Podcasts

Chelsea Putnam | #025 06/01/2020

Although she's an artist and a teacher, Chelsea Putnam only really found herself when she came back to her family's farm. This is her story of renewal and passion for stewarding the land and producing food.

Transcript

Chelsea Putnam:
I had nothing. I had our suitcases and a few things, but no job, no idea what I’m doing. And so I did what I knew and that was to go work in the orchards and to help establish a new farm.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Finding rebirth and renewal on the farm. It’s something that a lot of people have found in their personal stories of farming. And this week we hear from an artist and a teacher who is also a farmer and now started a farmer’s market. She’s got so much to share in such a cool story. Chelsea Putnam is her name and she has kind of a traditional Washington farming background in tree fruit, but then they also grow lavender and have tourism and lodging on their farm. It’s a really diverse perspective that she brings and a cool story where she never expected to be a farmer. And here she is and she loves it. We’ve got a lot to get to. I’m Dillon Honcoop. This is the Real Food Real People podcast. And let’s jump right in.

Dillon Honcoop:
Talk about what it is you guys do here. What is this Trinity gardens thing and what do you guys do?

Chelsea Putnam:
There’s a lot of components to it. We started five years ago and with the idea of just planting some lavender plants, my dad’s an orchardist and my mom’s a retired nurse. And she got bored, as you-

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that how she would characterize it?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. She got bored being retired and they drove by this property and it was too good of a deal to pass up, but nothing was on here except for the mobile home and a shop. And so they tossed some ideas around about what to plant, if to plant anything. And we always went to Sequim to visit my grandparents, where lavender capital of the world and we loved it. We always loved it. And so my mom and dad decided lavender, let’s plant some lavender on this property. And so year by year we planted a couple 1,000 plants each year and every year we were like, “How can we generate more revenue from this and not just have some random lavender plants in the ground? Let’s get people out here. Maybe we can make it a venue. Maybe we can hold some events like Sequim farms do.”

Chelsea Putnam:
And so it’s just evolved into this extensive venue where we rent out accommodations on Airbnb. We have a shop on site where we sell all of our handcrafted lavender products. We distill, we steam distill, not alcohol, just lavender essential oil. We will custom distill for other farmers too because the distillation setup is quite expensive.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the difference between steam distillation and using alcohol to extract the essential oil?

Chelsea Putnam:
Well, that’s a great question. The steam distillation seems to be from what we’ve talked to other farmers about the way to distill the lavender to get the essential oil. Even though it is an expensive setup, it’s one of the cheaper ways to extract the essential oil or 100% oil from the lavender. And I really don’t know much about any other distillation techniques, so I can’t really speak on it too much.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, yeah. That was going to be my question, like what do you all do with lavender? And technically we’re cheating a little bit because this is Real Food Real People, but you can’t really eat lavender.

Chelsea Putnam:
You can.

Dillon Honcoop:
You can?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yes, you can.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay. I’m learning something new already.

Chelsea Putnam:
Amongst the other things that we do on the farm, there are many uses of the lavender itself. We have five different varieties out here on the farm and they are all the same therapeutic qualities, but they have different scent profiles and flavor profiles. Some are really good for using for culinary purposes, whereas some are better for just drying or using as a fresh bouquet or distilling to use as essential oil and products. On the farm we have two really good varieties. And what you would do to use lavender for food is you could dry the buds or use them fresh and a lot of people will use it as a tea, help them sleep at night. You could-

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s it taste like?

Chelsea Putnam:
It depends on the variety.

Dillon Honcoop:
I don’t know if I’ve ever tasted lavender.

Chelsea Putnam:
We’ll have to do like a taste test for dry buds.

Dillon Honcoop:
I guess, yeah.

Chelsea Putnam:
The ones that are really good for culinary purposes, they are sweeter. Some of them have a vanilla note to them. And so of course if you use it in moderation, you can definitely overdo it. If you overdo it, it’s got that soapy, tastes like you’re eating lavender soap or something. That also comes out in the variety that you choose to use for culinary purposes. But have you ever had a dessert with lavender in it or lavender ice-cream or?

Dillon Honcoop:
I don’t know if I have.

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh my gosh.

Dillon Honcoop:
Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

Chelsea Putnam:
Maybe, I don’t know.

Dillon Honcoop:
Maybe I’m just not that sophisticated.

Chelsea Putnam:
That could be it. You did grow up on a farm.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Ouch.

Chelsea Putnam:
So did I.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, explain that. Where did you grow up?

Chelsea Putnam:
I grew up in East Wenatchee and we would spend our summers driving out here, working on our apple and cherry orchards where my dad, that’s his primary.

Dillon Honcoop:
Out here being the George area?

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh yeah, the George area. Yeah. And we still have a couple of those farms and we still work on them. Yeah, so primarily grew up working in tree fruit.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay. What were your jobs as a kid?

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh my gosh, so many. At 13, actually my dad started teaching me to do payroll, which was cool. I got to learn a lot of the backside of it, the number side. But then labor wise we would do a lot of swamping, which means our pickers will pick cherries in their lugs, put the lugs down and move on to the next tree. And then we would come through and pick up all those lugs and put them on the blue line, which takes all the bins and the lugs and goes and loads them up into the truck.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s nice, easy leisurely work. Yeah?

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, sure, sure, sure. Yeah. I think I still have lower back pain from when I was 13.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, wow.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. But as we got older, we got more responsibilities and now instead of breaking our backs, picking up lugs, so my brother will probably drive the blue line or get to operate the equipment and then I’ll go through in quality control and manage what the pickers are picking. And things like that.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you still do all the tree fruit too?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
And the lavender farm?

Chelsea Putnam:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s a lot.

Chelsea Putnam:
I know. And in my spare time do pottery and teach.

Dillon Honcoop:
We’re going to get into that.

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
We’re going to hear all about it. But okay, so what all kinds of tree fruits do you guys do now?

Chelsea Putnam:
So we just do apples and cherries now. At one point we did pears as well. However, my dad does not like how tedious pears can be. They’re delicate, so we just stick to cherries and apples.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the name of that farm?

Chelsea Putnam:
We operate under, we call Putnam Family Farms because we have three farms. We have Trinity Gardens Lavender Farm, obviously the lavender. And then we have French Camp, which was the original orchard. And then we have Liberty Ridge, which was the second ridge to come into the family.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many acres total?

Chelsea Putnam:
We’re considered a micro-farm with just under 200 acres of cherries and apples. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Which to a lot of people they think of micro-farm, they’re like a half acre. Right?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
A micro-farm just under 200 acres.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. And that’s the tree fruit industry. It’s just growing so rapidly, especially out in the basin. We have farms that are just hundreds of acres. You drive one straight road and it’s just all red delicious apples or all golden delicious or whatever they might be.

Dillon Honcoop:
How do you guys bring in the harvest? You have to bring a lot of workers in to get that done?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. Well, the beauty in being a smaller farm and established here, we haven’t really needed to take advantage of the Federal H-2A housing employees, recruiting them from out of the country. We have a lot of families that come back year after year after year. In fact, I’ve known some of these families since I was a child. We have just a rapport. It helps to have a great field manager, who’s been with my dad since they both started farming, so 30 years or so. We have a lot of local workers from Quincy, Georgia area, Royal City, Moses Lake.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about on the lavender farm? How much labor does that take? How big is the actual lavender part?

Chelsea Putnam:
We have just over three acres planted in lavender and we don’t hire anybody. It’s just us. My brother and I and my dad still does. We’ll hand harvest the lavender when it’s time to cut for distillation, usually around August, September timeframe. And we just come out here before the sun comes up because the bees wake up at a certain temperature and they swarm the place. And so we try to get up before them.

Dillon Honcoop:
I know all about that from raspberry farm youth and being a little bit allergic to honeybees.

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, no. Really?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. It doesn’t go very well.

Chelsea Putnam:
No, I think I’ve only been stung once out here.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, you’re lucky.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah, I just don’t mess with them. I just let them work.

Dillon Honcoop:
The whole thing is you need to stay calm because they don’t like it when you’re worked up, but I can’t stay calm around them. So frustrating. My dad would always say, “Oh, you’ll be fine.” I’m like, “Dad, I don’t know. I don’t want to go out to the field. If I get stung I’ll be feeling sick for a few days.” “You’ll be fine.”

Chelsea Putnam:
I was just going to ask, how allergic are you? Do you need an EpiPen or anything?

Dillon Honcoop:
They made me carry one for a while. I never had anaphylactic shock reaction, but I would swell like crazy.

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, well it’s a good thing you didn’t come out here in June and July when everything was in bloom.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. But I am used to being around them still, trying to maintain my chill.

Chelsea Putnam:
Maintain your chill. That’s funny.

Dillon Honcoop:
Going back to growing up, East Wenatchee, working in fruit. Then what was your plan? Did you want to be a farmer?

Chelsea Putnam:
No, no, no. I was like so far, my ideas of having a career path was so far from farming. And I don’t know why. It wasn’t my passion. It’s not like I hated it. I love coming out here in the summers and being a part of the family business. I wanted to be an art teacher. I went off to college, got my art degree.

Dillon Honcoop:
Where’d you go to college?

Chelsea Putnam:
Pacific Lutheran University. Little liberal arts school in Parkland. Technically Tacoma is the address. But yeah. My parents weren’t too thrilled when I was like, “I’m going to major in art.” Like, “What are you going to do with your life?”

Dillon Honcoop:
So what did you do then? You got your degree.

Chelsea Putnam:
I did, I did. Actually, right when I was applying for a MFA programs because really my goal was and still is to be a college professor, teach fine arts at a university. I was applying for master’s programs and I got pregnant with my son. And so I made the choice to put that path on hold, the path to MFA. And I decided to get married and go be a mom to a sweet little boy and live the military wife life. We went to Anchorage and then we lived in North Carolina. From North Carolina we actually separated, my ex-husband and I moved home because it was my only support system. Home is here in George where my parents had just bought a lavender farm or a plot of land to be a lavender farm and the orchards. And so I had nothing.

Chelsea Putnam:
I had our suitcases and a few things, but no job, no idea what I’m doing. And so I did what I knew and that was to go work in the orchards and to help establish a new farm. Through this interesting … It was very therapeutic, I think the lavender farm especially. I have a real emotional attachment to the lavender farm because it became this planting of life and growth and newness, right in a time where I needed all that redirection and new growth. And so as we planted the lavender and it evolved, I’ve seen over the last five years, it’s been a symbol of how I’ve established here and I never thought I would, in agriculture and many other aspects of my life.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was that like going through all of that? Were you scared?

Chelsea Putnam:
No, I don’t think I ever remember being fearful of the massive amount of change, but it’s because I had the support of my parents. They’ve been my absolute rock and foundation to even the disappointing decision to major in art. They were like, “Okay, well if that’s really what you want.” That’s the approach they’ve always taken. They’re just open armed people and they greet everybody with love and support. And of course they’re going to do that for their daughter and grandchild. They’re like, “We don’t actually care about you. We just want Michael in our lives.” I never really felt intimidated. I still wanted to teach art, hence the reason why we’re sitting in the studio because before I got the job at the school district, I built this with my dad and decided to start teaching art to small groups as a small business. And it brought more people out to the lavender farm where we could entice them and educate them on all things lavender.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why do you do art and ceramics? Is that kind of your big thing?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah, clay is my big thing for sure. Yeah. I’ll do all the other art forms and I teach all the other art forms. But clay, I don’t know, there’s something full circle about clay. You can make something sculptural and abstract and create something wonderful from your imagination and try to sell it for lots of money, if someone’s interested. My favorite thing to do is throwing on the wheel and making functional pottery because that’s the full circle piece, I think where you’re taking something from the ground, from the earth and creating it into a form that’s usable and you can eat out of, you can drink out of, you can serve people and sit around a table and enjoy as just what it is. Yeah. The cat.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that the cat? Where is the cat?

Chelsea Putnam:
Outside.

Dillon Honcoop:
I hear a cat and the cat wanted to join the podcast. That’s awesome.

Chelsea Putnam:
I know, I got all distracted too. I was like, “Wait, sound like a baby crying.”

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s funny.

Chelsea Putnam:
We have two boy cats and they’re absolutely wild out there. They’re the farm cats. They get all the gophers and their rats and my mom likes to feed them. She said, “Oh, they can’t starve.” I’m like, “Well, if you feed them, then they’re not going to get the gophers. You have to starve them a little bit.”

Dillon Honcoop:
What a cruel person.

Chelsea Putnam:
They’re fine.

Dillon Honcoop:
They’re going to be hungry.

Chelsea Putnam:
Did you see them? They’re kind of fat.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. I think they’re doing all right.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah, they’re fine.

Dillon Honcoop:
You love the art?

Chelsea Putnam:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dillon Honcoop:
And you teach now. Talk about what that experience has been like, becoming a teacher.

Chelsea Putnam:
Well, it’s been one of those experiences where you really just don’t know until you’re in it. There’s no amount of education or training that can prepare you to be in front of 30 kids six times a day that are in middle school, seventh and eighth grade. I get to teach anywhere from 11 to 13-year-old kids. I didn’t think that I would just absolutely adore this age range because like I said, my goal was to go onto college and it still is. Now, I think I envision myself being in this age range to gain experience for a good 10 years or so, at least. Unless, I don’t know. It’s kind of funny. We make all these plans for our lives and then like, I don’t know the universe or God or whatever you believe in, likes to throw monkey wrenches in just for-

Dillon Honcoop:
And that’s the story of COVID too, right?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yes. And so this is my first year teaching and it’s like all this like amped up, amped up, doing all this stuff and working until exhaustion actually ruined a relationship I was in. Maybe I let it, but [inaudible 00:18:38]. I just really devoted all my passion and time into being good at this job and I could, because all the farms are seasonal. It works out perfectly. Go teach in the winter time, come out here in the spring and fall or excuse me, spring in summer. And it was just like a perfect little, the missing puzzle piece. Anyways, I just poured everything of myself into this and then it was like, “Oh, this pandemic is happening. Schools are closed for six weeks.”

Chelsea Putnam:
And I was like, “Oh, that’s sad, but I’ll see you in six weeks, it’ll be a good break.” And then without even getting to say bye or anything to all these kids, they’re just like, “Yeah, actually we’re not going back to school.” And it has been interesting, absolutely interesting and emotional and all the words.

Dillon Honcoop:
Emotional how?

Chelsea Putnam:
Well, it wasn’t at first. I actually didn’t realize the emotional impact it actually had on me until recently. Emotional in a lot of ways. I see the kids and how they grow up in our area. We’re a low income perverse area and we have about, I think it’s about 85 to 87% of our students are under the poverty line. And so when they started talking about this distance learning thing and having kids do online learning, like we have kids that live in houses with 10, 15 people and they’re not even housed well. They’re single wide mobile homes. They don’t have internet or a phone that they can Zoom meeting their teacher. Are you kidding me?

Chelsea Putnam:
It was just so privileged to just be like, “Oh, they can just distance-learn from their laptops.” And so we had this big push on getting kids free meals. We have kids they don’t eat unless they’re at school. They don’t get food. And which like just makes me so … Oh, I could just go into it. It was really emotional trying to reach these kids and not only checking on their welfare and their living situations and, “Are you getting food? Are you getting your basic fundamental needs to survive because we’re not going to get to see you for months and months and months?” But now we’re trying to get them laptops, hotspots, things like that to get them on board with this technology and learning and getting them information. And then it’s just been confusing for everybody because there’s so many questions and it feels like there’s never an actual solid answer. And as soon as there’s an answer, something else changes. And it’s a domino effect of more questions and no answers.

Dillon Honcoop:
Have you heard anything about next year?

Chelsea Putnam:
There’s a lot of speculation and talk about not going back to school at the beginning of the year. Yeah. I really try to not invest a lot of my time and energy into planning for that because just like I said, everything just keeps changing. Everything just keeps changing.

Dillon Honcoop:
What has COVID meant for you guys here on the farm?

Chelsea Putnam:
It has impacted us a lot more than I thought it would, negatively as far as generating revenue. We’re eight miles from the Gorge Amphitheater. That’s where a lot of our people come that rent the Airbnbs here on the lavender farm, which then directly correlates to customers in our shop. People learning about it, buying our products, whatever. The cancellation of concerts has decreased.

Dillon Honcoop:
I would have never thought of that.

Chelsea Putnam:
Right. Oh my gosh. Also, we can mark up the prices a lot because there’s nowhere to stay around here. There’s nowhere. They are building a hotel in George. Did you see that?

Dillon Honcoop:
I did.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. And a Five Guys Burger.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, nice.

Chelsea Putnam:
I know.

Dillon Honcoop:
I did not see that.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
In George Washington.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. Imagine that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Very cool.

Chelsea Putnam:
We’ve noticed a decline in our normal clientele, our normal foot traffic, but we’ve gotten a lot of longer stays out here, which is nice. People working in the area for a month or two weeks at a time. But we haven’t gotten a lot of people just coming and visiting us, which is so frustrating because we paid a crap ton of money to get signs on the freeway and we waited an entire year to get them up and they got up this season right before we opened. And then it was like, “Oh great. That was kind of for nothing because no one wants to break the rules.”

Chelsea Putnam:
And we have some people coming by. As far as the orchards though, that’s the one that surprised me that it’s already impacting us because sales have gone down drastically of produce and food everywhere. You hear about all these potatoes and onions getting dumped because all the restaurants are in business. There’s a huge portion of the market that is no longer buying produce and we’re seeing it in our apple prices because it’s our last year’s crop being bought now. And it’s been very disappointing.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s too bad.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah, it is. It is. Not to mention, it’s a really light crop for cherries this year, all around the basin. And so couple that with just mother nature and then the economy.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think is going to happen?

Chelsea Putnam:
I think that my dad’s going to do a lot of praying. Yeah. A lot of praying because at this point it just takes one bad storm and the small crop gets demolished and then bad season.

Dillon Honcoop:
How big are cherries versus apples for you guys?

Chelsea Putnam:
How big are they?

Dillon Honcoop:
As far as like how much-

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, like the size? As like smaller?

Dillon Honcoop:
No, like as a percentage of your operation.

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, I see, I see. We’re converting slowly to more cherries than apples. But right now is pretty close to equal and we have a range of varieties within each fruit. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s crazy. We don’t know what’s going to happen next. Right?

Chelsea Putnam:
I know and that’s just kind of farming in its nature though because we’re always dealing with the unknown. Looking at the 10-Day Weather Forecast, preparing for a sudden frost or some crazy. Out here in the basin, the weather patterns are very interesting and we’ll get hail. We get in a bad spring and rain, not a whole lot, but it’ll happen in the spring. We don’t have a lot of rainfall, but it just takes one of those bad storms and it’s all gone. Where our farms are, we see this really interesting weather pattern where it will actually see storms just go around us. It’s very frightening looking at these black thunderclouds and we’re like, “Oh no, is it going to go over us?” There’s something about just the geography and the wind and then it has to do with the Gorge and then the mountains. It just skates around us.

Dillon Honcoop:
Weird.

Chelsea Putnam:
We watch it go around and then go over to [Afrada 00:26:38], or Moses like. We’re like, “Well, it sucks to be them.”

Dillon Honcoop:
But what if you want those storm? What if you need the irrigation?

Chelsea Putnam:
I don’t think that’s ever an issue. No, we never want a storm.

Dillon Honcoop:
Nice.

Chelsea Putnam:
Unless for some reason we ran out of water, but I don’t think that’ll happen.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. How do you guys irrigate your crops?

Chelsea Putnam:
That would be a really good question for my dad, because he has this really cool nerdy interest in the way this … We have like a federal water project that happened out here, but we get our water from canals. Most people think, “Oh, they live right next to the Columbia River. They probably just get their water from the Columbia River.” No, we get it from lakes farther away from here that they have situated to irrigate the basin through canals, a series of canal systems.

Dillon Honcoop:
You have to like do the tubes and stuff to get the water out of the canals or like how-

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. In fact, we have it here. I could show you a very small scale version of that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Nice.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. We do like floating the canals in the summer though. That’s fun.

Dillon Honcoop:
Your own lazy river?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What if you go too far though and-

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, yeah, you don’t want to go under the road. There’s spots where they stop. Yeah. You have to just get out of it at some point.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s interesting that you brought up the Gorge in George. Everybody knows the Gorge. Right?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I would have never thought that would have that kind of impact on your farm. What’s that like having that huge concert space in this little tiny community?

Chelsea Putnam:
I’ll speak personally first. It’s freaking awesome. If you know the right people, you can get in with the right crowd and cheaper tickets or maybe the tickets all didn’t itself. Here’s a couple.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s nice.

Chelsea Putnam:
It is amazingly fun. We all look forward to it. We get groups of friends together, we go meet down there. We’ll camp down there even though we all live like 15 minutes away. And it is such a blast. It’s a great time. Then economically it helps our community big time. Who drives to Quincy? I mean, not semis basically. It’s not like we have a main freeway coming through here. I-90 just misses it by 15 miles. We have a really small town with some cool things to do, but not a lot of people coming through to experience them. In the summertime, when the Gorge is up and running on the weekends, we have people coming down and staying at Crescent Bar and staying in those like little river side towns, like Sunland.

Chelsea Putnam:
They’re not towns they’re like basically towns. Sunland and coming to Cave B and coming out here to do stuff like, “Oh, let’s check out this random lavender farm and cruise into Quincy and get something to eat.” So, we have this really cool rotation of more touristy people, but feeding our economy in a different way than we get the other months of the year.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Who’s the best show at the Gorge?

Chelsea Putnam:
There’s rotation, but watershed’s always fun as a whole, just as a whole experience. Even if it’s not my favorite person playing, it’s the atmosphere. That’s pretty cool. The best show I’ve seen there was … Well, who am I thinking of? Have you ever heard of Shovels & Rope?

Dillon Honcoop:
No, I haven’t.

Chelsea Putnam:
They’re newer-ish. They played. Kings of Leon was really good. Let’s see. There’s some that I only remember part of.

Dillon Honcoop:
I won’t ask.

Chelsea Putnam:
I went home early. I have not honestly seen a bad show there.

Dillon Honcoop:
Dave Matthews is famous for playing. Does he do in there every year still?

Chelsea Putnam:
Every year. There was one year he didn’t, but he came back from retirement or whatever.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is it like his favorite place to do a show?

Chelsea Putnam:
He’ll like rent out the entire Cave B area just for him and his crew and his family.

Dillon Honcoop:
Cave B is like a little resort?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. It’s a winery that’s grown over the years. Interestingly enough, Cave B originally owned by a surgeon and his wife. They had the original stage where the Gorge Amphitheater is now. They had their Cave B winery and then they had the stage where it was so small, but they would have people come and then they got bought out by Live Nation or whatever. I think it was Live Nation or maybe there was a company before Live Nation. And then it grew to what it is now. There’s a 26,000 people occupancy is huge. And so Cave B sits right next to the Gorge Amphitheater, still is just separated by a chain link fence. And they have an in where there’s a nice fancy restaurant. Then they have all these yachts out there looking out on the Gorge. They have these cliff houses and now they have in that area, it’s not owned by Cave B.

Chelsea Putnam:
Also, they have a winery with a tasting room, really good wine. And it’s gone through ownership changes where actually it’s now separated the winery is separate from the in now whereas it didn’t use to be, but they have these kind of tiny houses, not really tiny houses. They’re just a really smaller version of a modern looking apartment. And they’re all separated. And they’re just separated probably by, I don’t know, 20, 30 feet. And there’s a few of them out there. People have bought in them and rent them out on Airbnb for people going to the concert. It’s kind of turned into this little Villa resort thing.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. I think I’ve looked out in that direction at a concert, but not like, “What is that over there?”

Chelsea Putnam:
One a lot of those things are kind of hidden is, kind of hilly or whatever. And you have to drive down in it to really, to really get it.

Dillon Honcoop:
So many people have been right here in your neighborhood basically.

Chelsea Putnam:
Don’t go anywhere other than Cave B and the Gorge.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s crazy. What’s on your a playlist right now. What are you listening to these days?

Chelsea Putnam:
Good question. I’m on this kick. I listen to Pandora a lot and I go between podcasts and music. And when I start feeling a little like weird, I’m like, “Oh, I just need to listen to some music.” So I have my two favorite is Jack Johnson in Pandora station, which plays some really good upbeat stuff I like to listen to when I’m in the studio. I have a highly suspect, which is a little harder. And I like to listen and like scream sing along in my car or in the shower or whatever. And then actually a third one being when I’m just like chilling Iron & Wine. Have you heard of that?

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh yeah.

Chelsea Putnam:
I love, love, love them. And no matter what mood I’m in, I can turn them on. And the whole station’s good.

Dillon Honcoop:
Very chill.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. We’ve got like a chill middle of the road unlike super hard.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you’ve got a lot of tattoos?

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh gosh.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did you get into that?

Chelsea Putnam:
Well, when I was 18 I made some regrettable decisions. Yeah. It wasn’t so much a rebel. I didn’t go out partying or anything. I just went and got tattoos without permission, but I was 18.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you didn’t need permission?

Chelsea Putnam:
My first one was 18. I got with my sister and it just, I don’t know. I just love putting art on my body. And there’s that weird addicting adrenaline thing that goes along with the pain that people talk about, the pain being addicting or whatever. Yeah, what’s the word? Masochist? I’m not one of those. That’s the word I’m thinking of? I got my first tattoo when I was 18. And then from there I just, I don’t know. I’d get just like a little itch. I was bored and just go to different artists, check out their work and get a tattoo. And as I got older and appreciated it more and also made more money, because tattoos are expensive. I started finding people that did way better work and made my other ones look a little better. But the one funny, not funny, very irresponsible story on one of my tattoos. At PLU, my freshman year, I was dormed with a junior and she had a boyfriend that was a tattoo artist.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh boy.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m worried about where this is going.

Chelsea Putnam:
It’s not so bad. He played soccer for Wenatchee Fire actually. And my parents still lived in Wenatchee at that time. And so when I drove home, I would take them and they would just carpool with me and to repay me for all that, he was like, “Oh, I’ll give you this awesome tattoo that you’ve been wanting.” And I was like, “Great. Where should we do it?” He said, “Oh, we’ll just do it in the dorm room.” And so we did it in the dorm room. It was fine, he would do his girlfriend’s tattoos in our dorm room too. Definitely breaking a lot of rules. But he was clean about it and it was set up very professionally.

Chelsea Putnam:
However, the caveat to that was that I didn’t know him as well as I thought I did. And he actually had a really bad drug problem. And I don’t know if he was withdrawing or too high or something, but he absolutely did the worst job I’ve ever seen. I stopped him in the middle. I was like, “You can’t keep going. I don’t know what’s wrong with you right now, but this looks horrific.” And over the years, I’ve gotten it kind of covered up.

Dillon Honcoop:
No way.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many tattoos do you have?

Chelsea Putnam:
I don’t count anymore because they blend together.

Dillon Honcoop:
You count that as one or three?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. I’ve sat in the chair probably 25 times.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow. What’s your favorite?

Chelsea Putnam:
My favorite is I have this big piece on my leg and it goes from my knee to my hip and it was about, Oh gosh, this girl that did the ta, we were like best friends at the time it was up in Alaska, just two peas in a pod. And just one of those really cool connections. She’s incredible artists. We sat for 13 hours. I think it was straight. And that was probably the most intense thing I’ve done ever, other than birthing a child. But I would say they’re equal.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really that intense?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. It was interesting experience. That’s my favorite and I think it has a lot to do with, I mean, the art is beautiful, but there was a lot of meaning. Like she drew this original piece for me on a piece of paper and it wasn’t even for a tattoo. She just was like, “I made this for you.” She’s an incredible artist. And I was like, “I’ll make you this sculptural piece, clay artwork if you tattoo that on my leg.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Art trade?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. She tattooed it on my leg. I made her a sculpture and we have a little piece of each other forever and ever. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you tell someone like me who has zero tattoos and is very scared of getting a tattoo?

Chelsea Putnam:
Are you, oh you-

Dillon Honcoop:
I have two things against me. Number one, I’m a total wimp like-

Chelsea Putnam:
With needles or pain?

Dillon Honcoop:
Pain. I’m just total wimp with pain. And secondly, I could never, I think tattoos look cool but I could never commit to something that-

Chelsea Putnam:
That would be my first advice because I’ve-

Dillon Honcoop:
If I could get one for a year or five years even then it would be like, “Okay. Yeah, we can do this.”

Chelsea Putnam:
It’s the commitment thing to a design. I think that would be my biggest piece of advice, especially because I’ve made really spontaneous decisions to get tattoos that have very little meaning, just because it looks cool. And that might be someone’s thing. It’s like, you don’t have to have a meaning. It could just look cool on your body or whatever. But just know that that’s what you want and think about it and think about it again and think about it again, because now that I have, I call it a real job where people see me in the public eye and kids see me and they see my tattoos and they’re like, “Where did you get those Ms. P? Are you in a gang?” Like, “No. Dark.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, I used to be more of a thing, but I think it’s getting less and less as more people learn to appreciate the art of tattoos.

Chelsea Putnam:
I think so, yeah. Some are very tasteful for sure. I have some finger tattoos that I can’t necessarily hide super well, some of my rings hide them, but that’s probably the most unprofessional ones that I have. Another piece of advice is consider what you want to do with your life, how you want people to see you. If you want people to look at you and be like, “Sick face tat bro.” Then get your face tat, then do it. You do you. But I don’t know it’s subjective to the person, but if you have any doubt, don’t do it. Actually in my boredom or as some of my stir-craziness, I shouldn’t say boredom, only boring people get bored. In my like being stir-crazy. I have been a millisecond away from getting a tattoo gun and like just training myself to do it.

Dillon Honcoop:
And doing it on yourself?

Chelsea Putnam:
Well, my brother actually volunteered himself as a canvas.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Chelsea Putnam:
I’ve talked to a lot of tattoo artists. You don’t just jump in and start doing it on people. There’s ways, you can train on pig skin or you can train on, I think there’s some melons that even you can like tattoo into and has some consistencies that’s correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
Get a little practice?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. Yeah. I was just thinking, a couple hours tried on some pigskin and then get my brother to lay down for me.

Dillon Honcoop:
You have a brave brother.

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, I know. Or stupid, I don’t know. Maybe both.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s been the hardest time on the farm, this whole journey that you’ve been on?

Chelsea Putnam:
The hardest time. It’s all been challenging, which is good. The definitely the lavender farm has been challenging in the sense that the four of us, my mom, my dad, my brother and I work through a lot of ideas together. But we do a good job. It’s not been hard. It’s just been, like I said, challenging. I think the hardest time that we’ve experienced is we had a couple of years ago, three really bad years in a row on the orchards. Crops not great, return not good, just all the components that it really has to the stars have to kind of really aligned to get to turn a really good profit generate revenue, especially when you’re just a small, private farm.

Chelsea Putnam:
We thought we were going to have to sell everything, everything all of it. And the banks wouldn’t loan us any more money because we’ve had multiple bad years. It was really, really frightening to imagine all of it getting sold. Because, well now what do we do?

Dillon Honcoop:
What were you doing during that time to deal with that?

Chelsea Putnam:
Just continue to putter along and work and do the best we can to keep it moving and keep it going. And during that time it was when we were establishing the lavender farm, it wasn’t generating revenue like it does now. We didn’t have weddings out here yet. We didn’t have the Airbnb. We were still trying to dump money into it to make it what it is. We were just like, “Maybe we have to carrying it to the lavender farm too. And my brother and I always got paid though, we always got paid. My dad made sure of that, my mom made sure of that, which is good. Again, always very the rock they are the foundation. They’re providers for sure.

Chelsea Putnam:
Lots of praying on my dad’s end that’s for sure. And my uncle is involved in the farm, my dad’s brother. And so he has a fairly large role on the orchard side of it. Lots of talking, lots of trying to just figure out solutions. That’s more of my dad’s role than us just kind of waiting is waiting to see how the next season turned out. And fortunately right when we thought we were going to have to sell everything … My cat.

Dillon Honcoop:
I can hear the cat.

Chelsea Putnam:
Is it going to show up on here?

Dillon Honcoop:
I don’t know. We’ll have to find out.

Chelsea Putnam:
Right. When we thought we were going to have to sell everything, my dad was like, “One more year. We’re going to give it one more year and give it everything we’ve got. And if it’s another bad year it’s done, we’re done.” And that year we had the best season we’ve ever had. One of the orchards produce the best crop of cherries my dad had seen in the 28 years of farming it. It is unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. And it kept us afloat just enough. We had to have the best season of his whole farming career to just barely keep us afloat.

Dillon Honcoop:
Crazy.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah, it was crazy and then the year following that we actually had another great year. It just kind of put us one more step up and which is good because this year does not look great.

Dillon Honcoop:
I remember a year or two, one year in specific when I was a kid, I was like, “We’re not sure if we’re going to survive.” I remember my dad had to let go of the rest of his crew and was like, “Okay, we as a family, we’re just going to do the rest of the harvest ourselves.”

Chelsea Putnam:
Wow.

Dillon Honcoop:
That was scary. Because that’s all I had known. Think of like, what are we going to do? Like move into town? That sounded the most depressing thing in the world to me at the time.

Chelsea Putnam:
With all that towny people.

Dillon Honcoop:
Dad would just go to a job. We couldn’t be together on the farm all the time. I don’t know. I think there’s something that people don’t understand about the togetherness of farming with your family.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. Oh yeah. It’s very strengthening because you go through moments like that. It’s not just all the people think, “Oh, you farm apples and cherries. You guys are probably so loaded. You’re so rich.” No, not at all. Not at all. We’re broke and tired. What do your parents do?

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, but then people honestly will say, and this is a little bit harsh, but this is either they’ll say it or they’re thinking it they’ll say, “Well, so why do you do it then?” And that’s the hard part to explain.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah, how do you explain that? I kind of think it goes for me and this is how I answer that question. It goes back to what I was saying earlier about that needing new growth and change in my life. It was a beautiful, symbolic, physical way to see that through in my life. It’s kind of like raising a kid almost to, you’re putting something in the ground. You’re nourishing it. You’re loving it. You’re over time growing it into something that will have an end result that people will enjoy, especially berries. Oh my gosh. Right?

Dillon Honcoop:
What they don’t enjoy apples and lavender and cherries?

Chelsea Putnam:
I’m just saying. Yeah, I guess that was more personal. I love berries. I get a little tired of apples and cherries.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you love berries.

Chelsea Putnam:
I love berries.

Dillon Honcoop:
Don’t like apples or cherries.

Chelsea Putnam:
I do like apples and cherries and so TMI probably. But I have like an iron train got to cherries. Some people can’t eat a whole lot. I can eat them all, all day long.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yes. I endorse this. I do love cherries. It’s just interesting that you say that, because you say, “Oh, I love berries, raspberries in particular, which my dad grows I’m a huge fan of.

Chelsea Putnam:
You’ve just been around them too much. Huh?

Dillon Honcoop:
Like smell is, everyone else likes it. And to me it just smells like work. It smells like, “Okay, this smells like harvest.” Which, I mean, it has its own like good memories associated with it, but not like I want to eat that. I can’t explain it beyond that.

Chelsea Putnam:
I will not pay for apples and cherries in the store. I won’t, unless my son really wants apples, but also and I’m sure you understand this too. Your standard of seeing that produce in the stores on their shelves. It’s like, “What? Those cherries are 899 a pound and they’re like being cherries and they’re tiny and they’re kind of wrinkly. I’ll get some tomorrow at harvest.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. I see berries in a plastic clam shell in December and they’re pale and they’re from South America. And it’s like, “Why?”

Chelsea Putnam:
You’re like $10.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, totally. Expensive.

Chelsea Putnam:
But that, I think that’s a component that we’re really lucky to have growing up. Producing those things is we get to experience that produce in its most highest quality form right off the tree. There’s nothing better. And once you pass through and get the stuff, that’s good for the stores and all … I don’t know about berries. You know how much fruit is left on those trees at the end of the season? It’s a devastating amount. I just want to pick it all and take it to all the food banks.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why is it left behind?

Chelsea Putnam:
Not good enough. “Not good enough.” It’s not up to standard. Now, our consumers are so picky, so picky that is a Granny Smith apple, that when you look at a Granny Smith apple on a store general public views of Granny Smith apple is a nice, vibrant green with some speckles on it, but there shouldn’t be any pink or yellow. When we’re delivering to our warehouses, our packing sheds, if it has a spot of discoloration, any color other than green they throw it out because the consumer doesn’t want that. But what people don’t understand is those spots of color are from where it sat in the sun and soaked and formed more sugars than the rest of those apples and they taste better. Oh, I could get on a so box about that.

Dillon Honcoop:
But this is kind of like the ugly produce movement. Right. Isn’t that kind of a growing thing?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yes, and I’m so happy for that. I like that movement. I used to grow a lot of produce out here actually and sell it at farmer’s markets and to the restaurant at Cave B. Oh my gosh, so much work, very little return. And it was just me doing it on an acre of land.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like, what would you grow?

Chelsea Putnam:
Anything I could. And I just really wanted to see what would grow out here and how I could farm it and organically to. I learned a lot trial and error. But stuff that grows really well out here; Cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, tomatoes broccoli will not grow out here. We have some insects that are attracted from other circles and crops and maybe even the trees around us that would just demolish any kind of cauliflower or broccoli before it could even come up. Eggplant grows really well out here. Let’s see, lettuces grow very well out here. Any leafy greens really. I got to really trial and error that and gain this appreciation for the ugly produce movement.

Dillon Honcoop:
You had been involved with the whole farmer’s market thing too, right?

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. My closest friend here in town and I started it four years ago.

Dillon Honcoop:
Started what?

Chelsea Putnam:
The farmer’s market. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like which one?

Chelsea Putnam:
The only one Quincy’s ever had.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, it’s a Quincy-

Chelsea Putnam:
Quincy farmer’s market.

Dillon Honcoop:
Tell me about it. How did you do it?

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh my gosh. In fact, we have some evolving changes that are about to occur with that too, that I’m very excited about. Interestingly enough, the heart of one of the most thriving agriculture towns in our state, there was no farmer’s market. And when I first moved here, I was like, “Why hasn’t anyone tried to do this?” There’s been talk about it. And some people that are like, “That’d be cool. I’m going to do that one day.” Well, I was at a school district event and I met my friend who’s around my age and my mom was like, “Hey, I know you want to start a farmer’s market. Meet my daughter, this Chelsea, she wants to do one too.” And then we’ve been inseparable ever since. And it was quite the process and we wanted to do it right. We approached city council said, “Here’s our presentation. Here’s our plan. Do we have your approval? We want to use one of your parks.”

Chelsea Putnam:
We went around. Obviously got their approval. We went around asking for sponsorship from the businesses in town. And we raised about $15,000 from the business of supporting us and being what we call charter members. And in six months from meeting each other and talking, we started the farmer’s market. And we started out with 12 vendors, nothing big, pretty small. And we had some entertainment at the park. And then the next year we had a top amount of 24 vendors. And then the year after that, we had up to like 42 on one of our markets vendors from all over only selling handmade or home grown, no commercial stuff. And this year is looking like there’s going to be a lot of big changes because the parks are closed and the city doesn’t want us to be at the park if they’re not allowing the public to be there.

Chelsea Putnam:
It looks hypocritical, which I agree. Now, we’re looking at kind of redesigning the market and relocating it to a separate section in the city, which we were at a park kind of off. It was a really obscure location. We had a hard time directing people out there. This new move would bring business to the local businesses on the main street in Quincy. It would be on the oldest street in town where my apartment is actually 1906 building. And some restaurants, a winery, a catering business, a sandwich shop. It would be on a street with all of that and space enough for families to play in the grass areas, sit and hang out, have music. And the whole street would accommodate up to like 48 vendors, very comfortably with social distancing.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because that was the whole issue. Even like in Seattle, following the farmer’s markets there, they were closed for a while and people were like, “Well, if the grocery store is open, why not the farmer’s market?”

Chelsea Putnam:
Oh, yeah. I have lots of feelings about it too. And all this essential vendors stuff like there’s a list of essential businesses I have to turn down some of my most loyal vendors that have been with us from day one, because they’re not “Essential.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Because why they’re growing something different?

Chelsea Putnam:
No, because they’re crafting certain things that aren’t essential, but I’m like, “Hey, can you bake some cookies real quick? Because he can sell food.” Obviously.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s about food? Food has to be the thing?

Chelsea Putnam:
Food can be sold, especially obviously produce and then we can have a home improvement/home decor, which is interesting because that kind of incorporates some of our crafters. They make stuff to decorate your home or improve it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Crazy. Maybe I can see home improvement, but home decor is that really essential?

Chelsea Putnam:
Lowe’s and home Depot are open.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right.

Chelsea Putnam:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And health and sanitation. People that make soap, our farm can be there. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Interesting.

Chelsea Putnam:
It’s very interesting. It’s so wishy-washy.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, what’s the future for you?

Chelsea Putnam:
The future for me, I would like to stay close to this area so I can keep being involved in the farms. I’ll never leave the farms, but I would like to go back to the Wenatchee Valley and live there. I would like to teach there in one of the school districts over there. I just, I love the Valley. I love the area. I love Quincy too. Like my heart will always have a place here. Or I have a place in my heart for Quincy. I would like to, I am going to get my master’s degree this summer and it’s like an online program, so it’s not affected by this COVID crisis, thanks goodness.

Chelsea Putnam:
That’ll just get me more established, in the education system. And then I’d like to eventually once Mike’s grown up and I mean, he’s almost eight, so in 10 years I would love to go get my MFA like I planned be a college professor.

Dillon Honcoop:
Awesome.

Chelsea Putnam:
Yeah. And so as you can see with all the things that I have a lot of, I like a lot of irons in the fire. I really like to stay busy and engaged and challenged. It’s a downfall sometimes. Because then I really spread myself really thin. I don’t believe that we can multitask. There’s only half- assing. And so I can tend to get a little dense sometimes. I would like to cut back on some of my involvement in things and really what I see for myself is teaching maybe even at central, because it’s so close and farming here.

Dillon Honcoop:
Awesome. Thank you so much.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
I love that that cat interrupted us at one point in that interview. And I actually, if you didn’t catch it on our Instagram, I shared that as kind of a sneak preview to this episode, make sure to follow us for more content like that. Sneak previews, behind the scenes stuff. We’re going to work on getting more pictures and info of the guests we have and the stuff that’s going on behind the scenes with the podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
This is the Real Food Real People podcast. I’m Dillon Honcoop, super glad that you’re subscribed and you’re plugged into what we’re doing here to share the real stories of the people who grow our incredible food here in Washington State.We think it’s just so important to know who your food is coming from. Again. Subscribe, follow us on Instagram, Facebook and check out realfoodrealpeople.org, and also give a big thank you to our sponsors.

Announcer:
The Real Food Real People podcast is sponsored in part by Safe Family Farming, giving a voice to Washington’s farm families. Find them online at safefamilyfarming.org and by dairy farmers of Washington supporting Washington dairy farmers, connecting consumers to agriculture and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at wadairy.org.

Krista Stauffer | #024 05/25/2020

She didn't grow up around farming, and never expected to run a farm herself. But Krista Stauffer is now a widely-followed farmer and blogger from northeast Washington who is passionate about showing the truth about farming.

Transcript

Krista Stauffer:
Honestly, didn’t really care for him at first.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. He was so cocky. He’s so cocky, and all the girls are like, “Oh, he’s so cute.” And I’m like, “He’s a jerk.”

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Everybody knows that Washington is really famous for its apples. But it should also be famous for its cheese, and for its butter, and cream, and you name it because dairy is the second biggest crop, I guess if you want to call it that, that that Washington farmers produce. And so, when you eat that delicious cheese, oh my goodness, for instance, cheese, there’re so many awesome artisan local cheese producers, cheese makers here in Washington in the last several years.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s really turning into a cool thing, but lots of other dairy products too. When you’re eating those things, you want to know, okay, who is the person behind this? Who was making this essentially? And how did they care for those animals, and what was their farm like? We get to know a little bit this week about Krista Stauffer. And she and her husband have a small family dairy farm in the northeast corner of Washington State.

Dillon Honcoop:
We get to hear her whole story, and how she came from no farming background, and got involved in farming, and now loves it, and is actually very well known for her blog. And she talks about that blog, and how she wishes she would have given the blog a different name, but how much success she’s had. It’s a really cool conversation this week with Krista Stauffer. So, thank you for being here and joining me. I’m Dillon Honcoop.

Dillon Honcoop:
And this whole podcast is really documenting my continuing journey around wine Washington State to get to know the actual farmers, the people producing the food that we eat here. So, enjoy this conversation with Krista Stauffer, and this chance to get to know a bit better the people producing the dairy products that we eat here in Washington.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you guys, you and your husband have a farm. It’s old school, as far as I could… it’s the small family farm, you guys do most everything yourselves, and explain what the farm is like.

Krista Stauffer:
We are very much old school. So, currently, we milk 200 cows. Just my husband, myself, and we have five kids. And we do have two part-time employees that help us because we do like to try to get off the farm every once in a while. Our three oldest kids are very active in the farm, our oldest two our calf care specialists as we like to call them. So, they’re out there every day.

Krista Stauffer:
One of them goes out in the morning. One of them goes out at night. They’re feeding calves, bedding calves, taking care of newborn calves, taking care of sick calves, anything that needs to be done, those who are doing it. And then, our middle child who is eight, he is out there milking cows, pushing cows, raking stalls, getting all the manure out of the stalls, bossing people around, doing all that stuff.

Krista Stauffer:
So, yes, we are very old school in the fact that we are the main caretakers of the animals, and so are our children, and as far as old school goes, so as our buildings, our equipment, you name it, it’s all old school.

Dillon Honcoop:
That reminds me of my childhood. Both my grandpa’s farms are a bit smaller yet than that, but that was what I did. I grew up on a red raspberry farm, but my grandparents had a dairy farm right down the road. My other grandparent is like a mile away. So yeah, feeding calves. That’s what I did when I was your kid’s age, all the time. Mixing up milk replacer, and bottle feeding the new ones, and all that fiddling around, dumping hay out of the hay mill.

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. They do a great job. I would actually trust my kids more than I would trust most adults that showed up on our farm. They pay attention. They’re doing it the right way, the way they were trained to do it, and they’re invested in it because they know that if that animal gets sick, and it’s their fault, ultimately, the animal’s life could be in their hands type of a situation.

Krista Stauffer:
And they also know that they also want to take over someday, or be involved to some extent, and they have to do a good job in order for us to get there. So, they’re very invested, and they know what their job is, and how important it is.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you mentioned earlier you like to be able to get off the farm sometimes.

Krista Stauffer:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Realistically, how often does that actually happen?

Krista Stauffer:
Oh, well, this year, it’s not going to happen at all.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Krista Stauffer:
No, I don’t think we’re going to be able to leave at all with everything going on, and just having to buckle down, and cut costs, and be really responsible about our funds even more so than we have in the past. But mostly, when we get off the farm, it has to do with our three older children.

Krista Stauffer:
They’re very active, they have Irish dance, wrestling, basketball, you name it, they are involved, 4-H. So, that’s mostly where we have our little get off the farm moments is to go and support them. And they do a lot on the farm. They do a lot for our family. So, we try to make sure that they get to do their things as well.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you just like, not even go into town at all, or how often-

Krista Stauffer:
Oh, I go to town, I’ll even just have moments where I’m like, “Okay, Brandon, watch the kids. I’m going somewhere.” Or we’ll just look at each other, and we’re like, we need Arby’s, and Arby’s is like an hour drive, and we’ll just go drive to Spokane, and go get Arby’s just to get out of here. But we do try to occasionally go back to Whatcom County to see family, and we actually haven’t done that for a couple years.

Krista Stauffer:
And I think we’ll probably be doing that here when everything opens back up to go attended grandma’s funeral. She passed away recently. With everything going on, we haven’t been able to do anything like that. So, we try to get off the farm, but mostly, that just entails going and supporting our kids in their activities.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, sadly, not the only effect of this Coronavirus pandemic for you guys, right?

Krista Stauffer:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Explain what this has done to your world.

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. It turned our world upside down when this first came about. We’ll just go back to last year, we took on some pretty big projects, made some pretty big moves. We bought another farm to have more control over our own feed supply. We put in a big large manure storage tank to be more efficient, have more storage, become more environmentally friendly, try to do as much as we can there.

Krista Stauffer:
And just some other upgrades that were really necessary after buying the farm, and we had a lot going on, and we were feeling very good about where we were in the things we’re doing. And we knew that this year was going to be a really good year for milk prices. It was looking great. And we were looking to make some money, and make some more upgrades, changes, things like that.

Krista Stauffer:
And when this all hit or shortly after it hit, the futures of the milk prices just crashed. And we just were like, “Oh my gosh,” I for one had just had maybe like a little mini meltdown, and was like, “We’re all going to die.” And my husband is like, “Oh, no, no, the eternal optimist is we’re going to get through this, we’ll figure it out.”

Krista Stauffer:
And then even then, as it progressed, and the prices weren’t looking like it was going to come back, and it was looking like these stay-at-home orders, and restaurants being closed. We’re going to be a lot longer than we were expecting. He then also, started being like, “Uh, maybe we’re all going to die.”

Krista Stauffer:
And so, it’s been rough, but we’ve gotten creative, we’ve done some things to help push us through, and I think we’re going to be fine. I think we’re going to do just fine. I think we’re going to come out on the other side of this, and look back and be like, “Whoa, that was hard, but we did it.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, that’s good to hear. Because last time I talked with you, I remember you were feeling like, “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to keep going.”

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. And I didn’t feel like that. And we’re seeing right now with the different states opening, different phases, things like that. We’re seeing future prices start to go up. So, we’re a little bit more optimistic that milk prices, even if they just went up $1 or $2 would be very helpful for us. We’ve worked really hard on what it costs to produce the milk, and we’ve changed a whole lot of things with our feed rations.

Krista Stauffer:
We’ve sold some extra heifers as backyard cows, we’ve been selling cow manure, we have been so creative on all the different things that we can do to make this work. And we were very fortunate to get the PPP, the protection program for the payroll, and different things like that, just putting all these different things in place. We’re not quitters. We’re not going to roll over and just take it. We’re going to fight to the very end.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow, with as tough as things have been in dairy for the past several years, survival of the fittest, you couldn’t have made it to this point if you weren’t already wired that way.

Krista Stauffer:
Exactly, exactly. And when we started, we had low milk prices, lower than they are right now. That’s when we started. But we also didn’t have debt, or anything like we didn’t have a new foreign payment, or a second foreign payment, or we didn’t just complete a large project. So, going into lower milk prices are going to depend if you’re going to come out on the other side based on how you’re set up going into those low prices so, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
You say if prices could go up $1 or $2, but you’re not talking about $1 or $2 on that jug of milk that people buy at the store?

Krista Stauffer:
No, no, no. We get paid per 100 pounds a milk, it’s called up 100 weight of milk and we get paid. If we could get just $1 or $2 more per 100 pounds a milk, it would definitely help us with our feed costs, our normal cost of business. Just to get us to the other side of this, we just need just a little bit more, just a little bit more to be able to pay for that feed, to keep that truck coming, to keep the fuel, and the tractors to get through our first cutting of feed for the cows, things like that.

Krista Stauffer:
So, just a little bit more on that end of it. Definitely, not on the per gallon price that you see in the store.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Which is there much of a connection even between those prices?

Krista Stauffer:
No. It’s very complex. From how farmers are paid, and what you see in the store. Because, for example, you go into Walmart, and you buy that great value jug of milk. Well, that milk is being bought by Walmart through a cooperative, for example, Dairygold. They buy that, and they buy it in bulk. So, they get it at a set rate of whatever for that milk.

Krista Stauffer:
And once they purchase that milk, they can do whatever they want with that price in the state of Washington. They can mark it up to what they want. They can drop it down. They do a thing called what’s a loss leader. So, what they’ll do is some places some states, they will allow them to drop it down, like you’ll see 99 cents.

Krista Stauffer:
And what that store is doing is they’re trying to get people to come in, and buy that staple product, and in the process, they’re going to make that money up somewhere else. You don’t really see that here in Washington. I honestly can’t recall if that’s even legal in the State of Washington because I know some states do not allow that.

Krista Stauffer:
But yeah, once they buy that milk, they can do what they want to do. And then, all that profit goes in their pockets, not unnecessarily into the farmers because they’ve already purchased it at a bulk rate discount and amount.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Well, and I don’t know exactly where prices are at right now, as far as what farmers get. But I know in the last few years with prices being really low at times, there are times when farmers are getting what, a few pennies out of a jug of milk, out of a couple of dimes, maybe?

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. I played around with the numbers last year, and I don’t honestly recall what it was. But it was definitely way less than $1. I think it was in the 45 cents, 50 cents, something like that as what we get out of that. And that’s going to, of course, depend on what the price the farmers getting at the time, and what the store selling it for. But yeah, it’s not very much at all.

Krista Stauffer:
There’s a whole lot of people from the time the milk leaves the farm to when it gets on that grocery shelf that have their hand out in the middle of that, have to make money, truckers, processors, marketing, all of that. Even the grocery store workers, everybody’s all getting paid somewhere along lines.

Dillon Honcoop:
What is it like knowing that you’re making food, growing food, whatever you want to call it, farming milk, essentially, for other people to eat, drink, whatever?

Krista Stauffer:
Honestly, I think it just depends on the day. Some days I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this is so awesome. We’re playing such a small part in this big huge picture of feeding people.” And then other days, when I’m grumpy, I’m just like, “Yeah, no, this isn’t worth it. And then, nobody cares. Nobody likes us. Poor me.”

Krista Stauffer:
But it is really cool to know that what we do not only gets to benefit our family, and our children, and we get to do what we love to do, and raise our family doing this, that it benefits other people, and especially other people in our communities that buy our products, or benefit from us doing business within the community.

Dillon Honcoop:
Talk about your cows, or where your milk comes from. Do you guys have Jersey?

Krista Stauffer:
We have everything now.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. So, we started out with Holsteins, and then Jersey-Holstein crosses, and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Holsteins being the black and white-

Krista Stauffer:
Black and white. Yeah. And then, we had some Jerseys along the way, but like the Jersey-Holstein crosses are going to be more black, and more colorful, and unique that way. But along the way, I was begging my husband for some Brown Swiss, and he’s like, “Absolutely no, not having Brown Swiss in our herd.”

Krista Stauffer:
And we went to buy cows, gosh, maybe five years ago, and we went to this farm where they breed Brown Swiss and Jersey crosses, and I talked him into bring in a few of those home. And since then, we have been crossbreeding. We have been cross breeding our Holsteins to Brown Swiss.

Krista Stauffer:
We have been crossbreeding our Jerseys to Brown Swiss, and then obviously, our Jersey-Holstein crosses to Brown Swiss. So, we have been mixing it up a bit, and the calves, and the heifers are just absolutely beautiful, and I cannot wait to see them as milk cows in our herd.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why Brown Swiss? Why are they so great?

Krista Stauffer:
Well, in the beginning, I was mostly concerned about cute cows, not necessarily what he did far as production, or if they even could get bred, things that are important to business of a dairy farm. But I just always loved to look at them, and we actually had a fellow farmer. He since has gone out of business right up the road from us that had a beautiful Holstein and Brown Swiss cross that they would always bring to the fair.

Krista Stauffer:
And I just love that thing, and I just knew that I had to have something like that in my herd, and my husband is like, “Brown Swiss are dumb. We’re not having those.” And I’m like, “no, they’re so cute. We need them.” And we started breeding jersey into our herd quite a few years ago. And our herd size just started going small.

Krista Stauffer:
The size of animal that we were getting was just too small for what we needed, and calves, and the harsh winters that we have up here just wasn’t a great mix. And when milk prices get low, my husband always says, “You’re a beef farmer.” So, you call all the cows, and those cows get sold, and that goes into hamburger, which you’re going to find in the stores like lean beef type of a thing.

Krista Stauffer:
But you send a Jersey to the sale barn, and you’re not getting anything for it. So, we just knew we needed to go back up in size, and we needed to have an animal that was going to give us a decent amount of milk, but still have great components, and then give us a good beef chuck at the end.

Dillon Honcoop:
Components meaning what?

Krista Stauffer:
Butter fat, protein, higher butter fat, higher protein mix, you get paid better for those particular-

Dillon Honcoop:
So, what’s in the milk is what it’s all about.

Krista Stauffer:
Yes. What’s in the milk, yeah. That’s what we were looking for.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because I know Holsteins are famous for producing a lot of milk. Jerseys are famous for producing really rich milk with lots of butter fat.

Krista Stauffer:
Exactly.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about Brown Swiss?

Krista Stauffer:
They actually are higher in components as well, and then also, higher and milk production. So, I can’t say that I am an expert on Brown Swiss as far as all that goes. Like I said, I just knew that I wanted them because they were cute. But going into it, and now that I’ve really been interested in breeding, and picking up bulls, and looking at all their different details of what makes them so great.

Krista Stauffer:
And I just know that having that cross between that Jersey and Brown Swiss, you’re going to have a higher component than you would just to go in Brown Swiss or Brown Swiss-Holstein, and you’re going to have higher milk production. But ultimately, you’re just going to have a hardier animal.

Krista Stauffer:
And that’s what we really need is we just did want a hardier animal. Milk production is great, but we actually love longevity. We’d rather have a cow for six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years, than have a cow for a couple years, and that’s just our strategy.

Dillon Honcoop:
What are Brown Swiss like personality-wise? I know that Jerseys are famous for being zany, crazy, silly cows.

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. Jerseys are insane. They can get into everything. They do get into everything. They leak everything.

Dillon Honcoop:
Super friendly.

Krista Stauffer:
They’re super friendly. Holsteins can be too, depending on how you handle them. But they’re dumb. They’re just like do-do, do-do, like high. They’re just not all there. It doesn’t seem like, but Brown Swiss, they’re along the lines of the Jersey, not maybe as much. They’re a cross between the two of those. But when you cross them with a Jersey, that’s basically like you have a Jersey. It doesn’t matter how much Brown Swiss is in there.

Dillon Honcoop:
How much do you work with the cows yourself?

Krista Stauffer:
Oh, that’s going to depend on the season of life here on the farm. We have five kids. So, right now, especially with our older three being older, and wanting to be so active, and basically taking over my primary responsibility on the farm, I’m not out there as much as I used to be. I’ve gone through times where I was out there working side-by-side with my husband dragging kids along same amount of hours as him.

Krista Stauffer:
And I’ve gone to where I haven’t been down there at all, or I’ve had a job off the farm. The last 11 years, we’ve just had so many different scenarios. And it also depends on the type of help we have, if we have good help, if we don’t have any help. But right now, no, I have a two-year-old, and I have a six-month-old, and I-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s going to keep you busy.

Krista Stauffer:
It keeps me busy. Yes. So, while I am with a nicer weather, definitely getting down there more, especially as she gets a little bit older, the youngest. I’m going to get more involved. We’re looking at maybe throwing me in the chopper this year depending on how that goes. Different truck situations. I fully intend on this summer being back there, as back involved as much as possible because-

Dillon Honcoop:
With an under one-year-old child?

Krista Stauffer:
Yes, yes. Hey, we’ve done it before.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s intense.

Krista Stauffer:
Yes, yes. I just want to be out there, and be more involved, and sitting in the house is not for me.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, since I have little kids in my home too, I know how much that outstanding to me that you’re going to be able to be out helping with harvest, you’re saying being in the forage harvester, or chopping grass and stuff.

Krista Stauffer:
That’s the goal.

Dillon Honcoop:
Those are long hours.

Krista Stauffer:
We’ll see how that goes. Actually, thing about where we farm is, we’re not a huge agriculture area. So, maybe where most people see thousands upon thousands of acres or things like that, that they’re harvesting or whatever. We have 20 acres here, 40 acres here. So, we can go out, and go, and do what we need to do in just a few hours, or maybe the day, or break it up here and there.

Krista Stauffer:
It depends on what elevation because between our farm where we dairy and our farm where we have our hay farm is quite a drop, in elevation. So, there’s a lot of different factors to play. We’re not going to be out there 14-hour days chopping.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, do you guys grow all the feed for your animals or?

Krista Stauffer:
No, we do not. We do not have enough land to do that. We’re working on getting there. As like I mentioned before, we purchased a hay farm last year, and we would like to purchase a couple more areas here and there depending on how that works out in the future. But we have some leased land, some different places we rent from other people and no, we’re not where we would need to be, but we’ll get there.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you grow what, grass and corn for the cows, just grass?

Krista Stauffer:
Nope. We’re mostly alfalfa. We do alfalfa salad, which is fermented alfalfa, and then we do some grass alfalfa, Brandon has got a combination of different things he’s got going on this year that I can’t even keep up with. Basically, the strategy this year is to put as much seed down as possible, and get as much forages, and he doesn’t care what it is. That’s the goal this year.

Dillon Honcoop:
As long as the cows eat it.

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. They’ll eat it. But we don’t do any corn silage or anything like that.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did you get into this whole farming thing? Because you didn’t grow up on a farm like this, right?

Krista Stauffer:
No, I did not. I grew up here. And I actually remember driving by this very farm as a kid on the bus, or with my parents. And we used to call it the stinky old dairy because there’s a manure pond right next to the road. And honestly, other than the stinky old dairy, never gave it much thought.

Krista Stauffer:
My husband, Brandon, grew up in Whatcom County, and he wanted to start a dairy, and he knew that he would not be able to compete with Barry’s or anything like that, and purchase land over there, or even rent anything over there. Just starting out in 2009 with such low prices, it just wasn’t going to happen.

Krista Stauffer:
So, he has a relative over in our area that said, “Hey, there’s this old dairy that you might be able to rent,” and everything fell into place. So, he moved over here in May 2009. And we met a couple months later at the local feed store, and just been together ever since.

Dillon Honcoop:
What were you doing at the feed store? I

Krista Stauffer:
I was working there.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, really?

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. I actually just had recently become a single mom, and needed a job, and they had an opening, and I didn’t know anything about anything that have to do with farming or agriculture. And I had to learn so much stuff, and fumble my way through the interview honestly, pretending I knew what I was talking about because I just needed a job so bad. But I met Brandon at the feed store. Honestly, didn’t really care for him at first. He was-

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. He was so cocky. He’s so cocky. And all the girls are like, “Oh, he’s so cute.” And I’m like, “He’s a jerk.” But yeah, we started-

Dillon Honcoop:
I thought girls like the bad boy, the cocky guy.

Krista Stauffer:
Not me, I had my fill. I was like, No, thank you, no more.” I just am going to take care of my daughter, I don’t need none of this in my life, and just got to know him, and actually tried to set one of my friends up with him. And obviously, that didn’t work out, and just got to know him over the summer, and I was just amazed at how hard working he was, and motivated, and he invited me out to bring my daughter to see the calves.

Krista Stauffer:
He’s like, “She would just love these baby calves, you should bring her out to see them.” And I guess I just instantly like, I don’t want to say instantly fell in love with him because we had to work, we had to work really hard on our marriage, and our relationship. And especially, through hard years of farming, but just seeing how amazing he was with her, and she showing her around the farm.

Krista Stauffer:
And just seeing how hard working he was, and motivated, and just all that cockiness. I’m like, “Well, no wonder how you’re here so cocky because you’re cool.” So, that’s how I got into it. I met him at the feed store, and it just went from there.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you think maybe sometimes it’s better that way, or is it just like the sweep you off your feet thing, where you have to work at it?

Krista Stauffer:
Absolutely. Like I said, I had just recently become a single mom, and I did the whole sweep you off your feet thing, and it doesn’t always work out. And sometimes it leaves you in a rough spot. And I think meeting somebody, and starting a relationship that you don’t instantly like, this is the man of my dreams or anything like that, having to work at it, and having to really try to get to know each other, and work through some hard stuff together.

Krista Stauffer:
Because we had both come out of situations where we had to work together, and I think it makes you appreciate each other more. And it makes you be able to go through things like we’re going through right now with everything, with this low milk prices, and these hard times. It makes you glide through it together. I don’t know how to really explain it. It just makes you appreciate it more.

Dillon Honcoop:
You don’t have those expectations that everything is just going to be fun all the time.

Krista Stauffer:
And sometimes when you’ve been hurt before, it makes you appreciate people, and it makes you maybe want to fight a little bit harder, things like that. So, that was a lot more personal than I think. Not what we’re going to get into.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, that’s all good. So, before you met him, where did you see your life going growing up? Did you have another plan or?

Krista Stauffer:
Growing up, I always wanted to be a teacher. And then, as things progressed and life had its changes, I just wanted to be in some career that was possibly in the city, like I had interest in being a legal assistant. I had worked in the insurance industry. I’d work in a bank, moved my way up through there a little bit. And I just really liked being in that setting. I liked being in town. I don’t know. I just liked being in the office setting, I guess. So, when I met him, being on a farm never even crossed my mind growing up either or anything. I don’t even know. It was just-

Dillon Honcoop:
But now-

Krista Stauffer:
Yes. I love it. I love it. And it’s so surprising. Even my friends and family, especially my relatives, my aunts and they’re like, to this day, it’s like, “Come on, guys. I’ve been here for almost 11 years, and I’m totally rocking it.” You think they would be like, but no, they’re like, “Oh, it just feels so surprising that you ended up on a farm. We just never thought we’d see you on a farm.” But yeah, so no, nobody expected me to be here. I didn’t expect me to be here, but I’m so glad, and I’m even more so that I get to raise my kids on the farm. Jealous of them.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, is that the number one thing? If you had to pick your favorite thing of doing the farm life, it’s being together with your family all the time?

Krista Stauffer:
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I love being with my husband. I love having our kids around every day, even all day, and it’s not always easy. And there’s days where we all want to strangle each other or whatever, but it’s amazing, and I just love having them home. We homeschool, we decided to homeschool this year, and it just has brought our family so much closer together.

Krista Stauffer:
And we have some of the most awesome bonds between our kids, and we do extracurricular activities. They’re doing things off the farm. So, it’s not like they’re just here doing just our thing. But no, I think that is absolutely the number one, is just having my kids and my husband together all the time, working together for the same goal. It’s amazing.

Dillon Honcoop:
Some people have never experienced that until just now with this whole COVID thing.

Krista Stauffer:
It’s so different. It’s so different. I keep telling all my friends, we decided to homeschool this year. And there’re so many parents that have their kids home right now. And they’re just struggling, and I just want to tell them that it’s not the same as homeschool. It’s not the same as making the decision for yourself, and planning for it, and having everything set up for you.

Krista Stauffer:
And everybody else is in crisis mode. And we’re just still chugging along because we had already made that decision. We made it for ourselves. We’re still doing the same curriculum, and the same thing every day that we normally have. It’s totally different.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you guys really haven’t had to change much of anything?

Krista Stauffer:
No. The only thing that’s really changed is just the kids having all their stuff cancelled. And that, I will be honest, at the beginning, it was like, “Thank God, I don’t have to drive somewhere tonight,” every night going one way or another and-

Dillon Honcoop:
The soccer mom thing?

Krista Stauffer:
Totally, totally, totally. And we live in an area where we have three different towns, and they have activities in three different towns. So, there’s some nights I’m going to multiple towns. So, it’s been really nice to have that break, and reconnect, and get our schedules, like eating dinner together again, and things like that. And I’m just looking forward trying to figure out how to continue that when everything starts back up. But yeah, no, it’s not the same as what everybody else’s experience. I just know that for a fact.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Well, in some ways, it is the same. They’ve just never experienced it before.

Krista Stauffer:
True, true.

Dillon Honcoop:
This is the normal for you guys, togetherness.

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. True, true, true.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, and really, that’s what I’ve said about my family a bit too. I grew up that way on a farm, and we’re doing that even though I’m not really farming anything. I do live on my grandparent’s old farm, and we’re just doing the… granted, we have little kids. But yeah, it’s just like, “Hey, everyone is self-isolating, and they don’t know what to do with themselves.” Yeah. We’ve been bummed that well, we can’t ever go out to eat or shop at some stores where we might want certain things, but other than that, it’s been business as usual.

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. That’s pretty much where we’ve been as well.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, that’s cool, even though some people may be here deciding they don’t like the whole togetherness thing right now.

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. I can imagine. And especially, just having the stress of either having to try to work from home, and having your kids be at home, or some schools are trying their best, but they maybe don’t have it quite figured out yet. And so, there’s a lot of families that are really struggling through some stuff. And I really feel for them, honestly.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s your advice to them, since you have a lot more experience that, “Hey, the whole family is here almost all the time thing?” How do you survive some of those times when things get crazy? Because they do, right?

Krista Stauffer:
Kick them out in the backyard and lock the door. That’s what I’d do. Do not come back in this house until I come and get you. You think I’m joking? I’m not.

Dillon Honcoop:
No.

Krista Stauffer:
Kick them outside. Sometimes I think we overthink all the stuff that they’re supposed to do, especially education-wise. Read a book with them. Teach them some life lessons. There’re so many kids that don’t know how to cook. They don’t know how to do their own laundry.

Krista Stauffer:
They don’t know how to take care of themselves. Take this as an opportunity to teach them how to eventually go out in the world, and take care of themselves, and reading, reading is so important. Just read a book with them. There’s so much benefit to that. Something I’ve learned a lot over the last year is how important reading with your kids is.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. So, a while back, you started blogging. How long ago was that? When did you start?

Krista Stauffer:
I did my first blog post, I think, it was November of 2013.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you called it The Farmer’s Wifee.

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah, I did.

Dillon Honcoop:
Explain how did that happen, and how has that gone?

Krista Stauffer:
Well, it was like, you had all these industry people saying you need to tell your story. Get out there and tell your story. You need to have a blog name or whatever. And it should tie into who you are, and I thought, “Well, becoming a farmer’s wife is how I got to where I am now. And it’s what made me who I am as far as being involved on the farm, and meeting him, and things like that.”

Krista Stauffer:
And so, I’ve always thought wifee was cute. And so, I just did The Farmer’s Wifee and honestly, hindsight is 20/20, I probably would have come up with something different. Having known, I didn’t know anybody would listen to me, or even care what I had to say. I had no idea where it would go, or it’s taken me all over the country.

Krista Stauffer:
It’s taken me to all these amazing places, and I’ve met so many amazing people. And I think if I could go back, I would have probably picked something different. But it is what it is. And that’s what people know me by, and so I’m just going to stick with it, and hold my ground. And for all the people that hate the whole term, farmer’s wife, I’m just going to just go with it.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s it like to be famous?

Krista Stauffer:
I am not famous, not famous at all.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, your blog is incredibly, widely followed, as well as your social media. And like you said, you’ve traveled across the country with this. What was that like as that developed?

Krista Stauffer:
When everything started to take off, it was crazy, and like a whirlwind. And there was a whole year where I was gone two to three times a month traveling to different things, via speaking engagements, blogger events, just various different things. And it took off so fast. I felt like I just needed to accept everything that came my way because I was like, this is going to be done at any moment.

Krista Stauffer:
The newness is going to wear off, and the reason would be like, yeah, that girl is annoying, or she’s boring, or whatever. And so, I just accepted everything that came along with it. And then, I had to take a step back because it wasn’t stopping. It just kept going. And about a year and a half into it, I was so burnt out.

Krista Stauffer:
I was so tired. I’d go on to all these amazing places, and had this great experience. And even, my husband got to go with me, and do some of the stuff as well, but I just wanted to be home. I just wanted to be home with my kids, and be back on the farm. And so, I just had to take the step back, and I had to learn to start saying no.

Krista Stauffer:
And unfortunately, I felt maybe it was too late that I was too burnt out by then. Because I ended up having to take a much needed almost two-year break, just to get myself back in order, and figure out how I wanted to tell my story. And if I wanted to even continue, and I’m not 100% back in the game, but I feel like lately, I’ve been stepping it up, and trying to get back in into everything, but I don’t know where it’s going to go, or how far it’s going to go.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, telling your story, and it’s called The Farmer’s Wifee still, what’s the web address if people-

Krista Stauffer:
The Farmer’s Wifee, so wifee is W-I-F-E-E.com. And I haven’t been blogging as much as I thought I would be. It’s mostly just through Instagram and Facebook. I would like to start doing videos because the social media platforms are really pushing for videos. And so, I got to try to get comfortable back in front of the camera. It’s not something I really want to do.

Krista Stauffer:
So, just trying to figure out, a lot changes in two years. When you take that time off a lot with social media, it’s constantly changing, constantly evolving. And so, just try to figure out where I fit in to all of this, and what’s the best way to start fresh.

Dillon Honcoop:
When you started, what stuff would you talk about?

Krista Stauffer:
I talk about everything. I talked about all the hard stuff, all the fun stuff. I had so many people upset with me all the time because I would talk about euthanasia, putting an animal down. I would talk about a down cow, a cow that goes down and is unable to stand on their own. I wanted to talk about it all because I was so tired of… it felt like everything was always sugarcoated that everything we did was just like these cows next to these red barns in the middle of a big, grassy field.

Krista Stauffer:
And I wanted everybody to know the truth of how we farmed, and how everybody does it differently, and that it’s okay that we do it differently. And then, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies that there’s a lot of hard days on the farm. So, I felt like maybe that was part of why it took off is because I was just honest about it, and I didn’t sugarcoat it.

Krista Stauffer:
And I said some days suck, and some days are awesome. And we lost this cow, and we lost this set of twins, different scenarios that happened on the farm, and just every day, sharing a little bit of our life, just a little glimpse into it. But I wasn’t sugarcoating it. So, maybe that’s why it took off. Maybe because people wanted to know the truth.

Dillon Honcoop:
But then, not everyone was so nice with that either-

Krista Stauffer:
No, no.

Dillon Honcoop:
… if I recall talking with you about this in the past, things got ugly.

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. And I was really surprised. So, when I first started, I was still really new to farming, and I was still learning a lot. And I just was so excited about everything I learned, and everything that we were doing that I just wanted to share all that with everybody else. I just thought it was so cool. All the farmers that I met, I just thought the world of them, and how hard they worked, and everything that they did day in and day out.

Krista Stauffer:
And I just thought we’re just this big, huge family, and I’m going to share our story, and I’m going to stand up for farmers, and I was incredibly shocked. Especially, at first when it started to happen, but I got a lot of pushback from farmers. Don’t talk about that. Don’t say this. Don’t do that. You shouldn’t do it this way. You should do it that way.

Krista Stauffer:
And I was just really caught off guard by… and then the stuff, the whispers in the background that ultimately get back to you about what people are saying about you, and things like that. So, yeah, no, people were not nice, and I felt like myself, and other farmers that were being like that online, and being open and honest were getting a lot of blowback because we’re supposed to be painting our industry as this perfect industry, where nothing bad happens, and everything is great, and the sun is always shining, and yeah, that we got a lot of pushback, we got a lot of pushback.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’ve also been attacked really, from the other side of things too, with people who aren’t from the farming world, right?

Krista Stauffer:
Yes. Activists. They’re fabulous. Yeah. I’ve had my share of run-ins with vegan activists on social media, and even a few along the way of environmental activists, but it’s mostly animal rights activists that show their faces, and their tactics are basically what they do is they take a post that goes viral or something like that, and they share it in their groups with thousands or hundreds of thousands of vegans, and basically say, “Hey, go attack this farmer.” That’s how they operate.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do they say to you then, they start sending you messages?

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. So, for example, just recently about, I’d say that I know of, five or six other farmers and myself were attacked. And what they were doing is they were sharing our posts in their group, and then having everybody come, and attack our pages, and they’ll say their copy-paste rhetoric from PETA, you kill babies, and you torture animals, and I’m not sure exactly what I’m allowed to say or not on this podcast, and I’m sure you don’t want to know half the stuff that they say.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, vulgar material?

Krista Stauffer:
Very vulgar. Farmers, myself, not recently, but in the past have had my family attacked, or horrific things said about my children, or recently, another dairy farmer had his family attacked, and they said that they hoped their whole entire family died of COVID-19. So, they are very vicious. They are very mean. Ironically, a lot of them are not even from the US, they come from the UK or Australia. So, yeah, they’re pretty vulgar.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think they’re trying to do by doing that?

Krista Stauffer:
Their ultimate goal is to end animal agriculture. The way they go about it, I don’t see how they are going to ever further their cause because all these people see how they’re talking to other humans, and the things that they’re saying, the things that they wish upon them, and people are just completely turned off by how they’re doing it.

Krista Stauffer:
But yeah, that’s their ultimate goal is they want our farms to go under, and they don’t want us to be able to have farm animals. So, I think, maybe typing Facebook comments is going to do it. I don’t know. I don’t know the reasoning behind what they do.

Dillon Honcoop:
What kinds of things are they picking on that you do, that you talk about in your social media and on your blog?

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. So, the number one thing I would say is obviously, taking calves away from the moms. They believe that we should not be separating calves from cows. So, on dairies, we separate cows and calves so we can milk the cows, and then we feed, obviously, the calves are still being cared for. They’re just being cared for separately.

Krista Stauffer:
And ironically, they believe that we take the calves away from their mothers and kill them, when they don’t understand that those calves are the future of our farm, that they have to receive the best care possible. And then, taking care of them is ultimately going to continue our farm. And so, that’s one thing that they really go after, they think that calves and cows should be able to live together.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why can’t they? What’s the problem with that?

Krista Stauffer:
Well, there’s a lot of different things that go into the decision to separate, and the main one, being safety. We’re set up to milk cows twice a day. So, for example, we have 200 cows, we’re going to get those 200 cows up in the morning. So, we would have to go in there and separate 200 calves from 200 cows, and then safely do that with whoever the human is doing that, as well as keep those animals safe in the process.

Krista Stauffer:
In addition, a lot of dairy cows, they just don’t make the best mothers. For some reason, they’re just not as nurturing as you would think they would be. I think that was one of the biggest shocks to me coming onto the farm is I saw beef cows and calves out in the field just like everybody else, and I just assumed that’s how it was. And obviously, if you’re going to milk dairy cows, they’re going to produce more milk than what a calf would need.

Krista Stauffer:
And obviously, it makes sense to separate them so you could milk them, and then use whatever you need for the calf. And I guess the first time on the farm, we had this cow give birth, and I was so excited. I was just like, “The whole new process of life is just great.” And I just remember sitting there going, “Okay, she just dropped this calf on the ground,” and she just walked away. And she just walked away to the feed bunk, this calf is still covered in placenta.

Krista Stauffer:
And she didn’t clean it off. She didn’t do anything. She just walked away. And so, I remember bringing, and going, and grabbing a towel, and getting this calf all cleaned off, and we’re going to take this to the calf barn. And I’m like, “Okay,’ and I just couldn’t believe that she just walked away. Well, we were still dating then. And as I spent more time on the farm, I started seeing that much more.

Krista Stauffer:
And so, yeah, just removing that calf, and there’s times where other cows will try to claim that as theirs, and they just have a lot of concerns of being stepped on. We’ve had calves get stepped on if we didn’t get it out of the pin, quick enough. There’s just a lot of different things.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you actually have to protect them from their mothers?

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. You have to protect them from their mothers, if their mothers decide they don’t want to take care of them. You have to protect them from other cows that might step on them being too lovey-dovey on them. And there’s just a lot of different reasons. And I think, honestly, if you put all those reasons aside, and you just look at it, honestly, what is wrong with somebody else taking care of that calf?

Krista Stauffer:
Why does the cow have to take care of that calf? In society, they want to compare humans to animals all the time. But humans raise other people’s babies all the time, and they do a fabulous job. There’re people that can’t have children that adopt. There’re people that adopt just because they can.

Krista Stauffer:
They have people that do foster care. All through society, people are taking care of other people’s babies, or animals, puppies, kittens, you name it. Just because we’re taking care of those calves separately from the cows, doesn’t mean that they’re not well cared for, or that they’re not loved.

Dillon Honcoop:
And then on top of it, you’ve got people who maybe don’t understand all of that.

Krista Stauffer:
Exactly.

Dillon Honcoop:
And they’re opposed to it, which okay, fine, but then they get nasty to you about it.

Krista Stauffer:
For me, there are a lot of things in life that I don’t agree with. There are a lot of people that I don’t have the same opinions on. And there’re some things that I feel very strongly about, but I would never attack that person, or wish harm on them just because I disagree. No matter how serious of the issue I thought it was, there’re some very controversial issues out there that I feel very strongly about.

Krista Stauffer:
But I would never wish harm on somebody. I would never go, and attack them, and call them every name under the sun, or anything like that. So, that’s the part I don’t really understand. Especially, another human being like, how could you do that to another human? I just don’t understand it. I just don’t comprehend how they think that that’s okay.

Dillon Honcoop:
Was all that negative energy a big part of why you burned out? Was it all that?

Krista Stauffer:
Yes, absolutely. Yeah. It just was a combination of doing too much volunteer. I volunteered for a lot of different things. I had volunteer burnout, and then just not always feeling supported by farmers, constantly being attacked by activists. It just was a combination of everything. I just needed to step back and determine what I was willing to put myself through in order to tell our story to fight for our way of life, and needed a little bit of a refresh. And I feel like two years was enough.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Well, because some of that stuff sounds like it was bullying, like cyber bullying.

Krista Stauffer:
It is totally bullying. And this is one thing that I myself am trying to figure out. I want to do something about it. I want to figure out what we can do to change this because farmers, and not just farmers, people are being attacked on social media all the time, depending on what industry they’re in. But farmers, there’re just been all these names, and all these things that people are saying to them.

Krista Stauffer:
And you go, and you have your post shared in a group with thousands or 100,000 people, and they’re being told to go attack you, to go say things to them. And Facebook is not doing anything about it. You can report their groups, you can report the people, you can do all this as harassment or bullying, and they don’t do anything.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Krista Stauffer:
No, they don’t do anything. And so, yes, I wholeheartedly believe that it’s harassment. I do believe it’s bullying. And I think that something needs to change because these people are just telling their story. They’re just trying to be open, and transparent to people, and they’re being just brutalized for it.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, what’s the future for you, and the farm, and you, and the blog, and all this stuff?

Krista Stauffer:
We are taking it day-by-day. That is my new motto.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Krista Stauffer:
Yeah. With the blog, I love to write. And now, I probably have 100 drafts because even though I’m not publishing things, I’m still writing. And so, I really would like to try to actually, I know last time we talked or maybe even two times ago, I said I really wanted to do this. So, I wanted to start publishing those blog posts, and I really just need to do it.

Krista Stauffer:
But I really want to start more with videos, doing more videos again, and showing people online what we’re doing day in, day out, just little things here and there. The farm, the farm is going to be just fine. I think we’re just going to keep trucking, take it day-by-day, and our family has just pulled together, and we’re going to make it through this, and we’re going to look back, and we’re going to be like, “We did it. What’s next?”

Dillon Honcoop:
Awesome. Well, thank you for sharing your story, and how this all came to be. Everybody’s story is so different, right?

Krista Stauffer:
It is, yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
With all the unexpected twists, and turns, and who would have expected someone like yourself who didn’t even grow up in farming to be a widely followed, internationally followed blogger on farming.

Krista Stauffer:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
If I would have told you that 15 years ago, what would you have said?

Krista Stauffer:
I would have laughed at you. Like, “What? What’s a blog and farming?” No.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, yeah. Well, thank you for sharing everything. I appreciate it.

Krista Stauffer:
Thanks for having me.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
What I love about Krista is that she doesn’t want to sugarcoat anything like she said. She just wants to tell the full story, and let the chips fall where they may. I love that. And that’s the vibe of this podcast too. Let’s just hear people out, and actually listen. Maybe that’s part of the whole thing with this podcast for me is, is not telling people anything, and that’s how I do the episodes. It’s just me listening.

Dillon Honcoop:
Obviously, I ask a lot of questions because I want to know, but then just listening, and finding out where people are really coming from, and what their real heart is behind the food that they produce. Thank you for supporting Real Food Real People podcast by subscribing, and by checking out our website, by following us on Facebook, and on Instagram, and on Twitter.

Dillon Honcoop:
We really appreciate your support, and we’ve got a lot more still to come. So, stay with us. Next week, well, I don’t know if I’m quite ready to spill the beans on next week’s episode, but we’re working on it. We’re putting it together. And in due time, pass that info along to you. Thank you so much for connecting with us this week and subscribing.

Announcer:
The Real Food Real People Podcast is sponsored in part by Save Family Farming, giving a voice to Washington’s farm families. Find them online at savefamilyfarming.org, and by Dairy Farmers of Washington, supporting Washington dairy farmers, connecting consumers to agriculture, and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at wadairy.org.

Juan Garcia part 2 | #023 05/18/2020

In what may be our most emotional episode yet, raspberry farm manager Juan Garcia opens up about his battle with alcoholism and dealing with a deep personal loss, all while growing some of the world's best red raspberries.

Transcript

Juan Garcia:
When Mr. Rader passed away, the weight of the world was on my shoulder. And there was a way that I had to cope with it even more. It wasn’t the right way, and I talk to people about it and I’m not embarrassed of it because a lot of us, there’s a lot of people that face that demon because that’s, I mean, that’s what it is. It’s a demon.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
The people who grow our food have incredible stories to share. I mean, that’s the whole point of this podcast, right? But sometimes those stories aren’t even really directly about the food, but the things that go on, the human interactions that take place, the community that’s built and the relationships. Growing food, farming is a human process. It’s a family process. And it just struck me so much this week listening to this week’s conversation again, I got choked up I’m not going to lie, just listening back to it. We talk again with Juan Garcia. This is the second half of the conversation that I had with him.
If you didn’t catch it last week, that’s okay, you can still get a lot out of this week. But if you do want the full background of how he got to the point where we’re going to start here, last week has all the setup for that explaining the farm that he works for, the kind of stuff that he does. Here’s a guy who came from almost nothing, basically came in off the street to get a job at Rader Farms and now manages the entire farming operation there. And what that’s meant to him personally is crazy. And some of the struggles that he’s gone through battling with alcoholism and grappling with the death of his mentor and father figure, the owner and founder of the farm, Lyle Rader.
As you can expect here with these kinds of topics, it gets pretty emotional. So buckle up. This is the most emotional episode we’ve done yet here on the Real Food Real People Podcast. By the way, I’m Dillon Honcoop. Super glad that you decided to jump on board here, would really appreciate a follow on social media, on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter and subscribe too to make sure you don’t miss any future episode of the podcast. We’re on all the main podcast platforms out there. So whatever you like the best, or you could just go to realfoodrealpeople.org. But without any further intro, let’s get back into it.
Again, this is part two with Juan Garcia of Rader Farms. And I don’t know, you may need a box of Kleenex for this episode. I am serious about that. I’ve never gotten this emotional in an interview before, and there’re some things in here that I’ve never shared publicly before. So I hope you enjoy this conversation.
When was it that you realized you loved doing this whole farming thing? Or what was it, I guess maybe that caused you to be like, hey, this is really my thing.

Juan Garcia:
If I can go back and think, it was probably the first planting. When we actually started, we took on new property. This was, man, I can’t even put a year on it, probably about the third or fourth year. It was a new acquisition and just the intensity and the work of working the dirt and back down. I mean, now we got these GreenStar units on tractors and that thing goes down and a lot of the younger kids are probably going to be in a lot of trouble. Take plowing for example, you plowed long hours, you lose that straight away, you lose your straight point and it’ll take you about six hours to make up the difference.
You know what I’m talking about.

Dillon Honcoop:
I am.

Juan Garcia:
He’s laughing. But honestly, I think it was back the first year, it was a new field acquisition and it was just getting the infrastructure. It wasn’t like this field is already here, we’re going to add to it. It’s a brand new piece of dirt. And it’s what you made out of it from the irrigation to the infrastructure, all the infrastructure, the post, the trellis, the plants, the irrigation, and just seeing those plants start popping out and then wondering why that one’s not doing as good as this one. And then realizing that that row was not done by that same person. So there’s a difference in depth of the planting. That makes a huge difference.
So then you start figuring out, that first year we danced like, okay, next year, I got to make sure that everyone’s planning the exact same depth, which is nice about mechanization now, because that marker wheel, and it’s all going the same depth, but when a person’s doing it, there’s not that consistency. So I would say that that’s about the turning point where I said, “You know what? I can get pretty good at this, or I can enjoy this.” And one thing about farming is just stability. And we talked about it before is where I started from, where I came from, and the stability of having that job. And it’s, I mean, I’ve said it before and people say it all the time. If you love something, it’s not work.
A lot of people don’t get the fact that it’s true, going to work is not something you wake up like, “Oh my God, I’ve got to go planting.” It’s not the case. It really isn’t. And I can honestly say that a big part of the team that we have there on the farm feels the same way. It’s not a hindrance. It’s not clocking in and now, it’s, you enjoy it and you look forward to it because what you do today may not have an effect until next year or two years. So it’s, yeah, that would be it.

Dillon Honcoop:
What did it take to work so closely with Lyle? You talk about that and he almost became like a father figure, I guess that’d be another, when did you realize that he was kind of this mentor for you? Because Lyle knew so much and had decades of experience and he would communicate with you and he was a teacher, but he also had really high expectations. Because I knew him personally, not nearly as well as you did, but I know he was not a guy that was about messing around and just chewing the fat.

Juan Garcia:
Yeah, no, that’s true. But a lot of people didn’t see the other side of spending the time with him. So yeah, the one thing about even to the day, and we talk about numbers is running lean. I mean, people… I’m approached by employees say, “Hey, we’ve got this problem. Can we throw two or three people at it?” Well, that’s not how you solve something. It’s not fixing the problem by throwing more people or money at it. How can we improve on it? And Lyle was, he was one of those that would explain to you how to do the job and then turn and look at you and ask you twice, “Do you know what I mean?” I mean, he’s looking at you real close. “Do you know what I mean?”
And always, it was always, there’s no dumb questions. And through all the question asking, you start realizing and learning on why he accomplished. I mean, being vertically integrated from the point we got into the big Costco years ago. And that’s why earlier I touched on the point that it’s that thought process of how we approach these things by not throwing something at it, but by sitting there, say, take example of the planter. We’re planting early a lot of years ago, we’re planting raspberries. And I bet you that we adjusted one of those shanks about five and a half hours. One shank, there’s two row planter. We worked on one of them five and a half hours-

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Juan Garcia:
… and look at one row and then come back and then keep adjusting middle of the row. But you spend time with someone like that and it’s when that person passes that everything makes sense. And I’m not saying it’s unfortunate that that happened when he passed, but it was… A lot of us take a lot of things for granted. We take life for granted. We take time with our family for granted. We take so many things for granted. When he passed away, it was one of those things like, all right, obviously with Brad Rader being alongside with us, but we both learned under the same person. That’s when it really felt like, oh boy, now what are we going to do?
But then there was the majority of the times where you just ask yourself, what would he do? Would he sit on that tractor five hours taking that nut on and off? Five and a half hours adjusting it?

Dillon Honcoop:
Getting it right.

Juan Garcia:
So that approach goes a long way.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was that like when Lyle passed?

Juan Garcia:
I remember what we were doing. We were planting berries the first, we were going up the first six rows. One of the guys went out to the field and told me, and Javier and I were working together. And it’s one of those things where you, no, no.

Dillon Honcoop:
Couldn’t believe it would be true.

Juan Garcia:
No, no.

Dillon Honcoop:
This was totally unexpected, right?

Juan Garcia:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Just like out of the blue.

Juan Garcia:
Yeah. There’s a big picture, we touched upon it before we turned the mics on. There’s a bigger picture that I think age makes you a little bit wise. You start seeing things differently. I mean, I got two boys and I hope that I set an example that they’ll follow. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy, but you carry on that. And that’s why I say [inaudible 00:11:33], people can’t see me right now, but I’m smiling because I know that what he taught us, it’s there. I mean, it lives on. It lives on. It doesn’t end. And then when we pass, you hope that the person that was working alongside you can remember some of the things that he taught me, that I taught them and they’ll teach the next guy.

Dillon Honcoop:
So that was in the middle of planting when he passed away.

Juan Garcia:
We were on the first eight rows of that spring when he passed and it was a new variety of berries. So we were used to dealing with makers all the time. Now we got a new variety and the one guy who taught you the one variety is not there to help you with the second one. So it’s your job to figure it out.

Dillon Honcoop:
And what was it like on the farm in those… I guess I haven’t talked about this on the podcast before, but my dad actually got into raspberries because of his younger brother, my uncle, Rick. I don’t know if you knew my uncle, Rick.

Juan Garcia:
Yep. I did not know him, but I know of him.

Dillon Honcoop:
He was a wild man but he passed away from cancer. He died right in the middle of raspberry harvest. And I remember it was tough. And I remember seeing my dad cry, standing on a raspberry picker, which was bizarre. Never thought I’d see that.

Juan Garcia:
You think you-

Dillon Honcoop:
But that got him through it too because we had to keep on picking berries. There was no stopping, sorry, if I’m getting emotional here.

Juan Garcia:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s taking me back because that was formative for me as a kid, like what’s going to happen here? How’s my dad, my dad is up there weeping on a machine. And I know this small farm relies on him keeping this going. How are we going to do this?

Juan Garcia:
Now what?

Dillon Honcoop:
How are we going to do this?

Juan Garcia:
Now what? It’s the same. I mean, I can honestly say it’s the same because that person’s not there to help you anymore and it’s upon us just to carry on what their teachings are. And like I said, Brad Lyle, and Sue, that family, I owe a lot to. And I said it before, and I know and they’ve told me the same as, the feeling is mutual. He’s like, “Why is it… you’re part of us.” And when someone tells you that, you tell that person that you owe them a lot for the opportunity and they look you back and they tell you, “You helped us.”
But we keep going. I mean, it’s one of those things where you do it more and you try to do it better. I guess it’s, that man’s shoes, no one’s going to fill them. I can honestly tell you that right now, no one going to fill those shoes, no one’s going to pretend to. We can do things. I mean, we’ve done a lot of great things over the years. A lot of things that he did, why he did them, you tweak those a little bit here. You do this and you try that and you start seeing stuff pay dividends. And it’s not because of what you do, it’s what started back then.

Dillon Honcoop:
Juan, and what you say about Lyle living on through that farm even years after his passing, I mean, anybody can feel that within an organization, but in the case of Rader Farms, I can say that from looking from the outside, having lived basically next door to you guys my whole life, that that farm still has the marks of Lyle Rader all over it.

Juan Garcia:
It means a lot to hear you say that. It means a lot because it took all of us to continue that. You don’t worry about what people think or what’s being said. You don’t worry about those things. You just worry about what you can do. I mean, we provide a living for a lot of people. I mean, we provide good, honest, hard working jobs for a lot of people. A lot of people feel the same way. A lot of people appreciate that, but it’s, it’s just one of those. I mean, it’s a story that says, we can go on here couple hours just going on about just different days, different things that happened different… I’m running kids off the fields. There’s a guy who put the little quad through the field.
And I remember when I first saw him after a few years, I look at him and he says, “You remember me?” I said, “No, I don’t,” guy’s about six foot four now. I’m looking up at him. He said, “You used to run me out of your fields.” I said, “No, that was Lyle telling me to do it.” But even though the guy told me-

Dillon Honcoop:
You must have never caught me-

Juan Garcia:
[crosstalk 00:16:42]-

Dillon Honcoop:
You never ran me out of the field. But-

Juan Garcia:
It was hard catching you because I had to ride a bike all the way to pick up my Kim truck all the way up on the Haver Stick Farm. But no, we’ve been neighbors for a lot of years. We’ve had those 50 acres right behind you guys’ place for a lot of years. So you start seeing what Randy’s doing and now Randy’s seeing what we’re doing and he too, there’s another guy right there that’s very passionate about what they do. I mean, there’re so many people in this county in agriculture that are the same way and it’s pretty cool to see that because most people think like, well, you guys are top secret. And I say, “No, we’re all in this together.”
We all fight the same issues. We all fight the same battles so we communicate. A lot of the farmers in the raspberry industry, we talk, try to figure out ways to, whether it’s personnel or pest issues that we faced in the past few years, trying to get the timing right. That kind of deal. So we communicate, we talk a lot. There’s a lot of good people in this community

Dillon Honcoop:
Before we started recording here, you had mentioned to me at something that I didn’t know, that you’ve been sober for seven years.

Juan Garcia:
November six, seven years.

Dillon Honcoop:
I didn’t know that that had been a thing for you.

Juan Garcia:
A lot of people didn’t know. There’s a way of trying to mask pressure. There’s a way that people like myself thought, how I had to cope with things. And through the grace of God, with his help and my family’s support, it’s been nothing but a blessing to let that anchor go, to get that off of your shoulders and to see things clearly. That was one of the things when Mr. Rader passed away, that the weight of the world was on my shoulder. And there was a way that I had to cope with it even more. It wasn’t the right way. And I talk to people about it and I’m not embarrassed of it because a lot of us, there’s a lot of people that face that demon because that’s, I mean, that’s what it is. It’s a demon.
I was told back when I stopped that I was going to help a couple of people accomplish the same goal. And it’s come to fruition on a couple of close friends that I have. But definitely it was one of the biggest obstacles in my life. I mean, I look at obstacles nowadays, I mean, aside from what we’re going through in this great country of ours with… but there’s a lot of obstacles that you look at that I’m not afraid to take on, I’m not afraid to take on certain challenges where maybe a few years ago I was a little bit more timid because I had that on looking over my shoulder, not anymore.

Dillon Honcoop:
But what was it like when you were drinking?

Juan Garcia:
It was not fun. It was not fun. It’s like when you just don’t like who you are and you got to make a difference. You got to make a change.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did it start? I mean, because a lot of people just have a few drinks, but when did it become a problem?

Juan Garcia:
Way before I stopped. Way before I stopped.

Dillon Honcoop:
I guess there’s the issue when it actually became a problem and when you realized it was a problem.

Juan Garcia:
I think the more I look at it, it was a problem a long time. It wasn’t a certain date that it was a problem. It’s one of those things where you look now and like I said, a lot of the decision making that I make on the farm, I’m more concise, more clear and more, what’s the word I’m looking for? More confident in knowing that what we’re about to do is the right decision. I always tell the guys the same thing. It’s like, “Hey, this is what we’re going to do. And if something goes wrong, I’m jumping on that sword myself because this is my decision.” But it’s easier to make decisions and-

Dillon Honcoop:
You just said about confidence though. I think that’s interesting because that’s the opposite of what the stereotype is, is well, if you’re scared of something, you aren’t feeling confident, take a shot of liquid courage. Right?

Juan Garcia:
Yeah. I think that was the case back then.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, you’re saying now that you’re on the other side of that, it was actually making you less confident.

Juan Garcia:
I think so. Oh yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s interesting.

Juan Garcia:
I think so, because you don’t have that clarity, your mind is not in the right state of mind. Whereas now, or the last seven years, the biggest thing for me is not the work. The biggest, and I can’t put enough emphasis on it, is my family, is the relationship that I have with my family. And it’s going to take years to recuperate a lot of that time… Actually let me take that back. You’re not going to recuperate and you’re not going to be forgiven on one day, but every day that I wake up, every day that I wake up, I work on getting to the point where I can say my relationship with my boys and my wife is where it should be.
It may take the rest of my life and I may never accomplish man, but I can tell you one thing, every day I’m going to try. And it goes back to your work, why you enjoy it, why I enjoy what I do. And honestly, it’s my family. I love my two boys to death and I love my wife more than anything that words can explain. A wife looks at her husband and asks, “Why do you love me?” And I say, it doesn’t end. It doesn’t end. When I was working those hours, it was her taking me the lunches to my job, to the field. Her buying shoes so that my shoes weren’t worn out and I was comfortable doing the work that I did.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did you meet her?

Juan Garcia:
It was in asparagus and I followed her here to Rader Farms. She worked on the berry pickers on little towns that Lyle had back in the day and I followed her up here.

Dillon Honcoop:
You were a couple already when you followed her or you were kind of like still chasing her a little bit?

Juan Garcia:
I was still chasing her a little bit. I was still chasing her, but she was working on the pickers and that’s the one thing I joke with Sue about it because I ended up being trucker in that same field that she was at. And by golly, that harvester was always unloaded on time, always on [crosstalk 00:24:05].

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m sure you looked good doing it.

Juan Garcia:
But no, we’ve been blessed.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re just another berry picker romance. [crosstalk 00:24:16]-

Juan Garcia:
There’s a lot of them I guess, no, but there’s no looking back. There’s no looking back. I mean, you can regret a lot of things, that’s not going to get you anywhere. It’s what I did this morning when I woke up, I told her I love her. She went to work for a little bit and she calls me on her way back, say, “What do you want to grab for lunch?” I’m like, “Well, I got a podcast I got to go to.” But no, she’s awesome. She’s been a great person. Great mother.

Dillon Honcoop:
The stuff you talk about with sobriety and struggling with alcohol. I mean, there’s a lot of people across a lot of different parts of our country, our culture that deal with this, but it’s not talked about very much in farming and it is a thing in farming.

Juan Garcia:
By the way, I didn’t know you were going to ask this and like I told you before, it’s not something that I’m embarrassed about. It’s not something that I’m ashamed of. It’s more of an accomplishment because it’s something that I was able to beat. And I still, you can say you fight it every day, but there’s that, there’re so many people that it affects. And it’s not just the alcoholic, it’s the children. It’s the wife. It’s the brother. I mean, it’s a tough thing to get over. And sometimes you wish that that person that’s fighting it can just maybe spend one day, not even a day, eight hours in my mind seeing what I see, seeing how I see things and how appreciative you are.
I mean, we were blessed to buy her first home last year, my wife and I, and our views are the same view you guys have at your place. It’s the Sumas Mountain, those little snow caps over there. And you wake up looking at that every morning and I don’t take it for granted. I don’t. And yeah, I’m at a loss for words right now. I hadn’t put much thought process into answering this question, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
Why do you think it’s such a thing in farming? Because you know as well as I, there’s quite a few people who struggle with it, but nobody really talks about it.

Juan Garcia:
I think part of it has to do with because you have so many people dependent on you. I don’t sign the checks, I work for a farm. I don’t sign the checks, but it’s your decision making that a lot of people depend on.

Dillon Honcoop:
Pressure.

Juan Garcia:
Pressure, yeah, pressure. And it’s easy to cave into that drink to take some of that pressure off. But then again, the pressure is still there. The pressure’s still there. And I talk to a lot of people in the same industry and I’ve shared the story with a lot of people. It’s one of those things that you know is hidden, you know a lot of people face it. I mean, I have family members that still deal with it, but if you can reach out and just talk to someone and just have that person just look at life for a little bit through your eyes. And if you can just break that cycle for just a little bit of time and see that you can do without, it’s how you look at life I think it’s what it is.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why do you think nobody in farming wants to talk about it? Is it like a macho thing?

Juan Garcia:
I don’t know if it’s a macho thing. I don’t know. Dillon, I really don’t have the answer. I can answer any other question you throw at me, but I don’t have the answer to that one. I don’t know the answer to that one. I do hope that us discussing it and seeing some people would want to listen to this and go, “God dang, I didn’t know that.” A lot of people didn’t know that that I work with. I was functioning, I’d show up to work, but I hope that a lot of people listening, I hope it’s more than just the agriculture that listens to your podcast because I hope you do reach out to more people than just the farming community. And I know you do, man, I hope it reaches someone.
I mean, if you’re out there, I mean, I wish you nothing but the best. I can say all you need is just a little stint clarity to break away from that cycle and just to get the understanding that you can do without. And to the day, I mean, I’m around people that have drinks a lot, maybe I shouldn’t be because it’s something that you will always be. But again, it goes back to that confidence. I mean, my wife’s told me, she says, “You too damn stubborn to fail.” She’s damn right. So yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What does the future hold, this whole farming thing? I know there’s lots of cool stuff happening, but at the same time, there’re big concerns especially with, and we were talking raspberries, that’s the world I grew up in. So I follow it close. I know there are people around here worried, like, I don’t know if we can keep doing this forever with prices the way they’ve been.

Juan Garcia:
There’s a lot of people that can’t continue with this. And that’s why I talk about being surrounded by good people, finding approaches to problems that don’t necessarily involve a lot of money. I mean, there’s things you can do to… I mean, you can’t control mother nature. You can’t control the climate. That’s for sure. But I think that’s one of those things where I look at it, not in an isolated way, but you just have to find ways to improve, meaning yield wise. I mean, plants are genetically set up to do only certain… There’s ways we were talking about, plant nutrition is a big one. That’s a big one in accomplishing way of yields.
I don’t know. I mean, you look at raspberry farming the next few years, the pincher you talked to, it doesn’t look good, but it doesn’t take away the inspiration to try to do good. I mean, the market’s one thing, I don’t have a lot of control over that stuff. I look at it, I wasn’t saying isolated, I’ll grow the berries the best we can, the cheapest we can, and get the highest yields which is kind of an oxymoron, both two of those things in the same sentence, but that’s not, it’s not easy. I mean, I don’t have the answer to answer your question. I don’t have any answer to where this is heading or I’m not going to put out doom and gloom stories, there’s already enough stuff for that out there.
I hope some of these subjects we touched on are positive subjects and a lot of people are indoors right now. I hope we made somebody’s day or make somebody think, I don’t have the answer to that one too.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about, you’re growing food that people all over the world eat, a lot of people in cities, a lot of people not connected with how you’re growing it. What do you think they need to know about what goes into it? I mean, because there’s a lot of voices out there and people saying, “You can’t trust the food that you eat.”

Juan Garcia:
I think what a lot of people need to look at it is that we’re all humans here. I mean, farming is not a thing. Farming is people. I think if I could make one point to that mindset is that farming is people. It really is people. And we touch more people than the people on the farm. I mean, this community, your huddle parts, your hardware store, your deli sandwiches that we grab sandwiches. I mean, there’re so many things that play a part in farming. It’s not just the farm itself. It’s a community. It’s the people. I mean, I’m not going to put my number out there, but it’d be more than happy to talk to people and put a little face to what people don’t see, because in a nutshell, that’s what we are.
We’re human beings, we’re people, we’re making a living or struggling to make living. But the inspiration is there. I mean, our work ethic is there. That is a pretty big challenge to get people to understand that it’s not just at the grocery stores. I mean, we touched on it earlier. The last day of harvest is what begins the next harvest. That’s true. I mean, the work doesn’t end. I’d be more than happy to talk a person with that mindset. I mean, there’re so many things that you can talk about. It doesn’t just show up at the grocery store. I’d be more than happy to talk to people.
I mean, if there’s any questions or even future on your podcast or you got a Facebook bait, I’ll join it and answer questions. It’s educating the people that don’t know, that have never been exposed to it. And that’s why we touched upon it earlier is that we opened a lot of… I mean, I’ve come across people down South in Bellingham and some of them you don’t recognize and “Mr. Garcia.” “Do I know you?” He’s like, “Yeah, I worked in your farm 12 years ago.” I’m like, “Oh man,” we had 300 people on the farm that year, but faces, you resume. But it’s always pretty satisfying when you come across that person that you met when they were in high school, worked on the pickers and then drove pickers, and then now they’re doing, maybe it’s not farming. Maybe it’s any other job that they’re at.
But just to know that you touched those persons in a certain way, that they remember what agriculture was like and have a greater appreciation for what you do. So if you could just touch one or two person, I mean, it’s going to take a long time, longer than I’ll be around, but we’ll make a difference. We’ll make a difference.

Dillon Honcoop:
Juan, thanks for agreeing to do this and open up. I know I’ve asked you a lot of personal stuff, but your story is pretty powerful.

Juan Garcia:
No, I appreciate you having me, Dillon. And like I say, thanks for everything, for the time. And we’ll keep farming.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
Every time I listen back to that conversation, it gets to me in a little different way. And there are different points that cause me to, woo, get a little bit teary eyed. And maybe it’s just because of my own story, but it’s also, I don’t know, when you’re talking with like Juan who from a distance, you would assume that he’s a big guy, tough guy, farmer. It’s just, I don’t know. It gets me when somebody like that really opens up and you find the broken yet inspiring and optimistic stuff inside them. What an incredible conversation. And if you like conversations like this, I urge you to go back. If you haven’t heard them all before, go back to our first episode, catch up or pick some of our previous episodes.
We have a bit of a collection going now. I think this is number 23 and certainly subscribe then to catch future episodes. Because this is what we do. We share real human stories here as it relates to the people who produce your food. Where our food comes from is so important and a lot of that has to do with something I think is even more important, who our food comes from. And I am on a journey… By the way, I’m Dillon Honcoop. Again, this podcast is documenting my journeys all over Washington State to hear these real personal stories of the people growing our food. I want to reconnect with the people behind the food that we eat. I mean, food is personal and how can it really be what it’s meant to be unless we know those people who are growing it and bringing it to us?
So thank you for your support. Thank you for subscribing to the podcast, following us on social media, and visiting our website, realfoodrealpeople.org. And of course, thank you to our sponsors as well. We wouldn’t be able to do this without them. We’ll see where this goes with the world of COVID. It’s been more of a challenge being able to get around and interview people in the far reaches of this state like I was doing earlier on, but I want to get back to that. So hopefully that happens soon. In the meantime, please stay safe, stay healthy, and be careful out there. And we will be back with another episode next week.

Announcer:
The real food real people podcast is sponsored in part by Save Family Farming, giving a voice to Washington’s farm families, find them online at safefamilyfarming.org, and by Dairy Farmers of Washington, supporting Washington dairy farmers, connecting consumers to agriculture, and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at wadairy.org.

Juan Garcia part 1 | #022 05/11/2020

Stress, struggles and passion for growing food all come with the territory for the people behind Washington's famous red raspberries. Juan Garcia opens up about what it's really like growing the fruit, managing the people and experiencing personal growth on a family farm in America's red raspberry capital.

Transcript

Juan Garcia:
I mean, I love my father to death, but honestly, I spent more time with Lyle alongside of him than I did my own father. My dad was off working. I was working with Lyle. It was every morning, it was every after lunch, it was every evening.

Dillon Honcoop:
So he’s almost kind of also a father figure to you.

Juan Garcia:
He was a father figure.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Welcome back to The Real Food Real People Podcast. This week we’re going to talk about what really goes into running a big red raspberry farm. A family farm, but not our guest’s farm. He was hired by the family that started the farm and he really lets us kind of inside his head on what drives him and the things that he loves about his work and how he approaches working with people. It’s the first part of two parts of the conversation with Juan Garcia. He’s the farm manager at Rader Farms in Lynden, Washington. And interestingly, this is all about growing red raspberries. That’s the kind of farm that I grew up on too. And in fact, the farm that he manages is basically right next to or at least has fields right by and near the farm that I grew up on, my dad’s farm.

Dillon Honcoop:
So I’ve kind of known Juan or at least knew who he was for a long time. But I guess that’s what I love though about getting to do this podcast is it gives me an excuse to really get to know people like Juan, even from my own community, and find out there’s so much more to his story than I ever knew. And some of that starts to come out this week. A lot more of that will also come out next week. And I’ll tell you more about that later. Some pretty amazing things that happened during the conversation that we had.

Dillon Honcoop:
But this first part just sets the whole table for what will come in part two explaining what he does, how he does it, how he approaches it and how he came to be not only hired but really taken in as part of this farm family, the Rader family. So enjoy the conversation this week with Juan Garcia, and enjoy the chance to get to see what really goes on in producing those delicious Washington State grown red raspberries that you can get at the store. When you just eat the fruit, you think, wow, this is amazing. But when you hear about all of these people and what they’re doing to produce that and bring that to you, it becomes that much more incredible. So, we’re thankful that you’re here for this week on the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Growing up, did you do farming? Is that in your background?

Juan Garcia:
Actually not at all. I was born in South Texas and I grew up in Dallas. Went to high school, all my high school years up in Dallas. And mom and dad, mom worked at a cafeteria at the middle school. And dad worked construction his entire life. So I was exposed a little bit to the construction field but not the farming. It was, when the folks moved up north to do the migrant work, I stayed in Dallas two years, I was probably 17, 17 years old. Said I can do it on my own. So I stayed there two years. And mom and dad and the brothers came and did, they cut asparagus, picked strawberries, harvested hops, which actually the following year I ended up doing. So we did everything from cutting asparagus, hops, hauled potatoes, onions, strawberries. My first year up here and we lived in, it was a trailer park for Green Giant in Pasco, Washington.

Juan Garcia:
And I met my wife there. She was at the door and I was walking by. Anyways, that’s where I ended up meeting her. And ended up following her to Lynden. We were handpicking raspberries in the east side of Lynden and it’s strawberries down in the corner, and walked into the Rader office one morning and asked if there was work because I knew my wife, my girlfriend at the time worked there.

Juan Garcia:
So I met Sue Rader, and anyone that knows Sue knows that she’s always willing to help people out with work opportunity. Was offered a job, I believe it was the same day, told me come back tomorrow. So started working there. It was two seasons for the Raders and was offered full time work the second year.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what kind of work were you doing for them at that time?

Juan Garcia:
Back then, we were unloading harvesters, we had that old red one ton that we still have. And we would have to unload the machines before they crossed the center road, which doesn’t happen anymore. So, were picking raspberries, I got into a little bit of fertilizing with him, he had some babies planted behind the processing plant and got my feet wet in raspberries at that time. We had already had commitments. Before that, we were doing, like I said, we were hauling potatoes, AgriNorthwest, Eastern Washington. We did apples up in the Tonasket area, we picked apples. I stacked fruit in the cold storages by the hour and then making den by piece work on the off time.

Juan Garcia:
The whole migrant moving, I saw what my wife did, she was born in Stockton, her family was really deep into agriculture. I’m talking from a kid all the way up to, I mean, till we got married. And you see the lifestyle of migrant families where you move from town to town, you attend different schools. You make different new friends, I shouldn’t say different because a friend’s a friend, but you make different friends. And there’s no stability. And it’s hard. When I met my wife, when we decided to get married, I told myself, I don’t want, don’t get me wrong, it’s a lifestyle that a lot of people choose to live and I did it. I’ve done the work. It just wasn’t something that I wanted my kids to be going through. The instability.

Dillon Honcoop:
More stability for your kids.

Juan Garcia:
More stability is what I was looking for, or we wanted. So, long story short I guess, I’m kind of going on, but Lyle and Sue opened the doors to my wife and I. We got married the second year we met. Still doing the migrant work, and opportunity came for full time work with the Raders.

Dillon Honcoop:
Lyle and Sue Rader. Rader family now Brad.

Juan Garcia:
Yeah, Brad is the GM. It’s still like working with family. They opened the doors for us. I know for a fact the feeling is mutual between us but I owe a lot to that family, I owe a lot to them. And the opportunity that the Raders provided to me and my family, my two boys. I have two boys, both graduates out of Lynden High School. I’m very proud of those two boys, and my wife who I love to death. She’s what has kept us together. It’s never been easy, like with any relationship, any work in life is not easy, but it’s what you make of it.

Juan Garcia:
So we decided to move up here. And we both said, we’re going to do it on our own. It was not easy. First few years, it was not easy.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you mean do it on your own, do what on your own?

Juan Garcia:
We just got married. And for us to be around family was one thing, and that’s great. But in my mindset, I wanted to accomplish those goals that I had. And goals, honestly, if you set a goal, it kind of sets the bar toward how high you want to get. So goals nowadays for me aren’t set. It’s just continuous progress. You got to keep progressing. You can’t stay complacent.

Juan Garcia:
So, the goal was to move up north and to try to see if we could do it on our own without family help assistance, none of that stuff. And we’ve done it. A big part of that is the Rader family, obviously, my wife. But they opened the doors to us and provided a livelihood that a lot of people, more and more people are seeing it now. Agriculture is not, it’s not a hidden world, it’s a part of the big picture. I mean, it’s our food. You see what’s going on nowadays with COVID-19, and what, not necessarily what’s essential, we’re all Americans. Everything we do is essential to what we do to our families, for our work, our friends.

Juan Garcia:
The Rader family, Lyle Rader, I love my dad and mom to death, mom passed away a few years ago, but I still have a dad, and just seeing how they worked. I think a big part of work ethic is instilled from your family, from what you see them do. You carry it on and then you hope that your kids get, it’s just something that you hope carries on. But working with Lyle, I’ve said it before, a mentor, a teacher, a friend. I can’t speak highly enough of what he taught me in raspberries, in farming in general. And in life to be honest with you. He was a big part of that.

Juan Garcia:
To the day, what he taught us, and I say us because it’s not a me thing. There’s so many people, it goes from the top to bottom, and it’s not even top to bottom. This goes from irrigation to plant nutrition to labor to processing. He was a big part of it. And to the day, we still use some of the ways of approaching a problem. Things aren’t the same as when he was around. We fought a lot of rain back in those days. It seems like the weather’s changed a little bit drier. So may debate that the first few days of last year were wet and we struggled with mold. But that’d farming. Farming is, I think that’s why I do it. I shouldn’t say I think, I know that’s why I do it because of challenges. With people. Learning together.

Juan Garcia:
I can honestly say every harvest, we end up learning something that we didn’t know prior to, and you have to keep that mindset to not be complacent in agriculture or in life or in anything to be honest with you. We have a great team. It’s a family, it’s a Rader family.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you manage the farm basically. You’re one of the farm managers or the farm manager, what’s your position?

Juan Garcia:
I’m farm manager. If you look at titles, Brad’s a GM, I’m the farm manager. We still work side by side in making decisions, how we want to do things, logistics. It’s a whole team effort. I can probably spend a couple hours going over the tasks that each individual does on the farm.

Dillon Honcoop:
How big is the whole crew?

Juan Garcia:
It depends. We got a couple of guys in the shop. There’s seven operators, tractor operators. There’s about four of us that help with anything from harvest irrigation. Do it all. There’s been discussions on what a job is on the farm and it’s never one thing. It’s 10 different things in one day. Even for myself, for Doug, for Riley’s, for Javier’s, for Angel’s. I’m throwing off a few names but there’s so many people that are involved in this. The guys pruning, the guys working the dirt. Applications. It’s a lot of things.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did you get to this position to be leading that kind of a team? You talked about, you just came in off the street basically asking for work. And then you moved up, you were talking about helping unload trucks during season and whatnot, and you moved up to full time. How did it go from there? I don’t want to put it this way because I know it’s really not how it works in farming but how’d you climb the ladder so to speak?

Juan Garcia:
Honestly, it’s the wanting to learn. It’s the wanting to, not just say, well, I’m just going to drive a tractor and I’m going to look straight ahead. There’s a chisel behind me and I’m just going straight forward. It’s why you drive a tractor and how that tractor works and maintenance and diagnostics. I’m not a mechanic but we have mechanics, and basically seeing why you’re ripping dirt. We went from rototilling to cultivating now to chisel points. To keep some integrity of the dirt it’s just one example of how we moved or progressed.

Juan Garcia:
Like I said before, I give a lot of the knowledge of the raspberry industry, blueberries, rhubarb, for that matter, to Lyle. That’s how much of, I shouldn’t say effect, it’s not the right word I’m looking for, but that’s how much involved we were. I love my father to death, but honestly, I spent more time with Lyle alongside of him than I did my own father. My dad was off working. I was working with Lyle. It was every morning, it was every after lunch, it was every evening.

Dillon Honcoop:
So he’s almost kind of also a father figure.

Juan Garcia:
He was father figure. He was a father figure. He was one of those persons that has a huge impact in your life on why you do what you do. And when you say climb the ladder, I think we all climb the ladder together at the farm there because if we don’t have a good year, none of us have a good year. We’re just working for that year. With labor shortages, with the price of berries. I’m not going to get on that wagon. It’s tough. It’s tough and people ask why do you still do it. And it’s just that. It’s the evolving, the learning, the working with people. I think the biggest thing for me is working with the people to be honest with you. Nutritions in our berry fields, raspberries or blueberries, that’s a huge part of daily activities except for off season. But that makes a big impact on what that plant is going to do this year and the following year and so on and so on.

Juan Garcia:
One decision in a field per se takes years to see, takes years to come to a conclusion. It’s not just like, hey, we’re going to do this today and see the results tomorrow and hope that what you’re doing is the right thing because it’s going to take a few years to backtrack and make that decision right if we made a wrong one. And that’s why, to me, I respect universities, the teaching, all that stuff. I never graduated from college, I never went to college. But I learned everything hands on.

Juan Garcia:
You can almost correlate different crops to what we’re doing now because it’s all life. If you put something in the ground and you expect to see it, and you know there’s something else that has a hand in that life. So you’re putting something in the dirt and you’re wanting to see that grow, whether it’s a berry, a raspberry, a potato or an apple. There’s something else there that helps with that. But there again, we can go on for hours talking about other things. It’s a never ending cycle. It’s never boring, you don’t do the same things every day.

Juan Garcia:
And at the same time, the teachings that Lyle Rader passed on to me. Even with these younger folks that come in, you pass that along because you want that information to not lose, not be lost somewhere down the line because one person worked hard to do it. The next one’s doing the same improvement and so on and so on. It’s valuable. There’s generations of raspberry farmers in this community and we both know them very well that try to improve the last generation, that kind of deal. I know your dad’s been doing the same thing that I have so you can relate to a lot of what I’m talking about, and he’s very passionate man himself.

Juan Garcia:
I hate to compare it to other industries but farming’s a little different. And to be able to put faces on it and not just what, it’s not going to the, I know it’s cliché, people say it’s not just going to the grocery store. It’s not. It’s literally blood, sweat and tears. It’s time, time away from family. I’ve been farming raspberries for 28 years now and I still don’t know what a summer vacation looks like. I’m not complaining because it’s provided for us. But my kids don’t know what a summer vacation looks like. You didn’t know what a summer vacation looked like for a long time.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. And then when I actually had summer vacations, I just couldn’t relax because I knew everything was going on back home and I kind of wanted to be there, as messed up as that sounds. One time I went to Hawaii in June or something and it felt bizarre to me.

Juan Garcia:
And there is a part of it. I mentioned before, I have two boys and for us, some of the vacations during the summer were trying to get away from the farm before the Fourth of July to go to a state tournament. Literally baseball state tournament. I coached my youngest one for a few years. But that was a little getaway. You knew darn well we were going to start picking somewhere before the fourth. It was always stressful, but the Raders always provided that opportunity. They understood, we all understood that work was our livelihood. But we also understood that our family came first until the date it came first. There were times that maybe we spent more time out, during the summer like I said, but you try to make it up somewhere along the line.

Dillon Honcoop:
Growing up on my dad’s farm, we never even talked about vacation in June, July. You start talking about that maybe the last week of July. You’re on the picker still or hauling trucks and like, man, we’re getting close, we can tell, we’re well past peak. But we didn’t have blueberries.

Juan Garcia:
That carries on.

Dillon Honcoop:
And then you start, oh man, we need to get out of here. Let’s go camping. That sounds so good. It’s like if you’ve been hungry all day and you finally get to, so it was always August, early August. We’d go on vacation. Then you come back and you got to figure out which field you’re taking out and get back to work.

Juan Garcia:
There’s that part of it. I’ve had the family members or friends say, well, you’re done with harvest, it’s time off. Well, no, it’s not. You’re just getting started. You’re just preparing the last day of harvest, excuse me, the last day of harvest is the first day of the next one. Whether it’s ripping out fields and crews of pruning, pulling, tying, arcing, nutrition program, just dirt work in general. I think maybe it’s about December. We’ve done a pretty good job of shutting down a couple of weeks in December. This time of the years even when it’s raining, there’s work out there. There’s preparation.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you guys get your pruning and tying done earlier too than my dad does. So, that’s kind of ongoing throughout the winter for him, but you guys usually get that knocked out by what, November?

Juan Garcia:
Middle of November. Lyle put, that’s the one thing about Mr. Rader. He put a couple of time clocks in the back of my head. Those clocks start working and we started getting close to that deadline, we still … And sometimes you feel like the guys that didn’t tie on winter where we get winter damage or early spring, was it the right thing, and can do it the other way. It’s a constant-

Dillon Honcoop:
I bug my dad about that. The neighbors over there, the Raders, Juan, you got all that winter damage because maybe you didn’t have them all tied up by February when that freak late storm hit.

Juan Garcia:
And then there’s a flip here when it’s not the case. It’s a challenge. It’s a fun challenge. Like I said, it’s just working with people. People that have the same passion as you do. That’s different than just punching in a clock and just getting eight hours in. It’s finishing the task, it’s not finishing, it’s like continuing the next day until you get it done. But that’s a nice thing, but it’s never the same thing, it’s never the same thing.

Dillon Honcoop:
You have to know how plants work to do what you do. That’s a big part of it, right?

Juan Garcia:
I’d like to think I do a little bit, yup.

Dillon Honcoop:
Growing plants. You got to be passionate about that. You’ve already touched on that, even the big picture, the continual cycle, and nature producing food and how you manage that. How passionate are you about that part of it?

Juan Garcia:
That’s the one thing that just drives you to be more attentive, to see, to learn. And not to be drastic on the changes. We touched a little bit on plant nutrition. There’s certain things that have to be imbalanced for something to be uptaken. You can’t just throw 400 pounds of fertilizer and just throw it out and expect stuff to grow. Stuff gets tied up and it’s knowing what ratios, what balances. There’s so many things.

Dillon Honcoop:
Got to start thinking about chemistry and biology.

Juan Garcia:
You have to. And that’s one of the things even with some of the varieties that were, the Meeker variety, it’s an older variety. It’s a tough crop to grow, as you will know during the rainy season. There’s newer varieties. And basically, the way I look at is with these newer varieties, we as a team have to figure out a way to do what farmers when they were predominantly Meeker variety, how they, I want to say mastered it but it’s not really mastering, it’s learning that variety. And now we’re doing that with different varieties.

Dillon Honcoop:
You can’t take a certain practice for granted because if the genetics are different.

Juan Garcia:
There’s genetics, there’s nutrition, there’s balancing, I mean, pH plays a huge part. So I guess my point being is that it’s not just one specific thing, it’s looking at a broad sheet of call them numbers, year to year, NPK, calcium, boron, sulfur, I mean, just the entire, and following that trend year by year and making adjustments the following year. You want everything to be in balance because otherwise, mother nature, you can’t defeat mother nature. You can help it a little but you cannot defeat it.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re just talking about the compounds. I mean, we’re finding out more and more, you may have all the right compounds, you may put them on at the right time, all these kinds of things, but it’s so much about the, again, the biology, the bacteria, the fungal colonies and all this stuff that’s virtually a mystery really still, even with what they know about soil health. How much are you getting into that these days?

Juan Garcia:
Every year more and more. Every year, you’re looking at things that probably 20 years ago, 15 years ago, we weren’t looking at. Whether it’s a biological or something that can be used as a tool in your toolbox. Not to say that conventional farming is not the right way, there’s ways of doing things, but everything costs money. I’ve said it before, price of berries, it doesn’t go up with minimum wage. It’s finding that balance and finding tools that you can have in the toolbox from what you’ve done last year, two years ago, three years ago to try to, obviously, you want to keep costs down on everything, on growing berries. But you have to find that balance production to inputs.

Juan Garcia:
It’s like I told the guys, the cost per pound starts the last day of harvest. We’re done with harvest but then your cost per pound starts on that last day. So how to mitigate some of the [inaudible 00:26:54] people. It’s like, you guys are out spraying all the time. Well, we’re not. That’s part of my job as a farm manager, to get out there and know when a treatment has to be done. If there’s not an issue, we’re not addressing it. If there’s an issue there, what’s your threshold? When do you start? When do you not do something? So it’s a constant …

Dillon Honcoop:
And there’s pros and cons with treating too.

Juan Garcia:
There is. There is. And that’s why I say, you have to continuously better yourself. So whether it’s reading a book. There’s an old book that I got on my desk that I pulled out this last winter. Pete Crandall is one of Lyle’s, have you heard Pete Crandall?

Dillon Honcoop:
Mm-hmm (negative).

Juan Garcia:
I know your dad has. Ask him about Pete Crandall. A lot of his studies from few years back, they hold true more than people think even with these new varieties. I can go on and on but then we won’t have time to talk about other things. So there’s that part of it.

Dillon Honcoop:
I can tell you love the plant stuff. Another big part of your job though is the people. You are a manager. You got this whole crew, this whole system that involves a lot of people doing a lot of different things.

Juan Garcia:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
How do you approach that?

Juan Garcia:
People talk about accountability. Accountability this and accountability that. I look at accountability differently. I can’t hold you accountable to get up and show up to work. It’s not my job to hold you accountable. It’s being surrounded by people with the same mindset. Javier, Javier’s been with the farm over 30 years. There’s no one more passionate on the farm than that guy that. That long of a year, and Doug. Doug’s been with us over 13 years. There’s a passion in the irrigation, in the setup, in knowing what the irrigation is doing, when it’s being done. Are we over watering? Can we cut back here? What’s that soil texture like? Can you back off a little bit there, can you do more there?

Juan Garcia:
Riley, Angel. I’ve gone through some of the names here. Valentin, there’s so many people that have the same passion. I’m not exaggerating when I say that. They’re the same person, meaning they love what they do. So when you have people, let’s just say that core of people that I just put out there, when you have just those specific guys, it helps. It makes my job easier, makes their jobs actually more enjoyable because they know what they got to do. We run over scenarios, logistics, days, timing. But they have the same passion. So when you have people, when you’re surrounded by those kinds of people, it makes my job easier as a farm manager.

Dillon Honcoop:
How do you keep people together and on target with that? What do you do to inspire your crew?

Juan Garcia:
Try to set the example. Setting the example is, it’s what they see and how you do things, whether it’s problem solving, is how you approach a problem. And don’t get me wrong, through the years, you learn more and more. Talking to people. It’s like you and I. I want to talk to one of our employees the same way I’m talking to you. I don’t want to get too high or too low and just be a little bit direct in what you want done and teaching them how to do things. There’s not a job on this specific farm that I haven’t done. From digging a trench to get water out to operating equipment. Speaking of operating equipment, that’s my little vacation, I just got done prepping 20 acres over on the east side of town. It’s like a little mini vacation, getting up on the big tractors and doing what you want to be doing. You can’t really hear your phone at those times so you don’t really have to answer it kind of deal.

Dillon Honcoop:
I love that too. [inaudible 00:31:22] turn the music up, chilling out for a little bit.

Juan Garcia:
But to answer your question, it’s just that. It’s being surrounded by people because I can’t do it all myself. Job guys can’t do it all themselves. Job guys, we try to help where we can. If it’s something out in the field, we’ll diagnose it. If it’s something Javier, one of us can fix on the field, we leave the mechanics alone. We’re there, we can do it. Time’s a big thing. Being efficient, being efficient with the time is one of the biggest things that I try to talk to the guys about. It’s having a plan. If you’re questioning what you should do, let’s talk about it the previous day so when the next morning approaches, you have a plan of attack, what you want to do, what time it should be done by and so on. It’s being surrounded with good people.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about during season, when things are real busy, and the crew’s big, because it’s not just your core crew, your full time folks. It’s the seasonal workers who are there in the plant and in the field. You got high school kids, college kids, migrant workers from all over. How do you manage that? Even of the cultural differences that can play into how that, and at the same time, you’re going full-bore, everybody’s working as fast as they can.

Juan Garcia:
You’re full-bore, but like I said, the people, I just gave you an example of some of the guys that are full time employees. So, there’s got to be something in it for them. When I say that, you have to own what you do. Just because you’re doing this the rest of the year, when it’s harvest time, it’s what everything, the culmination of everything we’ve done for those six weeks, seven weeks. It’s all chips in. So, we’ll split up fields been under the supervision of some of these full time guys. And then those guys step up, and when I say have ownership in it, it’s exactly what I mean. We’ve worked hard for this, this is your part, this is how we’re going to pick, this is rotation, we’ll talk daily. What the intervals are going to be, logistics, moving of equipment.

Juan Garcia:
Then it’s my job to put on 300 miles a day, going from southeast part of the county to the west part of the county. But it’s not just one person once again. I still try to stay on top of pest management, nutrition management, as you’re checking on harvesters seeing what’s going on in the field. But once again, it’s the entire team. All in, this is my part of the pie, making sure the harvest is at that interval.

Juan Garcia:
So there’s one, two, three, four, five, there’s six guys that take ownership of all of the raspberry acreage. Then blueberries come around and some people think of it as a vacation because it’s not every, the rotations is not as intense.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s not high pressure, yeah.

Juan Garcia:
It’s still high pressure but it’s just a little bit different atmosphere. But no, there’s ownership there by the team.

Dillon Honcoop:
Farm workers, the people actually doing the harvest and whatnot, you’re managing there managers, their supervisors. What are you teaching them about the right way to be working with folks? For instance, a migrant worker is going to have a different perspective on a lot of this stuff. But you come from that background, you understand-

Juan Garcia:
That is my background exactly. There’s a huge diversity of people. Language can be a barrier. So obviously there, you want to make sure that communication is key, and I speak English and Spanish. Obviously, your supervisor’s there. You try to instill to those supervisors looking over the people to talk, to respect each other, first of all. Respect each other, talk to each other the way you want to be spoken to. But also importantly, not just get up on the harvester, check the fruit and so on and so on. But a lot of it has to do with what’s your harvester speed? What’s your head spacing? Are those straps too tight? Are you damaging laterals? Are you picking too many greens?

Juan Garcia:
I’m doing that as I’m on the harvesters, but that’s part of their duties as well. We have kids from Western, we have high school kids from all over the county that come to work on the farm too. We have teams that work in those areas with those students to make sure that we’re obviously sticking by the rules on time that they can work and whatnot. And then splitting the shifts accordingly. And then migrant families come in, most of these fine, migrant camp families that come in are sticking around to prune, pull, tie and arc the raspberries when the harvest is done. When you go to talk about different cultures, they’re all learning farming. Get college kids that never been on a farm. You get high school students that never been on a farm. There’s a lot of family farms in the county, but there’s a lot of them that have never been exposed to farming.

Juan Garcia:
And for us as farmers, it’s our responsibility to make sure that people know and to teach these students, to teach these college students, to teach the migrant families what farming is. It’s not just showing up and driving a machine. And a lot of them, it’s a pleasure to see people. When you get up on a machine, you get to know them a little bit. And then they started asking questions that may seem simple to someone that’s done it a lot of years. It’s valuable in that you’re answering those little questions that they’re asking and opening up their eyes to agriculture. And it’s not just raspberries. It’s corn, it’s wheat, it’s potatoes. It’s agriculture.

Dillon Honcoop:
What you’re saying may sound obvious to a lot of people too, but there can be a perspective of dealing with that of don’t worry about it, just do what I told you to do and be done. And that doesn’t instill a passion.

Juan Garcia:
It doesn’t instill a passion, and the other thing is, productivity doesn’t, I mean, we’ve been around people long enough. You talk to someone a certain way, you’re not going to get as much out of them as a quick little history story. Hey, this field this, that area of that field that. Why we drive one mile an hour. Like man, why can’t we go five mile an hour? Well, we just went over some of the reasons. But just explaining to them and having that positive teaching mentality, that attitude, goes a long way. Especially with the youth, having the patience to teach. I say youth, it’s not just the high schoolers, it’s the younger employees that are on our farm that are full time. Taking the time to answer questions.

Juan Garcia:
A lot of the times, you’re busy, you’re busy throughout the day. And you may answer a question, like a couple of guys, I call it grunt text, where I’ll just send a text and it’s just two words and basically … But you try to take the time, maybe not that day, maybe not two days from now, but always backtrack and explain to that person why the answer was no, not just it’s no. No, we’re not doing it that way. But why. So when that person’s left by themselves because you can’t be with everyone, when that person is left by themselves, it’s a different attitude. It’s like with myself, when I am taught something or you’re taught something, it’s a different way of thinking because if someone actually took the time to explain to you, you’re not just sitting there filling your thumbs like well, what do I do now, you start thinking a little bit more. Communication’s huge. Relationships with people, communication, that’s a big part of farming.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like I said earlier, that part of the conversation, this whole first half really sets the table for what’s coming next week. And really where the conversation went after this was not what I expected. We covered some really heavy stuff, but with a really positive message from one, to again, totally had no idea this was all in his backstory and didn’t expect to be so inspired by the things that he had to say, talking about some huge loss that he experienced in his life and on the farm. And him talking about that brought back some memories for me that I haven’t really talked about publicly before, that we got into.

Dillon Honcoop:
And then Juan also opened up about some personal demons that he fought after that loss. In fact, I have here just a little bit of that conversation to look ahead to next week.

Juan Garcia:
When Mr. Rader passed away, the weight of the world was on my shoulder, and there was a way that I had to cope with it even more. It wasn’t the right way. I talked to people about it. I’m not embarrassed of it because a lot of us, there’s a lot of people that face that demon, because that’s what it is, it’s a demon.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, totally unexpected, but the conversation got really intense and fascinating. And again, inspiring really, even in spite of all the heavy stuff that we ended up talking about. So you aren’t going to want to miss next week part two with Juan Garcia, farm manager at Rader Farms here in my hometown, Lynden Washington, and a farm right close to the farm that I grew up on.

Dillon Honcoop:
Again, this is the Real Food Real People Podcast My name is Dillon Honcoop. If you’re here joining and listening in for the first time, super glad that you’re here and really would appreciate it if you subscribed. Make sure to subscribe to make sure you don’t miss next week’s episode and the second half of this conversation with Juan. Also, would really appreciate a share on social media, even just to follow us on social media, we’re on Facebook and Twitter, and Instagram as well. Real Food Real People Podcast, just search that and it’ll take you to us.

Dillon Honcoop:
And if you feel like it, shoot me an email, dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org is the email address. Dillon is spelled D-I-L-L-O-N, very simple. Just had a listener last week, say, hey, I love what you’re doing here. I’d like to support it with a donation. Out of the blue. I haven’t even been asking for that. So thank you so much to all, and you don’t have to give a donation to support, even just subscribing and following us on social media, sharing our stuff is a great way to support what we’re trying to do here to connect people with not just the food that’s grown locally, but the people who bring them that food, who grow that food, the humanity that goes into it, and trying to recapture the humanity in our food system. Thank you so much for being with us for this journey.

Announcer:
The Real Food Real People Podcast is sponsored in part by SaVe Family Farming, giving a voice to Washington’s farm families. Find them online at savefamilyfarming.org. And by Dairy Farmers of Washington, supporting Washington dairy farmers, connecting consumers to agriculture, inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at wadairy.org.i

Ashley Rodriguez | #021 05/04/2020

Ashley Rodriguez isn't a farmer, but she has a passion for food all the way from the field to the plate. The Seattle-based chef, food blogger and show host shares her food journey, finding inspiration in her family's farming roots.

Transcript

Ashley Rodriguez:
That’s definitely part of what I do is wanting to honor the ingredients and the work that the farmers do, the work that the earth does to get these beautiful, beautiful ingredients.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m not sure if I’ve ever met someone more passionate about food and the art of food and where it comes from. Our guests this week on Real Food Real People podcast is not a farmer. She is a chef as well as a blogger. Now she’s on a show as well as has her own podcast. She’s got lots of stuff going on and she’s all about food and the ingredients. Even back to the farmer. Ashley Rodriguez is her name.

Dillon Honcoop:
And man, she has a cool story. Again, she’s not a farmer, but she does have farming in her family background. And so, it’s really interesting to hear. She feels it’s in her DNA. Some of this stuff. Great conversation. We talk a lot about what’s happening right now with COVID and the changes that’s doing. Not just to our food system more on a technical sense, but in a human sense and the way we’re thinking about food changing because of this Coronavirus pandemic, as well as just her background and how the show Kitchen Unnecessary came to be.

Dillon Honcoop:
How her blog, Not Without Salt got started. There’s a lot to the story and it goes way back to even while we talked about photography. It goes back to the pre digital camera days, when she started taking pictures of food, there wasn’t Instagram, and in fact there wasn’t. Well there were, but she wasn’t using a digital camera. They were using film. So she’s been doing this for a long time and it’s really important to her and she’s got a lot of cool stuff to share. I’m Dillion Honcoop, and this is the Real Food Real People podcast. Again, our guest this week is Ashley Rodriguez, a Seattle area chef and food blogger as well as now a show host and a podcaster as well.

Dillon Honcoop:
Looking back, when was it that you became a foodie would you say? Because you are like the embodiment of a foodie, right?

Ashley Rodriguez:
I have a foodie. What does that even mean? When I started enjoying food, is that?

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, yeah, I suppose there’s two times. When you realized you were foodie, but then maybe when you actually were a foodie before you recognize that you probably fell under that moniker?

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yeah, I’ve never called myself that so-

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, so maybe I shouldn’t be saying that you’re a foodie?

Ashley Rodriguez:
I don’t honestly really, what is the exact definition? I don’t know. I am someone who really enjoys food. And that began at an early, early age. I remember asking for a pasta maker when I was probably about 10, and really I wanted that one that was the Ron Popeil. Like I’d seen the infomercials, right? I want it that one that you just like press it and forget it. But my grandmother got me the Italian style, like clamp it to your counter top hand crank. And I was kind of disappointed, and then I was not because I just had so much fun with it. But I remember attempting to make my parents a really fancy meal. I made them like go out and sit in the garden and I had a menu and I’m going to make all of this.

Ashley Rodriguez:
And I made homemade pasta like at 10 years old, all by myself. It was disgusting. It was like lobby. So gross and my parents just like ate it out of the goodness of their hearts. They were so kind. But now, I just remember it being super slimy and gross. But, I just was always so fascinated with the kitchen and what you could create. My grandmother, my mom’s mother was an incredible Baker and my mom had a confidence in the kitchen. That’s, I recognize now is quite uncommon. And so, she wouldn’t cook with recipes very often.

Ashley Rodriguez:
She baked a lot. So, I just remember watching that. And I think my biggest takeaway from all of that was to not have any fear in the kitchen. And so, I took that with me into just continuing to follow my curiosity and, “Oh, can I make homemade chocolates? How does chocolate get made?” And I even like played around with making chocolate at home, by ordering the cocoa beans. It’s always my curiosity that has sort of led me down all these paths. And then while in college I was studying Art. I want it to be a high school art teacher, and part of that education brought me to Italy and that’s really, really where I fell in love with food and fell in love with food as sort of the medium that brings people together and around the table.

Ashley Rodriguez:
And that’s where I also kind of made this connection coming home, realizing, “Oh, some people make a career out of like cooking and playing with food all day. That’s amazing.” So things sort of shifted for me then.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s still under the art umbrella, culinary art.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Totally. And I think I didn’t want to waste all the money that me and my parents had been spending on my liberal arts, art degree. And so, I sort of used that as an excuse to pursue pastry art. Because I felt like that was a really nice way of combining like the artistry and my love of food, plus, I mean, who doesn’t love sweets? So, I didn’t go to culinary school because I didn’t have the money after I just finished up my liberal arts degree, but I wanted to jump into this. So, I just jumped in full force.

Ashley Rodriguez:
And for my graduation present, my parents got me this like encyclopedia set of French pastry, like the classic how to make everything basically. And then I started working in bakeries, and my husband and I, we moved to LA, got a job at a restaurant there and just start working my way and learning that way.

Dillon Honcoop:
So where did you go to college?

Ashley Rodriguez:
Seattle Pacific.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay. So you were in Seattle then, but moved down to LA with the purpose of pursuing this whole food pastry thing?

Ashley Rodriguez:
My husband and I, we got married young and we wanted to go off and sort of have our own adventure. And so, it was kind of like where do we want to live? And I wanted to live in a place that I could work in a great restaurant and get that sort of education. So we were looking at New York or LA, but New York was far too expensive. So, we settled on LA, but I ended up getting a job before we moved down. And it was like I put together this ridiculous resume because I had no experience whatsoever.

Ashley Rodriguez:
So, it was like a book that I made with images that I had taken them for, that my husband had taken. Like all these homemade chocolates and stuff. And I just attempted to woo the pastry chef who, she was walking pups, pastry chef at the time. So, Sherry Yard. So, I got a job at Spago in Beverly Hills. So we moved to LA for that job basically.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow. So, that was like your first real gig doing that?

Ashley Rodriguez:
That was my first real restaurant job. I had worked in a bakery for about six months. Kind of worked my way up and got bored real quickly with that. And then yes, Spago was my first restaurant job, which was such a trip.

Dillon Honcoop:
As far as working your way up. That’s starting on a pretty high run.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Like just being thrown into-

Dillon Honcoop:
Off the ladder.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yeah. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I liked the photos though, because, correct me if I’m wrong, amongst various things, your hubby is a photographer, right? So, he probably took some pretty incredible photos of what you’re doing too.

Ashley Rodriguez:
He did. He did take some really good photos. Yeah. Yeah. He’s a wedding photographer, photographer of all sorts. So yeah, he did lots of weddings down there. And then he also worked for, he managed this high end boutique cause he was also kind of toying around with the idea of getting into fashion. So, we lived a very, very crazy life down there. It was fun.

Dillon Honcoop:
And then you came back North.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Or I guess you had a few other positions down there before you came North?

Ashley Rodriguez:
No, actually, I see it at Spago and it took a long time for, sorry to hear the dogs wrestling?

Dillon Honcoop:
They’re getting tired of the quarantine life too?

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yeah. Very. No, they love having us on all the time. They’re like, “This is great. This is the ideal life.” Yeah, so it took a while to get acclimated to living in LA and sort of get accustomed to restaurant life. But once we did, I was kind of moving up quickly or in that realm. And I actually told my husband, I was like, “Hey, Gabe, once I become pastry sous chef, like we’re buying a convertible. We just got to do this.”

Ashley Rodriguez:
Like fully, fully digging into, we have no money, no money whatsoever. So, conversations were happening. Wolfgang was planning to open up another restaurant and I was on my way moving up to the pastry sous chef position. So, we started looking for a convertible. We found this great deal. This woman was selling her son’s car, so we bought this beautiful black Saab convertible. And then two weeks after we bought it, we found out we were pregnant. So, things definitely shifted for us at that point. Then we didn’t have any family down there.

Ashley Rodriguez:
I was working, long, long hours. And then once you kind of become sous chef or chef, then you’re given longer hours. So, not necessarily something I wanted to do as a young mother. So, then we decided to move back home.

Dillon Honcoop:
And Seattle is home?

Ashley Rodriguez:
We actually moved back to Bellingham. So, Bellingham is where I grew up.

Dillon Honcoop:
Nice.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yeah. And then we lived in Bellingham for several years, and then we ended up back in Seattle where we are now.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, motherhood kind of jumped on the screen, took over for a bit, but you still had that love of the whole food thing. When did that start coming back? Because I know the whole motherhood gig is all consuming.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yeah, it never went away. It was always there in some aspect. So, when I moved back to Bellingham, I partnered up with a local catering company called Ciao Thyme and they so graciously took me under their wing, and I started a business under their business doing wedding cakes and dessert catering. And then eventually I became their pastry chef. And so, I was pursuing those avenues while we had our first child, and then that’s when I started kind of dipping my toes into the world of blogging as well. Excuse me.

Ashley Rodriguez:
So I started a blog after our first son was born and that was sort of a way of like a free website, free marketing for my wedding cake business. Then by the time our second son came around, the story that I wanted to tell was shifting. It was getting back to that feeling that I had while living in Italy of, food is amazing and I’m so passionate about it. But what I really want to write about and pursue, and to tell the story about it is my heart behind all of it, which is to connect to people and to feed people.

Ashley Rodriguez:
And I had some incredibly intense, deep spiritual moments at the table. And I think I’m always trying to pursue those moments and to use food as a way of sort of helping other people tap into those experiences as well. Because I just think that food is such an incredible gift. So, that changed the story for me, and that’s when the blog, Not Without Salt was born. I started really developing my own skills as a photographer, as a writer, as a recipe developer. And I use that platform to experiment and to practice those skills.

Dillon Honcoop:
Being a blogger, being in the world of food, a foodie, if you’re comfortable with that term?

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yes, you can say it.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re okay with that?

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay. It often comes back, like you said to photography, you’ve mentioned this multiple times, and being able to show that food because presentation, what the food looks like on the plate is a big part of the art. Right? But that didn’t really spread until this phenomenon of taking pictures and you know, we millennials have made fun of for taking pictures of our meals for a long time, but it’s really become a thing. Right? Well when you, when you started in this and you talk about your husband taking photos of your early creations as part of kind of your resume to get that job down in LA, that was kind of even before this whole trend, right?

Ashley Rodriguez:
Oh, for sure. Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like when would that have been? What year?

Ashley Rodriguez:
That was 2004.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, that was like what the birth of Facebook year, if I want to say. Or three or four or something. It didn’t even exist before then. Well, MySpace, I mean people were doing this whole thing then.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Exactly.

Dillon Honcoop:
Instagram was years away.

Ashley Rodriguez:
It was.

Dillon Honcoop:
So how big of a role does that play? What it looks like in beautiful photography. And how much has that been a thing that has kind of made your blog as well?

Ashley Rodriguez:
That’s an interesting question, and I don’t often think of it in that way because for me it’s always food first. But I am such a visual person, and of course I have a huge collection of cookbooks, and I love flipping through the pages and admiring the pictures.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Ashley Rodriguez:
So, fairly early on in my blogging career, I started taking over the photography side of things because with a background in art and I had taken some photography classes, I could get by, and I knew what I wanted. I knew what I wanted the end result to look like, and sometimes it was easier for me to just grab the camera from my husband’s hands rather than try to like communicate with words what I wanted him to try and get. So, I started just playing around more. And as digital photography became bigger, it was a lot easier because then I could like take a picture, look at the back of the screen and say, “Oops, nope, that’s not quite right.” And then that’s really how I learned, because when we were just doing, film photography can get really expensive to make all those mistakes.

Dillon Honcoop:
And the Gen Z’ers listening right now, or like there’s a kind of photography where you can’t see the picture right away. What’s this?

Ashley Rodriguez:
I know, it doesn’t make any sense. It sounds old, right?

Dillon Honcoop:
It changes everything though.

Ashley Rodriguez:
It’s romantic.

Dillon Honcoop:
How you shoot stuff.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Totally.

Dillon Honcoop:
And that was becoming my question. Those first photos that you sent off to get that first gig, where those on film or digital?

Ashley Rodriguez:
Oh they were film.

Dillon Honcoop:
I figured there’s a good chance that was film back then.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Sure. Yeah, we got them printed. I mean, who does that with photos anymore? Yeah. And blogging is really changing, people are on Instagram these days. And so, I haven’t been, I haven’t blogged anything on Not Without Salt this year, which is really crazy for me to admit because it’s been, gosh, I’ve had that blog for, I always make the connection between how old my middle son is. He’s almost turning 12, so I’ve had that blog for 12 years, and it has been a journal for me. But my passion is shifting and the medium of Instagram is such that I can connect with a community there, and share recipes and inspiration and the same way. I miss longer form writing, but I’m doing that in other ways as well. So, I’m not saying the blog is dead, but definitely isn’t what it used to be.

Dillon Honcoop:
You talked about your grandma and how she was kind of a food inspiration for you. Tell me a little bit about her. What was her thing? What was her life? What brought her to that place where you said she was like, really excellent Baker and cook?

Ashley Rodriguez:
Both of my grandmothers, I have such wonderful food memories of each of them, and their recipe collections sit right next to me in my kitchen. And every time I pass by those old boxes of handwritten recipes, it’s such a gift that I cherish. Because the other day I was sitting in my house, and for some reason there was this strong, like meaty smell and immediately came hit me like walking into my my dad’s, mom’s house, on Sundays when we’d come over for dinner, like roast beef, just like slowly cooking, in the slow cooker. And it’s like, “Oh my gosh.” It was just such a strong, intense smell memory. And when we’d come over for dinner, she would love to ask like, what we wanted to have for dinner.

Ashley Rodriguez:
She loved making us happy through, through food. And then my maternal grandmother, she was the Baker and I remember, but she was such a humble cook and Baker. She never thought, I mean she always apologized for whatever it was that she made. And you know it was the most incredible, I mean, her pies were unbelievable. And I remember, I was in my 20s I’m sure. And I was like, “Grandma, can you please teach me your pie graphs?” And she just never thought that she was like, her knowledge was worthy of sharing or-

Dillon Honcoop:
Did she have a recipe or it was just off the top of her head?

Ashley Rodriguez:
It was completely by feel, and it defied all my baking science. Because I’m like, your crust is so flaky, how’s it so flaky? And I would say, I knew that cold butter handled with care and all the cold ingredients and you bake it well, blah, blah, blah, blah. All this knowledge that I had garnered from working in bakeries and restaurants and reading tons and tons of baking science. It got thrown out the window when she just dumped like a half a day cup of oil and milk into the dough and then just mixed it by hand.

Ashley Rodriguez:
And then, I was like, “Wait, no, what’s happening here?” And I was trying to get the measurements and she’s like, “Well, you just do it till it feels right.” And yeah, I have her pie dough recipe is in my second cookbook juxtaposed right next to my pie recipe. And actually, I wrote that cookbook while she was still alive. And she passed away shortly before. I guess it was shortly after it had been published. But I read that section from my cookbook as her eulogy.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was that like?

Ashley Rodriguez:
Hard. And it still is hard, but I connect with her every time I’m in the kitchen. I feel her. And you know, that’s the power of food, right? Is that it’s such a necessity, right? We need to eat to live, but it can transcend so much if you allow it. And I think that’s what my time and working in restaurants, it was about consistency and getting the food out in a very timely manner and writing about food and taking pictures of food, taught me how to be mindful and present in the kitchen. And that’s such a powerful experience.

Ashley Rodriguez:
And I think about the food memories that were created from the lives of these two incredible women in my life. And I hope that my children and hopefully someday I’ll get the pleasure of having grandchildren, that I can sort of help to shape their lives through these memories. And you know, that’s the gift that I get to have with my own children and I do not take it for granted that I get the joy and the honor of having a platform and to be able to inspire and get people excited about being in the kitchen. Especially now, goodness, people are cooking and baking like crazy these days. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right? This quarantine life has changed so much and a lot of awful things have come out of it, but definitely some good things too.

Ashley Rodriguez:
So many beautiful things.

Dillon Honcoop:
Isn’t there something that just feels really retro about it? Like the togetherness, and the home cooking, and just a quieter, slower way of life?

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yeah. I’ve not thought of it in the retro sense because it’s something that I’ve always pursued in the nowtro. It’s something that I think, again, going back to those times in Italy saying like, “Oh, this is really what’s important.” They stop their lives. The things that we say, “No, it’s too important. We need to be open, keep our businesses open during all waking hours.” And it’s like, “Nope, we’re going to stop and spend three hours in the middle of our workday, to sit around the table to acknowledge one another’s humanity, to cherish the gifts from the earth, and just have a moment to enjoy this day because every day is worthy of savoring.”

Ashley Rodriguez:
And it’s like, man, it’s something that I want to pursue, and I think in these times of quarantine, it just allows for more of that. And when so much of our regularly scheduled programming has been taken away, then it allows for us to really quiet out a lot of the external noise, so that we can see things for what they really are.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like I said, it felt very retro to me. It reminds me more of my life when I was a kid. And I actually want to connect that back to, because I know that your grant both sets of your grandparents are like mine. They’re both Linden area dairy farmers. Right? This was the scene that you grew up with, your grandparents being in the dairy farming community?

Ashley Rodriguez:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). More so my mom’s dad for sure.

Dillon Honcoop:
How much did that influence the whole perspective on food, where it comes from, and that farming way of life to where you work hard and you get up early, but there’s also coffee time, and there’s people who swing on the yard, and you chat for half an hour, that work hard but still a slower way of life kind of thing.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Right. I think, it wasn’t out of the norm for me. I loved going down and visiting grandpa’s cows, and saying hello to them. And I think it’s in my DNA more than it’s in my, more than I even recognize that I know where food comes from. I’m not invisible to the hard work that it takes to grow and produce these food items. And I think that’s definitely part of what I do, is wanting to honor the ingredients and the work that the farmers do, the work that the earth does to get these beautiful, beautiful ingredients.

Ashley Rodriguez:
And I kind of see myself as sort of a last piece of that cycle of and/or the artist who gets to paint with the most luxurious, silky paints of the highest quality that then, it just makes the final product that much more beautiful. And I think if you are passionate about food, you have a deep and utter respect for every aspect of that ingredient.

Dillon Honcoop:
In the food world. How much is that recognized? I mean you recognize that because of your family background. What about others? And what about the things that we have here in Washington State where there are so many incredible things that are produced here?

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yeah, again I think if you have a passion for food, you take that back to its literal roots and you you want to honor that ingredient every step of the way. I think it’s hard for people who don’t have the luxury of, I mean, this is my career, this is my job, right? I get to have the pleasure of talking with food producers of being really, really connected to my food. I think not everyone has that the mental capacity, the interest or the time to really be able to sit and think about where everything comes from-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, you just got to pick up something at the store and get home and make it.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Right. But I hope in a kind and loving way, part of the work that I do is to help people sort of acknowledge and appreciate the ingredients all the more. And I think that’s why I continually also, I want to be creating unique and creative food, but I also want to keep it really, really simple and for it to taste good, you got to use the best quality ingredients. And so, I want to continue to highlight the story of the ingredients throughout the entire process and not just, I don’t want it just to be an ends to the meat or means to the end. Sorry.

Dillon Honcoop:
How different is that here in the Pacific Northwest than when you were down in LA?

Ashley Rodriguez:
Oh, man. It’s hard. I never was so wrapped up into the LA community that I feel like I got a good pulse on it because I was living and breathing the restaurant. But I was really fortunate enough to develop a really great relationship with my pastry chef, with my boss at the time, Sherry. And she was working on her second cookbook at the time. And so, I got to spend some time working on that with her. And she took me all around to the farmer’s markets, and we even went out to this farm in San Diego to meet the farmer who grows these strawberries that, honestly, I think she’s one of the first people that taught me how to truly honor and care for the ingredient.

Ashley Rodriguez:
We would get these strawberries into the restaurant and they were like treated like newborn babies. The moment they came in, we would take them out of their carton, and prepare a nice bed for them on a sheet pan. And so, that they all couldn’t be touching one another. They all needed their own space, and they were treated like royalty. And with one taste, you understood why?

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, you have to be like that with strawberries too because they’re so soft. Especially if they’re grown all the way ripe on the vine and they’re one of these really sweet varieties that’s designed to be picked ripe. A lot of the stuff that we get in the store from who knows where, some of the times is picked not quite right.

Ashley Rodriguez:
They’re red on the outside, and white on the inside.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yeah, yeah. These were like a mirror to bra for us to block like these tiny little, they were like strawberry candy. That’s what it tasted. Well, it tasted like what strawberry candy tries to be. It was so good. I grow some in my garden just so, I mean and it’s like never enough to do anything with. It’s just to be wandering around your yard and putting it in your mouth and then you just have this like quintessential taste of like, “This is what a strawberries taste tastes like.” And luckily for us living in Washington, we get to have those moments, those like two weeks at the end of June where it’s like strawberry season is here. But I love that, my kids when they were really little, they see strawberries in the store and it’d be December and they’d be like, “Can we get strawberries?” I’m like, “No, it’s not time.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Thank you. Thank you.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Right? Oh yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Nothing against those folks, and fine if you really got to have the strawberries, but the real strawberries are in June.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Remember it’s so worth it to like wait until you have that, and then it’s like we’re standing in the sun and it’s like, “No children, no, no. This is why I’ve said no to you for the last 12 months. This is the reason.” And then of course you can freeze them, and join them or make jam or and yes, I can buy strawberries out a season too. But nothing compares to that like first taste of a strawberry where it’s just like that Ruby red intensity all the way through. Oh my gosh.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m really into this because strawberries are my favorite. I grew up on it. My dad’s a red raspberry grower, and believe it or not, I’m not in love with rasp. I don’t hate them. It’s just really not my thing. But strawberries-

Ashley Rodriguez:
See, Rapsberries are my favorites.

Dillon Honcoop:
See, that’s what everybody says.

Ashley Rodriguez:
But I mean strawberries are so good.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s probably because I grew up picking them and just the smell to a lot of people is like, “Oh wow, that smells so good.” And to me it smells like work and long hot.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Smells like hard work.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you talk about these strawberries, and you talk about the seasonality of when produce, whether it’s fruits or veggies or whatever, are actually ripe here locally, that’s something that’s being talked about lately with this whole COVID situation, and the disruption in our food system. People are saying, “We’re so used to being able to have any fruit and any vegetable available, 24/7, 365. And this time, and the disruption of that system is showing us that maybe that’s not what our future should look like. And maybe we need to start recognizing that, “Hey, we have strawberry stuff in June, but no, we don’t have it in October. And that’s okay.”

Ashley Rodriguez:
Absolutely. For me, it’s worth the wait. It’s worth, and every season. Listen, I recognize we live in one of the most bountiful and beautiful parts of the world, and so, that there are places that are definitely food deserts where things are just hard to come by anytime. But every season there’s something to look forward to. And I love living off of like, “Okay, this is spring. We’re in the heart of rhubarb season, and young greens and there’s always something to be enjoying and looking forward to.”

Dillon Honcoop:
And we should be doing that here in the Pacific Northwest. Because, like you say, there are other parts of the country and world where they don’t have that luxury at all. And we tend to take it for granted, and then we don’t really take advantage and we go to the store and get strawberries and rhubarb that’s grown in South America. And it’s like, “Why, when we can do it here?”

Ashley Rodriguez:
I think it’s cyclical, going back to thinking about my grandparents, I don’t fully know how hard life was for them. I mean I saw and I know things were challenging and especially as farmers, and with large families and all of that. But, I recognize that, when the food conveniences first started coming, it was a lifesaver. I mean it was like it saves so much time and energy, but I think we’re also now coming to see the ramifications of some of those conveniences. And maybe it’s not worth it. And maybe, we can sort of readjust our lifestyle a little bit, to sort of reconnect to that seasonality-

Dillon Honcoop:
Pendulum. All the other way a little Bit.

Ashley Rodriguez:
And hopefully people can find some joy and satisfaction in being in the kitchen and not see it as the chore that so many of can see it. And listen, I love cooking, but it can still feel like a chore, feeding my family day in and day out. But that’s why I do also try.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wants to keep It real.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yeah. I try and make it accessible and hopefully people feel that.

Dillon Honcoop:
When is it now, you’re in Seattle, you’re in the food world, foodie, blogger, et cetera. When do you actually connect with farmers now in your life? Do you ever, I mean, farmer’s market, anything beyond that? How do those worlds collide in our current culture?

Ashley Rodriguez:
Well, in the times of quarantine, not very often. Although, yes, I love going to the farmer’s market. I love going to the farms in the summer to pick the berries. And every year we do the that big farm festival that happens up and welcome in Skagit County. So I love reminding my children and connecting the dots then that this is where, this is where the food comes from. I just started working with my friend Devin, who just started a company called Small Food Drop where he’s connecting farmers directly to the consumer.

Ashley Rodriguez:
So I can get farm fresh eggs, meat, flour directly from the farmers, from the producers right to my door, which is so incredible, especially during these times where we’re just trying to stay home and even limit our exposure going to the grocery store. So, if I can get eggs or the yolks just are like the sunset, it’s so gorgeous. And this flower from up in Skagit from Cairnsprings that it’s like I’d have to drive, miles and miles in order to go get this. Or anyways, there are ways and that is really, really exciting to me.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you’re talking about Devin Day, by the way who is episode 10 on the Real Food Real People Podcast here we talked to them.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Oh, that’s awesome.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. So we’ve had his Valley Farmstead Rabbits and the Neil’s Big Leaf maple syrup that they do.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Oh, my gosh.

Dillon Honcoop:
We talked all about that, but it’s been, since we had that episode that he’s developed a Small Food Drop thing. So, I’ve been talking to him a lot about it, and that’s a good mention for people who are interested to check that out. I know it’s small now, but he’s wanting to grow and grow that.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Oh, he’s just, he’s a go getter, that one.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yeah, it’s really, really exciting. I mean, the fact that I can get that syrup, I have a couple of bottles sitting on my counter right now and it’s like, “Ah, why do I need to leave the house?” I’ve got… it’s really, really, really exciting, what he’s doing.

Dillon Honcoop:
He texted me right after he launched the Small Food Drop thing because we were talking about this kind of stuff, like after our podcast episode, we just kind of kept talking for like two hours after that episode.

Ashley Rodriguez:
That’s awesome.

Dillon Honcoop:
And about all these things, and a few weeks later really it wasn’t that much longer. We were in all of a sudden COVID world and he’s like, “Hey, check this out.” And so yeah, I ordered some Cairnspring Mills flour, and then he texted me a little bit later and said, “Hey, it’s on your front doorstep.” I’m like, “You delivered it yourself?” He’s like, “Yeah, we had to go over there and check. We were up in your area, have to check out some chickens that were going to raise. So I dropped it off.” So, it’s really cool and it’s kind of bringing the local personality back to food there and I hope he has a lot of success with that. What about Kitchen Unnecessary? Talk about how that came to be in this whole cooking outside thing. I’m a huge fan of that but not nearly as gourmet as you are. But I do love cooking over an open fire.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yeah, I’m happy to talk about Kitchen Unnecessary. This is a project that my brother and I started about three years ago, and it started around the campfire. We go camping every year. I have two brothers and we all have three kids. So, between all of them and my mom and dad, there’s 17 of us that just go out into the woods and start up a fire. The moment we get there and just keep it going the whole time. And I’m cooking breakfast pretty much breakfast and dinner over the fire, and it started because with my love of food, I want to eat good food no matter where I am.

Ashley Rodriguez:
And of course, I love those classic campfire dishes as well. But I wanted to see what I could do within the limitation of only having a cast iron pan and a fire to cook with. And I think one of the first years I did like a braised chicken thigh over the fire and we had some fondue or just threw some cherry tomatoes with some shallots into the pan, let him blister and then melted Fontina cheese, and we just all sat around the campfire dubbing Costco pretzel buns into that big pot of cheese. And It’s like, Oh my gosh!

Dillon Honcoop:
Now you’re really killing me. You were getting me with the strawberries earlier, but this has really put me over the edge. Like can we take a time out so I can go get some munchies right now? Because you’re making me hungry.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yeah. Exactly. So Chris and I, my brother were just sitting around the fire and he’s an incredible filmmaker. Like, “What can we do with this?” And so, Kitchen Unnecessarily was born, and we both have a love of the outdoors. I have a continual growing with wild foods and they had like played around with mushroom foraging was some people that I’ve met down here in the Seattle food community and just love this idea that food surrounds us. And so, we connect with these local or just guides these experts and we go out and we find a wild food ingredients and learn with them and then go start a fire and cook a feast in the middle of the woods, or by a river or wherever the case may be. We’ve fly fished in Montana, fished forged, hunted in Alaska, and of course living in the Pacific Northwest, we have such a bounty.

Ashley Rodriguez:
So we’ve done, gathered gooey ducks and clams and oysters on the beach and then within a few feet just lit up a fire and smoked some clams and boiled some pasta for a smokey clam Carbonara. And I mean, it’s really, really fun. And it’s a project that I’m so excited about, and we’re working right now, we can’t go out and do the episodes in the same way that we’ve been able to, now that we’re kind of in quarantine. But again, we can all get out in our backyards and have these cool, unique experiences. So, Chris and I are working on developing a series to really teach you how to cook over your fire pit or even over your grill and to kind of take it beyond what you thought it was capable of in the comfort and safety of your own backyard.

Ashley Rodriguez:
So be looking for that. And we just launched a podcast as well, which has been super, super fun to continue the conversation with some of our guides and to connect with people in the outdoor and food space to talk about the joys of being outside and the bounty that really surrounds us. It’s really, really incredible. Chris and I-

Dillon Honcoop:
Now it’s called Kitchen Unnecessary as well. Right? It’s like Kitchen Unnecessary, the TV show essentially-

Ashley Rodriguez:
The podcast. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
And Kitchen Unnecessarily the podcast.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Exactly. Yeah. So, it’s been really, really fun. I’ve been now in the food space for about 15 years, and it’s really incredible when you can kinda do a little deep dive into it, into a whole new Avenue of it. So, it’s keeping me excited about all things, food.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what’s next? What else do you have up your sleeve?

Ashley Rodriguez:
Well, right now, it’s hard to see much beyond the day in front of you, but I’m fishing next week since fishing is opening up.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, nice.

Ashley Rodriguez:
No, I think that, that is what’s right in front of me. I mean I’m going to continue to be inspired by food and hopefully, share the things that are getting me excited, and I hope that looks like more cookbooks, more adventures with Kitchen Unnecessary, just more of the same. I am having so much fun in this space and I just want to see it continue. As long as people are there, then I will… Even if people aren’t there. But it really helps us out financially when people are there, and excited about what I’m doing and buying the books and cooking the recipes and eager to watch the episodes and all of that. So, it’s a gift to be able to do this.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, thank you so much for opening up. What a cool story and I think this is the first podcast episode here for Real Food Real People where I’ve gotten hungry like four different times. Enjoying the conversation.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Good. That’s part of my job.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you’re succeeding On that front.

Ashley Rodriguez:
Yeah. I wish we could be together and I could actually feed you rather than just tease you. But.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, someday I’ll hold you to that. But in the meantime, I guess we are talking over digital connections here is going to have to do. But thank you so much for sharing-

Ashley Rodriguez:
My pleasure, thanks for the opportunity.

Dillon Honcoop:
… the personal side of the story. Yeah.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
Seriously. I wasn’t making it up. I got hungry multiple times throughout that conversation and I think shortly after we did that chat, I had to quickly get out and get some lunch or something. I don’t remember what I ate, but I’m sure it wasn’t nearly as gourmet as anything that Ashley makes. What a cool person though. Right? And a cool perspective on food, that it’s not just a chore. It’s not just something that we do automatically, that there’s art there, and there’s humanity there. She brings so much to that and even caused me to think about things differently than I have in the past.

Dillon Honcoop:
We need people like that in our food system, if we want to call it that. After a conversation like this, makes it kind of sound impersonal. But we need people like that to remind us of those things and to remind us of the importance of growing the food and working the soil of picking the food or whatever harvesting, however that’s done, processing it into stuff that’s edible and able to be bought at the store, and the people who are actually buying it and selling it and cooking it. This whole thing all the way to those of us. Well, all of us who eat it at the end of the whole process.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thank you for being here on the Real Food Real People podcast. There are a lot of ugly, terrible things happening with this global pandemic right now. But I guess we’re just trying to maintain some positivity here and look toward those silver linings. And I think one of those is a change in the way that we’re thinking about food. And we want to be part of that change. We want to help give, it’s so interesting that we just launched this podcast at the beginning of the year. Or actually just before the beginning of the year, just before Christmas.

Dillon Honcoop:
And here we are now. Totally, we had no idea this was coming, but here we are in a time when people are rethinking where their food comes from, and we want to help be a way for people to get reconnected to their food. As people, including myself, I mean, as much as I grew up around farming and I host this podcast and all this. I had had plenty of reminders recently too, just how near and dear our food and where it comes from and whether it’s safe and produced with high quality and protections. I’ve been reminded of that as well.

Dillon Honcoop:
So that’s what we want to do with this podcast, and that’s why we would really appreciate your support. Not only to subscribe and we certainly appreciate that on whatever podcasts platform is your preferred way to get it in. A lot of people, I’m just looking at the stats. A lot of people are subscribing like on Apple podcasts, but people are listening on Spotify. iHeartRadio or podcasts or whatever they call it, Google podcasts as well as looking pretty popular, but there’s a lot of other ones too. So whatever your favorite is.

Dillon Honcoop:
Anyway, it helps for you to subscribe. But even more as we try to get more people reconnected to where their food comes from in this time of pandemic and uncertainty about the future, share it on social media if you could. Maybe send it out to your followers in a post or in a message or whatever works and tell them something about what kind of spoke to you in our conversations here, and let me know too. You can find us on social media, Real Food, Real People podcast. Of course, it’s probably just the easiest way to search it. RFRP_podcast on Instagram. Same handle on Twitter. And then what is it? RFRP.Podcast on Facebook. Basically the same thing.

Dillon Honcoop:
So find us there. Shoot us a message there. Share our stuff and let’s continue to grow this circle of people who appreciate the people who are growing our food and making our food for us here in Washington State.

Announcer:
The Real Food Real People podcast is sponsored in part by Safe Family Farming, giving a voice to Washington’s farm families. Find them online at safefamilyfarming.org. And by Dairy Farmers of Washington, supporting Washington dairy farmers connecting consumers to agriculture, and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at Wadairy.org.

Chad Kruger | #020 04/27/2020

He's now a key leader in the same university research system that his farmer grandpa would look to for guidance on his strawberry farm decades ago. Chad Kruger shares how WSU scientists and farmers are working together to grow food better.

Transcript

Chad Kruger:
Before he passed away, we had a lot of conversations around where I was going, what I was doing. He always encouraged me in that way. I miss him a lot because he was such an inspirational person.

Speaker 2:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
We’re to get kind of sciency. We’re going to get into some science stuff this episode on the Real Food Real People Podcast. I’m host, Dillon Honcoop. Glad you’re here. We’re talking with a guy who’s basically a farming scientist, for lack of a better term. His team is made up of the key people who are studying scientific issues in farming and growing food here in Washington State. These are scientists who are trying to help farmers make better food and make their food better, if that makes sense. Improve the quality of what we’re able to produce, as well as improving the process of growing it.

Dillon Honcoop:
And this is so much about the technology now that’s involved in farming and knowing every little thing about the plants and the soil and the food and what makes it good and what makes it not good and what the impacts are. It’s really extensive, and it’s pretty amazing. Chad Kruger is our guest this week, and he actually grew up in a farming family in Eastern Washington. It was kind of cool, during the conversation we realized we had this family roundabout connection that we would have never otherwise recognized other than this talk, about how what his grandpa was doing was actually connected to my family as well as my wife’s family.

Dillon Honcoop:
My wife didn’t even grow up in Washington State, but she’s connected to this story, so you’ll hear that part, and I thought that was super cool to find out. Chad has a really great perspective on what’s happening with technology and science and farming and the production of food and why it’s uniquely challenging here in Washington, but also why we have such incredible opportunities. We talk about climate change as well, that could actually end up being an opportunity for farming in Washington State in the future.

Dillon Honcoop:
But he also has some warnings with how we’re handling that and if we’re taking action soon enough on issues. So we get into all of it this week, again with Chad Kruger. He’s with the Washington State University Center For Sustaining Agriculture And Natural Resources. He’s based in Mount Vernon, Washington, here in Western Washington, North of Seattle, and he’s got so much cool stuff to share.

Dillon Honcoop:
First, talk about what you do now and how you are connected to the food system in maybe a way that people don’t recognize. What is it that you have been doing for the past, what has it been, 10, 15 years out here?

Chad Kruger:
Yeah. Maybe starting right now and working backwards a little bit, I’m currently the director of Washington State University’s research and extension centers in Mount Vernon and in Puyallup, which are both in Western Washington. Puyallup is the original off-campus agricultural experiment station and Mount Vernon is the newest of the off-campus agricultural experiment stations, and we call them both research and extension centers now, but essentially they’re labs and research farms. And so my role as director of those is kind of an unusual thing in terms of a university system, in that it’s really focused on oversight to facilities and operations management for these entities where a whole bunch of faculty research programs and extension programs operate out off of.

Chad Kruger:
So it’s not quite the same as you might expect with an academic program at a university, these are really research-based programs and my role is really responsibility for the overall campus operations and big picture investments.

Dillon Honcoop:
Sounds pretty complicated and technical.

Chad Kruger:
Yes and no. Bottom line is, it’s still just a leadership opportunity trying to work within the university system and with our partners and the agricultural community and the broader community to make sure that the partnership between the land-grant university and the community is mutually beneficial and that we’re doing things that matter in the real world and that the real world is bringing things that they need help on to the university.

Dillon Honcoop:
And the real world ultimately is producing food, right?

Chad Kruger:
Yeah, exactly. The vast majority of what we do in our college, it’s College Of Agricultural, Human And Natural Resource Sciences, but we really are the land-grant college of agriculture that many people would have historically understood in including both the academic, the research, and the extension dimensions of that. But we’re also in the process of evolving into a future that’s not alike every other part of the food world, things are not the same as they used to be.

Dillon Honcoop:
So basically, it’s where science and farming come together, right? These are farming scientists in a way at the university level, is that fair to sum that up? Like you’re managing basically a group of farming scientists?

Chad Kruger:
Yeah. And I might say that we’re getting more and more to the end where it’s the scientist’s side of that equation relative to the farming science dual factor, whereas 20, 30 years ago, I think you might’ve said that the science farmer was as much science as farmer. I think based on just the evolution of research needs and capabilities, we tend to focus more on getting the scientists that can help the farmer at this point in time, but you still have to have a pretty good understanding of, how do you actually grow a crop? And you need to understand your crop in the way that a farmer has to understand the crop in order to actually be able to do research on that crop that’s relevant to the farming world.

Dillon Honcoop:
I guess how scientific is farming right now then?

Chad Kruger:
It’s becoming more and more science-based, more and more data-driven. And I think what we’re seeing in the ag and food world right now is, all of the technology that’s in the broader world around us is looking for its opportunity within the ag and food production and ag and food system at a level that even five years ago it wasn’t quite looking at it as intensely. And I think it’s going to continue to be that way where technology and data and understanding becomes more and more important to success in farming be able to grow a crop or produce a product that goes off into the marketplace, whether that market is local, regional or global.

Dillon Honcoop:
What are some of the biggest things that you and your team that you work with have found or discovered or tested? What kind of stuff are we talking about when we’re talking about data and science of farming and growing plants in particular? I think a lot of this is plant stuff, right?

Chad Kruger:
Yeah. WSU historically has been very well known on the plant science side, not that we don’t have strength in animal sciences too, but historically, WSU’s expertise and reputation really has been on the plant sciences side. And that crosses everything from the grains to the specialty crops, fruits and vegetables, with a lot of background and focus on that. And so the facilities that I’ve been in charge of and a lot of the work that I’ve been involved with really is plant science focused, quite a bit of animal systems as well. People work on everything from breeding and genetics to crop protection; diseases, insects and pests and weeds, to soils and environmental issues, economics, the whole nine yards.

Chad Kruger:
We touch a little bit in a lot of places. We tend to be most focused on the actual crop production systems as opposed to, at least in the entities that I’m responsible for, as opposed to up the value chain if you will, of the food system, though there has been some work on food processing, value added, and that kind of thing. But the majority of our investment really has been growing a plant and keeping a plant growing successfully, ensuring that that’s done in an environmentally appropriate way and that we’re minimizing impacts on the larger environment.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. When you talked about the processing stuff and whatnot, I do think of stuff that you guys have done even there in Skagit where you are like the Bread Lab, that we talked about here on the podcast with Nels Brisbane several episodes ago, but really cool stuff there. But that tends to not be the main thing, the main thing is more on growing the plants and the farming side of it, is what you’re saying?

Chad Kruger:
Yeah. And I think that’s a little bit of legacy in terms of where the long-standing partnership between, at least WSU and the ag community has been, is really the help is always been needed on the production system side. I think we are thinking more and more about the bigger picture and where other dimensions of our work need to be. We did have a faculty member in food science who had joined us for a short period of time at one of the research centers recently. So it’s something that’s on our mind and we do have a food science department, food engineering, and then of course entities like the Bread Lab that really are trying to wrap their mind around this bigger picture of agriculture isn’t just about the production system but it’s about the whole system as it comes together and then the need for the market to facilitate success on farm and becoming more intentional about that.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the coolest thing that you feel like in your time there you have been a part of or worked on as a team?

Chad Kruger:
For me, particularly at the Mount Vernon center, I think one of the coolest things that I’ve been able to work on is helping to bring the first soils’ faculty to the center there. The Mount Vernon center has a long history in working in Northwest Washington on a number of the cropping systems that are important here, and it always seemed to me to be a bit of an oversight not to have a soils’ person in the mix. Well, there’s always been a soils’ person in the mix at the Puyallup center and in many of the other areas where I’ve worked over the years, it just felt like a key missing ingredient, if you will, of a viable cropping systems team.

Chad Kruger:
And so bringing soil’s faculty to the table in Mount Vernon that can work with the faculty that are more focused on the plant or the organism that affect a plant above the soil or in some cases below the soil, I think that was a really important thing to do. Part of that is, there’s a lot of questions that are emerging about crop performance that can’t be answered with a simple approach of diagnose and add a chemical and solve the problem. They really are systemic problems that we have to think about from a systems’ perspective. And bringing a soil scientist into the mix enables our team to have all the pieces that they need to go about asking bigger picture tougher questions that 30 years ago maybe you didn’t need to figure all that out, but we really do need to do that going forward.

Chad Kruger:
And then I think the other piece of this is as these Northwest Washington farming communities continue to move forward, the pressure around environmental issues is going to just keep increasing, and it’s already very, very tight in terms of what a farmer can and can’t do and the impacts that farming has on the environment. And one of the best tools from a research perspective that we can bring to the table is soils research because so much of what happens in terms of impacts on the environment happen through the soil as a lens or a gateway into water quality, other issues like that. And so having soil’s members as part of the team better enables us to serve an ongoing partnership between the agricultural community, the farmers, as well as the larger community that’s living around agriculture in the region.

Dillon Honcoop:
You talk about how important soils are as affecting so many things. And you talk about water quality. Then there’s the huge issue that everybody’s talking about, which is climate change, that’s another big soil-focused issue, right?

Chad Kruger:
Yeah. There’s certainly an interaction between soils and vegetation and climate, or the global carbon system. I think a lot of people don’t understand that the relative amount of the global carbon budget that’s fixed in the soils versus the atmosphere, it’s much greater in soil. Soils are a much bigger reservoir of carbon than the atmosphere. And while we talk a lot fossil fuels in the context of the global carbon cycle, soils and vegetation are pretty big part of it. And while soils aren’t going to solve the whole problem, they are part of a solution. And the beautiful thing is, the kinds of things that we want to do from a farm-level perspective to improve soil management, help crops perform better, potentially help on the financial side for the farmer, those kinds of things tend to be good for the global carbon system as well.

Chad Kruger:
And so it’s one of these very seemingly rare things where being focused on healthy soils is a win, win, win kind of scenario, and that is why-

Dillon Honcoop:
Rather than some trade off where it’s like, “Oh, well, you have to do the right thing, it’s going to cost you, but it’s the right thing to do.” Well, here it may benefit on both ends, is what you’re saying?

Chad Kruger:
Yeah, definitely. And yet we still don’t know very much, and I think that’s the other big picture issue is, if we’re going to make progress that’s beneficial to farmers or the environment in soils, we need to know a whole lot more than we currently know. And that’s both a general issue everywhere and a specific issue in this region where we haven’t actively had soil science just working in these cropping systems, is really to understand what do we not know how to do and how do we increase that knowledge and give producers more tools that they can to improve their soil management?

Dillon Honcoop:
Like you said, there’s a lot that we don’t know, but how much is farming going to change with all of this focus on soil and learning about soil and all the science that you guys and so many other universities and agencies are doing? Is it going to change the face of farming in the near future?

Chad Kruger:
That’s a great question, and I don’t know the answer to that question. My suspicion is there will be changes, but they may not be readily observable in the sense of looking at one field compared to another field and saying, “Oh wow, that’s a big difference.” The soils don’t tend to reflect changes quickly, and so it takes a lot more time to understand how a management intervention or a management change affects the soil positively and negatively and whether or not you’ve achieved something that you’re trying to achieve. And that’s one of the great challenges that we talk about in the context of agricultural research, is soils and cropping systems types of research questions don’t tend to be easily solved with a quick experiment, and you really have to keep after them for awhile.

Chad Kruger:
And I don’t think it’s just the soil questions at this point in time anymore, I think some of the disease questions and even some of the weed management questions that historically may have presented fairly simple solutions… We’ve answered a lot of the simple questions, and we’ve done that. And the questions or the challenges that we’re dealing with today don’t have simple answers and often the answer is in the interplay between the plant and the soil or the other organisms that interact between the plant and the soil. And that’s much more complicated and not quite as easy to find solutions to. I have high hopes, but I’m not quite so convinced that there’s going to be overwhelming discoveries that really quickly help us figure out how to change things.

Chad Kruger:
And perhaps a way to think about this is thinking about it in terms of human health, it used to be you got sick, you went to the doctor and there was a new medication that the doctor could give you and all of a sudden you were better. And in agriculture and food, we were in that place for quite a while where the technology coming out of the science world was able to come up with some fairly quick fixes, but we’ve used up a lot of that. And now we’re at the point where if you talk about human health, a lot of it is about diet, exercise and other things that you can do that are focused on making a whole person healthier.

Dillon Honcoop:
Holistic health.

Chad Kruger:
Yeah, holistic. And that’s also, I think where we’re at in terms of farming and food production and food systems, is we’ve got to start thinking a lot more about the big picture and the interactions between the different pieces of that big picture.

Dillon Honcoop:
And talk about the soil stuff and the holistic way of thinking. I’ve gotten passionate about that over the years because of my dad. And I’ve talked at a time or two on this program about… probably more than a time or two, about how I grew up on a red raspberry farm here in Northwest Washington where you are a scientist, and I grew up on a red raspberry farm where my dad was very passionate about these issues and plugged in with what you guys are doing there at Washington State University. So I’ve been exposed to some of this stuff and been thinking about it for a long time. What’s it like working with farmers like that and seeing some of these things happen on the ground in the real world, like for instance on my dad’s farm?

Chad Kruger:
I personally think that’s one of the most exciting about this whole wonderful opportunity I’ve been dropped into the middle of, is people like your dad who just have an incredibly curious and inquisitive mind and yet are doing their best with the state of knowledge right now to produce a crop that goes into an existing system but is never quite satisfied with the feeling that we know everything we need to know, and he’s always asking new questions, he’s always observing something in the field and then saying, “Hey, I just saw this. What do you think that is?” And most of the time, we can’t answer that question when he asks it. And I think it’s really valuable for our side of the partnership to have people like him who are out there trying things who are…

Chad Kruger:
And I’m trying to think of a way to explain this, but they say farming is a pretty unusual thing and that you basically have 40 chances in your life to figure it out, and each of those 40 chances ends up looking very, very different. And the 40 chances of course are that the number of seasons that you have to grow a crop. And to be successful, you really have to be observant and thoughtful and you have to record your data, if you will, and understand how what you’ve observed in the past might be similar to or different from what you’re observing in the future, and know when you need to ask the right question or what specific observation that you’re seeing in the field you need to pursue that one.

Chad Kruger:
And having producers like him that work in partnership with us where you can have these conversations and dig deep into what we do know to figure out where are the important, critical emerging questions that we need to start doing research on in order to help solve a problem before it’s another crisis or to be able to capitalize on something that someone’s observing that they say, “Hey, I’ve been doing this and it seems to be helping. Can you tell me why?” And I think one thing that’s evolved within the ag research world, and as I point back to one of the things I said earlier about the science farmer thing where I think we’re getting more and more on the science end of that partnership, is the questions that are being asked now take a lot more knowledge and a lot more technology in order to answer them.

Chad Kruger:
And so it’s becoming more and more specialized on the science end of the equation in order to run an experiment that gets an answer that a producer needs. And so whereas 30, 40, 50 years ago, there was this sense that the land-grant university was going to do research and come up with new practices and technologies that would then get extended out to the farm and the farmers would pick them up and use them. I don’t think that’s the case anymore, I think what we’re seeing now is the producers that are observing things and asking those questions are bringing those things to the scientists now.

Chad Kruger:
And what our job is becoming more and more about is helping the producer understand the phenomenon that they’re observing and helping them figure out what management strategies could be employed to minimize the negative things that we see and maximize the positive things that we see. And I think going forward, producers are going to have to be more and more knowledgeable in order to be successful.

Dillon Honcoop:
They basically have to be scientists themselves, it sounds like.

Chad Kruger:
Exactly.

Dillon Honcoop:
We’re farmers, does a farmer make a good scientist? What you’re describing here is a switch from a top down approach, which it sounds like you were saying the old school approach is more top down, now this is more like bottom up, right?

Chad Kruger:
Yeah, and I think that’s the way it should be. We’re long since passed the point where the university system knows more about these crops than the farmers do. I think we’re at the point where the farmers know a whole lot more than we do, but we have what I’d call cool tools to be able to answer very specific questions that the producers are not going to be able to answer themselves. And so I think as we go forward, we’re going to see more and more of that character to the partnership between the science community and farming community.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about scientists? Do scientists make good farmers?

Chad Kruger:
I know a lot of scientists who could do a pretty good job farming, but I think for the most part, most of them will tell you that they’re really glad they’re scientists and not the farmers themselves because farming is a much more complex and challenging thing than I think most people give it credit.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think the misunderstanding is there from those of us who just go to the grocery store and buy food about the science that goes into it? What you’re describing is pretty extensive as far as the amount of research and data that’s going up.

Chad Kruger:
Yup. Part of it I think is very few people ever grow a plant to me more or care for an animal at any level. And so a lot of the historic, what’s often called indigenous knowledge doesn’t exist within the greater population anymore. And so I think there’s just a lack of full appreciation for how complicated it is to produce food and to do it at the scale and with the proficiency and quality that we do. And so I think anybody can read a book or watch a video and come to a conclusion and think they know something, but 40 years of experience, 40 chances is a wealth of knowledge that I think is just often underappreciated and undervalued.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s been your favorite time working with farmers?

Chad Kruger:
I think one of the things I have always appreciated the most, and this comes in all the different roles that I’ve had, is the chance to sit down with farmers and talk about the future, talk about where their concerns are about continued viability, where their concerns are about sustainability issues, whether those are profitability environmental issues, big picture, global markets and other things like that. The opportunity to sit down with a group of farmers, especially a group of farmers that come from different perspectives and can sit down and have a good conversation around what is the future looking like and how do we ensure that we have a successful future and that we’re able to continue to improve what we’re doing and continue to put a good product out for consumers and do a good job with stewardship.

Chad Kruger:
I think overall, that’s why I get up in the morning and that’s why I do what I do, is the opportunity to work with forward-looking farmers.

Dillon Honcoop:
What does that future look like? I guess, there’s challenges and maybe this is a weird way of asking it, but I almost want to say like pre-COVID, what were the dark clouds in the future that we need to deal with as far as producing food here in Washington State?

Chad Kruger:
Everything. And I say that facetiously, but in reality it’s true, it’s economic profitability. At the bottom line, if a farm can’t make money, it’s going to go out of business. And I think one thing that a lot of people don’t understand is the more and more farms that can’t make money can go out of business, the more it takes with them. So there is this strange thing about competition amongst farms, even within an area, but also that there’s a critical mass where a certain amount of cooperation of the farms in an area is important to everyone’s success and health. And the pressure around cost of production, the pressure around the value of the product is never going to let up.

Chad Kruger:
I just don’t see that ever letting up, even as we’ve gone through this recent little bit upset where people are thinking about things like, “I can’t go to a restaurant,” or “I need to get a particular type of food.” Or, “I can’t get something that I want.” While we’re thinking about this now about maybe the least cost product isn’t necessarily the best choice all the time, a year or two years down the road, I wonder how that’s going to come back to us. Are we still going to be thinking about the fact that there may be reasons that we need to not just take the least cost producer of food in order to ensure that we’ve got some resilience and robustness in our food system.

Chad Kruger:
So that’s a big one, that’s bigger than any of us, and how to address that is monumental. It’s a wicked problem. The environmental side and obviously, I’ve worked on the side, the pressure is going to continue to amount for many people in the broader public to the point where the idea that farms have any impact on the environment that’s negative is a problem. That’s a challenge, it’s an almost an insurmountable challenge because the very act of producing food has an impact. The very act of eating food has an impact. And so how do we continue to work with that challenge and continue to improve and do better, which drives up the cost of production?

Chad Kruger:
And so I think that’s a big one. And a lot of that tends to come out in terms of practical, real world impact on farms. There’s regulation, and so every time we interviewed or surveyed farmers about big issues, it doesn’t matter if they’re a wheat farmer or a tree fruit producer, a dairy farmer, a potato grower, a berry producer, it doesn’t matter if they’re big or small, conventional or organic, anywhere in between, regulation tends to come up as one of the biggest challenges to sustainability in farming. And it is what it is. We’re in a world where regulation is becoming ever increasingly the mechanism by which we do everything. And so how do we help our producers navigate that world of regulation.

Chad Kruger:
Competition. We’ve really seen this in some of our key Northwest Washington industries, that competition isn’t just local, it’s global. And there are a lot of other places in the world that can produce the same things we produce and do it cheaper. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing it better, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re protecting the environment in the same way, and it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re producing a product that’s as high of quality as we are, but in a marketplace that’s looking for the least cost producer, that’s a real challenge to address for Washington farms.

Chad Kruger:
And I’ve got a number of colleagues who’ve talked about the fact that Washington State will probably never be the least cost producer on a lot of the things that we produce. And that just is what it is, and it’s because we have pretty high level environmental regulations. Our labor costs are much higher than much of the rest of the world, they’re much higher than much of the rest of the country. And environmental issues, regulations, all of these things make it so that we’re never going to be competing on the same playing field as a lot of other locations around the world. And in many cases, around the country. And so we’re just going to have to do better and we’re going to have to have a better product than everybody else is producing in order to be competitive.

Chad Kruger:
I could keep going down the list, energy issues, they tend to rear their heads up and down. Right now, energy is not a problem, but that’s not going to be a long-term trend. It’s going to come back, climate is going to be an issue. Relatively speaking, we seem to be insulated from some of the more dire predictions on the climate side, but sooner or later there’s going to be direct effects, there’s going to be indirect effects, water supply. The fact that we look relatively good compared to a lot of other regions means that a lot of food production in a lot of other regions is going to start looking at the Northwest and saying, “Hey, we need to move there.” So what are the dynamics that that’s going to create?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Why other than, and I’ve heard that elsewhere too, that Washington really hasn’t been as effected by climate change as other parts of the world to date. So far it seems to be a slower thing here than maybe elsewhere, but beyond that issue, what are the advantages for growing food here in Washington? And you’re talking about the challenges, I guess maybe some of those challenges are also insight into some of the benefits too, but ultimately, yeah, what’s so great about growing food here in Washington?

Chad Kruger:
On the climate side, that is one of the things is, if you think about our geographic location in the globe, we’re pretty far north. There aren’t a whole lot of regions further north than us that are big fruit and vegetable production regions. There’s some grain producing regions that are further North than us, but generally speaking, the fruit and vegetable production regions are South of us. And so if you think about climate in terms of getting warmer… Another way to think about it is moving south. So if you think 10, 15 degrees of warming, you are in the Central Valley of California, that looks pretty good for us.

Chad Kruger:
So I think that’s something that may not be on a lot of people’s radar or screens yet, but as we move forward, there are going to be opportunities in our region, in part, because we’ve got a lot of good viable farming land and we’ve got a lot of resiliency and the resources that are necessary to produce fruits and vegetables like water supply. So I think we do have some opportunities in front of us, but we need to be thinking about them and planning for them. And one of the things that concern me a little bit about the COVID-19 situation hitting was, all of a sudden, everybody’s focused on an immediate crisis, which is a big thing, very serious, but if we don’t quickly address this crisis and get our eyes back on the big prize of the long run, we’re going to miss key investments that we need to be making relative to our future success.

Chad Kruger:
And that’s something that’s always difficult to do in the crisis as you get so caught up in the day to day that it’s easy to forget about thinking one, two 10, 15, 30, 50, 100 years ahead, which in order to continue being successful, you’ve got be looking ahead all the time.

Dillon Honcoop:
I can see that in a couple of decades down the road, we could be saying, “Well, why didn’t we get that going back then?” “Well, because remember we were in the middle of that whole virus thing.” “Oh yeah.” That would be a sad and really at that time looking into the future, a really frustrating thing to look back on and say, “Yeah, we were worried about that and it was a bad thing, but now we’re suffering here in the future from things that maybe we didn’t have our eye on the ball enough with at that time.”

Chad Kruger:
Yeah. And I think this virus thing is one of those, we should have seen this comment. In fact, some people did see this coming, and we should have been ready for it and this is not going to be the last time it happened. But we have this thing that we do that we tend to focus on, recent experience as the guide to the future and we tend to forget things that were really important until they hit us again. And we’ve got to get better about learning from our experiences and being ready and prepared for the next time. A good example of that was drought in the region. 2005 was a pretty rough drought and then we were in pretty good shape in the region for about 10 years.

Chad Kruger:
And then we had a big drought again in 2015, and it was surprising how much had been forgotten. Between 2005 and 2015, response options and strategies and infrastructure and institutional knowledge that should have been there, ready to respond wasn’t there. And coming out of the 2015 drought, there was a lot of learning that happened that should make the next time we deal with drought because it’s coming again, should make it easier to deal with in the future. And yet I’m not so sure that we’ve got that one figured out yet either.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did you get into this world of food and farming and obviously, you’re so passionate about it. Did you grow up around farming?

Chad Kruger:
Yeah. I have the immense blessing to come from a family that has generational farms in Washington State in both my mother and father’s side. So my mom’s dad was a very grower from Lynden, Arneson Farms. He was a really innovative guy, he came out after World War II and started a diversified farming operation and ultimately got into strawberries. And so growing up, I got to spend quite a bit of time with him and learn from him. And in fact, he used to tell me stories of working with the WSU scientists at the Puyallup and Mount Vernon experiment stations where I’m currently the director.

Chad Kruger:
So I knew about those stations and I knew about Ag science before I ever knew what the land grant was. And so that was a pretty important thing. And then on my dad’s side, we were an Eastern Washington wheat and cattle ranching family, the family came out at the end of the civil war. So I think I’m sixth generation relative to the ones who came out, first settled in the state,

Dillon Honcoop:
Back to your mom’s side, the Arneson, I remember them. I remember that farm, my uncle worked for the Arneson. In fact, my wife who is from BC and I met her in college, she remembers coming down from BC to the Arneson Farm to pick strawberries. That was her memory of Lynden, before I knew her. It breaks my heart now to see that original Arneson homeplace covered in homes, but I understand that’s the way of the world these days, but every time I drive by it’s like, “Yeah, that used to be a strawberry field right there. What do you think… So that was your grandpa on your mom’s side?

Chad Kruger:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think he would say about you seeing you’ve being the director of these things that he was interacting with as a professional, as a farmer back then?

Chad Kruger:
Well, he knew that he was a big part of my curiosity and push towards this direction and before he passed away, we had a lot of conversations around where I was going, what I was doing, he always encouraged me in that way. I miss him a lot because he such an inspirational person, he always had a new thing he was going to try, a new approach. He loved the farming, but he loved the people too. He talked a lot about all of those customers that came down, particularly customers from Canada who crossed the border every year for decades to come and pick strawberries.

Chad Kruger:
And the relationships he developed over the years. And for me, that was a big thing because while I was interested in the farming and the science, he taught me that the relationships were probably as/or more important than all of it. And it’s a juxtaposition from my other grandfather who were out in the middle of nowhere in Eastern Washington, there was a saying that anytime he was more than seven miles from the homeplace, he was stressed. And I feel a little of that too, so it’s this interesting juxtaposition of two foreign families, two grandfathers that had a lot of influence on me and where I’m at.

Dillon Honcoop:
How much do you think about that day-to-day? Does that cross your mind sometimes when you’re doing stuff?

Chad Kruger:
Every day, every day. I think about it every day.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you want your legacy to be?

Chad Kruger:
That’s a great question, and it’s one that as I get older I’m more and more thinking about. And part of this is watching my dad who’ll recently retire and he’s thinking a lot more about his legacy. And so I’m starting to think about, “Maybe that’s something I should be thinking about too.” It’s doesn’t come naturally to me, I tend to do the thing that’s right in front of me, to do that needs to be done at that time. And if that means sticking a shovel in a pile of manure, half the time, that’s what it is. But I think more and more and the leadership opportunities that I’ve been blessed to have is I’m more effective when I’m helping someone else figure out how to solve the problem that they have in front of them.

Chad Kruger:
And so more and more as I grow older and have more opportunity, I’m seeing that what I feel success in is when other people are able to succeed in part because they figure out how to work together, whether that’s the farmer-university partnership, that kind of thing, or to other people however they come together, helping people figure out how they get over these hurdles that we tend to throw up in our human organization and make sure that we can succeed going forward.

Dillon Honcoop:
Where did you actually grow up? Where was home for you as a kid?

Chad Kruger:
I grew up in Eastern Washington, I grew up in a little town called Othello. We’re about 90 minutes from our Eastern Washington ranch, but Othello is the place you stop to get gas between Ellensburg and Pullman. And so I grew up there and actually my first official experiences in Ag research were for WSU as a high schooler working at the Othello experiment station, doing some field work in potatoes. And so I worked on an experiment that was looking at irrigation rates and fertility rates and potatoes and another experiment looking at some of the early root imaging for potato work. So trying to understand what’s going on underneath the surface of the soil as potatoes grow.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s crazy. We just recently had on the podcast, Camas Uebelacker from Othello. He’s a feedlot owner and operator out there, so hey, you’re from that same town, that same neck of the woods that maybe a lot of us haven’t necessarily spent a whole lot of time in, but man, a lot of the food that we eat here and all over the place comes from that part of the state, between the potatoes, the beef and everything else, and the fruit and everything.

Chad Kruger:
Yeah. If you really think about it, the central part of Washington where it’s irrigated, a lot of that was broken out within the lifetimes of many people who are still farming. And it’s become one of the most productive areas of the world in terms of a lot of vegetable and fruit production systems.

Dillon Honcoop:
What does the future hold for you?

Chad Kruger:
Well, I’m not totally sure yet, as I said earlier, I tend to do the thing that’s in front of me, very soon I might find out. I did announce last fall that I was going to step down from the Mount Vernon and Puyallup Research Centers. It had been five years at Mount Vernon and three years at Puyallup, which I was doing from a distance and the call to go back to Eastern Washington and be a little closer to that family ranch was getting more and more powerful. So we’ll see where I end up, but fairly soon, I think we’ll know.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. You want to be back to that family road. Are you going to farm yourself? What do you think?

Chad Kruger:
Probably not going to farm myself, I don’t think my wife would take the finances of it. It’s a little joke, but someday, I’ll go ride fences and be a cowboy again.

Dillon Honcoop:
There you go. That’s awesome. Well, thank you for sharing and opening up. We just really touched the surface of a lot of really big things that I know that you’ve spent years working on. So I appreciate you being willing to take that summary look at it because maybe some of the stuff doesn’t do it justice, but I think it’s so important and something that maybe a lot of people aren’t aware of is part of really the food system here is the university involvement and the science. And I don’t know, some people even get scared with how it’s so scientific and technical. I really view it as a good thing, right?

Chad Kruger:
Yeah. I don’t see how going forward it’s avoidable, and whether it’s the university or private sector or someone else, the pressure on the agricultural and food systems to be able to answer questions with data and to be able to manage with data are just going to increase. And so I think the long term partnership between the land-grant university and the farmers gives a bit of a leg up in that, but it’s something that we’ve got to double down and invest in to ensure that we’re going to be successful.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, thank you for sharing your story and talking with us and also with this whole COVID thing going on, stay safe and healthy out there.

Chad Kruger:
All right, thanks, Dylan.

Speaker 4:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
I still think that’s so cool that his grandpa was all about and would talk about people like my wife and her family, who had come down and pick berries, and here, years later, me and Chad ended up connecting over that. What a cool guy though, and somebody who is really accomplished as a scientist but also a manager. And to do that, you have to be about all the data and all the technical stuff, but you also have to understand the people and the big picture, where this is all going and why even are we applying science to food? Well, it has to do with our future as a community, as a state, as human beings, and doing the right thing and producing food the right way, but also efficiently and competitively.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s just so cool to hear his focus on all of that, and we need to keep track of what he does next if he’s headed back to Eastern Washington. I have a hunch he’s going to find himself farming in one shape or form one day, but we’ll see. It’s just one of those things that’s in your blood. Thanks for joining us this week on the Real Food Real People Podcast. Please stay safe out there, stay healthy, follow the guidelines, and we’ll get through this thing together. Oh, and I should also thank our sponsors, Real Food Real People Podcast is sponsored in part by Safe Family Farming, giving a voice to Washington’s farm families. You can find them online at savefamilyfarming.org, and by Dairy Farmers of Washington, supporting Washington dairy farmers, connecting consumers to agriculture and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at wadairy.org.

Larry Stap part 2 | #019 04/20/2020

He's faced some monumental challenges, including losing his son to cancer. In this second half of our conversation with Twin Brook Creamery co-owner Larry Stap, he opens up about some of the personal side of family farming.

Transcript

Larry Stap:
… the cancer just destroyed his body, just destroyed it, invaded every aspect of it. There’s nothing that I wish on any parent ever, is to lose a child.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, it’s a really emotional conversation this week on the podcast. Last week was the first part of the chat with Larry Stap of Twin Brook Creamery, small dairy farm and glass mild bottling operation in Lyndon, Washington. And he told us all about how Twin Brook came to be, and the risks they took, and all the work they put in, and the uncertainty for a while where it looked like where it looked like they might not make it. This week, things get a bit personal, including Larry opening up about the passing of his son, who passed away only a year after graduating from high school from Cancer. Larry also talks about what’s happening right now with COVID-19, and how that’s affected their business, including one unexpected change that became a lot more complicated than you might think.

Dillon Honcoop:
So he gets into that later, as well as talking about other challenges his farm has faced over the years. And, will he ever retire? We get to it all this week, as we continue part two of our conversation again with Twin Brook Creamery co-owner Larry Stap, longtime, fourth generation, family dairy farmer in Lyndon, Washington.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s been the hardest time on the farm?

Larry Stap:
The hardest time on the farm probably is your responsibility to take care of things, and you have to sacrifice sometimes pleasures. I can remember when we started way back in the ’70s, ’80s, you’re doing everything starting out yourself. You’re milking the cows, your feeding them, you’re doing this, you’re doing that. I mean, it’s just push. And then, one time, I can remember to this day, my wife said to me, “Don’t figure on doing anything for a couple of certain days,” and she secretly had booked a motel and we went away for three days. Lined up the milker and all that stuff, and that was the most pleasurable thing. I can remember that to this day. I mean, that is huge in my mind. I wouldn’t say there’s any specific low moment, but it’s just, you look back on it, and I would say, I probably overworked myself sometimes to the detriment of playing with my children.

Larry Stap:
But a lot of that comes as grandparents, you realize how precious your kids were, and even how more precious your grandchildren are. And you look back at it, and I said, “Boy, I love to spoil my grandchildren, I should’ve spoiled my kids a lot more too.” That’s probably one of my regrets a little bit, but I think most parents have that in some ways, [inaudible 00:03:31] farm too. So yeah. I mean, I know my parents, if I want to lay a guilt trip on them, all I have to do is remind them how much had to work on the farm. And I do that in fun, because they’re going through probably the same thing I did, is how we worked our kids way too hard.

Larry Stap:
I never, ever looked at it that way when I was a kid, I just enjoyed it. I mean, on a tractor and driving, and making hay bales, and killing field mice with your bayonet, and building forts up in the hay mound during the winter, going up in a silo and pitching the sides down. I thought that was a great lot of fun, in actuality, it was a lot of work that I did for my dad. I mean, it’s all right.

Larry Stap:
So no huge regrets in a lot of ways, it’s just that you sacrifice some family time that you probably shouldn’t have, but yet on the other hand I don’t hear my kids complaining too much either.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well you talk about your daughter and her husband being involved in the farm, but they’re not the only family of yours that’s involved in this operation, right?

Larry Stap:
No, they’re the only one financially involved. They’re full partners with us. Our oldest son also works full-time here on the farm with us. He’s got a degree in accounting, so he’s slowly taking over a lot of the bookkeeping, and a lot of the administrative work, and all of the government regulatory world that we live in, in terms of reporting and farms, and on, and on that, that goes. That’s huge, and so he’s doing more and more of that kind of stuff. And then we have another daughter that she randomly comes and helps us out here, does some things on the farm for us. So we have lots of family involved.

Larry Stap:
It’s kind of nice, our one daughter right now, she was working in a restaurant, and of course with this whole COVID pandemic, she’s off work right now, so I’m able to give her some odd jobs to do around here and help out, you see. So I feel privileged to do that.

Dillon Honcoop:
I know, and this may be tough to talk about so I’m not sure if you want to talk about it, but what about your son that passed away?

Larry Stap:
That was a tough… That was probably one of the… It was the lowest point I’ve ever had in my life, okay? I mean, it was not easy, but two things, number one was, it really made me appreciate the community that we live in. You cannot believe the support and the things that were done for us. To this day, it just boggles my mind. I mean, they always talk about small community, everybody knows what everybody else is doing, and this and that, and the gossip and stuff like that, but if you can look beyond that, yes, everybody else knows what everybody else is doing, but it’s generally speaking because they care, not because they’re nosy. And that was a huge eye-opener for us.

Larry Stap:
So having said that, he passed away in 2003, and there is no doubt that he would be the one sitting behind the mic right now and not me, because he had a passion for farming. But that also opened the door for my daughter and son-in-law to step in, which I’m sure was a reflection of his passing. And it’s been so much fun, because I can see so much of my son-in-law and the way my son acted too. I can see a lot of that kind of stuff.

Dillon Honcoop:
I remember Mark, your son, he was a grade behind me in school.

Larry Stap:
Oh yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I mean, we weren’t big friends or anything, but we were acquainted, we knew each other, so I remember him, and I remember him in shop classes, and FFA-

Larry Stap:
Oh yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
… and stuff like that. How did that happen, what was it that took his life?

Larry Stap:
When he was in Grade School, he had a massive tumor growing inside of his head, massive, but it was not cancerous, but it was so large that they could not surgically eradiate it… surgically remove it so they had to eradiate it, okay? They shrunk it down, and it went away but they kept monitoring it. And then a few years later it started growing again, but since they were monitoring it, they were able to surgically remove it. And then when he was a senior in high school, just after graduation… just after he graduated, he graduated in 2002, it started growing a third time and this time it was cancerous. And so they went in and did surgery, and it was an incredibly invasive surgery.

Larry Stap:
I mean, you can’t begin to describe the removal of an eye, and on and on, and stuff like that. And then when he got through that surgery, then they started chemo and radiation together to aggressively attack it. But it was such an aggressive cancer, that it just grew right in the face of all that stuff they were throwing at him. And then in June of 2003 he passed away just because the cancer just destroyed his body, just destroyed it, invaded every aspect of it. There’s nothing that I wish on any parent every, is to lose a childe. That is the most heart wrenching hard thing. And you can’t believe how many people in the community have laid a child in a grave, it’s pretty astounding.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was it like on the farm at that time?

Larry Stap:
On the farm that time-

Dillon Honcoop:
I actually can imagine.

Larry Stap:
This is where community came in, and one day it was so overwhelming and it was in the Spring, [inaudible 00:09:48] just started, and I couldn’t focus on what I had to do, just couldn’t. So I called up one of my neighboring farmers, a gentleman by the name of Steve Ewen, and I said, “Steve, I need help,” and he came over and he said, “Go in the house, we’ll take care of it all.” So crops got planted, crops got harvested, and the fellow farmers around the community, dairy and non-dairy, they all lined up to get out there to do something, and some of them had to wait till second and third cutting just to get their donated time and equipment in. It was just absolutely the most amazing thing I could… That’s where the community just stepped up. I mean, just one small part that they did for me.

Larry Stap:
I mean, it is beyond belief what they did, but my mind was just so overwhelmed I literally could not function.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think Mark would think of all the stuff that you’re doing now?

Larry Stap:
I don’t know, I don’t know. I think he’d be right in the middle of it. He would just be loving it. That kid, he was something. But you can’t dwell on what-if’s because they aren’t.

Dillon Honcoop:
I know you’ve mentioned a few times struggles dealing with regulation, what does that mean? What kind of stuff have you actually had to deal with?

Larry Stap:
Well, a lot of the regulatory world responds to hype, I guess for lack of a better word. A story gets out there about farms [inaudible 00:11:34], so then the legislature thinks they’ve got to step up and pass laws to protect the environment, and so much of it can be done in air. They do not realize the consequences oft times of a lot of the things that are passed upon us. Just to kind of give you an example, I always say, every law passed, or every action taken, whatever, has consequences, but they also have unintended consequences.

Larry Stap:
All right, here’s a really simple example, people think we need big buffers for application of our manure, or our nutrients on the field away from waterways and stuff like that. We call them big dumb buffers, because there’s no science behind it basically. So you take a field, and let’s just say you take a 20 acre field surrounded by drainage ditches, which I have a lot of because I farm a lot of pecan, and you put 100 foot buffers in there all the way around that field, you’ve basically taken away half or maybe even more, of my land application base for my nutrients. So what do I have to do, I have to go find more land further away, probably cause more environmental damage by trucking it up and down the road with trucks, or tractors, or whatever, or over-apply, and that’s no good either because then you can have more service runoff and stuff.

Larry Stap:
When in actuality, just by applying a buffer that is, let’s just say, big at the appropriate times of the year, small at the appropriate times of the year, make them flexible, make them driven by common sense, I call it for lack of a better word. But there again, some of that stuff can be just passed through ignorance, not really thinking about the unintended consequences. And so a lot of times you have to try to educate your politicians, your elected officials. And to be honest with you, sometimes right in the offices that are in charge of enforcing the regulations, a lot of times those people can have their own agendas too, and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not so good. But I always find that 99% of it, is communication. Talk with them, figure it out. I’m not afraid to bring people onto my farm that are especially in the regulatory and political world, to explain to them, show them what’s going on. And it makes all the difference in the world when they can actually see what’s going on, and they understand it.

Larry Stap:
And then the other thing that you can do, is build a relationship so that if you have concerns, they know who you are and we can talk, or they can call us and stuff like that. And that’s really been good over the years. I used to have more of a confrontational attitude when I was younger, but I’ve kind of matured and said there’s better ways.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, don’t you want to protect the environment?

Larry Stap:
Absolutely. I mean, one of the things I’ve learned is, we farm close to a creek called Fish Trap Creek, and it flows into the Nooksack River, which flows into the bay out there by our lovely Indian Reservation friends, and they have oyster beds and shell fish beds out there that they harvest. Well, if we contaminate the waterways here, it gets dumped on top of their shell fish beds. That’s just another form of agriculture, why would I want to destroy one form of agriculture at the experience of another? That doesn’t make any sense to me. So there’s just an example of why to keep it good.

Larry Stap:
The other thing too is, I have a couple of streams that borderlines on my property, they’re fantastic salmon spawning streams, and there’s nothing more fun than in Fall especially to see all them salmon spawning stuff here. Why would I want to destroy that habitat? I mean, it gives me great joy just to watch them period, and then in the Spring to see all the little fingerlings running around that ditch and stuff like that. It’s all part of our mission statement, be stewards, maybe not just to the land that we purposely farm, or the cows that we purposely take care of, but it’s all around us, it’s all part of our mandate.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about lawsuits, I know that’s become a big thing in the farming world. It’s not talked about much, but I know farms, I hear it time and again, are concerned about litigation.

Larry Stap:
Yeah, litigation is brought on by poor laws. And when I say poor laws, the laws themself are not bad, but the law also allows for what they call third-party lawsuits. And a third-party file a lawsuit against a farmer because they think that they’re not following the law of some sort of pollution, or whatever, okay? And the challenge of it is this, that oft times, even if you’re innocent, which most farmers are, it will cost you more to go all the way through the legal system than it will to settle out of court. The settling out of court is cheaper, but it accomplishes generally nothing, except lining a lawyers pockets, because they’ll get fully compensated for their legal costs typically.

Larry Stap:
One of the things that a lot of people don’t understand, is on a federal third-party lawsuit, let’s just say a group decides to sue a farmer because they’ve caused damage to a harmed party, and let’s just assume that the third-party wins and the farmer loses, the third-party can receive no financial compensation out of that lawsuit, but the lawyers typically don’t tell them that. Okay? But the lawyers get fully compensated for all their work, and then there’s all these other little programs that get part of the settlement and stuff like that. So that’s why if you want to improve the environment, if you want to do it, you sit down and you talk about it and you work out before lawsuits ever happen. That’s the way things get done. When lawsuits happen, people just back their backs up against the wall, and it becomes a legal fight. And really, nothing oft times would get accomplished in terms of benefiting the environment. It’s a sad way to go.

Larry Stap:
I mean, there is sometimes a legal need for that, and I’m not disputing that, there are places for that, but oft times it’s used as a legalized form of extortion, not so much as a productive lawsuit to accomplish an environmental upgrade.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think the future of our food system is?

Larry Stap:
Well you know, I do not like this COVID-19 pandemic that we’re in, but all of a sudden people are waking up to, “Wow, we better keep our food supply local,” because all of a sudden all the pharmaceutical stuff, and the medications and all this stuff that we’re dependent on in foreign countries, we’re kind of at somebody’s mercy all of a sudden. I mean, it happened a number of years ago with the oil embargo in the Middle-East. And so I think it’s probably been a little bit of an eye-opener, in terms of a lot of people recognizing the fact that we need to keep our food supply on our home soil.

Larry Stap:
I’ve talked with a lot of people over the course of this time, and one of the things I’ve said is, sure when I grew up as a kid, the only time we got strawberries, was in strawberry season. The only time we got green beans, was when green beans were in season. The only time we got corn on the cob, was when corn was in season. Now you can go to the grocery store and buy it year round just about anytime. Where does it come from? It doesn’t come from your backyard anymore, it’s probably imported. And is that the way we want to go? Is that really necessary? I mean, we are incredibly spoiled as consumers, and what we can get in a grocery store. And maybe we don’t need all that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Sadly, I heard recently with what’s happening with COVID, a CSA in our region, a Community Supported Agriculture farm that does CSA boxes, their orders went way up, but right away also these new subscribers, they got calls apparently within the first week of people saying, “Well, I want strawberries.” “It’s not strawberry season.” “Well, what the heck, why can’t I have strawberries?” To me, I don’t want to believe that people are that far disconnected.

Larry Stap:
They are, and it’s… Well, it’s good and it’s bad. I mean, it’s an incredible success story to the grocery stores, and the whole support network behind moving food around this country and around the world. I mean, now we can just do it incredibly well with refrigeration, and freezing, and all that kind of stuff, and we got spoiled as consumers, there’s no doubt about it. But maybe it’s time to step back and say, “You know what, maybe it’s not so important I have strawberries year round, or whatever.” Milk’s year round, we can get that anytime, that goes around 24/7.

Dillon Honcoop:
At the same time, you guys have dealt with… you’ve proven that it’s possible, but you’ve dealt with the challenges of going local, of bringing that local product to market, to those more mainstream stores that people are used to shopping at.

Larry Stap:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I would guess when you’ve learned how that works behind the scenes, maybe you realize it’s not as easy as some people might think. I know the grocery stores get demonized quite a bit, and it’s not always their fault that the system works the way that it does.

Larry Stap:
No, it doesn’t, but on the other hand, we talk about smaller and fewer, and bigger farms, it’s the same thing that’s going on in the grocery world. So the bigger you get, the less flexibility you have and stuff like that, but you are able to offer some other services that other stores might not be able to do. I got a lot of sympathy for the grocery community. One of the things that they struggle with is the same thing we talked about earlier, lawsuits. Consumers are looking to pretend they slipped on a banana peel, or they got sick eating this berry, or this cereal or whatever.

Larry Stap:
So liability is a huge thing for the grocery stores, it’s huge. And then as part of that liability too is, it’s kind of a reflection of our society, but if you’re big and corporate, you owe me so I have the ability to go in and steal, and it doesn’t bother my conscience, because you’re so big and so wealthy, that you have to share some of that wealth with me. And I’ve talked to so many grocery store managers and stuff like that, and what it costs them in terms of legal, and documentation and stuff the way the laws are set up, to stop a shoplifter, that sometimes it’s cheaper for them to let that shoplifter to walk out the door than it is to prosecute. And that’s a sad side of our society, very sad, not only because that person thinks that, that’s okay that they do that, but our society, or our legal world, or whatever, has become so rigid, and so structured that we actually allow that to happen because of costs.

Dillon Honcoop:
Versus the principle.

Larry Stap:
Versus the principle, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
With COVID happening, this pandemic, what’s that changed for your farm and your operation?

Larry Stap:
At first we thought, “This will be just fine because we process our own milk and we sell it to the stores.” And in actuality, the first week after, I don’t know if it was a stay home or whatever, when all the businesses and restaurants and stuff that had to close, our milk sales made a significant jump. And then the second week into it, we got a call from a major grocery store chain, that said that they do not want to take our empty glass returns into their store, because they’re concerned of what that empty glass bottle could possibly bring in, in terms of contamination such as the COVID virus.

Larry Stap:
I thought it might have been a little bit of an overreach, I thought there was ways that we could manage around it, but it was made at levels way higher that I care to know about in the corporate world, and they said, “Not only do we not want to take glass at this time, but then we would not like to even sell your glass off the shelf.” Well this store chain that told us that, was probably one of our largest single group of stores that constitutes a pretty significant portion of our business. So we got that call at 10:30 on a Monday morning, that our milk sales were done in that store, so I immediately got on the phone, and this was the beauty of building relationships over the years with those people, they said if we could find an alternative package that they would carry our milk, because they absolutely loved our farm and what’s it done for their stores, and the local and the profitability.

Larry Stap:
So by Tuesday afternoon at two o’clock, we were bottling milk in plastic bottles. And I tell you what, it was chaos, it was crazy, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
You can’t use the same equipment to do that.

Larry Stap:
You can’t use the same equipment, you have to hand apply labels, you’ve got to find plastic jugs, you’ve got to… We had to design a label, get it printed, and then find people to start putting them all on our jugs and stuff like that. So even to this day now, we’re doing about half maybe in plastic to satisfy those stores during the crisis time, and half is still in our glass. But it’s a significant cost hit to us, because of all these additional costs that we have to incur just to bottle our milk again. But you know what, we’re bottling milk, it’s being sold, and it’s maybe not being sold at quite the previous volume it was. We have a very, very loyal, and now happy even bunch of employees, because we’re able to fully keep them employed at this rate, and doing this kind of stuff.

Larry Stap:
So it was a stressful couple of weeks around here, there’s no doubt about that.

Dillon Honcoop:
How are you protecting your employees with the threat of the virus? A lot of people are staying home, but you guys are an essential business, so they’re still coming for-

Larry Stap:
There’s not… I mean yeah, there are things you can do, but we have safety meetings, we talk about reinforcing how many times you wash your hands every day. We completely during the end of the day, we’re just sanitizing everything. We’ve got a foaming machine, and we’re just spraying it all over with sanitizer. And then we have safety meetings, and I really stress to our employees to think about what you’re doing when you’re not working here, be aware of it.

Larry Stap:
And what I try to impress upon them, and I’ve learned this from myself is, if get the virus I may survive, because if you’re young enough and healthy enough typically it will feel like a flu from what I understand. I think there’s so much misinformation out there. But if I were to get it let’s just say, and I continually see my parents who live right next door to me, they’re 87 and 89, and if I were to expose them to it, I would feel pretty bad. So you have to think beyond yourself with this COVID-19 thing. And I’ve got a great bunch of employees, and they’re doing a great job for me, and I think they’re very, very mindful about it all, very much so.

Dillon Honcoop:
I mean, a lot of people would never have thought of the glass bottle thing, back to that hiccup.

Larry Stap:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
Explain how that works too. I mean, we talked about the benefit of glass bottles earlier, and then that was your kind of niche, but how does that… You guys market this stuff in a glass bottle, and then it’s available in the store, and you get basically a refund price when you bring that glass back?

Larry Stap:
Yeah. When a consumer buys our milk, you might say they’re actually buying two things, they’re buying milk that’s in the jar for a set price that the store determines, and they pay a deposit on that glass jar. Now, the consumer can do one of two things, they can decide to keep that glass jar if they want, or they can return it back to the store and get their deposit refund, and then we refund the stores and bring them back here to our little bottling plant, and wash and sanitize and refill them again. That’s part of our sustainability. That’s how the whole system works, but then the fear of what the bottles would be bringing into the stores, is what stopped it for a pretty significant number of stores, I will say that. So many stores.

Dillon Honcoop:
And it wasn’t on the front end, because they’re sanitized and clean when they come, it’s about people bringing them back from their homes.

Larry Stap:
Bringing the empties back from their homes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh yes.

Larry Stap:
That was their fear. I can’t argue with the stores, but I do know that there are a lot of suggested ways that they could mitigate by doing things a little bit different, but that’s their choice.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. I don’t know what kind of a bin they have to put them in, but can you put it out front or something so they don’t have to come in the store? I think about all these things.

Larry Stap:
There’s a lot of ways, and we’ve sent out suggestions to the stores how to accommodate it and still be safe, but some of them are doing it, some of them aren’t.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why do people like the glass bottle?

Larry Stap:
Well, part of it is the sustainability, they can return it, it’s not filling a landfill, okay? It’s not a plastic jug, it’s not a carton. I always say, a glass bottle is one step above recycling, it’s reusable. And that’s huge, and that’s an ever growing concern in our nation and our world, at least nowadays. You hear about the plastic blobs out on the ocean, and you hear about… see trains and trucks running up and down the road full of garbage, bringing it to landfills. We live in a terrible throw away society, and if one little part that we can do is this, we’re thankful for that. And so that’s why we went to the glass.

Larry Stap:
It also gave us a marketing opportunity that we would not have had otherwise, so it opened a door for us to a lot of stores, for which we give much thanks.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, things have really changed. You were talking about recycling, things have really changes recently with plastic too in recent years, where that market just isn’t there anymore, and it’s not necessarily going to China where it was being recycled or who knows what was happening with it there. So that’s been a bit of a wake-up call for-

Larry Stap:
Yeah, you know.

Dillon Honcoop:
[crosstalk 00:33:49] assuming that you keep putting stuff in a disposable jug, I think more and more people are going to be interested in that part of what you guys do.

Larry Stap:
And a lot of it is driven by economics, good, bad or otherwise, but when it costs more to recycle and remake something than what the original is, unless you are driven to pay more for that reused or recycled product, it ain’t going to happen. So that’s why I think you see a lot of… like you say, the plastic has gone downhill, because to recycle the plastic and remanufacture an item is very costly. And when then take, for example, a plastic milk jug is probably… I’ve never looked into it, because I don’t know if they even make such a thing, but probably it would be half price for a new one versus a recycled one. I mean, that has been melted down, and reformed, and all that stuff, so it’s driven by economics.

Larry Stap:
One of the things that kind of always bothers me just a little bit too is, so often it seems like the more stable and necessary an item is in a consumer’s life, the cheaper it has to be. And example is food, people don’t want to pay much for food, but their travel trailers, and their vacations and all that stuff, usually is not too much of a price issue, but well, we can’t pay much for food. And that’s why sometimes I think we need to refocus or priorities-

Dillon Honcoop:
It is the stuff that keeps us alive.

Larry Stap:
That’s right, yeah. That’s right. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you ever think about retiring?

Larry Stap:
As I said earlier, I want to retire. I’m 65, I created this monster, I don’t how to get to away from it yet. But we’re in the process of beginning the stages of planning that out, and how that will all work. So yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, you can’t keep up the pace that you’ve done forever.

Larry Stap:
No, and in actuality, I have had the ability to transfer a lot of my responsibilities off already. I mean, I’m not in charge of the processing plant anymore. I go out there and know exactly what’s all going on, but I’m not in charge. Same with my oldest son taking over a lot of the administrative, he’s doing a lot of that. And my son-in-law, he pretty much takes care of the cattle and the land end of it, so I’m starting to shed more, and more of my responsibilities and delegate them out. The hard part is the things that you have built relationships up, and dealt with over all these years, that’s my struggle, is how to transfer that to someone. I mean, my ideal would be to transfer it to a family member, but there’s nobody ready in the wings and waiting to do that, so that’s how we’re… We’re just beginning to have some meetings on how to make that thing work. So yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thank you so much for sharing your whole story, and everything that goes into this, it’s fascinating.

Larry Stap:
Thank you, I enjoyed doing it. As I said, we are truly blessed beyond what we deserve.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
What an incredible story, right? And people think Twin Brook Creamery is so cool already with their glass bottles, and small farm vibe, and Jersey Cows, and cream-top non-homogenized milk, but when you hear all of that, the human story behind Twin Brook Creamery, it just takes it to the next level of appreciating what goes into that milk that you can buy at the store.

Dillon Honcoop:
Again, my name is Dillon Honcoop, and this is the Real Food Real People Podcast. I’m really thankful that you’re here, and follow us on social media if you haven’t. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast, so you never miss an episode. We’ve got a lot more ahead, and we’re figuring out ways to get the podcast to keep on going, even in this age of the Coronavirus pandemic. We certainly hope that you are staying safe, and healthy out there.

Dillon Honcoop:
Take care everybody, and if you have a little extra time, maybe you’re quarantining, catch up on a few episodes of the podcast as well. This is a great time to do that, and if you do have the time again, make sure to subscribe. Maybe if you have a lot of time, shoot me an email, I’d love to chat. What are your thoughts on local food, and Washington grown food, and farmers, and maybe you have questions that you’d like answered. Maybe I can go dig up a farmer or two who could answer your question, and either get back to you in an email, or talk about it on the podcast. Maybe you’ve got a suggestion of a farm to talk with, or an issue to cover. I would love to hear any of it.

Dillon Honcoop:
You can email me… Well, you can message me on any of the Real Food Real People social media platforms, right now we’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or you can just email me directly, dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org. That’s my email address, I get it, it’s on my phone. So anytime you send that I will get it pretty much right a way, unless for some reason my daughters are distracting me or something, but I would really love to hear from you. Again, dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org. Dillon is spelled, D-I-L-L-O-N, by the way. And yes, realfoodrealpeople.org is the website, so go check that out there.

Dillon Honcoop:
And just mentioning that reminds me, I need to get blogging too and share some of my own story, and some of the things I’ve been ruminating on and learning, and some of the things going on even behind the scenes as we develop and continue to grow this podcast. So thanks for being a part of this, and we will catch you back here next week.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, and I should also thank our sponsors. Real Food Real People Podcast is sponsored in part by Safe Family Farming, giving a voice to Washington’s farm families. You can find them online at safefamilyfarming.org. And by, Dairy Farmers of Washington, supporting Washington dairy farmers, connecting consumers to agriculture, and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at wadair.org.

Larry Stap part 1 | #018 04/13/2020

Twin Brook Creamery is famous in Western Washington for their local milk in glass bottles. But have you heard the story of how this family farm defied the odds to become what it is today? Fourth-generation farmer and co-owner Larry Stap reveals what was really happening behind the scenes to make it all work.

Transcript

Larry Stap:
It was a huge risk, and like I said earlier, I don’t know for sure, but I know that we were probably within months of the bank foreclosing on us. It was that close. I know it was.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food, Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, Twin Brook Creamery is known in Seattle and all over Western Washington for being the local dairy that has milk in glass bottles, the old-fashioned way. You may have heard of them, but have you heard their story of how they came to be and how they made the transition from more of a traditionally run dairy to the way they do things now? Welcome back to the podcast. I’m Dillon Honcoop and I’m glad that you’re here. This week we hear from Larry Stap. He’s a fourth-generation family dairy farmer and the co-owner and founder of Twin Brook Creamery in Lynden, Washington.

Dillon Honcoop:
The story of how they got to where they are now is pretty amazing. We had a really long conversation. We will be sharing it both this week and next in two separate parts. I know I’m getting into the habit of these long conversations that don’t all fit into one week, but there was just so much stuff to cover so much to the story. It’s so much insight to share from a guy who’s been around the block and he’s been doing it for a long time. His family has been doing it that much longer. It’s pretty eye opening to hear from Larry about some different things, why it’s so hard for farms to continue on from one generation to the next. We dig into that issue.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s different about what they do? Why do they do glass bottles? Why are they non-homogenized? How does the whole milk world really work and then about having a vision and taking a risk which applies to farming and anything else that people do, any other business idea? So many of us have ideas but you know struggle with taking that risk and to hear him and his family story about how they approach that is pretty fascinating. They had a vision and they stuck to it. He shares a little bit what was happening on the inside even as they were getting started, how many years it took them to get to where they are now.

Dillon Honcoop:
This is the Real Food, Real People Podcast where we share every week with you conversations with real people behind your food here in Washington State. Again, my name is Dillon Honcoop. I grew up on a family farm in Northwest Washington as well, not too far from Larry Stap, but a lot of this I had never even heard about the real personal story behind Twin Brook Creamery. Thanks for being here to learn a bit this week and next from Larry Stap.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’re probably best known for Twin Brook Creamery.

Larry Stap:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Obviously, you had a farming career before Twin Brook Creamery and we could talk about that too, but talk about making that transition to go from the traditional approach to something that around here at least had never really been tried before. What was that like?

Larry Stap:
Well, the approach that I’ll spend a little bit of time on was the transition from going marketing our milk to a coop to becoming an independent processor. Probably what started it at all was ignorance. We had no idea what we were getting into. It actually all started way back in 2006 when our daughter and son-in-law asked if we could join into the dairy and his youth and enthusiasm, which I greatly appreciate, said, “Instead of milking 200 cows, let’s milk thousand cows or keep on going.” The challenge behind that was we were boxed in as far as real estate didn’t have more land, so we couldn’t really grow.

Larry Stap:
Your barn is going to only hold so much. You only have so much storage for nutrients in the form of lagoons. It would have been a multimillion dollar expansion if we would have done something like that. I’m not opposed to big, don’t get me wrong, but it just didn’t fit into our long-term goals in my head, so I said “Let’s look at doing something different and add value to our raw commodity.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Because the goal was to keep family involved.

Larry Stap:
That’s right. You’re always excited to keep that next generation involved on the farm because so many of the farms, and I’m guessing two-thirds, maybe even higher, are on their last generation, sad to say. It really is and I’m not saying that that farm will go out of production, but it will probably be absorbed by a neighboring farm or another larger farm or something like that, but anyway, to keep that into the next generation and stay small, you couldn’t do it at existing commodity prices. It would have been a real challenge. It’s not like I had been dairying and was debt free and all the rest of that kind of good stuff.

Larry Stap:
Adding value to our raw commodity, we had no idea what something like that would look like, but we just threw out there everything from bottling our own milk to making yogurt to making cheese to whatever. What we stumbled across, not through any fantastic research or anything like that, but nobody was doing milk in glass bottles and glass returnable bottles.

Dillon Honcoop:
The old way.

Larry Stap:
The old way, the old school. Nobody was making cream top milk, non-homogenized, natural, the way it comes right from the cow. That’s where we started. We started with an estimated budget of $75,000, what we figured it would cost us to get up and running. $250,000 later, we finally bottled our first bottle of milk. It was quite an eye opener.

Dillon Honcoop:
What did that feel like going through that? As the bills and that price keeps getting higher and higher, you got to be thinking “Did we make a mistake here?”

Larry Stap:
Oh, absolutely because the way you’re financing this thing is equity. You’re borrowing from the bank and it’s equity and it’s equity. It just kept going. Part of it was ignorance. Part of it was the regulatory world was not very friendly at times. Some of it, I understand later, was necessary, but it was never communicated that way. It was just like, “It’s my way or the highway,” and that was very frustrating. I can remember one time being so upset that I walked out of the building and went for a walk out in the field to contain myself. It takes a lot to get me upset. I’m a pretty tolerant patient person, okay? I don’t mean that in a bragging way, but that’s the way I’ve just been brought up and learned to handle situations in life.

Larry Stap:
Anyways, that’s the way it started going. We started bottling our own milk, but you don’t instantly find a home for 200 cows’ worth of milk overnight because even if a larger grocery store chain wanted to take your milk on, they don’t know who you are. They don’t know if you’re going to be here tomorrow. They don’t know if you got a quality product. Unbeknownst to us, they were watching us. About two years into it, we started be able to expand into some larger grocery store chains. Once that happened, it just snowballed, but in the process of that time, we started bottling milk in 2007.

Larry Stap:
The first year we broke even was 2012. We sucked equity even faster and faster and faster. Of course, during that time, conventional dairy went down. Economics went down in 2009 and 2010. I never officially know, but I know that we were probably within months, if not days, of being called on by the bank …

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Larry Stap:
… but we knew the market was out there. We didn’t have access to capital because our supply or our orders were starting to exceed our ability to bottle and we were just got a little tiny plant getting started. Northwest Ag Business Center, NABC, stepped up to the plate and really helped us and got some private money. Now, this is the most amazing thing. When we asked for private capital to expand our plant to take care of production needs to fulfill orders, we put a complete financial package in front of them, including all of our losses, many years of losses and put the word out.

Larry Stap:
We sat around a kitchen table individually with about seven different parties and not one of them even questioned, loaning us money privately, even with that history. They caught our vision. They knew it. We borrowed money from a lot of private individuals. We put it on a seven-year note. Two years later, we had them all paid off because we were able to expand it. It was amazing, just absolutely amazing.

Dillon Honcoop:
Before that, what were you telling yourself to get through? Were you to the point where you’re thinking, “Maybe we bag it”?

Larry Stap:
Not necessarily. We knew we just had to access some capital somehow, and with a crisis going on and the economy and banking industry back at that time, even if they did catch your vision, they just says, “No, it ain’t going to happen.” It was tough, but we never gave up.

Dillon Honcoop:
It sounds like it was because of that vision that you had that was so strong that you weren’t going to give up. Describe that vision at least. What was it at that time?

Larry Stap:
Well, I’ll give you an example of what kept us going. It was our vision, but after I told you, I told you earlier, we got started getting approached by store chains. One day, I get a call. I don’t remember if it’s call or an email, but from QFC store chain, Quality Food Center, out of the Seattle area where their headquarters in Bellevue and they said, “Can we put your glass milk bottle in all our stores?” and I says, “I would dearly love to be able to do that to you, but I don’t have the processing capacity to do that. I believe we got the cows, but I don’t have the processing capacity.”

Larry Stap:
Well, they wouldn’t take no for an answer. What they said was, “Would you start with a few stores and then slowly expand and grow into it?” I said, “Sure.” We started off with seven QFC stores, but that isn’t the end of the story. Here’s the amazing part. One of the things that my wife and I do to promote our farm and promote dairy in general and farming in general is we stand in the grocery store and interact with customers and give out samples. One day, we’re standing in one of the original seven QFC stores and these three gentlemen in black suits and ties come walking through the store with the store manager and you could obviously tell they’re corporate people.

Larry Stap:
I always never pass an opportunity to introduce myself and thank them for allowing us in and they all knew about us a little bit even though it was small at that time. As then, they proceeded on. One of the gentlemen came back and said to me, “Do you want to know why you’re in our store chain?” I said, “Absolutely, I’d love to know why.” Well, he said, “We received an order from Kroger company to look at a glass milk bottle line in your QFC stores because the stores on East Coast that we own have a very successful program in that line of glass.”

Larry Stap:
I said, “Well, I’d greatly appreciate that and I appreciate you taking the time to allow us to grow and expand into it.” One more thing he says, “If I could pay you a little bit more for your milk for a while, would you be able to grow faster into our stores?” I says, “Well, that’s a pretty stupid question to say no to.” For how many months, they increased the price of our milk to us to give us more capital to expand. We took that additional capital we got for a number of months, you take the additional money that we borrowed from the private people as well as a lot of hardworking employees, and next thing you know, we’re in all the QFCs.

Larry Stap:
Then of course, what’s also interesting is these grocery stores don’t like to beat one up to buy another grocery store chain.

Dillon Honcoop:
I was thinking about when you said it snowballed once you got a couple grocery stores.

Larry Stap:
It does. The Haggen caught the vision. QFC caught the vision. Next thing I know, Metropolitan Market has a store chain in Seattle and the Town and Country store chain. What has been so rewarding is how supportive they’ve been to our farm. I can contact the corporate offices of most all those chains. They just think the world of us. We think the world of them. It’s just been a really win-win situation for us.

Dillon Honcoop:
None of this picture that you’re describing is normal.

Larry Stap:
No, it absolutely is not.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s just not the way. Usually, the relationships are adversarial. They’re trying to get the lowest cost they can and what you described with them willing to invest in your operation and allow you to start smaller. Usually, it’s like, “Either you supply this certain need that we want or forget it,” right?

Larry Stap:
Yeah, but you got to think about the landscape that started 10, 15 years ago. Local wasn’t big way back then, but it was on a groundswell of a movement. For a large store chain to get involved local is relatively hard and they saw this as an opportunity, I do believe. The other thing by us putting it in glass milk bottles also was a marketing niche that didn’t compete with other, the plastic jugs or carts, okay? This hopefully would attract another set of customers to them. This is probably the biggest thing that sells it to these stores is the markup on our milk is far exceeding what plastic jug milk markup is and stuff like that.

Larry Stap:
They can actually take a local product, touted as local and make some money on the product that they sell which is absolutely wonderful for them and us. It opened the door. Now, I tell you all these things and I take no credit for it. We have a great faith in our God up above and it was also providentially put in place for us that I looked back at it and I thought I just still can’t believe it to this day. It just blows my mind away how everything. It’s not that we didn’t have struggles and challenges and still do for that matter, but it’s been so rewarding.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you weren’t able to move into that without taking that risk too?

Larry Stap:
Oh, no. It was a huge risk. Like I said earlier, I don’t know for sure, but I know that we’re probably within months of the bank foreclosing on us. It was that close. I know it was. It was just a challenge.

Dillon Honcoop:
After going through all of this, you’ve proven with this that there is a market for locally produced food. In a realm where people probably thought it wasn’t possible, what had the conversations been? What did the traditionalist say about all of this?

Larry Stap:
Well, I have gotten so much support from my local farmers by and large. I have a little market niche that doesn’t cannibalize somebody else’s sales. If I could show you emails that people that just for years haven’t drunk milk for whatever reason and they drink our milk and they’re coming back to it or there’s other little health reasons that they can drink our milk and not maybe some conventional milk and it’s just been so rewarding in that respect. We literally now, as I always say, have been so blessed that we created a monster we can’t get away from, but it’s been a wonderful, wonderful ride without its challenges, I say, but it’s been good and we’ve been blessed.

Dillon Honcoop:
Glass bottles, non-homogenized, explain what are the benefits of these things and how else is your milk different. What is it really that people like?

Larry Stap:
I got my main five points that I tell the customers or any perspective store chains or whatever, but number one, we know the exact source of our milk. It’s not commingled with anybody else’s farms. It’s our milk from our girls. We raise our own young stock. We have what we call a closed herd, a closed milk supply, so we control the quality. Number two, we use what we call low temperature of that pasteurization, okay? It’s a very slow process. We raise the milk up to 145 degrees, have to hold it there for 30 minutes and then we can cool it back down and bottle it.

Larry Stap:
Most all other milk is done at, let’s say 165, maybe 170 for 15 to 30 seconds or your ultra-pasteurize is around 280 and 290 for two seconds. What that low temperature gives us is retaining of the flavor of the milk, just completely different tasting milk. It’s just hard to compare, but it doesn’t cook the flavors out and it also retains some of the enzymes in the milk that higher temperatures cook out. Milk naturally contains a lot of enzymes in it that aid in the digestion. The more of those you can retain, the better the milk will be for your digestive system.

Larry Stap:
Number three is we don’t homogenize. It’s quite amazing that most people, when I say most, a lot of people do not know what’s the difference between pasteurization and homogenization is. To get technical and try to explain homogenization is, I come up with a very simple way to explain it to the consumers. When milk comes from a cow, it consists primarily of two things butter fat or cream and skim. The butterfat or cream is a larger particle than the skim and it will naturally float to the top of the skim. When you’ve heard of the sayings, “The cream of the crop,” or “The cream rises to the top,” that’s where that comes from.

Larry Stap:
Homogenization is a process that puts it through a machine at 2,000 to 3,000 psi and smashes or breaks that particle into a smaller particle and then it will stay suspended in the skim. We do not do that process. We leave it natural, so the-

Dillon Honcoop:
So your milk will separate?

Larry Stap:
Your milk will separate, so you can do one of two things. When you buy a bottle of milk from us, you can spoon the cream off and put it in your coffee or whatever you feel like doing or you just shake it back in and reincorporate it back in. Another thing that we do is glass does not alter the taste of milk. It’s an impermeable surface, you might say. There’s been some discussion on light taste alteration, but we really don’t ever get any feedback on customers for that at all. It will sit on a shelf for a couple of weeks under light and still tastes just fine.

Larry Stap:
Then, the third or one of the fifth thing that I talked about is we milk the jersey breed cows, the little brown ones, okay? They produce less volume of milk than the traditional black-and-white Holstein which is probably 90% of the dairy cows in the United States. What makes their milk different is the lower volume they produce but they also produce what we call a higher solid content. Now, milk is primarily made up of water which has no flavor, but the solids in the milk is what gives milk its flavor. To give you an idea of how much more solids are in the milk, a general rule of thumb goes like this, when you make cheese, all you’re doing is extracting the solids out of the milk.

Larry Stap:
You’re coagulating together with cultures and then the white, the whey or the water flows off. If you take 10 pounds of Holstein milk, the general yield is around one pound of cheese. You take 10 pounds of Jersey milk, the yield is around 1.5 pound of cheese. You’re talking 50% more yield. Now step back again and think about what I just said, flavor, where does the flavor come from? The solids, so when you have a higher solids content in your milk, you’re going to have a more flavorful milk. Then people have asked me, “Why do not more farmers bottle jersey milk or why the processes are not bottle more jersey milk and make it a more flavorful milk?”

Larry Stap:
It’s all driven by USDA pricing. A fluid milk has to meet a certain minimum solids content in the grocery store. If you exceed that, you’re in no way compensated by the milk pricing system. The incentive is to put in to the bottle or the jug the minimum, generally speaking, and for high-yield milk such as the colored breeds, we call them jersey, Guernsey stuff like that, the incentive is for those to go to cheese vats, powder plants, cottage cheese, ice cream because the yield is greater and that’s where they get compensated. That sets us apart. We had the jersey cows and that’s what we bottled and it also became part of our marketing niche.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do people say in the grocery store? I know like you explain this so well because I know you’ve done that thousands of times like you’re talking about earlier visiting stores and actually meeting your customers in person. What do they say?

Larry Stap:
Probably the biggest reward of going to the grocery stores is this, they’ll start talking to me and then they’ll ask me, “Well, do you work for the farm?” Then, I says, “Well, no. We along with our daughter and son-in-law and the bank, we own the farm.”

Dillon Honcoop:
And the bank.

Larry Stap:
It is a whole different appearance that comes right on their face like they actually cannot believe they’re talking with the farmer himself. That is so huge to me, not in a prideful way, but it reinforces the fact that we as farmers need to connect with the consumers. When we do, they just appreciate it that it’s not coming in secondhand information from some other party. Even a hired employee as well as they could probably do it, but when we do it ourselves, the consumer just makes that incredible bond. It’s j fun to watch. It’s fun to be a recipient on that.

Dillon Honcoop:
What kind of questions come up usually?

Larry Stap:
There’s so many different questions and I always say the questions are reflective of what’s going in the internet at that time like calves, “How do you take care of your calves? Is your milk A1 or A2? Are your cows grass fed?” and stuff like that and you have the opportunity then to really educate people. I’ll give you an example. People say, “Are your cows grass fed?” and I says, “You bet they are, but how do you think we feed them grass in the middle of winter when it’s not growing?” Well, they drop their jaw like, “Well, I never thought such a thing.”

Larry Stap:
Then, that opens the door to explain to them how we harvest grasses during a summer. We put it in storage in the form of hay and silage. If they don’t know what silage is, I’ll explain to them, but that’s grass fed year around. It maybe not green and fresh, but they get grass year round that way, you see, and it just helps to educate consumer. It gives me great joy in doing that, not just to promote our own farm but to promote agriculture and dairy specifically in general. Never, never run down anybody else’s farm. Every farm does it different. Everybody has their own way of farming, the way they process their milk. That’s fine. The way they ship their milk, whatever, like to dispel a lot of myths about big farms because there’s a lot of misinformation about that.

Larry Stap:
Just tell them, “About 98% of all dairy farms, big or small, are owned by families. Most people have no idea. They just think it’s big corporate. How they care for their cows, every farm does a little bit different. I happen to do it this way, but if my neighbor does it this way and he takes good care of his cows, so be it. So be it.”

Dillon Honcoop:
What does that mean, take good care of your cows? How can you tell if somebody is doing the right thing or not?

Larry Stap:
Well, just stop back and think about the cows. The girls on a farm are producing milk for you, which you have the opportunity to sell, which makes a living for you. Why would you not properly take care of your source of income. Now, that taken care of has all different aspects to it, but to say that farmers just abuse their cows or get by with whatever they can, he’s going to go out of business. He won’t be around. Even if he is, he’s going to get in trouble probably with things like regulators and stuff for other aspects of his farm.

Larry Stap:
If he has an attitude of not wanting to take care of his cows, he’s probably got not a good attitude about wanting to take care of the environment and that kind of stuff. That’s not the general way at all of dairy farmers, big or small. Almost all of them are very responsible. They’re stewards. We’re probably one of the few farms in the world that actually has a mission statement and it drives us, but it’s very reflective of most farms. Our mission statement goes like this, “We are a family-owned and operated dairy that exists to glorify God through the stewardship of the land and the animals that he’s entrusted to our care in the best way possible.”

Larry Stap:
Most farms probably do that, okay? They just don’t have a mission statement, but that’s the way most farms operate. Do they do it perfectly? No. Do I do it perfectly? No, but we try just like anybody else tries to take care of the environment in this world.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’ve been mentioning the environment. How do you approach that realm? There’s a lot of criticism out there that in general, commercial dairy farming, which you do is bad for the environment.

Larry Stap:
It’s all based in ignorance. Once you start educating the consumer about it, most of that badness, lack of a better word, goes away. One of the things I like to talk about too is the soil amendment of choice for crops to grow and I don’t care if it’s grass, if it’s corn, if it’s vegetables, the soil amendment of choice is manure. That is the nutrient of choice, right? You can go to the grocery store and buy bags of steer manure or steer compost or whatever and that is the perfect soil amendment.

Larry Stap:
Soil is a living organism just like a cow and you need to maintain soil health to grow high-quality crops, so that you can feed high-quality feed to your cows, calves, whatever. It’s all a reflection of stewardship again. Like I say, once you explain to whose ever questioning you or challenging you, it starts to make perfect sense. I’ve often said too that there’s a lot of people that are vegan by choice and that’s fine. I says, “Number one, we live in a free country where you have that choice. Be thankful because in a lot of places in the world, they don’t have that choice. Number two, I’m never going to run you down on your choice. I will never speak badly of you, but do not do the same for me.”

Larry Stap:
I’m making this choice here and I go back into, “What is the soil amendment choice of all the produce and products you like to eat that are nonanimal agriculture oriented?” Animal agriculture provides the majority of the nutrients that are needed for optimum soil health. Commercial fertilizers can supplement it very well, but manure has the source of bacteria and organic material that so many commercial fertilizers cannot provide. Now, there’s a lot of farms that are not blessed with access to the nutrients.

Dillon Honcoop:
Which by the way, we are on a working farm, and on a working farm, it’s not just the barn where things keep going. It’s in the house too, right? Technically, this is … When I’d interviewed you on a different issue in the past, this is the corporate office, right?

Larry Stap:
Yeah. It all started one time when United Way called us and asked if they could make a presentation for participation on our farm with United Way. The young lady that I was talking to on the phone, she says, “And what is the address of your corporate office?” and I says, “9728 Double Ditch Road, Kitchen Table.” That to this day has been a fun little thing that I always tell, the kitchen table is our corporate office and that’s where our business takes place. That’s where we do it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right here.

Larry Stap:
Right here.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s the real deal and that’s true for so many family farms.

Larry Stap:
It is. It is very true. You can have an office in the barn or whatever, but the office in the barn usually gets dirty and there’s barn boots in it and there’s dust and there’s dirt and all that kind of stuff, but the real business takes place, well, actually two places, on the hood of the pickup or on the kitchen table.

Dillon Honcoop:
Leaning over the hood of the pickup, getting caught up on the news or making a deal or-

Larry Stap:
Signing papers, whatever.

Dillon Honcoop:
Talk about, you described making this decision, taking this risk to go from more of a traditional system on your farm to independent marketing of your product, direct sales to the consumer with a glass product and all these things that we’ve just discussed. That was a decision you made in large part to keep your family involved in this business, your daughter and son-in-law.

Larry Stap:
That’s correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s especially important to you guys because of the history of this farm and your family though, right? What is this, four generations now, five?

Larry Stap:
Well, I was born and raised on this dairy farm. It was established by my great grandfather in 1910, so I currently am fourth generation. Our daughter and son-in-law represent the fifth generation and they have six children, especially the oldest one, he’s 15 and he eats, sleeps, breathes cows, so we’re well onto generation hopefully number six. He’s got such a passion for cows and pedigrees and all that stuff. I hope we can keep him on the farm or we don’t lose him because some stud farm or something like that, that appreciates people like him, but he’s a fantastic kid, a hard worker, stuff like that.

Dillon Honcoop:
I drove by one of your fields on the way here and it looked like he was out driving tractor.

Larry Stap:
Oh, yeah. They’re loving the fact that there’s no school.

Dillon Honcoop:
What a world that we live in with COVID and everything that’s changed.

Larry Stap:
Apart from the fact that there is no school with this whole thing, they are homeschooled. They have the flexibility too. If they can get their schoolwork done at home on time and they can get on the tractor or they can get out in the barn and stuff like that, there’s some real incentives or even coming over here to grandpa and grandma’s place. They know that they can’t come here until their schoolwork is done, so it’s a good driver in a lot of ways.

Dillon Honcoop:
But then a lot education happens on the farm too.

Larry Stap:
Oh, absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
I know that because I did the same thing.

Larry Stap:
I can ask, “What are you guys studying today or something, you oftentimes can give living examples on the farm or what’s going on and stuff like that. Everything from math to geography, you name it. It can all be shared as you’re working, side by side.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re fourth generation. How did you get started? Go back to when you were a kid. How did you work into it? How did this farm evolve during your time?

Larry Stap:
I worked beside my dad all the time. Never probably really considered it work. You went out, did chores. It was part of your responsibilities growing up. You maybe didn’t like it sometimes, maybe you did. That was just part of my life. When I graduated from high school, which my parents were really thankful I did, because I hated school, I had no passion. I then worked for a John Deere dealership right here in town for about five years and then started farming. Pretty much, I’ve never looked back since. I started in 1979, worked with my father-in-law for a couple of years and we branched out onto our own.

Larry Stap:
There’s been a lot of twists and turns and hiccups in the whole process over the years, but a supportive wife who probably does as much on chores in the farm, then our kids helped us. It just kept going, but I learned a lot from multi-generations in front of me. My grandpa was on a farm when I was a little kid here and you can see his work ethic, and then, you watched my dad’s work ethic. I’ve tried to mimic that in a lot of ways and pass that on to our children and keep it going. That’s the goal. The other thing that has come really home and center is that when it’s time to pass to generation or the farm onto the next generation, you make it financially feasible for that next generation to keep it going.

Larry Stap:
Greed is not part of the philosophy of farming. If greed was part of it, we could have sold our land years ago for many thousands of dollars more and moved on and done different things, but that’s not part of the mental makeup and the heritage that I’ve inherited and I hope to pass on.

Dillon Honcoop:
You talked earlier about a lot of farms are not able to go on. Often, that is because the kids, the next generation, they don’t want to do it, right?

Larry Stap:
That is so true and you can’t blame them. If you don’t love farming and cows, there’s an easier way to make a living. It’s just plain and simple. I don’t believe that a lot of your 8:00-to-5:00 jobs are ever going to give you as much reward as 10 or 12 or 14-hour a day on a farm seven days a week with a dairy especially, but I was so blessed to have a son-in-law who asked to join in a dairy. He was raised on a dairy. His dad quit when he’s 13. He was working an 8:00-to-5:00 job, was within hours of being a licensed electrician, okay? He’s working for an electrician and then he asked if he could join in the farm.

Larry Stap:
I said, “Well, you’re welcome to join, but you have to finish to get your license first, so that’s your backup if you bail.” He has never looked back on that. He spins long days, long hours, just scrape out a living here on the farm. He’s not only putting long hours in, but it’s not inside. It’s oftentimes out in the elements to fight northeasters or blistering hot heat or schedules that can’t be met or dealing with the regulatory world or on and on it goes. There’s just a whole raft of stuff that he could have chose to go away from and he didn’t. For that, we’re so thankful.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why did he choose that?

Larry Stap:
You’ll have to ask him. I cannot speak for him.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, he must have a passion.

Larry Stap:
I think he does. He recognizes the value of raising a family on a farm. This gives them an opportunity to homeschool and have a farm and it reinforces your schooling and stuff and stuff like that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Be together as a family, rather than a part most of the day.

Larry Stap:
Yup.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s why I was homeschooled until I went to fifth grade. With farms struggling to move onto the next generation, though, sometimes it is that the kids want to do it, but it’s not necessarily possible too.

Larry Stap:
Yeah, the generation that wants to pass it on sometimes may not be in the financial position to do that. Farming is not easy. It’s not a life where you’d pay down debt real fast because you usually wind up paying down some debt and then this comes along and you got to borrow money for that or the milk prices tank or economy or whatever. Sometimes, yeah, it just does not work out financially. I think more than the financial part is the fact that the kids watch their dad work and work hard and work hard to put groceries on the table and not have big 401Ks and stocks and bonds and all the rest of stuff. Just work and they says, “I don’t need to do that. It doesn’t interest me. My passion isn’t like my dad or my grandpa,” and so they move on.

Larry Stap:
There’s even some younger families that I know of that, when I say younger they’re in their 50s probably, that have kids that are on the farm with them, but it just doesn’t work out financially to move it on to the next generation. That may sound strange, but until you’re actually in the trenches on a farm and know what it takes for capital and you don’t just buy a tractor and have a tractor the rest of your life. It depreciate out and it wears out. Then, you need to buy another one or your milking equipment wears out or you got to upgrade this and it takes a lot of money, just us.

Dillon Honcoop:
But if a farm is operating, why can’t it just move on to that next generation? If the parents are running it, why aren’t the kids able to keep running that same thing? What happens in between?

Larry Stap:
Well, you think about the parents who put their blood, sweat and tears and that they probably got some equity built up into it. Oftentimes, the equity that is a farm has is their savings. When they decide to quit farming, they don’t have a big savings account. They have an equity account. If that equity account is not big enough to finance the next generation, it just can’t happen and a bank is certainly not going to just step right up and finance the next generation, bank to their credit, lend money, but banks don’t take on a lot of risk either. If mom and dad aren’t going to co-sign, let’s say for the next generation, they maybe can’t do it. Even if they did co-sign, sell it to the next generation, mom and dad need an income to live.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s their retirement.

Larry Stap:
That’s their retirement. All of a sudden, you got a bank payment and payment on mom and dad to borrow the rest of the money. It’s just a financial hit. It’s a challenge.

Dillon Honcoop:
Once they get taxed on that …

Larry Stap:
They get taxes on it.

Dillon Honcoop:
… transaction as well, right?

Larry Stap:
Yup, so it’s not easy. It definitely is not easy.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real, People Podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
When you hear the backstory and what goes on behind the scenes, the financial challenges, it makes it seem not much more daunting to keep family farming going. Sometimes, it feels like the odds are just stacked against it, but at the same time, what they’ve done there at Twin Brook Creamery is an inspiration, that it is possible to think outside the box, do something different. Next week, the conversation continues. That was just part one. We get into more of the real personal challenges and some of the hardest times they’ve faced on Larry’s steps farm including the loss of his son and so much more.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s an incredible conversation. You won’t want to miss it next week. Thank you for being here. Thank you for supporting us. We sure would appreciate it if you share the podcast with a friend. Pass it on in your social media if you can. Share it on Facebook or on Instagram or on Twitter or on those platforms, rfrp_podcast is the handle, so check it out, subscribe as well. It just helps us bring this conversation to a wider and wider audience. Again, we thank you for your support just being here today.

Dillon Honcoop:
I should also thank our sponsors Real Food, Real People Podcast is sponsored in part by Save Family Farming, giving a voice to Washington’s farm families. You can find them online at savefamilyfarming.org and by Dairy Farmers of Washington, supporting Washington dairy farmers, connecting consumers to agriculture and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at wadairy.org.

Camas Uebelacker part 2 | #017 04/06/2020

Growing food takes an emotional toll on farmers, and Eastern Washington cattle feeder Camas Uebelacker has experienced highs and lows as a first-generation farmer. In the second half of our conversation, Camas opens up about the struggles he's faced.

Transcript

Camas Uebelacker:
All those dreams and thoughts that you had are gone and it’s not that somebody stole them from you. You know? It wasn’t like my house got broken into, and I got robbed. It’s nothing like that. It’s just literally gone, and there’s nobody to blame. There’s no fingers to point other than mother nature. She can be fickle.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s got to be stressful, though.

Camas Uebelacker:
It’s a complete pain in the ass, man.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Welcome back to the Real Food Real People podcast. Farming is tough and, of course, there are a lot of the reasons that we often think about, out in the elements, dealing with weather, hard, backbreaking work, but sometimes it’s the emotional toll and the stress, the uncertainty, the impact on families. We get into that more this week as we talk with Camas Uebelacker.

Dillon Honcoop:
This is the second half of our conversation. Last week was the first where we talked more about the nuts and bolts of his operation, what his views on the environmental impacts of feedlots is, and how much he cares about doing the right thing with his operation producing beef for, as he mentioned last week, 65,000 people.

Dillon Honcoop:
This week, he opens up a bit more about the personal stuff. It gets a little bit more into what this means for his family and his future, what he’s going to tell his kids about getting into farming someday when they get to that age, and he also lets us in a little bit on his own kind of internal struggles with doing this sometimes. So, stick around for this half of the conversation.

Dillon Honcoop:
If you want to know more about how Camas’ operation works, listen to last week’s episode. You certainly don’t have to listen to that one first to have this one make sense for the most part. I think there are a couple of things maybe that we referenced in the second half that go back to the first, but for the most part, you can listen to this first if you want to, but if you want to know more about Camas and what he does, the kind of operation he has and how he runs it, you’ve got to listen to last week’s part one episode with him.

Dillon Honcoop:
He’s a cattle feeder, a feedlot owner in Othello, Washington. Great guy that somebody connected me with and I said, “He’s got to be on the podcast,” and I was so happy that we were able to make this conversation happen.

Dillon Honcoop:
My name is Dillon Honcoop, and this podcast is documenting my journey to places all over Washington State to talk with the real people behind our food. A lot of those are farmers, understandably, like Camas, but other people as well, like Niels Brisbane in the world of the culinary arts, and trying to connect farms with eaters, and like Sandi Bammer in Wenatchee selling food from her small local grocery store.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thank you for me on this journey, and I’m sure that you will enjoy this part of my conversation with Camas Uebelacker. Fascinating stuff. Some of the things he says really give a good idea of the mindset of farmers and the things that they face and the reasons why they do some of the things they do. So, buckle up for another great part of the conversation.

Dillon Honcoop:
What has been the hardest thing through all this? What was the hardest time?

Camas Uebelacker:
The hardest time? I would say anytime we’ve decided to make any growth decision, and I don’t want to scare anybody young off that is deciding or thinking about going into ag, but it is probably the toughest nut you’ll ever crack to get your … Everybody says, “Oh, I want to help you. I want to help you,” but when the rubber hits the road, you have to have enough acres, you have to have enough equipment, you have to have enough of that stuff, and you can rent ground, you can rent tractors, and you can rent all those things, but the cost is just, it’s mind blowing.

Camas Uebelacker:
I mean, some crops you’ll have $1,250 an acre. If you’ve got a couple of hundred acres of it, there’s a lot of coin wrapped up. The other hard part is you get that wrapped up in it and you get paid once a year. So, you got to make it last and you got to have a budget. I mean, you really got to nail it down.

Camas Uebelacker:
It’s one of those things that when weather screws you up, and I’ve had it happen. We had an our entire corn crop blow down flat one year when we had a lot of wind come through. It took two years to dig out of that hole. As you know, it was one of the better crops I’ve grown, and then you wake up in the morning and it’s flat. You’re like, “Man! Now, what do I do?” Well, we harvested as best we could. We lost a lot of corn. We lost a lot of money that year.

Dillon Honcoop:
What are you telling yourself in a situation like that?

Camas Uebelacker:
No joke, I mean, some days I was like, “Man, it’d be so much easier to work for somebody else. If I could just get a paycheck right now, that’d be cool.” Typically, I mean, when that had happened, we had some history farm and we had some history with our bank. They understood and you just work through it, but at the time, there’s a lot of head scratching, and then the other hard part is … So, you lost your crop, right? Now, well, it wasn’t lost. It just became extremely difficult to harvest.

Camas Uebelacker:
Well, then you just get your teeth kicked in from getting it all blown down and then you’re going to get a bill because it’s going to cost more to harvest it because it’s laying down flat. So, it’s like the beatings just never stop coming, right?

Camas Uebelacker:
Until it’s done and then you wipe that slate clean, but the beauty of farming is there’s always next year, right? “Well, we’re going to change this. What did I do wrong? Was my fertility wrong? Did I need more phosphate or potash in the soil to help for stock strength?” You start second guessing what it is that you’ve done in the past that worked great, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
Maybe it was just the freak storm.

Camas Uebelacker:
It was, and that’s what it boiled down to because I took tissue samples and we took them in and had them checked, and I was like, “Man, well, it wasn’t something I … Maybe I didn’t screw that up,” but there is a lot of those lessons learned that when you get … That particular year, that was it. That was a tough one. We also had hay cut at that time, and that circle typically on that cutting should have done two and a half ton to the acre dry hay, and I think I got like 29 bales off of it and the rest of it I had a pitch fork out of my neighbor’s front yard. So, it-

Dillon Honcoop:
So, the rest of it just blew away?

Camas Uebelacker:
As gone. Literally, I couldn’t find it. It was gone, loaded all the way. So, I mean, literally, you’re making decisions off of that crop while you’re cutting it, looking at it like, “Man, this is nice. Hey, this is going to go up really good. The weather looks great. I’m going to sell this and we’re going to get some money. Maybe I should buy a new pickup. Maybe I should take my wife out to dinner.”

Camas Uebelacker:
Those are all the things that are going through my head, and then you go out there to bale it, and you’re like, “Where in the hell did it go?” All those dreams and thoughts that you had are gone, and it’s not that somebody stole them from you or it wasn’t like my house got broken into and I got robbed. It’s nothing like that. It’s just literally gone, and there’s nobody to blame, there’s no fingers to point other than much mother nature. She can be fickle.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s got to be stressful, though.

Camas Uebelacker:
It’s a complete pain in the ass, man. I mean, it is. We’ve had blizzards in the feedlot, where cattle walked over fences and walked away, but I tell this to my kids that I’m super proud to be part of an industry that when the weather gets as bad as it gets, we go outside, we don’t go home.

Camas Uebelacker:
You might be going out and checking to make sure your circles are pointed in a direction where the wind won’t blow them over, but you’re out there in it, right? It’s funny because it’ll be evening here and we’ll get a storm or something like that, and then all of a sudden, you start seeing headlights driving around on the county roads and things because all the guys are out checking stuff.

Camas Uebelacker:
So, I’m proud to be part of an industry that when the weather hits and it’s crappy and it’s blowing sideways and it’s snow, we’re out there. It’s cool. I try to tell that to them because it’s not the norm. Most of the time, they’ll close work or, “Hey, school’s closed today. You got a snow day.” Well, guess what, guys? Get your gloves. We’re going.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s extra work today in the snow.

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah, and I’m proud of that. I mean, I’ve got no problem doing that. I’m happy to do it.

Dillon Honcoop:
When it does get stressful, whether it’s a storm or a crop loss or anything like that, what do you do to deal with the stress?

Camas Uebelacker:
I go fishing.

Dillon Honcoop:
Where?

Camas Uebelacker:
On the Columbia, that’s no joke. I got a boat and I go fishing. That’s my golf. I mean, I can sit in that boat and think about things and you can scream and yell cuss words as loud as you want and nobody’s going to hear it, and I come, and I’m happy, but you don’t really get, I wouldn’t say there’s no escape, right? I mean, it hangs over. It’s in the decision. The hard thing that I had to learn was that it’s whatever you do today basically is going to affect you a year out.

Camas Uebelacker:
So, if we have that crop loss, and you’re supposed to be paid for it at a certain time, I mean, it basically takes a year to dig out of it or offset it somehow. Diversity is huge. That’s why I like to farm and I like to have cattle because we’ve got our hands in a little bit of everything. We grow some seed crops. We do some other things. Diversity is a good thing.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you ever expect to be, I mean you, you said from a young age you were interested in cattle and stuff.

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What would your young self say about where you’re at now?

Camas Uebelacker:
Oh, man. I think he’d say he’s proud of me. I think. I don’t know. Either that or … You got a 50/50 chance.

Dillon Honcoop:
I mean, did you ever expect to be doing what you’re doing now?

Camas Uebelacker:
No. So, you’ll get a kick out of this. So, like I said, my father-in-law helped me buy our original home place. That was a gentlemen’s agreement hee and I had. My wife wasn’t even really privy to that when we did it, but he kept asking me like, “Where’s your business plan? How are you going to model this? How are you going to make this work?” I had never really ever gave him one.

Camas Uebelacker:
I think now when he comes and visits, to be honest with you, I think he went into it thinking, “All right. I’ll help this kid out. He can work a job in town and do it part time and this and that,” but we’ve turned it into something that it’s a full-time job not only for me, but we have three full-time employees also. I think it probably blows his mind more than it does mine. So, I mean, I didn’t-

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you had more faith in yourself.

Camas Uebelacker:
I did. I knew that if we got a shot, I could take care of cattle. That’s what we’re good at, and that’s, like I said, that’s because we care for them so well that’s why we exist. I mean, we have an extremely low death loss, a really good conversion, a high average daily gain. We have everything that a customer wants, and we have the great facility to do it. It’s clean, it’s tidy. When they drive in, we have an open door policy. There’s no secrets. If they got a question, come find me and we’ll answer it.

Camas Uebelacker:
I have that with my bank, too. They’re welcome anytime. I think that’s the other beauty of our industry is there’s, literally, I mean, there’s no hiding anything. I mean, it’s all out in the open, right? I mean, I can’t tell them like, “Man, look how good my corn crop is.” How are you going to hide 200 acres of corn, right?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Camas Uebelacker:
So, they can drive by and be like, “Man, I can see you can grow corn,” or “That looks like crap.”

Dillon Honcoop:
“What did he do?”

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah. So, it’s an open door policy, right? “Come on, drive by, take a look. We’ll tell you what happened or we’ll go take a look at it,” but especially on the feedlot side of it, when they drive through, I’m never nervous. We’ve got nothing to hide. I encourage them to come. They come once a week and it’s a cool deal. We drive through, we eat lunch and go on about our day.

Camas Uebelacker:
The younger me, I don’t know. Maybe the younger me should have said, “You should’ve started this younger.” I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’m proud of what I do every day.

Dillon Honcoop:
What if you would’ve never gotten that break with the wheat?

Camas Uebelacker:
With the wheat or even the opportunity to buy the place? I couldn’t tell you. At hindsight, I have no idea what I’d be doing. I don’t know. I don’t know what I’ll be doing in 10 years. I don’t know what it’ll grow into.

Camas Uebelacker:
The other thing that I think a lot of younger guys need to remember or need to get the mentality because all my neighbors, they’re all really good farmers. They’ve got modern equipment. Everyone’s … In this day and age, if you’re still farming, you’re a good farmer.

Dillon Honcoop:
You have to be to survive.

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah. I think of the guys that were struggling and for whatever reason, crop loss knocked them out or age or any of those things., I mean, if they’re still going in this day and age, they’re doing a damn fine job, and that’s the bottom line because we have all the regulation in the world on us. Everybody we’re trying to feed thinks we’re trying to kill them, and it’s some of the most suppressed prices we’ve ever had with the highest costs on everything else we’ve ever had.

Camas Uebelacker:
So, somebody’s doing something right, right? I think the younger me knowing what I know now would have said buy more land 10 years ago if it was at all possible, but it wasn’t. So, I think that’s what I would have said.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think of the impossible burger beyond meat?

Camas Uebelacker:
So, I could get on my soapbox on this, and this could go a couple of different ways, but the beauty of America is you get a choice, right? So, if you want to eat that, eat it, but don’t knock me for not eating it, and I’m not going to knock you for eating it.

Camas Uebelacker:
I I think that that is good marketing. I think if the person that wants to eat that should really look at what’s actually in it. I don’t think it’s as great as for the environment as what is in beef or how beef is raised. I’m not going to throw stats out there and stuff, but the the US cow herd and the US cattle feeding industry feeds more people today with less cattle because we’re so efficient at it and good at it.

Camas Uebelacker:
I don’t see how making something out of 900 or I don’t even know. I’m not going to say numbers, but I don’t know how many products are in an impossible burger, but it’s a lot. Beef is beef. So, you want to eat it, eat it. I won’t. No way.

Dillon Honcoop:
What would you say to folks say across the cascades in Seattle who are a little skeptical about where their beef comes from or where their food in general comes from? What’s your message to those people?

Camas Uebelacker:
I think if I had something to tell them, I would say that be proud of where you live in Washington. The packing houses that we do have here are the highest quality grade and some of the highest yielding plants in the United States. So, your Washington farmers and cattle feeders are on the nationwide level are higher than most. So, if they’re my neighbors across the hill, you should be proud, proud to live here.

Dillon Honcoop:
Can they trust you to provide them safe food?

Camas Uebelacker:
Oh, yeah, all day long, all day long. There’s a lot of checks in place that, I mean, it’s mind-boggling when you tour a processing facility where they harvest cattle, the lengths that they go to to make sure that that product is safe for somebody to eat, the recall state, the stuff that they have. If there isn’t a need for a recall, the things that are in place for that, it’s amazing. I mean, it’s a very safe, very clean, very well-managed, very well-handled industry.

Camas Uebelacker:
I’ve got a guy that we actually feed cattle for always says this. He says, “Everybody wants their food produced like it was by their grandpa.” The truth of the matter is you don’t want your food produced like it is today. You want it going to be produced like it’s going to be tomorrow.

Camas Uebelacker:
I mean, this stuff that we do now is so cutting edge in comparison to even when I first started and the evolution of even processing facilities, the feeding industry, I mean, it’s amazing.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you’re saying you don’t want the stuff the way that your grandpa produced it?

Camas Uebelacker:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why not? What’s wrong with that?

Camas Uebelacker:
Well, I mean, for one, we’ve got refrigeration. We can freeze stuff. We can do all. I mean, we’ve got all this modern technology at our fingertips that we can trace stuff, we can track stuff, we can test things. We have all of these insurances in place to make sure that when I sell my animal to a consumer or through the packing process and it ends up on a consumer’s plate, I would be happy if they had to look at my face on the package when they opened it. I’d be proud to put my name on it. I mean, I believe in it that well. It’s a safe quality, well-produced, well-managed product.

Dillon Honcoop:
Isn’t the idea, though, that, “Oh, back in grandpa’s day or even dad, previous generation, a generation ago, the operations were smaller and it was maybe more hands on with the farmer. It was maybe more environmentally friendly because of that.” You’re saying that’s not true?

Camas Uebelacker:
I would say that the way we monitor and how we utilize the things that we have at our fingertips today are better. Like I said, my small facility feed 65,000 people. My grandpa sure as hell didn’t do that and he had the same amount of land. So, with what we produce in a narrow window of time, I mean, the US farmers, US ranchers, US cattle feeders, we produce a surplus.

Camas Uebelacker:
I mean, we rely on an export market. We’re good at making food, really good at it to the point that we can feed everybody here and still have them complain about it, but we can still sell it over overseas and we can feed other countries. It’s phenomenal. So, no.

Camas Uebelacker:
If we go back to that, I would rather those people that are saying that they should have to pick out who starves to death, not me. I don’t want to. I’m going to keep making it, but that’s not the road that you can go down to feed the masses of people that we have. You can’t. That’s not the answer.

Dillon Honcoop:
Talk about your family. You talked about your wife and she’s very supportive of what you do. You have kids, too, now?

Camas Uebelacker:
Yep. My wife’s awesome. She works in town full-time at an agriculture bank. She’s been there ever since we started this. So, she’s been there about 12 years. Got three kids. My daughter, she’ll be nine in November. My son just turned six, and I got another daughter that just turned two here in July. So, yeah. I got three of them running around.

Dillon Honcoop:
I bet that can be a zoo.

Camas Uebelacker:
It is. It is.

Dillon Honcoop:
I know it is around my house, anyway. I’ve got little munchkins, too.

Camas Uebelacker:
They’re all into different stuff. My daughter likes soccer and she’s about a year and a half away from being a black belt karate. My son just wants to play basketball and ride four wheelers. My youngest, she just likes to color. So, I mean, just color and pet the dogs. That’s it. So, they’re all very unique. It’s pretty cool. I mean, we’ve got a little orchard here back at the house, and they’ve got chickens and rabbits and goats and horses and cats, and we’ve got a little greenhouse.

Camas Uebelacker:
So, they got chores every morning that they got to do before they go to school. They got them every night when they come home. Something as simple as feeding three cats can take an hour because you get sidetracked by … I mean, the cool part, I love where I’m raising him. We can throw them outside and there’s nothing that’s going to hurt, I mean, they’re safe, and they can go be kids.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you see any of them becoming farmers or ranchers following in your footsteps?

Camas Uebelacker:
My daughter shows some interest in the health side of animals. She’s not a big fan when we ship them, but she likes the health side of it. So, I don’t know if she’d ever become a veterinarian or not, but I think if she was going to lean towards something in agriculture, it would be more on the animal health side of things.

Camas Uebelacker:
My son, it’s equipment. He likes tractors, he likes loaders, he likes bulldozers and he likes the circle irrigation. He’s wired to know why that stuff works, but he tells me all the time he wants to be a farmer. My youngest daughter, I think, she’s only two. So, she’s still learning how to talk.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. See where she goes when she gets into, really, with all of them. When it comes time, and let’s say your son keeps doing this farmer thing, wants to keep doing this farmer thing, what are you going to tell him?

Camas Uebelacker:
So, it’s funny you say that. I’ve sat down with my wife before and we’ve had that conversation like you were saying in those low times. I think to myself, “There’s no way in hell I would wish this upon my kids.” It’s so much easier to go get a job, work for somebody else, find a different trade, but then there’s the great days where you get all your jobs done and it’s noon and, you got all this land to enjoy. So, it wouldn’t be a decision to make lightly that come home and farm because you’re going to make all this money and life’s going to be great. That isn’t the case, but you’ll make a living and it’s an interesting part of the US economy where less than 2% of us in ag feed 98% of the US or the world. I mean, it’s pretty cool.

Camas Uebelacker:
So, when we get together like our cattle feeders association, the joke is we can fit everybody in the super cab pickup because there were many of us, right? It’s a small industry in the Northwest but it’s very significant. I mean, we feed it. There’s a lot of cattle on feed in Washington, but I would have no shame and encouraging my son or my daughter, I mean, any of them, any kid to get involved in ag. I think there’s a great future in it. I think people are going to keep having babies and there’s going to be more of this that we have to feed.

Camas Uebelacker:
So, I think I would encourage him. I do think that in the future, smaller acreage farms are going to be more viable. I think it will be easier, I shouldn’t say easier, but I think it’ll be more financially stable.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why do you say that? A lot of people are saying the opposite of that, that things are just going to keep getting bigger.

Camas Uebelacker:
No, I disagree, and the reason I do is because there’s just going to be more people and if you can produce a certain amount of food off of one or two acres and make a little bit of live and doing it, I mean, by all means, go do it, right? So, I mean you’ve got other states that are in droughts that are huge producers of vegetable crops that people eat. The beauty of Eastern Washington is we’ve got water and there is a great future in this area for my kids to come back and do, and I think that the opportunity to be there on a smaller scale also.

Camas Uebelacker:
I think big farms are going to be big. That’s just how it is, but behind all of those big farms, I mean, all the farms that are around me are big farms, and I know those people that own those and run those, they’re my neighbors, right? It’s still a family farm, but they might farm 6,000 acres or 11,000 acres or 20,000 acres, but it’s still a husband and a wife and kids that are keeping that ball rolling.

Camas Uebelacker:
It’s cool because we’ve been here long enough now that I’m seeing some of those kids are coming back and they’re good kids and they’re working hard and the employees enjoy them. They have a little maybe a different outlook than their dad did, “Dad, you can’t work them on Sundays like this. Let’s give them a half day or get them on a schedule.”

Camas Uebelacker:
Ag has evolved a lot in that manner as well. They’re not bad jobs. They’re great jobs. They pay really well. Matter of fact, when the minimum wage increases in our state have happened, it didn’t affect anybody out here because nobody makes minimum wage. If you are a skilled worker that has a talent or even a drive, no one’s going to start at minimum wage. It just doesn’t exist.

Camas Uebelacker:
So, I would encourage this younger generation coming up. I mean, buckle up, it’s going to be a ride, but I think there’s definitely a future in it, for sure. People got to eat.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s hard to have more leverage than that issue.

Camas Uebelacker:
Right? Yeah. I mean, it’s tough. Like I said, it’s hard to hear people complain with a full belly. It’s hard to even fathom that, that they can sit there after they ate lunch and say that we’re bad for the environment and all of these. It’s frustrating. This is the easiest way to say that.

Camas Uebelacker:
I read this stuff on Facebook and it just drives me nuts. I mean, maybe I need to try harder on that social media deal, but I just wish they’d call me and be like, “Hey, man. Is this true?”

Camas Uebelacker:
I’m like, “No. Hell no. That’s not true. Where do you hear that or where did you read that or who even is dumb enough to write that?” I encourage everybody. Ask a farmer, ask a cattle feeder, ask a rancher, but just ask them. We do this every day.

Dillon Honcoop:
What if somebody does ask you and you tell them, and tell them the facts as you know them and that still doesn’t change their mind? What do you say to them then?

Camas Uebelacker:
I did my part. I tried. Beyond that, there’s really nothing more that you can do. I’m not going to get on a soapbox because I produce beef and tell everybody that’s a vegan. That’s a terrible idea. I’m not that guy. That’s your choice, man, but don’t beat me over my choice. I’m not going to beat you over yours. Just don’t do it to me. I think that there’s a certain, a very small percentage of organizations make the loudest noise, right?

Camas Uebelacker:
Those are the ones that there’s no way in the world that I as a cattle feeder in my remote area where we’re at will ever change their mind. If I even did engage with them, all it did would probably just stoke the fire. I’m not that guy. I mean, we’re just going to do what we do, but if somebody is on the fence and has some questions like that, I would encourage him to look up some of these associations.

Camas Uebelacker:
Washington Cattle Feeders Associations got a website. Washington Beef Commissions got a website. I mean, all these. The information is out there. Just look in the right place, please. That’s what I would encourage.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, thank you for opening up, talking about your family and your history and your farm and everything. It’s really been a great conversation and really interesting. I appreciate it.

Camas Uebelacker:
No problem, man. Happy to do it.

Announcer:
This is Real Food Real People Podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, does a conversation like that make you want to get into farming? I know. If you’re like me at all, it leaves you conflicted because part of it sounds so incredible to be growing food that people eat. I don’t know. Maybe is that just because I grew up on a farm? It’s in my blood. I know that for sure, but then part of a conversation like I had with Camas makes it sound pretty scary and like, “Why would I ever want to sign up for that? That’s something that would take over my life and could potentially lead to really hard times and a huge amount of hours and a lot of physical pain and the threat of bankruptcy.” Why?

Dillon Honcoop:
Like he said, at some points he just feels like, “I should just work a regular job, clock in, clock out, and this whole farming thing is not worth it,” but then he has his good days where he’s like, “Wow. I wouldn’t want my life to be any different.”

Dillon Honcoop:
I’d love to hear your reaction to a conversation like this or any of the conversations that we have. Share your comments on our social media posts with this or other episodes or shoot me an email. Dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org is my email. My first name Dillon is spelled D-I-L-L-O-N, not the Bob Dylan way, the Matt Dillon way, if that makes sense. Not that I necessarily identify with either of those people, but people always ask. So, dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org. We’ve got some really cool conversations coming up in soon weeks here, too, and more and more about how COVID-19 is impacting the farming world and the people in the farming world, both on a personal level and then on a business level and even beyond business like on a bigger economy level.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s going to happen here is pretty unclear at this point and there are a lot of people who are worried. In some ways, just to give an advanced heads up of some of the things I’m hearing from the people who we’re hopefully going to be having on the podcast here in coming weeks, there may be some really cool opportunities right now for local food and farmers because of what’s happening with this virus, and the way it’s changing markets, and the way it’s causing people to think differently about their food and where they live and if they’re secure, but especially with what’s happening to the bigger national and global markets.

Dillon Honcoop:
There are some very scary times ahead for farming as well. I’m also very worried about a lot of local farmers. So, it’s a mixed bag. We’re going to be hearing more about it certainly every week as we go because it’s on everybody’s mind right now. So, expect that in the next few weeks coming up as well.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thank you again for joining me on this journey of mine to really get to know these farmers of all different stripes, as well as other people in the food chain, the food system, whatever you want to call it, other people behind our food here in Washington state. That’s what the Real Food Real People Podcast here is all about.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m Dillon Honcoop. It’s a privilege to have you join me for these conversations. Listen in, download, subscribe on whatever you’re subscribed on if you haven’t already. I sure would appreciate it. I sure would appreciate a share on social media, too. If anything that we talk about on the podcast, one of our guests says, whatever, if it strikes a chord with you, I’d really love it if you shared it on your social media platform. It just helps us grow this conversation to more and more people. That’s part of our mission is to get more and more people reconnected to their food and where and who it comes from.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, the more people that we can get plugged in on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, the better job we can do to change the landscape of at least people’s awareness about food and farming here in Washington State. So, I’d really appreciate that and don’t miss next week as we continue here on the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, and I should also thank our sponsors. Real Food Real People Podcast is sponsored in part by Save Family Farming, giving a voice to Washington’s farm families. You can find them online at savefamilyfarming.org, and by Dairy Farmers of Washington, supporting Washington dairy farmers connecting consumers to agriculture, and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at wadairy.org.

Camas Uebelacker part 1 | #016 03/30/2020

He didn't grow up on a farm, but he started a feedlot in Eastern Washington. Camas Uebelacker has a passion for his job and doing the right thing, and he answers some hard questions about how feedlots really work. In the process he breaks some negative stereotypes about how beef is produced here in Washington.

Transcript

Camas Uebelacker:
There’s nothing more noble than feeding somebody. If I met some guy on the side of the road, he’s hungry or whatever, and I brought him home and fed him, I did him a bigger solid than giving him five bucks. That’s going to last a little longer than five. For me to be able to say that I feed 65,000 people… and it’s something that it’s so important to us that every employee that we have knows it.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food, Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Feedlots, it’s a dirty word right now, at least in some people’s minds as far as the way to produce beef, but what is the truth on feedlots? Are they bad for animals? Are they bad for the environment? I wanted to talk with someone who actually ran a feedlot here in Washington to find out what they’re all about, and what they do, and to ask some hard questions.

Dillon Honcoop:
I connected with Camas Uebelacker with C&G Cattle Company over in Othello, and we had an incredible conversation. His answers to some of my hard questions were not at all what I expected and we ended up talking about climate change, and the environment, and taking care of animals, and all of these things that you would not expect with the stereotype that feedlots have.

Dillon Honcoop:
So I encourage you to listen to this conversation with an open mind. I know he changed my perspective on quite a few things. Again, his name is Camas Uebelacker. He’s our guest this week and next. I had to split this in two parts. We had such a good conversation, it just kept going and there was a lot to share.

Dillon Honcoop:
So this is the first part of our conversation about how beef is produced here in Washington and in a lot of parts of the United States. But as you’ll hear him say, he thinks we have something special with how we do it here in Washington, and you’ll find out that he cares deeply about these issues that people are worried about with feedlots.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thanks for joining us this week. Please subscribe on Apple Podcasts and Spotify and all those other players. Don’t forget to follow us on social media. I’m Dillon Honcoop, again your host here on Real Food, Real People. Grew up on a farm in Western Washington and now I’m journeying all over the State to places like Camas’ operation to get to know what really drives the people who are producing our food here in Washington and how they’re really taking care of the things that we hold so dear; the environment, how they’re taking care of people, how they’re taking care of animals.

Dillon Honcoop:
So sit back, enjoy this first part of our conversation. Really cool stuff here from Camas.

Dillon Honcoop:
You come from a family of farmers or what’s your-

Camas Uebelacker:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
… background in this?

Camas Uebelacker:
I don’t. I’m first generation so I started our operation. My wife and I bought it in 2007 and my father-in-law helped us buy it and that’s how we got the ball rolling on what it is we’re doing now.

Dillon Honcoop:
How old were you when you started this?

Camas Uebelacker:
I was 27.

Dillon Honcoop:
What is a 27 year old guy who hasn’t been in farming do to so start?

Camas Uebelacker:
I had an interest in it and I went to college and had an Ag background in it. Then when I got out of school, I worked for a ranch for a while, always mainly in livestock. And then did that, worked for a feedlot, went back to college, got a better degree, worked for a bigger feedlot, and then this place came up for sale and I went for it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Where did you go to college? Same place both times?

Camas Uebelacker:
No, I went to Walla Walla Community College and Montana State is where I graduated from.

Dillon Honcoop:
When you went to college the first time, what was your plan?

Camas Uebelacker:
To be completely honest, I really didn’t have one. I knew I wanted to get a degree. I come from the age of kids where they just pound that everyone has to go into college.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah?

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Same here.

Camas Uebelacker:
Trades are super important, even more so now than they were when I went to school, but that was the time, that’s what you did when you got out of high school, so I did it. I had a great job in high school. I was working as a diesel mechanic and had all the options to just continue to work and go to school for that, but I didn’t want to lay on my back on a concrete floor until I was 60.

Dillon Honcoop:
Plus, I think they all told us at that time, “Well, if you really going to get a good job then you got to go to college.”

Camas Uebelacker:
I would never discourage anybody from going, but that is not necessarily the case these days. The trades are super important and pay in a lot of circumstances better than any education that you would get.

Dillon Honcoop:
I don’t know about your experience, but I know I have plenty of high school class mates of mine that didn’t go to college and got into the trades and right away they were making more money than me and they’re still making more-

Camas Uebelacker:
And they don’t have student loans and everything [crosstalk 00:05:11] else. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
And they had the comfort in some ways of knowing what they were doing right away rather than, “I’m not sure what I’m going to read.”

Camas Uebelacker:
Or you got to go find a job and work my way up and you can pretty well start and within a few years be going.

Dillon Honcoop:
Where’d you grow up?

Camas Uebelacker:
Outside of Yakima, Wiley City.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay. But not a farm family. What’d your dad do?

Camas Uebelacker:
My dad was a college professor at Central and my mom, she was mainly in the education field.

Dillon Honcoop:
So both sort of teachers.

Camas Uebelacker:
Yep.

Dillon Honcoop:
And did they want you to become a teacher too?

Camas Uebelacker:
No. It wasn’t anything like that. My folks were divorced and I had a stepdad that was real into cattle and that’s how I got the interest and I just liked it. It was like every day it felt like a Saturday. And it still does, so I just.

Dillon Honcoop:
At what age were you starting to think about even just like being on a ranch? When did you first get the chance to go out and do that?

Camas Uebelacker:
In all reality, I was probably 15, 16, somewhere right in there and just really into it. I like cattle and I like the work and it was interesting.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you lived in town but got to go out to a farm?

Camas Uebelacker:
No. We always lived out. It wasn’t like I was just straight out of town, but no, we had some acreage and we always had horses and cattle and things like that growing up, but never on a scale of what we do now.

Dillon Honcoop:
So there you were, young kid, which… I grew up on a berry farm and both my parents had grown up on dairy farms, so I’ve been around animals a bit too, but I always thought the ranch and cattle thing was cool.

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
When you’re young, it sounds cool. Right?

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Was it what you thought it was when you were a kid? What did you find out from there until-

Camas Uebelacker:
I’ve pretty well done every gamut where you’d take three horses and ride out, and camp for a week, and check cattle. That’s really cool for the first week and then it’s, “Man, it’d be nice to be home and get a shower.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Like a real cowboy deal. You’ve done that.

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah. And it was fun and it was definitely one of those things when you’re 20, if you’re into it, I would encourage anybody, just go for it, man. But the reality is those jobs are there, they’re still there. The West is still alive and doing cool stuff like that, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
So you did that here in Washington?

Camas Uebelacker:
No, that was in the Dakotas.

Dillon Honcoop:
In the Dakotas.

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah. Went back there for a couple of years and that was before all the oil field stuff, when minimum wage was still 475 and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah, it was pretty fun.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that where you were doing the cowboy thing?

Camas Uebelacker:
No, I think it was probably less than that because I was on salary, but you can’t win them all. But no, it was cool. It was a great experience. That stuff’s neat and it evolved. Matter of fact, when I got done with that job, I moved home and I was going to take a couple of weeks off, and I have an uncle that has a feedlot out here and he asked if I could come help for high moisture corn harvest, supposed to last two weeks and I ended up working for him for two years.

Camas Uebelacker:
That’s how I really got the interest in the feedlot. I was just blown away by what you can do with an animal in a fairly short period of time. But the day I started working there, that’s the best I was ever going to be, so that’s why I went back to school to think if maybe I could get a job at a bigger yard, managing it or something like that, and I did that.

Camas Uebelacker:
I ended up working for a bigger feedlot for a couple of years. I really enjoyed it, but then when the opportunity came up for me to do my own, I jumped. I went for it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Was that scary?

Camas Uebelacker:
Super, man. I’ve never signed on a line and had my name look so shaky. That’s a lot of money and as young, no one really gave me, I guess credibility. I had a good name in the industry and that’s part of the reason that we’re where we’re at now is because somebody gave me a shot. And we’ve had that same customer almost since day one. As they’ve grown, we’ve grown with them to what it is now.

Dillon Honcoop:
What were you thinking at that time? You decided like, I’m going to do this.

Camas Uebelacker:
The crazy thing is, if you got enough guts, anybody could… You could build a feedlot and put a sign up front says, “I’m a feedlot.” Doesn’t mean anybody’s going to send any cattle. And we’re accustomed feedlot so we don’t necessarily own the cattle. We might own a percentage or something like that, but to be in the custom business, it’s a pretty big leap of faith.

Camas Uebelacker:
It’d be one thing if I owned all my own cows and I put them into my own feedlot and had all that going, but I don’t have that, so we’re strictly custom. So your name means a lot, it’s still like that. Everything that we did was, like I said, in 2007 and it was done on a handshake.

Dillon Honcoop:
What is that? To buy the land? To buy the machinery?

Camas Uebelacker:
No, that was to start taking in custom cattle for the customer that we had. Like I said, you can have a feedlot, but it doesn’t mean anybody’s going to send you anything. And so-

Dillon Honcoop:
So did you have the land then or?

Camas Uebelacker:
No. I had bought it and I wasn’t really sure how this was all going to work out. I still had a great relationship with the feedlot that I was working for and thinking, well, maybe I’ll knock on that door. But the place that I bought was so dilapidated and run down that there wasn’t a panel that would hold an animal, so I had a bunch of work to do.

Camas Uebelacker:
So I worked full time at the feedlot I was working at and then in the afternoons I’d get off work and I’d come work on mine. And I did that for about a year and it just got to be too much. We harvested our first wheat crop that year and that was… I think I sold soft white wheat for like almost 10 bucks a bushel.

Camas Uebelacker:
That was in 2008, I believe and that gave us a boost to be able to go buy some more boards and posts and fix some more stuff. And then we fired it up and it’s been running ever since.

Dillon Honcoop:
I don’t know prices for wheat. Is that a good price?

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah it’s crazy. Yeah. I think that was the highest, I think it’s ever been since I’ve farmed.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s it at now, and you know?

Camas Uebelacker:
I think it’s just right at five bucks or under 5 bucks.

Dillon Honcoop:
Half of what your-

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah. In all honesty, farming cattle, I wouldn’t say that it takes a lot of luck, but a guy needs a good break every once in a while for it to keep running. And that particular year was our first year and we got that boost. I’m not going to say it set the stage for the entire process, but it was damn sure a good boost that a guy needed.

Dillon Honcoop:
I want to talk more eventually about your family and stuff? Did you have family at that time or was it just you starting this?

Camas Uebelacker:
I was in engaged.

Dillon Honcoop:
You were engaged.

Camas Uebelacker:
My wife and I weren’t even married yet and we were crazy enough to buy it together, and I don’t… Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was she saying at that time? Was she sure she’s [crosstalk 00:11:43]-

Camas Uebelacker:
She’s awesome. I married absolute big, it’s not even funny. But no, she was very encouraging. She knew I could do the work, she knew that it was a good opportunity. The cool part about it is she’s in the banking industry and I won’t say names, but I can’t bank where she works because it’s a conflict of interest.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right.

Camas Uebelacker:
But I was really good at the work and she was really good at helping me make the right business decisions.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right.

Camas Uebelacker:
I really wish I wouldn’t have got an animal science degree, I wish I would’ve got a banking or economics or some sort of business degree as opposed… Because the stuff that we do everyday out in the feedlot is stuff that you will learn on the job, or a veterinarian, or a nutritionist, or somebody can help you with, but running your own business, you really need to be intimate with it and know that if I buy this piece of equipment, it’s going to put me back a year, or two, or five, or how am I going to pay for this?

Dillon Honcoop:
And is that worth it?

Camas Uebelacker:
Is it the right decision to make-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Camas Uebelacker:
… because potentially you might be the best cattle feeder on the earth, but if you don’t make the right business decisions you know it’s going to sink you.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you made the right decision with that soft white wheat?

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah. That went really well. That was a good move. And I contracted at all at the peak of the market and sold it and it was awesome. I was like, “Man, I don’t know why everybody doesn’t do this. This is easy.” I did start at the right time. Ag was going to be good and it has been good after that point for another six years or so, and then it peaked out and has been on a a steady decline.

Camas Uebelacker:
But it gets you for those first like six, seven years where you’re paying off a lot of equipment, a lot of land debt, a lot of just debt period, and I feel pretty fortunate that we started when we did because to do it on a day like today where the markets are down and it’s a lot tougher.

Camas Uebelacker:
Land’s worth more now, rents are higher. It’d be pretty tough.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you’re saying it’s still pretty darn scary to jump in both feet?

Camas Uebelacker:
Oh yeah. Looking back at it now, I can’t believe I did it. And I don’t know how I made it work, but we did.

Dillon Honcoop:
It sounds like your first year was a lot of hours for sure.

Camas Uebelacker:
Oh man. [crosstalk 00:13:59] It was crazy. And like I said, I got a good wife. She was cool with it and-

Dillon Honcoop:
How many hours a day were you putting in when you were working basically another full job?

Camas Uebelacker:
I used to have to co-feed at that other feedlot and so I would be there… We had to be there at 4:30, and then I’d get off about 3:30 or 4:00, and then I’d come to my yard and work on it until probably 8:00 at night and go home.

Dillon Honcoop:
I do the math on that. That’s a couple of hours right there.

Camas Uebelacker:
It was tough, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
And that was every day?

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah. At that yard we worked a six and two schedule, so six days on, two days off. And then obviously if it’s just me, there’s no days off here.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right.

Camas Uebelacker:
I did that for about a year and a half. Matter of fact, I think it was three years before I ever even hired an employee to help me. I needed a break. It was pretty tough, but like I said, my wife was on board and we went for it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Explain what it is you actually do. You’ve been talking, you have C&G Cattle Company-

Camas Uebelacker:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
… you run a feedlot to a lot of people. That’s a dirty word-

Camas Uebelacker:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
… but what does it really mean?

Camas Uebelacker:
My operation is what in the industry, what we call it, backgrounding yard or… Basically what we do is we bring in light cattle that would have just been weaned off a cow, and we bring them in at 550, 600 pounds, and then we’ll take those to 900 pounds. And then after that, those will go to a finish feedlot where they put a finish on the animal.

Camas Uebelacker:
And then those cattle are typically harvested at this time, 1,450 pounds. So they’ll take them for quite a while longer after I have them. But what we do is we get the health straight on them and we have a really good solid vaccine program that we use on them, a good feed program. And we basically get them healthy, get them eating, getting them straightened out.

Camas Uebelacker:
And then when the finish feedlot takes them, it’s pretty push button for them. It’s really easy.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you mean straightened out? What does that involve?

Camas Uebelacker:
My specialty and I guess why I exist in the world is we’re pretty good at high risk cattle, meaning that those that are cattle that came from a ranch, that they take them to a sale yard. Our buyers put them together into usually truck load sizes and we buy from Canada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, California and they’ll be brought in into my place.

Camas Uebelacker:
And so from there, we don’t really necessarily know any vaccine history on them. We don’t know if they’ve ever even had a vaccine. We know where they came from because most of them are branded, but beyond that, we know very little.

Dillon Honcoop:
High risk, what’s the risk? The risk is to you?

Camas Uebelacker:
No, the risk is to a customer. We try to mitigate that risk as much as we can with the protocols and programs that we’ve put in place over the years. It’s crazy how much it changes. I wouldn’t say so much year to year, but from when I first started doing this to now, we’ve fed enough cattle that we have a pretty solid program put together.

Camas Uebelacker:
It’s it’s definitely, I would say less… I shouldn’t say less on the technical side, but it’s it’s a little bit more… It’s a slower process. We’d go real easy with them, a lot of high roughage diets. We’re not trying to push them, we’re not shooting for a really high average daily gain.

Camas Uebelacker:
Basically we want to get them eating, make sure they’re healthy, lots of access to fresh water. We have a really intense and very technical mineral package that we put together because a lot of cattle that come from different areas of Washington, or Oregon, or Idaho, certain areas of those States the grass is deficient in minerals and it can affect their immune system.

Camas Uebelacker:
So over the years, that’s one thing that we’ve really developed. It’s all key laded vitamins and minerals. It’s readily available. It’s in every load of feed that we produce and we’ll get those cattle caught back up on nutrition-wise what they need and then they stay healthy and put on pounds.

Dillon Honcoop:
Again, these are cattle that have been out on the range somewhere?

Camas Uebelacker:
Yup. Yeah. These would be calves that would come off of a cow that were grazing. It could be in the high desert of Oregon, it could be in the Plains of BC, or it could have been… We don’t get a lot of coast cattle, but if we buy out of central Oregon, sometimes we’ll get coast cattle off of like Coos Bay, those areas.

Dillon Honcoop:
And so when you talk about high risk and risk to the customer, the customer would be whatever operation is going to buy them to finish them and harvest them?

Camas Uebelacker:
No. The risk would be basically the day they buy them from the sale yard. So they’re going to own them all the way through. You’re going to feed them and take care of them for them.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay.

Camas Uebelacker:
And under that feeding care is our program that we basically get them straightened out, and healthy, and looking like good cattle.

Dillon Honcoop:
Back to what I said, some people feel like feedlot’s dirty word. What’s your response to that?

Camas Uebelacker:
I love what I do. We don’t have the prettiest aspect of the livestock world. A ranch has green grass, rolling hills, pine trees and everything else. We’ve gotten metal corrals and concrete feed bunks. So it’s not the prettiest thing, but the thing that blows my mind every year is at the end of the year when I get done and I sit down and I look at how many cattle we put through there, the pounds of beef that we put on animals and all of that, it’s typically if you use the average of what a consumer eats every year, my facility feeds about 65,000 people a year.

Dillon Honcoop:
65,000 people worth of beef.

Camas Uebelacker:
Yep. That’s my response. I don’t really know how else to say that. In my opinion, there’s no nothing more noble than feeding somebody. If I met some guy on the side of the road, he’s hungry or whatever and I brought him home and fed him, I did him a bigger sell than giving him five bucks. That’s going to last a little longer than five.

Camas Uebelacker:
For me to be able to say that I feed 65,000 people and it’s something that it’s so important to us that every employee that we have knows it because… And the cool part about a feedlot is we literally use the most modern technology that anybody has in the Ag industry. But we also still use the old school stuff where somebody sat on a horse. And there’s very few industries that you can say that.

Camas Uebelacker:
Row crop farming, it’s you’re climbing a tractor and you’ve got the most modern tillage equipment and all that, and I farm and we have that. But when it gets down to the feedlot, it’s a different mentality. It is long hours, it’s dirty, dusty, stinky work, but food is a dirty, dusty, stinky job and I’m happy to be part of it.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you do think about it in terms of the food that you produce for people? Your team with the things that you’re doing on a day to day basis, that’s in the back of your mind?

Camas Uebelacker:
Absolutely. And it’s also one of those industries when people say, “Every job here’s important.” And I agree with that in most industries, but I would say at my feedlot, that rings more true than anywhere because we wash the water tanks regularly and that’s typically when you hire a guy, that’s where he starts.

Camas Uebelacker:
If he wants to move up through the chain of command and eventually be a pen rider, or a feed truck driver, or some of those jobs, or a processor or any of those, that’s where you start, but that job is very important. If you don’t watch the tanks, there’s a potential that you could have sick cattle or something like that. So it is pretty cool that it is a neat industry, a neat trade that literally every job there that gets done every day on a daily basis is important and you feed people.

Camas Uebelacker:
Whether or not they want to eat it or not, but that’s the beauty of America. They can choose to buy beef or they can choose to buy other protein products, but the people that choose to buy it, I’m feeding them and I’m cool with that, and I’ll keep doing it.

Dillon Honcoop:
I think more and more people, as much controversy as there is about as far as some people go with different takes on beef, I think there is also an awareness that people are coming around to that it’s an important protein source.

Camas Uebelacker:
It is.

Dillon Honcoop:
And not all protein is created equal.

Camas Uebelacker:
No, no, it’s not. Whether or not you choose to buy it, that’s the beauty of where we live. There’s more options out there than you can ever imagine. What I was telling you earlier in the beef sector, there’s conventional, there’s organic, there’s grass-fed, there’s natural, there’s all these different segments.

Camas Uebelacker:
And I don’t really care what you eat as long as you’re eating beef. I’m team beef. You never take your wife out to a chicken dinner.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’ll remember that.

Camas Uebelacker:
There’s a reason they make a steak night, not a chicken.

Dillon Honcoop:
Chicken night.

Camas Uebelacker:
I’m just joking. But to go back to where your initial question, they’re not beautiful, but they’re designed to be extremely efficient. They’re designed to-

Dillon Honcoop:
Feedlot.

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah. Not waste. I can tell you exactly how much my corn silage pit is going to shrink in the next 12 months. We’re down to the pounds, and extremely efficient. We’re in a business of the margin is literally penny sometimes, so if I make a decision to change a feed additive that would maybe help in the immune system, typically the salesman is going to tell me, “It’s in sense per head per day.”

Camas Uebelacker:
And that might not sound like a lot. Right? On one head you’re like, “ell, it’s going to cost me two cents more per head per day.” But when you spread that over 4,000 head and you’re going to do it over the next 90 days, well that’s a chunk of change.

Dillon Honcoop:
You say feed additive, I’m sure some people might say, “Oh, what kind of chemicals are you given these animals?”

Camas Uebelacker:
No, no, it’s nothing like that and any feed additive that we do feed would have a zero day withdrawal because it’s in the feed. Antibiotics, if we do [doctrine animal 00:23:48], it has a withdrawal. Those are set by the FDA. We have to follow. No animals with any residue are ever shipped, can’t do it. It’s illegal.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re saying any beef can’t have antibiotics in it?

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah. And I’ll even help out the other industries, any meat product that you would see in a supermarket cannot have any antibiotic residue in it. It is illegal and it won’t have it in it. That’s why we have the safety checks. That’s why America’s awesome. Other countries, I don’t believe they have… I shouldn’t speak to those countries, but I know for a fact I’ve toured the processing plants, I’ve seen the steps and measures that they go do it and I am 100% proud to say I’m part of that industry.

Dillon Honcoop:
So why is it that some things you see in the grocery store might say antibiotic free and others don’t then?

Camas Uebelacker:
Because it all has to be antibiotic free and it’s a marketing, I shouldn’t say scheme or something like that, but it’s purely marketing. And I would encourage, if someone does have a question, I wouldn’t jump on Google, and I wouldn’t jump on Facebook, and I wouldn’t jump on Instagram, and all those other deals where everyone gets their news now, but I would call a farmer. We’re in the phone book.

Dillon Honcoop:
So this whole like this meat is antibiotic free, it’s a farce because it’s all supposed to be, otherwise it’s illegal?

Camas Uebelacker:
Illegal. It’s all antibiotic free and it’s a marketing ploy. But it’s tugging at the heartstrings of consumers and I don’t think that’s fair. You’re not going to get that from a guy like me, you’re going to get that from the bigger companies that are trying to sell that product.

Dillon Honcoop:
Back to the feedlot issue, I think one of the things that people worry about or fear and the image that they have in their mind is that animals are not being treated well in a feedlot. You’re talking about getting animals healthy in your feedlot. Where’s the breakdown there? Why is it that people think feedlots are bad for animals?

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re saying, you’re actually getting them healthy in your feedlot.

Camas Uebelacker:
I guess I can break a day down for you real quick just to-

Dillon Honcoop:
Sure.

Camas Uebelacker:
… make it crystal clear for everybody. We check their feed every morning. My guy that does it starts at 5:30. He drives through, checks every feed bunk, every pen gets checked. At the time when he’s typically doing that, he’ll check the water tanks to make sure they’re full, or not overflowing, or there’s some issue there.

Camas Uebelacker:
Then once the feeding and water and everything’s checked, every pen is checked, so every animal gets looked at. We have developed facilities and updated everything to the point that there isn’t even a hot-shot on my farm. We don’t own one. We don’t need one.

Dillon Honcoop:
Hot-shot, what’s that?

Camas Uebelacker:
All the electric prods-

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay.

Camas Uebelacker:
… that everybody thinks that-

Dillon Honcoop:
To get an animal moving?

Camas Uebelacker:
Yeah. We don’t use them, we don’t have them. There’s no need. We’ve updated, we’ve designed, we’ve become… Every guy I have is Beef Quality Assurance certified and part of that training program is moving cattle, loading cattle, unloading cattle, processing cattle. We’re big on it. The cool part is it’s so relaxing when we are doing those things and moving cattle. It isn’t even hard.

Camas Uebelacker:
This isn’t whipping and spurs, scream and yell. This isn’t working cows with your grandpa. We do this every day, we’re good at it, we care about them and literally, I make my living from taking care of them. That’s the whole reason I have a job.

Dillon Honcoop:
So why would you be hurting them, I guess is the question.

Camas Uebelacker:
There’s no damn reason in the world to ever treating an animal ill. We have a saying and it hangs above my shop door that says, “Treat them like they’re yours.” Because we truly are in a custom business where there aren’t our animals, but we do… And the guys that work for me, most of them have been with me a long time and we hold ourselves to a very high standard.

Camas Uebelacker:
And I think we have to, and I think that’s also part of the reason that we’ve grown how we have and we’ve been able to maintain an existing customer for as long as we have. And also grow to be basically the largest grow yard in the Northwest. I’m proud to say that. But we treat every one of them as if we own them.

Camas Uebelacker:
And I’m not going to try to scare people off and throw dollars and cents and “Oh, I have this huge investment in them.” But to boil it down for you, when my feedlot’s full, it’s $4 million in cattle inventory, just cattle. That’s not feed, that’s not anything else. And I’m a 4,000 feedlot. These big guys, the bigger feedlots have even more. So to say that I would ever treat one of them poorly, or deny them water, or fresh feed, or any of that thing is just, it’s asinine.

Camas Uebelacker:
You’re not gonna do it, you can’t. And like I said, the reason we’ve been able to excel and expand and become who we are is because we care for them so well.

Dillon Honcoop:
What you’re saying resonates with what I hear from a lot of farmers and what I know practically to be true, which is, if you want to do well, if you want an animal to produce well, why would you want to abuse them or hurt them? Doesn’t make any sense. But yet there still is this perception that the way that farms are now is just an industrial farming or a factory farm and they’re just pushing animals through, and they’re abusing them.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m just going off of what I’m assuming the mindset is here, that they’re abusing them to save money and get more out of them somehow, which-

Camas Uebelacker:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you’re saying that’s backwards?

Camas Uebelacker:
It is. Very much so, and it’s to the point where we also have saying that it’s “Quality feed, quality animal.” I grow the majority of the feed for my feedlot on my own farm ground. I’ve got a neighbor that grows a lot for me, but the other beauty of feedlots is we take products that aren’t typically… They would typically in another industry be waste.

Camas Uebelacker:
One ingredient that I don’t personally feed, but a lot of them would do in the area that we’re at is a French Fries, and they’re called French Fries because it has a black spot on it and McDonald’s won’t sell it. And if you did get it in your French Fries, you might take it back and say, “Hey, this one’s burnt.” But it’s perfectly good cattle feed.

Camas Uebelacker:
So for us to be able to use the byproducts that come from other industries, like we feed a lot of bluegrass straw. Bluegrass straw comes from the grass seed industry that planted your front lawn, or a golf course, or lawns around hotels and all these places that have green grass. It comes from somewhere and we feed a byproduct out of it.

Camas Uebelacker:
Same thing every time you fill up your car with gasoline E85, the other 15% is ethanol and we feed a lot of ethanol by-product. It’s called wet distillers grains. After they extract the part that they’re going to put in gasoline, we feed what’s left over and it’s awesome feed.

Dillon Honcoop:
What would happen to it otherwise?

Camas Uebelacker:
I couldn’t even tell you. With the intent when our government decided that they needed to up the ethanol in it and production went up and people… You can buy it dried, you can buy it in a pellet, you can buy it wet, you can buy it different ways, but it’s all going to end up in animal feed.

Dillon Honcoop:
But other than animal feed, it’s pretty much wouldn’t be good for anything?

Camas Uebelacker:
You’d dump it. But it’s good animal. It’s great animal feed. It’s not just good, it’s great. The potato industry is huge in our area, so there’s a lot of feedlots that feed the potato byproducts. There’s stuff what they call hopper waste, there’s slurry, there’s various parts of the process that prepare that potato for human food. It ends up in a byproduct that feedlots utilize.

Camas Uebelacker:
That’s another cool part of the industry is that, I think they call them upcyclers. I guess if you know it. I always say it’s trash to cash, so we buy those products, we store them here on site and then we feed it.

Dillon Honcoop:
These animals are basically taking, like you talk about this distiller’s waste and they’re turning that, which would otherwise be unusable.

Camas Uebelacker:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
And certainly is not edible.

Camas Uebelacker:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
They’re turning that into high quality protein for humans-

Camas Uebelacker:
For humans.

Dillon Honcoop:
… to consume.

Camas Uebelacker:
Yup. Yup.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what do you think then about all this, we gotta get rid of beef because it’s using up land, and water, and all these things and causing climate change?

Camas Uebelacker:
I read through those, but the cool part about my feedlot, and I’m going to speak about mine, we reuse everything. So the manure that comes out of my pens goes back on my farm ground. And it’s not raw manure, we typically age it, compost it, and screen it, and then it goes back on as… I remember my grandma always used to buy [Begs Deer Manure 00:32:44]. Well, I make it by the truckload.

Camas Uebelacker:
And we spread that back on our farms at agronomic rates, and the cool part is, is when I started doing that, my fertilizer bill went down close to $30,000 a circle and that comes out of my yard, my feedlot. So-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s heading towards organic right there.

Camas Uebelacker:
I’m pretty much the greenest hippie you’ve ever met. When people say things like that, it really bugs me because we work so hard at making sure that we don’t waste anything. My guys get tired of me telling them, “Hey, quit spill and feed. Make sure he shoveled at. Clean that up. Scrape that into a pile.” The part-

Dillon Honcoop:
Maybe that’s just because you’re cheap though.

Camas Uebelacker:
No, it’s efficient. I’m efficient.

Dillon Honcoop:
I just had to give you a hard time.

Camas Uebelacker:
And there’s all this other stuff, when people say that, I look at them and I want to ask them, “Well, what is it that you do to change it? You drove here, you use plastic, you’ve got garbage in your garbage can. What are you doing?” By the way, I farm a couple hundred acres that sequesters carbon.

Camas Uebelacker:
Sometimes when I read that, I just want to say, “You know what? You’re welcome. I’m glad I could help you out.”

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’re not concerned about cows causing climate change-

Camas Uebelacker:
Not at all? Nope. I’m more worried about all the people that drive that probably should just walk. I think that the noise about those things that are coming to people like me that are trying to feed people, I think that maybe those masses should do a little something to change. I think that they do, but I don’t think they do it on the scale that I do. I have a hard time buying it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Obviously, we’re talking about the environment here. What else do you do for the environment? You talked about manure, people have environmental concerns about manure and how it’s handled. You mentioned you put it on your fields, you mentioned agronomic rate. What does that mean?

Camas Uebelacker:
We put on and typically we will fall apply or spring apply manure. And in the area that we’re in, it’s extremely dry. Our average rain fall’s six inches a year, so we don’t typically worry about the leeching into groundwater or anything like that. We’re also 600 feet to ground water, so it’s a ways down there. But the agronomic rate, so if we… We pull soil samples every spring, every fall so we know where we’re at with what the crop would use and what it’s going to need, and we don’t over apply.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you don’t apply beyond what the crop is going to use?

Camas Uebelacker:
No. It’s really cool. Like I said, it’s a cool industry. We’ve got the most modern… The tractors that pull the wagon got GPS, the wagons have scales. I know how many pounds are going on every acre. And the part of the reason is, you want to talk about trash to cash, this has become a valuable product because it’s not just the nitrogen, the N, P and K that’s in it, it’s also all the micronutrients.

Camas Uebelacker:
It’s a living product that when you apply it to soil, plants, it’s readily available. There is no process that has to go through. So it’s good for ground and it’s to the point now that it’s a saleable product. So when people think that we’re out here just over applying it, there’s really no monetary reason to do that because if you can utilize what it is that you need… Like my farm, I utilize what I need on mine and then if I have leftover I’ll sell it. But if I don’t, I’ll use it.

Camas Uebelacker:
So there is no reason for me to just throw money out the back of my manure spreader just because I have to get rid of it.

Dillon Honcoop:
So it’s not a waste?

Camas Uebelacker:
No. Nope. It’s a waste product in the feedlot, but once it hits farm ground, it’s as good as gold.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’re big into soil health stuff then?

Camas Uebelacker:
Absolutely, have to be.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the key to good soil health?

Camas Uebelacker:
A good crop rotation. In our area, our soils are mostly, what they call arid soils it’s a highly… We’re in an arid area, so our soils inherently, they’re low in organic matter, so anytime that we can put that back in, it helps with the water-holding, water penetration, just overall soil health.

Camas Uebelacker:
If we decide to do high moisture corn for harvest, all those corn stocks will go back into the soil. If we choose to do silage, we’ll take the silage off, but we’re going to put compost back on. Over the years that I’ve owned this farm, every year it continues to yield higher, and that’s the goal.

Camas Uebelacker:
There is no reason to just farm it, to farm it, it’s a longterm project and it’s a longterm investment. It’s not cheap to spread manure, it’s not cheap to just apply it. You’re talking, there’s a guy on a tractor, a guy on a loader, you’re talking burning diesel. There’s all those things, but when it’s all said and done, when you talk about the greenhouse gas and all that other stuff, those crops that we’re growing are going to sequester carbon.

Camas Uebelacker:
So I think that my footprint is probably smaller than most people’s. I truly believe that.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food, Real People Podcast. These are the stories of the people who grow your food.

Dillon Honcoop:
Next week in the second half of our conversation with Camas Uebelacker, we find out more about his family and what he sees as the future of farming and the issues around producing food here in Washington State. He has more answers coming up next week that you probably wouldn’t expect to hear from a guy who’s running a feedlot.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s really cool and encouraging to hear people across the board breaking stereotypes of the things that they care about, the things that are important to them and what really drives their operations. So a big thank you again to Camas for opening up with us and sharing some of this. And I’m really excited to next week share the second half of our conversation again with Camas Uebelacker of C&G Cattle Company in Othello, Washington.

Dillon Honcoop:
As I’m always reminding you, make sure to follow us on social media, Real Food, Real People Podcast on Facebook, on Instagram as well. I think the handle is… What is it? @rfrp_podcast. That’s the handle on Instagram as well as on Twitter, so we’d love it and we’d really appreciate it if you followed us there, shared our content.

Dillon Honcoop:
We’re just trying to get these stories to more people in Washington so they can start to hear from the real farmers that are producing our food here. Rather than having to hear from anyone else, why not straight from the horse’s mouth, as the saying goes. We really appreciate you supporting the podcast in that way.

Dillon Honcoop:
And of course, always welcome feedback on any of those social media platforms as well as dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org. That’s my email address. Feel free to shoot me an email anytime you want. If you’ve got a thought on the show, maybe you didn’t like something that someone said or you have a different perspective, maybe you know somebody with a different perspective on an issue that I should have on the program.

Dillon Honcoop:
We want to hear from all perspectives here on Real Food, Real People, and we really appreciate you following us and listening along. We’ll catch you next week for the second half with Camas Uebelacker.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, and I should also think our sponsors. Real Food, Real People Podcast is sponsored in part by Save Family Farming; giving a voice to Washington’s farm families. You can find them online at savefamilyfarming.org, and by Dairy Farmers of Washington; supporting Washington dairy farmers, connecting consumers to agriculture and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at wadairy.org.