Jennifer Argraves and Joseph Sukovaty are linear thinkers. Both have engineering degrees and have been trained to accomplish goals in the most simple, direct way: a straight line towards a solution.
And yet everything on their Crown S Ranch is part of a circle. Creating a sustainable farm, the married couple have found, requires balance between many systems that all work together in cycles.
"Everything here works in rotation. We're all about completing a circle," Argraves said during a recent tour of their 150-acre ranch on Twin Lakes Road, a few miles south of Winthrop. They raise grass-fed cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens and turkeys without hormones, pesticides, herbicides or any other toxic chemicals. All animals are pasture fed with the addition of grains that are also grown on the farm.
A solar-powered robotic tractor slowly pulls large cages of chickens through the pasture so they have new grass to peck through each day. Argraves calls the contraption a "chicken train." Bins of grain and water are filled automatically. An electric fence around the cages is also powered by the solar cell to keep predators away.
The pasture is fertilized as the chickens move around. The pecking birds also create a balance of beneficial germs and natural antibiotics that keep sheep, cattle and other animals healthy as they rotate through the pasture. A hen house for free-range laying hens and turkeys also moves through pasture in the same fashion. Even the pig pens move seasonally. One year's wallow becomes the next year's garden.
Nothing is wasted, Argraves said. Any organic matter without a direct use is composted for fertilizer. Even flies brushed off cattle by another contraption are caught and fed to the chickens.The couple returned to the Sukovaty family ranch in 1999 to help Joseph's parents and raise their own children while still running their engineering firm. They incorporated the ranch in 2006 and began selling their certified organic beef, lamb, pork, poultry and eggs. Farm profits allowed them to close the engineering business last year. Their products are sold online, at many local stores and restaurants and at their own Farm Store at 4 Twin Lakes Rd. They sell up to 50,000 pounds of meat and nearly 5,000 dozen eggs annually.
Sustainable farming takes hard work and hard science. But the couple found little information about how to raise animals without chemicals. Nearly all ag research is funded by large companies that can profit by it, said Argraves. A lot of what's done at Crown S is experimentation. Many costly mistakes have been made in order to learn.
The couple teach classes and hold workshops throughout the state to pass on what they've learned.
"A lot of what makes farming work is still a mystery. It's what we don't know that makes our work so satisfying," she said.
This is one of a series of stories Rick Steigmeyer found while traveling the Cascade Loop this summer for a story in Foothills magazine. For more information about the Loop and its many offerings, check out the website cascadeloop.com.