One week before Thanksgiving last year, Micha Ide lay awake in the pre-dawn hours mourning the loss of around 50 heritage turkeys.
“I didn’t sleep,” she said. “I pretty much cried the whole night.”
Floodwaters inundated the small farm that Micha and her husband, Andrew Ide, run in Snohomish. The couple moved their 100 turkeys to high ground and kept the birds in a mobile hoop-house. They hoped roosting bars would keep the turkeys safe.
It didn’t. The turkeys escaped their pen and flew straight into the floodwaters, Micha Ide said.
“This was at night,” she said, “so we had to go out in the canoe and we were rescuing turkeys and we’re like, hypothermic, you know?”
After a time, they couldn’t see any more turkeys and they were too cold anyway. After they crawled into bed, Micha pondered the “huge devastation” of losing half the flock they’d been raising just before Thanksgiving. And she cried.
“But then, the next morning, I heard really hoarse-sounding turkeys, their voices were like gggghhhh,” she gurgled. “And I looked out the window and the floodwaters had receded and I saw them all walking up to the house from different parts of the farm. We only lost one turkey.”
Such is life at Bright Ide Acres, a 10-acre parcel on the 132-acre Chinook Farms in the Snohomish River Valley.
Had those turkeys been the broad-breasted bronze variety they’d grown their first two years on the farm, they would have all died, Micha said. “For sure. They would have just sunk to the bottom.”
Broad-breasted bronze turkeys — and broad-breasted whites generally sold in grocery stores — grow exceptionally fast with very big breasts, to supply more of the white meat customers demand.
But a downside to all that fast growth is that sometimes the turkeys’ legs give out and they need to be euthanized halfway through the season. And they can’t forage because they’re too heavy and tired so they end up sitting around a lot, Micha said.
Neither can they reproduce without artificial insemination, which got the Ides thinking.
“Do we really have business as a community, or as humanity,” Andrew said, “to propagate something that really can’t survive by itself, or naturally?”
Researching the topic, they realized they wanted to raise a heritage breed. They chose a breed called standard bronze — as opposed to broad-breasted bronze — that was popular in the U.S. up until the 1960s.
The standard bronze grow more slowly — the Ides raise them for seven months rather than the four to five months allotted the broad-breasted birds — and a lot more trouble. They can fly, for one thing.
“They also learned that if they mob the fence they can just kind of walk over it, it’ll flatten down,” Micha said.
“Like a zombie horde,” Andrew said.
The Ides are college-educated urban professionals who are part of the “greenhorn” movement back to the land, a group of people who share a growing concern about knowing where the food we consume comes from.
Turkeys are a supplemental “crop” for the Ides, their main focus being chicken and pork, but a measure of their success is that by early August this year, their turkeys were sold out. Their customers love the more complex flavor that accompanies slow growth and a diet rich in grass, bugs and fresh-milled non-GMO grains.
The Ides might seem, at first, an unlikely choice for farming, but in some ways they’re uniquely suited. Growing up in the East Bay area north of San Francisco, Micha, 32, always had a passion for animals, volunteering at animal sanctuaries and working at a private zoo. Her college degree was in anthropology with an emphasis in archaeology, but she went to work for a biotech company in San Diego.
“They taught me, really, everything I know about sales and marketing, which is very helpful,” she said, “because you can farm all you want, but if can’t sell your product, you might as well not farm.”
Andrew, 30, graduated from a private college in Southern California with a degree in philosophy and theology, because “that’s what spoke to me.”
He and Micha met in 2010, on a fundraising trip for a San Diego nonprofit called Outdoor Outreach, which takes troubled inner-city kids rock climbing and backpacking.
Two years later, he and Micha were married where they met, in Joshua Tree National Park. That same weekend, Micha got the layoff notice she’d been expecting since the biotech company she worked at was sold to a bigger firm.
Soon the adventurous couple was on the road.
“We sold everything that we owned, pretty much,” Micha said, “and bought a little teardrop trailer and traveled the U.S. and parts of Canada and Mexico for three months and we just spent most of our time outside, staying in campsites, national parks and whatever.”
“Our road trip kind of had an extended-honeymoon feel to it,” Andrew said. “It was kind of a good foot to start our marriage out on because we kind of confined ourselves; I mean, two people in a truck for three months…”
“It was good prep for living in a tiny house,” said Micha, finishing his sentence.
They talked about wanting to work outside, perhaps as park rangers or farmers, though the only experience they had with farming was a backyard garden and a few chickens. Then a friend gave them a copy of the book, “You Can Farm” by Joel Salatin, a farmer featured in the New York Times bestseller “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and the award-winning documentary “Food Inc.”
They were hooked. (The road trip also inspired, indirectly, the name of their future farm. In a pun on their family name, Micha started a blog, Bright Ide and Bushy Tailed. It still exists. She still writes in it about life on Bright Ide Acres.)
It was in the fall of 2012 that the Ides started looking for a farming opportunity. In spring 2013, they arrived at Chinook Farms. That first year, they said, they had 300 meat chickens, 30 laying hens, five pigs, 25 turkeys and about 10 goats. They also managed a 30-member vegetable community-supported agriculture program, in which customers pay a set fee for a weekly box of farm wares.
Chinook Farms is owned by Eric Fritch, who lives less than two miles away and raises 80 grass-fed beef cattle. Fritch, 55, has an engineering degree and once worked at Boeing, but now owns Chinook Lumber stores and bought the Chinook Farms acreage in 2008, when it grew nothing but old poplar trees.
Fritch cleared most of the poplar trees from his 132 acres and set up Chinook Farms as an organic farm. He feels very strongly about keeping production agriculture thriving in Snohomish County, Fritch said, because he remembers when the Kent Valley was developed in the 1970s and ‘80s.
“That used to be the produce department for Seattle, was the Kent Valley,” he said.
The Ides dropped raising vegetables two years ago to concentrate on ethically raised meat, which they feel is more difficult to come by than good organic vegetables. This year they’re raising 1,400 meat chickens, 100 laying hens, 40 pigs and 100 turkeys. Andrew said he’ll probably breed 20 ewes this year, so they’ll have 40 sheep, which they started raising two years ago, and around 40 goats.
It’s not an easy lifestyle. Besides hawking their wares at farmers markets in Edmonds, Carnation and Snohomish throughout the summer, and trading their meat at the markets for foods like fresh berries and halibut, Micha works on a friend’s food truck and Andrew pours concrete to supplement their income. While they’re not losing money on the farm, they’re still not making much.
“Last year our net for the entire farm, for us, our whole net was 20 grand,” Micha said. “So that means we each took in 10 grand income, which is really not much of a living wage.”
Still, they have no plans to quit. Their dream is to find land above the floodplain that could act as their home base, with a store and freezer space for customers, and a barn to keep their animals out of the weather.
But even if their farming business doesn’t work out, even if their dream doesn’t come true, they will always raise their own food. “Always,” Micha said. “Because gosh, I don’t know, once you go down that rabbit hole, you can’t go back… We eat like kings. Poor as paupers, but we eat like kings.”