Once urban families getting back to the land

Brush Prairie family embraces rural life after outlook shift

By

Published:

 

• Where: 13513 N.E. 132nd Ave., Brush Prairie.

&#8226; Information: 360-524-9005; <a href="http://www.botanybayfarm.com">http://www.botanybayfarm.com</a>

Sometimes it's best to ...

slow ...

down.

Before the Sturtevant family's lifestyle change, before smartphones, before Facebook -- even before $4 coffee -- Christian and Lea Andrade packed up everything and moved from San Francisco to start the Olympic Lights Bed and Breakfast in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

He was a management consultant and she was an art director for Wells Fargo Bank. The then-middle-aged couple were content in California, but a vacation in the mid-1980s to San Juan Island in Northwest Washington changed it all.

"There was something about the island that grabbed our souls," Christian said. "We didn't realize what we were wanting until we got into it."

Now in their retirement years, the Andrades live idyllically. Six months of the year they run the bed and breakfast, the other time they sit back and enjoy lush surroundings. Lea grows her award-winning flowers, Christian is part of a coed softball team and they both play in a marimba band.

"We relax and practically do nothing," he said.

"We have more joy in our lives. There's less of everything. It's just quiet and peaceful."

-- Stover E. Harger III

• Where: 13513 N.E. 132nd Ave., Brush Prairie.

• Information: 360-524-9005; http://www.botanybayfarm.com

Sometimes it’s best to …

slow …

down.

Before the Sturtevant family’s lifestyle change, before smartphones, before Facebook — even before $4 coffee — Christian and Lea Andrade packed up everything and moved from San Francisco to start the Olympic Lights Bed and Breakfast in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

He was a management consultant and she was an art director for Wells Fargo Bank. The then-middle-aged couple were content in California, but a vacation in the mid-1980s to San Juan Island in Northwest Washington changed it all.

“There was something about the island that grabbed our souls,” Christian said. “We didn’t realize what we were wanting until we got into it.”

Now in their retirement years, the Andrades live idyllically. Six months of the year they run the bed and breakfast, the other time they sit back and enjoy lush surroundings. Lea grows her award-winning flowers, Christian is part of a coed softball team and they both play in a marimba band.

“We relax and practically do nothing,” he said.

“We have more joy in our lives. There’s less of everything. It’s just quiet and peaceful.”

— Stover E. Harger III

Before they were farmers, this family’s lone animal was a parakeet.

What a change a few years can make.

In 2011, the large Sturtevant clan moved from their modest lot in east Vancouver to start a farm on 34 acres in Brush Prairie. They were inspired in part by the 2008 documentary “Food, Inc.” and had a dream of helping to steer society away from large-scale corporate farming toward locally sourced, organic food.

Now the entire family has a role at Botany Bay Farm, feeding the hens, preparing pastures and selling the fruits of their labor at local farmers markets, grocery stores and to restaurants. “Raised less than 20 miles from here” reads a promise brandished next to a family portrait on their chickens’ packaging.

At Botany Bay Farm, the air is crisp, the nights are still and the family is growing closer day by day.

“We’re doing it together,” said Mark Sturtevant, a civil engineer who with wife Cherie has 12 kids, ages 4 to 26. Ten of their home-schooled children live on the farm and two are married but still close by. “We all start the day together, and we all end the day together.”

Team Sturtevant

Despite their desire for a more down-to-earth existence, the Sturtevants aren’t living the trite “simple life.” They have modern equipment and conveniences, an active blog and they adhere to strict “holistic” land management practices, where in an attempt to better mimic nature, a variety of animals will graze on the same pasture at different times. One group is rotated in just as another is moved to a different portion.

“We have a tractor, but we try to do everything by hand,” said 22-year-old farm manager Caleb Sturtevant. He and 16-year-old Joshua Sturtevant work full time and the others assist when needed, washing eggs, selling at markets, building animal pens and designing packaging.

Mark said strong Christian ideals mean his family strives to respect the land and animals God has granted them — even the ones destined for slaughter.

At capacity, the Sturtevants raise about 1,200 free-range “broiler” chickens, 400 egg-laying hens and dozens of cows, sheep, pigs and rabbits. A poster-sized whiteboard by the kitchen maps out duties for that week.

“There are charts and schedules for everything,” said 32-year-old Camden Spiller, who married into the family and leads marketing and sales.

On a typical Saturday morning this time of year, when some settle into the couch for a long day of football watching, the Sturtevants have a different routine. The ones on duty work an assembly line to prepare chickens for sale. Standing in a row at a long metal table inside a large shed, the young girls go first, plucking feathers from the freshly killed fowl and passing them left as the birds are cleaned step by step.

“This is our big Saturday morning ritual,” Camden said.

“It’s the most fun because we’re together,” said 14-year-old Maria Sturtevant.

They can butcher about 100 chickens an hour if needed. You might have seen their birds at Vancouver’s Chuck’s Produce or even eaten one at the Mint

Tea restaurant. Based on strong market demand, the family’s plan is to double chicken production next year.

A year before their monumental move from the Cascade Park area, mother Cherie wrote in her journal about the new adventure, the result of many prayers and careful planning.

“I wouldn’t have dreamed we’d be going this direction,” she wrote. “It’s been a good, good life. We’ve improved the place in and out, but now we don’t have much for the kids to do here but ‘maintain.’ There’s not a lot of innovation and problem-solving that can occur outside of their schoolwork. And I/we want the kids to have more than schoolwork, food prep, kitchen cleanup and the Internet (sometimes it seems like that’s what constitutes life these days.)”

The transition hasn’t always been smooth.

“It wasn’t stress-free in terms of making that decision,” father Mark said. “We are not a wealthy family. There are financial limits.”

Mark said some of his younger kids were apprehensive at first, especially considering farmwork meant they would be forced to stay at home for days at a time.

There’s always something to do.

“Because we have so many farm responsibilities and animals relying on us, it doesn’t allow us a lot of free time away from the farm during the summer months,” said 20-year-old Heidi Sturtevant.

Her father said his kids have done a good job persevering through the challenges.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of gusto at the early rising, but once they are out of bed there isn’t anyone who isn’t showing enjoyment for what they’re doing,” Mark said. “They’ve seen some amazing things in just 21/2years of being here.”

Even his youngest, 4-year-old Micah, does his part, using his tiny hands to haul kitchen scraps out to the compost pile. The boy was even able to grab an escaped chicken when no one else could even get close because the bird wasn’t intimidated by his size.

“He reached out and picked this thing up because he’s so small,” his father said with pride.

A clear view

On a recent Thursday, while Cherie was inside making egg salad sandwiches for lunch with Botany Bay Farm produce, others in the family slipped on their rubber boots and strolled along the trail winding through their property. A bouncy cat followed, occasionally rushing ahead to prowl the brush.

“This is the lifestyle we love,” Camden said.

“On a clear day you can see Mount Hood,” Caleb said. “And other times you can see Mount St. Helens,” Camden added as he pointed past their personal sea of serenity toward a sweeping horizon.