Funny-named Alaska farm takes sustainability seriously
At Chicken Lips Farm, Tracy Terry tries to adhere to one policy: KISS (keep it simple, stupid).
The full-time nurse who farms in the Cripple Creek area is known for providing excellent chicken, duck and geese eggs. She named the farm just as she approaches life–with a sense of humor. A common expression from her youth when someone was negating a question was, “Does a chicken have lips?”
Terry also has a humble approach. “I’m the person to call to ask what not to do,” she said, admitting she has made lots of mistakes in her agricultural journey. Predators have been a huge challenge, with everything from lynx to fox to ravens going after the birds. “My Siberian husky wiped us out once,” she said. “You learn resilience when things like that happen.”
One thing she did right was to earn a bachelor of science degree in natural resources management, emphasizing plant science, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. After serving 20 years in the Air Force, Terry decided working on the degree would be a wonderful gift to herself. At UAF she learned the science behind soils and agronomy.
One of her professors asked what would happen if the food supply to Alaska was cut off, which got Terry thinking about producing more of her own food.
As a student, she worked at the Georgeson Botanical Garden examining tissue cultures of lingonberries. This led her to believe in the value of plants not only for their beauty but for the nutrition they provide.
Tracy grew up in a military family, primarily in Florida. In earlier years she followed the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals philosophy. When she met Carl Terry, who would become her husband, Terry said it was “east meets west.”
The Terrys bought property just down the road from Rosie Creek Farm in 2002. It was 2008 by the time they had cleared enough trees to start producing crops and build a barn. Carl, a helicopter pilot, serves as the farm’s “CEO of labor.” He built the heated barn which allows for year-round egg production.
Tracy has never had to solicit customers to buy eggs; she can hardly keep up with the demand. The farm has 30 black Australorp chickens, along with some barnyard crosses and Ameraucana.
Back in her PETA days, Terry could not have envisioned raising animals for food and she still has a bit of trouble. After slaughtering a turkey for Thanksgiving, Terry had no appetite for the meat. The chickens are strictly for laying. “My chickens die of old age and obesity,” she said.
The farm boasts a huge garden where every kind of vegetable that can be grown in the Interior is raised. Terry enjoys experimenting with food preservation and has had good luck drying cabbage, carrots, turnips, parsnips, cucumber and kale. She prefers not to freeze or can.
“I can slice a carrot very thin and dry it,” Terry said. “It’s not pretty but when I drop it in a pot to make soup it looks like a carrot again.”
She crumbles dried kale on top of salads. “Dried foods have a long shelf life,” she said. Terry uses a dehydrator she found at the recycle platform. “I get a lot of farm implements from the Dumpster,” she said.
She found another innovative preservation method for spuds. Terry washed tiny potatoes and steamed them lightly before bagging and freezing. To use, she coats lightly with olive oil and bakes in the oven at a high temperature. “They are wonderful,” she said.
The recent purchase of a tractor will enable the Terrys to clear more land this summer. Terry wants to add rhubarb plants and is thinking about a cold frame for asparagus. She has been growing asparagus for five or six years but wants to increase production.
She grows 50 rows of greens to feed the chickens. “I’m interested in sustainable farming and feeding my own animals,” Terry said. The farm produces 80 percent of the vegetables the Terrys consume.
“Farming changes the way you look at everything,” Terry said. “It makes you extremely conscientious about cost, including elbow grease.”
Spring is a crazy time for Terry. “The house is filled with plant starts,” she said. “The furniture might have to go. Some sacrifices have to be made.”
Her advice is to seek information and ask questions of farmers who have been successful in Alaska. “Ask what not to do and listen very carefully,” Terry said.
“As Professor Pat Holloway used to say, the proof is in the plants.”
Chicken Lips Farm e-mail: email@example.com
This column is provided as a service by the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences and the Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Nancy Tarnai is the school and station’s public information officer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.