Working at San Francisco General Hospital, Patricia Sullivan was surrounded by sickness.
As a licensed marriage and family therapist in charge of several mental health programs, Sullivan saw people suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, HIV, many of who had spent a lifetime eating junk food and abusing drugs.
It was a stressful job, and to cope, Sullivan, now 53, began taking classes on animal husbandry. She also bought sheep and cows, renting space on farms while she lived in Berkeley.
It would take seven years to make the transition from urban to rural, but Sullivan eventually found the perfect spot off Adobe Road. Since buying the farm in 2006, she has launched Happy Hens Farms, a one-woman enterprise devoted to raising chickens, grass-fed beef, lamb, goats, pastured pork and heritage turkeys.
“I found that being around animals was very meditative for me,” Sullivan says. “It’s the opposite of managerial office work. It’s physical and out of your brain. Plus, I love offering healthy food to people.”
Sullivan sells her product at local farmers markets (including the Eastside market every Tuesday) and through her “pay-as-you-go CSA,” meaning no monthly subscription is required. She also uses a site called goodeggs.com that connects Bay Area consumers to local farms.
And come June, she will offer two weeklong camps for children that will include animal care, cooking with food from the farm, arts and crafts and gardening.
On her farm, the chickens roam freely around the goats while ten Akbash guard dogs keep a watchful eye on things. Nearby a pig cools off in a puddle while the turkeys show off their plumage to a visitor. There are few fences and Sullivan likes it that way.
“The commingling is a throwback to pre-industrial farms and gives animals a sense of mutual interdependence and a certain health and vigor,” she says.
How does someone go from city girl to farmer?
Equal parts passion, equal parts trial and error, apparently. Sullivan took a few classes and volunteered with a friend who is a farmer before she struck out on her own. But mostly, she’s learned on the job.
“You have to be willing to work hard,” she says, adding that she hasn’t had a vacation in eight years. “Even if this didn’t work out, I just wanted to try. I didn’t want to be in my 70s saying ‘I wish I would have.’”
To learn more about Happy Hens Farms, visit them online at happyhensfarmgirl.blogspot.com
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