, granola, emmer farro pasta, baguettes, rosemary crackers, graham crackers or cookies. With each delivery I am impressed.

Apple Tart

Cereal Box Bakery Classic Apple Tart

When I was a young kid, my Dad would sneak out early Sunday morning to bring home a box of freshly baked pastries and donuts to the delight of me and my siblings. Now every week, I await my Cereal Box Bakery arrival with the same anticipation. Rob Salvino of Cereal Box Bakery set out a year ago to “make baked goods fun again.” He crafts a bag with different selections every week. Rather than the sugar and white flour bomb of my childhood, I relish the baked goods as they are filled with stone-ground wheat, which have the germ and the bran retained, and thus a more robust flavor. I know it is way better for my body over the roller-milled, carbohydrate-rush, commercially grown, all-white flour. Added benefits are supporting our local Washington agricultural community, keeping heritage wheat varieties in production, fostering a neighborhood business, and it tastes good, too.  

In September, my bag featured a miniature luscious, flaky crusted tart with apples from Tonnemaker Hill Farm in Royal City. Just before Thanksgiving, the treat was a mini-pumpkin pie. Valentine’s Day, a Panettone, the Italian sweet bread usually associated with Christmas, arrived with chocolate nubs, dried cherries, and an essence of citrus. This week I’m awaiting cranberry scones with Sonora wheat and dried Starvation Alley cranberries harvested last fall in Long Beach, Washington.

Cereal Box Bakery Sourdough

Cereal Box Bakery Sourdough

I always get Rob’s favorite bread–sourdough–in my delivery rather than the sandwich loaf option. The sourdough bread flavors are perfect because he uses various stone-ground heritage wheat varieties, such as Sonora Gold and Turkey Red from Palouse Colony Farm. Heritage wheat varieties are similar to heirloom tomatoes, in that they were commercially grown before the 1950’s but aren’t typically grown today. Now, they are found on smaller specialty farms serving markets where customers care about flavor, growing conditions and maintaining a robust stock of wheat varieties. According to Wayne Carpenter of Skagit Valley Malting, another specialty grain user for malted beverages, there are more than 20,000 wheat varieties. Even with the abundance of varieties only a few hundred acres of the specialty wheats are grown in Washington.

Large farms grow varieties that have high yields and are simple to sell to bakers and retailers because the wheat has known and expected baking characteristics. As a casual baker, I only recently learned that all flour is not the same. Depending on the amount of protein in a milled wheat, it may rise a lot or a little in a baked product. Customers expect a certain amount of loft in their bread, only so many holes, and a consistent product. This often prevents bakers (even home bakers) from experimenting with new wheat varieties as they don’t know whether the end product will meet their own specifications and more importantly, be acceptable to their customers. 

The Wheats

Palouse Colony Farm is located in eastern Washington in what is commonly called The Palouse, an area of gentle rolling hills formed over thousands of years by windblown silts. It is a fertile region where  dryland or non-irrigated wheat is grown and is definitely the bread basket of Washington. Dick and Don Scheuerman, owners of Palouse Colony Farm grow specialty landrace and heritage grains. Landrace grains “were originally raised by settlers in colonial America and the pioneers of the Pacific Northwest” and are non-hybridized strains, meaning they are not crossbred with other grains to create a new variety. Heritage/Heirloom grains are hybridized but no longer widely grown.

Wheat Varieties at the Munich Botanical Garden

Sonora Gold is the first wheat planted in the Americas having been brought by the Spaniards to Mexico in the 1600s. Transported up the west coast by Spanish missionaries, Sonora wheat filled California Central Valley with close to three million production acres by the 1880s. It was the wheat variety used to make large flour tortillas, a mainstay of Californian/Hispanic meals. Sonora is drought tolerant, disease resistant, early maturing, and has a good yield. With the advent of modern wheat varieties, now grown predominantly in the plains states, California wheat production plummeted with commercial production of Sonora ending in the 1970’s.

Turkey Red wheat arrived in the United States from Crimea (formerly part of the Ukraine and now part of Russia) via Mennonite farmers fleeing Tsarist persecution in the early 1870s. It was planted for 70 years as the dominant hard red winter wheat in Kansas until the mid-1940’s when it was replaced by modern higher-yield varieties. It is not commercially grown now, but is instead a heritage breed savored for its complex, rich flavor and excellent baking quality.

Rob also sources emmer farro wheat and einkorn wheat from Bluebird Grain Farms in Winthrop, Washington and other flours from Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill to bake and prepare his products. Purchasing a weekly share from Cereal Box Bakery supports a small business and benefits the farmer with up to “seven times the price received  in mainstream (food supply) chains,” according to a June 2010 Economic Research Report.* Whole grain wheat flour is also exceedingly nutritious with high protein and fiber levels, as well as it tastes good, too!  Get ready to have your taste buds tantalized with new flavors of hearty and luscious baked goods from Cereal Box Bakery to start your day.

Kathryn Gardow, P.E., is a local food advocate, land use expert and owner of Gardow Consulting, LLC, an organization dedicated to providing multidisciplinary solutions to building sustainable communities. Kathryn has expertise in project management, planning, farmland conservation, and civil engineering, with an emphasis on creating communities that include food production. Kathryn’s blog muses on ways to create a more sustainable world and good food!

* King, Robert P., Michael S. Hand, Gigi DiGiacomo, Kate Clancy, Miguel I. Gomez, Shermain D. Hardesty, Larry Lev, and Edward W. McLaughlin. Comparing the Structure, Size, and Performance of Local and Mainstream Food Supply Chains, ERR-99, U.S. Dept. of Agr., Econ. Res. Serv. June 2010.


Malting in the Skagit

Malting! As a kid, it meant malted milkshakes and Whoppers–malted milk covered in chocolate. Ugh! Whoppers were the rage in my Trick or Treat bag, but they tasted awful.

Now I savor a malted drink–Hefeweizen–the German malted wheat beer of my heritage. I like Lagers, IPA’s, and whiskey–all malted. I even add a quarter cup of Nestlé Malted Milk powder to my pancake mix. Yum! But, what is malting?

Malting is…

Wheat Varieties at the Munich Botanical Garden

Wheat varieties at the Munich Botanical Garden

Malting is an age-old process, fostered first in ancient Egypt about 6,000 years ago where kernels of barley, wheat, rice or other cereal grains are germinated in water. When the shoot reaches about 3/8 of an inch, germination is abruptly stopped and the sprouted kernels are oven-dried. Depending on the timing and the oven temperature, the dried grain develops differing flavors. The sprouting and drying process allows the grains’ starches to develop sugars, which the palate desires. Up until last century, the malting process was labor intensive. Damp, sprouted grains were spread out on cavernous floors, heated from below, and the grains were turned manually with large rakes until dry. With the advent of mechanization, malting grains were commoditized and standardized.

All superior beers are crafted with malted grains–most often barley or wheat–and then water, yeast and hops are added to the mix. Budweiser is produced from unmalted grains–either corn or rice. (No wonder when my German cousins visited when I was a kid and couldn’t stomach American beer!) Beer aficionados probably already know that mainstream beers are unmalted, but my being only a casual drinker of a good, well-crafted, specialty beer on a hot summer eve, I now know why I like crafted beers! It’s the brewed combination of malted grains, tangy hops, fermented yeast, and cold spring water.

A New Malting Dawn

Now, a new malting dawn is rising an hour north of Seattle in Skagit County, home to Skagit Valley Malting, Dr. Stephen Jones of Washington State University, and a multitude of folks all working to ensure that the region reigns as a preeminent, world class agricultural powerhouse, with products that create flavor, value, and terroir–a sense of place.

Grains ready for malting

Grains ready for malting

Imagine my amazement when Wayne Carpenter of Skagit Valley Malting said, “there are 15,000 varieties of barley and 20,000 strains of wheat that can be malted!” Just in barley varieties, there are black, purple, red, and many shades of gold. Astonishingly today, in American beer brewing, including the craft brewers, only 10 barley strains are malted according to the American Malting Barley Association. Further, over the past 30 years, barley acreage has dropped 77%. This leaves a multitude of grains to test in the Skagit soils, to create the finest flavor, foster the hardiest plant, find the biggest producers, create the preeminent malts and build the agricultural economy. Dr. Stephen Jones is the Director of WSU Research in Mt. Vernon, the heart of Skagit County in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences with his research concentrating on improving wheat and grain varieties and to support the growing Skagit grain economy.

Skagit County is home to the annual April Tulip Festival

Skagit County is home to the annual April Tulip Festival

Historically, prior to the United State’s commoditization and consolidation of agriculture following World War II, the Skagit agricultural lands had record wheat yields, two times those found on the Palouse Hills of eastern Washington and three times those found in Kansas, which hails as the Wheat State, since it grows more wheat than any state in the Union. Despite the fact that Skagit County lost their wheat and barley markets, the farmers have to grow grains because it is a necessary rotational crop in a healthy agricultural ecosystem. By including grain in a field planting sequence, disease and pest cycles are broken.

Skagit specialty red potato fields

Skagit specialty red potato fields

For example, if potatoes are grown in a field in year one, that same acreage cannot be planted with potatoes until year four. Other crops, such as tulips, grasses, cabbages, cucumbers, and grains can be rotated in. By not planting a field with potatoes again, harmful insects or diseases never get to call that acreage “home” and move in and multiply. No matter what though, by year three, a grain planting cycle is a necessary rotation to maintain soil health, because it returns organic matter to the soil, and the deep root system (about the same height as the steam and wheat spike) breaks up clay soils, allowing natural soil aeration. However, grain rotations are not as profitable for the farmer with gross earnings between $500 to $1,000 per acre ($0.01 to $0.02/square foot). When compared to peonies ($52K/acre or $1.19/SF), tulips ($15K/acre or $0.34/SF) or the specialty crop Skagit Red Potatoes ($12K-$15K/acre or $0.34/SF to $0.28/SF), grains have been downright a money loser.

Now Skagit Valley Malting is selling their malted grains to breweries in Washington, DC, where premium beers are sold at $21 per pint. Pike Brewery in Seattle sells specially crafted beers brewed with Skagit malts. Malting is not only for beer, but for bread, too, such as the loaves at the Breadfarm in Bow, Washington, Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, and Manhattan’s Blue Hill restaurant–all featuring malts from Skagit Valley Maltingt!

Opportunity in malting!

Skagit farmers, entrepreneurs, agricultural researchers, and others see opportunity! Beer drinkers rejoice! The Skagit region is charging ahead as an economic agricultural powerhouse in the changing edible landscape. Eaters and drinkers everywhere are looking for new, wholesome, and vibrant taste experiences. Growing grains is getting exciting and is expected to be a money maker!

Kathryn Gardow, P.E., is a local food advocate, land use expert and owner of Gardow Consulting, an organization dedicated to providing multidisciplinary solutions to building sustainable communities. Kathryn has expertise in project management, planning, and civil engineering, with an emphasis on creating communities that include food production. Kathryn is a Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network board member and a member of the American Planning Association’s Food Interest Group. Kathryn’s blog muses on ways to create a more sustainable world. 


Brooklyn Grange’s Edible Green Roof

Take the M train to the 36th Street station. Climb the stairs and exit the station and greeted by the six- story edifice built by Standard Motor Company in 1919. Enter the building. Push the elevator button and be whisked to the roof. Leave the city behind and enter a robust urban farm with views to the bustling New York metropolis below. I was welcomed by Bradley Fleming, Brooklyn Grange’s Farm Manager extraordinaire at Flagship Farm and best man at my niece’s San Franciscan wedding the weekend prior. Atop the roof flourishes a one-acre farm totally hidden from the sidewalk below.

Brooklyn Grange's Flagship Roof Top Farm

Brooklyn Grange’s Flagship Roof Top Farm

Bradley was busy completing the final tasks for the farm’s fifth season. With one more week of their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes to be delivered, he expected them to be filled with chard, kale, eggplant, sunchokes, salad greens, green tomatoes, and other delectables. Workers broke down and composted the no longer producing tomato and pepper plants. Scattered around the site were three bee hives producing honey and winding down the job as the farm’s pollinators. Laying hens offered eggs. A compost bin accepted spent vegetative matter which was processed in part by a solar powered forced air system.

Fortuitously, the Standard Motor Company concrete building was built to construction standards that could easily support the weight of Rooflite, the composted soil mixture blend, rain and irrigation water, equipment, and farmworkers. The existing parapet walls met the height requirements for the “fence,” such that workers and guests are protected from falling to the street below. The rooftop drainage system functioned properly and only had to be modified slightly with porous plastic caps that allowed enough water to remain on the roof to irrigate the plants, but allowed any excess to be discharged. It was as though 100-years ago that the architect’s knew the building would once support a green roof to grow produce!

How Is It Built?

Even so, creating the farm was a challenging proposition, as the City of New York would only permit a crane to be located at the western, narrow end of the building where supplies could hoisted to the roof. Materials were hand carried and carted almost 500 feet to the far side of the building to begin construction. First the base layer, an impenetrable cloth sheet that thwarts roots growing into the concrete roof was placed. On top a Conservation Technologies drainage mat, resembling multiple plastic egg cartons butt up against each other, was lain to capture and hold irrigation and rainwater water for the plants’ thirst needs. Finally, a permeable filter fabric was lain to limit soil sediments from filling the plastic cups. Ultimately about 1.2 million pounds of Rooflite were lifted and carted to all corners of the roof for the approximate 10-inch thick growing medium over the one acre site.

Mexican Sour Gerkin

Mexican Sour Gerkin

Then, planting rows, walking paths, and produce washing and aggregation station were sited. Now five years later since initial construction, farming protocols are established. A sprinkler system waters newly planted seed in early season for germination. Drip irrigation lines follow each planting row and run for 20 minutes three times per day during the peak season. Plantings are sequenced such that produce is available from mid-May through late October. Being a small, specialty farm, allows Bradley to experiment with unknown produce varieties. I had Mexican Sour Gerkins for the first time; a miniature, watermelon look-alike cucumber growing on a trellised vine. All produce is organically-grown, but not certified.

As with any farm operation, Mother Nature can have her way. Keeping the soil on the roof, will be the biggest upcoming winter obstacle, as winds can blow fiercely on the roof. This winter they are testing a ground-up hop mixture as a wind cover, that will also compost and provide nutrients for next spring.

Why It Works?

Brooklyn Grange has been profitable since the first year, as they have great produce for sale with diversified produce offerings and have benefited from New York City’s green initiatives. New York City has a combined sewer and stormwater system that can become inundated with as little as a quarter inch of rainfall, prompting policy makers to create a Green Roof Tax Abatement program that pays property owners to reduce their stormwater runoff. Water captured by the plant material and farm ground reduce stormwater runoff, thus limiting the impacts from this one-acre building’s impervious surface.

Roof Top Chickens at Brooklyn Grange's Flagship Farms

Roof Top Chickens at Brooklyn Grange’s Flagship Farm

To expand their business with the expertise gained from Flagship Farm, Brooklyn Grange now offers design, consulting, and construction services for other building owners that want green roofs–whether food producing roofs or solely vegetative roofs. Sedum roofs require much less soil coverage and water, which significantly reduces roof weight and therefore are suitable for those structures that are not as robustly built as the Standard Motor Company’s building. Weddings, farm to table events, and rooftop yoga are other services that are available on Brooklyn Grange’s urban oases.

Whether these intense green roof farms are replicable across the country remains to be seen. The lack of urban growing space, the unbelievable amount of traffic, and the green roof incentives are a few of the many reasons that Brooklyn Grange has been successful in reducing the miles that great food must travel to satiate a customer base yearning for fresh, local produce.

Kathryn Gardow, P.E., is a local food advocate, land use expert and owner of Gardow Consulting, an organization dedicated to providing multidisciplinary solutions to building sustainable communities. Kathryn has expertise in project management, planning, and civil engineering, with an emphasis on creating communities that include food production. Kathryn is a Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network board member. Kathryn’s blog muses on ways to create a more sustainable world.


Stokesberry Sustainable Farms: Feeding the Seahawks

“The Seahawks are fueled by the Stokesberry’s eggs and chickens!” Piquing my 16-year old daughter’s interest in organic, sustainable farming was impossible until the 2014 Super Bowl champs were involved. Jerry and Janelle Stokesberry are an unassuming farming couple providing superb meat and egg products for the Seattle Seahawks, and for discerning palettes at restaurants and wise shoppers at farmer markets.

Farm to Team

How do the Stokesberrys supply fresh organically grown chickens and 60 dozen eggs a week to stoke the Seahawks?

Baby Red Sex-Link ChicksIn late May, I spent time on the farm learning about their operation, collecting eggs, cuddling a baby chick, and feeding the chickens destined for the barbeque. Observing the farm rhythm, helped me appreciate the demands and determination that it takes to create a bountiful food abundance not only for the Super Bowl team, but for all their customers. Eaters who care about where and how their food is grown are grateful for the attention the Stokesberrys put into raising their animals.

Thankfully, all of the animals have adequate space to roam and enjoy life, until they are processed for the dinner table. Unlike the mainstream meat production system, there are no animals confined to cages or living in isolation. All the animals are fed their natural diets, making healthy protein products for humans.

The Home Farm

Stokesberry Sustainable Farm is tucked away in semi-rural Thurston County, just minutes from the I-5 thoroughfare, the bustle of modern living, and State’s political epicenter. The Stokesberrys had a only short time for a visit, as they along with their two full-time workers had many daily chores to accomplish, orders to fill, and paperwork to complete.

Red Sex-Link LayersFirst stop was the Red-Sex Link chicken hoop houses. Red-Sex Link chickens are bred for their incredible egg laying ability at 265 to 300 eggs per hen per year and just as importantly different feather colors between the sexes. Roosters not only crow at break of dawn, but anytime they want to, so quickly become chicken soup, since the neighbors are ungrateful for the noise. Many jurisdictions outlaw roosters, since they disturb the peace. With the differentiated colored Red-Sex Link poultry, the roosters can be quickly culled leaving only egg producers.

The Stokesberrys do not raise their layers from eggs, but rather purchase hatched chicks, which upon arrival are immediately housed under heat lamps and soon after moved to larger quarters. Once five months old they are moved to the hen house, where laying begins. Happy chickens clucked around my legs, as I reached inside the hen boxes for the warm containers of compact protein. Five hundred dozen eggs, equating to 6,000 individual eggs, are harvested from the hens weekly with 12% of their yield being Seahawk nourishment.

DucksNext stop was the duck house.  Duck eggs are popular because of higher fat content and consequently more flavor than chicken eggs. Those allergic to chicken eggs, can often eat the alkaline duck eggs which lack a particular protein that is found in the acidic chicken eggs.  Duck eggs are larger and have a noticeably tougher shell, which gives them a longer refrigerated shelf life, too. The ducks were content in their pen waddling around in a tight group.

The home farm has multiple hoop houses for chickens and ducks and a small area for pigs. Bob, the boar (male pig) is housed by himself in an open air pen, as the sows adjacent to Bob were tending a drift of piglets.

The Pasture

A 20-minute pastoral drive away, the Stokesberry’s lease eleven acres of pasture where they raise several cattle, a small herd of sheep, and meat chickens! The meat chickens are raised for slaughter and are actually ugly, since they have a scrawny feather coat. Fewer feathers makes for easy plucking! Upon arrival, five chickens were wandering outside their chicken tractor, having escaped through a hole and trying to figure out how to get back in. Chickens are not loners, but prefer hanging out with their brethren, and don’t often wander off.

Now, “What is a chicken tractor?”

Chicken Tractor with Cornish Cross MeatersA chicken tractor is just over a foot high, 12-foot square wood framed home with no bottom, covered with wire mesh sides and corrugated metal roof, designed so the chickens are not attacked by predators, protected from the rain, and still able to see their surroundings. About 100 Cornish Cross meater chickens live beneath each tractor, pecking at the dirt for grubs, bugs, seeds and other delectables. Every day two people must visit the pasture to refill the grain troughs and move the tractor, since the grass is matted and mottled from the chicken excrement.

Moving the tractor takes about 10 minutes. First the lid is removed enabling the grain troughs to be refilled. The forward end of the tractor is lifted with a dolly, and two–four inch diameter pipes are placed beneath the frame on the forward part of the tractor. Two people push the back end of the wood structure forward rolling over the pipes, until the chicken home has moved one tractor length. The chickens walk quickly ahead while the tractor advances, because they know the grass will be greener and filled with more morsels than the day-old ground they are leaving. As the urban gardener knows chicken manure is a primo fertilizer. By the time the next brood of chickens is returned to this portion of the pasture, the grass will be green again.

The final chore of my visit was to relocate the electric fence to move the cattle to greener pastures. As with the chickens the cattle are regularly moved to ensure that the animals always have superb grass to eat and don’t over-graze or over-fertilize the field.

The Stokesberrys attentively tend their animals and business such that the Seahawks’ chef, Mac McNabb knows he is getting premium product for the best football team in the country. Now, what Seahawk can only eat duck eggs, rather than chicken eggs? My daughter knows!

Kathryn Gardow, P.E., is a local food advocate, land use expert and owner of Gardow Consulting, an organization dedicated to providing multidisciplinary solutions to building sustainable communities. Kathryn has expertise in project management, planning, and civil engineering, with an emphasis on creating communities that include food production. Kathryn is a Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network board member. Kathryn’s blog muses on ways to create a more sustainable world.