TEMPLE TERRACE — The free-range turkeys on Travis Malloy’s farm break into a cacophony of high-pitched gobbles when he approaches. In a brooder house nearby, two-week old chickens are being kept warm while they grow feathers.
The egg-laying chickens, Rhode Island Reds, dip and peck in a large wooded area. A few pigs grunt and snort in another pen on this farm, and in leased pastures nearby, sheep and young chickens raised for meat graze.
Malloy is an electrical engineer who spent two decades building circuit boards for the aerospace industry before cashing in his retirement plan, buying the eight-acre TrailBale Farm in 2013 and embracing the local food movement. He sells directly to steady customers through a newsletter and at farmer’s markets.
He started farming full-time three years ago, he said, a dream that really began with conversations he and a fellow engineer would have while stuck in traffic jams on the Howard Frankland Bridge during their carpool ride to work in Largo.
“We’d try to engineer our way out of it,’’ Malloy said. “What can we do to fix this? And we came up with the goofiest ideas — taking boats over and jumping on bikes.’’
Soon they were talking about how to fix everything, how to greatly reduce waste of the earth’s resources.
“We started digging down to the root of what you can do that is good honest work,’’ he said. “One thing that just kept coming up, and I didn’t see any downside, was local food. If you’re producing things nearby, you start stripping away a lot of those extra wastes of things, the different layers.’’
Malloy, a soft-spoken man of 44 with long hair and a gray beard, has become well-known for his efforts. He founded the Temple Terrace Farmer’s Market and won the city’s Citizen of the Year award in 2017, and he combined with the organic vegetable growers from Waldenponics in Lutz to plan the Meacham Urban Farm as part of Encore, a 40-acre redevelopment district near the intersection of Interstates 4 and 275. Built on Hillsborough school district property, it will serve to educate students and also provide local, affordable organic produce for the community.
Malloy modeled his farm system on the lessons of Joel Salatin, a Virginia farmer, lecturer and author who preaches that the secret to raising quality meat is to constantly rotate animals in the pasture, exposing them to fresh food while preserving the pasture. Malloy keeps the animals contained on swaths of pasture with portable fences electrified by car batteries, and regularly moves them from spot to spot. The electric fences are there mainly to keep out predators, coyotes and raccoons.
Coyotes managed to get in and kill some lambs anyway, so he had to bring in dogs to guard the flocks. Odin and Lady, two fluffy white Great Pyrenees with deep barks, handle that job.
“The whole concept of the farm is to take something that would normally be waste and put it to use,’’ Malloy said. “We move our animals around all the time on the pasture. Everybody’s outside, on the grass. When the chickens go through, they’re laying their manure fertilizer right on the grass, which enriches the grasses for the sheep, who come through next to eat that grass,’’ he said.
“A lot of it mimics nature in the way animals would move,’’ he noted, pointing out that a flock of sheep stays together and moves on when predators come around. “And so it’s healthier for the animal and healthier for the pasture.’’ He supplements his animals’ diets with organic feed.
The chickens he raises for meat aren’t really free-range because they are kept in a covered coop to protect them from hawks. But they are “pastured,’’ as Malloy points out. Every day, his farm manager, Shelby Alinksy, hooks a tractor to the coop, which is on wheels, and pulls it about 10 feet forward. The bottom is open, so the chickens have access to fresh grass and grubs. They eat a lot of grass, Malloy said, breaking off blades and swallowing them whole like spaghetti.
While the sheep and pigs are taken to slaughterhouses, the chickens and turkeys are slaughtered and packaged on the premises of TrailBale Farm.
Alinsky, 28, said she often starts work before sunup to beat the heat. She was a University of South Florida student majoring in religious studies when she met Malloy at a campus farmer’s market. Having long been passionate about the local food movement, she said, she started working on the farm as a volunteer. When her predecessor left, Malloy offered her the job.
Working on the farm has only boosted her enthusiasm, she said. “So all my food, all my meat is coming from the local area.’’
On weekends, Malloy is usually set up at the St. Petersburg farmer’s market while Alinsky works the Temple Terrace Farmer’s Market. Even though the Temple Terrace market is comparatively small, Alinsky said people can get just about anything they need from it — meat, vegetables, bread and honey.
Running a farm takes a lot of work, Malloy said, but it’s a lot more satisfying than engineering.
“I love it. I enjoy every little aspect of it. ‘’