It was a beautiful early spring day in rural, southern Sebastopol, and slowly driving down a long driveway there were chickens to my right and sheep to my left. The grassy fields were a lush, dark green. It was idyllic. At the end of the driveway I parked my car, got out, and took in the fresh, breezy air. After briefly taking in the scenery, I was warmly greeted by Marc Felton and shortly thereafter Sarah Silva, co-owners of Green Star Farm, a picturesque animal farm on 47 acres of pastureland that supplies eggs to us at Peter Lowell’s.
The farm is divided among several sections of pasture, each housing a number of different animals, including chickens, hogs, goats and sheep. The chickens, numbering somewhere in the neighborhood of two thousand, are the heart of the operation. With about 400 to 500 per flock, the birds live in mobile coops that are frequently rotated from one section of pasture to another. Sarah and Marc mentioned that they’ve been making the transition from wooden to metal coops, as the metal ones are easier to clean, have fewer pests, and are a much lighter weight, making them easier to move around the farm.
Chicken breeds include Red Sex Link, Barred Rock, Leghorn, and Production Red, among others. Some are heritage breeds and all of them were chosen for their excellent egg production. At one point, while standing in front of one of the coops, Marc cracked open an egg to show off its high yolk and deep, rich golden color. He pointed out that up close it was almost the color of butterscotch. These would never be mistaken for factory farm eggs. Eggs like these can only come from pasture-raised hens.
We then meandered down the road toward another chicken pasture, this one guarded by two huge white dogs, both part Great Pyrenees. They protect the chickens against predators such as skunks and weasels. Adjacent to this pasture is a much dirtier, muddier part of the farm. This is where the hogs live.
Sarah and Marc raise hogs that are a cross between the Large Black and Tamworth breeds. Both of these are on the list of The Livestock Conservancy, an organization whose mission is to encourage the preservation of heritage breeds. Judging by the dark color of the hogs, it seems clear which breed has the dominant genes. One of the positive traits of the Large Blacks is that they’re gentler on the pasture.
When Sarah and Marc first started the farm, large parts of the land were completely overgrown with blackberry bushes. But instead of bringing in big machinery to clear the overgrowth, they found an animal solution: goats. Working on the farm is clearly a labour of love for Sarah and Marc. They said that much of the past three years has been spent rehabilitating the property.
Green Star is a Certified Naturally Grown farm, or CNG. Rather than have to deal with the costs and bureaucracy of being certified organic, they seem content with the CNG label. In fact, in many ways CNG goes further than organic, one being that the animals are required to be raised on pasture.
The next stop on the tour was to spend a little time with the goats, specifically purebred Spanish goats, another breed on the list of The Livestock Conservancy and which Sarah and Marc raise for meat. One of the highlights was holding an incredibly soft and mild-mannered newborn who had literally been born the day before. In addition to the Spanish goats, there are also about 25 dairy goats, who are milked every morning at eleven and whose names include Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and Rihanna.
Toward the end of the visit I asked Sarah if there’s anything in the world of farming that she’s especially excited about. Almost without hesitation, she started to talk about the Black Soldier Fly, a remarkable insect that can serve many different purposes. The larvae of the Black Soldier Fly feed on manure, compost, and other organic matter, allowing it to reduce waste and odor. But of greatest interest to Green Star is the larvae’s ability to convert this food into a significant source of protein, which can then be fed to the chickens as a high quality protein. And considering it can be expensive and difficult to find a good quality protein for the chickens, Sarah and Marc are excited and hopeful that these insects can provide a solution.