#iamamodernfarmer Q&A: Anne Briggs

Anne Briggs jumps into things with both feet. Four years ago, after reading Urban Farm Handbook by Annette Cottrell, she dug up her yard, put in raised beds, planted a few fruit trees, cultivated their natural huckleberries, and planted as many raspberries, grape, and kiwi vines as she could find space for on their tiny suburban plot in the Seattle area. Briggs, 27, also got chickens and started raising rabbits for meat.

It wasn’t much of a surprise that Briggs fell in love with the homesteading lifestyle. She grew up in Montana surrounded by agriculture, and her family had a garden and raised rabbits and chickens. After attending college at Peking University (she happens to be fluent in Mandarin), she lived Taipei, Taiwan, before settling in Seattle in 2011. 

Briggs’s husband, Adam, 31—“a city boy through and through,” she says—wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about his wife’s new passion. He found it strange to their chickens’ eggs and thought the produce from their garden wasn’t as clean or well packaged as the store-bought variety.

“He’s come around quite a bit since the days where he would feed my chickens wearing a hazmat suit,” Briggs tells Modern Farmer in an email. “So much so in fact, that last year, when a very rundown farm near our house came on the market, he bought it for me, for us, to learn how to farm ‘for real’ together.”

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Now the couple is raising alpacas, goats, chickens, and ducks, and recently put in a 5,200-square-foot garden with an irrigation system sourced from their well. Briggs says they have the “lofty goal” of raising nearly everything they eat this summer with plenty to share with their friends and neighbors. Time management must be another of the couple’s strong suits: Anne designs and builds furniture, restores antique tools, and teaches hand-tool woodworking, and Adam works full-time in the tech industry.

Modern Farmer: Why do you consider yourself a modern farmer?

Anne Briggs: Literally everything we do around here is by trial and error, and 90 percent of our information comes from the Internet. One of the most common questions I get from people is, “how the heck do you know how to do this stuff?” I always laugh when I answer “YouTube.” We are also “farmers” in a modern world. Adam works full-time in tech in downtown Seattle, and I manage the woodworking studio at Pratt Fine Arts Center in the Central District. Because of our jobs, we had to get property close to the city, and four acres 35 minutes from the Space Needle doesn’t come cheap. We would have to sell a lot of eggs, lettuce, and baby bunnies to pay our mortgage and make this a “profitable” farm.

MF: Why is it important to you to support local agriculture?

AB: Community is extremely important to my husband and me. Food brings people together and is the great equalizer. My mom raised us on incredible scratch-made meals, many of which came out of our own garden or our friends’ gardens. Growing up in cherry country, cherry-picking season was a family-and-friends affair. Some of my fondest memories are of long days spent picking cherries and raspberries with my big sister, who, incidentally, is also an avid gardener (far better and more ambitious than I), canner, and the most fantastic cook I’ve ever known. Having tasted garden-fresh produce, I would think supporting local agriculture would be a no-brainer for anyone, but a real sense of the value in supporting local farmers has come for me since I’ve started doing a lot more things myself.

I calculated it out one time, and if I paid myself for my time feeding and milking the goat, plus the time to make the cheese, my goat cheese would be valued at about $107 a pound. So buying a $12 block of cheese from my farmer friend seems like a steal. With so much medical evidence amounting about the direct link between mental and physical health being directly related to our food, I can’t go on supporting a broken food system. Plus, growing food is fun! There are few things more rewarding than putting a tiny carrot seed in the ground, watching it sprout and grow, and then eating it fresh out of the garden.

MF: If you could grow or raise any food or animal, what would it be and why?

AB: I wish we could grow avocado trees in the Pacific Northwest. Because, well, isn’t it obvious why? My next endeavor, once we’ve started to reclaim our forested property a bit, is to raise meat pigs. Not only is bacon delightful, most of my friends who farm pigs say they are one of the most fun animals to have around the farm.

I calculated it out one time, and if I paid myself for my time feeding and milking the goat, plus the time to make the cheese, my goat cheese would be valued at about $107 a pound. So buying a $12 block of cheese from my farmer friend seems like a steal.

MF: What’s your favorite vegetable?

AB: Artichokes.

MF: If you could give other modern farmers any advice, what would it be?

AB: Find a good support system—friends who can give good advice or lend you their strong backs when you need them, who will understand the heartbreak of losing livestock to sickness/predators, and who will celebrate the big and little moments with you. Also, get good boots. Farming involves a lot of poop.

MF: Do you have a farming/agricultural hero? Why do you admire them?

AB: My friend Kirsten at Hostile Valley Living is a major hero figure because she and her partner have jumped in with both feet on this whole farming thing. They are doing everything the “right” way, and have been working so incredibly hard to make their farming dreams become a reality—first on their little suburban plot, but now as they’ve bought an old farm property in Maine and are restoring it. I’m so impressed by how much and how well she does everything she does.

MF: What’s the biggest farming mistake you’ve ever made?

AB: My biggest mistake has also, in many ways, been my biggest asset. I have a habit of getting in way over my head in things, but it usually ends up pretty great. When we had just moved onto our farm, we were contacted about taking in some rescue goats and alpacas, and before we even had a fully upright fence or space in the barn, I said yes. It might also be mentioned that I’d also never owned any big livestock before either, so there was a huge, immediate learning curve. There were a few funny (well, funny now, not then) goat chases through the neighborhood, and some humorous traffic jams caused by our alpacas blackberry picking on the side of the road and our ducks letting themselves out for a little swim in the lake.

But I think without things like that happening, I would also have been a lot more carefree with my timeline to do important things like fixing the fences, rehabilitating our grazing pastures, and taking the dumpster loads of trash out of the barn and to the dump. Having the animals we do has been a big motivator for me to get all things “farm” done. I’ve often struggled with lack of direction, time management, and depression as a result of those vicious cycles, and the animals help me manage that a lot. The animals get their water, breakfast, and daily milkings done before I eat my breakfast or have my coffee, and by that time, my day is already well under way, and that helps everything thereafter go a whole lot smoother. Plus, how can you be depressed when a baby alpaca is relentlessly sniffing your crotch?

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#iamamodernfarmer Q&A: Anne Briggs