Life flows through Sunnybrook Farm.
A network of irrigation ditches circulates water from the White Salmon River throughout pastures and rows of produce, providing water for a herd of Galloway cattle, flocks of chickens and turkeys, two happy dogs, and a few sheep.
It’s all part of a larger network of irrigation ditches through the Trout Lake Valley that provides water to the many farms that are located there. Sunnybrook Farm might just be one part of that network, but farmers Michael Kelly and his wife, Rebecca Wellman, are working to not only provide fresh meat at the White Salmon Farmers Market and at their small farm store, but to also become organically certified and preserve the quality of the water that flows through their farm.
“It’s nice because it creates a little riparian zone through the property, but it’s also where we get all our irrigation and water,” Kelly said.
As Sunnybrook Farm enters its third season, Kelly and Wellman are making their way through the sea of paperwork that any farm has to go through in order to become certified organic through Oregon Tilth.
“Luckily ours is fairly simple compared to a lot of other producers because we don’t grow any non-organic crops and we don’t even use any of the approved pesticides,” Wellman said.
But they’re not stopping with just an organic certification. Any chickens or eggs sold by Sunnybrook Farm could soon be Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), meaning the farm provides their meat and laying hens with plenty of space to roam around, access to shade, comfortable housing, and much more.
Currently, Kelly is in the process of building what he calls the “chicken palace,” a new, large coop that will meet AWA standards.
“It’s bigger than the first house we ever lived in,” Wellman said.
The goal is to meet AWA standards for all of the meat raised at Sunnybrook Farm, including beef, but that comes with additional challenges. For example, all of the beef raised at Sunnybrook Farm is currently taken to Malco’s Buxton Meats, a USDA-certified facility in Sandy, but in order to become AWA certified, Kelly and Wellman need to find a slaughterhouse that meets those same AWA standards, as well.
“We’ll have to figure something out. That’s part of the reason we can’t do that yet for the beef, but the chickens we can just do here on the farm and be Animal Welfare Approved,” Kelly said.
In addition to providing their chickens with a “coop de ville,” as one of the workers through Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms calls it, Sunnybrook Farm’s chickens also made a new friend earlier this year in Oly, a Great Pyrenees and Akbash mix trained to guard the flock.
Oly aptly gets his name from the equally huge and snowy white Mount Olympus, but is a gentle giant who watches Sunnybrook Farm’s chickens every day and night. Wellman and Kelly decided to train Oly as a guard dog after losing 120 chickens to predators in one night last summer.
“It was just a slaughter,” Kelly said.
But improving the wellbeing of Sunnybrook Farm isn’t only about taking care of and protecting the animals that live there. It’s also about keeping them away from areas they should not wander, like irrigation ditches. Sunnybrook Farm recently obtained a grant through the Underwood Conservation District and the Washington State Department of Ecology to build around 2,700 feet of fencing at least 35 feet away from the farm’s irrigation ditches to keep animals out.
“Whatever is left goes right back into the White Salmon, so they’ve done a lot of testing and found pretty high fecal counts in all of the ditches in Trout Lake and a lot of it is dumping back into the river, which can be common for any irrigation district anywhere,” Kelly said.
In the midst of all of this, Wellman and Kelly welcomed one more member to the Sunnybrook Farm family in March. Their now-four-month-old son, Aspen, introduced a new kind of life to Sunnybrook Farm, but also brought some additional challenges, as well.
“When it comes to the physical outdoor work I almost can’t do any of it unless my mom comes and watches him. I thought I would be able to wear him around and be working, but it’s dangerous and it’s really difficult and awkward to work with a baby strapped to you,” Wellman said.
At the very least, she says she and Aspen can make it to the farmers market every week this summer. When Kelly and Wellman decided to open their small farm store, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 573 Sunnyside Road in Trout Lake, they initially thought they wouldn’t be making it to any markets this summer, but decided the opportunity to connect with the community was too good to pass up.
“It’s not just what you sell that day, it’s also about creating customer relationships,” Kelly said.
In the meantime, Kelly and Wellman are focusing on growing their farm, which is currently 40 acres that is owned by Wellman’s parents and another 10 acres they lease. They hope to be leasing another 15 acres this summer so Sunnybrook Farm can grow even more.
“One of the things we do very thoroughly that I don’t see a lot of other livestock producers doing is looking at our numbers very carefully to calculate how much each pound of meat is costing us,” Kelly said. “One of the main things is that we like to pay ourselves a living wage, too, and we’ve found that a lot of small producers don’t include that number, so we put into our equations that we want to earn $15 per hour, ideally more as our family grows. That’s the hard thing to figure out without just shoving a bunch of animals into a tiny lot and throwing some grain at them, being efficient with our time but still having happy animals.”