Tag Archives: family

A Backyard Farm Evolves in Seattle


Tom and Didi with their backyard La Mancha goats in Seattle.

Sometimes there’s no grand plan to having an urban farm, it just happens. That’s the way it went with Tom and Didi’s Seattle backyard. Didi had always been a big gardener and wanted chickens, so growing vegetables and getting chickens was easy. Next a friend needed someone to take over her bee hive, so they adopted the hive and got bees.  And then they met Jennie Grant, a neighbor whose son went to school with the Burpee kids. When Jennie needed help getting backyard goats legalized they naturally gathered signatures for the petition. (Jennie Grant’s  story is in Backyard Roots.) Tom even made a hilarious music video about the process called Justice League Blues. Check it out, the entertainment value is high! After tasting how good  fresh goat milk was,  the Burpee family became interested in the idea of getting goats. The deal was sealed when Jennie’s baby goat needed a new home. Tom says at that point the backyard became “the land of milk and honey.” Now the animals and garden is just part of the daily routine.

Tom cautions others to not “jump into goat-keeping lightly.” The amount of work that goats require is a lot more than chickens. He and Didi milk the goats twice a day for up to 18 months after they give birth. He says a big part of  being successful requires having patient neighbors. “Bribe them regularly with cheese, eggs and honey,”  he advises. It’s also crucial to have friends and neighbors trained to help you milk the goats when you need a break. The Burpees have La Mancha goats that tend to be quieter, calmer and better milk producers than other small breeds.

Tom and Didi haven’t pushed their kids with lots of farm chores but the two girls help collect eggs, harvest honey and  like to cook and eat whatever is in season. Ada is the expert in making goat milk ice cream in exotic flavors like candied ginger and they both love having the animals, especially the baby goats.


Ada (left) and Mette on the back steps with chickens.


Ada looks for eggs (left) and walks Phyllis, the goat. Since these photos were taken, Phyllis has gone on a diet and lost close to 50 lbs. They found controlling her food portions of everything except hay and walking her regularly helped her get down to a healthy size.

Ada looks for eggs (left) and walks Phyllis, the goat. Since these photos were taken, Phyllis has gone on a diet and lost close to 50 lbs. They found controlling her food portions of everything except hay and walking her regularly helped her get down to a healthy size.




The chickens love cat food and take the opportunity to steal it whenever they can.


Didi makes remakes used feed sacks into purses and bags.


Ada and Tom walk Phyllis the goat, who has since lost close to 50 lbs.

Yolanda Burrell’s Front Yard Farm and New Farm Store


TJ, Yolanda’s six year old son pops into a photo.

Yolanda Burrell has got to be the busiest urban farmer I’ve met. Besides vegetables, chickens, and home renovations, she’s got a husband, two kids and permaculture classes, not to mention a new store. She opened Pollinate, one of Oakland’s newest urban farm supply stores with Birgitt Evans just five months ago. Birgitt, a master gardener, who I interviewed and photographed for my book, Backyard Roots is her partner, so when Yolanda finally had an free morning for me to come visit, I jumped.

Yolanda and her family live in the Oak Knoll neighborhood of Oakland. Their home sits on a large 1/2 acre lot, and they grow their veggies in the front yard. The farm follows the permaculture principle of being accessible so harvesting and care is easy. And since it’s right out front Yolanda didn’t want an eyesore. The raised beds radiate out from four corners in the center of the yard and she punctuates the garden with lots of flowers. The beds a have thick mulch paths between them and she plants lots of permaculture veggies, like ground cherries that her kids love as well as tomatoes, squash, artichokes, beans, asparagus and plenty more. The back is where the two chicken coops are kept, along with a growing food forest with over 20 fruit trees, and play area for the kids.

I loved Yolanda’s urban farm but when she told me about her store I was really captivated. She and Birgitt have known each other 25 years and are both really into growing food. They’ve always dreamed of having a great farm store where customers could get everything all under one roof. They started “saving their pennies” and spent over a year planning. There were no outside investors. To learn more about how to do it Yolanda and her family visited urban farm stores in Portland and Eugene and found a couple of great mentors. They learned they would probably not get a vacation for two years  and that they would work every day, even when they weren’t in the store. Yet they were not deterred.  It became a mission to find a location that had indoor/outdoor space, a driveway for loading, and was not too far from either of them. When they found their spot at 2727 Fruitvale they quickly went to work, enrolling a talented neighbor to make farm tables, another friend to do graphics, and getting endless help from their families. So far, Pollinate has been welcomed by the neighbors and greeted with excitement. The two have yet to make a salary but business is good. The store is getting popular, they have workshops and classes as well as all your homestead needs. Yolanda says the “community wants them to succeed.” How could they not.




Evan, Yolanda’s 10-year-old is the chicken whisperer. When a chicken escapes she can catch it.





Yolanda Burrell and Birgitt Evans, owners of Pollinate farm and Garden.