Friday Feature . . .


Photos by Robert Chase

(Moo)t Court

Attorney’s farm lifestyle is reminiscent of ‘Green Acres’

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Driving to her law office in her farm truck, attorney Angie Martell heard a strange noise from the back — and in her rear view mirror met the beady eyes of a chicken staring back. “It was a toss up between taking a chicken to work or driving back to the farm and being late for a meeting,” she says with a smile.

Her poultry pal — who clearly not only wanted to cross the road but to journey down it — is one of about 100 critters at Fluffy Bottom Farm in Chelsea, where Martell and her family have enjoyed a holistic lifestyle since moving from New York City three years ago.

Farm life is a far cry — or chicken squawk — from Martell’s “other” job as a civil rights attorney and mediator at Iglesia Martell Law Firm in Ann Arbor; she is also co-chair of the Washtenaw County Bar Association Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender committee, a board member of the Hispanic Bar Association of Michigan, and a member of the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan (WLAM), and the Stonewall Bar Association.

Quite a change of pace for a Harvard Law grad who counted the Obamas among her classmates. “I shovel poop — lots of poop — every day on the farm,” says Martell who trades her briefcase for a shovel after work hours.

And some of those “Meadow Muffins” have an unfortunate habit of following her around. When she noticed colleagues in a meeting wrinkling their noses, she realized the bottom of her shoe sported a farmyard trophy, and spent the rest of the meeting barefoot with her shoes put outside the door in disgrace. But the dung plays a good role in helping crops in the farm’s vegetable garden to thrive.

A native of the Bronx, Martell jokes the only animals she saw there were rats. Now she shares her world with a llama, Nigerian pygmy goats, French Toulouse geese, French Lacaune dairy sheep, rams, two Jersey cows, ducks, and chickens, as well as five cats and two dogs. With all the females pregnant, Martell and her family look forward to welcoming many new babies in the spring. The family previously owned pheasants and guinea fowl, but both fell victim to predators.

The farm animals provide eggs and milk for the family – including blue and green eggs from the rare Ameraucana “Easter Egg” chickens, something Dr. Seuss might have loved. Martell jokes that when she delivers eggs to fellow legal eagles, she doesn’t have to put them through the X-ray machine at the courthouse. And judges and courthouse staff are quite used to seeing packages of eggs in offices. Martell, her wife, Kelli, and 11-year-old twins, Rory and Kieran have started their own “Upaya — Sanskrit for “Skilled Hands” — Creamery in a converted garage, and are producing yogurt and several types of cheese, with the twins serving as chief taste testers. They hope to open to the public in 2015.
The twins are also responsible for keeping track of all the poultry and eggs, feeding the animals, and caring for an assortment of goats bearing exotic monikers like Sunny, Pecan, Andrea, Orion, Oberon, Iris, and Jezebel. While not one to play favorites, perhaps the llama — named Dalai, natch — has a special place in Martell’s heart. While 3-year-old Dalai — who protects the sheep and goats from coyotes and other predators — is Michigan-born his origins are in Latin America, something Martell, of Puerto Rican heritage, can identify with. After the recent passing of Dalai’s llama pal Abby, Martell plans to get a young llama in the spring to keep Dalai company.

A volunteer mediator at the Dispute Resolution Center, Martell says the animals could teach humans a thing or two about mediation and getting along together — but the two rams, Ishmael and Gabriel, butt heads together if not kept apart, something Martell might have been all too familiar with throughout her career. A former public defender in Manhattan, she also worked at the New York Attorney General’s Office Civil Rights Bureau before hanging out her own shingle, then spent two years at Bronx AIDS Services, and finally worked for the New York City Department of Corrections, before moving to Michigan.

A Reiki professional with a focus on energy healing, Martell often meditates with the animals and has hosted animal Reiki classes, giving participants a unique opportunity to interact with the farm and domestic animals.

“The animals helps me to stay centered,” she says. “They are constantly learning to work things out and get along together. For example, the cats like to sleep with the llama and sheep in the barns. In my legal life, when things get difficult or dramatic, I think back to the animals and it puts those moments in perspective.”