Story & Photos: Karista Bennett
Mornings arrive early for Laura and Robin Sage of Red Bird Acres Farm in Corvallis, Oregon. Although each day brings something different, raising Idaho Pasture pigs, Freedom Ranger broiler chickens, goats and laying hens has a “to do” list that happens every day rain or shine.
I met Laura and Robin a few years ago after moving to the Willamette Valley. I was awestruck by their passion for raising healthy and happy livestock while being committed to sustainable farming that produces healthy food for consumers.
During one of my many visits to their farm, Laura said, “Our biggest values as producers of meat is that we are raising the animals with the utmost care and attention to humane techniques. This goes from breed selection, feed selection, providing the most natural and stress free life on pasture and gentle handling when it comes time to slaughter (which they do themselves). We are trying to raise meat with attention to the impact on the land and acknowledging that eating meat (as opposed to a vegetarian diet) has a bigger footprint, so what we encourage is that our customers eat less meat. But when they do, they should eat better meat. Better meat usually comes with a higher price. It takes a huge amount of labor to raise chickens and pigs in this method but also the feed costs are higher with quality feed. The benefit is an animal that lives a healthy life and in turn provides delicious and tremendously nourishing food”.
This method of raising animals for food has earned Red Bird Acres a prestigious AWA (Animal Welfare Approved) certification. AWA is a food label for meat and dairy products that come from farm animals raised to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards.
Laura and Robin are both graduates of Prescott College in Prescott, Arizona. Receiving degrees in Wilderness Leadership and Adventure Education. While working as Outdoor Education Guides they discovered there was a huge disconnect between educating the public about protecting our environment and our less than perfect food supply.
After a visit to Oregon, Laura and Robin decided to switch careers and put their knowledge and passion into helping change our food supply by pursuing agriculture. Robin completed a yearlong internship with Afton Field Farm in early 2014. Not long after, Red Bird Acres was founded.
Today, Laura and Robin tend the pasture work for about 4 hours of the day. The remaining work is milking the goats, processing much of the milk into cheese and yogurt and maintaining a tenth of an acre vegetable garden.
Additional pasture work for Robin might include moving pig and chicken paddocks, which usually involves cutting fence lines through blackberry or tall grass, moving fence posts, setting new electric lines and moving all of the pig’s portable shelters and watering systems.
Laura is the master schedule keeper and makes sure they have all the supplies they need and that things are happening on schedule. She also does all of the marketing, website maintenance, bill-paying, product labeling, walk-in freezer organizing, farmer’s market packing and washing and packing the eggs. Laura said “I wash a lot of equipment each week at our poultry processing facility, maintain records and paperwork for our AWA certification – basically all the non-glamourous stuff that goes on behind the scenes”.
Red Bird Acres also has several sows that farrow twice a year which means they will always have groups of growing pigs as well as pregnant sows or sows with litters.
I’ve been fortunate to visit the farm several times when piglets are born. The sows are so docile and well loved, they never mind me traipsing through the pasture to get a peek of their new babies. On occasion, I’ve gotten to rub a few piglet bellies and scratch a few piglet ears, hearing their adorable squeals of happiness (and my squeals of happiness as well).
Laura and Robin currently sell their chicken, pork and eggs weekly at the Saturday Corvallis farmers market and through their CSA. They offer year-round sign up for the pork CSA and sign-ups for the chicken CSA will begin again in January 2017. Currently, I make excuses as to why I must pick up my chicken or pork at the farm. Yes, it’s to see the baby chicks or new piglets and hang around the farm animals and soak in all the delightful farm vibes.
About Karista Bennett
Karista is a passionate and experienced culinary arts professional, photographer and freelance writer whose personal philosophy is to connect and inspire, visually through her photos and tasted in her recipes. She believes “Food should not only satisfy hunger, it should feed the soul, nourish the body and delight the senses”
Her work appears regularly in several home and lifestyle magazines and she also publishes a recipe website at www.karistaskitchen.com.
Karista lives in a beautiful and vibrant farming community in the Willamette Valley, Oregon with her husband, two daughters and one very tenacious terrier named Tank.