Nurturing Growth: A Story of Transformation
Across the Chimacum Creek, a salmon bearing stream in the Chimacum Valley, you will find the newly acquired Woodbridge Farm, owned and operated by Peter Mustin—a man who fought tirelessly to take possession of his late father’s land, evict the squatters living on the property illegally, and to revitalize the neglected fields. But overcoming challenges is something Peter has become accustomed to.
While he now lives on 26 acres of land that he owns and stewards, he was raised by a single mother and his grandparents in Philadelphia, and at one point they lived in a three-bedroom home with 12 total occupants. He told us he felt “stacked on top of each other with no room to breathe.” While his grandparents’ home “was always warm and clean and smelled like good food,” outside, the city was a different story. “I just wasn't cut out for that lifestyle. It was the danger, the drugs, the not being able to work.” So he spent much of his early teenage years traveling back and forth from his grandparents’ home in Philly to his father’s home in the Olympic Peninsula where he could “play country boy for a while and rest my head.” But as life became increasingly more difficult, and without proper support and guidance, Peter fell into trouble and spent most of his youth going in and out of prison.
Not long after he was released from prison for the final time, he took every penny he had and moved back to the Chimacum Valley with one primary focus: “I'm going to open Woodbridge Farm.”
Peter started with six chickens. Now he has 85, plus geese, llamas, and turkeys, with ducks, pheasants, and quails on the way. He has herbs for tea, flowers, and plants with big plans to build the infrastructure to start supporting themselves: installing a greenhouse, digging a fishpond with the goal of raising their own trout, and repurposing the farm into a learning and rehabilitation center for troubled youth. His dreams are quickly becoming a reality and at last he feels like he is doing what he was always meant to do. Live with purpose and help others. We connected with Peter on his farm to learn more about his transformative story.
What is the history of the land?
The land was originally part of a larger farm. It was called Brown's Family Farm, roughly 20, 30 years ago. Once they were done with that, they started parceling the land and selling it off to smaller farms. My family acquired the land probably 30 years ago and really didn't do anything with it. They just kept it wild until my dad decided to move out here about 20 years ago. A few years ago, we had a death in the family, there was some mental illness and drug addiction going on with the people who lived here. And they wandered away from the property. Then other people came and ended up squatting here. When I moved back from Philadelphia and was looking for some place to live and work, I figured out I could take possession of this land. In addition to people living here illegally, the back taxes were not paid for a couple of years, and there was a HELOC (home equity line of credit) loan and a mortgage on the house. So we had to pull into the war chest and get money for lawyer fees and eviction notices. The people left, but they damaged the house, the infrastructure, the land, they cut wiring, plugged the well up, and left tons of garbage behind them. So that's been a big journey now, too. We're just trying to get over most of that right now.
Where did Woodbridge Farm get the name?
When we first acquired the property across the Chimacum Creek, the salmon bearing stream here in Chimacum Valley, the bridge was in real disrepair, and we couldn't proceed with farming and cleaning up the land until we got the bridge repairing completed. That was the whole linchpin and our dream here was getting that bridge done and put in, so that's where the name comes from.
Describe the challenges you faced repairing the bridge.
We weren't too sure about the laws and the permitting for doing construction across the salmon bearing streams, so there was about 18 months of going back and forth with the county and different state agencies until it finally was decided that we were just repairing and not building a bridge. Then there was the challenge of raising funds. That was a big, long, horrible journey. But when the bridge was finally complete, it was a relief. I actually laid down out there and cried because this land was really misused. We couldn't get any of the trash out and trucks wouldn't cross the bridge; I was even nervous driving my truck across before we repaired it because the bridge was literally falling apart. So when the last board was laid, we were just overjoyed. The bridge is solid now. It ain't going anywhere. And it's just the beginning of a long journey.
Describe the natural beauty of this land.
This place is just wonderful. Once we started cleaning it up, we realized what we had out here. It is 26 acres. We have about 3000 feet of a creek front, we have forested land, wetland, and meadow grass. It's just been wonderful being a steward of the land. The creek was really abused. There was a lot of trash in the creek. For the first year, we were mainly focused on cleaning the land and restoring the stream. Trying to get a lot of invasive weeds and grass species cleaned up out here because a lot of the farmers were annoyed that we had so many weeds, which contaminated other fields. So that was the first thing we went to do over here was mow the field and contain the prairie grass. The first year we had the place, the grass was always so high; it was always burnt, and it was horrible and dry. But since we lined the fields last year, tilled a bunch of it, and planted new grass, now when you look around, everything's green and vibrant. We’re starting to see birds and animals, and the worms are coming up out of the ground. It's the greatest feeling to see the land being revitalized and being returned to what it's supposed to be.
When you start getting the youth coming through here, what do you hope to teach them?
We're trying to teach people to be self-sufficient. You can go to the nursery and buy starts, but I want to teach people how to do it, from seed to seed, which means growing from your own seed to processing your own seeds. So, not only do you have fruit, tomatoes, and whatever else you're harvesting all through the summer, but come fall, you're actually harvesting that seed for the next season so you're always continuing that cycle. It's the same thing when we use our chickens out here. We make sure everything goes back into the ground. When I have them processed, I take feather, bone and everything back with me, that goes into my compost pile. That way it goes into the ground, it nurses chickens. We're trying to waste as little as possible. And that's what I want to teach people, especially in this ready-made world where everything is prepared to eat, one-time use, and a lot of tools and machinery. In my grandfather's time, we never did that. So, that's what we're trying to teach here, through the medium of agriculture.
How longer were you in prison?
Altogether, I've probably done about 16 years, and I'm 46, so a quarter of my life. I went to prison at a very early age the first time. I just turned 17 and I was right out here in Jackson County. I was estranged from my parents. I was pretty much homeless at the time, and a lot of my friends were into drugs. I knew some people in the city and had some connections down there and decided that's what I was going to do to earn a living. It wasn't the best choice, but it was one of the only choices that were open to me at the time. But one day, I walked away from it. Got on a plane, and flew from Philly out to Seattle, Washington. I came out here, I didn't have a place to stay, I didn't have a car, and I only had what I had taken from Philly with me. But it worked out. I reconnected with a bunch of old friends that I grew up with out here. I had a job within my first three days of being here and just started turning my life around after that fact. Haven't looked back since.
Can you talk about the benefits of your hard work?
This wasn't just me. This was a whole collaboration of people. A lot of people supporting me acquiring the land because I was short. I had to take personal loans from some very good friends. The community really came together to help me clean the place up. Even when I bought the place, I was still working a full-time job. There was still a lot of stuff that needed to happen with the land as far as the sheer tonnage of garbage that was on the land. But now that we're here, my main focus for this place is to get it self-sustainable and to help people like me: youth at risk; young men who have no other place to go, or people to talk to. If we have men teaching other men how to believe in themselves, how to be responsible, and how to take pride in what they do, that will cut down on crime, on drug addiction, and on abuse. That will cut down on people going to prison and jail. If somebody is at risk and they're a young person, I want to get them out here farming, or just get them away from the city for a little bit. In the future, I plan to have counselors here to support as well. The final mission for this place is opening up to the public and actually start helping people.