For me, 2020 is a year that’s going down in history. Like you, I’ll never forget what it was like to live through global pandemic, the largest civil and human rights movements of the last two decades, and having to learn to isolate myself from others.
Before all these dynamic things began to transpire, I was in the process of finishing up my time in California. My book was completed and having learned all I wanted to learn about food, farming and agriculture, I was getting ready to move back to Washington. COVID-19 actually kicked that into high gear as the desire to get the hell out of California and home to the Pacific Northwest was the only thing that brought me any feelings of safety. That transition was overly bumpy or complicated, I managed it pretty well. Once I got settled in, the first things I set out to do were to find horses and a way to raise my own meat (having only brought about six weeks worth of meat with me from California).
It took me no time to discover our local butcher shop, Falling River Meats, whose owner, Darren, introduced me to Lulu Redder, he current apprentice. As Darren had said, Lulu was someone that I would instantly connect with. And I did. Petite, full of life, gracious, funny, and a lover of her livestock, Lulu and I got down to business (hog raising business that is). After buying my pig for the year, I asked her if I could photograph her homestead and also interview her as she was one of the few women that I’d manage to meet who started her farm –– Feral Woman Farm –– on her own. Here’s her story!
Macala: Why did you get into farming?
Lulu: I’ve been playing in the dirt since as far back as I can remember. I like to credit my Aunt, who let me run wild on her farm as a kid. I think there’s a feeling of freedom, and pure joy associated with farming from that experience that I never really shook, and pursued that right out of high school. I started with a raw milk goat dairy internship when I was 19, fell in love with it, and have had at least one foot in farming ever since.
Macala: What gets you up each day wanting to continue to do what you do?
Lulu: Honestly, I think it’s the sort of ritual practice of caring for livestock every day. It’s something that soothes me, like a meditation, but also motivates me to create and learn. There’s something about having that cycle of daily routines that gives me a sense of purpose, peace, and order in my life. Being a farmer, you must be so in tune with the natural world around you. In tune with the animals you’re raising; the people you work with. Farming gives me the opportunity to experience a feeling of connection with my world that I value immensely. I’ve been a vagabond about as much as I’ve been a farmer in my life, but the deep sense of rootedness that farming gives me is something I strive to be grateful for and cultivate every day.
Macala: What advice do you have to those that might want to explore farming or homesteading?
Lulu: First, make sure you experiment with wild abandon, try all kinds of farming before you pick your major. The skills you’ll learn along the way will inevitably be valuable one day. Then, learn from other farmers’ successes and mistakes. WOOF, work and volunteer on other farms. Take workshops. Read all the books.
Remember all these things when you go to make decisions on your own farm. Make sure that you start small and grow as you gain confidence. Never get in over your head to the point that you’re not having fun anymore. If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right. And lastly, just go for it, sometimes you just have to make the leap and have a little faith that you’ll land where you need to be.
Macala: Why farm in Washington?
Lulu: I moved here many years ago remembering how beautiful the forests and the mountains were, from when I used to visit my mother’s family as a kid. I remember feeling like I was in some kind of Jurassic Park, with the giant (to a little kid) sword ferns and the huge evergreens that I wasn’t used to back on the east coast. It was magical, and I always carried that feeling with me. I knew this was a place that called to my heart, so I followed it out here. I’m glad I did, this place, my community, and the memories I’ve made here have been my guiding star through many life changes and travels.
Macala: When is the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
Lulu: I can’t remember. But I’d always rather laugh than cry.
Macala: In your opinion, why are heritage breed pigs so awesome?
Lulu: They preserve the genetics of animals that are built to handle sustainable farming practices. They are animals that can farrow and forage on pasture, and can show an economy of thrift. They’re bred to thrive in a small scale system that is far more natural than their commercial counterparts. They were also selected for qualities such as flavour, fat and texture, more so than growing the fastest and the cheapest. I think there’s more nuances to explore and discover when eating, cooking and butchering heritage breed animals.
For those of you in the Washington area, Lulu offers a pork CSA (you can order a quarter, half or whole hog). She will also be offering chicken and lamb shortly. Contact her directly via Facebook to reserve meat and or simply follow how she’s building her business!
If you’re a woman who works in food, farming or agriculture in Western Washington (including on the Islands), send me a note, I’d love to talk to you, photograph your business and tell your story!