Mark and Melissa Stewart wanted to return to their roots when they opened One Willow Farm in Oak Harbor.
Mark Stewart, a Navy veteran who served for more than two decades, grew up down the road from his wife Melissa’s family in South Dakota. Both come from farming families — his raising cows, hogs and commodities, and hers raising Appaloosa horses on a hobby farm.
They moved to Whidbey 12 years ago when Mark Stewart was stationed on the island. After Mark Stewart retired from the military, a fellow farmer told him about a special program for veterans looking for a career change.
“We always knew we wanted to get back to farming,” Mark Stewart said.
The couple entered the “Armed to Farm” program operated by the National Center for Appropriate Technology in 2019. The program gives interested veterans an overview of how to get started in agriculture and takes them on site visits to veteran-owned farms.
Melissa Stewart described it as a “one-week crash course in all you need to know about farming.”
She said it is a great resource for any veterans interested in pursuing an agricultural career. Luckily, the Stewarts were familiar with the fine points of agriculture having grown up in farming families.
They saw a need for local chicken on Whidbey Island and opened One Willow Farm last year. Now the busy couple sells eggs, chicken and turkeys. Mark Stewart they give their birds nutritious, non-GMO feed without soy or corn.
They have a heritage breed of turkey called Bourbon Red and fast-growing Jumbo Cornish Cross meat chicken. There are several breeds of egg-laying chickens on the small farm. Melissa Stewart also has a few different types of chickens that she keeps as pets that lay eggs in all types of colors – including light green.
The duo have other jobs besides running the farm. Melissa Stewart works for a nonprofit and Mark Stewart is in culinary school full time. He also works at two restaurants, including Saltwater in Langley.
Walkers may see their chickens at the Greenbank Farm. The Stewart’s own a micro-farm of just an acre and a half, and they lease space for their chickens to roam at the historic site. Although the birds are not cooped up inside all the time, they aren’t exactly considered free-range. The Stewarts explained that they have to protect their birds from predators like coyotes and eagles, so they keep a watchful eye over the flock.
Shoppers can find One Willow Farm’s bounty at the Bayview Farmer’s Market, their main gig, and occasionally at the Coupeville Farmers Market and the newly opened Whidbey Island Farmers Market in Oak Harbor. They also sell online through their website, onewillowfarmwa.com, and through the Whidbey Island Grown Cooperative Food Hub platform.