Rosella Mosby | #037 08/24/2020

Vegetable farmer Rosella Mosby grows literally tons of local food just minutes from the heart of Seattle. She shares some big challenges our food system faces to make locally-grown produce more available.

Transcript

Rosella Mosby:
He just called me up one day and he said, “Hey, you want to go have dinner?” and I was like, “Sure. Why not?” A man in my life at that point was not on my list either because here I am, I’m self-employed, I’ve got two kids. You know what I mean? And it was just one of those weird times in your life where you’re thinking, “I do not have time for this.”

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Getting locally-grown food in the city, in Seattle doesn’t have to be that hard, and in fact, there are growers producing amazing food not that far away. And that choice to buy food that’s locally grown can have an effect on the community, on workers, animals, even the surrounding environment, our rivers and fish, which ultimately impact the orcas. There’s so much to eating locally grown food and that is so much the focus of our conversation this week with a veggie farmer in Auburn, Washington, just outside of Seattle, just in Seattle’s backyard really, Rosella Mosby. I think you’re really going to enjoy this conversation and learn a lot about the reality of our local food system.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, how many different kinds of food do you guys grow at Mosby Farms?

Rosella Mosby:
Oh, that’s dwindling actually over the years.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah, sure. We don’t grow no green beans, no peas anymore. It’s too labor-intensive. So, we are currently down to rhubarb, leeks, beets, zucchini, yellow squash, some hard squashes, pumpkins for fall, sweet acorn that we sell from pumpkin patch. We don’t have we a retail stand anymore either. Thanks to some regulatory requirements from King County, we were going to stay open. We would have had to put in a well and a water treatment system, and for a part-time stand, it’s like, “No, thanks.” So, we don’t grow some of those odds and end items that end up in a store too. So, yeah, we’re just down to the things that we wholesale to mostly every grocery chain and produce house in the Pacific Northwest.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because that was going to be my next question, where can you find all of this food?

Rosella Mosby:
Grocery store-

Dillon Honcoop:
If I live in Seattle-

Rosella Mosby:
… restaurants.

Dillon Honcoop:
… how do I know if I’m getting something from Mosby Farms?

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah, you should ask for it every single time.

Dillon Honcoop:
Good idea.

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah. It’s fun because you do get photos from your friends that are like, “Hey, look. I found some beets in the grocery store in some random town in the Pacific Northwest,” not even remotely close to us and it’ll have a tie on it. And so, that’s cool to get those.

Rosella Mosby:
We sell to Charlie’s Produce and they have contracts with the cruise ships. Right now, that’s not happening, right? And then, restaurants and pretty much all of the players in the Pacific Northwest, we sold to. So, if it’s not in a grocery store, it’s in a restaurant.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, if it’s in a grocery store, is it going to have your sticker on it or something?

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah, it’ll have a tie or a sticker. Not always, it depends. Like rhubarb’s not a stickered item. It’s comical because I’m a consumer myself, right, so sometimes I’ll roll through the produce department and I’ll notice that the rhubarb will say it’s from Mexico, and I’ll say to the produce guy, “Hey, rhubarb doesn’t grow in Mexico, so why is it tagged that it’s in Mexico?” and they’re like, “Well…” And I’m like, “No, no. You can’t get away with telling me that it’s legit because it’s not. We grow rhubarb.” And so, it’s interesting to go through the produce section and just see what either your product looks like or what your fellow grower’s product looks like and how this door is marketing that product. Yeah, I don’t know. It is what it is. We’re just trying to survive.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, that’s the thing though. The labeling and the stickers and stuff, you say something’s going to have stickers on it, some things aren’t going to, but a lot of people like myself are trying to go to the store, buy as many local things as they can, and realizing that’s not going to be possible with everything. But it’s hard to know sometimes how to know-

Rosella Mosby:
You should ask. And the reason you ask is because… Oh boy, we’re going to dive in deep right in the beginning.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Do it.

Rosella Mosby:
The reason you should ask is because the produce buyer in Cincinnati, his job is to get produce in his store for the lowest price possible, right? I don’t believe he really gives a rip what is happening in Auburn, Washington on Mosby’s vegetable farm. He likes that we’re here and he likes that somewhere in the store, there’s a poster hanging with our faces and our names on it and claiming that we’re a local grower. But at the same time, that’s not his job. His job is to get product in the store for the lowest price because he’s trying to give the consumer the lowest price.

Rosella Mosby:
But wait a second, at the same time, there’s a difference between staying afloat and thriving for the farmer. And so, if you’re staying afloat year after year after year and you’re scraping, you’re rubbing your nickels together but that doesn’t turn into $1 anywhere, right? And so, we still are using equipment, we’re still using trucks, we’re still having to maintain those things and still think about going forward. How are we going to invest in better irrigation that’s more efficient, better equipment that’s more efficient? Whose trucks are we buying that are second-hand, right? Because we’re a first-generation farm, so no previous generation paid for anything where we are.

Rosella Mosby:
And so, when you think about the difference between staying afloat and thriving, the thriving part ensures that we can invest in the future, right? So, we live in Washington, our farm is 40 minutes from Microsoft. I mean, you think about what is happening in the tech world and how we can tie that into agriculture, and we’ve had people out measuring our equipment because they want to know how far apart the cultivators are and those little details because I’m sure they’re working on robotics.

Rosella Mosby:
Okay so, say, they achieve those goals, they have this great piece of equipment, well, what farmer that is staying afloat is going to be able to actually invest in those tools to make their job more efficient. But yet, the consumer expects us to be more “sustainable” and try to make those moves. But if we’re still staying afloat barely, how do we do that? How do you invest for the future?

Rosella Mosby:
So, that’s really, I think up to the customer, the consumer, to be saying at the grocery store, “Hey, I want to buy what’s in season and what’s local. Help me. Tell me what that is.”

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you’re saying people are actually asking that question at the store. What if it’s just some young guy working there and doesn’t know anything? Does it still make a difference if you ask those questions?

Rosella Mosby:
Well, it sure doesn’t make the produce guy look very smart that he doesn’t know. I think as consumers, that should be our expectation, is that our produce guys should be able to answer those questions.

Rosella Mosby:
He might come back with an “I don’t know.” I asked, I’ll go to a grocery store, I’ll go to some really higher end grocery stores because they have better cheese, and I really love cheese, and I’ll walk through the produce section and I’ll say, “Hey, where’s your rhubarb from or hey, where’s your zucchini from? Do you still have your box?” And sometimes they’ll go on the back and they’ll say, “I don’t have the box,” and sometimes they come out with ours, sometimes they come out with Richter’s, sometimes they come out with Sterino’s or whatever. I don’t care. I just like to know that it’s a locally-sourced product and that our regional farmers are being supported.

Dillon Honcoop:
Does that signal go back up the chain though if I ask at the grocery store? Can that-

Rosella Mosby:
I hope so.

Dillon Honcoop:
Have you ever heard back from people who were asking for local stuff or your Mosby Farms stuff or anything like that?

Rosella Mosby:
I haven’t heard that directly, but I do believe that the marketing you hear on the radio is a result, or the marketing you see in a newspaper or what have you is those grocery chains trying to appeal to consumer demands, right? So, we have conventional on our farm, we have organic on our farm. Well, we’re switching slowly to organic because that’s where the market is going. And for us on our farm, I would say that doesn’t apply to every aspect of agriculture. But for us, it’s like motorboats and sailboats or bicycles and motorcycles, right?

Rosella Mosby:
So, for us… I keep coming back to rhubarb, but rhubarb is a great example. Rhubarb grows. It doesn’t… For us, there’s not really much to apply to rhubarb on a conventional end or organic end, and the organic rhubarb actually is ready two weeks before the conventional rhubarb, and we can sell it as conventional if it’s organic. And so, for us, rhubarb is rhubarb, whether it’s certified or not.

Rosella Mosby:
People are always going to pay more for designer cheese and designer wine and designer shoes, and if you go those extra steps to get that certification and people are willing to pay for it, there’s a market there. And so, if retailers start saying that that should be your only choice, that’s wrong. You know what I mean? So, I think we’re lucky to live where we live and have choices. That’s a beautiful part of living where we live is having food choices.

Rosella Mosby:
So, I think my issue to a point with the marketing part of that is that I think they steer that boat a little bit, like, “Hey, you need this because it has this label, or you need this because it was raised this way, or you need…” At the end of the day, I think if consumers really want to send the message that local agriculture is important and that I want to support what is grown here, they need to be saying that to their produce person because it should be getting back to that department manager who should be relaying that to their buyer.

Dillon Honcoop:
And honestly, the reason I often don’t think to do something like that is because I’m cynical. I think nobody’s going to care, but maybe sometimes it will actually work. I don’t know. Or can we… Is there any other mechanism to help push this local food movement along and get the market more aware of those of us who want local food or demand or desire to have local grown stuff?

Rosella Mosby:
Honestly, if I didn’t at Kroger or Safeway, whatever, I’m probably going to get cut off as a farmer. But a consumer could do that all day long when it comes to social media, like a Twitter tag or a social media post taking those companies. I think social media, especially when it comes to agriculture is underutilized. And I think as a grower, I don’t know that that’s the right direction for us because we’re depending on those companies for sales. But a consumer, they have nothing to lose and demanding that local agriculture is supported.

Rosella Mosby:
Because when you think about the carbon footprint of something that has grown at our farm, and we deliver it 15 miles to the distribution center in Puyallup, and then we deliver it 7 miles to the distribution center in Auburn, and then we deliver 25 minutes to Seattle, that’s a very low carbon footprint, right?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, compared to grown overseas or in Central or South America-

Rosella Mosby:
Or California.

Dillon Honcoop:
It has to travel hundreds or more likely thousands of miles to get to Seattle.

Rosella Mosby:
And we’re growing 350 acres of… We did hand-harvested produce. And so, out of that… We’re stewarding 500 acres. And so, that 350 acres is under production, but the other acreage is either forestry buffers next to the Green River or a little bit next to the White River, or in Orting. I don’t think we’re next to anything in Orting really, but… Or it’s in cover crops. We’re trying to build soil, so I don’t think people realize that just because that acreage is there, doesn’t mean that we’re planting every little bit of it. There is this rotation plan and there is a conscious effort to invest into the soil for the future because it’s all we got.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is it too much of a stretch though to say that if I go to the store and say, “Is this locally grown? Can you guys get locally grown in? Can you bring more stuff into the store that has grown locally?” and that create some sort of signal of demand up the chain. Maybe I post some things on social media and at them or whatever it takes, and they start realizing there’s an increasing demand for locally-grown food, that in turn helps support you and other local growers which helps keep local farmland in production, right?

Rosella Mosby:
Totally.

Dillon Honcoop:
And not just all of it in production, but then in rotation or farms to be able to be here. That’s actually by asking that question and making that purchase at the store, I’m helping the rivers and the fish. Is that too much of a stretch to say that?

Rosella Mosby:
No, I don’t think so. And as long as they’re thriving, you’ve just summed up sustainability, right? So, we’re employing, I think, I signed 81 paychecks last week, and that’s 81 families that we’re helping to put food on the table for. And so, at the end of the season, when we write that check to the bank and attempt to pay everything back, if there’s a little bit left, then we’ve accomplished our goals. We’ve created something that we can invest back into the farm and we’ve helped out our employees have a roof over their head and food in their bellies and we’ve provided food for our community. And that also includes food that is donated to local food banks.

Rosella Mosby:
Because when you have boxes of zucchini in your cooler and you have sold so many but you have this little bit of extra, we could dump them in the dump truck to go to the compost pile over the bridge for [Arny’s 00:16:20] cows or we can send it to the food bank and feed people. That’s a straight-up donation. That is a loss of box, which the box is $1.75 each. And that’s a loss of labor. And so, you take this farm out of the community equation and it’s a loss. It’s a loss of land stewardship, it’s a loss of community impact when it comes to feeding people who are having food access issues, and it’s a loss to paychecks for 81 families.

Dillon Honcoop:
And I think it’s a loss to I was thinking about the river system and the water and fish and habitat here too. I mean, what happens to this valley that you’re in? You’re so close to the city. If you go away, what happens to it?

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah. Well, that’s up to the next owner, I guess, it would be.

Dillon Honcoop:
I mean, I would think, would houses come in here, pavement, development?

Rosella Mosby:
No, that’s the one thing about that you have to give King County credit for. So, this is FPP land. This has had the development rights purchased, and so it will always be farmland. It’s been preserved. That happened before we got here so everybody else… This piece, the previous owner benefited from that. The main warehouse piece is a different piece and that was sheltered dairy at one time, and they benefited from that development right purchase. But no, this will always be farmland.

Dillon Honcoop:
But it is just your farm. What about the area around it? How much of this area is protected?

Rosella Mosby:
Quite a bit of the Green River Valley. This is an agricultural production zone. And so, King County has worked hard to protect its Ag zones. And so, this whole Green River Valley which used to have hops in it and then it’s had strawberry farms, and now mostly cattle, there’s blueberry farm up the road, and then there’s us. So, we didn’t come here until, I think, Burr bought the main warehouse piece around 1990.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, that’s when the farm started, or was he farming before then?

Rosella Mosby:
No, you’ll have to hit him up for a podcast because he’s a great story in himself. So, he was 14 when he started doing hay in the Orting Valley. His dad was a pharmacist who left the family farm when his dad would not upgrade the mules, names were Tom and Jerry, to a tractor, but he always loved equipment. And so, he was a pharmacist. And his mom grew up on a Holly farm up where the second runway of SeaTac is. And then they moved out McMillan, which is this tiny little town that doesn’t really exist anymore, on your way out to Orting, and he and his brother started baling hay.

Rosella Mosby:
And then, mentors are awesome people, right? And so, he had a mentor. Her name is [Thalia Chapa 00:19:35]. Her maiden name was Vaca. And so, we always call her Mrs. Vaca. She’s still alive. I think she’s right about 99 years old at this point. And she said, “Hey, Burr, you should be growing zucchini and leeks,” and so he delved into that at 17. So, think about that he’s still in high school, made his first delivery of acorn squash in the back of a pickup truck to Safeway in 1977.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s awesome.

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah. Which would never happen today. I mean, today you have food safety craziness, right? And you have to deliver it in a refrigerated truck and it gets temperature-checked and you have to have the little tab, the temp trail, that goes on your pallet and it tells you the temperature of the whole route of… You have to make sure it didn’t get too warm on delivery.

Rosella Mosby:
Anyway, so I have huge admiration. His brother went on to work at some new tractor and then bought into some new tractor and went that route, but Burr really just kept going on the farm and turned it into what it is now. So, I have huge respect for the guy that works harder than anybody I know.

Dillon Honcoop:
When did you join the picture?

Rosella Mosby:
I missed all the late nights of headlights on the tractor until midnight and eating lettuce out of the field because it’s all you can afford. I came along later. Let’s see. We grew up… Actually, I grew up two miles up the road from Burr. We are 14 years to the day because we share a birthday. We’re 14 years apart. My older brother went to school with his younger sister, and our circles touched. We knew a lot of the same people, Sumner is a small town, but we didn’t really know each other.

Rosella Mosby:
I worked at the local pharmacy, he would come in. I always thought he looked like Tom Selleck because he had this big mustache and dark hair. It was dark, now he’s all grayed out. Anyhow, he looked right through me, talked to the pharmacist in the back. And we had some mutual friends that got married. So, one of my really good friends from school got married to a local turf farmer. And so, we chatted, I think, the first time there but I was there with a boyfriend, didn’t end up marrying that boyfriend, but we would run into each other for probably 13 years at weddings because I have relatives that are farmers in the Sumner Valley, weddings, funerals and McLendon hardware, which is just weird. And so, we talked to each other-

Dillon Honcoop:
That still happens. And it’s not even that far from the big city, but those meetings where there’s community around things like a hardware store. I love that.

Rosella Mosby:
Totally.

Dillon Honcoop:
I love that.

Rosella Mosby:
And I love the hardware store. I had a decorative painting and plastering business, so I’ve always worked in a man’s world, I guess. Backing up a little bit, my little brother played football in high school and then ended up at Western playing football. That time, my dad got cancer. And so, I went to school locally and never went off to college. It’s like I was the only girl, I was the middle girl. I’m going to stay and help my mom. The priority was my little brother because he had this great opportunity, right?

Rosella Mosby:
So, my dad passed when I was 20. And so, here’s my mom. She worked for the sheriff’s department, and we had cows. She’s up and trying to feed these cows at 4:00 in the morning so she can go to work and I’m going to school. It was just chaotic. So, that’s about the time that I talked to Burr at that wedding. Anyhow, so just different. I just had this path where I ended up getting married, had a couple of kids, eventually started my decorative painting and plastering business, ended up divorced. Chapter 1, Chapter 2 situation, right?

Rosella Mosby:
I would go to this coffee shop early in the morning and Burr’s foreman work there, or his mechanic guy, one of his foremen. I was there for my 30th birthday and I was like, “Hey.” I go, “Guys, I’m…” and it was not a time in my lifetime to have a party. And I said, “Hey, I’m so glad you guys are here. Hey, happy birthday. It’s my birthday today, my 30th. That’s a milestone.” And Boyd said, “Today’s your birthday? Today is Burr’s birthday. ” So here I knew for 13 years, we would have these 20-minute conversations in the middle of McLendon Hardware, and never knew that we shared a birthday.

Rosella Mosby:
So, anyhow, he just called me up one day. I mean, there were a few other weird coincidental things that happened in there that made him call me up one day, and he said, “Hey, you want to go have dinner?” and I was like, “Sure. Why not?” A man in my life at that point was not on my list either because here I am, I’m self-employed, I’ve got two kids. You know what I mean? And it was just one of those weird times in your life where you’re thinking, “I do not have time for this.” I’m cleaning trowels and brushes at 11:00 at night and trying to do bids and get my sample boards done.

Rosella Mosby:
But Burr was an easy relationship for me. It was almost like going home because we’re both from Sumner, we knew a lot of the same people. Our conversations were great. And when I left my parents, I was like, “Oh, I’ll never have to put hay in a barn again.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Little did you know.

Rosella Mosby:
Oh, yeah. Well, I still don’t have to put hay in a barn, but I move bales for pumpkin patch every year, but I can handle that. Had an uncle who had a tremendous garden and he would always try to give me leeks. I’d say, “Uncle Gil, I don’t know what to do with the leeks. Can I have some grapes off your grapevines?” Then, I end up marrying a leek farmer and I have so many leek recipes, and it’s not even [inaudible 00:26:11].

Rosella Mosby:
So, anyhow, yeah, so I came along. I was about 30, 31, so that’s 17 years ago. And I think because of just having a taste, my dad was definitely more of a gentle man farmer, he worked in construction and was a foreman, and so he handled big project kind of stuff, I just have respect for the industry and respect for the process and respect for what happens here. And I think he appreciates that. It’s like he gets home when he gets home, and he’s the first guy to go to work. Well, except for during zucchini season. Those guys show up at 5:00 in the morning. But he’s always the last one to come home.

Rosella Mosby:
I took a picture from our house of the warehouse last week and the office lights were on, and everything was dark. And here he is volunteering his time because he’s the chair of the King Conservation Board of Supervisors. And I’m like, “So, here’s this guy who’s worked his ass off all day, and he’s sitting there, hopefully drinking a beer while he’s doing his meeting.” But sitting there, trying to take care of something that is all volunteer hours. I think that’s another thing that people don’t always realize is the amount of volunteer time that farmers contribute to agriculture issues. They sit on boards about water issues, or they… So, yeah, I have huge… There’s my Burr Mosby plug.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, how did you get into the actual farming part of it though? How did that go? Because I guess you had some kind of farming experience, but you hadn’t done farming like this.

Rosella Mosby:
Right, because I had my own business.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you’re kind of an artist, right? It sounds like with your business.

Rosella Mosby:
What happened is we got married, and I was running my own business and doing well. I mean, I did it for 13 years, and I liked it. I had lots of flexibility. And so, Burr says, “Hey, so the gal who’s going to run our farm stand isn’t going to come back. Will you run it?” And I was like, “No, hire somebody. I have a job. I like my job. No.” And he’s like, “Oh, come on.” I’m like, “Dude, I want to be married to you 10 years from now.” We have very different styles when it comes to leadership and working. No, I’m not going to work for you or with you ever. Yeah, a total fail on that.

Rosella Mosby:
So anyhow, I said, “Okay, fine,” because he’s really good at procrastinating, I said, “Okay, fine.” I have a business. And so, here I am, business, I have two kids, right, who are already in school, because I have two older kids, and then I have this new baby. And I’m trying to run this business. I said, “I will run your farm stand. I will not stand behind the till. I will hire, I will fire. I will do your produce order. I’ll carry your tills down. I’ll make sure that things are done, but I am not going to be there 24/7.”

Rosella Mosby:
Oh my gosh. So, there was a day, in particular, that my babysitter fell through for Lily, number three out of four. I’m on a ladder in a Forza coffee shop, which was one of my commercial clients, and I’m moving glaze on a wall, and my phone is in the crook of my neck. And I’m making a produce order, and I got a screaming kid in a stroller. I’m like, “What the F am I doing with my life right now, seriously? Why? Why? Why?” And so, I made a really… It was a hard decision for me, but I chose to give up my business, which was probably better for my shoulder anyway. Eventually, did have to have surgery. And the farm became the priority. It was better for my family and we eat lunch together most days.

Rosella Mosby:
So, I jumped into the produce stand end of the farm. And Burr was so happy because I increase sales 50% the first year. And then, he’s like, “Oh, hey…” And so, he took me to Italy thinking we’d get pregnant with Henry, and actually went to Italy six months pregnant with Henry. So, whatever. Anyway, he’s trying to talk me into doing it again, and I was like, “Oh.”

Rosella Mosby:
And so, I did it until about six years ago. It grew a ton. But 80% of your sales come from 20% of your customers, and that was their missing link, the gal that was there before. It’s like if you’re going to make a stir fry, you have to buy peppers. People are coming through. We may not grow them, but you need to supply them. People will buy peppers.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because they just want to go to one place. They won’t to have to go to five places to put their stir fry together.

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah. And so, I mean, I started carrying wine and beer and cheese and meat and doing borrow a basket, where people could borrow this basket and then they could buy a little picnic and go out and there was a tablecloth and a deck of cards or a little tiny backgammon, little book for comments, two wine glasses, and a cutting board. And people would spend money buying their snacks, enjoying a space on the farm, and then they come back through, buy what they ate again, because they thought it was so good the first time and they have to take some home. And then, they would leave. I mean, it was because I put a basket together.

Rosella Mosby:
And so, I think what I bring to the farm is Burr’s very linear thinking and concrete and I’m all over the place, so I’m definitely more abstract. And so, when it came to the retail end, I was like, “No, let’s do this and let’s do that.” Unfortunately, for me, sometimes I’m like, “Let’s do this,” and I say it and then I have to own it, right? You say it, you own it. So definitely then I’m like, “Oh wait, whose idea was this? I think it was mine. Oh no, why did I say it out loud?” So, I’ve had a few moments like that along the way.

Rosella Mosby:
How I got into the more of the advocacy end was because the labor issue became a bigger, more profound problem for our farm. And so, we started becoming much more vocal about “Wow, this is really a problem.” We’re in South King County, where there’s plenty of people, and we still can’t get people to come to work. And so, that just became my drum to beat. And that’s how I got more involved in the speaking out and the advocacy part of the farm.

Rosella Mosby:
So, Burr’s like the guy who’s trying to do the day-to-day stuff and I try to fill in on all of the retail end and the community outreach and I’m typically the one who sits on boards, the cabinet communicator.

Dillon Honcoop:
The communicator.

Rosella Mosby:
He’s a good communicator too. He just doesn’t have the time.

Dillon Honcoop:
Lots of farming to do when you have 300 acres in production.

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
How would you describe the size of your farm? What category does that fit into?

Rosella Mosby:
Well, if you ask people in King County, we’re probably the big evil entity in the county.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Rosella Mosby:
Well, I think so. A little bit. There’s a bigger farm. I’d say we’re one of the bigger farms in King County. But scale-wise, in the real world, we’re small.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m just surprised that people don’t like, because you’re growing local food here basically in Seattle’s backyard.

Rosella Mosby:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). People are like-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s frowned on because you’re too big?

Rosella Mosby:
Well, I think there’s the element of either other agriculturalists or consumers who really like that super small CSA style farm that get a little bit judge-y, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s too bad because those are great too, but we can’t especially afford it. I’m saying this as somebody who’s not made a money, I can’t always afford the high end super small farm stuff. I think it’s really cool that people are doing that and that some people can afford that. I can’t always afford that, and I want just local food. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. I just want to know it’s grown close-by.

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah. And I think that’s something too that usually goes unrecognized is that all aspects of agriculture have value. When you think about the biggest restaurant in your town, it’s likely your school district, and people don’t always think about it like that, right? And so, if your school district is your biggest restaurant in town, think about the hotels, the convention centers, hospitals, those kinds of things.

Rosella Mosby:
Those buyers or chefs or whoever is coordinating their food part of that business or organization isn’t going to go shopping at a farmer’s market, isn’t necessarily going to take the time to buy direct from a farm. They want to call the middleman produce guy and be like, “Hey, I need your order guide. I need three boxes of zucchini. I need 50-pound bag of potatoes. I need so many bags of onions.” You know what I mean? And they’re going to have it show up on a pallet because that’s what’s efficient and that’s what’s affordable, because they have a bottom line to meet too.

Rosella Mosby:
And so, when I say that there’s always going to be that consumer who buys more expensive cheese and more expensive wine and better shoes, that is true within every aspect of what we buy. It’s true for cars, it’s true for clothes, it’s true for our food. And so, supporting whatever you want to support is a beautiful thing, and it’s a beautiful thing that we have those choices. And so, I don’t like that we…

Rosella Mosby:
Even within agriculture, everybody goes, “Oh, well, they do this and they do that,” and it’s like, “Oh, stop, stop, stop,” because it should never be an us in them kind of thing. The us in them should actually be we’re in agriculture and there are people out there who don’t like us. And while we’re busy fighting amongst ourselves, which I don’t think we fight amongst ourselves too much, but while we’re busy nitpicking each other, there’s this whole other entity out here that is trying to attack us as a whole.

Dillon Honcoop:
What is that attack? Who are these people? What’s their motive?

Rosella Mosby:
Oh, I don’t know exactly who they are.

Dillon Honcoop:
But just generally.

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah, yeah. But I mean, there’s groups out there that are trying to undermine the work of local agriculture. I mean, look at regulation, look at carbon taxes that are just going to make it super expensive for farms to be able to operate their machinery. We had a group of leadership people who came up from California last summer, who were ooh-ing and ahh-ing at our little tractors, because we have little tractors with implements that are set up for everything. So, we have one that’s set up to cultivate beets, one set up for leaks, one set for zucchini, and they’re all these little small, old, first generation. We’re back to that whole thing, right? But they all have this purpose. And these guys from California we’re like, “Wow, this is so cool.” You can’t operate this kind of tractors on our farms-

Dillon Honcoop:
Why?

Rosella Mosby:
… because there’s too much emissions. They can’t utilize older equipment because the regulations are too strict.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, they have to get new?

Rosella Mosby:
They have to get new and it has to meet these emission requirements. And so, when you think about how hard it is for a new farmer to get started or anybody to get started, right, so what are those barriers? Well, equipment. New equipment’s expensive. So, when you think about an older piece of equipment that you can make use of to just get going, are we setting ourselves up for failure by having these regulatory issues be so strict that we aren’t growing ou agriculturalists?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. So, instead of going from that old tractor carbon footprint to a newer tractor carbon footprint, you’re going to food from Mexico carbon footprint or food from-

Rosella Mosby:
Which we have no control of.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, I’m just saying, yeah, it’s like apples and oranges on scale if you’re really worried about what the carbon footprint of your food is. I don’t know, obviously I’m biased on this. That’s why I’m doing all this. But to me, advantage local food times 10 right here, even if the tractor isn’t the most efficient and it won’t last forever anyway. Eventually, it will have to be replaced by that more efficient tractor. But even if its carbon footprint is a little bit bigger, it’s so much more important to have that food grown locally than have a truck or a train or a ship bring it thousands of miles here.

Rosella Mosby:
Absolutely. And the older tractors, typically you can work on those easier, right? You don’t have the whole right to repair issue. I don’t know, think too about when it comes to food safety regulations. We control what we grow here, right? We are a farm. We’re responsible. We do third-party audits. We have this whole food safety thing that takes a tremendous amount of time and paperwork and effort to track and yearly audits that we go through. And so, we adhere to that and we’re proud to do that. We’re proud to grow safe food here.

Rosella Mosby:
When we are bringing food in from another country, we can’t control what they’re doing in another country. And they may say, “Oh, yeah. No, we do it this way. Oh yeah, checked the boxes, whatever,” but are they really? Do they really? I don’t know.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, the question is what food can you really trust?

Rosella Mosby:
I don’t know. I’d rather eat something from here than anywhere else. I mean, I think, don’t they still put [inaudible 00:42:01] on grapes and chili or something like that?

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Rosella Mosby:
I don’t know if somebody told me that. Yeah. So, we’d have to check that factoid out. But we don’t do that on apples here and everybody had this big huge thing, but then we’re happy to eat grapes grown and chili that are imported here. And so, just because something isn’t approved to use in the United States doesn’t mean-

Dillon Honcoop:
As long as it’s not happening in my backyard. If it’s happening in another country, I’m not going to care, which doesn’t really make sense at the end of the day, because it’s about the food that you’re putting in your body.

Rosella Mosby:
Right. I mean, look at farms that spread manure, there’s regulation on that. Don’t ask me what it is, but there is. You can only spread certain times a year and you can only spread so much per acre. I mean-

Dillon Honcoop:
To protect the streams and things like that.

Rosella Mosby:
Sure. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s not as simple as just, “Yeah, go throw some manure out there.”

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I know that from having grown up around dairy farms, and still living in a dairy farming community.

Rosella Mosby:
I heard a statistic the other day that blew me away. 7% of American adults believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that true? Really?

Rosella Mosby:
When you think about it, it blows you away. But when you actually put the number that that’s over 16 million Americans-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s scary.

Rosella Mosby:
… that’s a problem.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s scary.

Rosella Mosby:
But the same… Here’s another good one for you. So-

Dillon Honcoop:
Are those adults or are those kids?

Rosella Mosby:
Oh, these are adults. It said adults.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, man.

Rosella Mosby:
So, the other good one that my good friend, April Clayton, loves to share is that the number of farmers in the United States is the same number of people who believe in aliens. I love that statistic. It’s brilliant. It’s little over 1% or something.

Dillon Honcoop:
Are you saying that farmers believe in aliens?

Rosella Mosby:
No, I’m saying-

Dillon Honcoop:
No, I know what it is. That is how small the farming community has become.

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah. And when you think about, when you define that 1%, I think it’s half of them really gross like $10,000 a year or something like that. So, when you think about the ones who are actually in production living off of it-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, grossing $10,000 a year and you back all the costs out and your profit’s maybe, what, 100 bucks?

Rosella Mosby:
So, it’s like a schedule H or something they file for their taxes. I don’t know. I think especially with our current situation and coronavirus and when you’re looking at empty shelves, people should be asking more questions. They should be saying, “Hey, I want to see local. I don’t just want to see the poster hanging in the store. I want to see you actually…” It’s not just a marketing tool. Sometimes I feel like that poster is a marketing tool as a farmer.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, back to the farm stand thing. You don’t do that anymore.

Rosella Mosby:
No, no. And we have the intention of building a new one with a partner right next to the freeway where our pumpkin patch is, but oh my gosh, just the cost of doing it within the city just turned into an astronomical. Oh my gosh, I came home one day, and I said to Burr, “Hey, so this whole retail thing is in my lap, and I have one question.” I go, “Do you like that your wife is home when you get home from work?” And he said, “Well, yeah,” and I go, “If we do this, I’ll never be home when you get home from work because we’re going to be in this new hole we’re going to create for 20 years probably.”

Rosella Mosby:
I mean, I don’t know, we’re just at the point… We’re trying to get our farm set up for second generation. We have a 25-year-old and a 22-year-old and then Lily’s 13, almost 14, and a 12-year-old, and everybody’s working on the farm. And so, it’s like we need to be figuring out what our next step is and how we become more efficient on the farm. We decided adding something new like that was going to be a lot.

Dillon Honcoop:
And the one that you had couldn’t keep going?

Rosella Mosby:
Well, we would still have to put in this new well and water treatment system and that’s before you even apply for a Risk 1 grocery permit, so that is to carry anything with an expiration date. So, you’re not cutting anything. You’re not-

Dillon Honcoop:
You mean something that’s just grown on the farm here?

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah, but then you’re just doing produce and the money really is, it’s all those other things. It’s the guy who comes by and he picks up corn, and a 22-ounce microbrew, and it’s the cheese, and picking up a bottle of wine, and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, like you were saying earlier, having a variety of things, your own stuff and then other stuff, so keep looking. And so, then that puts you in a different category as far as the rules you have to follow?

Rosella Mosby:
Well, anything refrigerated with an expiration date. So, if you’re talking cheese-

Dillon Honcoop:
Packaged stuff.

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah, totally.

Dillon Honcoop:
And so, what would it take to do all that to be able to-

Rosella Mosby:
About $75,000 and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Rosella Mosby:
… doing a well and getting a water treatment system in. This is crazy. So, if you have a distillery, people want a natural water source, right, water spring, that’s awesome. Well, we have a natural water spring, but that’s not good enough for the store’s situation. We would have to drill a well and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Even though you already have a natural water source?

Rosella Mosby:
Oh, yeah. And the water is tested because we’re a farm. We have all of our water tested. It’s part of our food safety program. I mean, that’s a perfect example of regulatory inconsistency where you have one agency that’s like, “Oh, hey. No, this is cool. You’re good,” and then you have another agency that’s like, “Oh, no, we require this.” It’s dumb. Maybe we’ll go back to it at some point.

Rosella Mosby:
But at the time, going into the time that that was, it was a tough… There’s been some pretty lean years on the farm in the last few years, especially when you’re dealing with you can grow cucumbers and beets, but when… This is the thing about exporting, right, we can export but you can’t just export. You have to import too. Part of the problem with that is that you have cheap cucumbers or cheap beets that come into your area. I mean, you guys see it and walk with berries. Well, it happens with vegetables too. And so, you can’t compete with that when our wages are way bigger than what they make there. So, they can grow that product for less, and when they’re flooding your market with cheap product, it’s like, “Okay, great.”

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s not a fair level playing field.

Rosella Mosby:
Mm-mm (negative). No. And they certainly aren’t living in your zip code to know what your expenses are. And so, I think we figured out that in the last four or five years, the minimum wage has gone up little over $4 and our produces either gone down or gone up, at the most, a buck. So, when you think about that, okay, so when minimum wage goes up… And we pay more than minimum wage on our farm because we’re in South King County. You compete with warehouses. You know what I mean? We have to. And in the past, we’ve paid per hour bonus if you stay all season because we’re trying to get people to stay all season.

Rosella Mosby:
And so, when you think about wages are going up, okay, well, they don’t just go up for us, they go up for everybody. So, they go up for the propane people and the fertilizer people and the seed guys and the mechanic guy and our tire guy. You know what I mean? Everybody goes up. So, things become more expensive, your labor becomes more expensive. And if your box price for your produce stays the same or goes up 25 cents, or goes down, which we have that happen-

Dillon Honcoop:
Why doesn’t that go up then too because there are people buying stuff in the store should have more money to spend and that kind of…

Rosella Mosby:
Because we’re price takers, not price makers. And so, you got… Back to the guy in Cincinnati, his job, right? And if you have somebody else who will sell it for less and he’s selling volume, right, then he’s going to say, “Okay, fine. I’ll sell it for that,” because you have a buyer who’s just, “Oh, this guy will sell it for whatever.” And the farmers don’t talk to each other enough, and they need to be. You can’t set prices, but you need to be talking to each other more and you need… Just so that it’s like, “Hey, I’m going up. Period. We should all go up.”

Dillon Honcoop:
What does the future hold for you and for this farm?

Rosella Mosby:
Well, like I said, we’re trying to get to the second generation. We’re trying to-

Dillon Honcoop:
Any of your kids interested in…

Rosella Mosby:
Oh, yeah. There’s discussion. We have first generation growing pains, right? So, we have dad who’s, “I’ve been doing it this way. It was a 40-plus-year-old farm.” He has his way of thinking. And then, you have younger people who, because they’re adults now, I can’t call them kids, right, who are trying to think out of the box, “Hey, maybe we should try this or maybe we should try that.”

Rosella Mosby:
My son, Casey, he’s 22, and he… I mean, they’ve all worked on the farm since they were 12. Casey’s worked on pretty much every crew. He was 17 and putting in 100 hours on irrigation crew and loving these big paychecks and his buddies are like, “Wow, man, I want to work on the farm.” He’s like, “You can’t. I can because I’m the family.” You can’t, that would be child labor, right?

Rosella Mosby:
So, we’re trying to wait and see how it all plays out, and there’s a lot happening right now. There’s a lot happening. It’s interesting times, and it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out and how the regulatory end of agriculture stuff however that heads, right? And so, I don’t know. It’s like that book we talked about, right, Who Moved My Cheese. Our cheese might move a little bit and we have to figure out where it went.

Rosella Mosby:
And as far as me, personally, I’m going to keep advocating for agriculture. I think it’s our most valuable industry. You can’t work or put food on your table or clothes on your back or a roof over your head without food in your belly. That’s where it all begins. And so, if we don’t recognize that as a society, we have a big problem. So, that’s my goal. I am trying to figure out how to work smarter and not harder in that department, and school is going to be interesting this fall and we’re going to take a little bit different direction there. And so, that’s going to impact my time. I’m figuring out what boards to drop and what commitments that I need to figure out how to get out, in a way, and-

Dillon Honcoop:
The shifts caused by COVID in our lives, right?

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah. And I think that applies to a lot of industries. But at the end of the day, I mean, we’re still here and we’re still growing food. And our kids, we’ve been packing USDA farm to families boxes. Lily and Henry, they’re 12 and 14, almost 14, and they’ve been putting together boxes for us to pack, and they have 1,000 boxes. So, today is Thursday, and we’ll pack again on Monday. They’ll put together 1,000 boxes for that project, and then they’ll have two days to put together 1,000 more boxes, and they’re getting paid to do that. It will go down as a memory for them.

Rosella Mosby:
We all have perspective changers, right? I think my first big one was losing my dad at 20 and going through that experience, and I think these guys are having their first real perspective changer in their life where they’re like, “Wow.” We’ve had some really interesting conversations about food and food security, and when your 12-year-old son is like, “There’s a reason we have freezers,” and I only get it. There’s a reason you actually put stuff in the freezer. Because when you can’t get something at the store, that’s a scary prospect, and we are blessed and lucky to be able to do that.

Rosella Mosby:
You think about families in little tiny apartments that are pretty stuck in there and can’t… Especially, Auburn is one of the least healthy cities in the state of Washington, and so when you think about how families in a town with 30 different languages spoken and I’m sure there’s a lot of food security issues, those are things that we care about on the farm and we try to be a positive impact in our local community. So, I don’t know. It’s going to be interesting going forward to see how it all plays out.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thanks for sharing your story and keeping this farm going.

Rosella Mosby:
Oh, absolutely, Dillon. I’m glad you finally got it around.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. I know we’ve been talking about having this conversation for a long time. But what you guys do here is pretty cool, especially in my mind, because of how close you are to the Big City and how much different local food you guys grow. I mean, that list at the beginning was… Even though you said it’s shrunk, it was still a pretty long list, in my mind. I had come from a farm where we did one thing, raspberries, so it’s cool to hear about all that.

Rosella Mosby:
We can’t do it without our team, and I say it often, we can sign our name on the dotted line, but it takes a career to make it all happen and we are lucky to have a three generation family that works on this first generation farm and it is a farm family, for sure. We have huge respect for them and vice versa, and we all work together for that common goal of being successful every year. We try hard. It doesn’t always work but we try hard.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
So, some pretty big takeaways from this conversation with Rosella. Ask where your food is coming from, ask at the store. Even if that one conversation doesn’t do it, multiple conversations, if people keep asking, more and more people are interested in it, stores will respond and will put more emphasis on that. That will eventually go up the chain. And also, you could takeaway that buying local does make a difference on so many levels that we talked about. So, it is worth doing that. And it is important in our community and to change in our food system.

Dillon Honcoop:
And then also, one other important takeaway is that some ideas as far as changes and rules and things like that may sound good on the surface, like they’re supposed to help things, but may have unintended consequences that actually hurt more than help. So, we need to be careful when we’re putting new laws and regulations. What is the global impact of this? Will it accomplish a small thing over here while causing a much larger harm elsewhere? We need to ask those questions before we back ourselves into a corner. Again, Mosby Farms, Rosella Mosby. You can check them out online. You can check out their pumpkin patch in Auburn.

Dillon Honcoop:
And please subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t already on whatever your favorite podcast platform is. Follow us on social media. We’re on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and make sure to check us out on YouTube as well where you can watch the full video of this episode and see the gorgeous historic barn that we recorded the whole conversation in. Thanks so much for following and supporting Real Food Real People.

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.

Kady Porterfield | #036 08/17/2020

An unexpected path led Kady Porterfield from her family's California ranch here to Washington state. She has a passion for helping the people behind our food, and shares her dream for her future.

Transcript

Kady Porterfield:
It was a heart sinker, yeah. When the last few mandates came out for Washington state, it was just like, okay. But you feel so helpless, too, because there is really nothing you can do.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
A lot of people talk about how farmers are getting older and older, and people are aging out of growing food. It’s true, but at the same time, I’ve been really encouraged as I’ve continued on these journeys all over the state with this podcast to get to know young people, young men and women, who are super passionate about growing food, and advocating for other people growing food. That’s the story this week, of our guest Kady Porterfield, who’s actually originally from California.

Dillon Honcoop:
We’ll hear about her story, how she ended up in Washington, how passionate she is. She’s a pro. She’s super professional, involved in a lot of stuff, very smart and successful person, and she has a dream for what she wants. She’s not actually growing food right now herself, but she has a dream, and a vision, and a plan to eventually be there. At the same time, we talk about some of the stuff that’s going on with COVID right now, too, and what that’s meant for fairs.

Dillon Honcoop:
Country fairs are totally about food, and no I’m not talking about the corn dogs, and the snow cones, and the cotton candy. I’m talking about the people who raise food, and animals, and crops, and that’s the foundation of it all, so we talk about that, too, because she’s very plugged in with that world professionally. Kady Porterfield is our guest this week. I’m Dillon Honcoop, and this is the Real Food Real People podcast, again, documenting my journeys to get to know the real people behind our food and our food system all over Washington state.

Dillon Honcoop:
Of all the things that you could do with your background, and your education, you’re still plugged into farming. Why is that? What draws you to farming, and ranching, and this world?

Kady Porterfield:
It’s my roots, and it’s my passion. It’s going to be my forever. I can’t imagine any other life that’s not focused on agriculture and how it’s moving forward into the future, and what it does for the world, and how it impacts the people who benefit from it, but also the people who are in it every day. It’s my way of life. I’m really proud of it. It’s ingrained into me, it’s in my blood.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what it does for the world, what do you mean by that?

Kady Porterfield:
Feeding the people, and we still have a lot of work to do. With an ever growing population, it’s just going to keep going and going. People are working so hard to find ways that we can make food better and more efficient to get more food out there for the world.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what kind of stuff? What are you seeing in the farming community?

Kady Porterfield:
Well, from what I see, there’s loss of smaller farms, which is sad, but there’s also a need always to be growing, and moving forward and having to keep up with the times, and the whole business climate really plays into farming and ranching, and that needs to be a huge focus that some people don’t see. Sometimes, it’s just looked at farming and ranching, and not looked like as a business. So there’s ups and downs, but my belief is there’s a place for everything in the world because they support all different avenues of consumers.

Kady Porterfield:
There’s a place for big, place for small, place for conventional, place for organic, and so on. I think everyone just works well together, and all of them are solutions, and it’s great that some people can have choices, and it’s great that we can do it in other ways that are cheaper for those who might not have any choices.

Dillon Honcoop:
So from what I understand about what you do right now, you’re like an advocate in a lot of different senses, right? Talk about, you have multiple roles around the farming community.

Kady Porterfield:
Yeah, so when I got out of college, I knew before I go back to the family ranch someday, I really just wanted to focus on advocacy, and I found the fair industry was a great way to do that because you’re not only educating the next young agriculturalists of tomorrow, but you’re getting to connect with consumers that come to your fair that are of an urban, or suburban population, or just maybe not on a farm or ranch, and so their only interaction they get with agriculture or livestock is at a fair.

Kady Porterfield:
That could be the only place all year round that they get that, and so I’ve, my six years in this profession, just created an even bigger passion for just looking at those two avenues of education and working towards that. But in a broader each, I help out and still have hands on stuff for other peoples’ operations right now, and just as a hobby for me, but obviously I’m not at my family’s ranch, and so that fills my time.

Kady Porterfield:
So in the meantime, I’m working in industry associations so that I can help protect that way of life so that when I’m ready to take that over, or the next generation ready to pass that down to, I want it to still be there. So I’ve involved myself in different Ag associations across the state, and still back home in the state of California as well. I try to keep tied in there too.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s a really forward view. You’re thinking about longterm [crosstalk 00:05:54].

Kady Porterfield:
Right, exactly. It is. And that’s how a lot of actually farmers and ranchers think, I feel. To them, they’re so proud, and have so much attachment to their operation, because it’s not only their lifestyle, but they do want to leave behind a legacy, and they do want the next generation, they want to see it continue. And that’s a big thing, and sometimes that also this industry is failing at is doing proper planning to make sure that those steps can take place, but they still care about it, and yeah.

Kady Porterfield:
That’s no different for me, and so my involvement in industry associations to be a voice and work alongside people that want to protect this way of life, and how we operate so that we can feed the growing population, and continue to do so in the best way possible. That means a lot right now during my time not in production agriculture.

Dillon Honcoop:
So your main job is working with the fair. What’s your job title, it’s the Kittitas Valley, what, Fair and Events Center, what? What’s the…

Kady Porterfield:
Yeah, so the grounds is now called the Kittitas Valley Events Center. Went through a rebrand a few years ago because we host events all year round, Ag-based and not, and just community-based. So this fairgrounds is widely used, and so it keeps us very busy. But our main love and biggest event of the year, of course, is the Kittitas County Fair and Ellensburg Rodeo. So I have a really fun time working with both the fair board and the rodeo board to put on those events, because the rodeo, just like the fair, is also an agricultural education type based event in my mind, and so it’s not just entertainment.

Kady Porterfield:
People learn about livestock, going and watching the rodeo, and they get that interaction, and understand that lifestyle. So it’s fun to be working with those events simultaneously as they’re going on every labor day weekend. But yeah, I keep busy. My tile is the event center director, but yes, that falls under facility management, and the event side of things, the interim, and fair manager.

Dillon Honcoop:
Does it feel like farming sometimes, or does it just feel like office job sometimes? I guess probably both, right?

Kady Porterfield:
Probably both. A lot more office than I’d like, sometimes. In previous jobs before I got this position a year and a half ago, I was the agricultural department manager for the Central Washington State Fair, and even though I was still doing a lot of office work, I was just submerged in the Ag sector only, which was a ton of fun, and for my first career job, that was right where I wanted to be, right in my passion.

Kady Porterfield:
Of course now being at a little higher level of position, I have to encompass everything of the day to day business, but I think it could be transferred over to farming and ranching, still, because a lot of farmers and ranchers, they love working in the business, and doing the farm and ranch work. But sometimes, the paperwork isn’t as much desired, but it’s still very necessary to be able to be successful, and so it’s probably prepping me to make sure that I can keep office work going, and not slack off on it.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what does it take to make the Kittitas Valley, and I’m making sure I’m getting this name right, Kittitas Valley Fair-

Kady Porterfield:
Event center.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, but the actual big event, labor day, and which is like the biggest annual event in this whole area, right?

Kady Porterfield:
Yes, Kittitas County Fair.

Dillon Honcoop:
Fair and rodeo, what all goes into that? I mean you’re working on that all year to make that happen on labor day?

Kady Porterfield:
All year round. Both boards meet, and I meet with both of them, and the planning, the capital, what projects we’re going to do to better the fairgrounds in preparation, what changes we want to see. Winter and spring is getting all of the papers renewed for the next year, and all of the new information and planning goes into place.

Kady Porterfield:
Then late spring summer, we’re working on getting those things ready around all of the events that we’re trying to host and manage at the same time, but it does. You just got to pace yourself throughout the year, and make the juggle to make this place profitable, and keep it rolling, make it valuable year round.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the event like when it actually happens?

Kady Porterfield:
Awesome.

Dillon Honcoop:
What all, there’s rodeo stuff happening, there’s animal exhibits. I would imagine there’s the classic carnival stuff going on.

Kady Porterfield:
Oh, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Describe what [crosstalk 00:10:31] looks like.

Kady Porterfield:
Vendor row, yeah. It’s just, this fairgrounds, for one, is beautiful, and we’re in a great spot in Ellensburg, and so how the layout is just really fits, and when you’re walking through the fair side, you can just hear everything going on in the big rodeo arena, and you’re almost just itching to get in there, and get a ticket to go watch because it’s such a good production that the Ellensburg Rodeo puts on.

Kady Porterfield:
And then on the fair side, you just feel so comfortable, because there’s so much community, and between walking from vendor row, and through the carnival, and then down to the fair food, the booths are just lined up, easy access, and the animal barns, they’re historic, so if they have a good feel of going around them, but then getting to go into the big pavilion and see all the kids show every year, and we have several show rings gong at once all around, and so you can feel the competition going. It’s all in their face, and you walk in you’re like whoa, okay. You can feel it in the air.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s awesome.

Kady Porterfield:
It’s pretty awesome, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thinking this bizarre year of COVID, that’s one of those things I’m going to miss the most. I’m such a junky for fair food. Now that you mentioned that, I’m thinking about it. Just thinking about deep fried anything, and how wonderful it is. But fair food, and how fairs are connected to the production of food, two totally different things, and I think people don’t think about that part of it, about how producing food, farming, stewarding the land, how that’s all connected to fairs that happen every year. Again, people think of yeah, deep fried stuff, and rodeos, and carnivals, but I think a lot of people forget the roots of the whole fair scene.

Kady Porterfield:
Exactly. And I think this year with COVID has made people realize what the roots of all fairs are, truly, and that’s the agricultural exhibits, and the livestock. This is definitely been a year, while it’s very challenging for our youth, and 4-H, and FFA, and other livestock exhibitors, it’s also a huge learning year because it’s so practical to the daily that other farmers and ranchers and production agriculture have to go through. Market ups and downs, and not being able to sell an animal, maybe.

Kady Porterfield:
Luckily, a lot of people are working on the virtual actions so that the kids can still sell their animals as a product, and the communities are being super supportive all across the nation which is amazing to see, especially because so many of those are small businesses that have also been so hurt from COVID. People are just amazing. But this is definitely a learning opportunity for those young kids, and that’s what the experience is all about. It’s learning how to be in production agriculture, and that’s what you have to take sometimes.

Dillon Honcoop:
And being proud of what you do, too. Not just farming because, well, it makes you money, or even just because it produces food one way or the other. But trying to do a great job of it, right?

Kady Porterfield:
Right, yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s what I see when I-

Kady Porterfield:
Putting a good quality product out there on the market. I mean, that’s what I’ve always preached, is that kids need to realize that, and it needs to be ingrained in their programs that you’re not trying to show an animal with the longest hair. You’re trying to show something that somebody can eat and enjoy, and it needs to have all the qualities all around. It’s really important.

Dillon Honcoop:
There’s so much history to that, too. It’s such a brutal year this year, because, again, most of us are going to think about all the entertainment opportunities that are missed, and I love the entertainment value of a fair, but what you’re talking about here is the educational value. It has been such a tough year for education, with schools, and how to keep kids occupied and plugged into stuff, and this is another one of those things that has gone away this year. What are you hearing from some of those kids, those families? The farm families that normally show, that kind of stuff. Are they pretty heartbroken?

Kady Porterfield:
Yeah. It’s something that the whole community looks forward to every year. The fair, in any community is when that whole community gets to come together and celebrate. Not just agriculture, but being a community, and showcasing even through local entertainment and stuff, what the kids are doing in school. Special dance groups, all those things. Everyone gets to showcase their stuff at the annual fair, and so people are losing all over, in different ways, and I think people are just sad that we can’t come together and be together during that time.

Kady Porterfield:
It’s such a tradition, and it used to always be that it was the fun thing to get off the farm and ranch and do, and that was what traditionally it was all about too, and so it’s definitely been safe for everyone, and our hearts are right there with them.

Dillon Honcoop:
How hard was it to make that call? Because I know when a lot of these things were canceled, and it’s been some time ago now, a lot of stuff was even more up in the air than it is now.

Kady Porterfield:
Right, and I know-

Dillon Honcoop:
There was politics involved, and all kinds of crazy stuff.

Kady Porterfield:
From all of the people I’ve talked to on all the events and fairs and rodeos across the country, they have exhausted all options, and tried almost everything they can to try to figure out how to put it on, and it just comes down to there’s no safe way to do it, or the authority isn’t there, and [inaudible 00:16:16] one of the hardest decisions to make. I’m glad to see a few fairs have been lucky to have been able to put on an event and everything they had to go through in their region to be able to put a safe event on, that’s great that they got to do that, but I know in some areas it’s just not possible.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was that like when the announcement was made? What did that feel like to, this is your year, yeah, you do events year-round, but this is the big showcase, to have that canceled.

Kady Porterfield:
It was a heart sinker. Yeah, it was just like… You just kind of, and I guess our decision here was postponed long enough where we thought we would still have a chance, and so our hopes were up for a long time, and so it made us sink back even a little bit further when it finally came to the point when the last few mandates came out for Washington state, it was just like… Okay.

Kady Porterfield:
But you feel so helpless, too, because there is really nothing you can do. It’s just all right, now we got to change our mindset. What’s the best thing we can do to move forward, and how do we get these kids to still be able to seel their animal, and showcase what they’ve been raising all year long? So even though we took a minute to be sad, but then mind shift focus, and we’re focused on planing this virtual fair that we’re hosting here in a few weeks. So it just has to be quick. Got to be ready for change and make it happen.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, it seems like everything else in life is happening on Zoom now, so I guess you have to figure out how to do a fair on Zoom, right?

Kady Porterfield:
Something like that, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Zoom fair, obviously it’s going to be more than that, I know, but crazy.

Kady Porterfield:
Yeah, yeah. We’ll see how it all turns out.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about the other organizations that you’re involved with? I know you’re involved with the Washington CattleWomen, right?

Kady Porterfield:
Correct. I am currently the president. I’ve been president since 2017, and I’m in my second term now that’ll end in 2021. I joined the CattleWomen in 2015 up here for Washington. I’ve had an absolute blast. The ladies up here that are members are fantastic, and we have so much fun going around doing beef promotion events, and working with our state beef commission, and the Washington Cattlemen’s. There’s so many great things we get to do, and always looking for new ways we can connect with consumers, and meet them, and show them our face, and say, “Hey, yeah we’re raising the beef you want to put on your plate, or maybe you don’t want to put it on your plate, but we’ll let you know this is who we are anyway.”

Kady Porterfield:
There’s a lot of that. We try to immerse ourselves in all kinds of communities and do different things just to get the word out there abut beef, and that women are highly involved, just as much as the men.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, I think that’s a stereotype that a lot of people… It’s interesting, people might criticize that but if they do, it’s probably coming from a place of not being aware of it. Most beef operations are family operations.

Kady Porterfield:
That’s right.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is there any, I’m trying to think, any in the state that’s not a family operation, one way or the other? And it’s man, woman, and child, everybody in the family who’s available, and you know…

Kady Porterfield:
It’s everybody, and yeah. The women aren’t just cooking the food for the brandings anymore. I mean, they are in it, or running the show now. So there’s a good mix, and yeah, the stereotypes are being broken, but it’s all about all of everyone working together. So that’s been fun, and then I’ve also been a part of the Washington Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee through the State Farm Bureau. I’ve been county representatives for quite a few years, first in Yakima, now for Kittitas, and I’ve been the vice chair of the Young Farmers and Ranchers State Committee for two year snow.

Kady Porterfield:
So that’s been a really fun group. I get to work with and dabble in all kinds of industries working, and with people my age. And it’s just so great to connect, and talk about issues that yeah, us as young people want to work on to make sure our future operations are going to be there for us. So that’s where Farm Bureau plays a really important role, I feel like, and I see a lot of value there.

Kady Porterfield:
But just being involved overall in Farm Bureau, I’ve been learning a lot, and there’s so much more to learn ,as far as the policy side, and different things like that. For Kittitas county I just recently was appointed to their county Farm Bureau board, and they graciously made me policy chair, so now I’m really starting, I’m going to get to learn because I’m going to be the one representing us in our county for that.

Dillon Honcoop:
So explain, policy. What kind of policies, what are talking about?

Kady Porterfield:
So the Farm Bureau, as a state every year, we come together and review. We have a policy book, and that’s where we stand on all agricultural polices, that when we go to Olympia, or are asking legislators for things, or trying to persuade them on bills that are coming up, that’s our policy book we follow, that that’s where we stand and that guides the State Farm Bureau staff, and all of the counties on we’re doing that.

Kady Porterfield:
But every year, we get the chance to amend, and revise, and add. So it’s a huge process, but it keeps the communication going, and helps us adapt as things change, and how we see the industry moving. So I’ve only been involved in it recently but so far, it’s a fun process, and I’m learning a lot from it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Back to stereotypes, just thinking about this. Again, the stereotype is the farmer, or the rancher is usually an older man. You’re a younger woman. What’s that like being in that world? Do you come up against that sometimes?

Kady Porterfield:
Sometimes, yeah. Even in this industry, I think that there’s a little bit on both sides that I can see that I’m kind of involved in. But overall, I also see a lot of support, at least. Most of the older generation are starting to understand, and most of them actually get it. There’s only a few that maybe aren’t quite with the times, or don’t see all of the positives that can come out of the newer generations, maybe. But it’s actually really encouraging to see. I mean, for an example, just working with not necessarily older men, but some older women, cattle women, the groups, tend to be mostly older women because a lot of the younger women are too busy, and raising families, and they’re not really immersing themselves in volunteer activities.

Kady Porterfield:
But these women in the CattleWomen are just outstanding, and right away they accepted me. There was no stereotypes about age, or anything, I mean, it was just awesome. And then they put me as their president after only being there two years, and I’m like, “Are you sure?” But they’re so sweet, and so I know that that stereotype overall, and getting to work with the Cattlemen’s Association, people realize the stereotype isn’t valid anymore, I guess. So it’s good to see.

Dillon Honcoop:
So where do you come from? You mentioned back home, and California. What was that? You grew up in the farming, ranching world?

Kady Porterfield:
Yeah. So I grew up on a beef cattle and hay ranch right along the California Oregon border on the Klamath Basin, just on the California side of the border. Little town called Dorris, California is where I went to high school. My family’s been ranching in that valley since my grandfather was 17, but there was six generations of my family have been cattle ranching. I’m the sixth, actually. So I am very proud of that, and I do want to see a seventh come, and some day I think that’s really awesome.

Kady Porterfield:
But yeah, little tiny town. I graduated with a class of 29, and so I come from a really small background but there’s tons of farming, and ranching back home, so that’s where my heart lies for sure, is cattle ranching, and that way of life. I call mom and dad almost every day and ask them what’s happening on the ranch, and try to keep tabs on them. I just don’t want to get too disconnected while I’m working on some other career goals, so.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what’s ranching life like then? What did you grow up doing every day on and around the ranch and farm?

Kady Porterfield:
Oh, man. So many things. Other than caring for the animals, but we learned how to run hay equipment too, and all of that. But my favorite stuff was getting to go to brandings, and to go to grandpa’s brandings, and all those kinds of things. Cattle drives, they’re still a thing, and those were some of my favorite days, and just gong and riding the range ground. We leased a lot of range ground for our cattle. Being in a high desert climate, you need a lot of acres to cover.

Kady Porterfield:
So a lot of riding, and I still have horses, and riding is still heavily involved in my life today, also. But feeding, I have pictures of me on a feed truck when I was like three years old with my dad, feeding cows, and some of those are my favorite childhood pictures. But there’s a whole side of it that I’m now trying to learn, that maybe I didn’t take advantage of more when I was younger, and that was the paperwork side of it, and my mom’s always done such a good job, and she just puts nose to the grindstones, and that’s…

Kady Porterfield:
It’s always going out and doing the work when you’re younger. But some of my teenage years, I probably wish I could have learned a little bit more from her on that side at the time, but you keep busy, that’s for sure. And then when you start getting involved in 4-H all spring and summer you’re raising your own livestock on top of it, and all of that, and when you got bummer calves that don’t… We lose the moms, or what not, and so me and my sister were always in charge of raising the bottle babies, and feeding them every day. All the critters, it was fun.

Dillon Honcoop:
Some people, there’s controversy, of course, as I’m sure you’re well aware around beef, and raising animals. Any sort of animal agriculture for some people, but you talk about things like cattle drives, and branding and stuff, some people who aren’t familiar with how it works say, “Well, that’s cruel.” Or, “Why do you have to do that?” What’s your response to that kind of stuff, because I know a lot of people are really curious. Is that kind of stuff necessary? Is it bad? Is it good? And they’re not sure what to feel about it.

Kady Porterfield:
And it’s understandable, because when you don’t have that background and you see that, I can understand where the concerns will lie. But if it’s done right and properly, then it’s definitely the best for the animal in the long run. It’s just like anything, giving vaccinations or anything like that. Most people, we vaccinate ourselves, we vaccinate our kids. We do things for the health of them in the long run, and what we really try to do is make the stressful time as a short a period as possible, and as easy on them without causing any pain, or anything like that.

Kady Porterfield:
During brandings, yeah, there’s some short terms stuff, but it’s very quick, and then they’re off and easting back with their mother immediately. So yeah, it does look bad in some cases, but really it’s done the best way possible in most cases. And there’s a new program called Beef Quality Assurance that’s a national program, and like 80%, I think, of ranchers have gone through that program, or have completed the certification, and that goes through how to properly vaccinate, proper vaccination areas, and anything as far as handling animals, and keeping them as low stress as possible in any situation of moving them, or anything like that.

Kady Porterfield:
Cattle, you just got to, for me, it’s about reading their body, and their language, and every cow is different, and you got to be ready. But also, they’re tough animals. They are built for different climates, and [inaudible 00:28:50] and they can outstand a lot more than what people think, and they’re a lot bigger and stronger than us humans, and so there’s a lot of, cows can be really dangerous. But really, it’s about finding that working relationship, and really working on stockmanship, I think. It’s been a big push, of my parents with us growing up, and I continue to see it growing in the industry today, which is amazing.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you think a lot of the beef that’s produced in this country is produced with those kind of values that you were raised with?

Kady Porterfield:
Yes. Yes. I mean, being involved especially with the CattleWomen and going nationally, and being involved with American National CattleWomen as well, and getting just to see how people are all across the country, and the programs that are happening, and seeing the stats, these cattle are transitioning. They’re just so much better off than they were 30 years ago.

Kady Porterfield:
The advancements the industry has made are just, I’m blown away at how, in a short amount of time, on all levels, we can become better, and that were still working on getting better, and finding new ways. We push ourselves. We don’t need regulation to push us, because the things we do, and keeping the animals low stress, and handling well, and all of that all adds to the productivity and product that we put, and the better product we have, the more profitable. So it’s very advantageous for ranchers to put those types of programs into place, or have those skills. They’ll see it on their bottom line.

Dillon Honcoop:
How can people know if they can trust the beef that they’re buying at the store, or that they’re getting at a restaurant that they’re eating? Is there a way to know? Because people are more and more concerned about, we want to make sure the food that we’re consuming is healthy and is ethical.

Kady Porterfield:
Yes. I know that no product that’s unhealthy, at least, is going to be put on the shelf, ever. Everything you’re going to be able to purchase and buy is going to be completely safe for you to eat, but as far as if-

Dillon Honcoop:
In the meat?

Kady Porterfield:
In the meat case. Yeah, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I was going to say I saw some stuff at the gas station the other day, in a package. Yeah, I wasn’t so sure it was safe.

Kady Porterfield:
Maybe not gas station [inaudible 00:31:22].

Dillon Honcoop:
Like Kratom pills, or something. I’m like, “That’s legal?” I don’t know.

Kady Porterfield:
Yeah, oh man. But as far if you really want to know where your meat is coming from, I highly suggest finding a local source, whether it be even regional, or anything like that, and finding, there’s so many ranchers and farmers transitioning to being able to sell value added and on a local market, rather than through the large conventional chain through the grocery stores. And so that’s great, because then you get to know the person, or farm, ranch that’s raising your food.

Kady Porterfield:
But overall, from what I’ve seen from the reports that I’ve heard given at some of these conventions, a lot of that conventional stuff that is being raised and put into the grocery stores is becoming better, and better, and better raised. The beef quality assurance program has ways to actually test, and has markers that show how that animal product has been affected, and if it’s really bad, or something is really wrong with it, you will not see it, and it won’t be sold to you if something devastating was to happen to the animal, the carcass.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you see yourself doing in five, 10, 20 years, whatever the timeline is for you? It sounds like you, eventually, see yourself back as a part of the family ranch in California. What do you want that to look like?

Kady Porterfield:
Well, from recent conversations, and transition planning with my family, the ranch transition can happen as early as probably in another decade to 15 years. But I’ve always had the mindset you just kind of got to see where things are when it comes along. It’s great to have plans, but don’t plan on them too hard, because I’m sure someone up above would change that plan. If you were deadest on it, it would get changed for you.

Kady Porterfield:
That’s happened a couple times to me, so. But I see myself definitely in the fair industry, and even when I go back to the family ranch, luckily there’s some amazing fairs back home, too, and in some way, I would find out how to be involved in the fair industry still, because the value is there on so many levels. There’s so many positions you can have, whether you’re fair staff and management, or fair board director, or just a volunteer, superintendent, 4-H leader. There are so many ways you can contribute to the fair industry, and make a huge impact, so that’s always going to be there, I feel. I’m always going to have the two industries immersed. Even if they flip flop which one is the daily priority, they’re both very important to me.

Dillon Honcoop:
And I’m realizing I forgot to ask you earlier, talk about your educational background, too. You talked about going to high school. Class of what? What did you say?

Kady Porterfield:
29.

Dillon Honcoop:
29 classmates.

Kady Porterfield:
Yeah, and six of those were foreign exchange students, so.

Dillon Honcoop:
Tiny little school. But what’d you do after high school?

Kady Porterfield:
So I actually went to the State University of New York at Cobleskill College of Agriculture and Technology. It’s a little bit of a mouthful, but I went there because I had a passion to also play college sports, and so I was looking at D2 and D3 schools across the country, and there’s some good Ag schools. I went back and visited in New York, and it turned out that there agriculture business program was actually really, really good, and was thought out from Ag kids all over the north east. That’s their big powerhouse Ag school back there.

Kady Porterfield:
Even though it’s a smaller school compared to some of our Ag schools out here in the west, the Ag program is about the same as the Ag programs here in the west. Just a smaller school for the rest of the degrees. So I found that really interesting, and lucky for me, that school wanted me to play two sports for them, instead of just one.

Dillon Honcoop:
I was going to ask, you were talking about D2 and D3 sports, well what sport? What’s your thing?

Kady Porterfield:
So I got to play volleyball and basketball Cobleskill.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s your-

Kady Porterfield:
Go tigers!

Dillon Honcoop:
Nice. What’s your number one? If you were just going to do one, what was it going to be?

Kady Porterfield:
That’s what everyone asked me, and I couldn’t decide. I was like I don’t know, I have to wait for the best opportunity. If I choose one, then I’ll end up having to play the other. It was just like, one of those things.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you love them both?

Kady Porterfield:
I love them both. I was so blessed to be able to get to play both, and have an awesome experience in college getting my agricultural business degree, and it was just like the three legs of the stool were there, and that is where I sat and landed. It was such an amazing experience because I was, of course, the only kid from California, almost, in the entire college, and the only kid from California in the Ag program, and so all of my college classes, I got so much engagement because my professors and other students would be asking me my perspective being a California kid. And agriculture being so huge in California and all over the west coast, I got to be a huge part of those conversations, which just enhanced the learning much more. So that was a ton of fun, and I’m glad that I got to experience another side of the country, too, and learn how different agriculture is, because that just helped me have a better understanding overall.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what positions did you play?

Kady Porterfield:
In basketball, I was a center. In volleyball, I was an outside my freshman year, and then a middle for the remaining years, which is always the positions I were in high school as well, so yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you still play much?

Kady Porterfield:
Since I’ve moved to Ellensburg, when I was in Yakima, I used to play volleyball in an adult league all the time, and that was a lot of fun, and I continue to play in Spokane’s Hoopfest, largest three on three in the world, and so that’s a lot of fun. I was really sad it was canceled this year, but I do try to keep playing, and so hopefully I will find some more time to keep going, and hopefully once all this COVID’s over, and sports can start again, I’ll be looking forward to that.

Kady Porterfield:
But I’m also learning new hobbies because I’m learning how to breakaway rope, and so I’m trying a new sport, and so that’s been a lot of fun, too, and something, as I age, I’ll have to learn how to do something different. My body can already feel all those years of hitting the gym floor in basketball, or something like that, so.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, and I wasn’t a great sports player, but I do think about some of the sports stuff that I dabbled in, in high school. I wasn’t good enough to play after high school, but some of the things I did, realizing how bad it would hurt now, if I did the same things, took those same hits that I took in football, or…

Kady Porterfield:
Oh, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, man. It’s crazy to think. Has it been that many years? Am I really getting that old? I can’t be that old yet.

Kady Porterfield:
Yeah, I just hit that stage where I’m like, “Oh, that long ago?” I just started realizing that like the last year. Yeah, it’s not fun.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what’s your next move going to be? You’re here. Do you want to do this for quite a while yet, or you said it could be like a decade or more before you… You want to take over the ranch then, and kind of be head honcho and take it over from your parents. What about siblings? Do you have siblings?

Kady Porterfield:
Yeah, yeah, and actually-

Dillon Honcoop:
That are angling for the job, too?

Kady Porterfield:
Yeah, I just had a conversation with my sister last night on the phone, and we were already talking about stuff, and we’re both looking forward to working together. We will have joint ownership of the family ranch, and I know both of us have the same passion, and even if we spend our entire childhood fighting like no other, we’re in a place now in adulthood where like okay, there’s a lot of pride here, and we both have the same goals. It’ll be a joint effort, but I’m looking forward to it. We’ll see how the timeline works out.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you won’t fight at all?

Kady Porterfield:
Oh, we’ll probably fight. There will probably be some business decisions that don’t line up, but that’s typical, and that’s how family operations are, I guess. It’s a whole nother ballgame. It’s a lot different than other businesses, that’s for sure, but.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, how do you separate that? Because you still want to be family, and hopefully friends, but if you’re working together at the same time-

Kady Porterfield:
I don’t think there’s an answer for it, because what have wives and husbands done for all these years? I mean, they still struggle. They haven’t been able to figure it out. A lot of them stay together, so they figure out that much, but it doesn’t stop them for fighting about the farm and ranch stuff.

Dillon Honcoop:
That is true.

Kady Porterfield:
It’s just, it’s sometimes you don’t agree. And it is, it’s a challenge to separate your personal and business life when your personal and business life are your life. They’re ingrained together, there’s no separation. But that, again, probably leads back to why farmers and ranchers are so passionate, and love their lifestyle at the same time, because you get to do it with your family, too, and it’s what you love, and you can do it together. In a lot of other businesses, you don’t get the entire family to get to work with you. So it’s unique, it’s a double edged sword.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, totally true. And that’s been my experience growing up on a family farm as well. There’s amazing things abut it, and then really hard things about the interpersonal stuff. Dealing with conflict, even though if you grow up doing it, you do, I think, unless you really get into some bad habits, you learn how to do that along the way.

Kady Porterfield:
Yeah. My sister and I, we went to different Ag schools, and we have different teachings and all of that, but I think there’s things that I know that could benefit, and there’s things that she knows that could benefit. If we bring those together, I think the strength we have will outweigh a lot of the things that we might have to work through. But that’ll happen at any place of business. It’s just working through those, and handling the conflict resolution correctly. Which, when it’s family, sometimes it’s not that easy, but it’ll be good.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’ve been there. I know. Does that make you nervous at all? I know when I’ve thought, and I’m not really in a position to do it right now, but thought about taking over, continuing on the family farm, it’s like I’ve seen a lot, or most of it, but it freaks me out to think what if that’s all, all that responsibility is on my shoulders, could I do it?

Kady Porterfield:
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. No, it’s definitely something. If you start thinking about it too much, you do get nervous, and that’s one reason probably why I call my parents every day, and it probably drives them absolutely crazy, but I’m like I don’t want to slip up, and learn a month later you guys are doing something that I had no idea, and how am I going to prepare for that. So it’s been important for me to know the business plans moving forward.

Kady Porterfield:
And they get really busy, and just getting everything done, because it is a busy life. You have a huge to-do list every day, and then you have your this is late to do list. And so trying to pull that information, and stay up to date is difficult, or to try to learn, so my hope is that I will have the opportunity, when we’re ready to place a transition, that there will actually be a time where we can learn, and in person, and really get a handle on things. So we’ll see. We never know what the plan is from the other wonders of the world, but we just got to be prepared, and have the best plan that we can.

Dillon Honcoop:
Over your years of either being on the farm when you were, or still connected to it on the ranch, away from the ranch, what’s been the most challenging part, keeping that whole thing going? I mean, for your parents, for yourself. You talk about it being tough, but what’s it really like when it gets difficult?

Kady Porterfield:
I think for me it’s just understanding all of the processes, as far as what has to be done in the background. Not necessarily, I think, it’s easy to probably pickup working in the ranch, because that’s what I grew up doing. But learning all the stuff that goes, I know how to run a business, but learning all the intricacies that are specific to our ranch, and all of the needs and paperwork because the rules in agriculture are so different than what I’m handling here now. Yeah, there’s basic elements, but just the overload of different things that you have to know, and filling out the right paperwork permits, whatever it is, taxes, all that stuff.

Kady Porterfield:
That’s what I’m probably most nervous about, because I can’t learn that without doing it, and my mom holds all of that information, and so it’s like how do you slow her down to try to ask her, or understand. She’s amazing at record keeping, and book keeping, and that’s the thing. It’s just so detailed, and hopefully, with the records there I can learn quickly, but it’s learning how to do it right and keep it moving without making a mistake.

Kady Porterfield:
I think the toughest thing for me, the scariest thought, is probably making a big mistake that costs the ranch a big dollar hit. Because that does happen in transitions, too. So we’ll just got to hope for the best, and work towards that. But all those stressors are there, I guess. The toughest thing for me right now is when there’s so much going on, and I’m so far away, and I can’t just go and help during the weekend, or something like that.

Kady Porterfield:
There’s a million things going wrong every week, and just how it is. That’s normal. That I’m not there, and not just to help, but just to support my parents emotionally, and just know that they have us there, and that we’re going to be there. And my sister, same thing. She lives south, and so it’s hard for both of us. But we go home, and try to visit when we can, and catch up. But being away from family is really hard for a lot of reasons.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, the whole idea of me having conversations like we’re having here is to kind of reconnect people with the people who are growing the food that we’re all eating and buying in the store. What would you say, what’s your message to people who aren’t really connected with farming? What do they need to know to bring this whole thing back together, bring the different communities back together in sort of a mutual awareness and appreciation in our food system?

Kady Porterfield:
Yeah. I would say don’t be afraid to reach out and learn about people. Farmers and ranchers may be in your area where you could start. The information’s out there, and the industry is not putting out false information. The production side of the industry is really pretty trustworthy, and we want to give you the right information, and show you how we do things, and why we do things.

Kady Porterfield:
We want to make that connection, too, and that we want you to feel comfortable, because we’re eating the same food that we’re raising that we’re trying to serve to you, too. We’re definitely not out there, our goal is not to harm anyone. We want to do what’s best for the people of the world, and care for our animals along the way, and give them the best quality life that they can have until they fulfill their purpose, and that’s what it’s all about.

Dillon Honcoop:
Very cool stuff, and coming from a really cool story. I don’t know, to me, someone saying that means so much more when it’s from someone like you who, you’ve lived it. You’ve seen it, and not only have you been around it, but now you advocate for it as a professional, so that’s pretty powerful for someone like yourself to say.

Kady Porterfield:
And there’s so many avenues now on Facebook. There’s so many amazing advocates out there that I look up to that are sharing stuff all the time all over Facebook, and really, even if you’re not connecting face to ace with people in person, or local people, research and try to find advocates online, because they’re sharing real stories, too, and they’re readily available to talk to you about issues, and they have amazing answers that’ll, hopefully, completely give you a better understanding of what you’re concerned about.

Kady Porterfield:
It’s just amazing what they do, and what they’re able to promote on what they’re doing in their everyday lives. It’s hard to have the time to do all of the farming and ranching, and then get on social media and do all of that too. So our older generations have a terrible time doing it because it’s new, and they’re used to what they’re doing. But the younger generations are stepping up, and they’re really good at it. So don’t be afraid to find them and talk to them, even through Facebook. That’s what they want to do. We want to talk.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, I think our generation in particular is really bad at lying.

Kady Porterfield:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, we’re open books, I think, in a lot of ways. We’re used to being out there. We have had social media as a part of our lives for quite a while now, and we value authenticity-

Kady Porterfield:
And we want to be understood, and we want to share what we’re doing, because we think it’s really cool, and we want you to think it’s cool too, and know that it’s all for the betterment of everyone.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, I think what you’re doing is cool.

Kady Porterfield:
Thanks.

Dillon Honcoop:
And I really appreciate you doing the podcast.

Kady Porterfield:
Yes. Well, thank you for having me. This has been a lot of fun.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay, so Kady is somebody we need to keep tabs on, right? She’s already done a lot of cool stuff, but she has a vision, and just hearing her passion for what she does and her clarity into the future what she’s going to accomplish really gets me pUmped for our future at a time when we’re told we’re supposed to be depressed about our food system, and things are bad.

Dillon Honcoop:
Not necessarily, and things are getting better, and things can be good. The people, the new generations coming in have such passion and drive to make changes, and go in a positive direction. Really awesome to hear and see. Thank you for joining me here on the Real Food Real People podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m Dillon Honcoop, grew up on a farm in western Washington, and after years in media, I decided I want to share the stories of the people I grew up around, the communities that I still have some connections with. So I’m traveling all over the state to connect with those people, get to know new people, and share that with you, and allow you to be a part of and more connected with our food system, the real people growing our food.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’d really appreciate it if you followed us on social media, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Also, subscribe to the podcast, and check us out on YouTube as well. As always, the website is realfoodrealpeople.org, and you can email me anytime, dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org.

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.

Bridget Coon part 2 | #030 07/06/2020

She's a digital communications expert and consultant, but she also runs a beef ranch in Eastern Washington. In the second half of our conversation with Bridget Coon we hear her dream for changing our food system for the better.

Transcript

Bridget Coon:
I have to stay connected. I have to try to bridge these two worlds because that’s who I am and who I’ve always been, but it’s just kind of grown and become a career on one end and then also carrying on this beef cattle legacy that I grew up with.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
COVID is changing our food system and it’s exposed vulnerabilities, but at the same time, it’s kind of turned us back to the importance of the food that we grow here and buying local but it’s left a lot of us with questions, is our food system something that we can trust? We heard about meat shortages and problems with meat processing. What was really going on behind-the-scenes?

Dillon Honcoop:
We tackle that and a lot of other really big picture stuff this week with beef rancher from Benge, Washington, Bridget Coon. She’s our guest again this week. This is part two of our conversation. If you want to hear some of her personal backstory and how she got to where she is now, make sure to check out last week’s episode, Episode 29 of part one with her. This is the second half of that conversation. Whether you’ve listened to that first half or not, there’s a ton of gems that come up in the conversation this week about what’s really happening with our food system and what the truth really is about how our food is produced here in Washington State and in this country.

Dillon Honcoop:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast. I’m Dillon Honcoop. These are crazy times that we live in with everything that’s going on in the world right now. Again, it’s leaving a lot of us with questions and that’s part of the focus of this podcast is to get some answers. We do some of that this week. I really hope you enjoy this conversation. We pick up right here where we left off last week with Bridget Coon around her kitchen table in Benge, Washington.

Dillon Honcoop:
Technically, what’s your gig now? Is it just basically freelancing stuff or what do you do, aside from the ranch stuff, your other work?

Bridget Coon:
I held on to sort of that employment level situation with the Beef Commission until about 2017 and that was after having two kids. It was just really hard to be performing at the level that I wanted to be in that job and then not shortchanging the family, not shortchanging the kids. There’s not a lot of childcare options out here. Notice and so I tried to piece it together for a long time and I think I finally just got to the point and it should be a pretty, it’s like probably a pretty relatable feeling for a lot of women in my kind of my set that I just finally realized that I couldn’t get up earlier and I couldn’t put more effort in and I couldn’t really control for sort of this ongoing feeling like I get to the end of the day exhausted, but not really feeling like I did a great job being a mom and not doing my job at the level that I’m used to doing because I’m doing this works well before this arrangement.

Bridget Coon:
What I do now, just started with actually quitting, which is probably one of the hardest changes that I had to come to and stop being stubborn and realizing that this was the change that had to be made but I just never really lacked for work and that’s kind of your farm kid, you’re just wired for it.

Dillon Honcoop:
The fun stuff to do.

Bridget Coon:
People, if someone knows that you can do something, it’s just you’re going to get that opportunity. What started with quitting parlayed into actually just sort of, I don’t have to do nothing. I just couldn’t do exactly what they needed. It ended up being a contract to buy the digital advertising, which is something we had already been doing for the commission and still getting to do a lot of that work, but it’s just a sliver of it. Then, it took less than months to get outreach from people I know in the industry that want to do more. They wanted to do more communication and more, what we call having a digital footprint, I guess, and using email communication instead of just newsletters and all these things that most organizations that are smaller organizations don’t have like the room internally to do.

Bridget Coon:
I basically had two clients from the beef or cattle world within a matter of a couple months and then have been approached. I’ve never pitched any work. I was reluctant to call it a business or call it what it was but it was really only this year that both my kids are school aged and we have a little school in Benge. It’s like six miles away but enrollment this year is higher than it’s been in a while, 17 kids.

Dillon Honcoop:
I drove past it.

Bridget Coon:
Did you see it?

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s quite small, but it looks like a very nice, newish building.

Bridget Coon:
Well, they actually just did some renovations. So sad about the kids not being in school right now. It’s like, cool. They actually-

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, it’s the time to do it.

Bridget Coon:
My husband went to school there…

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh wow.

Bridget Coon:
… in elementary school. He’s pretty amazed in seeing that work that’s just been done. They got a small school or rural school grant and that work was done this last summer. But anyway, my kids then were supposed to be in school learning. I kind of had this window of six, seven hours in the day that I haven’t had in seven years. My work just sort of has ramped up naturally. Like I said, I haven’t pitched anybody. Right now, I don’t have more room for that. I’m kind of feel like I’m somewhat… I put myself back in a familiar position with this unexpected change of life where the kids were home before summer. I figured I could figure out how to shuffle a summer and get some help from family to make sure that I felt like they were having a great summer and I was still getting work done for my clients.

Bridget Coon:
Then, I had my last work meeting off, actually my new client that wanted to have some work done. I’ve since shuffled that off to someone else because there’s just no way.

Dillon Honcoop:
Welcome to the COVID world.

Bridget Coon:
Yeah, because I feel like I’m fairly well built for it because I’ve been down this road and it’s just things that I’m used to navigating. I work from home. I’m comfortable with that but that sort of abruptness, didn’t really leave room to shuffle anything around.

Dillon Honcoop:
How much has COVID changed on the ranch here?

Bridget Coon:
Oh, nothing, other than the kids being home from school instead of that school. It’s, I say short of nuclear fallout. Cows are going to get fed, water is going to get turned on, farming is going to happen.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s pretty easy to slow the spread when there aren’t. There aren’t any other people for miles.

Bridget Coon:
Social distancing is our way of life. I only go to the store and even my husband was having to go for parts because those stores are open in order to support agriculture. He could stop a little store in Ritzville and grab groceries and I can live along for a long time. I’m pretty crafty in the kitchen. I have a freezer full of beef.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about with the markets and stuff and then we heard about all these beef or meat plant closures? What does that mean for you guys and big picture, what’s the truth about what’s going on there?

Bridget Coon:
Yeah, obviously, we have an issue in our supply chain. When this started happening and testing for COVID-19 testing around really any processing plants, but like food processing plants are about the only ones that were open still because they were essential. It’s not like it’s a national or global problem at this point but what was concerning rate of COVID-19 cases coming from meat plants. Those plants have been working with their local health department and working within the CDC guidelines and basically working in to solve a problem to make sure that workers can process meat safely and not be transmitting COVID-19 to each other. It’s kind of one of those fix the problem while it’s happening situations and that started with slowdowns with the plants, again, losing workforce because some workers were sick and then also just figuring out how to reshape their operations to make them safer for their workers. Some of that has resulted in shutdowns.

Bridget Coon:
Every time a plant shuts down, essentially, you’ve got ranches like ours feeding into feed yards, whereby cattle are at a certain point, they’re ready, they’re ready for slaughter but if our capacity to process them is diminished for any reason, in this case, it’s COVID-19 and the efforts being done in plants, you have a backup of cattle. Then, if you back that all the way up to the ranch level, the opportunities to market your calves to the feed yard shrink because there’s animals that are ready to leave. They’re taking have space at the end, so to speak.

Dillon Honcoop:
You can’t just have them keep hanging out here on the ranch?

Bridget Coon:
You can’t. At least from our perspective and I like to say there’s a million different ways to do it. Every ranch has the general responsibilities like we talked about managing lands, managing animal health, making decisions about breeding and doing that swell, that looks totally different here than it does up in Okanogan or over on the west side.

Bridget Coon:
For our part, we’re usually kind of a, we have the ability and we try to take the ability to be flexible in our marketing. When we market that, at what weight do we market? You watch the markets to see, okay, can we have them gain another couple hundred pounds here before they move on but that also depends on if we get enough moisture or we have enough hay to get through a winter.

Bridget Coon:
I mean, there’s so many factors. It’s really kind of complex but the main thing is that we’re watching this all unfold. It’s completely kind of unprecedented. It’s not as if we’re not used to markets going up and down like any commodity and you’re going to have that but there is something weirder about that prospect of, well, I have buyers when I’m ready to sell because those buyers don’t have orders because we have backup.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s so bizarre about it is there’s extra product meat in the system, animals, yet at the same time, there are shortages and prices are going up for the consumer. It’s that breakdown in between…

Bridget Coon:
Yeah, but…

Dillon Honcoop:
… that’s causing a problem like you described.

Bridget Coon:
… people can eat cattle and beef. This is really an essential step in the supply chain. It is the right thing to do whatever it takes to ensure that people can do the work safely, that they can have their health but how you actually accomplish that and not completely upend markets for people like us or the market for the consumer, that can’t be understated how complicated and complex that is and it’s challenging.

Bridget Coon:
I had a chance to go into one of the plants here in Washington last week after they had been shut down for two weeks. They tested everyone that works in the facility. We got to go in and see the specific changes to their operations, all the PPA, any of the new… A lot of it was based around employee education and awareness and doing that in multiple languages that are spoken in a facility like that.

Bridget Coon:
Again, I’ve been through processing plants several times and under normal circumstances. It absolutely felt slow. You’re slowing down the speed and affording for. They don’t have a lot of workers that are absent because they’re ill but there are workers that are not, you can’t force someone to go to work and do this work but most of the people we saw they were happy to be back at work after being gone.

Bridget Coon:
There was like a hundred percent use of masks and vinyl partitions between those positions in the processing line where people have to stand kind of close to each other. I mean, I saw a lot of buy-in for the changes. From what I can tell and from conversations and just looking at the numbers on weekly kill, we’ve gone back up from this sort of inverse bell curve. Processing capacity is up now that it looks like these interventions, again, it’s kind of waiting and seeing if they will work to keep people healthier, keep people testing negative for COVID.

Dillon Honcoop:
What are we going to see in the grocery store?

Bridget Coon:
Right now-

Dillon Honcoop:
Because there’s like a time lag, right?

Bridget Coon:
Yeah, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I was reading all these farmer tweets about how bad things were but it didn’t really hit what I was seeing in the grocery store for weeks after them talking about these things happening coming down the pipeline.

Bridget Coon:
Some of the changes really are I’d say more nuanced for the consumer. Yes, there’s going to be some price increases because you have these distributors and retailers vying for a more limited amount of product, supply and demand 101. You’re going to see different prices but you’ll also see maybe a different selection of cuts. Some of the extra processing, again, that requires extra people, people working next to each other and then slows the process down to get beef to the market or to the retailer, you’ll have maybe roasts instead of steaks. Then, you can actually cut most roast down into steaks. If people are willing to do it, they’re going to get a value on a roast cut.

Dillon Honcoop:
Mind blown, yeah.

Bridget Coon:
It’s really about if people can be… Honestly, it seems like pretty minor adjustments for the consumer to make in order to still enjoy beef. Grilling season is around the corner and we actually just came up with we’re getting an infographic out there that’s like called steak swap. It’s like, if you don’t see a tenderloin, you can get the same eating experience out of a strip loin or New York strip steak. If you don’t see one of the meat case, but you see the other, you can still grill it hot, grill it to medium rare.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s like the people in the store, buying at the store are having to do some of the same learning that someone who might be buying direct like we talked about earlier we’ll also have to be doing. I know I did that a while back. Well, just to back up a little bit. I grew up around the dairy farming world. Both sets my grandparents were in dairy farming so our beef naturally was called dairy cows, which isn’t the greatest beef in the world, but it serves its purpose.

Bridget Coon:
Grind it. That’s protein.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, we have a lot of hamburgers and that was the thing. We never really did a lot of stuff with those other cuts. Then, jump forward many years, this is just a few years ago, local farmer was selling an animal and my family split it up between my mom and dad and I think my sister and brother-in-law, I mean, my wife. We shared this. We got an assortment of cuts, some of which I knew nothing about but in the era of Google, and I will say this, the era of instant pots.

Bridget Coon:
Giddy up.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, there was some pretty amazing things that happened and I’m like, “Hey, short ribs?” This is cool. I would have never ever cooked that but because of that experience, I did and I think a lot of people are going to be turning onto this kind of stuff right now.

Bridget Coon:
Enter your new world of beef that you don’t even know existed, absolutely. I find few silver linings to this situation. I don’t want to talk about it. Think about it because it makes me cranky but I do see, I do like to see that. I like to see this opportunity for people to move beyond just I don’t know much but I have this preference because that’s what’s trendy or that what’s his that’s what’s acceptable in this culture, urban culture they live in but to actually dive in and be like, “I would buy that but I don’t know how to cook it,” and then starting to build that knowledge. Yeah, we’re so focused on providing convenient products. When the supply chain is working well, we can do that but when we have a hiccup like this, it is incredibly important that people start to learn more about food preparation, just a very simple basic concepts.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s so much easier with Google and granted you can get burned on bad tips on Google, just like you shouldn’t get medical advice from… Well, Google’s probably better for cooking advice than it is for medical advice but it’s like yeah, there’s no reason why you can’t, with some careful reading, figure out how to do it and then like I said, the Instant Pot thing you used to, some of these cuts in the way you’d have to cook it, you’d have to really get technical and you’d have to invest a lot of time to really do it right and when we have devices like that, it’s kind of weird that I keep bringing this one little thing out, but it’s become such a trend and everyone’s, “Oh, yeah. [inaudible 00:18:34]. First, I didn’t really get it and then I got using it and I love it.” Of course now it’s air fryers apparently.

Bridget Coon:
Oh, I’ve got both. I’ve then got-

Dillon Honcoop:
The Instant Pots are like two or three years ago and now it’s air fryers but for me, I can actually cook this for dinner and not have to start it at noon.

Bridget Coon:
Yeah, think about that, you’re getting cuts of beef, for example, that are a better value as far as price per pound is lower because you’re not competing with steak houses and high end uses but people have perceived them as that convenient because they are longer cooking time to get a really enjoyable meal out of it. Yeah, bring in the technology of an Instant Pot, which is just an electric pressure cooker and we’re back.

Bridget Coon:
I think of my grandmother a lot of times. She used the pressure cooker on the stove to do different things to me like tongue and like weird stuff, [inaudible 00:19:30] weird stuff but-

Dillon Honcoop:
Using all parts of an animal though.

Bridget Coon:
That’s where, I mean, I hear a lot of this chatter and I have to pay attention to that based on my work in the industry online. Anytime like the rubber is actually meeting the road on people going out there and that’s some of the things that they’re even been choosing to share and then other people get the idea and they’re actually practical, not just like look at my very boutique steak I bought, tofu or whatever.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, there’s a sustainability angle there because you aren’t just only using, like we talked about earlier, people and they just get the rib eyes and the sirloins and then what happens everything else, grind it up into hamburger, I guess? No, it gets used and even things like tongue or cheek or all kinds of… Tripe, for crying out loud, it also may sound gross but the trend of getting into more cultural foods and learning the foodie idea of getting into different cultural ways of preparing stuff like that that you normally wouldn’t even eat at all, I like I got into pho.

Bridget Coon:
I love pho. Pho is my chicken soup.

Dillon Honcoop:
Am I really saying that right? I always get criticized on how I say it. I’m not enough of a foodie to be really hardcore about it, but I do love it. There, again, it has all different things that, I always get like, “Okay, get the adventurous one with all the tendons and everything else in it because I want to experience that but then all these other good things are happening because of it too. All that stuff isn’t just ending up in the garbage.

Bridget Coon:
No, and we don’t usually have that. That’s where our exports are actually really important to our industry. Particularly here in the northwest, we have access to Asia. As long as, trade agreements wise, that that matters but in general, there’s a high demand for US beef and different cuts that really generally US consumers aren’t jazzed about that we get a better value.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, it’s like people in other parts of the world just tend to be better at using more of the different stuff and getting a little bit more exotic than just the sirloin steak.

Bridget Coon:
Their cuisine incorporates this type of thing. It’s natural that that’s a market for some of the parts that… That’s why. I mean, there’s so much… People are really kind of, I think, fairly quick to criticize in our supply chain and like, “Oh, it’s all messed up. It’s all big,” and I’m like, “Yeah, but it starts with people like us,” and we don’t have really a desire right now to feed cattle out because we’d actually have to truck feed here to get them to that prime choice like right spot and we don’t really have a desire to safely process beef here. That specialized part of our supply chain that, again, when it works, it works and we have this really high quality beef that just about anyone in our country can get access to. I think sometimes some of our higher ideals about knowing where foods comes from and having opinions and placing value, like in a little elitist because we can afford it.

Dillon Honcoop:
True.

Bridget Coon:
We talk about things just because we can afford it but then only when there’s only a roast that we’ve never cooked and we have [inaudible 00:22:56], then we can start getting creative. Again, I try not to be hypercritical about it. I understand. I mean, I grew up in a school where like, my brother and I were the token farm kids and I understand that. People don’t have the awareness that I do about their food on this basic level. I would never give someone a hard time about that. I would never sort of think of them lesser because of that but I just would love it if people kind of didn’t like skim past these basics into these opinions about our food supply.

Dillon Honcoop:
Totally. Well, because with COVID and everything that’s happening, what we just talked about with meat processing, people are saying, “Well, it’s revealing cracks in our food system or it’s showing how our food system is broken.” You’re saying that’s not true?

Bridget Coon:
I’m saying that we should have… What I think it’s not either or, it’s and. Yes, it’s problematic when we have an issue in our food supply and then, again, these ingredients. Whether it’s potato and onion or cattle that [inaudible 00:24:09] we can’t get to people, but we have the raw product, obviously, that’s a problem but from what I can tell, based on again, this sort of inverse bell curve that we’re working with on how fast cattle are being slaughtered now, we’re already kind of on the upswing of that. It’s going to depress prices for people like us, but proteins are still going to get to people.

Bridget Coon:
I’m not I’m definitely not one to condemn it wholesale. Think about the other aspects of it. I think it would be awesome if we had more smaller processors that people could access, the producers could access and then consumers could access from but consumers will then need to change their shopping patterns and change their kind of desires. Really, our food supply has been led by consumer demand. If that demand changes, I believe that the beef industry as an example, agriculture in general, can pivot and get where people need us to be but this is like one of those things that I get. It’s been the kind of the irony of ironies to me growing up in the ’90s in Western Washington raising cattle around, the dairy farms around us and everything and as the suburban area grew, that’s where our regulatory framework and the stuff that makes it hard and more costly to locally farm-

Dillon Honcoop:
Our farming goes somewhere else.

Bridget Coon:
Yeah, a lot of those guys, a lot of dairy guys I knew came over here to Eastern Washington. I think my grandfather called it, had a good time because we were having a hard time as that valley filled with warehouses and I don’t really feel bad about that either because you’re in between two major ports and freeway system and rail system, I’m not convinced that the highest best use of land that we used to farm on isn’t distribution warehouses. I may differ with people. I don’t get super sentimental about even though it was good farm ground, I mean, we did it for a long time. It’s a little bit ironic to me that in the ’90s, we saw this sort of exodus of farming and it makes it being really hard for producers to stay local based on neighbors coming in complaining about everything from smell.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s where everybody when they see these things and there are issues. Our food system is as a broad umbrella term but the first people we need to look at whether I think we’re and this is me getting on my soapbox just for a few seconds, is whether we’re a farmer, a rancher or we’re a consumer who lives in the city. We all need to look at ourselves, I think, first because I think everybody can do things better. That’s what we’re being forced to learn right now.

Bridget Coon:
I love that and I love that perspective because there is, there’s a lot of like a blame game kind of running around.

Dillon Honcoop:
Everybody else wants to… Farmers want to say, “This is not fair.”

Bridget Coon:
The consumers, they don’t always, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
The consumers get on that farm. Why are farmers, they created such a terrible food system.

Bridget Coon:
That’s not.

Dillon Honcoop:
No.

Bridget Coon:
That’s not what we’re working with here. I truly believe that. I think with some ownership, it can do that. I’m not asking for someone to own it but it is ironic to me that the issues that we faced two decades ago, the same people are the ones that are really hopping on the local food train.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Bridget Coon:
The same people, it’s not like the next generation of people.

Dillon Honcoop:
I don’t think those people even put that together.

Bridget Coon:
They wouldn’t put that together and it’s really obvious to me. I had to stop, it was several years ago but I was at some meeting and I love my off ranch work because it gives me such a good perspective of not just, if you’re really easy, especially with me internet, if I didn’t have internet, I need to have internet. I do but you could get pretty sucked into our level, like in just our sector of our beef world very easily but my work has made me and I’ve enjoyed getting out there and seeing all angles.

Bridget Coon:
There’s really smart, really successful guys out here that are really surprised that the amount of time and energy that they put in to communicating about how we raise cattle to consumers. This wasn’t something that was obvious to them a couple decades ago and I’m sitting here like, I wish 10-year-old me could have gotten a time machine, came here and told these guys out here because they weren’t exposed to the Seattle media. I was. These issues that we were facing already as farmers in Western Washington, they wouldn’t have known.

Dillon Honcoop:
Nobody would believe.

Bridget Coon:
They would have not have known.

Dillon Honcoop:
Nobody would have believed you though.

Bridget Coon:
Do you think so? I don’t know.

Dillon Honcoop:
I think there are still people who are waking up to that realizing no, they need to share their story. They don’t even realize what they have because it’s all maybe that they’ve known. I know, farmers who they’ve just been doing their thing and they have a great story to tell. What they do is pretty incredible but they don’t feel any sort of, they feel like why do I need to tell anybody that. I just make food and then people buy in and eat it, right?

Bridget Coon:
Yeah, and I can’t fault them for kind of feeling that way either and I’m not faulting consumers for wanting to know more. That’s why I feel like I’ve found myself in this spot. It can be frustrating some days. Sometimes I just want to retract and go hunt mule deer. In general, I try to stay connected and I have to stay connected. I have to try to bridge these two worlds because that’s who I am and who I’ve always been but it’s just kind of grown and become a career on one end and then also carrying on this beef cattle legacy that I grew up with. I feel like I tried to give everybody on all sides a lot of grace and I use sarcasm to vent off steam. I don’t know.

Dillon Honcoop:
I love it because all these details are different than my story but the theme is the same because I grew up a farm kid as well. Went off, did the communications thing and I’m really passionate about advocacy and being a communicator but still love this community that made me who I am and it’s still so important to me. That’s why, that’s the story of this podcast. That’s why I’m doing it because I want to bring that together to tell these stories and do the storytelling, the communication and connect people, but have it be about our food and the people who grow it. Wow, this is like-

Bridget Coon:
I hope we’re getting there.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, this is like-

Bridget Coon:
We made some progress there. No, I think what’s weird to me if I’m thinking about this whole full circle situation and feeling I’m back to my roots, but really doing that work to try to connect people, I know I’m trying to figure out my strategy because my kids are growing up in this rural environment but I knew I would enjoy rural life. I knew that I, I mean, I feel very comfortable here but I want to make sure.

Bridget Coon:
I mean, I grew up with people that were totally different. Their lifestyles were totally different. They lived in apartments or their parents worked a Boeing or whatever. I always felt like I had a different setup than the people that I was around and then out here, everyone around here is kind of rural. I feel like really, I need to figure out a strategy on making sure that my kids, because I think it’s been beneficial to me to understand all different kinds of people based on how I was brought up. I have to figure out how to do that and I actually I have to try. It was natural for me. It was not my parents. I’ve tried to do that but I can do that.

Dillon Honcoop:
But that’s healthy for kids, for anybody to be around people from a lot of different backgrounds and perspectives. That’s part of our problem with the food system, with our political system is where we have these silos and there’s the city and there’s the rural and there’s fewer and fewer people in the rural areas and more and more people in urban areas and neither side listens to each other very well because they don’t really understand.

Bridget Coon:
Yeah, we can be… One of the cool beef commission projects that they do and I’ve gotten to participate in is collecting chefs, meat buyers, bloggers, media, and go through and take them to a ranch to a feed yard and through the processing plant over the course of two days and it’s fantastic and we see what their opinions are before and see what they are after. Then, it help them network with our industry after they we build longer relationships there but what I find is I’m observing our tour hosts and the other rancher types that we bring along, they’re there to be a resource and there to answer questions, is their feedback because they get so much value from this opportunity to connect with that part of the supply chain, because they’re not doing on a regular basis. They’re running a ranch or a feed yard.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s supposed to be the other way around expose the-

Bridget Coon:
It’s well the point.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Bridget Coon:
Well, the point is to educate or at least sort of build that basic level of understanding. On the restaurant menus, they’re not like oversimplifying.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right, I understand what it means. They’ve actually seen it.

Bridget Coon:
Yeah, it just makes it all better. It makes it better from start to finish but it really it’s so beneficial. I take it for granted because through my work, I’m forced and I enjoy it but I am forced to stay connected with our consumer mindset and trends. I’m like the average rancher out here. Why would they do that? I mean, you only have so much space in a day and so much space in your brain. In fact, that’s probably my biggest challenge right now is figuring out how much, in the digital space, obviously, it changes and everything, moves really fast there and having to stay on top of that can take a lot of energy and effort.

Bridget Coon:
I need to and on behalf of the people I do work for but I also have, I mean, my husband and my father-in-law have been out here practically their entire lives. I’m always trying to catch up on knowledge, whether it’s managing grazing or breeding or whatever. I just feel like, I grew up with cattle and with the family but that’s the only similarity because it’s a different family. If you think about any issue, take water. Obviously, there are water issues in Western Washington, completely different.

Dillon Honcoop:
So much different.

Bridget Coon:
We have drainage and we have many more. Then, here we have maybe 12 inches of precipitation all year. Managing water is like completely turned on his head and I’m fascinated by all that. I want to be engaged in that. I don’t know where I’ll go as far as like this ranch or my outside work. I have my kids that it’s awesome because they are sponges and they’re absorbing everything they see in here, out here. I’m hesitant to complain about this COVID situation because we have all this space and I have empathy for the person like in their house or in their condo with kids or without like, day after day and they’re not used to working from home or whatever their situation is, I feel really thankful and really blessed that this isn’t mine. If anything, this is sort of like really life affirming to some of my life decisions that…

Dillon Honcoop:
For sure.

Bridget Coon:
… we discussed, those kind of rash decisions about nine years ago. I feel like I’m in a good spot if we have to be in a pandemic.

Dillon Honcoop:
Definitely. What’s the future?

Bridget Coon:
I think the future is, I just basically have an endless, just an endless pot of knowledge that I need. I want to have an experience I want to have here on our ranch raising beef. In the work I’m doing to try to connect people and using the digital space to do that. I feel really fortunate that just some of the storytelling I’ve been able to do with these other farms and ranches that I’ve been in contact with, them trusting me with their stories. I mean, that’s really like, I’ve done interesting things in my career but that’s definitely something that I feel most positive about.

Bridget Coon:
If I’m doing something that I think matters or is bigger than just here, bigger than myself, I really care about that. Yeah, I don’t know how much room I have for either one and I’m usually I’m like I’m in this place where I’m trying to assess where my limited… I mean, 20 somethings don’t understand the value of time and energy and how finite that time and energy feels by the time you get to, I mean, this is only my perspective, so it’s probably going to sound dumb to someone older, but to your mid-30s, with a couple of kids that grow rapidly and I’m just feel like I’m living in this space where I only have so much time and energy and I’m figuring out day by day how to use that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Budgeting is not just for money.

Bridget Coon:
Yeah, adulting sucks, adulting sucks because there’s budgeting on all the things.

Dillon Honcoop:
I only have so much time and I got to figure out what I’m going to spend it on. I only have so much money and I got to figure out what I’m going to spend it on.

Bridget Coon:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Things that they didn’t make you do in high school or college.

Bridget Coon:
No, I mean, I don’t know if you can. Like I said, I don’t think you can tell a 20 something. I don’t think the most eloquently written editorial piece about this topic from someone older would have, even if I was willing to read it, reach me as a 20 something running around Capitol Hill just living my best life…

Dillon Honcoop:
Totally.

Bridget Coon:
… working my butt off, but also going to happy hour because I lived in a hovel row house and we just ate at the bar every night.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, totally.

Bridget Coon:
I mean, I appreciate that having those experiences. I don’t take it for granted but it also feel so small compared to what I’m trying to accomplish here with our family, with our ranch, with my work. I think that’s probably a good spot to be in.

Dillon Honcoop:
For sure.

Bridget Coon:
I never am sitting back being like, “Glory days.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, for sure.

Bridget Coon:
Yeah, if anything, I do feel like I’ve taken experiences that I was given earlier on and just try to keep applying them to be more useful to the people around me.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing so much about food, and beef, as well as your personal story, which really resonates with me but I think it overlaps with a lot of people’s experience, particularly in our generation of going through multiple careers and kind of having to reinvent ourselves and morph with technology as it develops. I mean, we were the kids that grew up with normal TV and telephones on the wall and things like that and had to learn this all as it came about, right?

Bridget Coon:
Yeah. I try to even put myself in a younger person’s perspective where there’s… My son knows how to log on to probably like a dozen different websites by the time he was five.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because the internet has always been a thing.

Bridget Coon:
It’s always been a thing for them and it’s awesome because they don’t watch commercials. We noticed that whenever we have YouTube TV. We’re cord cutters. We actually have freakishly fast internet out here. Thanks to my husband. It’s not common out here.

Dillon Honcoop:
Lucky.

Bridget Coon:
In fact, I think if there’s anything that I’m passionate about maybe going forward if I was going to try to make an impact locally, it would absolutely be kind of diving in and seeing if there’s a way to promote better connectivity in rural areas because how do we expect farmers and ranchers to connect with consumers whether it’s to get the sort of direct marketing opportunities like we talked about or just getting that sharing that real like, these are real families, this is a real process, not sort of adding complexity to people’s understanding of our food supply.

Dillon Honcoop:
For these rural kids, like yours, to be able to have different experiences and different connections.

Bridget Coon:
Right. I wonder about and in this context, where everyone is just home, home. Maybe some folks are going into town to grip off a little internet at the library or a cafe or something and that hasn’t even been a thing. I do think that’s important. I’m not trying to be Pioneer Woman or like I do some weird stuff I make kombucha. I do weird stuff. I do things that are kind of off grid but I absolutely value that connectivity. I think that if we want these rural areas to be healthy going into the next generation, you’re going to want to have the infrastructure that an average person would expect to have and especially if you want new people or some new energy to come in, you got to have some internet.

Dillon Honcoop:
Totally.

Bridget Coon:
Satellites not cutting it. That’s why I think a lot of people around us have satellite still. It just doesn’t cut the mustard.

Dillon Honcoop:
For those of… It used to be people in cities didn’t realize how much they were taking for granted as far as connectivity. Now, it’s almost in anywhere on the west side because I don’t live in a city, but I’m now used to having at least two or three bars of my LTE all the time and unlimited internet on my phone. I’m constantly connected.

Bridget Coon:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I get out here and it’s like, wow, I drive for an hour and get signal maybe one time.

Bridget Coon:
I mean, yeah, as soon as I walk out my porch, we use two way radios to kind of communicate to make sure someone’s not dead out in this expanse because we just don’t have that. Yeah, there’s a public safety. There’s a sort of a, it’s an issue that I don’t know what the right answer is. I don’t know, public, private, whatever. I haven’t really even skimmed the surface but I think I wouldn’t be doing everything that I should be doing if I don’t kind of dive in and use some of my affiliations and some of my work and some of my energy to get that make sure that it’s the awareness is there. Like you said, awareness is that’s the world that people live in that isn’t as connected. It’s not like, “Oh, it’s really expensive.” We should be able to get access cheaper. It’s like no. You could make it rain and Benge, would not get any internet because we don’t have the infrastructure available to you in 2020.

Dillon Honcoop:
Crazy.

Bridget Coon:
We should work on that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, we’re going to hold you to it.

Bridget Coon:
Well, I’ll let you know what I come up with.

Dillon Honcoop:
I think we’re going to have to have you back someday on the podcast and get an update on this.

Bridget Coon:
Well, I can probably… Hopefully, I can just Zoom it from my friend’s house, the phone satellite right now. I don’t know.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really. Well, thank you for opening up and sharing on the podcast.

Bridget Coon:
Thanks for coming to Benge.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s awesome here.

Bridget Coon:
I think so.

Dillon Honcoop:
You might not get me to leave. We’ll have to see.

Bridget Coon:
This is not an uncommon thread of feedback, actually. You’re welcome back here anytime. We can grill.

Dillon Honcoop:
Awesome.

Bridget Coon:
Steaks.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, obviously I’m here now. I did end up leaving Benge but what a cool place in the middle of nowhere. Google it. Check it out on the map. See where Benge actually is and there’s not much there other than just a corner and a couple of buildings in a little schoolhouse but a really cool conversation with Bridget Coon and she’s up to so much stuff. My guess is she’ll be back on the podcast sooner rather than later because she’s got big things in mind and she wants to do so much more.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thanks for subscribing and following along here with the Real Food Real People Podcast. I’m Dillon Honcoop and it is my mission with this podcast and with Real Food Real People to reconnect the people who grow our food to all of us who eat it and to help heal our food system and a lot of the misunderstandings that caused problems in our food system. We started this before COVID but COVID has made that I think even more important right now. Let’s stay at it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Please subscribe. Please follow us on social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to support what we’re doing really helpful if you share the podcast on any of those social media platforms to bring more people into the fold. I feel like the more people we can bring into this conversation, the better we can make our food system, the better we can become as eaters and the better our farming community can be in what they do.

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 savefarming.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.

Bridget Coon part 1 | #029 06/29/2020

She used to have an office next door to the White House, but Bridget Coon says she's happy to be back in Washington state, growing beef and hay near the tiny locale of Benge, WA.

Transcript

Bridget Coon:
So even though they’re going to a larger processing facility, they’re going to be marketed under a brand that you might be familiar with seeing in the grocery store, that’s coming from ranches, family ranches like ours.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
From growing up on a farm in Western Washington to working next door to the White House, then back to Seattle and now farming in Eastern Washington, our guest this week has done so many things and has so much cool professional background, but she also has a really cool personal story. Bridget Coon, she and her husband and their family raise beef on a ranch in Benge, Washington. And as she says on her website, you’re probably going to have to Google where exactly that is.

Dillon Honcoop:
She shares how she got to know her husband, how she ended up in this career in politics and how that eventually led her back to her farming roots. And we also get into some of the sticky issues too, about food and about beef and the controversy. You’re really going to love this one. She’s a lot of fun to hear from and hear her stories. I’m Dillon Honcoop and this is the Real Food Real People podcast documenting my journeys across Washington State to get to know the real farmers and ranchers. And this week we talk with Bridget Coon on her ranch in Benge, Washington.

Bridget Coon:
We raise beef out here. It’s this really dry rocky scab land, and so about the only thing you can grow on it is beef. And we also raise hay for premium and export market, and then of course, those two commodities work together on our farm and ranch where we can feed hay throughout the winter.

Dillon Honcoop:
So some of your hay is for your cows.

Bridget Coon:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
And the rest you sell to-

Bridget Coon:
Primarily, so we have basically two enterprises or two parts of our family farm with the hay and ranch with the cattle.

Dillon Honcoop:
So how does that work? How do you determine like which land you do hay on and which you do cattle on?

Bridget Coon:
So like I said, most of this is we’re in the channeled scab lands here. It was carved out a million years ago in the Missoula floods, and it’s just a lot of rock. You can’t grow anything. You can’t till it. You can’t farm it. So cows are about the only thing that can come from it that turns into food.

Dillon Honcoop:
There’s still quite a bit of grass and stuff though, around the rock, right?

Bridget Coon:
Yes. So it’s just what we’d call range land, and cattle are really good at taking what’s growing out here and we just do our part to manage the land, determine how many head of cattle can graze a pasture and keep the pasture healthy for us to be able to do this year, decade, generation after generation. That’s kind of our … that’s our job, I mean-

Dillon Honcoop:
How do you tell, like how do you know how many cows to put on a field, cattle I guess I should say.

Bridget Coon:
Cattle, yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
I grew up around dairy so all the cows-

Bridget Coon:
All your cows are cows.

Dillon Honcoop:
All the cattle were cows, yeah. But you have boys and girls.

Bridget Coon:
Yes, we do. So we mostly have, we are what’s considered a cow calf operation or a cow calf ranch. And so what we do is we have a herd of mother cows, and then we have a little squad of bulls and the cows are bred each year to produce a calf each year. And then the calf stay here for about a year nursing their mothers. Eventually weaning, but grazing on this grass. And then those go on to finish at a feed yard before they’re ready for slaughter. And so it’s just really this continuous cycle year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation, if we’re doing it well.

Bridget Coon:
And then each year it varies how many cattle we can run on a given pasture based on how much moisture we’ve had based on our decisions the year before and whether or not we are kind of on the money with moisture and that equation. So I’m learning a lot still.

Dillon Honcoop:
What happens if you have too many cattle on a certain chunk of land?

Bridget Coon:
Oh, gosh, this is where it gets so complicated because some of the better practices in range land management are actually, if you can put in the time and effort to create smaller paddocks within a pasture, and actually what we’d call intensively graze these cattle. And they come in and they do this really great work by essentially controlling. They control the weed population. They basically graze just the right amount of grass to where it’s left to where it can regrow. And then we move them on to another fresh pasture and only rotate them back to that pasture.

Bridget Coon:
So it’s maybe less about the total number of animals and more about those decisions on timing and moving animals and giving the pasture rest that it needs to come back before you bring cattle back on it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because basically, and correct me if I’m wrong, if you have too many cattle on a certain amount of land for too long and they eat it down too far, you’ll basically kill all that grass and stuff, that’s they’re-

Bridget Coon:
It just won’t come back to the level that you want it to. Yeah. You’re like, oh, you’re overworking it.

Dillon Honcoop:
So yeah. So that’s what you’re managing?

Bridget Coon:
You’re really, you’re managing grass. And then of course we have a lot of … we have our animal health and we have our decision making as far as how many cows we decide to be here. Genetics, deciding what type of bulls we’re breeding to our cows. But the basic job on our level of raising beef is managing land so we can grow cattle on it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Now, the cattle are eating this grass on scab land. I saw it driving in like there’s rocks everywhere. So like you said, you can’t farm it. You couldn’t go in there and run a cultivator and plant whatever crop. So is that grass just the grass that’s always been there, or do you kind of like put seed out there or like?

Bridget Coon:
So most of the range land isn’t seeded, but then we have some areas where we can come in and do some supplemental seeding. I know in the past, before I was here, my father in law has worked with WSU on test plots of different types of native grasses that could be seeded or could be managed out here to benefit the range and benefit cattle. So it’s a cool time to be doing this because we have a lot of tradition and a lot of knowledge from generations and generations of doing this. But then we also have some really cool research from the university level and some collaboration we can do there to keep doing what we do better, and that’s kind of the spot that we try to live in.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because it’s a whole soil health thing, right?

Bridget Coon:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
And then like even climate change related.

Bridget Coon:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
As far as like carbon sequestration and all that kind of stuff that these practices accomplish, right?

Bridget Coon:
Cows are really cool in that regard. And I think it’s through that overlooked piece of our food system that it’s pretty trendy to just sort of blame everything from climate change to other environmental problems on cattle. But really what we’re able to do with cattle in the US is take ground that could not be used for food production and cattle use it. But I don’t know, I mean, luckily you didn’t hit a deer on your way here, but we have a really-

Dillon Honcoop:
I know my car looks like it.

Bridget Coon:
… healthy meal dealer population, pheasants, quail, you name it, like every everything you can think of as far as other wildlife. So it’s any ground, any land that cattle are using, it’s really a multiple use proposition.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, because a lot of people say, well, cattle are so inefficient because they use all this land to grow the feed for them to eat, to turn into beef that we eat. But I realized as I was driving here after miles and miles of this ground that I saw was loaded with these monster boulders and ravines and just all kinds of rock, like you couldn’t go out there and grow people food.

Bridget Coon:
No, no, that’s definitely a myth where cattle compete for the land we need to grow other food for people. It’s just a myth because when you actually add up the acreage of cattle on range, it’s not competing, it’s actually just adding to the party.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Really cool stuff and I’ve been learning more about the whole soil health thing too. So it was cool to hear you explain this whole like intensive grazing thing, because I had heard about that. And at first I’m like, what, like how does that actually improve soil health? And then I read some books kind of explaining the science of what happens with like a grass plant and when it gets pulled on by a cow, which is kind of like the what? Bovines, which were historically like bison across the plains here.

Bridget Coon:
Ruminant animals.

Dillon Honcoop:
That was kind of the same thing that they did on these range lands, right? In time in memorial.

Bridget Coon:
I mean, as far as this land, highest best use for sure is running cattle on it. And then it’s up to people like us to make decisions that make it actually feasible as far as environmentally. And then we have to make it somewhat profitable in order to continue to do what we do here. And so when we talk about sustainability, but I mean the definition to, I know like the cattle industry, we really think of it in that, kind of that way where we need to have environmental sustainability, just because its natural resources based.

Bridget Coon:
And we’re the first ones to notice if that natural resource starts to disappear, starts to degrade. And then taking care of the animals, animal welfare, we have to have healthy animals, otherwise it does not turn into the product that we need it to. And then it has to be sustainable economically for us.

Dillon Honcoop:
Back to the food question, then what makes great beef? I love an excellent steak. I recently did a London broil and I was like, whoa, this is really different flavor than my sirloin that I usually like to grill and just different thing. I love beef. There’s a lot of flavor going on there. There’s a lot of protein. My body likes it. I know a lot of people … For a long time red meat was like this terrible thing, but I’m more like, I’m not Keto, but like I need my protein and I need to stay away from my carbs. What does it take on your end to create that?

Bridget Coon:
Yeah. A lot of people these days are on the protein train and for good reason, because they can just kind of see it’s the food that when you eat it, I mean, you feel good. You feel like it really helps you. We know scientifically it helps as far as maintaining, especially at our age, when you get to your mid 30s or later.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wait, are you calling me old?

Bridget Coon:
I don’t know, I don’t know how old you are. But I know for myself and some of the research we know is that as soon as we get to a certain age level, if we don’t do things to maintain or grow muscle mass, we start losing it and eating an adequate amount of protein is really important to that. So as far as beef goes, I mean, it’s kind of whatever your preference is, but in the US and on an operation like ours, we are really focused on hitting that prime or choice grade bullseye, which is indicated … the grade is determined by the amount of intermuscular fat or marbling that ends up, the flavor inside those steaks you were just talking about.

Dillon Honcoop:
Not the big chunks of fat around the edges. It’s the stuff that’s in them.

Bridget Coon:
Yeah. And so what someone who’s enjoying a steak thinks about as far as quality is similar to what I would, as I’m enjoying a steak, but from the people who are actually raising it, it also, again, has to hit those other markers where the cows that we have here need to be bred to actually perform or be healthy here and raise calves each year, and that’s what helps us be sustainable in our business. And then those have calves that end up having those great beef traits as we’ve call it where they’re healthy, they gain weight well and stay healthy while doing it. And then they end up with all kinds of delicious buttery marbling.

Dillon Honcoop:
Stop, you’re making me hungry. But like, if you guys didn’t … like let’s say you manage really poorly hypothetically, would at the end of the day, I’d be able to taste that in the beef? Like oh, this isn’t as good.

Bridget Coon:
It’s not so much what you would taste at the end of the day as it is if it wasn’t an efficient process to get that animal into the final stage of being food, you kind of just end up with a product that is really useful. There’s actually really not any unsafe. Once you get to that level where an animal’s ready for slaughter and it’s slaughtered and it goes through the process when it’s graded, then it’s determined where it goes, right? So I mean, we can all enjoy a five guys hamburger too.

Bridget Coon:
We can all enjoy sort of beef in different contexts. So if you don’t do like this fantastic job with breeding and feeding and finishing and getting to that prime or choice grade, not the end of the world for the person eating, because that product ends up in [inaudible 00:14:21], you know what I mean? There’s so many different ways that beef ends up in kind of our food world that, it’s kind of all good in a different way.

Dillon Honcoop:
This is going to be one of those interviews where I just end up really hungry at the end of it.

Bridget Coon:
You staring at the taco soup, right?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Bridget Coon:
You just stared at it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, totally.

Bridget Coon:
It’s pretty good. You’re going to have some.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m just going to just forget about that because I don’t want to eat here on the microphone while we’re conversing.

Bridget Coon:
You’re going to have some.

Dillon Honcoop:
That just doesn’t sound good to those listening to the podcast.

Bridget Coon:
It’s kind of gross.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, exactly. So I’ll eat later, but you mentioned, oh, getting like a five guys burger, there’s so many different places you can get beef. All the way from Mickey D’s to fancy fine dining. How here in Washington, my big focus is I want to get food that’s grown here in Washington, if at all possible. I’m not like mega strict about it, but when it’s possible and doable, I want to do that. How can people do that with beef? How do they know it’s say from Washington or if they don’t know that for sure that it’s at least from the US?

Bridget Coon:
Sure. So there’s a few different ways. Like I said, just like there’s as many varieties of beef that end up on the dinner plate, there’s different ways that people can go about sourcing their beef and making those choices. So the most direct way to know that your beef is coming from a local rancher is to find one that sells directly to the public.

Dillon Honcoop:
Are more and more doing that?

Bridget Coon:
So interesting you say that. There is a lot of indication as far as like search traffic online and local butcher shops that do this kind of slaughter are getting booked out months if not into next year. So definitely, I think we’ve seen people now in this COVID-19 context, going into the grocery store and seeing space in the meat case that given retailer, pick whatever retailer you go to, and there’s some space there and Americans are not used to seeing that space.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, with that panic buying like a couple months ago, I know I’d never seen empty shelves of any kind in a grocery store, like where they’re legitimately out of food. And I think most anybody in the US who has grown up here and always lived here has never, ever seen that until now. So that’s a big game changer, but from people I talked to, they were already kind of moving in the direction of, “Hey, can we like just sell it right from the ranch one way or the other? Like is there an Amazon for beef, you know?”

Bridget Coon:
Yeah. There’s a lot of cool things taking place in this space and watching consumers link up with producers, but keep in mind … So for example, the beef that is raised right out here on this ranch goes to typically a feed yard in Othello. We either retain ownership there where we pay the feeder by the rate of gain or days on feed. But we retain the ownership and then we are paid when those animals are ready and they go down to the packing plant.

Bridget Coon:
So even though they’re going to a larger processing facility, they’re going to be marketed under a brand that you might be familiar with seeing in the grocery store or generically into restaurants where you’re not seeing a brand, that’s coming from ranches, family ranches like ours. And I think people maybe the impression at this day and age, because we have this big, efficient food supply typically, other than right now, you can go into a Walmart, you can go to Fred Meyer, you can go into a Safeway and you just have like your pick of every cut of beef you could ever imagine.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right, all the time.

Bridget Coon:
And-

Dillon Honcoop:
The only decision is how much do I want to spend on it, and do I go for the cheaper cut or not?

Bridget Coon:
Exactly. So we are used to all these choices, right? And so then for an outfit like ours, we’re not really close to consumers if you notice. Did you pass a lot of people on your way?

Dillon Honcoop:
No, in fact, I didn’t see anybody for like a half hour before I got here.

Bridget Coon:
So other than like my persuasion to be, I work in the digital space and I find it really fascinating. Some of the digital marketing and different things we could do. My background with my family before coming here was we fed cattle and finished cattle. And so I’m familiar with it and I like it. So it’s always kind of in the back of my mind that we could do some more direct marketing than we have in the past and make it a thing. But it’s not really that efficient.

Bridget Coon:
Like if we’re spending our time doing that, then we have less time to do like the temporary fencing it requires to make these small paddocks, to intensively graze. We have irrigation water to move with the hay. It’s really about all these individual ranches. If you have the human resources and the desire to connect with consumers that way, it’s possible and can be beneficial. But at this time, like it’s probably not the best use of our energy when we do what we do really well, the feed yard that our calves go to, they do what they do really well. They get feed right from around Othello. They get corn and hay, and they get a grape Burmese from the grape stuff. I don’t know what the word is.

Dillon Honcoop:
From wine.

Bridget Coon:
From wine making, and that’s all done closer to them than it is to us. And so feeds kind of come into those animals and they do a great job, and we get the results back that we’re hitting that choice and prime target consistently, and we’re providing that consistent product to typically the consumer desire to have that at will at any grocery store that they go to.

Bridget Coon:
So I mean, interested in it, love to see it. I have a client that we launched a website in order to help them do more of that and sold out an inventory of beef that we projected to last two months in two weeks.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Bridget Coon:
We have a local beef directory on the beef commission website wildbeef.org. There’s 400% increase in page views on this tool where people in Washington can do it, use a drop down by county and find people that we have listed there that are doing this.

Dillon Honcoop:
These friends of yours that just started going, trying to do some direct sales, they couldn’t have picked a more perfect time to do it.

Bridget Coon:
Totally coincidental. It’s a project we’ve been working on. I know they have been thinking about for a long, long time, and we’d been working on for about a year to get it kind of just so, and we’re kind of ready to roll with that at this time. And so, I mean, for their business and everything, I think actually they’ll be pretty successful consistently. And there’s some interest related to this and I can’t deny it just based on everything else that I see. But if anything, this situation, people who have considered buying directly from a rancher, a lot of that usually involves buying more in bulk. We can only raise … there’s only so many cuts per animal.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right.

Bridget Coon:
So it’s not the same as shopping the meat case, I’d say that people-

Dillon Honcoop:
Where you just want the rib-eyes.

Bridget Coon:
Yeah. Like there’s only so many rib-eyes. So people have to think of it like going to shop their freezer for beef instead of going to the grocery store to shop it? And so it’s a shift, it’s convenient. I think most things, most foods, new food marketing has focused on convenience because people are busy. Like your life is run by work and activities and people are on the go.

Dillon Honcoop:
But COVID has totally like messed with that, because a lot of people-

Bridget Coon:
At home.

Dillon Honcoop:
… aren’t on the go.

Bridget Coon:
Like baking bread.

Dillon Honcoop:
And they’re seeing shortages in the grocery store, and even if there is meat there it’s maybe more expensive than it used to be. And so then, like you’re saying, they’re suddenly interested in, “Hey, maybe could I get this like straight from the farmer, straight from the rancher and how would that work?” So it’s totally turning a lot of those things on their head. Like maybe people will suddenly be, I guess we just don’t know what’s going to happen with COVID and how long this goes on and how much of our world continues to be turned upside down. But could this be the moment for local food and for local meat or regional even?

Bridget Coon:
It’s having a moment, and like I said, it’s really cool to see some of those connections being made. Those seeds were already there for a lot of consumers, and this is like pushing them to take action and actually buy from someone or do more in depth research too.

Dillon Honcoop:
And then once they had, they’re like, “Hey, this wasn’t actually so hard,” or like, “I have a relationship now with this ranch, that’s where I get our meat from and we like them.”

Bridget Coon:
Yeah. When it’s not really desirable. I mean, some of the consumer research that I’ve seen, people are going to the grocery store multiple times a week. Obviously I can’t relate.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. It’s a bit of a drive from where you’re at to the grocery store.

Bridget Coon:
We’re out here. So I don’t-

Dillon Honcoop:
How far is it by the way?

Bridget Coon:
So there’s a little grocery store in Ritzville, it takes about 40 minutes, but then to like a Safeway, Walmart, Costco, it’s an hour, everything’s like an hour in any direction you can think of. So I don’t have those habits, but I know looking at it, people typically are just sort of going in and out of the grocery store. Well, when you have to wear a mask and there’s like arrows, it’s very, I mean, I’m a little antsy because I don’t go very often and I have to call my friend and be like, “Okay, so what are people doing? What’s socially acceptable in the grocery store right now because I don’t know, because I haven’t been since it started.”

Bridget Coon:
So yeah, you’re taking what was a convenient choice and kind of, it’s not so appealing anymore. And then here’s another choice that maybe wasn’t perceived as convenient, but maybe people will learn that it’s really not as hard. That being said, economically, there’s still only a certain set of consumers that have the savings or have the room to buy in a way that works better for the rancher typically to be efficient. Again, we’re not selling one or two … what would happen if you just only sell individual cuts just from one ranch say our size or maybe a little bit bigger than ours?

Bridget Coon:
You’re going to run out of rib-eyes, you’re going to run about tenderloins. You’re going to end up sitting on these other products. And so I think I’d say if I had any messages, it would be like learn to be a good customer to a rancher that you’re working with, and like let them lead you, expectation-wise on their offering a box that they’ve decided on or they’re offering it by the half or the quarter or the whole, it’s for a reason and it’s because they need to be able to make a living off of this. So just learn what you can. Ask questions and really listen.

Dillon Honcoop:
Buy a freezer.

Bridget Coon:
Get a freezer first. But I’ve heard there’s been a run on freezers.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, if you can find one, a lot of people have gotten freezers and you’re talking about this whole convenience thing and people’s money. There’s been a big shift in that too. And I think we’re all really worried that none of us are going to have very much money in coming months and years with the economic forecasts and really scary things like that. But at the same time, like the panic buying and the staying at home changed people’s priorities with that too, where it’s like, oh yeah, I need to spend more of at least the money that I do have right now on my food, because suddenly like survival instinct comes back into play. So maybe I will spend some more money so I can get beef and good food at the store. Like all this panic buying was incredible. To watch what people bought was fascinating to me.

Bridget Coon:
I still am puzzled by water and toilet paper. It not an earthquake.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, we’ll never ever figure out the toilet paper one.

Bridget Coon:
It’s not an earthquake. It’s not as tsunami, it’s not a natural disaster. No, I think … I’m kind of the mind that, and this is what kind of annoys me about our food culture today and what I see kind of out there is that everyone wants to have an either or mentality, like this is a good way to buy beef and this is a bad way to buy beef and I have to be able to track it back to the farm, and if I can’t, then I don’t trust it or something. And that’s not how people’s actual buying habits end up taking place except then we all go to five guys or whatever.

Bridget Coon:
But at the end of the day, it’s not either or, it’s and, and so it’s great that there’s choices. And then that again, people are actually acting on some of those choices, but hopefully also learning more about how we raise beef. So when people get really like specific preferences, I want grass fed or finished only, I want organic only or whatever. But to me, I’m seeing a lot of these really, it’s almost like rushing to have a stance, almost like you would a political position, on beef, on food, the types of food choices we make, but they don’t know the difference between a cow and a steer and a bull and a heifer. I mean, in a lot of cases, they just don’t have like the basic knowledge of how we raise cattle. And so to me, it’s odd to like skip into, I have a very defined-

Dillon Honcoop:
They have a stance but they don’t have a-

Bridget Coon:
… preference over what type of beef I have, but I don’t really understand that cattle that are fed grain in a feed yard, spent half their life on grass at a place like this.

Dillon Honcoop:
I was going to ask you about that back when we were talking about feeding cattle and we had Camas Uebelacker here on the podcast for two weeks. I forget the numbers of the episodes, but you can go back and check in the list if you want to, but that’s what he does is like you were describing. You have a cow calf operation, cattle literally out on the range. He takes them, finishes them as a custom operator, kind of specializes in what he does and then they go to harvest.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s where they’re fed corn in a lot of cases. He talked a little bit about that. Lot of people say, “Oh, well, corn is bad. I want all grass fed.” You’re explaining already that’s more of a misnomer than maybe people realize, but explain more what’s going on with this whole grass fed versus grain fed.

Bridget Coon:
Yeah. It’s just over simplified, and I think some of our more over-simplified messages about food for people who are. They are trying to be conscientious for whether it’s for their health or the environment or whatever it is they feel they care about. But at the end of the day, the actual knowledge of how to take a calf and get it up to a really palatable, really enjoyable beef product it’s not as simple as slapping a label on this was grass-finished or this was, usually it’s grass fed or grain fed, and then people assume that everything else is grain fed, which means they’re like force fed corn their whole lives or something.

Dillon Honcoop:
Which is never the case.

Bridget Coon:
Which is not a thing. In fact, I was just looking at some stats the other day, and it’s the actual amount of corn in a cattle diet over the course of its life is way overstated or just sort of generalized as this really key element in it. When really they’re always fed some kind of roughage, some kind of hay is always in a ration. Chemist did a great job explaining what a cattle feed ration is, and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Only those who heard from people who would say, well, cows aren’t designed to eat and digest corn.

Bridget Coon:
That’s not a thing. In fact, so most of the corn that they’re fed is, there’s dry steam flake corn. So that’s also already been processed, think of cornflakes like we eat or whatever. And then you have most of the corn they eat is like siloed and it’s chopped the entire plant. Corn is a type of grass technically. So to say that ruminate animals can’t digest and process and convert a crop like corn into beef efficiently is just scientifically false. It’s nothing.

Dillon Honcoop:
People also say aside from the sustainability conversation, environmental concerns, et cetera, et cetera. They say that grass fed beef has, what is it? Like more omega three fatty acids or something like that? Correct me if I’m wrong on the specifics there.

Bridget Coon:
Yeah. The fatty acid ratio.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Is the beef actually different. I mean, I have a cousin and her husband, they’re both nutritionists and I talked with them about it and they’re like yeah, omega threes are super trendy right now, but you don’t need too many of those, and omega six is kind of like, whoa, it’s bad. It’s from corn, but you don’t need too many of those, but you can’t live without any, like it’s way more complicated once they started explaining it.

Bridget Coon:
Right. So to simplify it, but not oversimplify it, the fatty acid ratio. So it’s that six to three ratio is what is usually referred to, is so slightly different between grain finished and grass finished beef. It’s marginal first of all. Again, the intermuscular fat that we’re talking about actually has a similar fatty acid profile too, like olive oil, which would be considered like a healthy fat, which is some people don’t really realize.

Dillon Honcoop:
I did not know that.

Bridget Coon:
But then further, because I feel like now I’ve gone down this rabbit trail, but it needs to be addressed that the beef people are never going to say like, get your omegas from beef because it’s not … beef is essential, I mean, it has essential nutrients and it’s a great source for several proteins, zinc, iron are the top three, right? But there’s actually quite a few, the omegas aren’t in there. Go eat salmon, go get a copper river salmon. Use an actual significant source to get your omegas.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s interesting you said copper river salmon. I have a good friend who’s a lifetime fisherman. He’s like a whole copper river thing. That’s just-

Bridget Coon:
Marketing, man.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s all marketing.

Bridget Coon:
That’s genius marketing.

Dillon Honcoop:
Which we’re saying about … you’re talking about beef and I could tell you marketing things about other crops and stuff that what is really underneath it, and when you talk to the farmer, they’re like yeah, you get a whole different story. That’s why I’m doing this podcast to talk to the farmers rather than the marketing people.

Bridget Coon:
It’s to the point where you just, I literally assume when I’m seeing or reading something about an industry that I’m unfamiliar with and it feels simplified or oversimplified. I’m just like, yeah. If I want to know more about this, I need to go read some more because I have a feeling that this is meant to sell me something.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. That’s our generation now too, right?

Bridget Coon:
Oh, just being skeptical or just being marketed to by people who try to make you dumber.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, both.

Bridget Coon:
I do. I think of … So I do fill some marketing roles in my work and I kind of keep that mantra of, I don’t want to make people dumber. Like if I do anything with this work it’s to shed some light on areas of the process of getting food to people.

Dillon Honcoop:
Are you telling me you do marketing yet you still have a soul?

Bridget Coon:
I am a soulful marketer.

Dillon Honcoop:
No, that’s good.

Bridget Coon:
I started, I mean, I really started out my career more in advocacy and more like, I’m just more of a … I was like a nerdy kid that listened to … I grew up on the west side [case 00:34:00], but we had a feed yard and a family ranch. Right? Actually, we raised hay. I think my first job in life was to sell sweet corn that we grew, pick it and sell it on the roadside.

Dillon Honcoop:
Where was this?

Bridget Coon:
In the Green River Valley, Auburn and Kent. So my grandparents and my parents and my brother and I, kind of all worked together since I was a little kid. And so that’s a really urban market even back in the 90s. So it’s kind of second nature to me to be communicating to people who don’t have a firsthand understanding of like farming and ranching because I was doing it since birth. But it makes me want to help people understand. And yeah, just I’ve been attracted and had the opportunity to do work that’s allowed me to continue that.

Dillon Honcoop:
So how did you end up here in Eastern Washington and on a cow calf operation, but also doing digital marketing work and all kinds of stuff online and like what was the road from there to here?

Bridget Coon:
Winding?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Bridget Coon:
Windy. Yeah, so I grew up on a farm and feed yard, family operation on the west side. I was probably influenced by obviously at that time Ag wasn’t like a growing industry over there. Again, the dinner table conversations and just sort of the activity around the farm. I was really aware of like regulatory framework that was growing, whether it was water issues or endangered species act issues, whatever it was. Seattle area is like the epicenter. I feel like everything else, as far as like our environmental culture right now, it’s just catching up to like kind of where things were a decade or two ago in the Seattle area as culturally, right?

Bridget Coon:
So I paid attention to that as a little kid, I ended up at WSU, Go COUGS. And I had been really encouraged in writing, and so based on sort of not knowing if I had this role in production agriculture going forward and being kind of encouraged in other ways, I ended up with a policy pre-law degree because I thought maybe I could be an attorney and like go fight the good fight for farmers or something, right? I wasn’t sure where it would go. And then I did some campaign work and some like rabble rouse, like conservative or Republican rabble-rousing on campus.

Bridget Coon:
And anyway, campaign jobs that beget appointment in the Bush Administration. So I went from Pullman, basically straight from Pullman to DC as a young 20 something. And so I got to spend a few years out back East where you can get a lot of experience in a short amount of time.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what kind of stuff were you doing back East?

Bridget Coon:
So my first job back there was … I didn’t even know when I started volunteering for campaigns and then getting like staff campaign jobs. I got to run around Eastern Washington, which was really cool, that was my territory, and so I love it. I already knew I loved it out here. But I didn’t even know there was like low level appointments that you could get from supporting the president, in this case is president Bush’s re-election in 2004. And so other people I worked with were like, give us your resume.

Bridget Coon:
And so I started out at the most boring federal agency. I don’t know if you can guess which one, the GSA, the General Services Administration, we buy pencils and bombs. I worked for the Chief of Staff there and government procurement was like not like my thing. So actually my boss out here in the campaign had ended up landing a job in the Political Affairs Office, they kind of staff up during the cycle. So during the 2006 cycle, I was his what they call desk coordinator where I just wrote briefing papers, for any time like the president or vice president or first lady, whoever was traveling, we’d have to sort of update these briefing documents that they would presumably read on their way.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you were writing stuff that the president was reading.

Bridget Coon:
So I wouldn’t go that far because I was never on like Air Force One to confirm that. My boss was and so sometimes he’d have some stories to come back to you, but I will say I had a weird experience where I was in my office there, it’s in the Eisenhower, the EOB building next door to the West Wing. And I’m there like doing my thing at my desk and the TV was on and it was a live feed of I think it was a rally in Montana and that was in my territory that I had to cover for my work and the president’s giving his remarks.

Bridget Coon:
And I’m like, man, that sounds familiar. And I still had like the document because the speech writers, they didn’t always ask us, but sometimes they’d ask us for bullet points to incorporate. And so I was feeling pretty high on life to hear the president-

Dillon Honcoop:
So your briefing document probably made it to the speech writer who worked some of your words.

Bridget Coon:
No, we actually did talking point sometimes. So these were actually talking points that the speech writers asked for, in addition to our typical briefing papers. I do know that Karl Rove actually read them because one time this is where I also almost died and fell over on the floor because there was like a weird anomaly in one of the Montana counties and Karl’s going through this briefing paper and we put historical election results in it and he thought it was wrong because it was like a weird flip on like whatever the congressional district results was.

Bridget Coon:
And so my boss is calling me because he’s traveling with Karl Rove, they’ve just flew commercial and stuff like he wasn’t on Air Force One or anything, but he’s calling me from the road being like, “You need to look at these numbers and check them.” I was like, “Oh my God, did I just get that wrong?” Freaking out, and then luckily it was correct. But that was like weird. I mean, it’s just like I found myself in some weird spaces. And again, just getting this great experience to then I would say like some of the stuff I did out there was pretty intense.

Bridget Coon:
And again, like if people like that are reading something you’re writing it needs to be accurate. It needs to be a certain degree of it’s going to be out in public. It’s made other things that I’ve done that maybe are a little bit stressful or pressure full, is that a word?

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s a good word. I’ll keep that one if that’s okay.

Bridget Coon:
It’s not as … Not that many things seem that hard after that. Fast forward and I’m trying to like work with kids and also now being a homeschool mom, like I am humbled. I don’t care what I’ve done in the past. I am supremely humbled by trying to manage this household and everything we do at the ranch and my business and stuff, but it’s been weird I must say.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, for sure. To continue on this road though, to back up a little bit, like I know from hearing from a lot of people like, oh, the holy grail is to make it back to DC for a lot of different things that people do. And then once people are out there, they’re like, ah, I hate this city. I hate how everything works in this town and how people are so fake and yada, yada, I just want to get back home. And so how did you extricate yourself from that world and end up back here?

Bridget Coon:
I went out without an exit plan. I really wasn’t sure, I was 22, maybe when I landed out there and I have a little bit different perspective. I probably didn’t stay up there long enough to be completely jaded, maybe that’s part of it, but I really do. I think I met and worked with some of the best people that you’ll ever meet and some of the worst people, that’s universal. I feel like, so it’s not like the people are worse, I guess I’ll put it this way. I can’t be that jaded because I got my hands on some like cool stuff.

Bridget Coon:
As a very young person with just really like the best intentions to just … I’m not going to sit back and complain about things, I’m going to get in there and kind of put my energy in places. So I feel like I thrived pretty well. I sold my pickup and like flew out there with a couple of suitcases. I mean, I really, I kind of just whole sale, I lived on Capitol Hill. After that stint in 2006 at the White House, I ended up getting a job at a firm that is based in Bellevue Washington Advocates is what it’s still called. The principal’s there worked for Slade Gorton, Senator Slade Gorton. So they were awesome people to work with.

Bridget Coon:
And then that set of clients that we did public affairs work, basically were lobbyists. But we worked with dirt and water clients. So I started at that point, I started kind of like finding my way back home to agriculture, at least working on agriculture issues. They represented the PDs that run our hydropower dams, Chelan County, PUD, those kind of things I got sort of getting sharp on those types of issues that are really important here in Washington where [houser 00:43:05] at the time there was a big conflict with the tribes and the shellfish growers and so shellfish growers are farmers. I don’t think I’ve probably ever really thought about it like that when I was younger, but I was like, man, these are farmers and they have all these like similar issues, but it’s shellfish.

Bridget Coon:
And so I got to work on cool projects that directly related back to agriculture and the Pacific Northwest based on the people that this company worked for. And then I kind of got poached from there back to Dino Rossi’s gubernatorial campaign in 2008, and that’s how I ended up back in Washington. Not sure if I would stay after doing a eight month campaign stint, but I got a master’s degree in there somewhere. I don’t like-

Dillon Honcoop:
You’ve been busy.

Bridget Coon:
I don’t know. Like I wasn’t as tired as I am now. Is that weird? I feel like, maybe I guess-

Dillon Honcoop:
I know the feeling. I totally know the feeling.

Bridget Coon:
You know it, you get it. I packed a lot in during that sort of like time in my 20s and ended up back in Washington. And then after that campaign, we lost, this happens and you need a new job or even when you win you need a new job. So from there I ended up working for Reagan Dunn on the King County council. So I worked at downtown Seattle in the courthouse and I did agriculture land use and communications for him. So I started finding my way into this sort of like jobs I didn’t know existed when I was even in college and this direction that while I had sort of just been taking great opportunities that presented themselves to me through networking and just where I was being led.

Bridget Coon:
I did stop at one point, I was like, oh, I guess I am doing what I really probably, as a young person thought I could be useful doing. And then my parents were still farming in that area. So I would just on the weekends I was at their place, but yeah, I was probably … figured out that I was like the only person on the 12th floor of the King County courthouse involved in policymaking for the council that had any agriculture background whatsoever. So I felt the need to like get in there and make sure that some of those interests were being represented. And then again, these issues that can be oversimplified walked back and explained.

Dillon Honcoop:
So then how did you end up in Eastern Washington, because we got you all the way to DC-

Bridget Coon:
We’re back.

Dillon Honcoop:
… and then all the way back to Seattle-

Bridget Coon:
We’re almost back. Sorry this is a long story. I know it’s a long story.

Dillon Honcoop:
And now we’ve got to get you … No, you said lots of twists and turns, so I wanted to hear them.

Bridget Coon:
Yeah, it’s interesting. And so it’s like I find it interesting when I stopped. I don’t often stop and think about it. Nobody has time for that, but after working for Reagan, Patty over at the Beef Commission dialed me up and she was looking for someone in like in consumer information space that at that time the Beef Commission board had said, “Hey, we want to really invest in telling the production side.” Like they’re seeing that people have more interest in how food’s raised, but like the knowledge gap is really vast. And then we’re getting all these sort of negative myths developing around how we raise cattle.

Bridget Coon:
And so that’s why I was attracted to it. I mean, I like cooking beef. Like I love eating and cooking beef. But I wasn’t attracted to the job to like teach people how to make chili with five ingredients or I mean, I do, I will say like, searing, I love smoking my trigger. I mean, there’s some cool stuff to do with meat, it’s one of my hobbies, but I really was like, this is an opportunity to take things like so full circle back to the industry that I grew up in and do that communications work that clearly needed to be done and still needs to be done today. And so that was like 2010, and I just sort of right after I started that job coincidentally that my now husband, he is a rancher.

Dillon Honcoop:
Was he already doing that at that time?

Bridget Coon:
Yeah. So his dad … how did this work? So it’s like literally the second or third day on the job was like the Washington Cattleman’s convention. It was over in Sancadia. And it’s one of those instances where you’re the new person and everyone meets you, but you don’t necessarily meet everyone. And I had some interaction with Dick Coon, my now father-in-law because one of my first projects that first week was reviewing some ad, some radio ads that he had voiced.

Bridget Coon:
And then also there was some copy and they’ve spelled Benge where we are now, they spelled it wrong. And I knew that because I’d been traveling 26 past the sign to Benge, to WSU, to Pullman all those years before.

Dillon Honcoop:
And now you live in Benge.

Bridget Coon:
And here I am. But anyway, so I’d had just light interaction with Dick and I didn’t know what was going on yet. I was just trying to get with my job. I mean, that’s the zone I’d been in at that point since college and so … I don’t know if I should go into this, you can cut it out, but it’s kind of funny.

Dillon Honcoop:
This means it’s about to be the best part of the interview when people say that, you know something good is coming, so you must carry on that.

Bridget Coon:
So it’s funny, it’s a little funny. This is kind of hilarious and I still find it a little bit hilarious. So my now family, my in-laws were all there at the convention. And my now brother-in-law, my now husband was on the way and he was just joining everyone. And apparently my now brother-in-law kind of like saw me in the hallway and didn’t know anything about me yet, right? But he’s texting him, like you need to get here and you need to like, maybe meet this person, you know like.

Bridget Coon:
So this is all happening, I have no idea this is happening. He gets there. So the Beef Commission meeting is going on. This is my first board meeting. And I’m like pretty like trying to figure out what I’m doing here.

Dillon Honcoop:
Zoned in on the work.

Bridget Coon:
Zoned in, and these two dudes come in to the meeting and I remember Patty leaning over to me and saying, “Who are those guys?” I’m like, “I don’t know. I just started,” because she likes to know who’s in the meetings. So I had no idea, never met him and then fast forward to January. So it was November, January, a few months later. There’s a program up that WSU did and it was for everyone from a rancher, to a feed yard employee, to a packer. It’s like this cool course about beef, everything from like genetics and like range management to, we made sausage and we looked at grading the rib-eyes that the grade that they come in with. It’s a-

Dillon Honcoop:
A beef boot camp.

Bridget Coon:
Beef boot camp, but that’s not what they called it but they should have. Anyway, so last minute-

Dillon Honcoop:
I didn’t even plan on the alliteration for that.

Bridget Coon:
So much alliteration, so good.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s awesome.

Bridget Coon:
So anyway, my father-in-law and my now husband kind of last minute decided because there were like an hour from Pullman here, decided to join as attendees, and then the Beef Commission is sponsored to a degree. And so I was kind of sent over to write it up and do some promotion after the fact. And so you’re so really new and I’m like, everyone’s just so nice, but really like he was talking me up, he was chatting me up the whole two or three days as this thing was going on.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wait a second. So he just happened to decide to go to this beef boot camp.

Bridget Coon:
I didn’t even know I was going until like a few days before, because we weren’t … it was kind of not essential.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay, he wasn’t-

Bridget Coon:
So that part, there was no stocking.

Dillon Honcoop:
… working his angles here.

Bridget Coon:
There was like no stocking, it was actually completely … So it’s funny, is like he didn’t shoot his shot in November and I didn’t know he existed. And then in January here we are again and these circles are small in an industry like ours. So not to say that it’s completely out of the blue, but it was not, it was just sort of a coincidence. And he, yeah like by the end of the week, he’s like, “Hey, can I call you sometime or maybe come visit?” Because I lived on the west side, I lived in Auburn and so anyway, I finally let him come visit me like in February, and then he-

Dillon Honcoop:
You say that, so you let him come-

Bridget Coon:
I was in the career zone, man. I was not thinking about this.

Dillon Honcoop:
Everybody talks about friend zone, but is this a step even farther than friend zone?

Bridget Coon:
No, no. There was a lot of text messages. Like if you were to-

Dillon Honcoop:
You career zoned him.

Bridget Coon:
Well, I didn’t obviously. This is why, so then things got real. Things got real so fast. Anyway, so finally I think he came over for like Super Bowl weekend or something and I made him go to a hockey game with like 20 of my friends and family because I’m like that person, the facilitator of fun, like in the family, like that’s kind of my role. And so I was like, “Let’s go to a hockey game, but let’s get a group rate and like get tee shirts or whatever.” So I put them through the paces. We like had to go stop at the beauty shop and like meet my grandma. And like, it was a whole thing, but he was undeterred. And so that was like the beginning of February. He proposed on mother’s day that year, so that’s how I can remember it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Holy smokes.

Bridget Coon:
So that was May, and then we’re just kind of going with it. We’re just like sending it, is the only way I can describe it. And so that was May-

Dillon Honcoop:
This whole thing was moving along rather slowly until you suddenly said, you first actually really hung out in February or like dated, whatever you want to call it, and you were engaged to him by mother’s day.

Bridget Coon:
He was highly intentional.

Dillon Honcoop:
I guess.

Bridget Coon:
Which I hear is not really a quality of millennials dudes these days, but he was all on board, and so we’re engaged in May and then we got married October 1st.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Bridget Coon:
So I actually didn’t know what would become of like my job and which is not the greatest feeling to me because I really care about this type of work and it was really things are going in this direction. And so it was really Patty, my boss that got creative and I had been doing a lot, obviously a lot more of our work is done online. You can do it from anywhere. And so we were able to sort of do a lot of different gyrations with that job that allowed me to stay doing it to a degree. Like I said, I was pregnant 2.6 seconds after we got married. In fact, I didn’t even live here yet.

Bridget Coon:
So essentially we got married October 1st. December 1st was when I moved here and even then I had some events swing that week. And in between that time it was like Thanksgiving. And I was like, okay, I think something’s up, and he like came over for Thanksgiving. And so we had to tell my grandma, like we said, I think we announced it. Like we were thankful. You’re going around and like, what you’re thankful for. And I said, “We’re thankful for fertility.” And my grandmother whose like 90 years old at the time.

Dillon Honcoop:
She cleared in right away?

Bridget Coon:
I mean, her eyes got so big. It’s just like one of those best moments. But she’s passed now and so I just have some of these great moments to be … she was involved in and got to hold our son. But we got to do this sort of announcement on Thanksgiving.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s so awesome.

Bridget Coon:
But I thought it would be a long winter at least on the ranch. So it was really like, oh, I should probably like get doctors, and it was this-

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, man.

Bridget Coon:
So life has been pretty fast paced.

Dillon Honcoop:
In less than a year’s time, that was a lot of stuff.

Bridget Coon:
That’s a lot, but I kind of, change has never really bothered me. And I kind of always wondered where I would land in life probably because of that, because I was never like, I want to be an accountant and I will do this. And I tried to be really open minded about having like a suburban life or an urban life, and it’s just none of that ever took. So in some cases it seems like kind of crazy to be out here, but really to me it like feels right. Living next door to family, we had that type of setup growing up.

Bridget Coon:
And so to have my kids see their grandparents, their great grandmother lives next door here. We were just planting vegetables and seeds in the garden the other day. And so I go from like, “Hey, I need to focus on explaining to people why our processing plants are slowed down,” and there’s like space in the meat case, in a situation like this and work on those tougher issues. And then I’m like, “Let’s go plant some vegetables in the garden with Nana,” because I mean, we need to do these things and we have this ability to do it here.

Bridget Coon:
So I really couldn’t be more thrilled at how things kind of have shaken out. And my husband and I have these conversations sometimes. Even like after really hard days, which are just sucky days where things just go wrong and they can go wrong with your kids. They can go wrong with my work. They can go wrong with the ranch. And like some days can be pretty rough. And it’s not enough just like scenic out here well, but like there’s been more than a few times where we’ve stopped and been like, “Yeah, I don’t really care. I feel like this is where I would want to be.” And so you can’t really deny that feeling. And so I’ve kind of just started going with it, several years ago and it’s only grown it hasn’t sort of … so luckily like really short term decisions have worked out.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
This is the part where I say, but wait, there’s more, that’s just part one of the conversation. And she shares so much more of her story and insight into food and farming and ranching and what’s going on in the world. Bridget Coon part two is next week, so make sure to stay tuned for that, make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it. People keep asking me, “Where can we find your podcasts?” Pretty much on any of the podcasts platforms out there.

Dillon Honcoop:
And I have been mentioning to people and I’ll say this to you as well, if there is a platform that I’m not on that you think I should be, send me a message dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org is my email address, right to my phone. I’ll see it right away and I’ll figure out if there’s any way to get on that platform, we’ll do it. Also, @rfrp_podcast on Instagram and Real Food Real People podcast on Facebook. Don’t forget to follow us there. What is it? @rfrp_podcast as well on Twitter. So make sure to connect with us there and continue to follow along as I travel all over Washington State to meet and really get to know the people behind our food.

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.

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.

Lydia Johnson | #015 03/23/2020

She's about to finish her degree in Environmental Resource Geography, but Lydia Johnson grew up on a Washington dairy farm, and has a unique perspective on why farms in this state are at risk.

Transcript

Lydia Johnson:
They got out of dairy in the year that I moved to college. And I have to say that that’s a little heartbreaking because I felt like I was responsible for it. No matter how many times they’ll tell me, “No. No, you need to go. Go do what you need to do.”

Announcer:
This is the Real Food, Real People podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Welcome back to the Real Food, Real People podcast. I’m Dillon Honcoop, and I’m glad you’re here. Hopefully things are going well if you’re self-isolating and keeping to yourself, as I hope we all are right now, keeping everyone in a safe and healthy as possible. This week we hear from a young woman who is studying at Central Washington University, just about to get her environmental resource geography degree. She grew up on a Washington state dairy farm. And the perspective that she brings from her academics as well as her life experience growing up on a farm is really, really valuable, I think, as far as what’s happening in this state politically and with the environment and with farming. So I’m glad you’re here for this conversation this week. Her name is Lydia Johnson.

Dillon Honcoop:
And as I mentioned on Real Food, Real People Instagram over the weekend, I actually met her at a bar. I know it sounds weird. I was just driving through Washington. I was in little Kittitas, Washington, and stopped in to what I thought was this really cool, old time-y restaurant and bar, The Time Out Saloon, and she was working behind the counter. And we just happened to chat a little bit, and I found out that she grew up on a farm. And so we talked a little bit more and I thought she’s got to be on the podcast and share her perspective and her story. Such cool stuff. So thank you for being here. Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter as well. If you can, subscribe on your favorite podcast outlet, Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, you name it. And of course, check out realfoodrealpeople.org.

Dillon Honcoop:
So without any further ado, here’s Lydia Johnson and our conversation this week on the Kittitas podcast, my continuing journey around various parts of Washington state to get to know the real people behind our food and the real culture of farming and food here in Washington state. We think it’s more important now with everything that’s happening than ever before to know not only where your food comes from and to get food grown locally and from Washington state, but also to know who grows your food and to understand the care and respect that goes into it.

Dillon Honcoop:
So sitting in a bar, strike up a conversation with the bartender, you-

Lydia Johnson:
Right, yep.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you tell me that you grew up as a dairy farm kid.

Lydia Johnson:
Yeah. Yeah, so born and raised on a dairy farm, originally starting down in Vancouver, Washington. My dad got into dairy farming, had to pick up and move the entire dairy up into the raging, booming town of Ethel, Washington, where I say, “Oh yeah, I’m from Ethel,” and they’re like, “What? Bethel?” No Ethel, Washington, population: our dairy farm and a post office.

Dillon Honcoop:
Where is Ethel, Washington?

Lydia Johnson:
Southwest Washington-ish, right off of Highway 12 on your way over White Pass, about 10 miles off of I-5. Yeah. So if I’m explaining it to somebody, I’ll be like, “Okay, do where Olympia is?”

Lydia Johnson:
And they’ll say, “Yes.”

Lydia Johnson:
“Okay. Do where Centralia is? Okay, 45 minutes southeast of there.”

Lydia Johnson:
And they’re like, “Oh, okay. I know right where that is. I’ve probably driven right past it.”

Dillon Honcoop:
So tell me about the dairy. How many cows did you guys have? Was this your whole life, basically?

Lydia Johnson:
Yes. So we started out as a conventional dairy farm and as I was growing up, we eventually made the transition into an organic dairy. And we began at like 400 cows. And then when we got to an organic dairy, we were only milking about 160. And so this was only my mother, father and I, and we were the only ones doing it. We didn’t have any hired hands. We didn’t have any help. It was just the three of us. And at the time, I didn’t know it was weird or abnormal to just be us three running this dairy, this little 12-year-old girl. And then both my parents had full-time jobs, and so we were just making it work. And so they would wake up early, 3:30, 4:30 in the morning.

Lydia Johnson:
My job was to bring in the cows, so I would always be looking for an excuse to go out and ride my horse. So I sat on my horse in the barn early in the morning and go out and bring the cows in. My dad would always yell, “Don’t run the girls. Don’t make them run. Just walk them.”

Lydia Johnson:
I’m like, “Oh, Dad, come on, let me go.” But after I got a little bit older, I understood, so…

Dillon Honcoop:
So you wanted to be a cowboy, is what you’re saying.

Lydia Johnson:
Oh, yeah. Oh yeah, it was cowboy.

Dillon Honcoop:
Or a cowgirl.

Lydia Johnson:
Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I grew up in this weird dynamic where it’s like I wasn’t really raised to be like a cowboy or cowgirl and do the rodeo thing because I grew up on a dairy farm, and dairy farmers, they don’t. They’re dairy farmers, and you show at the fair and the 4H and the FFA, which I did that too, but I was also involved heavily into junior rodeo and high school rodeo and things like that as well. So it was kind of a strange dynamic, but it’s definitely a childhood that made me who I am. And I’m forever grateful to my parents just because all these other students that I was going to school with or things like that, they had just woken up at 8:30 in the morning and I had already had half a day on them. And just having that experience really impacted me as a person, and it has given me a little bit more of, I would say, an upper hand, definitely an upper hand, but.

Dillon Honcoop:
Upper hand how?

Lydia Johnson:
As far as maturity levels and responsibilities and caring for another creature that isn’t a human. It’s a different dynamics to something. You’re raising calves or you’re feeding heifers or just these different aspects of growing up on a dairy create, I don’t know, just more fulfilling, I would say; probably more fulfilling life.

Dillon Honcoop:
Were you ever frustrated with all of that?

Lydia Johnson:
Oh, yeah. Easy, easy. I would always think what would it be like to have a normal childhood, like growing up in a suburb or something like that. And thinking back on that, I was like, what was I thinking? Why would I ever wonder something like that? I know what it would be like: miserable. Not necessarily, but definitely-

Dillon Honcoop:
When did that change? When did you switch from being like, ah, this is just a whole bunch of work to starting to really value it?

Lydia Johnson:
Well, when I was in middle school, I was probably like I had been enslaved for that long already feeding calves. And it didn’t feel like slavery at the time, but it was something that I had to wake up and do every morning and every Saturday, Sunday, holiday, everything. So my friends would be out and they’d have sleepovers or something, but I’d have to get picked up early because I’d have to come home and feed calves or something like that, or just something small. But when I got into high school, I really started appreciating it because it made me a little bit more mindful of time management and how to execute all the things that I needed to get done within the day. But I worked them around milking schedules, so that was really interesting, too. Not very many students had to deal with that.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was the milking schedule on the farm?

Lydia Johnson:
Usually we would milk at like six 6:30, six o’clock in the morning, and then milk at 6:30, six o’clock in the evening, if not earlier, because it’d depend on how early I could get out and get the cows in because sometimes things don’t always go the right way. And we had a small dairy, so a lot of things went wrong, like pumps weren’t working or something would freeze, or the parlors flooded one morning. Just small, weird things that probably don’t happen on, I don’t know, I guess larger farms. I don’t know.

Dillon Honcoop:
I think they happen everywhere, from the people I’ve talked to.

Lydia Johnson:
Yeah, I would say so too, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
Murphy’s Law: if it can break, it will.

Lydia Johnson:
It will. Yeah, no. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
So why did your parents have to move the dairy east, and at what point in your life was that?

Lydia Johnson:
I think I was only two or three.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you probably don’t really remember?

Lydia Johnson:
Yeah, I don’t really. Well, I remember … So, we were releasing some property from a gentleman down in Vancouver, Washington. And my dad had already started the herd and started milking down here in Vancouver. And then they had sold the dairy before our lease was up. And so my dad had started frantically shopping for another dairy.

Dillon Honcoop:
So they sold it out from underneath him?

Lydia Johnson:
Right, yeah. And I was pretty young when this happened. And so I think the Indian tribe is where it ended up. And so there’s a new casino down there, like, ilani, or something like that. That is where our dairy was.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, really?

Lydia Johnson:
Yeah. So that’s a bittersweet deal. But there’s a couple of dairies up in the county where I grew up, Lewis County, that were available at the time, and there was one in Alaska and one in Ethel, and the one in Ethel was home. We moved there in 2000. So everybody’s still refers to it, if they’ve lived there long enough, as the old Dureya dairy, because that’s who lived there before us. And they’re like, “Oh, you live with the old Dureya dairy?”

Lydia Johnson:
I’m like, “That was 20 years ago, but yeah.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, both sets of my grandparents were in dairy farming. And to me and to a lot of people, they’re their farms and they’re still there. I actually own the homeplace of my mom’s parents’ place.

Lydia Johnson:
Oh, that’s amazing.

Dillon Honcoop:
But to the real old timers, because they bought them from other people. Sam Bajema. Wait, oh that was the… And, I can’t remember… the Leenders dairy was my Grandpa Honcoop’s later. So I totally get that. And that kind of stuff carries on when the same family can’t keep doing it.

Lydia Johnson:
For sure.

Dillon Honcoop:
Did you think about staying with dairy?

Lydia Johnson:
I actually did, but what I really wanted to do was I wanted to bring dairy back to the Ellensburg Valley. And this was an idea that lasted for maybe six months or something like that. It didn’t last that long because the technology that I was wanting to get into was something that probably wouldn’t be that attainable for me as an individual. And I’d have to find other people that are gung ho about it as much as I am. I was like, “Oh yeah, I’ll get a robotic milker, because I like to travel a lot and I like to go do these things, and I ride horses and I’m doing things like that.” But there aren’t any dairies in the valley anymore. And so that was really strange to me when I moved here that there wasn’t the local dairy or something small, anything.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, that would make it harder to run a dairy farm here, right-

Lydia Johnson:
Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
… because there’s no dairy support businesses here.

Lydia Johnson:
Absolutely. And there was somebody that had told me that it was because of trucks not making it up here from Sunnyside because that’s where the Darigold plant is, or something like the restrictions on waste management, because the county is definitely turning a leaf in its political stance.

Dillon Honcoop:
And I guess we’re talking about the Ellensburg area now.

Lydia Johnson:
The valley, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
And like we mentioned earlier, I met you at this bar at Kittitas, where you’re bartending and I just stopped in for a bite to eat. And we’re actually recording out here behind the bar in the empty beer bar. There’s snow on the ground, actually. And so if you hear cars or trains in the background, that’s why.

Lydia Johnson:
Right outside, so.

Dillon Honcoop:
So the reason I mentioned that is how did you end up here from growing up down there in Ethel?

Lydia Johnson:
I know. It’s a big transition from small town of Ethel to the small town of Kittitas. I mean, well, so I was looking at colleges, and I’d done plenty of research and all that stuff. I was looking for a college that I could rodeo at and compete in college rodeo. But I also wanted a four-year university that I could just knock out the four years and graduate, which didn’t end up happening anyway because I’m on my fifth year, but I’m graduating this spring.

Dillon Honcoop:
I did five. I’ll confess that right here. It took me five.

Lydia Johnson:
Five years, that’s been the average. Yeah, so that’s really what brought me here. And during my first year here, I was thinking about transferring to somewhere. I was going to leave the state. I was pretty set on, oh yeah, I’m going to go to Colorado state or go to a little bit more ag-based college somewhere. And I ended up staying and then I became a part of the community when I started working at the bar because now I can’t go anywhere without somebody recognizing me: “Oh, you’re the bartender from the Time Out.”

Dillon Honcoop:
So you go to Central, which is in Ellensburg.

Lydia Johnson:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Which is what, like 15 minutes from here?

Lydia Johnson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dillon Honcoop:
But actually, when you came out here, you started living right away in Kittitas?

Lydia Johnson:
I did live in Ellensburg, but for a very short time. So it was like for the first year and a half or two years, and then I eventually moved out. My address is still Ellensburg, but I live out past Kittitas. It’s like 15 minutes from here even. I don’t even have internet there. It’s one of those type places.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why? Why didn’t you stay in town?

Lydia Johnson:
Gross. I wouldn’t say in town. I like being outside. And I have horses too. I have horses and I’ve got six cows here with myself, myself and my horses.

Dillon Honcoop:
I like that you say staying in town is gross.

Lydia Johnson:
Yeah. Well I mean, it’s just like your typical college student walking distance from the campus and things like that. And I don’t really mean it that way, but it’s too confined. I’m renting 25 acres with two other girls and I have my two horses and my six cows, and I have access to an arena and I can go rope whenever I want. So it’s way better out here. I pay the price, but it’s way better out here, for sure.

Dillon Honcoop:
I want to find out about this rodeo stuff, too, because he talked about being younger and into the whole cowgirl thing. You wanted to continue that.

Lydia Johnson:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you do with that?

Lydia Johnson:
So as far as rodeo goes, at the moment, I’m riding a three year old so she is a little slow on the draw when it comes to … I mean, I’m still doing a little bit of roping on her but she’s a little young to be competing on. But just this last spring, I sold one of my good horses that I was team roping and breakaway roping off of. And he was a bang up little horse, but I had a lot of him go. So I did that, but prior to selling him, I did a lot of team roping and breakaway roping and went to rodeos, mostly college rodeos and some small jackpots here and there, and did quite a bit of mounted shooting on him as well, which has become a passion for me as well. It’s just so much fun. It’s like barrel racing, but with guns; way better, way better. Everybody should give it a try.

Dillon Honcoop:
So rodeo, I mean, for a lot of people, that’s like [inaudible 00:16:23] rodeo. I think the sense is it’s really unnecessary and it’s abusive of animals and all of these things. What’s your response to some of that? I mean, I guess one thing I should say, this is a Real Food, Real People podcast. What does rodeo have to do with food? Why it even necessary?

Lydia Johnson:
Well, I guess I would say that rodeo is a little bit more of a showcase of the capabilities of your horse and the amount of training and practice. And I mean, the animals that we use, they’re animals that love their job. The rough stock that’s being bucked out, I mean, they’re bred specifically to do that. I mean, you put them out in the field and just feed them, they’re bred specifically for this job, and it’s not … I mean, calves too, same thing… bred to run.

Dillon Honcoop:
But it’s still skills and a way of life connected with producing food though, right?

Lydia Johnson:
Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like the beef world… real cowboys still exist to this day.

Lydia Johnson:
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, especially in this valley. Back home, you find more dairy farms over on the west side where I grew up. And here, people are getting permits to put their cows out on public land. And there’s a lot more acreage for people to push cows around. And it’s more of a practical sense when you’re talking about cowboy and things like that when you’re going out you’re branding or you’re vaccinating and things like that. It’s crucial.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, even roping is about cattle health, right?

Lydia Johnson:
Yes, absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
People just think it’s a show, which, I mean, the rodeo stuff is a showcase of that skill.

Lydia Johnson:
But the root of it is a necessity. Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s your favorite thing with rodeo?

Lydia Johnson:
Probably team roping. Probably team roping.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why?

Lydia Johnson:
Well, so I headed for several years, and this horse that I’ve gotten now, she’s pretty small and I can’t head on her. And so I’m really missing team roping and I’m really missing going into … Yeah, it’s been tough, but I’m working through it and I think she’ll be big enough that I could heel off of her; maybe not be a head horse. But yeah, definitely team roping.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re going to keep doing rodeo stuff after college?

Lydia Johnson:
I intend to. I do.

Dillon Honcoop:
How do you keep doing that? Do you have to be pro to keep going?

Lydia Johnson:
You got to make money. Your bank account has to support you. No, even in town, there’s a bunch of small jackpots that you can keep going to. And then you enter in … You pay your NPRA or Pro West entries, and things like that, the smaller … I mean, they’re not smaller, but there are different regions, and there’s a little bit of flexibility. But in the northwest it’s a tough circuit to be in, in the Columbia River circuit.

Dillon Honcoop:
So other than keeping rodeoing-

Lydia Johnson:
Rodeoing, yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
… as a hobby or maybe some pro stuff, what else are you planning to do once you get your degree here in a few months?

Lydia Johnson:
So my ultimate goal is there’s a overpopulation of feral horses down in southwestern United States in general, and it’s actually encroaching on the Pacific Northwest as well. And I don’t intend to work for the government, as suggested by professors: “Oh, you should work for the BLM,” or, “Oh, you should work for the Forest Service or DNR.” And granted, those jobs are great and I’m sure of it, but they’re kind of caught between a rock and a hard place. They’re caught up in so many different lawsuits from other advocacy groups that are just … Half of their budget is tied up in fighting lawsuits. So a lot of that is not making any progress. So things that are making progress are research on different sterilization ideas or birth control, like PCP is a current thing going on down there, but they are keep-

Dillon Honcoop:
To keep feral horses from reproducing?

Lydia Johnson:
Reproducing, right.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what’s a feral horse? Explain what that really looks like in the real world.

Lydia Johnson:
So technically, they’re called wild horses, and that’s a legal term. It’s not because they’re actually wild, because every horse that is on that range is of domestic descent. And so the species, the actual species of them, is of domestic descent. And so there are no wild horses. The only wild horse that there is in Mongolia and it’s called the Przewalski’s horse. And it’s like three feet tall, and just this tiny little horse. That’s the only wild horse that’s in existence right now. And so when I refer to feral horses, it’s kind of like a negative term against the law that’s the Wild Horse and Burro Act of 1970. And so that needs to be changed.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’ve never heard of any of this stuff. This is so cool.

Lydia Johnson:
Really? Okay. Oh, well, I wish I… Yeah, so things along those lines. Things need to be changed. And I’m not advocating for them to be removed or exterminated from the range land at all because there’s definitely a history behind them and they’re part of the West and how the Spaniards in the old Wild West … I mean, it was such a short time in history that it just … People want to preserve it that way.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you want to help preserve that or you want to help those … What really is your dream outcome here with this issue?

Lydia Johnson:
Oh, it’s a pretty controversial topic, so I feel as though … The population doubles every four years.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Lydia Johnson:
And so something needs to be done, whether that is sterilization of mares or people need to quit breeding horses and only adopt feral horses. I’m not going to make that call because I buy expensive horses that are well-bred and things like that. They’re bred for what I do. And so it’s hard to say that there’s one solution to it. I would say conserving, not preserving because preserving what we have out there is not going to be sustainable for the range land, the people that use it, the cattle that are going to be put out on it.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did you get into this issue? How did it catch your passion?

Lydia Johnson:
I spent some time in Utah, I saw some feral horses, talked to some locals in the area about how they felt about it. And then they very strongly wanted them removed. And where I grew up, a lot of people were buying horses from slaughter to take up to Canada or Mexico or things like that. So it was just not something that was totally new to me because I’d always been around it because the stock contractor, he knew somebody and somebody knew somebody: “Oh, that horsey,” and something like that. And it’s illegal to do that, by the way. And so it’s just something that struck me as a problem that needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed in a fashion that encourages learning.

Lydia Johnson:
So the biggest controversy between the thing is a lot of the people that are fighting for the rights of the horses, they’ve never seen a horse. They’ve never pet a horse. They’re like, “Oh, they’re just so beautiful.” They think of Black Beauty or things like that. They don’t think of a horse that is essentially starving itself out because there’s nothing for it to eat on the range. There’s no water. We’re in a drought. There’s nothing there for it. It starves.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s not humane.

Lydia Johnson:
No, exactly. So it’s the balance between the two, and closing the gap in the knowledge. I mean, it could go on forever. I could-

Dillon Honcoop:
So what did you study in college? What’s your degree going to be?

Lydia Johnson:
Environmental resource geography with a certification in natural resource management and a certification in geospatial information systems.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s a mouthful.

Lydia Johnson:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow. So what kind of stuff are you doing academically, then, to get that kind of degree? What are you studying? What are you learning?

Lydia Johnson:
It’s kind of like a hybrid of different biologies, different chemistries, different geology, geography, climatology. That’s a class that I’m taking right now that’s kicking my butt. But it’s just a broad and mixture of everything that you would find in an environment from resources to weathers that impact the resources, and the actions of industries. And it’s just all-encompassed. Water resource; it’s a big, broad BS.

Dillon Honcoop:
You mean Bachelor of Science?

Lydia Johnson:
Yes, that’s exactly what I meant.

Dillon Honcoop:
All right, got it. Earlier we were talking and you were planning on leaving the state. Maybe not forever.

Lydia Johnson:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why do you want to leave Washington, other than this horse thing? Are you done with Washington, or what?

Lydia Johnson:
Well, as much as I love Washington, I’ve spent a fair amount of time up in the mountains, in the Cascades, at Mount Rainier. And it’s a beautiful state. You get a little bit of everything from volcanoes to rainforest to desert to the ocean. It’s a beautiful state. I do love it, but I have been impacted by, as I mentioned once before, the politics, the prices, and the people.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why is that changing in Washington, do you think?

Lydia Johnson:
I would say the growth of urban population.

Dillon Honcoop:
What does that do to farming here?

Lydia Johnson:
Minimizes it. I mean the growth of Seattle, I mean, they’re moving outward. We’re getting people here in Kittitas County. The population … I mean, you’ll find a lot of people coming from Seattle. They’re a doctor from Seattle and they have a house in Ellensburg and they commute every day because it’s easier to commute from Ellensburg than it is from Olympia. And then from them moving here, that changes completely the dynamic of … The political dynamic is completely altered, not only from the expansion of urban areas but also from the college as well. So I would-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. What are some of the pressures on farming? What happens with different people in the mix, like you’re describing?

Lydia Johnson:
Development of farmland, the minimizing of all this farmland that … I mean, this valley is number one, number two, top hay export in the country. And we were getting all these people from Seattle, “Oh yeah, we’ve got this nice 30-acre lot and we’re going to develop it.” Or even if they get their hands on some more expensive, bigger hay fields, they’re not going to sit on it. They’re not going to continue farming it. That’s our goal: “Oh, Ellensburg is beautiful. Yeah, let’s move there. It’s only an hour and a half, two hours from Seattle.”

Dillon Honcoop:
But I thought you’re in college, basically in an environmental program.

Lydia Johnson:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
Shouldn’t you be caring about the environment?

Lydia Johnson:
This is why my department doesn’t like me. They’re like, “Oh darn, you got Lydia in your class this time? Oh, I’m so sorry. She sits up front and raises her hand, has something to say about everything.” Yeah, it definitely is a struggle. Well in my department, they do a pretty good job of keeping the balance between politics, and they’re relatively unbiased. But yeah, there’s definitely something that needs to be done as far as conservation of the farmland in this valley, especially.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. What needs to be done to protect the environment here in Washington from your vantage point, studying this academically?

Lydia Johnson:
Oh, that’s a tricky question because-

Dillon Honcoop:
I mean, some people are saying farming isn’t good for the environment, and that’s one of the issues that they want to look at: should we be doing farming or doing farming the way that we’re doing it here in the state?

Lydia Johnson:
Well, I would start off with saying farmers are stewards of the land. I mean, regardless of whether a farmer’s out to make money or not, if they don’t take care of their land, if they’re not rotating crops, if they’re not treating the land, if they’re not replenishing nutrients that they’ve taken out by planning this specific crop, or something along those lines, it’ll affect their crop in the long run and their property in the long run.

Lydia Johnson:
And I mean, I experienced that growing up over on the west side. We grew hay on an old tree farm. And so tree farms are very acidic. And so we always did … chicken manure was the most common thing in our area. So to balance that out and bring up the pH levels, definitely have to be proactive in that, I guess; proactive in how you’re treating the land because in the long run it’s going to affect how your crops are going to turn out, how much you’re going to yield, what are the prices going to be like.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. And your farming background, how much attention, how much time have you spent on the whole soil health issue? I mean, that’s what you’re touching on there, right?

Lydia Johnson:
Oh, a stupid amount. We had haylage, we were feeding haylage, so we grew haylage and we had barley as well that we ground up and mixed with crack corn.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the future for your family’s farm?

Lydia Johnson:
So at this time, both of my parents are retired. They got out of dairy in the year that I moved to college. And I have to say that that’s a little heartbreaking because I felt like I was responsible for it. No matter how many times they’ll tell me, “No. No, you need to go. Go do what you need to do,” type thing … but the farm is still being ran. It’s being leased out by a younger dairy farmer. And he’s running our farm as an organic dairy as well as two other dairy farms. One other is also organic and the other is conventional. So he’s keeping that going, which is impressive because that’s three dairies. I don’t know if I could, let alone one, but I’m sure … I mean, he’s got quite a bit of hired hands.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did the whole organic thing go? What did you think of that? How did your parents make that work?

Lydia Johnson:
So when we got into it, we were ahead of the curve. So it was before everybody was like, oh, go organic. It was before all of that. And so when we were in it, it was good for our family and we were doing well. And it was a really long process, though. I have to tell you, we had to get our land certified that we were making the hay on, which is not in the same location as where our dairy was. And so just getting that certified, and then we’d have to fence off our fences like six feet in because our neighbors sprayed their whatever. And so getting the cows certified, getting the land certified, it was just quite the process. I think it was like six years maybe before we could become certified.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is organic better? At least, I guess, in dairy terms, because that’s what you’ve experienced firsthand?

Lydia Johnson:
Oh, in dairy terms? I mean, it’s a nice idea, I guess. But as far as the quality of milk being produced, I would argue that it is probably on the same playing field: organic milk, conventional milk. I mean, I always drink it raw, so I don’t know what y’all are drinking at the store. No, I’m teasing, but we did always drink it raw.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did it taste?

Lydia Johnson:
Yeah, I scraped the cream off the top and put it in your coffee in the morning after it separates out. Like I said, there was no better childhood.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s been the hardest thing with growing up a farm kid and getting to this point where you are now?

Lydia Johnson:
Hardest thing? I would say probably just a difference in my peers. So I don’t really identify very easily with other 23 year old girls in my classes at school. They’re like, “Oh yeah, I’m going to this party,” and I’m like, “Oh cool, I’m going home to ride my horse,” type thing. Yeah, I feel like I’m a little bit older than my actual age, and I think that’s because I was raised in this fashion that led me to be more mature. And I don’t know, I don’t want to sound conceited when I say those things, but I feel like, yeah, I don’t identify very easily with people my age because of the differences in our childhood upbringings. And it’s just very strange to me too because I don’t know where they’re coming from. They did totally different things when they were growing up. They got to travel when they were young, they got to leave the farm. No, I’m teasing.

Dillon Honcoop:
No, I know how that is. I grew up on a red raspberry farm, so summertime was not a time for vacation, like for everybody else. Well, thank you so much for opening up and sharing your story. Best of luck to you-

Lydia Johnson:
Yes, thank you.

Dillon Honcoop:
… on what you’re doing next. You ever think about getting back into actual farming, being a farmer yourself?

Lydia Johnson:
Yes, I miss it. Yeah, I definitely have considered it, especially with this most recent starting up a dairy thing. And my dad’s dream has always been to bottle and sell organic raw milk. And I don’t know, I guess it kind of rubbed off on me too because I just think that would be so cool to have your own dairy and then have the same store on the same place. And people would come to your farm and you could give them farm tours and educate them about where your milk comes from and, no chocolate milk doesn’t come from brown cows, and something like that. Yeah, it’s definitely a fantasy, but maybe someday. I plan on having my own garden and greenhouse and my own cows. I’ll be damned if I’m not drinking raw milk out of the tank when I’m settled or something.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well good luck to you. And again, really appreciate you being willing to share your story with this random guy, me…

Lydia Johnson:
It’s a long one.

Dillon Honcoop:
…that just showed up here at the Time Out-

Lydia Johnson:
Time Out Saloon.

Dillon Honcoop:
… Saloon.

Lydia Johnson:
In Kittitas, Washington, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thank you so much.

Lydia Johnson:
Absolutely. Thank you.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m always amazed by the things that people do talk about that they know that they’re involved with. And one of those was the whole feral horse thing. I didn’t know anything about that. And I had no idea that Lydia was involved with anything like that. So when she brought that up, I was like, wow. And now I need to do a little bit more research about what is that all about? That’s kind of crazy. It was really cool to hear her story and hear about her family. I hope for her sake … You can hear right there at the end, you could tell that she still wants to be part of that farming world. I hope she can find the right place and time to do that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thank you again for being with us here on the podcast. And hopefully, again, you’re staying safe and healthy out there. If you’re self-isolating, self-quarantining, whatever the case might be, with this crazy world that we’re in right now, you’ve got some time. Go catch up on some back episodes. You can find all of those at realfoodrealpeople.org or on your favorite podcast platform. So make sure to check it out and also follow us on Instagram and follow us on Facebook, and we’re on Twitter as well. I try to share stuff there as much as I can. I’ve been able to do a little bit more of that lately with everything that’s going on, and hopefully I can keep that up. With my busy schedule, sometimes I forget to share, “Oh Hey, this is what I’m doing, this is where I’m at.” So I’m trying to be better about that. And we definitely appreciate you subscribing and supporting the podcast every week.

Dillon Honcoop:
And like I said at the beginning, we appreciate you paying attention to where your food comes from. And of course with this podcast, it’s so important who your food comes from. With everything going on in the world right now, I think we’re more and more focused on our food and are we going to be able to get it? And who’s producing it? How far away is it from me? And that’s why these stories are such a window into the food production that’s happening in our backyard and here in our own state. It’s just so, so important right now. And I think this time with everything that’s changing with our society and with our economy right now, with this virus and other things that are going on, I think it’s bringing that focus back to where it needs to be on how we sustain ourselves, how sustainable our lives are right here at home in Washington. So thank you for being with us on the Real Food, Real People podcast.

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.

Niels Brisbane part 2 | #006 01/20/2020

He's passionate about bringing farmers back to the table, in more ways than one. In the second half of their conversation, award-winning Seattle chef Niels Brisbane and host Dillon Honcoop talk about how a facelift for farming could help reconnect eaters with the people who grow their food.

Transcript

Niels Brisbane:
Farming needs a facelift basically, essentially, and there it needs to be appreciated for what it is, but then the other piece is like it’s a lot of work and so there needs to be a financial incentive.

Speaker 2:
This is the Real Food, Real People podcasts.

Dillon Honcoop:
Hoodies, connecting with farmers and figuring out how farmers can have a seat at the table. Again, in sort of defining what is the cuisine of the Pacific Northwest. Last week we got to know award-winning Seattle chef, Niels Brisbane and his unexpected journey from sports to fine dining, to reconnecting with his farm town roots in Lynden, Washington, the same town that I grew up in, even though I hadn’t gotten to know Niels until this podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
This week, we’re sharing the second half of that fascinating conversation I had with him, where we get into in the second half into the vision, his vision for reconnecting people with farmers and reinvigorating both our regional cuisine and the farms that are growing food right here. If you miss last week, go ahead and listen to that conversation if you’d like to learn more about Nell’s background. Thanks for coming along the journey again this week and let’s dive right back in where we left off last week. So you’re involved in this world that’s like culture and art and very urban, yet you grew up in a small Podunk farming community. It happens to be the same community that I grew up in. Interestingly, we didn’t know each other-

Niels Brisbane:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
… until now. What was that like? How did that speak in to what you were doing and what did people even say when they found out, you’re from Lynden, Washington? Like what?

Niels Brisbane:
I mean, for me that very much roots why I cook and why I’m involved in food at all, because it really does come back to how do we create a better food system? And part of that is like for me, I always want to be able to give farmers options. And like one of my favorite farmers, Dave Hudlin is in the Skagit County and has a great vegetable farm, grows [inaudible 00:02:43]. His tomato greenhouses are, they should be the eighth wonder of the world. They’re incredible. If you’re ever in Skagit, go visit Dave Hudlin’s farm.

Niels Brisbane:
But he always says is, I’ll butcher the quote. But it was basically like, “If you’re a farm and you’re selling to one person, then you’re an employee, and if you’re selling to 100 people, now you’ve got a business.” And so farmers need to be able to, I mean, the worst thing of walking into a negotiation, whether that be, especially when it’s a buyer is if they know you can’t walk out, and negotiate that price any better because they’re like, “Well, that product is going to spoil otherwise if you don’t sell it to me at this really low price.” And so that’s not a good place to be. So developing a system where there truly is an economy around things and not just a path that’s been traveled before.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s a big problem in farming.

Niels Brisbane:
It’s a huge problem in farming.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because different than most other economic arrangements. If we say that farmers are usually the ones with their back against the wall-

Niels Brisbane:
Usually.

Dillon Honcoop:
… they’re price takers as we here said.

Niels Brisbane:
Exactly.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you experienced that, you see that kind of from this other vantage point.

Niels Brisbane:
Exactly. And if anyone gets the squeeze, it’s usually the “like lowest person on the totem pole.” And for a farmer that it’s because they’re the first person with the product, that’s why they’re “like the lowest person on the totem pole.” Is like, the chef doesn’t want to pay that high price, so they put the squeeze on their producer or onto their wholesaler. The wholesaler needs to keep their margin. So then they push that squeeze onto the farmer and so they by default have to take that lower price.

Niels Brisbane:
And if they got to… so we were really big on like working directly with farmers and buying, trying to work with them and it’s a headache, but like trying to figure out ways where you can be like, okay, grow all these carrots and we’ll buy all of them. Or we’ll do like what do you want to grow? What did you make a fantastic margin on last year? It was this random beat. Okay, well like maybe we can come up with a great beat dish and move this product for you.

Niels Brisbane:
And actually having those conversations. I mean, what ends up happening is like the complexity from a restaurant standpoint is again this was like a huge benefit that a place like Canlis could afford with time and money is allowing me to figure out all of those pieces and the other sous-chefs to like figure out this sourcing mayhem. I mean, we had, over 100 people that we would source from, from like farms and figuring that out logistically is a nightmare.

Niels Brisbane:
It took, I mean, a huge part of my job honestly was like, it was the creative part, but it was like figuring out how do we get the best product through the front doors in a consistent way. And in most places they just want to make one phone call and get the produce through the door, which means they work with a wholesaler and that’s why that business model exists, but it puts the squeeze onto the farmers and the restaurants lose the face of like, this is a farmer that’s trying to work hard to sell this product.

Niels Brisbane:
And to me that’s just like a shame. And so trying to think of new ways to structure it so that again, like these farmers can have a face in the economy again, it’s like just so that they can kind of compete again and be understood is ultimately how I kind of see a renegotiation of this food system. So whether that be, I mean, it’s either there’s small farms that are starting to figure it out of like, okay, well, I’ll sell at the farmers market and I’ll do a CSA and then I’ll do some wholesale and all these different pieces. And if any one of those were to fail, the business wouldn’t go under.

Niels Brisbane:
Like, but if Darigold declared bankruptcy tomorrow, there’d be a lot of farms that would not have anywhere to sell their milk, and that to me is like, well, that’s an issue. Like they’re not… I mean, they own their own businesses, so they’re taking all the risk, but they only have one buyer. So they really don’t have the reward of being an independent business owner on some level anymore because it’s like they’re dictated to. And so like there’s…

Dillon Honcoop:
And we have something unique hee even, like you mentioned Darigold being a farmer’s cooperative. Then in some other parts of the country where they don’t have that.

Niels Brisbane:
They don’t even have that. Right. Exactly. If anything like Darigold is the best model and so because at least you’ve got a large group that can kind of create that advocacy. But-

Dillon Honcoop:
There’s still that risk, that question mark.

Niels Brisbane:
There’s still that risk of like, well, what’s going to happen if that didn’t work out? And it’s like, well, it’s going to take a lot to rebuild it. It’s not going to happen in five or 10 or 20 years even. But like there’s the companies that are thinking about that. It’s like, well, what if we made cheese? What if we made a new dairy product or whatever it is, rethinking about it and being like, well, this isn’t less work, that’s for sure.

Niels Brisbane:
But actually creating a face of like, well, this is… I mean, it was a joke at the restaurant because I was obsessive with dairy specifically as my… we had five different milks that we kept in the restaurant based on what the usage was. So we had a milk that we would use for steaming for coffee, and we had a different milk that we would use for our basically like milk focused sauces.

Niels Brisbane:
So sauces that you actually were supposed to taste the milk. It wasn’t just like an ingredient. And then we would have a milk for desserts and each one was not just like, a random dartboard, we’ll buy from this farmer this week. It was very thought out. We had brought in 25 plus milks. I mean, it was a really unique experience to be able to even do that in the Pacific Northwest of like, there’s actually 25 plus dairies that you can go out and buy milk from and you could taste the difference between each farm and you could… people were blown away, I think it was like MyShan up in Lynden, actually it was really close to where I used to live and I actually didn’t know…

I don’t think they were an independent farm when I was living up there anyways, but or independent like as in you could buy their stuff wholesale. But they’ve got like a Guernsey farm and people had never really tasted that before, and I don’t know what their processes, but it’s like their milk has a distinct like caramel note that you don’t get from, say like a Cherry Valley, which is down here in King County, and they would have, there’s was like super grassy.

And so if you tried to make coffee with theirs, it tasted like you were licking and eating dirt, like, a little bit while you were drinking your coffee. And so it wasn’t so good for coffee even though it was a fantastic milk. But then their milk was fantastic for coffee because it just, the carameliness really meshed and really high fat content, which is also perfect for coffee versus the grassy one.

If you were matching that with, sauce that was going with beef, that grassiness and the fact that you were, the ironiness, the dirtiness of it, “like it was perfect for me.” And so it was like actually tasting those different pieces and… but people always laughed about how much milk we had in the restaurant and it was a bit of a nightmare. And the cooks would come to me and be like, “Chef, we’re out of this type of milk. How am I supposed to make this sauce?” Because they like understood how different it tasted when you did these different sauces. And so it was interesting.

Dillon Honcoop:
You grew up in a town surrounded by dairy farms like this, and berry farms and potatoes and everything else. What was your awareness of farming at that time growing up? Like were you around farming at all?

Niels Brisbane:
Yeah. So my best friend growing up was Rick Heerspink. And so he’s part of the Edaleen Dairy world. And so I spent a good amount of time on his dairy, scraping the lanes and everything else, and that was just… and also just the idea of like, it’s a Saturday evening or afternoon and you want to, go to the basketball game on Saturday night. And just like the uniform experience of everyone of basically could be like, “Well, yeah, I just have to finish my chores. I’ve got like…” just like having high schoolers that would buy their own vehicles because they’ve been working since they were 12 years old or earlier.

Niels Brisbane:
They’ve been getting paid since they were 12 years old is probably the best way to put it. They’ve been working since they could walk. But just the farming community in the way that, everyone is just like, it’s a lifestyle more than anything. It’s like there’s, cows don’t take days off. They need to be milked every day. And just how I remember, I mean, we had like hobby animals. My dad, I mean, he had a construction company, but he sold Quarter Horses on the side.

Niels Brisbane:
And so at like one point we had up to 18 Quarter Horses on the property. And we always had, more of the hobby animals, the chickens for eggs and we would always get a couple of… we’d would finish a beef cow every year and some of those other pieces where I was like, I had been on enough farms and enough of like the horse farm, that it’s like you get the ideas of farming. I won’t claim to have been a farmer like some of my peers were, but still just like the concept of getting pulled out of school because a fence broke and all of the animals are out and like you would leave and you’d go and everyone in class is like, “That makes sense.”

Niels Brisbane:
And then also just the idea of like middle of the night or early in the morning or you’ve been working all day, but you have to finish this product or a project because you have to finish it. Like it doesn’t matter how long it takes or how long you’re out there, it’ll be like put your headlamp on and keep fencing because we can’t not do it. And just like that mentality versus then working in basically less so in the restaurant.

Niels Brisbane:
Restaurants can kind of be similar to that. But even still you can be like, you got that stock on lay. Like it’s not ready but, fine. Just cool it down, we’ll start it again in the morning. It’s like, that’s not an option in farming. It’s like, there’s farmers who will cut corn for days on end essentially because it’s like a rain is coming and otherwise that is garbage if that… so that mentality of, it like, it creates this foundational work ethic that is different. And so while I don’t, like I said, I won’t claim to be a farmer, but that work ethic just kind of infuses life in Lynden and I think is a valuable life lesson.

Dillon Honcoop:
So I know you’ve said in an article I read about you that when you were at the bread lab working with farmers on developing things, that it reminded you of working with people amongst the farming community or being around that culture when you were growing up in Lynden, a county north, mind you. So how much does that influence then what you do?

Niels Brisbane:
It’s huge. I mean, I think, like I said, like it’s all, for me, the food system is built on the backs of farmers. But I do sense that there’s been this… especially, I mean the age of farmers has, I don’t know the current statistic, but basically it’s like there’s a whole generation that is getting older and is in their 60s and would love to retire soon, but they don’t have anyone coming in under them.

Niels Brisbane:
So there’s our generation, in their 20s, 30s, 40s, there’s nobody that’s farming. Not nobody. There’s a lot less people that are farming in those generations. And I think part of that is just like, because farming needs a facelift basically, essentially. And there, it needs to be appreciated for what it is. But then the other piece is like, it’s a lot of work. And so there needs to be a financial incentive for how much work it is.

Niels Brisbane:
And so it’s like, nobody wants to be working 80, 90 hours a week to make 50 grand. It’s like they’re going to go to other jobs and eventually there’s going to be a reckoning with that. And so my hope is that by creating different avenues and different ways and honestly like a different mentality around how people think about farmers, we may actually be able to get people interested in farming again.

Niels Brisbane:
And it’s like, I mean, most of my favorite people in working with the restaurant, some of my most like, nearest and dearest relationships from the restaurant were with farmers who I got to spend time with, visit their farms. They would come by once a week with their produce and you’d make them a cup of coffee and sit for two minutes and they could complain about the weather. And it’s like, that’s amazing.

Niels Brisbane:
But they need to be a community that has the spotlight shown on them a little bit more. But part of that is not just shining the spotlight on them, but actually giving them financial options and directions so that they could actually be like, well, this is, I could grow a whole bunch of this and sell it or I could, process it in a different way and may work on ways to create that infrastructure because that infrastructure has been dropping for the last 50 years, and how do we create, build up infrastructure so that it can support these small farms? And ultimately they, it’s like people want to feel proud of what they’re working on. And so if they can see that people actually appreciate it, then it’s like, well, then I think there’ll a resurgence to farming in these younger generations.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you see the future and the dark clouds over the future of farming and local farming. You see that as a real threat to the system that you’re involved with and even the food system, the restaurants, fine dining, all that kind of stuff is threatened by what’s threatening farming?

Niels Brisbane:
I would say hugely. I mean, the farming community has, I mean, there’s a lot of pressure on them. I mean, I’ve heard this from a good source, but it was that like suicide in the farming community is higher than suicide in the veteran community, which has traditionally been the highest kind of group in the country. And as well as like, I mean, there’s been such consolidation of farming and just kind of the loss of identity in that.

Niels Brisbane:
I mean, there’s just pressures being put on those farmers where it’s, again, they are getting the squeeze of the Whole Food system on top of them and everyone’s trying to keep their margin. And so then the only margin it can come out of is, the people who are actually producing the food, who have to accept that price. And so, I mean, it’s hard because we live in a country where our food system is subsidized in so many ways that it’s, as a percentage of income, the US doesn’t spend very much on food.

Niels Brisbane:
And so we don’t spend much on foods. So then we pay taxes that can then get subsidized. So it’s like we do spend a lot on food, but it’s like, it’s not a realized cost yet. And so it’s not helping, but the small farmers are not the ones receiving the subsidies. And so-

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, and it’s a system that really kind of wants its cake and to be able to eat it too, if you use one of my dad’s favorite phrases because we want our food cheap, but we want it healthy. And we want it locally sourced and produced and grown on a small farm where people care and all this stuff. But at the same time we want it available year round.

Niels Brisbane:
And shelf stable.

Dillon Honcoop:
And shelf stable and we want it to be in beautiful packaging and all this and close to home. All these things and-

Niels Brisbane:
And I want it in five minutes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. And a lot of those pressures are what’s pushed in some of these farms to get bigger or it to be tough for small family farms because they’re forced to try to survive with those demands. Yet at the same time that consumer is coming to them saying, “Hey, why are you getting so big? Why you’re making money on this?”

Niels Brisbane:
Yeah, don’t get me started on that.

.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you keep coming back to that and I think that’s so important. But it’s something that people tend to balk at because they feel somehow there’s this idea of the small farmer, just making food and that’s what they do. And then very quickly, if it’s recognized that, that farmer is making some money at that, then it’s like, well, that’s-

Niels Brisbane:
Yeah. “You’re a sellout!”

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s the sus… It makes them suspect. Is that maybe part of what you think needs to happen when you talk about a face left-

Niels Brisbane:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
… for farming?

Niels Brisbane:
I think it is like, I mean, figuring out ways where people need to realize that like what is the farmer bringing to the table? And it’s A, our whole food system, but have selling products that are directly recognized. I think. So creating more individual self identity and venturing out, which is scary, especially in Lynden. It’s like there’s-

Dillon Honcoop:
Or any small farming community.

Niels Brisbane:
Any small farming, doing something different is like, because if you succeed then people are like, well, then it’s like that can almost be, there’s like a Danish term where it’s like the tallest tulip gets cut. And so it’s like, it’s not even… sometimes even succeeding above the average is not even a good thing in those small communities because it’s like, well, you’re not helping the community then.

Niels Brisbane:
But then it’s, if you try something and fail, then you don’t want that because you’re like, I should’ve just stuck with what I wanted to do. And so like I get that, that is a real struggle and a real conversation. But there needs to be tools for people to start investigating that. And this is another way that I think more… I mean, you made a perfect point of like what the customer demands and how many things the customer demands it’s like, so now you can’t just produce a delicious vegetable anymore. You have to produce a delicious vegetable and have a well, like a good Instagram feed and like it has to be in the right packaging and-

Dillon Honcoop:
I won’t trust it unless it’s marketed the way that I like.

Niels Brisbane:
Exactly. And so it’s like, but to me, yes that’s really hard because it just keeps kicking up that overhead and making that a bigger and bigger slice of the pie. But it also does create an opportunity for all of these, “non farmers” who have grown up in the farm. Like if you grew up in Lynden and you loved to draw and you went to art school and you feel like there’s no place for you back in Lynden now because you don’t farm and you have no interest in farming, like no because all these farmers need to redo their packaging and rethink about that.

Niels Brisbane:
And it’s like, a really talented graphic designer may be exactly what those farms need. And so it actually allows people to, not just stay in Lynden if you farm, sell equipment or repair equipment. Like there could actually be these, you can create this own independent economy right there that actually supports all of these pieces. But that’s hard. There’s no place for an independent graphic designer and labeled designer in Lynden if there’s only, 10 independent farms. But if there’s 50 independent farms, 100 independent farms, like each one of those needs a new graphic every couple of years and now you’ve actually created a position for someone who, “didn’t have any place in Lynden,” in the traditional economy.

Dillon Honcoop:
So changing communities beyond just the traditional-

Niels Brisbane:
Exactly.

Dillon Honcoop:
… farming community. At the same time, you’re talking about pushing the farming community into a place where some have gone, like you talked about MyShan, they’re an example.

Niels Brisbane:
Or Twin Brook

Dillon Honcoop:
From our community that both you and I grew up in examples in there are across the state people who have decided to go direct and really embrace that and brand themselves. But really that’s not the lion share of farms yet.

Niels Brisbane:
No, not at all.

Dillon Honcoop:
And that’s definitely not the comfort zone of a lion’s share of farmers in the state.

Niels Brisbane:
Pretty much not.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you’re saying that’s kind of what’s needed?

Niels Brisbane:
I mean that’s what I think is needed. I’m embracing the difference and not to say that, that won’t… I mean, I don’t know if every single farmer in Lynden could be independent. I don’t know. Like at the end of the day people will still need bulk milk. But I think that there is, a market for someone to do some value added products that, like who’s to say that Lynden… maybe it’s one farmer starts selling a blue cheese or something like that, that just goes wild and Danish blue or Dutch blue or whatever you want to call it.

Niels Brisbane:
And all of a sudden there’s such a demand that they require, more milk from, but they can pay a little bit higher price because it’s a premium product that they are getting that higher price for. And now all of a sudden they can create their own little cooperative that, of 10 dairies or 20 dairies that are all feeding into this specialty milk or specialty cheese product. And then you’ve got, maybe a yogurt maker that kind of does the same thing and eventually you could create a system where a farmer, there’s a plethora of co-ops that they could join essentially or they could then totally go independent and launch like, okay, I want to go elbow to elbow with, [inaudible 00:26:04] and I think I can, make a better product than them and my eggnog recipe is twice as good as theirs.

Dillon Honcoop:
Good old fashioned competition.

Niels Brisbane:
Exactly. And like actually support that. And so maybe it’s not, if there’s 100 dairy farms, we’ve got 100 different cheeses coming out of Lynden. Like maybe that’s not necessarily how it goes, but there is room to create specially like, I mean, Lynden is adorable. It’s like it’s a cool town. And like, honestly, the brand of Lynden just isn’t being like flexed. I mean, that’s one small little. I mean, you could take that-

Dillon Honcoop:
And you can say that about a lot of towns around-

Niels Brisbane:
A lot of those towns what Twin Sisters is doing in Ferndale like that what they’re doing is very cool. And you could potentially… I mean, you go to France and again it’s taken generations of commitment, but there’s over 100 different types of cheese, not only just like producers of cheese, but literally types of cheese like in France. And you go to all these little different areas and each one is producing a different type.

Niels Brisbane:
And to me, if you can create that brand of like, it’s essentially what like goat milk did of like, getting people aware of the milk industry, but it’s like, okay, we need to hyper focus it though and be like, what is unique about this place? Like let’s embrace what we do differently. Let’s embrace the fact that like, well, if we feed our cows a little bit differently, we can get a change in the finished cheese that makes us totally unique.

Niels Brisbane:
And we know the 10 farmers that produce our milk and so we can get them all on a really regimented feed, process and you can create these systems that have a lot more flexibility and in the end give, if a farmer can sell to five different places and has those options, then they can actually shop around for the highest price.

Dillon Honcoop:
And giving them the incentive to do things like something that otherwise may be a big financial risk, it may be a pain in the butt, will require a lot of, investment and infrastructure, whatever on the farm. It’s like why am I going to do that if that’s really not going to get me anything?

Niels Brisbane:
You’re spinning your wheels to just get to the same place.

Dillon Honcoop:
But if there’s a system that will reward that, and I think there’s a lot of people who want to do that, but just feel like, I don’t know where the reward is going to be-

Niels Brisbane:
Exactly.

Dillon Honcoop:
… in our system right now.

Niels Brisbane:
And that’s the thing is you’ve got a lot of great business people in that area. I mean, basically if you own a business, you have to be. You get a quick primer on becoming a business person. And so like, they’re not going to do it if they don’t see the payoff. So people, working in the university where you have a lot of academics that are like, “Well, why don’t the farmers just do this?” And I’m like, “Because do you know how much equipment that would cost?”

Niels Brisbane:
And they’re selling things and making literally like pennies per gallon, and once they pay for all their costs then they’re like, do you know how long it would take for them to pay off $1 million piece of equipment making pennies per gallon? Like you’re talking generations. Like there’s no payoff for that. Or they could just, keep making that money, take the little bit of profit and put it in the stock market and it’s going to grow faster than… So it’s like they’re good business people. So they’re not going to be foolish with their money. And so again-

Dillon Honcoop:
And then when you pay off that piece of equipment too, you’re just going to be like, well, you-

Niels Brisbane:
Then you don’t have to replace it.

Dillon Honcoop:
And also it’s going to be like, well, you’re huge. Look at this huge equipment that you have. You’re just a factory. Well, no, it’s we just had… I don’t know. What do you think about the criticisms for farmers too? I mean, I’m sure you hear that a lot in the urban community, even in the foodie community and environmentally focused world, and that disconnect of what it takes to actually make some of those things happen.

Niels Brisbane:
That’s a very interesting conversation I’ve had. So just as I’ve been moving to the more business development side of things and realizing that there’s a minimum size of profitability, even like, if you want to be a whiskey maker that and you want to spend this whole time making whiskey and you just want to make like one barrel of whiskey a month, at the end of the year you’ve got 12 barrels of whiskey and to make back all your costs and pay for your living wage and it’s like you’re going to have, each bottle is going to be thousands of dollars, and nobody’s going to pay that.

Niels Brisbane:
So it doesn’t matter how good it is, it’s just not profitable. So you’re going to have to build up a little bit. And so, but yes, there is this like romantic idea of how big a farmer is, size wise and I think people don’t understand that you need to be a certain size to even break even or be profitable hopefully. And as far as changing the perception of that, I don’t know. People need to… That people don’t view farming as a business, which is a little bit sad.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why?

Niels Brisbane:
I don’t know.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why is that?

Niels Brisbane:
I don’t know. Maybe because it was like subsistence farming used to be a thing. So it’s like if you can cut down the trees, you need to build your house and grow the food you need to eat for a year, then “you’re a farmer.” But I’m like, that’s more of a settler.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, and really if you’re a subsistence farmer then everybody has to be a farmer.

Niels Brisbane:
Exactly.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because you’re just growing the food for yourself.

Niels Brisbane:
You’re just growing food for yourself. So it’s like realizing that, and again, this probably feeds back into the problem of why we have less and less farmers is like, we need more farmers so then, or maybe the farms we have can just produce more, and so then less people have to farm so they produce a little bit more, so then less people farm. It like feeds into itself.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s what I think we’ve been seeing.

Niels Brisbane:
I think so.

Dillon Honcoop:
And I think it gets worse than when people start to demonize that.

Niels Brisbane:
And actually criticize the beast they’ve created, which is interesting. It’s like, if you want the farms to be smaller, you should go start farming. It’s maybe the answer. I don’t know.

Dillon Honcoop:
What does it feel like to be at this place where you have this growing understanding of not just the science, not just the nutrition, not just the food and the art, but now looking at the business side of it and all of these things coming together. That’s kind of where you start talking about the word system. Right?

Niels Brisbane:
Absolutely. Focusing on food systems is kind of a project that’s the next phase. It kind of gets back to the, “How do we make a million of them” question. I mean, restaurants are so great because you have a small, like you only have to feed 150, like in Canlis’s case, like we feed 150 people a night. That’s it. And if it’s different from one night to the next, they enjoy that. You don’t get a slap on the wrist for that.

And so it allows you to be very dynamic. But on the downside, you’re feeding only 150 people a night, and 150 people can’t consume that much food. And so it’s like you spend a lot of time. So like, I spent all this time sourcing five different types of milk but at the end of the day I’m serving people these tiny little portions and telling them this huge elaborate story, which is super fun and great. But it’s like, I’m only buying a couple gallons a month or maybe a week, like maybe three gallons a week.

That is not going to substan… like, and that’s not going to help any farmer really on their bottom line. I mean, I’m sure they love the press. I’m sure they love the Instagram post, but like ultimately they’re running a business and they need to sell more than three gallons a week. And so that made me realize like, okay, the next step is figuring out how to create a larger buyership essentially because I know that’s something I can do, is how do we create a system that can actually, move product and start to work on those outlet things that I was, you know…

How do we create those products through great marketing and great, having just really delicious products to start? And how do we then take the burden off of farmers needing to take that leap of faith and be like… I mean, how is a farmer getting produce the world’s like next greatest cheese where it’s like they have zero… they’re starting from zero? Just because they produce milk doesn’t inherently mean that they know how to make chees

So there’s a disconnect for some like I come from the food world. Like I know how to make cheese, I know how to make a delicious wheat product. And so one of my… I had taken a huge amount of inspiration from the head baker at Grand Central, actually it’s a local bakery here in the city, Mel. And she’s the head baker there and has been doing it for like over two decades and has been working really hard.

I mean, I think she’s got it down to this point where she’s only sourcing Washington flour and it’s like, that is taken 20 years of nonstop work. And now she’s not only getting it down to Washington flour, but she’s getting it down to like individual. Like there’s a farm out in Walla Walla, Small’s farm that’s doing a really, really incredible job with flour. And he built a little mill and he’s a character and a half. And I would laugh.

He would come into the restaurant and he’d talked to you about, why the flour is going to be a little different this year because it’s coming from here. And it’s like she’s working really hard to continue to narrow down. But she’s also baking hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of loaves per day. And they’ve got multiple cafes. And so she actually represents a pretty big buyership.

And so she actually carries some weight in the flour world, and she can go to different markets or she could approach a farmer and be like, plant, I don’t know, 600 acres of wheat and I’ll take it in the first quarter. And it’s like, wow, that pencils out really nicely for me and that’s a great option. And here’s a mill that we can get it milled at and cleaned at. And so building more models like that, which again, like, yes, it’s not the rustic bakery where he’s producing 25 loaves a day and like that’s really beautiful on Instagram stories and all those different pieces.

But you’re not feeding people that drives costs up and you just aren’t, it helps one farmer maybe. But it’s like, if you really want to create these larger food systems, you have to be thinking about that next size up. And so Mel’s done it. She’s my food hero and she’s done a really incredible job at Grand Central working on that. And to me that level of thought and care needs to be put into every other area. So the dairy industry, the fishing industry, the meat industry, the vegetable growers, berry growers, they all need a Mel type person that can actually dictate change and support it financially on the backside and is willing to do that.

Dillon Honcoop:
So is that what’s next for you? I know you’re working-

Niels Brisbane:
That’s what’s next.

Dillon Honcoop:
… on a project that hasn’t been launched, isn’t really public yet. How much can you share with us right now?

Niels Brisbane:
I mean, so right now I’m working with several companies doing like business development and product development. So it’s all about, and a couple of them are more of my babies than others. And we’ll potentially take over all of my work. But it’s all about leaning on how we can really move product and checking all those boxes that you talked about earlier. It’s like how do we make something that’s healthy for people and shelf stable and produce locally and has nice packaging and actually is moved in a volume that, we can go to farmers and make requests and have them again perk up and be like, you want that? Like nobody’s ever asked me for that before. Let me do the numbers. That makes sense. That works for me. Like let’s do it. And that’s how you can move the needle and then all of a sudden-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s where the disconnect usually happens, because farmers are like, “Hey, we can do this in quantity,” and consumers are like, “Well, but no, we want something that’s more artisan and more hands on. And so farmers, why don’t you do this. Farmers, this is what we want.” And farmers are like, “I can’t afford to do that. Well, maybe I could, but I’m not sure if I can make the risk to switch to something like that.” So that’s where that gap always seems to where that gap is. So one of the-

Niels Brisbane:
And it’s a huge disconnect. And that was like, that was something we would come into conflict with at the restaurant, because even with… I mean, we even were willing to like finance things for farmers like, great, let’s buy all your seeds so that you can grow this specialty thing for us. And figuring out ways to play ball with them so that the risk wasn’t all in their court. But people don’t realize it’s like, I mean, farming is not a high margin industry, and so trying something new, a small margin on a small number is not worth their time and headache and amount of effort to like… I mean, doing something new takes a lot of mental energy and if it’s not going to pay off, they’re just going to stick to the bulk thing and as they should because that’s what makes sense. And so-

Dillon Honcoop:
Have you had to explain that to people who don’t understand? Well, what do you say to people who are like, well, why don’t farmers do X?

Niels Brisbane:
I would say I’m getting better at explaining it to people. I mean, it’s an uphill battle and part of it is people don’t understand business well enough. And to me that should be like, that should be what high school is, is like teaching you business and probably mostly through like getting jobs. But people that don’t understand business is probably the biggest disconnect. And they just think that, these farmers are swimming in money or honestly that business people are swimming in money, like starting a business it’s just instantly makes you rich and it’s like, nothing’s further from the truth. My uncle has a say. He’s like, “The fastest way to make $1 million is to start a $5 million business.” So 4 million in the hole and you got 1 million leftover. So there you go, you’re a millionaire. And so-

Dillon Honcoop:
So true.

Niels Brisbane:
So there’s that piece in just trying to explain the economics of it, but honestly like experience is kind of the only real teacher in that. So encouraging people to be like, great, put some numbers on a page and like, show me a business plan where what you want makes sense. And there’s no farmer that, if you have a business plan that makes sense, wouldn’t try it. Those are not farmers, but most of them are going to give it a shot and they’re going to be like, “Well, if it makes sense on paper, it’s good enough for me. I’ll give it a shot.” So that’s trying to get people to actually wrestle with the problem of like, even in there, trying to come up with analogies can help, but there’s no real experience. Like experience is the teacher.

Dillon Honcoop:
And this whole journey, what’s been the most challenging, difficult, hard thing for you personally?

Niels Brisbane:
I mean, probably this thing that makes life hard, which is people, and trying to… like the politics of all of it and figuring out how to move things forward when there’s 100 reasons not to. And it’s like an asking, trying to get groups to, everything from like you’ll work really hard to get to groups of people to finally like, mutually trust and get excited about a project and then have it fall through. And then, you’re just adding to the distrust of that’s already out there.

Dillon Honcoop:
And what’s the distrust? What does that look like?

Niels Brisbane:
I mean, even just like simple things like, it’s not like a systemic problem, but just like of one person. If a farmer needs a piece of equipment and they’re like, well, if you like, I need this piece of equipment and I’m willing to buy it because I’ve got that CapEx sitting on hand, but you have to promise me that you’re going to buy for the next three years like this much so that my business plan works out, and everyone’s excited and everyone’s like, okay, we’re going to do it.

Niels Brisbane:
And then, from the higher ups on the other side, the product gets pulled and they’re like, sorry, we have to back out. Like, even if we’re going to get beat up on this contract a little bit, but it’s like then the farmer’s stuck sitting on that piece of equipment and they just took a huge loss and it’s like all understandable because somebody has to take that risk and that just adds. So then it like, it makes those farmers like, I’m not going to do that again. That was really dumb. So it’s like, it creates a distrust between… honestly like a distrust of like change and a distrust of trying new things, which is fair.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about trust of farming from the public? I think about that in terms of you saying that farming needs a facelift. That tells me that there’s a problem and I feel that too. I guess I’m just curious from your perspective, what is that problem? What do they see farming as right now, and how is that right and wrong?

Niels Brisbane:
I think they see farming as this like old system of that’s like archaic on some level and has no, I don’t know the best way to put it. But it’s like it’s an archaic way of thinking and operating. And so like trying to think of a way where people can view that as the trade that it is and the skill and the amount of knowledge that’s there and the amount of hard work that’s there and the amount of stress that’s there.

Niels Brisbane:
I mean, there are ultimately a whole bunch of small business owners, which I think is what this country is supposed to prize as like the most championed group, but it doesn’t right now and that’s a little sad. So I don’t know. I don’t know exactly. I mean, I know how to like, or I have some ideas of how to potentially create that facelift of just two groups of people not really knowing each other is maybe what like the best way to describe it.

Niels Brisbane:
And so they need to interface with each other too because it’s like nobody, it’s the same problem of like the divisiveness that’s going on is because people aren’t sitting in a room talking. And it’s like you can often, you realize how similar people really are when you’re sitting across from each other sharing a meal or buying their product or anything else. And so that is it’s two groups of people that don’t understand one another.

Niels Brisbane:
If you grew up in a city, it’s like going to another country, going to Lynden sometimes. And not in a bad way. Like it’s just very different. And honestly, I think a lot of Seattleites would really enjoy their time there, and a lot of Lyndenites would, if they could get around the traffic, would really enjoy the city. Like they’re two great groups of people and they need to understand one another.

Niels Brisbane:
And I mean, for me, food is all about bringing people together and it’s about creating community. And when you share delicious food, pretty much all other things fall away. And so when you have farmers producing fantastic food and needing to sell it to large amounts of people, they are two groups of people that should get along very, very well. And there’s just that middleman that’s been, that’s difficult.

Niels Brisbane:
So it’s like, I mean, the amount of money that people will pay for something at like a farmer’s market can be astronomical because they’re looking at someone in the face and they know how much work it was for them. And they’re like, $12 for a gallon of milk, no problem. Like, I’ll pay that. And that’s just doesn’t exist in the current system. And so not that I think all farmers should go to the farmer’s market, like that’s not a business model that will work for everyone either. Like this is still the 21st century and we have to operate accordingly. But there’s businesses that can be created to help bridge those gaps and tell those stories and move things forward in a different way.

Dillon Honcoop:
I feel like there’s so much we could talk about here and I’m just loving the things that you’re saying because you’re coming from this different perspective. But it resonates so much with my experience and the things that I’ve been seeing, and I like the optimism too that you’re bringing not just talking about the problems, but you’re so much more focused on the solutions.

Niels Brisbane:
That’s all that really matters.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thank you for opening up about your passion for all of this and all the work that you’re doing. Really, you’re kind of between two worlds and working to connect them. It sounds like it’s what you’re all about. So I’m really excited to see what happens with your ventures and I’m pumped for when we can find out more specifics-

Niels Brisbane:
Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
… and open door for when you want to come back on the podcast-

Niels Brisbane:
I would love to.

Dillon Honcoop:
… and tell us more about some of that stuff because I think you’ve got got cool stuff ahead.

Niels Brisbane:
Cool. 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:
Isn’t Niels such an interesting person, such a talented guy? And so crazy for me to meet somebody like that through this podcast who grew up in the same small farming town as I did. I think my sister, if I remember right, was in high school across country with his older brother. But seriously, that conversation we just heard was the first time that Niels and I had actually met in person.


So as I listened back now to that conversation with Niels, I realize we didn’t get very much out of him about how his new ventures to reconnect eaters with farms will actually work. But because of his passion for food and farming and because he’s obviously such a tenanted leader, I’m really excited to see what he does with that. I have a feeling we’ll be talking with him again down the road.


Make sure to subscribe to the Real Food, Real People Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and basically just about any other podcast platform you prefer to make sure you don’t miss any future conversations with Niels. And of course all of the other amazing conversations with farmers and people behind the food that we eat here in the Pacific Northwest. Also, feel free to email me any time with thoughts that you have on the show. Whatever it is that you’re thinking about, good, bad, otherwise, I’m all ears. dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org is my email address. Dillon is, D-I-L-L-O-N @realfoodrealpeople.org.

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.

Niels Brisbane part 1 | #005 01/13/2020

Award-winning Seattle chef Niels Brisbane is reconnecting with his farm-town roots to champion farmers' importance in establishing a cuisine of the Pacific Northwest. In this first half of their wide-ranging conversation, he and Dillon tackle science, art, nutrition, agriculture and much more.

Transcript

Niels Brisbane:
It’s pretty incredible what the Pacific Northwest has to offer and really plugging you in with lots of farm visits, lots of manufacturer visits, actually, these are the purveyors you can get this from.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food, Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
This week we hear about the personal journey of a guy who became a sous-chef at one of Seattle’s top restaurants, but that’s not what he set out to do. It’s an incredible story. We actually had such an amazing conversation that I’ve split this into two parts. This week is the first part with Niels Brisbane and him telling his personal story from sports to science to art, all relating to food and now how he’s become passionate about farming and farmers. He’s trying to change our regional food system. An incredible story. Take a listen. Also, make sure to catch next week as well as we continue this story with Niels Brisbane.

Dillon Honcoop:
Basically, you started off as a wrestler and you wanted to be a scientist was the starting point, right?

Niels Brisbane:
It was the starting point, yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
What were you doing? You were down in California?

Niels Brisbane:
Yeah, yeah. I started down in California. I was at UC Davis, which is just outside of Sacramento. I was there. I was studying biology. Like I said, I was there as a wrestler, which was fantastic. I loved being a part of the team.

Niels Brisbane:
Shortly after starting, after the first season, it was springtime at some point, it was 2010. The financial crisis had really started to put the squeeze now. It had been a couple of years, so now the financial crisis was really squeezing on the universities. We had just gotten a brand new dean. She decided she needed to create some funds. She cut women’s crew, which needed a lot of funding. Because of Title IX, she had to find men’s sports to cut as well. She ended up dropping men’s wrestling, men’s swimming and diving. Anyway, she had to free up some funds.

Niels Brisbane:
She dropped the program, which was a bit of an identity crisis for all of those athletes. We had people transfer out. People deal with it in all sorts of ways. UC Davis is, for its biological sciences, is top 25 in the nation at the time. They’ve actually moved up since then. For me, athletics, while absolutely I’m crazy about them, were an avenue to get into, to leverage towards great academics.

Niels Brisbane:
I decided to stay at Davis. The university wasn’t totally brutal to us. They let us keep our athlete status, so we still got a lot of the benefits of being athletes in a college.

Dillon Honcoop:
Even though you weren’t able to-

Niels Brisbane:
Even though we weren’t practicing it. We continued to practice for a while. At first, there was everything from writing letters to doing some demonstrations and having other coaches come in and try to support and do a lot of lobbying to try to get them to reverse this action. None of it stuck.

Niels Brisbane:
Then I was in school. But still, even during that time out of Linden now and having to feed myself for the first time, and then as an athlete there’s that next level of how do I feed myself well, how do I make sure I’m getting all the nutrition that I need. They were trying to basically get me to move up a weight class or be larger in my weight class. Wrestling is always this tight dance of you want to be the largest possible without bumping up into that next weight class.

Dillon Honcoop:
A lot of body manipulation.

Niels Brisbane:
A lot of body manipulation. Actually, it was really interesting. While I was working at Washington State, one of the PhD students there, she was a nutritionist and had spent time at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado and just a really, really intelligent lady who we always had a lot of really nerdy conversations together.

Niels Brisbane:
She had always talked about that she worked with the wrestlers specifically and just how obsessed they were with nutrition. She was a dietician and all these other … versus some of the other athletes that they were very concerned about diet and all these different things; if their weight fluctuates, if they … They’ve got a lot more to play with versus wrestlers are very, very tight. She said it was the only team that was basically 100% organic. They only ate organic foods. They were very concerned with what they ate. I was like, yeah, that’s wrestlers.

Niels Brisbane:
While down at Davis, I was studying sciences, was focused … At the time, I had some very … everything from physical therapy to something in the medicines to very much thinking about health from the traditional pharmacological standpoint.

Niels Brisbane:
Then as we … I don’t know exactly why. I think it was just the nutrition class, Nutrition 101, we had a very, very well-regarded professor. She was published all around the country, considered in the best of her field. Me and a couple of the other athletes took her class. It was amazing to me how little there was of substance on some level where they’re breaking things down into such … Nutrition as a field is a very young field. Nutritionists would tell you this. It’s only been around … it’s really been studied for … I can’t remember when it exactly was founded, but it’s less than 100 years. It’s only been studied and focused on for not very long.

Niels Brisbane:
Tests haven’t been really great as well as usually nutritional testing requires you to survey people and basically be like, “What did you eat last week, and how did it make you feel.” Those are questions that people aren’t really great at answering anyway. Just the feel of nutrition is a really difficult field. It needs a lot more support and it needs a lot more help, but then also just realizing, oh, there’s not … It’s in its infant stages and it’s not ready for the application necessarily.

Niels Brisbane:
It was incredible to work with these incredible professors and realize that there’s not a lot that I can actually glean and use in my athletic endeavors other than eat whole foods and eat more vegetables and eat fruits and eat protein from good, clean sources and stuff like that.

Niels Brisbane:
That was interesting which then pushed me, basically the lack of formula to nutrition and realizing; a. Oh, this is just a really complicated science. There’s the best people are working on this and we just don’t know yet.

Niels Brisbane:
Coming to that point, I was also then living with my best friend down there and a fellow wrestler. He was just a phenomenal cook. He had grown up doing some cooking. He grew up in Japan and then moved to Hawaii after that and was just really very talented in the kitchen. We were all weird wrestlers that were focused on nutrition and eating and not huge partiers.

Niels Brisbane:
When most Saturdays people would be sleeping in and do all this other stuff, we would be traveling 45 minutes to go to our favorite Japanese grocery store and pick out which type of soy sauce we wanted.

Dillon Honcoop:
There’s different types of soy sauce?

Niels Brisbane:
Oh yeah, there’s tons of different types of soy sauce, yeah. That was always my favorite. He’d be like, “You can’t put that soy sauce on fish. That’s like a meat sauce or that’s for beef and that’s for vegetables,” and this sauce and that sauce and just learning about these cultures that have such a deep respect for their food. They’ve thought about it for a very long time. Japan, there’s a reason it is just a culinary mecca.

Niels Brisbane:
He was a great teacher. He was very passionate about Japanese cuisine. I learned a ton from him. Also, being athletes, we were competitive. We’d actually prepare each other meals trying to one-up each other constantly. It’s the most friendly competition ever. We did, we were cooking all the time. We were cooking from scratch and realizing what that does to your body and how that makes you feel. It was very eye-opening for me and really just opened up the Pandora’s Box of, oh, if you want to influence how people eat, then you have to be able to produce something delicious. That’s the baseline of everything.

Dillon Honcoop:
Your starting point was science more though.

Niels Brisbane:
Yeah, absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
But then really, through this friend, brought in the art of it too.

Niels Brisbane:
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
Now in your position, having been a chef in a fine-dining restaurant in Seattle, Canlis, and all the other things … but you’ve also researched with the university and done all the science-y stuff, you consider yourself more of a scientist or an artist?

Niels Brisbane:
Oh man. I don’t know. I think I would consider myself more of a scientist. I think that the art piece of it is … it’s like culinary school. The first week they’re like, “Do you have a trade or is cooking a trade or is it an art?” I think that whenever they wanted to waste class time, they would bring up that topic. People would just go at it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that okay for it to be just a trade?

Niels Brisbane:
I think so. I think the trades are heavily under-respected.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about at culinary art school, I’m sure that they wanted it to be understood on a higher plane than just a job, right?

Niels Brisbane:
Right. Yeah, they did.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s an artistic expression.

Niels Brisbane:
Right. I get that, but also I think it’s the trade of hospitality and the trade of being able to take care of someone like that. I don’t know. I’ve thought about this. On some level, I almost feel like building a table or even … that can be a piece of art, or you can build a table and have it just be totally utilitarian. Is IKEA producing art? I think that would be a hard point to argue. There’s woodworkers out there, there’s tens of thousands of dollars for one of their tables. Is that a piece of art or are they just a really skilled tradesman?

Niels Brisbane:
I don’t know. On some level, I think that for it to be … art has a certain provocative nature to it. It’s not just consumed or enjoyed. It has to create thought.

Dillon Honcoop:
There’s a message.

Niels Brisbane:
Yeah, there’s a message behind it. It changes the price point. I think there can be very artful food that costs $10 for a portion or whatever else. It doesn’t have to Instagram well to be art.

Dillon Honcoop:
You were trained as a scientist. You got your degree in biology.

Niels Brisbane:
I did, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
At UC Davis.

Niels Brisbane:
At UC Davis, yup.

Dillon Honcoop:
Then were you going to get a job doing biology stuff or-

Niels Brisbane:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
You mentioned also then going to culinary art school, which was the next step. What was between there, and what launched [crosstalk 00:13:00]?

Niels Brisbane:
Getting married was in between there. That was my three months off in between the two.

Dillon Honcoop:
Nice.

Niels Brisbane:
I went for a more traditional science school or a more traditional biology track but under the biology degree, UC Davis gave a good amount of latitude as far as what classes you wanted to take. While I was there, I’d been cooking more and more and was just really loving it, really falling in love with the science of cooking and the science of taste and perception. You quickly get into psychology and just the fingers that cooking has all of it in all of these different pies of study.

Niels Brisbane:
Towards the end, I really started creating more of a course towards food science. UC Davis has a phenomenal brewing school and a phenomenal viticulture and analogy school as well as a really highly regarded food science school. I got to take a lot of those classes. I got to study under one of the top brewing scientists in the world, got to go to France and study wine in Burgundy for a couple of months as well as just taking some really phenomenal food science classes and diving deep into that and really getting an understanding of not only why we cook as a society but how it’s done and how those subtle manipulations of what’s a mired reaction versus caramelization and why are they different. Why does that matter? How do you do things differently with them?

Niels Brisbane:
Towards the end, the last two years, I didn’t want to add on a fifth year and actually switch to a food science degree. I knew as soon as I started cooking, no one would actually care that I have a degree. I just basically took as much food science courses as I could, which they both food science. They had a lot of overlap. I left with a biology degree but had heavy emphasis on food as well in that degree.

Dillon Honcoop:
Only three months later, you decided to go on to culinary arts.

Niels Brisbane:
Yeah. When I graduated in June, I had already applied and was starting cooking school that next fall. I had the summer off, got married.

Dillon Honcoop:
Where was that?

Niels Brisbane:
That was here in Seattle. Yeah, Seattle Culinary Academy. We had moved back. My wife had just finished her Master’s down in Sacramento. We knew we wanted to move back to Washington. I chose a school here. It turned out to be a really incredible, incredible experience. It’s a community college program. It’s a beautiful school. They’ve done a really good job with the aesthetic of it. The staff at the time was just really phenomenal. They went above and beyond their job descriptions to make that experience fantastic for their students.

Niels Brisbane:
They really focused on sourcing, on what the Pacific Northwest has to offer, which is pretty incredible what the Pacific Northwest has to offer and really plugging you in with lots of farm visits, lots of manufacturer visits, actually, okay, these are the purveyors you can get this from. Call Hank and he’ll get it to you, those really helpful pieces of information.

Niels Brisbane:
It wasn’t just classical French cooking. They did a really good job of being like, yeah, that’s the classics and this is where we’ve taken it and this is where you’ll actually be cooking at this level. Really, it was the plugging into the sourcing that was the most invaluable piece of information and then the way that they just thought about sustainability.

Niels Brisbane:
It’s like, well, if we’re fishing for all this stuff, there should really be a policy of everything you catch, you have to sell or something so that you’re not just fishing. You catch five … I catch for every one regular fish you want or whatever the numbers are. How do we think about utilizing that? How do you think about food when it’s not just putting a piece of protein in the center of the plate? What if it’s a tiny fish? Americans don’t love to eat tiny fish, so how do we prepare that in a way that’s different and delicious? Again, it has to make it over that deliciousness bar. If it’s sustainable and well thought out and artistic or anything else, it has to make it above that. If it’s not delicious, people are just going to think you’re a fraud.

Dillon Honcoop:
How different was that culinary arts program because it was in Seattle, and was that part of the reason why you wanted to come back up here to Washington?

Niels Brisbane:
It was important. I wanted to be back in the Pacific Northwest. It depends why you want to cook, ultimately. If you’re cooking to show people how good you are at cooking, then you should be able to do that anywhere. Part of what would be so impressive is that I can go anywhere in the world and I can take any ingredient and I can make it delicious. It’s about me. That’s fine. There’s certainly nothing wrong with cooking like that, but that wasn’t my goal for getting into cooking.

Niels Brisbane:
I knew that from the start, that cooking was a way to … I have to get over the hurdle of being able to cook well and get people to enjoy my food in order for me to then source in a way and move product in a way that creates a more sustainable system. For me, it came back to improving Washington’s food systems. Cooking is a great way to do that, and how do I do that? It was like, well, okay, I’ll learn how to cook and that’ll be the first step.

Niels Brisbane:
Not having it in Seattle would have been very counter to that. For me, if you’re not plugged into the region here, then you’re making the cooking about solely just your improving, which, again, is not a bad thing, but kill two birds with one stone.

Dillon Honcoop:
There’s also a reason though why different cuisines are not only culturally based with the human element but also regionally based. It’s a geographical influence, and that’s where cuisine is different here than … I guess here’s my question: what is the Pacific Northwest cuisine? Really, it’s a young culture out here aside from the First Nations people, the Native Americans that were here. What is that? [crosstalk 00:20:37] different than French food. You talked about Japanese food earlier. They have so much history behind those places.

Niels Brisbane:
Japanese is a huge part of this culture. I don’t think you can claim that the Pacific Northwest has an identity without the Japanese culture having a huge seat at the table. Same with the Filipino cultures. The Korean cultures have a really big presence here. Basically, anyone around the Pacific rim, especially if they had anything to do with the fishing industries, they all gravitated towards this place. It’s Norwegians and Japanese and all these fishing communities from around the world. The all converged here. They all had a very heavy hand in shaping this place into what it’s become.

Niels Brisbane:
I don’t think that the Pacific Northwest has a cohesive cuisine at all. In general, there’s not a ton of strong cuisines even throughout the US in general. I would say that even early on in my cooking, that was one of the questions I wanted to play a hand in defining is what is the cuisine here. I don’t think it’ll ever be as defined as the Italian cuisine or French cuisine or any of those because we no longer live in an isolationist world. You can’t fully develop it in a way without it being morphed and shaped. I also don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that’s part of our cuisine as well.

Dillon Honcoop:
How much is it influenced by the food that we grow here?

Niels Brisbane:
I don’t think it’s influenced enough by it. I think it should be very defined by that. You go deep down the rabbit hole and people are like what’s from “Washington”? Cabbage isn’t from Washington originally. There was no cabbage being grown here 1,000 years ago. It’s not native to Washington.

Dillon Honcoop:
You can grow just about anything here.

Niels Brisbane:
Exactly. You can grow just about anything here. To me, the long-term would be anything that you can grow “sustainably” in the area, sustainably being it doesn’t destroy the soils and you’re able to have multi-tiered business models that are able to operate multi-generationally. There’s a consumer base that’s willing to buy into that product for multi-generational. Again, that to me is sustainable is basically is it a business that will work long-term and businesses that just deplete the area …

Niels Brisbane:
There’s a reason the logging industry took a nosedive eventually. It’s because it wasn’t a sustainable model because they weren’t able to turn it over fast enough. Eventually, it was cheaper to go to Brazil or go to these other places. Now logging is very sustainable. They had to find that tipping point of can we do this. Can we plant as fast as we can tear down? Once you can do that, then you’ve got a good business model.

Niels Brisbane:
Figuring that out for the Pacific Northwest, to me, yeah, if it can be grown here, it can be part of Washington cuisine. Whether it should be grown here is always the question whether it’s a good utilization of the land or whether it can be a good return. Should we be growing something that is …

Niels Brisbane:
Dr. Jones is working on … He’s like shouldn’t be growing commodity wheat on this side of the mountains because the soil’s too fertile basically. If you’re going to grow grain, it should be a specialty grain, a premium grain of some sort. Otherwise, there’s single farms on the east side that are bigger than the entire Skagit Valley.

Dillon Honcoop:
Explain. You said Dr. Jones. Who is that? This is WSU Bread Lab?

Niels Brisbane:
Yeah. This is Dr. Stephen Jones. He is the head of the WSU Bread Lab which is a plant breeding lab that’s doing traditional cross pollination to come up with new wheat, barley, rye, buckwheat varieties. They work on a little bit of everything and then actually finding markets. He does the plant breeding but then he also plays a hand in finding the markets for those. If the markets don’t exist, then advocating for those products and trying to create markets. He’s been fairly influential. He’s been written up in everything from The New York Times to all sorts of things.

Niels Brisbane:
I worked for him for a year helping establish the culinary director position. He’s done incredible things for the bread world. It was how do we get this into the food world more. You can just eat wheat. There’s more ways to eat wheat than just in bread. You can make delicious porridges or there’s lots of risottos or whatever else.

Dillon Honcoop:
You were involved with that but now you’re moving on to your own venture. I know you haven’t launched that yet. Maybe in a little bit we’ll bug you to see how much we can get out of you, a little sneak preview maybe of what you’re up to.

Dillon Honcoop:
Before that though, I want to go back. We should talk about you went through culinary art school. The next stepping stone was Canlis Restaurant?

Niels Brisbane:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
In Seattle here?

Niels Brisbane:
Yup, yup. I actually even started at Canlis while I was still in school. I did an internship for them part-time in the restaurant world. It was 40 hours a week. After school, I would go to the restaurant and work until closing, midnight or so. On Saturdays, I would do double shifts, essentially. Saturdays and Mondays I would do that. I think one or two other days a week I would go after school and was working for free for them, which they always loved.

Dillon Honcoop:
For people who don’t know, describe what Canlis is.

Niels Brisbane:
Canlis is … I don’t know, I think it might actually be their 70th birthday this year. I can’t quite remember, but late ’60s, early ’70. 1950, they were a restaurant founded by Peter Canlis. It is well-established. They’ve always done that fine dining, higher price point meals. They’ve been very well respected for a long time. There’s the sheer longevity piece of it but then they’ve also done a decent job of always staying modern as well. Really, as food has taken this turn from back in the ’80s and ’90s, fine dining was flying something from across the world. Now fine dining is I picked it from the garden that you walked by as you came in. It’s been a total shift. They’ve done a really good job of modernizing with that.

Dillon Honcoop:
They champion that, eating local.

Niels Brisbane:
Yeah, they have.

Dillon Honcoop:
In fine dining in particular.

Niels Brisbane:
Right, yeah. Originally, they had multiple locations. One of them was in … I think it was in Honolulu. Regardless, it was in the Hawaiian Islands. They would actually fly Washington salmon to the Honolulu location, and then they would fly Mahi Mahi back. Eating locally but also sourcing in these unique ways, that was a big part of what they were doing.

Niels Brisbane:
Especially the last couple of chefs, Jason Franey and then now Brady Williams, they were focused on more sourcing locally. Especially when Brady came along, that was a really big change in focus. It was like, how do we source more locally and really champion what’s going on here.

Niels Brisbane:
I had been working under Jason Franey, the previous chef, for a few months. He left to a restaurant down in California. We were without a chef for a little interim there. They ended up hiring me on as a cook. I started cooking there. A little bit later, Brady Williams was hired and started with us. I started as a cook underneath him. Relatively quickly, I’d come in and was working on a lot of my own projects, coming in a couple of hours before my shifts and working on dishes that excited me and just trying to keep finessing those skills and exercise that creative piece before, which you just have to do before a 12-hour shift of just executing food straight, it’s very routine. It’s nice to have a little creative outlet before that.

Niels Brisbane:
I’d been working on that. He’s very, very creative and very artistic. I have more of the scientific approach to things. He and I just had a very symbiotic relationship early on. He would often, as I started working on projects, was like, “Chef, Chef, will you try this?” He’d be like, “Okay, yeah, this is cool, but I would add this ingredient.” It would be like, “I never would have thought of that,” because that’s so obscure.

Dillon Honcoop:
What kind of stuff?

Niels Brisbane:
Oh man.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’d just love to have an example so I can start to get hungry here.

Niels Brisbane:
I’d be working on a dish with … I don’t know, you can never remember all the dishes now. Maybe you’re doing duck. You’ve got some classic sauces or a classic pairing of some sort of sweet cherry chutney or something like that. You’ve got some sort of greens on there. He’d try it and he’ll be like, “You know what this needs, mole,” which is a traditional oaxacan from a southern Mexican style sauce that has ground pumpkin seeds and chocolate and all these heavy spices. You wouldn’t traditionally think to pair duck with mole and cherries. I maybe had worked on this dish and gotten it to a point. He would come in and basically say, “It needs this and it needs that. Maybe you should add some sorrel leaf oil,” or something like that.

Niels Brisbane:
Then I could go back and work on all of that and make those changes and find not only a way to make mole but maybe spice it up a little bit, do something a little different, put some flair on it and then bring it back. There would always be this dialog of, “Add this. Take this away.” We just had a good relationship. I was always documenting, always making sure that everything was very linear and just step by step by step by step.

Dillon Honcoop:
The scientist.

Niels Brisbane:
The scientist. He could just come in, and in a good way, wipe the table blank and throw in new things. We just had a good relationship. He quickly promoted me to sous-chef. I ended up running the menu development piece. It was the two of us.

Niels Brisbane:
Chefs don’t have the luxury of always being in the kitchen day in and day out. They’re essentially CEOs is what people don’t realize. We call them chefs but they act more like a CEO. They’ve got to write schedules and do financials and all these other pieces. I’m sure farmers are very familiar with it too. They’re like, “You just get to spend time with cows all the time.” They’re like, “I could be a CPA.” They have all these other skillsets. The chef always has to delegate a lot of these tasks to everyone else. I had the joy of doing the menu development and then the fermentation and focusing a lot more on how fermentation can affect flavor and how it can make things delicious. That was a really fantastic rabbit hole to dive down.

Dillon Honcoop:
This fascinates me. I always wonder, what goes on behind the scenes? How do they come up with these new menu items, and what does someone who’s really creative in the culinary arts do in a kitchen like that? Granted, it’s fine dining, so there’s going to be probably more risks taken and newer things tried than your average restaurant. Still, you’ve got to make sure that the menu items are available. That’s the meat and potatoes of your feeding the customers day in and day out. When do you actually get to play around? That’s interesting, you say you were actually coming in early initially to do that.

Niels Brisbane:
Yeah, yeah, for sure.

Dillon Honcoop:
Until you proved … You have to be pretty darn good at this to get to where you got.

Niels Brisbane:
It’s one of those things that when you’re doing it, it doesn’t seem like a new idea. You’ll do 100 iterations of something. There’s just a tiny little step that doesn’t seem like a genius idea in between those 100 iterations. Then from going from zero to 100, someone coming in from the outside, they only see that as one giant leap. They don’t see that as 100 tiny steps.

Niels Brisbane:
People, they do, they come in and they’re like, “That’s genius.” It doesn’t feel genius. It feels like a lot of work. I think that’s true in any industry. It’s all these tiny little steps and then all of a sudden people come from the outside and they’re like, “How did you ever think of that?” You’re like, “Two years is how I thought of that of actively thinking about this problem and having 99 bad versions of this or incomplete versions at the very least.”

Niels Brisbane:
That’s where, I think, again, the scientific approach because in science, you’re not really looking for success. You’re looking for failure always and how do I disprove my hypothesis. You’re constantly working against yourself in a way. That’s my creative “process” is really just about tearing down what I did yesterday and making it a little bit better on some level and then having good oversight from a chef that knows when it’s ready. Also, just keeping the staff motivated.

Niels Brisbane:
The difference, really, from a fine dining place that puts effort into something like that, it eats through a lot of time. Everyone who owns a business, knows that time is money. Just being able to have the support to say … They, of course, have to invest in that. They can’t just keep the same menu year in and year out. It is out of necessity that they have to put that money in on some level, but allowing us to actually take the time. You still have to run a restaurant while doing all of this. That’s the difficult part.

Dillon Honcoop:
An answer to those people who are like, “This meal cost me 100 bucks. I could go down to the store and buy this all for 15.” Well, you’re paying for all of that development.

Niels Brisbane:
All of that development.

Dillon Honcoop:
And the art and the atmosphere and all those other things that go into that equation is huge.

Niels Brisbane:
Absolutely. Absolutely, which does make it … That is why on some level, to me, the pinnacle of food development is being able to mass produce that creativity on some level and being able to say, okay, I can create something that’s well-sourced and delicious and all these other things, and I can produce a million of them and it’ll cost you five bucks. That, to me, is like oh my gosh, that’s incredible. I’m so glad I had the time to just purely be creative and have the customer pay for it and then being willing and excited about sharing that experience of this is truly cutting edge. Now, to me the next step is, okay, how do we produce a million of them? That’s how you can create that big impact.

Dillon Honcoop:
What did it feel like though being in that creative world? You’re coming through culinary art school in Seattle, going to Canlis. It has to be pretty high on the list of where people want to go, things they want to do and being recognized then. I know you’ve won awards for your involvement there. What did that feel like to start to get into that, really get into that world?

Niels Brisbane:
It’s exciting. It’s fun. It’s consuming is probably the best way to put it. Consuming is both really exciting because it’s all you think about all the time. It’s also draining on all the other areas of your life when you’re consumed by this single piece. It’s very fun. There’s a reason it’s high burnout because it consumes everything for all the good and all the bad in that. It’s very exciting. It’s a lot of work, honestly. It is difficult.

Niels Brisbane:
We were talking before we hit record about the necessity to constrain creativity and what that does. I think that’s so important. Having to run a restaurant while being creative is one of those constraints. It’s like, “Oh, what does this dish need? Does it need more cinnamon in this mole or more pumpkin seed?” A cook comes up to you and they’re like, “Chef, halibut didn’t show up. What are we going to do?” You’re torn out of that world of it doesn’t matter which of those because you need to find a source of halibut right now. Someone needs to drive across town and pick up halibut and get their car all smelly because we need it tonight because it’s on the menu and people are expecting it.

Niels Brisbane:
There’s always just, on one hand, it’s really fun to have those really creative moments. You get one of those or two of those really great creative moments a month and then you just get the normal month’s amount of problems of just life. That’s what life is, right?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Niels Brisbane:
It’s definitely fun. It was a good team there. The sous-chef team was fantastic. I think there was four of us, five of us. It varied from time to time, but each with our area that we ran. I got to play point on some of the menu development and fermentation and stuff like that, but it’s a team effort, absolutely. It’s fun to be part of that team where everyone is obsessed and consumed with it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Not something that everyone gets to do.

Niels Brisbane:
No, no.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s very cool.

Niels Brisbane:
It’s very much like being part of a winning sports team or something like that where it’s contagious and it’s fun even though it’s long.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food, Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
When Niels and I talked, we had so much to cover that I’ve decided to share the second half of our conversation with you next week. That will be the second part as we get more into farming and Niels’ vision for what can happen with our food system here in the Pacific Northwest, how that relates to amazing food, and what he plans to do next. As you could tell talking with him, he just has so much passion for this issue and wants to keep working, keep pushing the envelope of new things to change the way we think about food here in our region. Please make sure to pick up the second half of the conversation next week.

Dillon Honcoop:
As always, we’d love to hear from you: dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org is my email address. Please follow us as well on Instagram, on Facebook, as well as Twitter. Just check out Real Food, Real People on those platforms. Would love to have you share our content, subscribe on Apple podcast, Spotify and a bunch of other platforms we’re on now, or even just drop us a line. Give us your feedback on this show.

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.`

Erica DeWaard | #003 12/30/2019

Despite her quiet personality, dairy farmer Erica DeWaard is known around the world for her touching and informative social media posts about her work feeding dairy calves. She opens up about her passion for farming and why she continues to speak out in the face of negative pushback.

Transcript

Erica DeWaard:
I’ve had a lot of people threaten to kill me.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really.

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Death threats?

Erica DeWaard:
Death threats. They don’t want me on there. I figure that they’re scared of the fact that I’m telling the truth and I’m threatening their agenda.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Welcome back to the Real Food Real People podcast. I’m Dillon Honcoop and this week I talk with probably one of the quietest, most reserved people I’ve ever met but with an incredible story to share and such a huge voice via advocacy on social media.

Dillon Honcoop:
She opens up to me about why she does that, about her passion for her job, helping produce food by raising calves. She loves dairy calves. That’s what she does professionally, and it’s her life passion to care for those animals as well as speak out about it. And yes, she does talk about death threats that she’s received via her advocacy.

Dillon Honcoop:
She’s known as Farmer Girl on Facebook and Instagram, her real name Erica DeWaard, and she shares all of this plus a lot more about the background and what it really takes to raise calves on a dairy farm in this conversation. So join me as I continue this journey to hear from real farmers about what turns their crank, why they do what they do, and why they’re so passionate. We produce amazing food in this state, and Erica has such an incredible perspective to share.

Dillon Honcoop:
When did you decide to start speaking out about farming?

Erica DeWaard:
I [inaudible 00:01:52] there was one guy, Andrew Campbell, who started this #farm365 try show people about farming, and I was watching it and he was just getting attacked, so I decided to join him. He needed help. A lot of farmers came and helped him.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’re saying-

Erica DeWaard:
[crosstalk 00:02:09]

Dillon Honcoop:
… here’s somebody getting attacked and you-

Erica DeWaard:
And I went in there and fought.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s funny. I didn’t expect that to be the starting point.

Erica DeWaard:
Oh, it was. I couldn’t stand seeing one guy get attacked, so people had to help.

Dillon Honcoop:
So how did you start? What were you doing at that time? You were feeding calves?

Erica DeWaard:
Yep. I’ve raised calves since I was 11, so I’ve been doing that for 16 years.

Dillon Honcoop:
And how old were you or how long ago was it that you started, you decided I’m going to start speaking out on farming stuff?

Erica DeWaard:
About four years ago.

Dillon Honcoop:
Four years ago. So you decided to start speaking out. Where do you start with something like that?

Erica DeWaard:
I made my own Instagram account and just started using his hashtag and it grew like crazy. People like to know the truth from a farmer, which I hadn’t really thought people would even care.

Dillon Honcoop:
How’d you come up with the name?

Erica DeWaard:
Well-

Dillon Honcoop:
Was that, like, from the beginning?

Erica DeWaard:
Farmer Girl, because I’m a girl and a farmer. A little bit obvious.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay, dumb question on my part.

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah. And my Instagram name is @ericad429, so that’s my first name and then my last initial, and 429 was one of my favorite cows at our farm, so I used her ID number as my name.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why was she your favorite cow? Tell me about-

Erica DeWaard:
She was-

Dillon Honcoop:
… 429.

Erica DeWaard:
… born on my birthday and I watched her be born, so she kind of became mine.

Dillon Honcoop:
So she was your cow.

Erica DeWaard:
She was my cow.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, describe her. For a non-farming person, what are they supposed to be visualizing here when they think about your cow, number 429?

Erica DeWaard:
She was very, very friendly and she trusted me. I could take her on walks without a halter and she’d just follow me like a little dog. So we’d walk down to the pond all the time and behind our farm and she was just my pet.

Dillon Honcoop:
And so that became part of the name, 429, and then homage to that cow.

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is she still around?

Erica DeWaard:
When our dairy sold, she ended up in Eastern Washington.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay.

Erica DeWaard:
So I have no idea.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you start to speak out. What was it like at first? Again, where do you start? What’s the first thing you posted? Do you recall first kinds of things that you were talking about?

Erica DeWaard:
Well I really like the medicine side of things, so I was posting a lot about how to raise a calf and keep them healthy. Mostly it was helping other farmers do a better job at what they do, but then other people, they look at what I post and they realize how much there is involved in farming. Calf raising, people think it’s simple. There’s so much science in it, there’s so much math and people just have no idea how much knowledge it takes to actually raise a calf.

Dillon Honcoop:
I guess what’s interesting to me, thinking about you speaking out, is because that doesn’t necessarily come to you naturally because you’re a quiet person.

Erica DeWaard:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
Or shy, or whatever. I don’t know what term you would prefer to use for that. Some people, they say shy is offensive, or something.

Erica DeWaard:
Well I’m definitely shy, so I’ll just go with that.

Dillon Honcoop:
So it’s kind of outside your comfort zone.

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah, but the same time I’m kind of hitting behind this media screen, just people don’t actually have to see me. I can think about what I’m going to say. And I also love the photography part of Instagram. You have to post a picture with what you post, so I love actually trying to get those pictures and trying to tell a story just with those.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’ve been doing photography for a long time.

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
So why do you love photography?

Erica DeWaard:
I like capturing the story in the picture. It’s not just pointing my phone at a calf and trying to get a picture of it. You have to know how to take it. A lot of the times a lot of my pictures, I’m sitting on the ground, or laying on the ground looking like an idiot trying to get the perfect picture. So much of it is the angle of the picture that you’re taking. If I took it from higher up, you’d see the top of its head. If I take it from its level, it looks so much better.

Dillon Honcoop:
So let’s go back. You grew up on a farm.

Erica DeWaard:
I-

Dillon Honcoop:
Talk about that.

Erica DeWaard:
… grew up about a mile from our family farm, so it was my grandparents’. They actually lived on the farm. My aunts and uncles, they lived… All of us were within about a mile of our farm. It was my grandpa’s rule that we had to be able to walk there in a snowstorm. So that’s why all of us just live in the exact same little area.

Dillon Honcoop:
What kind of farm? Talk about what the whole scene was like when you were a kid.

Erica DeWaard:
Most of my time on the farm was actually just riding in the silo truck with my dad, but then driving through our farm, I always stare out the window watching these calves be born, and when I was 11 I asked my dad if I could actually start helping at the farm raising those calves, because I fell in love with them just by seeing them while you’re driving past them all the time.

Dillon Honcoop:
So a dairy farm, how big? What was kind of the…? You said it was your grandpa’s farm.

Erica DeWaard:
It was my grandpa’s farm as well as my dad and three brothers that actually owned it at the end, so actually none of my cousins were really involved. My sisters never got involved, but I was actually liked doing it. And part of that was because I was not forced to actually help at the farm. It was my choice.

Dillon Honcoop:
And so there you were from a very young age doing anything you could on the farm, anything they’d let you? What kind of stuff were you doing, other than writing in the silo truck once you could start to help?

Erica DeWaard:
Feeding the calves bottles. Well, I was 11, so those calves were ginormous. They could easily knock me over. I was actually kind of terrified for awhile trying to figure out how to not have these calves beat me up. They weighed 100 pounds, I weighed 80.

Dillon Honcoop:
When you were a kid on the farm, did you ever expect that that farm wouldn’t be there?

Erica DeWaard:
Not really. They actually didn’t tell me our farm was quitting until about a month before, so I didn’t even have a clue.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because I noticed you mentioned that “until the end”, or you talked about “at the end” it was your dad and his brothers. So what happened? What was that like, the end?

Erica DeWaard:
The end. Actually, I think they ran it for 10, 15, 20 years before it quit. But two of the brothers wanted to retire. The bank wouldn’t let my dad and another brother take it over. We didn’t have the money.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right. And so how does that go down? How do you bring something like that to a close?

Erica DeWaard:
It’s hard. Actually, one of the guys that helped us was the nutritionist for our dairy, so he helped mediate this whole issue between four brothers, some of them wanting to quit, some of them not. He just sat in the middle and tried to keep war from breaking out between them and he found the farm that wanted to buy our cows. He was there when the trailers picked up our cows, so he actually helped us a lot just dealing with losing our farm.

Dillon Honcoop:
I bet the emotions had to have been huge that day in particular.

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah, it was. I actually saw the cattle trailers on my way to school and I lost it.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did the rest of your family handle that?

Erica DeWaard:
Oh, turns out we never really got out of farming, so the three brothers that wanted out, or two of them wanted out, they ended up started working for another dairy. The one that wanted to stay, he found another dairy to work for, so we never really managed to quit. We thought we could. We couldn’t.

Dillon Honcoop:
Isn’t that the way, though, for people who have been in farming?

Erica DeWaard:
Like you can’t get out of it.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s in your blood.

Erica DeWaard:
Actually, when our farm quit, the next day I was already working for another dairy. I just couldn’t stop.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what were you doing there? Feeding calves right away?

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Talk about that. How does that job work? If somebody wants to get a job feeding calves, what’s involved?

Erica DeWaard:
Biggest thing is that you really have to actually care. You can’t train a person to care about the calves. You have to really actually just be that kind of person that you can care about one calf out of 200. It’s still an individual, you still have to worry about it. I go home at night, I worry about the calves all the time. They’re just my babies. So they become more like your kids. They’re like your pets.

Dillon Honcoop:
Since you know so much about them, what kinds of things are you worrying about for them? Like health stuff, like medical kind of things for them?

Erica DeWaard:
It’s mostly if I have a sick calf, I go home thinking about her. I pray for them. They’re my life.

Dillon Honcoop:
So how many calves are you responsible for right now?

Erica DeWaard:
About 200, so under the ages are six months. I worked for one farm for awhile that I was in charge of everything under a month old, and that was 350 calves. So I’ve had quite a different variety of jobs, but it’s all been just raising calves.

Dillon Honcoop:
What is the line when a calf stops being a calf? Like, how old do they have to be?

Erica DeWaard:
It depends who you ask. I’d say probably about six months old and then they are called a heifer instead.

Dillon Honcoop:
Until they…

Erica DeWaard:
Until they have their first calf and then they’re called a cow.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s a lot of calves to keep track of. Does that take a lot of record keeping? Is a lot of that in your head then?

Erica DeWaard:
Most of it’s in my head. A lot of my favorite calves over the years, I can still tell you exactly which stall she lived in. I could tell you who her mom was. It’s just all this stuff that for some reason is still stuck in my head. I can’t get it out.

Dillon Honcoop:
So when a calf is born, what do you do? Are you involved with it right from when she’s born?

Erica DeWaard:
I am in charge of also watching the maternity pen, which is where they’re going to have their calves, so I’m involved for probably couple hours before they’re even born, just making sure the cow is okay and checking to make sure the calf is coming in the right position, deciding if we need to call a vet. So I’m there when the calf is born and make sure it’s going to be okay.

Dillon Honcoop:
What are the first things that you do?

Erica DeWaard:
Make sure it’s breathing. I’ve given a calf CPR. Not very fun.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow. Like, mouth-to-mouth?

Erica DeWaard:
Mouth-to-nose, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, wow.

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s putting it on the line right there.

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
See, I don’t know [crosstalk 00:11:42]

Erica DeWaard:
… you [crosstalk 00:11:42] do it to save their life.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Is that gross though?

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you care that much that you do that.

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah, a lot of the times the calves that come out not breathing, they were stressed before they are born, so the calves that are stressed before they’re born, they poop inside the cow and they come out literally covered in poop. So you’re giving mouth-to-mouth to this thing that looks absolutely disgusting.

Dillon Honcoop:
Whoa, that’s brutal. I’ve been around for quite a few calves being born, but I haven’t had to do any of that.

Erica DeWaard:
Well you’re lucky.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, thank goodness.

Erica DeWaard:
It’s not fun. You need to do it, but it’s not… I’d much rather not have to do it.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’ll pass on that. I’ll leave it to the experts like yourself. So you make sure they’re breathing, and then what else do you have to do?

Erica DeWaard:
One of the first things is you have to disinfect their umbilical cord so they don’t get an infection, and typically the cow keeps the calf with her for an hour or so, if she actually wants anything to do with it. I’ve had a lot of them, the cow has tried to actually kill their calves.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really.

Erica DeWaard:
They don’t have the maternal instinct that beef cows do.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why is that?

Erica DeWaard:
They’re not bred for it. We want to breed them for better [inaudible 00:12:49] or to produce more milk, where beef cows, the farmers want to make sure they’re actually [inaudible 00:12:55] take care of their own calves, so they breed for the motherly instinct, which dairy cows don’t need, so we don’t breed for it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Now, with certain activist groups, shall we say, this can be a controversial point, right?

Erica DeWaard:
Oh yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s a common refrain: Well why do you take the calves away from their mothers so quickly? It’s inhumane. It’s cruel. But you’re saying quite the opposite. You’re trying to protect the calf by doing that?

Erica DeWaard:
You’re trying to protect the calf. You got an 80 pound calf, 1500 pound cow. She can easily hurt the calf without even meaning to. I’ve had calves that their legs were broken because the cow stepped on them. I’ve taken dead calves out of the pen because the mom accidentally laid on top of them.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s got to be hard.

Erica DeWaard:
It’s hard. That’s actually how my dad taught me that we need to do this, as he made me take one of the dead dead calves out of the pan that the cow had killed. Because I didn’t really get it until I was the one that had to deal with the consequence.

Dillon Honcoop:
So that really drove the point home that this is a big deal to-

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
… protect the calf.

Erica DeWaard:
It’s a huge deal.

Dillon Honcoop:
So not just a talking point to refute the activists, this is the real thing.

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah. I mean, yes we take the calves away from the cows, but you also have to realize dogs and cats, we take away their puppies and kittens. No one says a thing about that. I mean, they’re a little bit older, so actually the dogs are attached to the puppies, but people don’t say anything about that because that’s considered normal.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why do you think it is? Because you, in your involvement on social media and being so outspoken about particularly dairy cows and calves that you care for, why do you think it is that that is such a thing for people that some people get so upset about that issue about the calf being separated from the cow?

Erica DeWaard:
People like to put their human emotions on to animals, and cows aren’t people. They just aren’t. They don’t have the emotional capacity we do. They really live in the here and now. They don’t worry about tomorrow. Cows, when we take away the calf, you go check on her, five minutes later she’s eating, she’s chewing her cud. She doesn’t care. The calf has gone. She doesn’t even notice.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that hard, maybe, to see? Because in some ways you know these animals so well, and like I think we all experience with pets and stuff, there is a certain emotional attachment, but then to realize, objectively, that’s not necessarily shared or returned from the animal because they just aren’t built that way.

Erica DeWaard:
No they’re not. Just like you can leave your dog in your house for hours on end, and does it care? No, it’s just excited because you got home, because that’s what it’s living for. Just living in the moment.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. So after that, the calf is on its own. What do you have to do?

Erica DeWaard:
I have to make sure it gets enough colostrum, which is the first milk that a cow produces, so if we let the calf nurse from the cow, you have no idea if the colostrum was good enough, if it got enough, and the colostrum is the calf’s entire immune system for six weeks. It comes from that colostrum. So if they don’t get it, they can easily die because they don’t have the immune system to fight off any diseases.

Dillon Honcoop:
I know from having children in the last, well, not me personally, my wife having children going through that process, the same thing with humans. That’s why some of these things are so important for survival and health and all that kind of stuff. And you did say, you just mentioned that the calf does get to nurse off of the cow immediately after-

Erica DeWaard:
If they-

Dillon Honcoop:
… being born?

Erica DeWaard:
… would choose to. But a lot of the cows, they don’t even let the calf nurse. They’ll ignore it or they’ll kind of kick it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Swat them away?

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Erica DeWaard:
It’s painful. The calves are born with teeth, so imagine that, that your baby’s trying to nurse and you’re sore and all these hormones are going crazy and then the calf pretty much bites you, so it’s not really that fun for the cow.

Dillon Honcoop:
So where do you get the colostrum from, then, that they need so badly?

Erica DeWaard:
Well the cows go through the milking parlor about anywhere from a couple of hours to 12 hours after they have the calf and then we save all of that colostrum. So typically if there’s a new calf being born, we’ll actually go heat something up that we had saved in the fridge, so it’s coming from a different cow than the calf’s mom. But colostrum’s colostrum.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, I think humans have figured that out too. People sell and trade breast milk, and I know that grosses some people out, but it’s the real thing. It doesn’t necessarily matter who it’s from. It’s the health.

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah, then people take cow colostrum as a supplement all the time.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Erica DeWaard:
Yes. A lot of the colostrum that we have extra is sold and it’s actually processed for human medicine.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really! I did not know that.

Erica DeWaard:
They ship it out to Saskatchewan and people pay a lot of money to actually take that as a supplement.

Dillon Honcoop:
How do they take it?

Erica DeWaard:
It’s a powder.

Dillon Honcoop:
As a powder?

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really. Do they mix it into things like a protein powder?

Erica DeWaard:
I have no idea. I only learned about that like a month ago. I assumed our colostrum that was getting sold was going into powdered colostrum for calves.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right.

Erica DeWaard:
It’s actually not. Most of it’s used for people.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you know what the health benefits are that they’re-

Erica DeWaard:
It’s supposed to-

Dillon Honcoop:
… apparently getting from it?

Erica DeWaard:
… help your immune system.

Dillon Honcoop:
Which makes sense-

Erica DeWaard:
It does.

Dillon Honcoop:
… based on what you’re saying.

Erica DeWaard:
It’s the antibodies.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, so after the colostrum phase, then what do you do with the calves? Are they in their own pens?

Erica DeWaard:
They’re in their own pens, so about six months out of the year when it’s cold enough, one of the first things I do is put a blanket on the calf to help keep them warm.

Dillon Honcoop:
And then they just kind of hang out for a few months, and you keep them well fed and they can grow?

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah, they live in a individual dome for the first six weeks and then we have a barn that they move into that has stalls that are meant for two calves to live together, so they can kind of bond with another calf, figure out this whole what we are thing, how to act around each other, and then they’ll move into a bigger group. But typically I’ve found that those calves that were buddies just in a stall together, they hang out together for years.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really.

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
So there is like a bond experience.

Erica DeWaard:
There’s a bond, this weird bond between them. They’ll actually typically [inaudible 00:18:48] around the same time as each other. They’re just so in sync with each other.

Dillon Honcoop:
Interesting, because you’ve just got done talking about how cows don’t have the same emotional capacity that we do, yet they do still have some [crosstalk 00:19:02].

Erica DeWaard:
They still have buddies.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why is that?

Erica DeWaard:
Well they have a hierarchy in the herd, so you’re going to have the dominant one, you’re going to have the one that’s picked on, but for some reason a lot of times the calf will bond with just one specific other calf. I’ll find them always sleeping next to each other, with each other. They feel comfortable just around that one. So they hang out together because they know it’s safe.

Dillon Honcoop:
You talk about a hierarchy in the whole herd of cows. Can you tell who’s going to be who when they’re calves? Like are they already showing if a calf is going to be more dominant calf or something like that, or does that develop later?

Erica DeWaard:
You see some in how they act around people, so some of them they’re so sweet and they love me and others could care less that I exist, but it’s more later when they end up in a group that they have to figure out who they’re supposed to be within that group.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think is the most unexpected thing, maybe for people who aren’t familiar with it, about raising calves?

Erica DeWaard:
A lot of people don’t even realize that we actually feed these calves milk. They think we take all the milk from the cows and use it for humans. So the farm I work for, we actually feed a formula which is made out of all milk. Some farms feed milk straight from the cows. The calves need milk. They need to have milk in order to grow. We don’t just take all of it away.

Dillon Honcoop:
What are some of the things that have gotten the biggest response as far as details about your job when you’ve shared it in public, on social media? Have you been surprised by things that you’ve shared that you maybe took for granted?

Erica DeWaard:
There’s a lot of stuff that, well, I grew up farming, so I thought everyone knew this kind of thing. Find out people don’t know, and a lot of that is they don’t have someone to ask. So it was just simple things.

Erica DeWaard:
Like this morning I posted about how calves are born with this soft cover over their hooves so they don’t hurt the cow when they’re born. That’s something that I’ve known forever, but people are finding even just that so interesting that calves are created that way.

Dillon Honcoop:
So how do you decide what to post on social media?

Erica DeWaard:
Whatever I’m dealing with at the time and stuff that I think people are going to find interesting. Sometimes I think, “Oh, people are going to love this,” and no one even cares. Other times it’s like, “Well this is incredibly boring. I don’t know even why I’m saying this,” and people love it. So you have no idea how people are going to respond.

Dillon Honcoop:
Can you recall what’s been your biggest post ever? What was it? What was the one thing that people were just crazy about?

Erica DeWaard:
Feeding calves Go-GURT. I took a video of this calf eating Go-GURT straight out of the tube and it went viral.

Dillon Honcoop:
You have showcased on your social media quite a few human things that you feed to… like the Go-GURT.

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Recently I saw something. You were giving a calf a beer.

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Things that people wouldn’t expect, and even within the farming community not everybody knows about. Where do you come up with these things?

Erica DeWaard:
Well the beer was, I had this calf that she was not doing good. I had done everything I could possibly do to save her, but she was losing weight and we were ready to actually put her down. But then I started messaging all these vets on Instagram, bugging them, asking, so what can I do when everyone’s telling me, “Well you need to put her down because she’s suffering,” except for this one vet in Ireland who told me that this sounds crazy, but you need to go to the gas station. You need go buy that calf a beer. You give it to her. I thought, “Well, she’s going to die anyway, so why not try it?” Next day this calf, she actually wants to drink her milk. She’s eating grain.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what was it about the beer? Why did that work?

Erica DeWaard:
It’s all the fermenting yeast inside the beer, so their rumen is basically, it has all these bugs, the good bacteria and stuff in it. The beer replaces all of that and makes their whole gut work again.

Dillon Honcoop:
Now, you say the rumen, and cows have…

Erica DeWaard:
Four compartments in their stomach.

Dillon Honcoop:
And that’s the last one? Which one is that? I forget.

Erica DeWaard:
That’s the one they’re supposed to digest all the grain and hay and forage.

Dillon Honcoop:
Basically all the stuff that we can’t digest. A lot of animals, even horses, right, can’t digest the same things that a cow can.

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah, and then the rumen in a mature cow, it’s about the size of a 55 gallon drum. It’s huge.

Dillon Honcoop:
That is huge.

Erica DeWaard:
So all this stuff, it ferments in their rumen and they digest it.

Dillon Honcoop:
So it’s almost like giving this calf a little starter yeast to get that process going in her stomach.

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
And that changed everything?

Erica DeWaard:
It changed everything.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do they act weird, like they are feeling the effects of the alcohol if you have to do this?

Erica DeWaard:
I don’t [inaudible 00:23:37] it really affects them, but they absolutely love it. They become your best friends. They get alcohol anytime they see you.

Dillon Honcoop:
What did people say on social media to you about that?

Erica DeWaard:
A lot of people were just amazed. They had never thought of that. But basically beer is like rumen fluid. Now it’s going to change your mind when you think of drinking that again.

Dillon Honcoop:
So does that mean that I should drink more beer because it’s good for my stomach?

Erica DeWaard:
I don’t know. You’re not a ruminant.

Dillon Honcoop:
So on social media when you hear from people, what’s your philosophy of how to manage…? And everybody these days has a social media account. Some people think about how they’re managing it and people who do it for their job, like myself, think about it. Obviously, people like you that are trying to do advocacy-

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
… think about it. How do you approach dealing with people, people who are surprised, people who are angry? You know, there’s so many responses. How do you manage-

Erica DeWaard:
I try-

Dillon Honcoop:
… people?

Erica DeWaard:
… judge whether these people actually want to learn or not. So if I get a negative response, I try choose, well, do they just not know, or are they going to be someone that doesn’t even want to learn? I don’t put up with much. I will easily block a person from seeing my account, because I have a lot more to deal with than people calling me names and I just don’t need that kind of negativity in my life when all I’m doing is try to teach people about what I do.

Dillon Honcoop:
Obviously I’m not asking you to repeat absolutely inappropriate things, but what have been some of the worst things that people have done? I know Facebook and social media can just showcase the worst of humanity. How does that manifest itself around what you do on social media?

Erica DeWaard:
I’ve had a lot of people threaten to kill me.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really!

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Death threats?

Erica DeWaard:
Death threats. They don’t want me on there. I figure that they’re scared of the fact that I’m telling the truth and I’m threatening their agenda.

Dillon Honcoop:
So wait a sec. How does that go down? Like you make a post, somebody comments right away with a death threat, or is there some back and forth that leads to that? How would someone get to that point?

Erica DeWaard:
I’ve found that if I go on like a vegan group, I’ve actually found my name on there saying that, “Oh, we need to go attack Farmer Girl for awhile,” and they move on to another person, then another person.

Dillon Honcoop:
This is on their behind the scenes message boards?

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
You can find those on Google? Or how did [crosstalk 00:26:02].

Erica DeWaard:
I looked up my name once and I found myself on there. I thought, “Well, this is awkward.” No wonder I was getting attacked like crazy for a couple of days because they actually organized it.

Dillon Honcoop:
So it’s those people who will then go on and send you a death threat? Are they doing that publicly? Is that a private message? What do they say when they do this?

Erica DeWaard:
It’s sometimes public, sometimes a private message.

Dillon Honcoop:
And they will say, “I want you dead.”

Erica DeWaard:
Basically.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s nuts.

Erica DeWaard:
That’s social media.

Dillon Honcoop:
Scary.

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you worry for your safety?

Erica DeWaard:
It’s part of why I don’t post my last name that often. I mean, you can easily figure it out if you start reading what I post. It’s not that hidden. But that’s why my name is Erica on there. It’s not my full name. And a lot of these people are actually from… I found out that Australians are very, very grumpy for some reason. They are the group that hates me. So when I found that out, I actually blocked the entire country. I wasn’t dealing with it anymore.

Dillon Honcoop:
So nobody from Australia can interact with you on social media.

Erica DeWaard:
Right. And England. They don’t like me either.

Dillon Honcoop:
I would expect that to be in the US, honestly.

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah, I would too.

Dillon Honcoop:
But who knows what the dynamics are behind that. But I guess one of the reasons why I ask about your safety is do you think they really mean it? I would assume, I would hope that they’re just blowing smoke when they say that, but when someone says that…

Erica DeWaard:
It’s a whole lot easier to say that on a screen than actually say it to someone’s face. I really don’t think they’re going to do anything. Even when I go out in public wearing this shirt that says, “Hello, I’m a dairy farmer,” everyone’s polite. I’ve never had anyone threaten me in public because they don’t dare.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that what it is about social media? Is that why people get so nasty, because they don’t have to see you, you know, say it to your face?

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah, they don’t have to see me. Which actually is part of what helps on social media is to show pictures of myself, because people don’t realize I’m actually a person. They don’t get that. There’s a person behind that screen name.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you mentioned going out into the community wearing your “Hello, I’m a dairy farmer” shirt. What’s that like? Because that is the different name and that’s face-to-face. That’s the real deal. And you say people tend to be very nice. Those could be some of the same people who are nasty on social media.

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah, they could be. I have no idea. But they don’t. They see me as a person then, so they don’t dare attack me.

Dillon Honcoop:
I saw you post about your shirt that you wear and your note about that you do that deliberately. Talk about that, why you go into Bellingham.

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Local urban community for our small area here. Why do you do that?

Erica DeWaard:
Make people put a face to who a farmer is. I actually have a lot of people that come up to me and say, “Well, you’re a girl. You can’t be a farmer.”

Dillon Honcoop:
In the city they say that?

Erica DeWaard:
In the city. I really don’t know how to respond to that. It’s like you can’t be a farmer because you’re a girl. I’m like, “Girls can be anything they want to be. Kind of been that way for a long time now, but you’re saying that girls can’t grow up to be farmers.”

Dillon Honcoop:
The stereotype, it would be that out in the country, out on the farm, that’s where the discrimination would be happening, thinking that women cannot be farmers. But you’re saying it’s the opposite. It’s when you go into the city that people will have… That’s crazy [crosstalk 00:29:11].

Erica DeWaard:
Well people have this picture in their head of this 60-year-old guy that’s a farmer. That’s what farmers are supposed to look like. They’re not supposed to be some tall blonde girl. I don’t get what their image is in their head.

Dillon Honcoop:
How much does that drive what you do on social media, part of you being kind of outside what people would expect?

Erica DeWaard:
I think a lot of people actually like to see what I post because they don’t… Or they find my page, see that, “Oh, she’s a farmer,” and they realize that I can be a farmer. They actually see me as being knowledgeable despite the fact that I’m a girl. I’m not supposed to be doing this. It’s part of why they find it interesting.

Dillon Honcoop:
Also notice you mentioned that you like to hike and you like to hike with your dad and do photography. I think we touched on that before. Talk about other stuff that you do like that.

Erica DeWaard:
I go hiking about once a week. I’ve actually competed in this race called the Kill Bill Challenge, which is 25 kilometers, 3,500 feet of elevation gain. You see how fast you can do it. And I think stuff like that is fun, and it also really helps me mentally because I get away from everything for awhile.

Dillon Honcoop:
You said before we started here, you said you’re an introvert.

Erica DeWaard:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
So explain that. What does being an introvert mean to you?

Erica DeWaard:
If I’m in a group of people, everyone’s talking, I’m going to be the one taking it all in. I don’t like to voice my opinion until I really know what I’m going to say. I like to think about things a lot first. For that matter, I don’t even really like to be in a group of people. I’d rather be all by myself. Like I go to Thanksgiving dinner and I’m just relieved when I walk out the door. It’s quiet.

Dillon Honcoop:
So how do you make that work being an introvert? Yet in some ways you have become a public figure with your social media advocacy.

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah, but it’s on my phone. Like I’ll go hiking and I don’t have cell reception, so I get to go be myself for a while because I can’t go check my social media and make sure people aren’t wanting to kill me. Just makes me forget about it.

Dillon Honcoop:
And normally people would think you were kidding by saying people want to kill me, but since we just talked about that-

Erica DeWaard:
It’s true.

Dillon Honcoop:
… you have proven that is a real thing. How often are you getting messages to your page, comments on your page? How much could you be checking that if you were doing that all the time?

Erica DeWaard:
If I have a post that goes viral, I’d be checking it probably every 15 minutes. Even sometimes waking up in the middle of the night making sure I don’t do that, I go block a whole bunch of people, because once one person starts, it just gets out of control.

Dillon Honcoop:
So how much of your time does that take then? That’s got to be a lot of work.

Erica DeWaard:
Probably 20 or 30 hours every week. Takes a lot of time writing what I post because I like all the little details that I post, all the little details, but then I also want to research it to make sure I’m right. I don’t want to be posting something that’s false because my page is about the truth in dairy farming, so I want to make sure I’m really posting the truth.

Dillon Honcoop:
What are the biggest things that people misunderstand or don’t know the truth about dairy farming in particular that you see out there?

Erica DeWaard:
I’ve had a lot of people that they thought we milked the cows 24/7, that these cows were always hooked up getting milked. So when I posted that in reality these cows are milked for five minutes, twice a day, that’s like it’d be like over a year, 40 to 50 hours the entire year getting milked, which farmers work way more than that. So we do everything for the cows.

Dillon Honcoop:
You spend almost that time just on your social media in one week.

Erica DeWaard:
In one week. But the cows do work you for the entire year.

Dillon Honcoop:
Are you accusing cows of being lazy?

Erica DeWaard:
They’re spoiled.

Dillon Honcoop:
Spoiled. So people misunderstand how much time cows are actually being milked. What else is it that people misunderstand about dairy farming or animal agriculture? I’m sure you’ve seen it all.

Erica DeWaard:
One thing that tends to surprise people is how much technology is actually involved. They think we’re out there milking the cows by hand, all 700 of them, which in reality that’s impossible. We can’t do that and still be able to produce enough milk to meet the demand.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s your response, then, when people see all that technology and see how many cows there are and the size of the operation and then say, “Well that’s a factory farm,” or, “That’s industrial agriculture.” Just to throw a few buzzwords at you. What’s your response to those?

Erica DeWaard:
I did a post once explaining exactly how we take care of all the cows and how much we care for them and that everything we do is to make sure the cow does good. And then after that I posted that, “Oh, by the way, so this dairy farm’s a CAFO, and that-

Dillon Honcoop:
CAFO being a… What is that? Confined Animal Feeding Operation?

Erica DeWaard:
Yes. And that kind of blew people’s minds.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because that’s like a bad word.

Erica DeWaard:
It’s a bad word. You’re not supposed to use that word, but it made people think about it that, “Oh, wait. So we trust her and she’s saying that CAFOs are okay,” and it kind of changed their minds because they had no idea that CAFOs are, you know, they’re normal.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why is it, do you think, that people think CAFOs are so bad?

Erica DeWaard:
They seem to think that we mistreat the cows. The cows are apparently supposed to be kept in some really dark, gloomy barn all the time, which-

Dillon Honcoop:
Where are they getting that information from, though?

Erica DeWaard:
The activists. People like to believe lies. Activists know how to play on that. They know how to take this one horrible picture, making it look like we’re mistreating these cows.

Dillon Honcoop:
Shouldn’t people know better, though, or have other sources of info?

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah, but the average person’s three generations removed from a dairy or any sort of farming, so how would they even know?

Dillon Honcoop:
So I guess that’s why farmers need to say something?

Erica DeWaard:
And I saw something recently that for a long time people didn’t want to hear about farming, so farmers didn’t say anything, but now people are taking the farmers’ silence as meaning we’re hiding something. So it just kind of went the wrong way and now we need to be out there actually saying something again to the people that actually are open to learning about what we do.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because of the advocacy work that you do and more and more people in the farming community are doing to speak out and just share real stories of here’s what it’s like on the farm, and here’s what we actually care about, you think that’s starting to change?

Erica DeWaard:
I’ve had a lot of people message me that they actually went from being a vegan, which is someone who won’t touch meat or dairy, and they actually started accepting animal agriculture as being good because of what I was posting, because they hadn’t ever seen the perspective that, well, I’m a farmer telling about farming. They’d never gotten the chance to even talk to a farmer, so they just believed what they were told. But then they realized that maybe, hey, the farmer might actually know what they’re doing better than Google does. Maybe they should actually be asking the farmer instead of Google.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what is it that you say that helps them change their mind? Because I think a lot of people feel like they try to say that, but maybe then it turns into an argument and the person may not believe them anyway. What’s the secret to you changing minds and saying, “Hey, what I’m doing is real, and I actually care about it, and we’re doing this responsibly and we care about these animals and being good farmers.”

Erica DeWaard:
Well, part of it is I love to write, so I know how to word everything in a way that people are actually going to want to read it. And another part is the pictures I share. I put a lot of time into getting those pictures to try, so if someone only looks at the picture, it kind of shares the story that I’m trying to tell and-

Dillon Honcoop:
A picture is worth a thousand words.

Erica DeWaard:
Yep. People are willing to look at that picture and sometimes after that they start reading what I actually said.

Dillon Honcoop:
When do they actually get to the point where they tell you that they’ve changed some viewpoint that they had based on what you said? It usually takes a lot to get a person to that point.

Erica DeWaard:
I don’t know how long it takes for them to really realize. I don’t pay much attention to when one person started following me versus when I hear from them. There’s 19,000 people that follow me on Instagram, about 10,000 on Facebook. I don’t know them. It’s just these random messages, “Oh, hey, you taught me so much about farming. I had no clue, and I support you in what you’re doing and I actually went and bought a gallon of milk for the first time in 20 years.” So it’s kind of incredible that I can actually make a difference.

Dillon Honcoop:
What does it feel like to have that many people following you?

Erica DeWaard:
It’s terrifying.

Dillon Honcoop:
Terrifying like in the introvert sense [crosstalk 00:37:25]?

Erica DeWaard:
Yes. A little scary. Sometimes I go out to the Safeway and then if someone comes up to me and says, “Hey, Farmer Girl,” I’m like, “Do I know you?” A lot of times they won’t introduce themselves, they just start talking to me like, well they know me, so you’re talking to me like a friend, but I’m like, “I have no clue who you are.” I can’t tell you that because it’s awkward.

Dillon Honcoop:
You don’t want to be rude.

Erica DeWaard:
I don’t want to be rude and say, “Oh, so who in the world are you anyway?”

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’re becoming famous.

Erica DeWaard:
Yes. Well, [inaudible 00:37:54] for people. I go out somewhere and people recognize me. It’s not something I really ever expected.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, I was going to say, when you started this advocacy thing, you wanted to speak out, you wanted people to hear, but did you ever have any idea that it would get to this point?

Erica DeWaard:
I had no clue it would be like this, that people would actually want to hear my story.

Dillon Honcoop:
I follow people who have done similar things to what you’re doing and at some point some of them expressed a lot of burnout. What’s your take on that? Have you felt some of that? Have there been times when you’ve been like, “Maybe I’m done doing this.”

Erica DeWaard:
I felt like that, but then you get that one message that people… It changes my mind when they respond in a positive way, and part of it is the reason I go hiking is it does help me mentally and emotionally besides, obviously, physically. It’s just this good way to help myself get away from everything for awhile. Being out there in the woods, it kind of puts everything in perspective that, you know what? Yes, I’m on social media. I’m getting attacked all the time, but does that really matter in the grand scheme of things? It doesn’t.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many hours a week are you feeding calves and whatnot? I’m assuming that’s at least a full-time job.

Erica DeWaard:
That’s 40 or 50 hours every week.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay, so you do get some time to yourself, then, to do things like hiking and whatnot.

Erica DeWaard:
They actually give you one day off a week, which is not normal for dairy farming. It’s really a nice bonus. So then I also, since I’m feeding calves, they need fed twice a day, so I’m feed them at 6:00 AM, I’m done typically by 9:00 in the morning, then I go back and I feed them at 3:30 until I’m done at night, which can be 7:00, but I have this weird time in the middle of the day that I don’t have to do anything. Sometimes I just go take a nap. Other times I’ll go hiking and obviously I have to spend a lot of that time writing what I’m going to post on social media.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you think you’ll always feed calves?

Erica DeWaard:
Probably. I just love it too much to ever quit.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, isn’t that what everybody says they’re trying to find is that job that they just love so much?

Erica DeWaard:
Yeah, and I found my dream job when I was 11. Who can really say that?

Dillon Honcoop:
How did you get so lucky to find your dream job that early?

Erica DeWaard:
I don’t know. It was just farming’s in my blood. I have this old picture of my great uncle feeding calves, and I guess the whole calf feeding thing is just genetic. For some reason I got the bug, I had to do this. My aunt actually feeds calves too. One of my uncles does. My dad used to. For some reason something my family loves.

Dillon Honcoop:
So I’m catching you in the middle of the day today. You even have to go back-

Erica DeWaard:
I have to go back to work. I got up at 5:00 this morning, [inaudible 00:40:23] oh, every day, all week, and I’m not really a morning person. There’s a lot of caffeine involved.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re a dairy farmer, but you’re not a morning-

Erica DeWaard:
I’m not a morning person.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay. Truth be told, how many dairy farmers are actually like that? Because that’s the assumption that a dairy farmer must be a morning person [crosstalk 00:40:40].

Erica DeWaard:
There’s a lot of us that hate morning. It’s actually pretty normal.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, thank you for coming in and opening up about yourself. I really appreciate you being willing to, even though it made you nervous, being willing to come in and share your story with us here.

Erica DeWaard:
You’re welcome. Hard for me to talk, but I know I need to.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Thanks again for joining me on this journey with the Real Food Real People podcast. It still boggles my mind to think about someone as nice and as passionate and as caring as Erica getting death threats for simply just showing what she does on a day-to-day basis.

Dillon Honcoop:
We so appreciate your support of the Real Food Real People podcast. We know that there are so many people in and around the farming community and the food community in this state in Washington that have incredible stories to share. If you know somebody with a story that would be great to share here on the podcast, please let me know. Dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org. My name is spelled D-I-L-L-O-N. Dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org. Just shoot me an email. Let me know a little bit about them. I would love to hear from you on that or any other feedback you have on the show. Again, Dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org. Thanks for being here and we’ll talk with you again 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.

April Clayton | #002 12/23/2019

Although she has her PhD in chemistry, April Clayton is an apple and cherry farmer in Washington. But it was only after finding her voice as an advocate that she felt comfortable calling herself a farmer.

Transcript

April Clayton: I kind of resisted getting into farming at first because I didn’t want to be known as Mike’s wife. I just finished my PhD, I didn’t want to be, “Oh, the farmer… Oh, you know, his wife.” I wanted to start my own kind of career path in this area.

Announcer: This is the Real Food, Real People podcast.

Dillon Honcoop: Finding your place on the farm, it’s something that those of us who’ve been part of a family farm at one time or another have all struggled with, I think, but nobody really likes to talk about it. My name is Dillon Honcoop. I grew up on a family farm and after over a decade in media, I’m coming back to the farming community and I want to share their stories. This week on the Real Food, Real People podcast, I talk with a highly educated scientist and former college professor who now farms organic apples and cherries in central Washington. I wanted to know how she made the journey from the academic world into farming and she opens up as well about the real struggles and triumphs on the farm. So join me now as we get real with April Clayton of Red Apple Orchards in Orondo, Washington, with her farming story, and what the real challenges are right now on farms growing what is the state’s most famous food.

Dillon Honcoop: Let’s start at UC Davis.

April Clayton: Okay, so-

Dillon Honcoop: So you’re a chemist?

April Clayton: Yes, I’m a classically trained chemist. I actually have my undergraduate degree is from Florida State University in biochemistry, and then I spent a year working at Hanford, that was my first job out of college. And I did trace organic detection, and so actually there I got a lot of work and practice on gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, which is the tools that are used to test for residue on fruit and produce. So even though that’s not what I was doing, I was familiar with the concepts of how it had to be tested. And then from there I went on to university of California Davis and I got my degree in analytical chemistry.

Dillon Honcoop: What’s been the biggest challenge?

April Clayton: Finding my place on the farm, becoming the advocate. You want to get out here, you want to help, but how do you do it? How do you branch out to better inform people? It was finding the path to get started, that was difficult. I kind of resisted getting into farming at first because I didn’t want to be known as Mike’s wife. I kind of wanted my own identity away from my husband. I just finished my PhD, I didn’t want to be, “Oh, the farmer… Oh, you know, his wife.” I wanted to start my own kind of career path in this area.

Dillon Honcoop: So it was, this is interesting, it was the advocacy that brought you to the point you could fully embrace the fact that you are a farmer.

April Clayton: Oh, yeah. It wasn’t until I was in the Farm Bureau that I finally started calling myself a farmer.

Dillon Honcoop: What about the old culture of men, and farming, and sometimes Farm Bureau can be a lot of men who’ve been part of that for… How does that go?

April Clayton: The old boys club? That’s just changing more and more, especially today because farming, it’s so important for farmers to be advocates and you can see everywhere, I think it’s the women who are dominating the agricultural advocacy field right now. There are some great guys out there, but as I look around I’m seeing a lot more female agricultural advocates. So we’re really… I think women are doing great, and there are some pockets where it is still the old boys club, but here the Chelan/Douglas County Farm Bureau, I’m the president, the vice president is Vicki Malloy, our secretary treasurer is Suzanne Van Well, I mean it is… we’re female run. Yes, we have men on the board, but all the officers are female. So, yes, I understand the old boys club is still there, but just right here in my neck of the woods that’s just not the case.

Dillon Honcoop: I think that’s happening in a lot of places, too, and it’s-

April Clayton: Yeah, and like I said-

Dillon Honcoop: … a lot of people haven’t noticed that yet, but I think there’s been a big change that people haven’t noticed and it’s just starting to show that women are becoming the face of farming as much of or more than men.

April Clayton: Yes. Yes, I agree with you 100%. Yes, with females becoming the advocates.

Dillon Honcoop: When did you start trying to find that place?

April Clayton: You know, as more legislation came down, as it became harder to farm, as I could see it becoming harder to farm, it was obvious that my attention was needed here. I was having fun what I was doing, but this farm, if I want my kids to have it, I have to go out and be active in securing its future for my children’s future, so that’s why advocacy all of a sudden became so important because it’s not just my livelihood, it could possibly be my children’s livelihood. And when you start to think about it, when you start hearing more and more about different agricultural practices around the world and it made me want to get more involved to spread the message about how good we’re doing it here.

Dillon Honcoop: Much more than “Yeah, that’s what my husband does, and that’s his thing, and I have my thing.”

April Clayton: Yes. Right. Exactly. We’re a team.

Dillon Honcoop: How did you meet your husband?

April Clayton: So actually we are set up on a blind date because we’re both very tall, so…

Dillon Honcoop: Really?

April Clayton: Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop: Hey, they’re tall, [crosstalk 00:05:32] it must be a good match.

April Clayton: Exactly. So yeah, that’s what we kind of like to joke about. So yeah, and it just kind of took off from there.

Dillon Honcoop: So you meet Mike, you get married-

April Clayton: Correct.

Dillon Honcoop: … and then what did you marry into? What’s his background? What’s he doing?

April Clayton: So Mike is a second generation apple and cherry farmer. His father was retired from the air force, he was actually a Thunderbird. So he flew all over the world and when he retired, the military was offering all this wheat land to grow tree fruit on. So this, Brays Landing, used to originally be called Military Hill because it was all military personnel. And so my father in law used to help run orchards for his friends in the area and then slowly bought some, sold some, and we’re actually the last remaining military people on the hill now.

Dillon Honcoop: So how long have you guys been married?

April Clayton: 14 years.

Dillon Honcoop: And for a long time you didn’t want to really embrace the-

April Clayton: The agriculture side.

Dillon Honcoop: … the farmer title for yourself.

April Clayton: Well, I had spent 10 years in school gaining a degree in chemistry, I didn’t want to turn around and you know, okay, do what my husband’s doing. I kind of wanted to branch out on my own. And so, but I did come back to it and I’m glad I did. I mean, I love farming. It’s awesome. The farm community here is amazing too. And my advocacy has gotten me so far too that some people in some circles people are like, “Oh, you’re April’s husband.” So it’s kind of nice.

Dillon Honcoop: Turns the table on your husband, what does he say in that case?

April Clayton: Oh, he loves it. He thinks it’s great. So actually, yeah, it’s kind of funny because my son had to fill out a report, first day back at school, “What do your parents do?” “My dad farms, my mom’s the president of farming.” Like, “You go son.”

Dillon Honcoop: President of farming, Dr. April Clayton.

April Clayton: Yeah, I know I never really liked being called doctor, even when I taught, I made my students call me professor instead of doctor just because, well, that whole I’m a PhD, I’m not an MD, so there’s a difference.

Dillon Honcoop: Talking about your family too, you got kids.

April Clayton: Yes, we have two kids. John, my firstborn is nine and my daughter Johannah AKA Jojo, she is seven going on 13 as she likes to tell everybody, my son definitely, he wants to be a farmer. I don’t know if it’s because he really wants to be a farmer or he likes the idea of riding motorcycles up and down the orchard scouting. He really enjoys that. Johannah she, one day she wants to be a vet, the next day she’s going to be a singer, so she’s at that happy age right now.

Dillon Honcoop: Yeah.

April Clayton: So it’s definitely fun. They definitely enjoy the orchard and I think it’s a great lifestyle. I love the fact that what I do, at the end of the day I say, “Here, I grew this.” I mean that’s really a great accomplishment. I like that and I want to have it for my kids, something tangible that you can touch.

Dillon Honcoop: That’s interesting, your son says he wants to become a farmer and I know from experience having been that kid myself, we’ll see what happens.

April Clayton: Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop: Who knows what he decides is his calling or what he wants to do is. Your daughter, not necessarily so much.

April Clayton: Well, I think it’s because the son’s more into the big equipment, the bulldozers and things like that. And she rides, she loves her motorcycle, don’t get me wrong, but she’s not going to go crawl around the loader like he is.

Dillon Honcoop: But is there, I wonder is there kind of a gender thing going because it’s, for whatever reason, we just don’t have it as much ingrained in our head that women are, or could be, or are going to be farmers when they grow up. That’s what you are, when you grew up.

April Clayton: Right.

Dillon Honcoop: Did you see yourself being a farmer? What do you think about women in farming in particular?

April Clayton: I have to say it growing… I grew up in the city, I grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, so it’s quite urban. And so yeah, farming was actually the last thing on my mind that I even thought about. Both my parents were army brats, so coming from a military, I kind of thought that if I didn’t make it in the chemistry world that I’d probably end up in the military world somewhere because that was kind of our family, what they did. So yeah, so when I moved out here it was really different and it was definitely a culture change for sure. I enjoyed it. I went from living behind a grocery store to now being 45 minutes from the nearest grocery store, so-

Dillon Honcoop: But being the person that supplies the grocery store.

April Clayton: Yes, and being a person who supplies it. So I appreciate so much more the produce section than I ever did before. And it’s also different, how I buy food is different now. Now that I know so much about the industry, before I used to just go for whatever was pretty and cheap. Now I actually make sure that, “Hey, this was grown in the United States.” Just because I, like I said before, I deal with the regulations, the codes, and the standards, I know exactly what’s going into produce grown in the United States and that is what I want to focus on. Especially being an organic grower, people always come up and ask me, “What do you buy for your kids?” And they’re kind of shocked when I say, “Produce from the United States. I don’t care if it’s organic or not.” Conventional is just as good as long as it’s grown here.

Dillon Honcoop: Talk about organic. You guys are not entirely organic, some of your stuff is, some isn’t.

April Clayton: This is first year we’re not a hundred percent organic. Our cherries used to be organic, but this is the first year that we pulled them from organic. We were having mildew issues and the organic inputs that you use to control mildew weren’t working and we are actually damaging our tree because of the amount of sprays we are putting on to try to control the mildew.

Dillon Honcoop: Hold on, you’re saying you were spraying with organic products and that was causing harm to the trees?

April Clayton: Yes, and because of the amount that we were spraying. People don’t realize organic orchards, organic farming is just a different way of farming. It’s not actually this great all healthy star that everyone thinks of. If you look at the original, the origin of it, it started in Europe, it actually started as a way to reuse and recycle. If it was found in nature, you can use it in your orchard. No big deal. Well, when the organic movement came here to United States, it got changed into messaging, healthy, different. But that’s actually not true. Organic farming, you have to use actually a much less concentration, so you’re actually in the orchard three times more with the sprayer spraying, and just that constant being in the orchard spraying just damaged our trees, so now we’re going back to conventional so we can spray less, get the trees healthy again and we’ll go from there. If we keep production up, prices stay good, we’ll stay with it.

Dillon Honcoop: So was there a point in time where you guys decided to go organic from conventional and switch over? Has it been an organic operation from the very beginning?

April Clayton: We went all organic about 10, 20 years ago. And so he, my father-in-law, kind of dabbled in it, but nothing really. It was actually my husband who really kind of took off with it.

Dillon Honcoop: Why did he choose to do that? That’s a lot of work. Isn’t it?

April Clayton: It is. It is. It’s a lot harder to farm organic than it is conventional, just because of all the different inputs. I mean, you can’t use a herbicide, so you have to either burn weeds, or hand hoe weeds, or till weed, so it’s a lot more intense. So yeah, it is a lot more involved. But the premiums were there. Well, the premium market really isn’t there anymore for cherries, so it just didn’t make sense for us to not make as much money. If we get the trees healthy again, get production up, we’ll have more cherries, we’ll make more money.

Dillon Honcoop: So people won’t pay more for organic cherries anymore?

April Clayton: They will, but the market is so flooded with it that buyers of grocery stores aren’t willing to pay more for it. And that’s where I get my money from.

Dillon Honcoop: So what the consumer pays at the store isn’t what you get?

April Clayton: Oh no, farmers… okay, so for an organic apple, I get about between five and 10 cents. I need 9 cents to clear to be even-

Dillon Honcoop: To break even on it?

April Clayton: … to break even. 10 cents would be a little bit of a profit, that would be nice.

Dillon Honcoop: And that same Apple, what could I buy it for in the store?

April Clayton: You’re probably buying $1.99 for in the store.

Dillon Honcoop: $1.99 for the same apple that you give five to 10 cents for.

April Clayton: Correct. And this is a common of all of agriculture, farmers are typically the ones who get what’s left over, and as the cost of doing business increases, gas, transportation, employees wages going up, storage, basically we pay all along the way as it goes. We’re the last ones in the line, after the truckers get paid, after the bills are paid at the storage shed, after the bills are paid at the grocery store, then we actually get an income.

Dillon Honcoop: Why? Why don’t you say, “Sorry we’re charging more for these apples.”?

April Clayton: It’s just the way of the way the industry. It’s the way the industry works, unfortunately. The apples go the shed, they box them and make them look pretty, then they’ve got a sales desk that goes and calls and says, “Hey, how much apples would you like? We’ll send you 10,000 pounds.” And that’ll go to a distribution where it’ll get… Safeway will take it and distribute it to all their stores. We’re pretty lucky in the fact that we’ve been organic, that most of our stuff has stayed on the West Coast, but actually it’s kind of funny, this year our cherries went to Japan for the first time in a long time. So yeah, it’s kind of interesting too, because I heard that even though tariffs have affected China and stuff like that, what they buy is the premiums, the best of the best, they’re-

Dillon Honcoop: Japan?

April Clayton: Yeah, and China, all of Asia. They don’t buy the small, ugly fruit, they get the biggest, the prettiest. And our cherries actually got sold individually. But we still haven’t gotten our paycheck for the cherries yet, so we don’t even know. So hopefully around October we’ll get all of our cherry money and then hopefully in March we’ll have all of our apple money.

Dillon Honcoop: What month did you pick them?

April Clayton: July, all of July.

Dillon Honcoop: And you still don’t know, and won’t know for some time yet, how much you’re even going to get paid for them?

April Clayton: Yeah, that’s my farmers don’t gamble. We do it every day on our farm.

Dillon Honcoop: That’s crazy.

April Clayton: Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop: That’s crazy. What does that feel like? I mean, to me that says stress.

April Clayton: It’s tough. It is. For us, the stress is once we get in the shed, we get in the shed. We’re kind of, can’t really do anything about at that point, so now we just got to sit back and let it ride. So yeah, it’s tough.

Dillon Honcoop: What’s harvest like?

April Clayton: Cherry harvest is crazy because we start when the sun is up, so we’ll start as early as 4:30 in the morning. Cherries do not like do be picked after 80 degrees, after it gets 80 degrees the cherry doesn’t like to do anything, so we’ll stop harvest around noon pretty much. But it’s every day during the month of July because we are fast and furious trying to get the fruit off. We try to give our crew… the crews have the afternoons off, all the afternoons off and we try to give them one day off every two weeks, but during the month of July it just gets, we’re so backed up, we’re so short on labor that it ends up being, unfortunately, every day. But the pickers are happy because they’re making money the whole time, so they do appreciate that. And then apple harvest is much… it’s a little bit slower. It’s not such a fast pace. We have different apple varieties that are spaced out a little bit better.

Dillon Honcoop: So is there one thing or are there a few things that could knock your farm out of business, or is this more a story of which straw is going to break the camel’s back?

April Clayton: Yeah, it’s kind of… yeah, definitely losing a certification, that would hurt. If we were to ever lose our Global G.A.P certification, that would definitely be a nail in the coffin. I think it’s the small things that’s going to destroy farming. I don’t think it’s any one thing, the lack of labor is definitely an issue, the ever increasing costs just to do business. I mean, the H2A program is… I can’t even use the H2A program because it’s too expensive for me.

Dillon Honcoop: Well, let’s talk about labor a little bit because H2A, that’s a labor issue.

April Clayton: Guest worker.

Dillon Honcoop: The federal guest worker program. So what is the scoop on labor? You guys just can’t find enough people to work?

April Clayton: We can’t. And right now we’re short crew and if they don’t like the job that they’re having to do that day, or they don’t like the pay, they know they can go to the next farm over who is an H2A employee and they’ll get $15.03 an hour, so we’re having to compete with that. But I do want H2A to be here and stay here because my neighbor who uses H2A, that’s awesome, he’s bringing in guest workers. So I have a chance to actually pick up the local migrant help that wants to come and work the harvest and things like that. So you know, if H2A were to go away, we’d all be fighting for the same people and that there just isn’t enough, there is a shortage. Every year we have a labor shortage. The last time we had a full crew to pick everything we needed was eight years ago, eight or nine years ago. We were much bigger than we kind of divided off since then.

Dillon Honcoop: So you’re saying even though you aren’t in the H2A program, it helps you to have it in the local-

April Clayton: Yes.

Dillon Honcoop: … being used by local neighboring farms?

April Clayton: Right. Because there is a small pool of laborers here in Washington State. And we actually are very lucky because we have several people from Northern California that actually come to our farm every year, and we are so thankful that we have them. But if H2A were to go away, those guys, thankfully they know our farm, they’re coming back to us, but their friends may not come to us. They may jump ship and go to the shed that can offer those higher prices. Like the people who are using H2A right now, not only is it the $15 plus hourly wage, it’s also transportation to and from country of origin, living. We provide housing for our employees, but we don’t provide transportation to and from country of origin.

April Clayton: So that’s extra money that someone who uses H2A can use to bump up their cost even more, because it’s not uncommon to get into bidding wars with your neighbor to keep people. We’ve seen it locally, we’ve heard about it. Everybody on the hill pretty much pays the same price, but if someone’s down on labor and he can afford it, he’ll pay an extra 50 cents and you’ll see a couple of people jump ship and go there, and it hurts, it’s hard. But I can’t blame them, they’re going to go for that more money. And I can’t blame the other farmer for raising their wages because they need help too. It’s just, it’s a vicious cycle.

Dillon Honcoop: Some people say though, that there isn’t actually a labor shortage. If you would just pay workers more then it wouldn’t be a problem. What’s your response to that?

April Clayton: That’s just not true. As an organic grower, 75% of our cost is labor, everything from medical, to housing, to payroll, all of that included, it’s about 75% of our costs. I can’t go much higher. I can’t spend that much more. I wish I could, but I just don’t have the money in my bank. And when I hear people say, “Oh, you just want cheap later.” That just bugs me more than anything. I mean, last year just to get people to show up to pick Honeycrips, we gave people $25 if they brought someone with them, it didn’t matter if they-

Dillon Honcoop: Just as a bonus.

April Clayton: … just as a bonus. “Okay, you brought somebody with you, here, $25. Great, thanks. Here’s a bucket, go pick.” And not only was it $25, we were also paying upwards of I think 35 bucks a bin. So they were averaging closer to, the really fast guys can do a bin an hour, it’s typical a bin every two hours though is more like it.

Dillon Honcoop: So anywhere from $17, $18 bucks an hour to some people making $35 an hour?

April Clayton: And $25 just to show up that day at work-

Dillon Honcoop: Plus a bonus.

April Clayton: … first thing, yeah. I mean, no one’s coming. That’s the thing. I mean, we’re throwing all the money out there, but people just aren’t showing up. We just literally did not have people willing to come out and do the work.

Dillon Honcoop: Now about the controversial H2A federal guest worker program, you say that you like it even though you don’t use it.

April Clayton: I like that it’s there, I don’t like the policy of it. Four years ago no, five years ago now, we actually have housing on our farm that’s H2A specific because we were going to use the H2A program because we saw the shortage of labor, built it, finally got in, and it was actually right around the Hirst thing, so water was a big issue for us as well. So finally got everything done, ready to go, H2A comes back and tells us, “Yeah, that’s not going to work. We know you built it for 16 people, but that’s only going to hold 12 people.” I mean, that’s a huge hit. I mean, we built it to code and then for them to turn around-

Dillon Honcoop: And then they changed the code.

April Clayton: … change the code, it’s kind of like we would’ve had to add on another bathroom and another building. I mean, seeing as how we bought, just finished building that five years ago that has newer and better appliances and structure than my own house and I’m being told it doesn’t work. I mean, it’s very frustrating. It’s hard to deal with. True, these are bunk situations, but they’re only here for a month, they’re not staying for the whole year. Our crew that stays the whole year, they have houses that they live in on the farm, which is different from the cabins.

Dillon Honcoop: What about how the program actually works for the people that are using it? You have an interesting vantage point because you’ve almost kind of been in the program, but you aren’t now, you have people nearby who are so you can see what they do.

April Clayton: Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop: There’ve been a lot of accusations about how horrible this program is. Where does that come from and how does that fit with reality? Have you seen problems?

April Clayton: No, that just doesn’t fit with reality. I mean, we all have, like I said, we’re all regulated like you would not believe down to the bone as far as what housing looks like. If my housing was kicked out because it couldn’t, it was too small, it needed to be bigger for 16 people. I mean, when you keep changing the field gold, it makes it harder, you know? And these can… Yes, it’s hard work. We know that, we know that it’s hard work, and we try to pay them as best as we can for what we’re actually getting from the fruit. But farmers are not intentionally being mean or hurting their employees, if we do not have them, we don’t get the fruit in the shed. If we don’t get the fruit in the shed, we don’t get money.

April Clayton: We appreciate and love the help that we get. We know we can’t do it without them, so it really bothers me when I hear people saying that, oh, we’re just out there abusing them. We’re not. They’re the ones who make this farm run. We’re the ones taking the risk, they’re the ones who make it run. That’s the beauty of how it works. So I really get bugged and I don’t know where it’s coming from because it’s just not true. There are bad lawyers, there may be bad farmers, but if you’re a bad farmer, you’re not going to stay in the game very long because you’re not going to get anybody to come work for you. And the H2A program, they’ll kick you out if they think that you are being bad to employees, disrespecting them, and not giving them great living conditions, then you’ll get kicked out. It’s not like you can just go and say, “Hey, I want it.” Someone’s going to come on your farm and make sure and look to see if your housing, is it acceptable, or is it not acceptable?

Dillon Honcoop: What’s the thing on the farm that that will keep you up at night?

April Clayton: Market return prices.

Dillon Honcoop: Yeah.

April Clayton: You have no control over that, and you just have to sit there and wait because we’re currently… we currently have an operating loan, every paycheck that we sign we’re borrowing money from the bank to do that and hopefully when I get paid my cherry money in October, I’ll be able to pay off that loan and keep going again. And hopefully there’ll be enough money that I won’t have to get another loan, but unfortunately I see that’s what keeps me up at night because if I can’t pay down that first loan I’m carrying a loan and getting another one to try and start over again, I mean, that’s going to bankrupt me faster than-

Dillon Honcoop: That was like a one year loan kind of thing?

April Clayton: And operation loan is about a one year loan, basically yeah.

Dillon Honcoop: So is that pretty normal for farming?

April Clayton: It’s pretty standard for the industry to have an operation loan because I’ll all of a sudden go up to 40 employees at, $14, $15 an hour, plus payroll tax. I don’t have that money sitting in the bank. Farmers are land rich, we’re not cash rich. We don’t have that cash flow that everyone thinks we have. And one of my pet peeves is people are like, “Oh, that fifth generation farmer, he’s just sitting there on a cash pile of gold.” Well, that fifth generation farmer has probably also paid for the farm two and a half times already because of the death tax each time a generation dies.

April Clayton: In farming we’re so resilient, we don’t think we’re going to die, so we don’t need to plan. And then all of a sudden the generation goes and the next generation is hit with the death tax, which is 51%, so the kids are going to have to sell off part of the farm to help pay for that tax. And so when you think about a fifth generation farmer, that’s two and a half times they’ve already had to pay for the farm. So I don’t think people understand that, yeah, we may have inherited this, but we have paid a lot to get it.

Dillon Honcoop: I asked what will keep you up at night and you talk about market conditions, do you have any stories of having gone through that where you’re actually up at night and wondering what’s going to happen and if you’re going to make it?

April Clayton: Yeah, last year was definitely that year because we were still farming organic cherries and we had to walk away from about 30 to 40 acres because of the mildew, so this was something that we had spent all this time farming, pushing money into, we only got half the crop of what we wanted and we’re still down production, fighting to get labor. And what labor we did have, we had to pay through the nose for, and so it was kind of like, “Man, please just can we get a little bit of money to help cover that?” Because all this farming, all this paychecks I’ve been doing, those were on loans and I had to watch half my crop go bye, bye, that hurts. It’s hard. So that last year was definitely a hard year, and then in the years past hail, whenever we have hail damage, that’ll keep you up at night because there’s nothing you can do. It’s lost. And, yeah, we have insurance, but insurance never makes you whole. It helps with the damage, but it doesn’t take care of the debt that you’re in.

Dillon Honcoop: Walk away from acres and acres of cherries. What does that look like? What do you do when you walk away? You just leave them to rot?

April Clayton: Unfortunately, yeah. Unfortunately we have to, I mean, because we don’t have the labor to go in there and pick it to begin with because it’s so expensive, we’re already losing that crop. We can’t afford to pay someone to go in there, pick it, and then give it away. We’d love to do that, we’d love to give it to the food banks, and we open, we tell our friends when this happens, “Hey, come out here. Come get as many cherries as you want.” But in all reality, they’re not going to… I mean, we produce half a million pounds of cherries a year, so we’re talking about… so losing a third of our crop, that’s a lot of pounds you’re not going to be able to get rid of. You’re not going to be able to get rid of it at just giving it to your friends and you’re not going to be able to get rid of it trying to pick it going to a farmer’s market.

April Clayton: And it’s really bad for the trees too, because if you have old fruit that’s sitting on there rotting, it stresses the tree out, so it’s not going to be as in good production for next year. And you’ve got this fruit that is now the perfect breeding ground for bad bugs. So it’s a very bad situation to be in, you’re just, you’re in knots because you’re like, “Okay, I lost this year’s crop. How much of next year’s crop did I lose too by not being able to take care of my trees properly by getting the fruit off them?” And I’m leaving this fruit in there that could potentially damage my crop next year by breeding bad bugs, so it’s a vicious cycle.

Dillon Honcoop: Yeah. You said you’re in knots, what does that really… what does it feel like when you’re there?

April Clayton: You’re in bed and you can’t sleep because your mind keeps running over other things. “Well, how am I going to pay for this? Well, what am I going to do for that? Well, how am I going to cover this for tomorrow, and if I can’t pay for this spray…” And that’s the other thing, these chemicals we use are highly concentrated and highly expensive. They’re not cheap. We’re not out there just throwing them around willy nilly because we think it’s great. No, we’ve got this, you know, like my husband always says, “You measure it with a micrometer and you unfortunately have to cut it with an ax.” So we’re doing as many calculations as we can to save money, to not overuse chemicals when you don’t have to, but unfortunately, these things cost money. And if you can’t afford that spray at that time, like calcium is important for apples because we get bitter pits.

April Clayton: Bitter pits are those, they’re little black dots in the center of an Apple. It goes through pretty far. So it’s not really good for processing either, because you can’t just peel it and get rid of it.

Dillon Honcoop: That’s from a lack of calcium?

April Clayton: It’s a lack of calcium in the soil. And sometimes calcium can bind together in the soil, and so you may get this reading of, “Oh yeah, you’ve got calcium.” But it’s just not being… the tree just can’t absorb it. So there’s all these other issues you have to think of and you’re sitting there worrying about that, so not being able to afford something could put you in danger for next year’s crop. So you just sit there and you’re like, “Oh man, what do you do?”

Dillon Honcoop: Yeah, there’s nothing that you can do-

April Clayton: No.

Dillon Honcoop: … except in a lot of cases feel awful. And I know that can put, having lived through these kinds of things in the kind of farming I grew up around, I know it can put so much pressure on everything else, relationships, around the house, other decisions that aren’t necessarily even directly connected.

April Clayton: You know, I have a friend who jokes every July that she becomes a cherry widow because her husband’s gone during the entire cherry harvest, so she’s kind of like a widow at home waiting, hopefully hubby will come because he’s out there working. And so I understand that, and luckily I’m on the farm and can help out and work too. I mean, one year there’s a picture of me pregnant with my son on the backpack behind me and I’m sitting there in the field hosing down bins of cherries, writing tickets for everybody. So thankfully it’s a family business where we can work together, but it is stressful. It can be stressful at times for sure. I mean, like I said before, that’s why farmers don’t gamble, we do it every day.

Dillon Honcoop: You do a lot of social media. What’s that like? Is that a positive experience to be out there in public that way? She’s shaking her head no.

April Clayton: No. Yeah, no. Social media is tough, I got to tell you it because I do kind of take it a little personally when I read people saying, “Oh my gosh, you are so bad. You’re not paying your laborers anything. You’re treating them horribly.” And it’s like, “No, that’s not the case. They’re actually… we’re trying to give them a decent wage.” There’s been, I don’t think people realize, there are times when we don’t take home a pay check to make sure that this is covered, that’s very common for owners and I don’t think people realize that. And plus we don’t have a, like you said, we only get paid once a year. Once harvest is in, is in, and that’s our paycheck. And we don’t always know what it’s going to be, we can’t calculate it out, so it’s definitely a tough field.

April Clayton: And so to have people on social media just sit there and trash you for it, is hard. Yeah. And I mean, sometimes, especially with social media today, because it’s no longer, “Oh well, I don’t think that’s right.” Blah, blah, blah. It’s like, “Oh, you’re a terrible person.” I mean, they can get downright insulting, so it is tough and it hurts because I have some friends that aren’t quite so much friends anymore because they think I’m a slave owner.

Dillon Honcoop: Really?

April Clayton: Well no, they just, they’re like, “Your employees…” They just, they believe what they’ve been told and it’s like, “No, come to my farm, come talk to them.” You know?

Dillon Honcoop: But they’re your friends. They don’t know your character?

April Clayton: I mean, they know my character and they know me, but you know, they’re the activists who have their belief system. It’s hard to change someone’s mind who is ingrained, “That’s the way it is.” But I am lucky because a lot of my friends who do know me, they’re like, “Oh wow, I had no idea. That’s amazing.” So it is fun, and I am thankful for my good friends who… and I actually have a couple friends who have become agricultural advocates, not because they have a farm, but because they find what I do so fascinating. And so that’s always, that’s positive and I appreciate that, but it’s the negative Nancys on social media that just kind of wear you down.

Dillon Honcoop: So you’ve actually lost friends because of the false things, the false accusations, that activists have made about you?

April Clayton: Well, it’s not like all of a sudden they stopped talking to me, but it’s like I can tell you’re not following me on social media anymore. I can tell. And it’s sad because it’s actually a couple of family members and I think also it kind of, in today’s political climate too, it’s easier to go for a dagger than it is for a handshake.

Dillon Honcoop: Well, thank you for opening up and telling your whole story. Fascinating your journey from Tallahassee, Florida to here in Orondo, Washington, and all points in between.

April Clayton: Well, Dillon, thank you for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity you’ve given me here today.

Dillon Honcoop: This was really cool, and thanks for showing me around your farm as well. It’s really cool what you guys are doing here, so-

April Clayton: Thank you. Come back anytime.

Dillon Honcoop: … keep up the good work.

April Clayton: Thanks.

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

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