The automobile accident that nearly killed Terry Carkner two years ago got her and her husband Dick thinking.
“That was a reality check, and it made us ask, ‘What do we want to do with our time?’ ” Dick said.
For the past 31 years, their time was never an issue. Nearly all they had of it was plowed into their 25-acre farm, Terry’s Berries, off River Road in Tacoma.
“We both enjoy working, and we always have worked,” Terry said. “I remember one of our anniversaries we were both out on tractors at 10 p.m.”
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All those hours became days, weeks, months. And now, one week from her 70th birthday, Terry and her 74-year-old husband have decided it’s time to move on.
Terry’s Berries will become Wild Hare Organic Farm next month, operated by Mark and Katie Green.
The Greens, who have worked on the farm for two years, will run it the same way the Carkners have, as an all-organic farm that sells what it grows locally.
As for their retirement, the Carkners say they’re not quite headed out to pasture.
“We bought a 5-acre property next door to our son, Jim, in Ellensburg,” Terry said. “We’re going to have a large garden and grow raspberries.”
It was raspberries that got the Carkners into the farming business in the first place.
The couple met at Oregon State University, where Terry was one of three women studying agriculture. After graduation, they wound up married and living in Fargo, North Dakota, where Dick was a professor.
“I got a job with Washington State University, working at their research center in Puyallup,” Dick said. “I’m from Kirkland, Terry’s from Oregon, and we both wanted to get back to the Northwest.”
There was one more thing on his list.
“I wanted a raspberry farm,” he said.
In 1983, they made an offer on one in the Puyallup Valley but didn’t get it.
“This property was for sale, too, but they were asking more than we could afford,” Terry said of the acreage that would become her namesake farm.
“They had an offer fall through, too, and we heard that offer had been for half the asking price.
“We said, ‘Heck, we can offer more than that!’ and bought it.”
They combined 20 acres, all raspberries, with another 5 acres they leased.
There were two canneries in the area, and their first year on the farm the Carkners and their two young sons, Jim and Jess, did well.
“The second year, cannery prices went way down and we got partial payment at harvest time,” Dick said. “The rest came later in the year. That made it tough paying the bills.”
The farm had to change. Instead of just raspberries, they laid in rows of lettuce, spinach, beans, rhubarb, broccoli and peas. If it was green and could be grown in the Northwest, the Carkners grew it.
“We raised chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese for meat,” Terry said. “We had pigs one year — that was a disaster! — and now Dick has seven goats.”
The first six years they owned the farm, they used state-of-the-art fertilizers and pesticides that were recommended by WSU.
“On the days he’d spray, he’d have to put all the animals and kids indoors, then get in his moon suit and go spray,” Terry said.
Dick recalls the moment he decided to go organic.
“I was spraying the field and this big rooster pheasant ran by,” he said. “A few rows later, I found him convulsing, watched him die. Right then, I thought ‘What are we doing?’ ”
Going organic, however, was complicated. There weren’t many farmers who knew how to farm that way, and colleges didn’t teach it.
One man who had gone organic was Tony Maskal, who ran Sunrise Farms in Auburn.
“Tony really counseled us, though his crop was almost entirely blueberries,” Dick said. “I think we became the 87th organic farm in the state. Today, there are more than 1,000.”
The couple has mentored other farmers, and they’ve sold their produce at farmers markets in Tacoma and Puyallup for more than 25 years. They’ve inspired a new generation of urban community gardeners, and they’ve served as cornerstones of the locavore movement, selling their produce to Tacoma’s Primo Grill restaurant.
That big “Terry’s Berries” sign on their red barn is coming down in the next few weeks.
“It’s going with us to Ellensburg,” Terry said.
Dick has plans to landscape the Ellensburg property with habitat plants that will draw wildlife, including monarch butterflies. And those seven Lamancha goats of his?
“They’re pack animals,” Dick said. “I love wilderness areas, hiking back into them and camping. Using the goats means I can carry better food, even better gear.”
What does Terry think of the goats?
“They’re Dick’s,” she said. “I’m learning to like them. It’s something I’ll work on in retirement.”