These days it seems anyone with a plot of dirt in their yard or a local park ripe for planting is doing the r/urban farming thing. From raising chickens and goats, to replacing lawn with edible vegetable gardens, to growing fruit trees, people are getting back to life with fresh eggs, home-baked strawberry-rhubarb pie, and dirt under their nails.
When Bainbridge Islander Susan Roth started chicken farming three years ago, she looked around with her visual artist’s eyes and saw something missing: iconography with a message and aesthetic for today’s r/urban farmers. “I was in Tofino with friends, and all I saw were the vintage signs. They just didn’t speak to me, so I decided I wanted to make my own,” she explained.
With a fine arts degree and a background doing web and icon design for clients such as Microsoft, a year and a half ago Roth founded Bainbridge Farm Goods and began designing farm signs. One of her biggest challenges was figuring out the logistics of how physically to produce the signs. But once Roth and her husband Scott developed a system for getting her images onto UV-resistant heavy-duty aluminum, a process they do right here on Bainbridge, the designing was the fun part.
Living in the northwest, Roth felt that bringing color into the equation was essential. Indeed her bold and skilled use of color is one of her trademarks. Another is her ability to incorporate clever and positive messages into her designs—messages that speak to today’s r/urban farmers, who are embracing sustainable practices, such as free-ranging their animals and using organic feed and fertilizer.
Roth told me she started with eight designs, including her still best-selling “Fresh Eggs from Happy Chickens” sign, which was the first one to catch my eye last summer at the Tour de Coop on Bainbridge Island. Her friends and neighbors started buying up her signs faster than Roth could make them.
Soon Roth was branching out into other subjects, making signs about goats and sheep, berries and flowers, heirloom tomatoes and organic vegetables, and, recently, even signs about rescue dogs.
Roth’s signs are weatherproof, remaining boldly colorful and sturdy in rain, wind, snow, and hot sun. “Since I haven’t been doing this for that long, I don’t know for certain how long they will last, but a friend of mine has one in Napa Valley, and it’s still as bright as ever after a year or so of searing sun,” Roth told me. She explained that with their UV-resistance she expects her signs to hold up for years.
Roth said she now has somewhere between 40 and 45 designs, all of which continue to sell. “Sometimes I’m surprised when people order certain ones. I think, really, that one? I guess I have favorites.” She told me what she likes the most is making new designs, which she plans to continue to do to keep things fresh and interesting.
At this point her signs have spread to stores well beyond the Northwest, with new retailers stocking them all the time in states around the country. Roth also has a brisk etsy.com business, which keeps her busy filling orders each day. Speaking like a true artist, she said, “I should probably get some help with sales and bookkeeping. I hate that part.”
Roth, who lives on 2.5 acres, has a large chicken coop with 11 happy, organically fed chickens. She hopes to add goats to the mix one of these days. When I asked her what she likes best about chicken farming, she said without a moment’s hesitation, “the eggs.”
To learn more about Bainbridge Farm Goods or to order Roth’s signs, visit her website.
Find out how to win one of Roth’s signs: Name That Mailbox 10, Win “Happy Chicken” Lady Sign!
Lead photo of Susan Roth in front of her chicken coop by Julie Hall. Other images courtesy of Bainbridge Farm Goods.
Bainbridge Island's "Happy Chicken Sign" Lady Brings Style to Urban Farming,