JANYA & NATE
Seattle, Washington to Duvall, Washington
High on mountainside in the misty and mossy forests of Duvall, Washington sits Janya and Nate Veranth’s Redfeather Farm. It was mid-November when Urban Exodus navigated up their long shared gravel drive, passing log cabins and tidy farmsteads. Nearly to the end of the road, a hand-painted sign welcomes you to their farm. The trees open up revealing a green lawn, barns, sheds and happy dogs running about. Janya and Nate’s journey to the country started innocent enough, with weekend visits to a friend’s sheep farm, a several hour drive from their home in the Seattle suburbs. The couple felt guilty that their beloved Border Collie, Emmy, was cooped up in their suburban backyard and not running around herding animals like she was bred for. They started training Emmy at their friend’s farm and eventually began searching real estate listings and cold-calling farmers looking for land that they could afford. They were able to buy raw acreage that hadn’t been developed yet in Duvall, less than an hour drive from downtown Seattle. After running utility lines, they decided to avoid the stress and expense of building a home from scratch and instead opted for a manufactured home. When their first child was just a few weeks old they left the conveniences of city life behind and moved to their quiet and remote homestead that was still without floors. They started with sheep so Emmy could continue her sheepdog training but after experimenting with different animals and breeds they fell hard for Berkshire hogs. Their high level of intelligence, affectionate nature and curiosity won the Veranths over. Now Janya and Nate run the only Animal Welfare Approved pig farm in their entire county. Their pigs live happily on grass pasture with plenty of room to root, roam and forage until their one “bad day.” Although it is more expensive, they opt to have their animals harvested onsite to avoid the stress and terror of being transported to a slaughterhouse. They sell their meat direct to customers in the greater Seattle area and supplement their farming income with Nate's full-time work at his local law practice. In the city they mostly kept to themselves and felt somewhat isolated. In Duvall, they have built a tight-knit community of farming folks and feel like they are doing fun, worthwhile and inspiring work. Their boys are able to run free, work hard and grow up surrounded by nature. They continue to slowly expand their farm and hope to add new animals and vegetable crops in the coming year. Although they aren’t physically far from where they once lived in their former city life, mentally they couldn’t be further away. They feel lucky that they found their Border Collie Emmy, who changed the trajectory of their lives and inspired them to move to the country. (Click here to jump to their interview)
What inspired you to move to the country?
Our dogs! We were living with three rescued Border Collies in Kirkland, a suburb of Seattle. Nate was driving 150 miles every weekend to take the dogs herding at a friend’s sheep farm. The dogs had a strong drive to work, so we wanted to move to the country to give them room to run and sheep of their own to herd. We named our farm Redfeather after our first Border Collie, Emmy, and her long red feathers!
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
In order to find a screamin’ deal on property, my husband combed the tax records and cold-called local farmers to find out who might be selling land. That’s how we came across 40 unlisted, undeveloped acres in un-incorporated King County. In order to move in, we needed to trench in power 3/4 of a mile, dig a well, and put in a septic system. To move out here faster and save some money, we decided to plunk down a manufactured house rather than wait through painful and expensive new construction. I thought this was all a terrible idea. I didn’t know why we couldn’t just find property with a farm and a house and a key that opens the front door :) But Nate wanted to be a pioneer and start from the ground up and take advantage of the opportunity to buy raw land. His background as a real estate attorney helped us immensely in working with the County and tackling the big projects. When we finally moved in, the house had no floors, no washer or dryer, and I had a 9-week old baby. After a few days, I looked out the window and saw two coyotes in the front yard (to this day, I still swear they were wolves!). I called Nate at work and pleaded with him to put up a ‘For Sale’ sign. Thankfully, we stayed.
What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?
You have to be ready for bad weather and storms. Our area is always the first to lose power and the last to get it back as we aren’t prioritized like the homes in the city. When we lose power, we lose water so, after a few rough storms, we invested in a portable generator to keep the power and water running for us and the animals.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about the city?
There are no small projects on our property as everything is on a grand scale. A lot of the maintenance feels overwhelming at times and we are trying to do a better job of defining what to leave ‘wild’ and what we want to tame. I don’t miss much about the city these days. Our kids do not live in a neighborhood where they can run to a friend’s house, nor do they have pavement or a sidewalk to ride their bikes or play basketball. Our boys learned to ride on gravel and dirt trails which is much more fun!
Would you ever consider moving back to the city?
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
My six year-old loves how we get to see wild animals around the property; elk, deer, fox, bobcat and tons of wild birds and their babies! We love that we have enough space to host big parties, play baseball in the front yard, and ride quads. We love raising our own food and food for our community. We love hosting field trips and sharing our practices with new farmers. We love the security and privacy of living in the woods. We love having space for our dogs and kids to run and explore. We love that our pigs can be raised in the forest and have plenty of room to be big, happy pigs. And we love how quiet it is!
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Nothing is as charming or carefree as it looks on Instagram. Rural life is a lot of work. Whatever life you choose, just go after it with all you've got. And be friends with your country neighbors! It’s easy to isolate yourself in the city (we always did!) but country life is a bit more rugged and your neighbor’s tools and expertise are invaluable when you need help. And country folks always have the best food.
Why did you decide to start Redfeather Farm?
So our Emmy girl could have her own sheep. My husband also harbored a lifelong dream of raising kids in the country.
What advice would you give to people interested in raising pigs?
Good fencing (!!) and good mentors are the best way to get started. Our first livestock were sheep and before we ever brought new animals to the farm, we visited a bunch of farms and talked with a ton of farmers. An honest farmer who is willing to mentor you through the first year - and answer all your panicked phone calls - is priceless. Good, hearty stock is also key. Healthy animals from good genetic lines will save you a lot of heartache and money on vet bills. In the end, the animals will always show you what you’re doing right and where you can improve. You just have to be willing to listen to them prove you wrong :)
Are there any things you wished you knew ahead of time about farming that you had to learn the hard way?
There is a lot of death on the farm and not a whole lot to prepare you for the process. Especially when raising animals for meat, death is always a humbling experience. The life cycle is a very powerful teacher with valuable lessons. The deaths that have bothered me the most are the newborn deaths and the ‘missed calls’ that made me doubt myself. But it is important to remember that the animals in your care have their own life force and your role is to be a good shepherd of their time here.
Also, you need a few good farm sitters in your back pocket if you ever want to get off the farm. Before we ever book a vacation, we call our farm sitter first to see if she is available. You’ll never enjoy another vacation until you know that your farm is in the best of hands while you are away.
Are there any books, blogs, videos, etc. that you would recommend to people thinking about becoming more self-sufficient?
There are so many guides out there that I would recommend choosing the one that resonates most with your passion and purpose. Once it feels wrong, be willing to change course. And, again, seek out trustworthy mentors- they are richer than gold!
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
I’m inspired by happy animals. We remain the only Animal Welfare Approved pig farm in our county and I am driven to uphold our certification year after year.
Have you noticed a change in yourself or your work since moving away from the city?
I get a lot of confidence from working with large animals. Lots of women can carry a $600 purse, but not every woman can work with a 600-pound hog.
I’ve also found an incredibly satisfying intersection in my passion for raising animals and my passion for writing.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
I feel pretty empowered having the wide-open space to pursue our dreams. Other than certain county regulations, we don’t feel limited by where this path may lead us.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
I’m not sure how us ‘country folk’ are perceived, although a few city folk have asked if we live in a barn or a real house. Do people still think country-dwellers are bumpkins? Dirty? Uneducated? Because nothing could be further from the truth. Farmers are some of the most dynamic and resourceful people I’ve ever met and, if we’re dirty, it’s because we’re doing the back-breaking work of feeding people ethically.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
We’ve put up a greenhouse and now we need to fill it with veggies for our family and our pigs (this will be my husband’s job because vegetable scare me). We plan to mill more lumber from our trees to finish a few building projects and beef up the fence lines in our pig pastures. We’d like to raise meat chickens again and get back to three working sows. Really, the list goes on…