I met Brian and Meghan Peterka at my last stop on the Chicken Coop and Urban Farm tour. Brian invited me to come visit in Shoreline. We were talking chickens at the time, and they’d just reduced their flock from 24 to 16. But 16 chickens is still a lot of chickens and that caught my attention! I don’t know anyone in Seattle with 16 chickens.
Brian was in the back behind the house when I arrived, so I made my way through the garden, via the path that led from the parking strip and front yard overflowing with daisies and perennial herbs, ran along the side of the house next to the fruit trees, and ended at a trellis shaded small patio overlooking the vegetable beds, chicken coop and beehives. This description might lead to the conclusion that I walked down a long path, while actually, all of this is packed into a fairly normal size city lot.
Making it work
For the past five years, they’ve shared a childcare job. Along with the jobs Brian picks up using his expertise and knowledge about farming, and handyman type construction projects, this job provides the family’s income. Meghan is deeply involved in shamanic herbalism and gradually creating a healing garden within the container of their home farm. She makes tinctures, salves, oils and vinegars from the herbs, fruits and flowers growing alongside the vegetables in their garden. One day, these too may be a source of income, but for the moment, they barter and trade for many of their needs. They take care of their neighbors and generously share their knowledge in informal classes offered free of charge.
Brian and Meghan didn’t set out to create the lifestyle they now live wholeheartedly. Brian worked in a high rise building in environmental consulting as a geologist for ten years. Then, he quit. He wanted to be outside. They rented their house, packed up their two young children, and moved to a berry farm whose owners wanted to start a vegetable CSA. Brian and Meghan were hired to get it going. They loved it and the kids thrived. After two years, they decided to make it permanent, sell the house in Shoreline and buy some land of their own.
Instead, due to the ups and downs of the real estate market, the plan to own and farm their own rural land fell apart. They moved back to the Shoreline house, modifying their farming knowledge to grow food on land they already owned.
Shoreline farm life
Operating a small city farm opened time for other interests and family activities. The kids were home-schooled until high school and everyone plays music, often together. Brian plays harmonica and guitar, their son plays guitar, Meghan and daughter play fiddle. The pantry shelves are lined with preserved fruits, vegetables and even pickled eggs from the garden .
Another shelf holds the smaller jars and bottles containing mysterious concoctions. These are Meghan’s creations and remedies. The day I visited, she was away, and I wished she were there to tell me more. I’ve brewed up my own elderberry syrup and garlic potions from time to time, but the herbal apothecary knowledge represented by these mixtures far surpasses mine.
The chickens hold court in the back corner of the lot. A section of the bottom of the fence is cut out between their house and the house behind. Before the hole, Brian had noticed his retired neighbor frequently at the fence watching the chickens, so he made it possible for the neighbor to watch from his own porch by cutting some of the boards off and extending the chicken enclosure to a small section on his side.
Two different style beehives between the rows of vegetables. One was unfamiliar, but has a window in the side so one can see the workings inside. Brian explained how the biodynamic hive allows the bees to develop their combs in a more natural shape. The style of this hive makes harvesting honey far less practical, but Brian thinks that the chances of it having healthier bees, better pollination, and producing natural swarms which can populate other hives might just be better.
I loved talking to Brian about his farm. He and Meghan are trying to create a life which aligns with their deepest values; where family, time to be creative and to follow dreams and whims come first. Its a radical notion held without a radical agenda. Their agenda is their own. Its what works for them, for now. And its bound to shift and change as time goes by as it has from the beginning of this whole adventure.
When I asked Brian about his favorite place in the garden, we were sitting on the patio looking out toward the chicken coop. He thought for a moment and said, “right here”. And then, “or in the chicken coop”. I got the feeling that he would have said the same thing no matter where he’d been standing when I asked. He lives in the midst of a creative project that he and Meghan have designed to grow and change with them and with their lives. The garden is an expression of their journey and a constant work in progress as they and their family grow and change.
Links to articles about Brian and Meghan’s efforts in local food and community building
In 2010 Meghan helped start “Diggin’ Shoreline”, an organization devoted to creating community and building relationships between neighbors through gardening and growing food. Brian joined her as an original board member. He recently wrote an article about the history of growing food in Shoreline for the Diggin’ Shoreline website. Check out Diggin’ Shoreline and Brian’s article here.
2009 Yes magazine article about Peterka’s urban farming venture: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/food-for-everyone/new-crop-of-farmers-11
KING 5 2009 article about Peterka’s zero waste ambitions: http://www.king5.com/home/Family-plowing-its-way-to-zero-waste-67379962.html
2008 story about eating locally: http://www.prkc.org/library/Profiles/PCC%20Blue%20Dog.pdf
In 2010 Peterka’s were commended for their local sustainability efforts by the city of Shoreline: http://cosweb.ci.shoreline.wa.us/uploads/attachments/cck/Council/StaffReports/2010/staffreport041910-2a.pdf