Inspiration Plantation: “Opting Out” of the Conventional Food System

Matt Schwab knows his animals. And I’m not referring to the kind of knowledge that allows him to rattle off countless facts about each breed of turkey, duck, pig, chicken, sheep, or cow he raises on his farm (which he surely can do). I’m talking about the kind of intimate understanding that allows Matt to provide the best environment possible for each individual animal.

“I’ve always been a bit of an idealist, and farming this way combines a lot of my interests,” claims Matt as he explains what motivated he and his wife Jen to create Inspiration Plantation. Matt studied horticulture in college and worked as a landscape contractor for 14 years, developing a deep interest in working with the natural environment. He eventually began to question where his food was coming from, and curiosity led him to The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

The book introduced Matt to a revolutionary farmer named Joel Salatin who owns Polyface Farms, a diversified farming operation located in Virginia. Matt proceeded to read all of the farmer’s books, learning about growing practices that require little investment, utilize recycled materials, and actually heal the land. So when the Schwabs inherited property in Ridgefield, Washington seven years ago, they decided to “opt out” of the conventional food system and start growing their own food following Salatin’s model.

This model allows animals to freely express their natural personalities while healing the land through rotational grazing practices. Matt uses a portable poultry pen to house his meat chickens, and he moves it to a new spot each day. Even the much larger laying shed is mobile. Thanks to a base made from telephone poles, Matt can slowly move this structure with his tractor once a week. This method utilizes the inherent activities of the animals (eating and creating waste) to naturally rejuvenate the land. Rotating the structures on a routine basis allows this maintenance to be spread evenly across the property.


The diet each animal consumes is simple, as well. Cows and lambs spend their days grazing on “green salad” (pasture), while pigs mainly eat barley and are finished on delicious treats from the orchard. Chickens, turkeys, and ducks receive supplemental organic feed from a local mill. When asked if he ever administers antibiotics, Matt responded, “My philosophy is that if an animal gets sick, I’m doing something wrong. After all, I’m the one controlling their environment. It forces me to understand the animal and do my homework.” All poultry is processed on the farm, and larger livestock is pasture-killed by a mobile butcher to ensure a humane, stress-free harvest.

All of these practices point toward organic certification, but the Schwabs are not interested in pursuing it. “We’re not certified organic because we don’t need to be; people can come to the farm and see for themselves how we care for the animals,” Matt explains. It is this transparent policy that led me, as well as a dozen other curious eaters, to Inspiration Plantation on a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon in Washington. Every month, Matt and Jen invite their customers to a farm tour so they can get a clear understanding about where their food is coming from.

On this particular November tour, we got to see several incredibly vocal broad-breasted bronze turkeys. They were to be harvested soon to become the centerpieces at Thanksgiving dinners across the region. Thanks to Matt and Jen’s dedication to humane animal husbandry, diners were able to enjoy their meals with peace of mind. And that’s something to be truly thankful for.

Gina Lorubbio

Fall 2011 Portland Food Warrior

This post is from one of the interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Fall Internship Program. These interns are in Asheville, Austin, Nashville, Portland and San Francisco, collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, gathering food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from!
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