Coast Chronicles 
Saving the family farm

Peninsula commercial gardener Larkin Stentz pictured with his family: (From left) Logan, Larkin, Keira and Rey; Terarlar with Jade and Dulce in front.

Several years ago Larkin Stentz struggled to hang on to Green Angel Gardens and Sustainable Living Center, the 1.25-acre organic homestead on 6807 Sandridge Road in Long Beach. The combination of the economic downturn and the following hard times, some bank loans and a few late payments sent Larkin into a several year spiral of financial wrangling.

Things looked exceedingly dire for a while, but with the help of some friends and a dose of good solid legal advice, Larkin managed to turn things around. As Larkin tells it, “I was getting off on fighting the banks, sort of like David against Goliath, but the more I became David, the bigger Goliath got. So at one point I just said, ‘OK, Universe, this is in your hands.’”

“Then I got a notice from Washington state’s attorney general, almost as an aside, saying, ‘Oh, by the way, they can’t foreclose on a farm — they’ll have to sue you.’ So that moved it to a whole new level and put the bank on the spot. At that point I was able to get an attorney from the Northwest Justice Project Foreclosure Protection Unit out of Sequim. I spoke with a volunteer attorney there who helped me negotiate a new mortgage deal, one that I could afford.”

“Now it’s been over a year — almost two — and things are going well,” he adds. Though when I say, “So they got their pound of flesh,” Larkin jokingly lifts up his sweatshirt and points, “Right here…”

Two years ago Larkin suffered a heart attack, perhaps brought on by all the worry and stress of trying to keep his land. But with that drama behind him, he’s entered into a chapter of life that seems, at least to this onlooker, to be close to paradise — new chicks are growing up, the three green houses are full of healthy starts, and the family has arrived.

Larkin’s daughter Terarlar Lee, her partner Rey Mendoza, and the two kids,

Logan, 14, in 7th grade, and Keira, 12, in 6th grade, moved onto the farm from Denver, Colorado, in September of last year. They appear to have made a joyful entry into our community.

When I ask Logan what’s different about his life now he says, “Well, it’s a bit different and a bit more fun. We can actually go outside. I miss some of my friends, but it’s going to be fun hanging out here. There’s not as much pressure in school as Colorado — and I get to meet a bunch of different kids from all the different towns.”

As for Keira, she says, “get ready for an hour long conversation.” I expect she’s going to say she misses her friends too, but, no, the first thing she tells me she misses is “the loud thunder and lightening. But I love the chickens.”

It seems that the kids have come into their own in a new way on the Peninsula. Logan is involved in sports — he took some prizes this year in track for both the discus, the high jump, and the four by four relay. And both the kids have a flare for the stage. Keira discovered she can sing — or maybe she’d just been keeping it a secret — and she plays the clarinet in the band.

Terarlar adds to the picture, “At the farm, Keira’s got room for gymnastics. We mow a ‘runway’ for her so she can do cartwheels and tumbling.”

So how did this all come to pass? Larkin and Teraralar had been talking about the possibility of a move to the farm for some time, but Larkin’s heart attack gave them the extra nudge they needed to make it happen. As we sit in the kitchen talking, it’s clear to me that the smiling faces and witty repartee bouncing back and forth around the big kitchen table is a good indication that the move’s been a great idea, for everyone, including the dogs, Dulce and Jade, who nuzzle against our legs.

“When the family moved into the house, I moved into the converted tool shed,” said Larkin. “I’m enjoying down-sizing, it’s like a Zen meditation cabin.”

There are territorial duties that are beginning to be worked out for all the family members. Terarlar is thinking how to clean up and reorganize the store. (But as Logan reminds us, it’s the kids who usually open the store before they get picked up by the school bus around 7 a.m.) Rey has started to take over a lot of the grounds and maintenance. He’s an avid, if novitiate, farmer. He’s learning about soil, plantings, and harvesting — everything to do with the what’s growing on the farm. (They’ve currently got peppers, tomatoes, rainbow chard, lettuces, strawberries, and carrots in the ground.) “The farm has given me a new perspective on nature,” he says. “It’s refreshing — even the smell — the lettuce, everything that I’ve come across is a big eye opener.”

Everyone helps with the cooking. Larkin’s bread is legendary. Rey is purported to have a knock-out spaghetti sauce and innovative ways to use their fresh veggies. Keira, by unanimous family acclaim, is the best chef for salmon. Terarlar is famous for her chicken drumsticks — “But not our chickens!” Keira emphasizes.

The farm showcases sustainability from healthy soil to recycling. They show off a Nuwave convection oven that the entire family is learning to use. “One of my WWOOFers once heated up the entire oven to cook one potato,” said Larkin, “I said, ‘We’re not going to be doing that again!’” (The World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms organization offers traveling volunteers room and board in exchange for farm help.)

Terarlar says, “Even on a small scale when you grow your own food it just tastes so much better. We’re cutting back on sugar and we hardly season things because the flavor of the food is so much better — and it’s possible, even for a small garden, or a garden in pots.”

Green Angel offers four CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes of fresh produce for $100 and five dollars extra for delivery. The boxes arrive every other week and are delivered from “Surfside to Seaside.” (If you’re interested, call for more information 360-244-0064.)

Produce, fruit, and sometimes fresh eggs can also be purchased at the farm store on Sandridge, open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. “It’s still operated on the honor system,” says Larkin. “You bag it, you weigh it, you pay for it and you enjoy it!”

Larkin has been holding down the fort by himself (and visiting WWOOFers) since his wife died. But as Rey puts it so well, “We’re here to put the love back in.”

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