'We don't have a poultry poo problem'TAYLORVILLE - Elliot Brewer puts fresh, organic produce on his family's table, even though the 17-year-old doesn't like to eat it.
The soil surrounding his copious patch of potatoes, corn, squash, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, purple cabbage, rhubarb, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and beans is enriched with environmentally sound compost. It's made from the excrement of more than 200 birds and other animals that share the 1-acre property with the Brewers.
"We don't have a poultry poo problem," says Lisa Brewer, Elliot's mother.
To the contrary. Rather than allowing droppings from their chickens, ducks, pigeons, peacocks, turkeys, geese and goats to be washed into nearby ponds, the Brewers have made such good use of the poultry manure that Elliot was recently recognized by the Clatsop Soil and Water Conservation District.
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Elliot Brewer eyes one of his peacocks as it stands on a perch in its enclosure.The Knappa High School senior is the first recipient of an award given to young people running environmentally friendly confined animal feeding operations, which can be a source of water pollution. District leaders, who plan to give out an award every year, hope others will follow Elliot's example and develop a plan to use manure created by their animals in beneficial ways.
"The intent here is that we've got a lot of young people raising animals and the more they can understand how to responsibly raise an animal and keep the environment clean, the better off we're going to be in coming years," said Dave Ambrose, watershed technical specialist with the conservation district.
While Clatsop County doesn't have the large herds of dairy cows found in Tillamook County, there are plenty of hobby farms with small numbers of cows, horses, sheep, goats, llamas and poultry. Ambrose said there's no reliable census of animals in the county, and there's not much regulation of smaller livestock operations, either.
Through workshops planned for the coming year and technical assistance, the conservation district encourages livestock owners to voluntarily protect streams, lakes and rivers from pollution caused by animal waste.
For the Brewers, the environmental benefits start at home.
When they bought their property six years ago, Lisa remembers, the metal shed that's now a pigeon and chicken coup was packed full of pesticides and fertilizers. There were no birds, butterflies or bees. Nary a night crawler wormed through the barren, rocky soil.
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Elliot Brewer shovels compost made from straw that lines the family's goat pens. He uses it to fertilize his garden, along with compost made from poultry manure. "It was pretty much just a sterile piece of property," she says.
They hauled away the chemicals, cleared a half-acre of blackberries and went to work on an organic garden. The main reason they went organic, Lisa says, was to grow produce that wouldn't aggravate her husband's severe allergies.
When she met Gregg Brewer nine years ago, he paid monthly visits to the doctor. But since moving here from Morton and Mineral, Wash., the organic garden has been better than an apple a day.
"His allergies are almost gone," she says.
Elliot and his twin sister, Jo, had the usual cats and dogs growing up. But one day, about five years ago, they spotted a flock of chickens running around the parking lot of Tom and Jerry's, a tavern just down Taylorville Road from their new home. As Lisa remembers it, the kids were told they could keep what they could catch, so they promptly snatched up the beginnings of their fowl collection.
They looked in a full-color catalog of chicken breeds called "The American Standard of Perfection" to identify their catch and were wowed by the variety. The kids joined 4-H and learned more about raising poultry from Patti Van Osdol at Granny Patti's Trading Post in Knappa.
Before long, the branch of the family with wings and beaks grew out of control and the Brewers found themselves with poultry manure in abundance.
With help from Van Osdol - who has a reference room in her store and guides lots of people toward organic agriculture - the Brewers learned how to turn this potential pollutant into something healthy for the garden.
"They had all the perfect ingredients for it," said Van Osdol, who has been in business for six years.
The other ingredient is wood chips, which they get by the truckload from a family friend who works at a lumber mill. The chips go into the many screened pens around their property where the birds roost. The birds mix the wood chips with their manure - a key part of composting. The result is a nutrient-rich, all-natural fertilizer that has turned their rocky soil into a productive garden.
The birds, wild and domestic, catch bugs as well, eliminating the need for pesticides.
Elliot, who spent three to four hours a day this summer tending to the garden and the family menagerie, isn't really in it for the produce.
"I only help grow this because my Mom loves to eat it," Elliot says. "I only like the rhubarb and the fruit." (He's a fruit pie aficionado.)
The Brewers' property gets regular visits during the summer from families who want to see the variety of birds and the successful composting operation.
"It's like its own little ecosystem, and it works," Lisa says. "It's probably not the prettiest garden, but it's healthy and you can go out there and pick something, wipe it off on your shirt and eat it."
A few minutes later, she chomps down on a cucumber, fresh from the garden ... much to her son's disgust.