Brianna Parmentier | #074 09/09/2021

Are dairy cows being treated well on Washington state dairy farms? Coming into the world of dairy originally as an outsider, Brianna Parmentier is now in charge of taking care of a dairy herd near Everson, WA. She shares what really happens behind the scenes on dairy farms in this state.

Transcript

Austin Allred | #073 08/30/2021

This beef and dairy farmer is dangerously close to achieving sustainable carbon neutrality on his farm near Royal City, WA. It may surprise you what Austin Allred of Royal Family Farming says is the secret to carbon neutrality, building soil health and producing food in a way that's sustainable for generations to come.

Transcript

Brianna Widen | #072 08/25/2021

Producing pastured pork, chicken, lamb and beef with her family on their small family farm Widnor Farms, Brianna Widen is living her dream. Hear her unique perspective on what's wrong with our food system, and get a personal look at the challenges of small farming in Washington state.

Transcript

Imad Ahmad | #065 07/08/2021

Bringing his family full circle back to its farming roots from Palestine, Imad Ahmad is raising halal lamb and goat here in Washington state. He explains what halal really means, and how his farming practices are focused on sustainability and harmony with nature's rhythms.

Transcript

Lulu Redder | #059 05/24/2021

Traveling from the east coast with her home in tow, Lulu Redder settled in western Washington and started Feral Woman Farm, raising hogs, goats, sheep and chickens for meat. Lulu talks about the challenges and benefits of running a small farm off the grid, and ongoing barriers to change in the food system, particularly for locally-sourced meats.

Transcript

Brady Karstetter | #057 05/10/2021

Brady Karstetter and his family grow apples, cherries, pears, sweet corn, field corn, beef, hay and more in the Quincy, WA area. As you can imagine, it's a lot to manage, but Brady explains how it's not just the crops that make his life stressful.

Transcript

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.

Case VanderMeulen | #034 08/03/2020

He grew up in Europe on a small family dairy, but he now runs a large dairy in Eastern Washington. Meet Case VanderMeulen, and hear his story of growth as he demystifies how large dairy farms really work.

Transcript

Case VanderMeulen:
I grew up in Holland. My family had a dairy farm, but my older brother, he took over the family farm and there was no room for two incomes after the quota system came in in Europe. So I had to go do something different.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Are big dairy farms bad? It’s been a controversial issue for some people, and so I wanted to talk with someone who runs a big dairy farm. He’s also someone who has run a small dairy farm and not just in the United States. Case VanderMeulen, his dairy is Coulee Flats Dairy in Mesa, Washington and he grew up in the Netherlands. This week, he shares his story with us of growing up in Europe on a small family dairy, coming to the U.S. then and starting his own small dairy. And then growing it over the years to a large dairy.

Dillon Honcoop:
We’ll find out exactly how he runs his operation. He gets into a lot of the specific details of how he manages the cows and his employees that keep this whole thing working. Fascinating conversation, lot of cool stuff. Thank you for joining us this week. I’m Dillon Honcoop. This is the Real Food Real People Podcast documenting my continuing journeys around Washington state to get to know the real people producing food here.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why are you so passionate about producing food for people and producing milk and dairy products?

Case VanderMeulen:
Because that’s what I grew up in. I grew up in Holland. My family had a dairy farm, but my older brother, oldest, he took over the family farm and there was no room for two incomes after the quota system came in in Europe. So I had to go do something different. I went on a couple of exchange programs, once to Canada and once to Washington on the West side. Then after a couple of years, later after I come back, I decided I’m going to move to the U.S. permanently because that’s always interested me.

Case VanderMeulen:
So I went and worked in California for a couple of two-and-a-half years, and then started a little dairy farm in Grandview, Washington. It’s a dedication, I guess, it’s just I love it. And once I got going, it’s like, why not? Just keep going and… Because I love it.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you love about it? What’s it like being a dairy farmer? And what are the things that you really love?

Case VanderMeulen:
The growing part and building a system that works really well for treating cows well and treating employees well. So all the pieces fall in place. It never goes by itself, but it’s just like you’re building something, and it turns out nice, and you’re proud. So then you go onto the next thing because it feels good. Second, we have a really… We produce a really good wholesome food from products that the cows can eat and digest, but we humans won’t be able to digest.

Case VanderMeulen:
So cows is definitely what they call upcycling. That really feels good.

Dillon Honcoop:
Talk about how your dairy works. In a way it has to be a system because there’s a lot of people involved, animals, fields, all this stuff has to work together to have milk come out of here at the end of the day. How does it work?

Case VanderMeulen:
It works, start off most important one, take care of the cows. There’s the old saying, “If you take care of the cows, they’ll take care of you.” Because those ladies are like athletes. They produce a lot of milk, and we got to keep them comfortable. When you keep him comfortable, then they will flourish just like humans or all other living beings. Keep them comfortable-

Dillon Honcoop:
How can you tell if a cow is comfortable?

Case VanderMeulen:
When you see her laying out there, chewing her cud or just grunting. That is just a sign that a cow is really comfortable. A cow should be doing one of three things; eat, lay down chew her cud, or be in milked in a parlor delivering her payload, so to speak, if you want to call it that way. So it all revolves around the cows. Cows are creatures of habit, so they like to have everything the same every day, a little bit like humans and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Creatures of routine.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yep, routine. Routine day in, day out, try to make it the same every day.

Dillon Honcoop:
My grandpa was a dairy farmer. Actually, both of my grandpas were dairy farmers.

Case VanderMeulen:
Okay.

Dillon Honcoop:
My dad’s dad, he always said his cows were so stuck on routine that they didn’t even like it if he wore a different hat when he milked them.

Case VanderMeulen:
I never wear a hat, so my girls are a little bit short on that, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, and he was very big on certain music too because-

Case VanderMeulen:
Oh, really?

Dillon Honcoop:
… he liked to listen to classic country-

Case VanderMeulen:
Okay.

Dillon Honcoop:
… especially Hank Williams while he milked. And he claimed that that’s what they liked the best.

Case VanderMeulen:
Okay.

Case VanderMeulen:
It’s an interaction as far as the systems or whatever you want to call it. And dairy is the interaction between people and cows and everything around it. And obviously it takes a lot of equipment to get a lot of cows fed. And of course, the equipment needs to be in good shape, so a lot of maintenance and repairs. Then obviously, those cows eat a lot of feed, so we need to make sure we have lots of feed on hand and all the ingredients, and the place to make sure that we can make the rations for the cows the same every day.

Case VanderMeulen:
Again, creature of habit, she likes it that her food is the same every day. There’s like 10 to 15 different ingredients that we feed to the cows in the rations and we like to keep them proportioned the same every day.

Dillon Honcoop:
What kinds of things are you feeding them?

Case VanderMeulen:
First the foragers. Those are the building blocks, so to speak, because a rumen needs forage. Meaning a forage is a plant-based with fiber. So-

Dillon Honcoop:
And the rumen being the cow’s stomach, that’s what they need for their-

Case VanderMeulen:
To keep the rumen healthy because the rumen actually feeds the cow. Need the forages, corn silage, alfalfa hay, alfalfa silage, triticale silage. Then the grains. Like I said earlier, there’s a lot of feed that we’re feeding to the cows, those are byproducts of other feeds, so to speak like soybean meal. That is what’s left over after they get the oil out of the soybeans. Canola meal, same thing, after they get the oil out of the canola for the canola meal that we cook with.

Case VanderMeulen:
And cotton seed, that’s after to take the cotton off the little seed, and the seed is really, really potent because it’s got a lot of fat in it, and it’s high in protein. And it’s got fiber in it because of some of the lint still on the seed.

Dillon Honcoop:
So the cows like that, those different ingredients?

Case VanderMeulen:
We mix them all together, so it like… We have like big, giant blenders where everything goes in and it comes out mixed. So every bite is the same for every cow every day. The goal.

Dillon Honcoop:
How much do they get to eat?

Case VanderMeulen:
These cows, they eat over 100 pounds of feed per day.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that like something they choose how much they eat or?

Case VanderMeulen:
They can eat as much as they want. We just make sure that it’s there when they come and eat and they can come and go as they please.

Dillon Honcoop:
Then they probably drink a lot of water.

Case VanderMeulen:
And they drink a lot of water, probably about 30 to 50 gallons per cow, per day, somewhere within-

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Case VanderMeulen:
… that range. And that’s actually the most important ingredient. Without it, nothing would happen of course.

Dillon Honcoop:
All this stuff that you feed them, where does that come from? The forages, the grains. I guess you talked about some of these byproducts that would probably what? Otherwise be waste?

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct. Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
But the forage is, do you guys grow that?

Case VanderMeulen:
We grow some of those ourselves, and then also a bunch of my neighboring row crop farmers, I’ll buy feed from them or we’ll grow it ourselves. Then harvest it and store it, and then feed it the rest of the year. That takes a lot of acres to feed all these cows. Then the grains, the byproducts I was talking about, the dry ones like soybean meals come in more from the Midwest, canola meal is coming from Canada, cotton seeds coming from the South or the Southwest, and they all arrive by train.

Case VanderMeulen:
Then from there, they’re going to be hauled on trucks going to the different dairy producers and dairy farms. Then some of the other byproducts I didn’t talk about like potato waste, that goes from the local potato plants after they make French fries. So everything is being utilized and being fed to these cows. So they have the same feed every day, so they can do their thing, so to speak. Meaning produce lots of milk and be comfortable.

Dillon Honcoop:
Basically the cows hang out, eat, and drink and get milked.

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct. Correct. Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
Otherwise they’re just chilling out.

Case VanderMeulen:
They’re chilling out. We milk them three times a day, and then like now, it’s really hot out. We have shade buildings where they can get in the shade, they can get cooled with sprinklers, where they eat. When they come into the parlor, they get sprinkled, so they get nice and wet. It’s just exactly like when you come out of the pool and-

Dillon Honcoop:
The misters are going.

Case VanderMeulen:
And the misters are going, or just out of the pool and you’re wet, then it’s called the evaporative cooling. It’s great.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the milking process? How does that work?

Case VanderMeulen:
All the cows are in groups, and then we bring a whole group into the parlor. Then they get milked, then they get into the parlor, into the milking stalls where they get milked. Then we disinfect the teats, get them prepared, attached to the machine. Then after she’s done milking, the machine will come off automatically. Then we apply more disinfectant on the teats, and then the cows go out, and then go back and eat. Three times a day.

Dillon Honcoop:
Three times a day.

Case VanderMeulen:
And we’re milking 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Dillon Honcoop:
And how long does that process take for the cow? How long are they in there being milked?

Case VanderMeulen:
About 10 minutes per side, so to speak. We have the milking parlors, the one of them is like 50 stalls on each side. So then if it’s 10 minutes, if we do six turns, so to speak, then we milk about 100 cows an hour.

Dillon Honcoop:
So they only have to hang out there for 10, 15, 20 minutes?

Case VanderMeulen:
Yeah. Of course, they’re big groups, so it takes about 30, 40 minutes per group to be… Yeah, about 40 minutes from the time they go into the parlor until that whole pen is done and they all go back to the corral where they can hang out and eat.

Dillon Honcoop:
So at most, the actual milking time for a cow in a given day is 30, 45 minute when you add up the three milkings?

Case VanderMeulen:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
That they’re actually having [crosstalk 00:14:00]-

Case VanderMeulen:
That they’re actually being milked. That’s correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Case VanderMeulen:
Now, the cows in the group that go to the parlor first obviously spend the least amount of time in the parlor or in the building, so to speak. But then the ones last the longest, of course, so altogether three times 40 minutes is two hours basically for the cows who are milked last out of the group.

Dillon Honcoop:
And so that’s it.

Case VanderMeulen:
And that’s it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Dairy farming in a nutshell.

Case VanderMeulen:
And it goes on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

Dillon Honcoop:
The cows can’t really take a day off per se, other than when they’re getting ready to have a calf.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yeah-

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that right?

Case VanderMeulen:
That’s correct. The gestation period for a cow is nine months, pretty much the same as humans, which is interesting. People don’t think about this very much, but a milk cow is pregnant most of her life because it takes nine months. Then if we’d like to have a calf every year, so that means in a year, there’s only three months out of the year that she’s not pregnant. So the cycle is so that calf gets born, it takes about two years to get her full grown.

Case VanderMeulen:
So at about 13 to 14 months of age, we breed them for the first time. And nine months later, they’re going to have their first baby, and that’s when her milking career starts. Then within about two months after she had a calf, she will be bred again and hopefully get pregnant. So then she can have another calf, 12 months later after she had the first one. Then about 45 days before she’s going to have a calf, we actually, what we call, we dry her off. So that means we quit milking her, and that’s her vacation time for a little while.

Case VanderMeulen:
Then she can regenerate, and recoup, and start for the next cycle. That’s just how it goes and every day or so we’ll have 30 to 40 calves a day.

Dillon Honcoop:
What happens to all those calves? What do you do with them?

Case VanderMeulen:
We raise the heifer calves to be the replacements for the cows that leave the facility, because at some point in time, they are getting older, and then they have to have a change of career, so to speak. Then the bull calves, they-

Dillon Honcoop:
So heifer calves being a female-

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
The bulls being the boys.

Case VanderMeulen:
That is correct. That is correct. The bulls, they get picked up… Yeah, always get picked up daily. Then they go to a calf ranch and they’re being raised, and then they’re going to go eventually to a feedlot.

Dillon Honcoop:
So they’re beef.

Case VanderMeulen:
For beef. There’s two products that we produce, is basically milk and beef. Then the heifer calves, the female calves that stay here, we’ll raise them in… They’ll raise them and we’ll have them on milk for two months. Then those calves after two months will then, what we call, they get weaned, meaning we don’t feed them milk anymore.

Case VanderMeulen:
Then they go in different groups. Then as they get older, they’ll get different kinds of feeds to optimize their growth for healthy strong bodies and digestive system so they can be good, healthy mamas for the next generation, so to speak.

Dillon Honcoop:
How different is this whole process than when you grew up in Europe?

Case VanderMeulen:
The basics are the same, but it’s just the scale is so significantly different. At my family farm, they were milking about 100 cows, and those cows would go in the pasture in the summertime. In the winter time, they would be in the barn, so to speak, and we did all the work ourselves. Here with milking several thousand cows, we have to have a lot of employees help us, otherwise we couldn’t get it done.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many employees do you have to make it work?

Case VanderMeulen:
About 85 altogether, full time employees.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
And how many cows do you have?

Case VanderMeulen:
We’re milking about 7,000 cows.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Case VanderMeulen:
Those are the milk cows. Then we have another 800 to 1,000, what we call it the dry cows, the cows that are on vacation, so to speak. Then all the replacement heifers, which is a good all about 12,000 or so.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’ve lived the small dairy life, and now the large dairy life.

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why so big? Some people say, “Oh, it’s better if a farm is small.” What are the differences in having experienced both?

Case VanderMeulen:
Actually, there’s nothing wrong with big dairy farms. Yeah, it maybe seems not attractive for some people, I guess. But actually when you are bigger, you can specialize more the jobs. We have guys that just… They do nothing but milk for eight hours a day. Then we have guys that only feed calves. Then we also have guys that only feed the cows, so it’s very specialized jobs. Therefore you can really train them, train the guys well and they can do a really, really good job.

Case VanderMeulen:
Instead of if you had to have, let’s say you milk 200 cows and you have to have two or three employees. Those three employees needed to do everything and you need to train them on everything. So that makes it a lot more difficult. That doesn’t only count for the employees, but that counts for all systems, so you can really fine tune things much better, and therefore be very, very efficient from a resource perspective.

Case VanderMeulen:
Because we use a lot of resources, water, feed, land of course to grow crops, fertilizer… No, not actually fertilizer, but the manure we use as fertilizer because we utilize everything. We don’t waste nothing.

Dillon Honcoop:
When you were growing up in Europe, what was that like? It’s totally a different culture, right?

Case VanderMeulen:
It’s a very different culture, yes. In Holland, there’s thousands and thousands of smaller dairy farms and yeah, it’s… I’m not quite for sure how to explain it, but it’s just a different way of life. However, that is changing rapidly also. The farms in Holland, in Europe are getting much bigger also. For whatever reason, our expenses keep going up, and up, and up just like everybody experiences around the world. Food gets…

Case VanderMeulen:
But the price that we get for the milk and the beef doesn’t seem to change all that much, not even close to comparative from 15, 20 years ago. So we just need to be more efficient in order to stay relevant.

Dillon Honcoop:
What are the reasons that farms are getting bigger? Is that the same in Europe as here?

Case VanderMeulen:
Absolutely. I don’t know really what the reason is, but in order to increase efficiency. That’s what it comes down to. That’s what our lives as humans today are about. We need to do more things in less time, and technology helps a lot with that. Talking about technology, we use quite a bit technology on dairy farms today in order to do a better, more precise job. Like what use for the last couple two-and-a-half years now, we actually use… All the cows wear basically a Fitbit around their neck.

Case VanderMeulen:
And every cow is being monitored on how active she is every day, it’s counts steps. Somehow it doesn’t really count steps, but it counts activity. If a cow becomes the less active, the system will alert us and try and tell us, “Hey, there may be something wrong with this cow.” Or if she becomes really active, that usually means she’s in heat, she’s ready to be bred. Then the system will alert us also and tell us, “Hey, this cow is possibly in heat, you better go check her.” And if she is, then we can [inaudible 00:24:32].

Dillon Honcoop:
Technology.

Case VanderMeulen:
Technology. And the beauty of technology is it works 24 hours a day to where if you have people watching cows, they don’t have to work for 24 hours a day. And it’s just becoming harder and harder to get good dedicated people, so it’s a challenge sometimes.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the key to leading the team like you do here on the farm, having that many employees and making sure that people are on the same page, and happy with where they’re at? You talked about that being one of the values of the system that you’re building is to be good for the employees.

Case VanderMeulen:
Absolutely. It’s the same for all of us, if we don’t like our job, we don’t like the culture or whatever, it’s not fun coming to work, and when it’s not fun coming to work, you’re not going to do your best. It’s as simple as that. So we have all different teams, so to speak. We have a milking team, we have a calf team. We have a herds people team.

Case VanderMeulen:
The herds people are the guys who take care of the cows as far as when the cows need to be moved from one pen to the other, they need to be bred. They need to be taken care of, just basically general animal husbandry. Then we have a feeding team. We have a team in the mechanic shop that maintains and repairs all the equipment.

Case VanderMeulen:
Then we have equipment team that maintains the pens, helps with harvest, all the different things. And each team has a leader obviously. Then we have office team. Then we have also basically a general manager who… Ricardo, he’s the operation manager and he tries to keep the teams coherent and working together. It’s a challenge, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
When you have that many people, it’s always going to be.

Case VanderMeulen:
That’s right. There’s a lot of training involved, meetings and all this stuff. Then before February, once a month, we’d have a caterer come in and provide lunch for the whole team, and just get together and hang out for an hour. Just trying to keep everybody together on the same team.

Dillon Honcoop:
You said you started the first dairy that was yours was in Grandview.

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was that like? And how did that grow and how did you end up here in Mesa?

Case VanderMeulen:
I started in Grandview, 150 cows, doing all the work myself. Those were long days, long, hard days. Did that for about a year, year-and-a-half. Then I grew a little bit and I got one employee to help me milk the cows. Then a couple of years later, a couple of years after that and we moved to a little bit bigger facilities, so we went to about 400 cows. Then a few years later, we bought another facility. Then in 2007, we started building this facility and start milking cows in 2008.

Case VanderMeulen:
It’s been quite a journey. It’s fun. Lots of challenges, but those are there to be overcome.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was the hardest challenge to overcome to get to where you are now?

Case VanderMeulen:
It’s just like everybody else probably, but the hardest challenge is when the economy has a downturn and expenses are greater than income. That’s always a challenge, right? So then you got to get creative and try to cut costs and try to do the best he can. Yeah, you get through it. Things are, sometimes they’re really good and sometimes they’re not so good, but that just happens and you just got to keep going.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is the way it was growing up too?

Case VanderMeulen:
I believe so. Yeah. Yeah. I know by my parents and my brother, they had some hard times financially, but giving up is just not part of the game, right? You got to keep going.

Dillon Honcoop:
What keeps you going through those hard times? I know people point to different things, it just gives them hope to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yeah. That’s a hard question to answer, but I guess the fear of failure is probably one of the biggest ones. Yeah, that’s about the best I can… the way I can explain it, I think.

Dillon Honcoop:
You said that you were interested in continuing farming, but you couldn’t continue with the family farm-

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
… in the Netherlands.

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why? How did that work out? What was the issue there?

Case VanderMeulen:
Because it takes at that time 75 cows or so, 75 to 100 cows per family, or takes about that amount of cows to maintain income for one family. And they were milking, I don’t know, 120, 130 cows. Then they got a quota system and everybody had to reduce 20 some percent. Then that basically was only room for one. Since my brother was in a partnership with my dad and the idea was that I was supposed to take over my dad’s half, but then when the quota system came in, then that…

Case VanderMeulen:
My dad actually stepped out of the business at that point in time and my brother took it over and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Is he still doing it?

Case VanderMeulen:
My brother does. Yes. Yep, yep. Yeah. He’s milking still about 100 cows.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you guys swap stories back and forth?

Case VanderMeulen:
Oh yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you compare the different [crosstalk 00:31:25]-

Case VanderMeulen:
Yeah, absolutely. He’s been here a few times and yeah, he likes it. He’s got his son involved now and he’s hopefully going to take over his business or his dairy and then we’ll see where it goes.

Dillon Honcoop:
What did your dad think of all of it?

Case VanderMeulen:
My dad thought it was… Obviously, he was pretty sad that there wasn’t a room for both of us on the farm so we could work together. But yeah, yeah, I guess I had never… I never really asked him if… [inaudible 00:32:12] this is what I did and they supported me 100%.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was that like coming to America when you first decided you’re moving there?

Case VanderMeulen:
Exciting. I was in my early 20s, so you have nothing to lose. When you have nothing to lose, it’s easy or somewhat easy. Now, once you start building some stuff up and you have something to lose then things change a little bit. I’ve missed home, but I always kept myself plenty busy, so I didn’t have too much time to think about or be home sick.

Dillon Honcoop:
Have you been back to the Netherlands much?

Case VanderMeulen:
A few times, yeah. I don’t go that often, but yeah, probably about 10 times or so. 10 to 15 times.

Dillon Honcoop:
Talk about your family now. What family do you have and are they involved in the farm at all?

Case VanderMeulen:
Like I said, my oldest brother, he took over the family farm and then I got one other brother and two sisters. But none of them are in farming because there was only room for one on the farm. One of them is in the… Her and her husband are in the restaurant, then my other older sister, she’s retired now, but she did a lot of secretarial work. Then my other brother, he actually had a little accident and he’s somewhat handicapped.

Case VanderMeulen:
That was kind of a bad deal. Not kind of, really bad deal.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. It must’ve been-

Case VanderMeulen:
Yep.

Dillon Honcoop:
… very hard.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yep.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about you have kids or?

Case VanderMeulen:
I have one son. He’s just turned 16 last week, so yeah, what a riot that is.

Dillon Honcoop:
Does he work on the farm at all?

Case VanderMeulen:
Yeah, ever since the school got closed off, he’s been busy here at the dairy. Try to keep him busy and try to keep him out of trouble.

Dillon Honcoop:
Does he like it? I know I had to work on the farm growing up on a farm, so there were some times I liked it and other times I was like, “No, no, no, I don’t want to do this farming thing.”

Case VanderMeulen:
Obviously there’s lots of jobs he doesn’t like, but I think he says he really wants to become a dairy farmer.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, he does?

Case VanderMeulen:
Yeah. So hopefully, but not going to force him of course. It’s all if he wants to or not. But it’s very, very satisfying to see him here helping me on the farm.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think? Could he do it? Could he take it over?

Case VanderMeulen:
Time will tell. Time will tell.

Dillon Honcoop:
Now, it’s interesting to me talking with you, a first generation to America, Dutch person.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
My family is I think, four or more generations removed, but there’s all these stereotypes with the Dutch and the Dutch farmers. You would have a better perspective on that than me. How much of that is an American stereotype versus reality? I’m thinking about you and your son and like I’m used to the Dutch dads being pretty hard on their sons and pushing them, “You got to work hard, and do a good job, and no slacking off.”

Case VanderMeulen:
That’s probably our biggest challenge. Some days he doesn’t like me very much.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’ve been there.

Case VanderMeulen:
But-

Dillon Honcoop:
On the son’s side.

Case VanderMeulen:
As far as stereotypes, I don’t know. On the Western United States, there’s a lot of dairy farmers that are from Dutch heritage, right? So I don’t know really what that means, but apparently the Dutch are pretty good at the dairy business, I think. There’s still a lot of dairies in Holland, so-

Dillon Honcoop:
The history dairy farming in the Netherlands goes back hundreds and-

Case VanderMeulen:
Hundreds of years, yes. Correct. [crosstalk 00:36:42]-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s where it comes from, right? Then it just stays with a culture.

Case VanderMeulen:
That’s right. The little bit of an interesting tidbit is that Holland is a pretty small country. The State of Washington is five times as big as little Holland, as the Netherlands. So it’s interesting that there’s a lot of Dutch all over the world.

Dillon Honcoop:
With Dutch dairy farmers coming out to the West, I’ve always heard, “Well, the Dutch came to the U.S. and then they found the West coast of Washington, and Oregon, and found that climate was similar to back home.” That was certainly the story for my family way back and over time as they ended up there. But you’re here in Eastern Washington, it’s hot and it’s dry, very different climate than back home in the Netherlands for you. Right?

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct. Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
Does that make it more challenging and new, this whole thing?

Case VanderMeulen:
I think you’re spot on that a lot of the Dutch, they liked Western Washington, Western Oregon because of the climate and cows flourished there because not too big of temperature swings. And good feed, and pasture. Now, here in Eastern Washington, we’re here in the Columbia Basin, it does get hot and it does get cold, and we do get snow. But the good thing about it is we only get seven inches of precipitation here.

Case VanderMeulen:
Water is not good for cows, not necessarily the cows themselves don’t like it, but other organisms really like water. Bacteria, and viruses, and all that kind of stuff. They need water. And when it’s dry, you just have a lot less problems. Plus, you don’t have to deal with all the rain water and catch it, and store it. Because we, as dairy farmers or livestock in general, so to speak, we got to contain all our water.

Case VanderMeulen:
Every water that comes in contact with manure, we have to contain, store, and then apply it at agronomical rates to our crops. So we don’t do any groundwater contamination and/or any runoff going into any kind of a drain ditch, or water body, or whatever it is. Very important.

Dillon Honcoop:
What are you do to prevent things like that? How can you make sure that doesn’t happen?

Case VanderMeulen:
I have a facility that is built for it and the water always runs to the lowest spot, right? So we just need to make sure that the lowest spot drains into some kind of a storage structure.

Dillon Honcoop:
And catch it.

Case VanderMeulen:
And catch it. And actually in Eastern Washington here, that’s a good thing because we do need the water for irrigation. So that’s not a bad thing.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, and the stuff that’s in it that could pollute say a stream, if applied correctly to a field can actually be a good thing, a positive because that’s the fertilizer, it’s the organic matter.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yeah. Right here on our farm, we hardly buy any commercial fertilizer. We only use the fertilizer from the manure, from the cows. So therefore it’s kind of… Not kind of, it is the perfect cycle because we’re not buying any commercial fertilizer and we’re not over applying any of the nutrients on the ground. Therefore, self-sustaining.

Dillon Honcoop:
How big is sustainability to your operation and your philosophy?

Case VanderMeulen:
Very big. We live here, we work here, we drink the same water. We live in the same environment. If we would pollute, we only pollute our future. So therefore there is no benefit in polluting, so to speak, if you want to call it that way. So we need to make sure that we continue doing the right thing, not only for ourselves, but also for future generations, and all our neighbors, and friends and family. So it’s a must.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s it been like during this pandemic to keep the farm going? I know a lot of farms have had challenges how to take care of people, how to, but keep… It wouldn’t be right to just let the cows… You can’t stop milking them. You write to them and it would probably cause your operation to crumble if you did that for too long.

Case VanderMeulen:
Yes. That’s the interesting thing about dairy farmer or having livestock. It’s not like a trucking company and said, “There’s no money, I’m just going to park the trucks and send everybody home and we’re done with it.” We can’t just say, “Oh, we’re going to quit milking the cows, we’re going to quit feeding the cows.” That’s inhumane, can’t do it. So rain, shine, good economics, bad economics, we have to keep going.

Case VanderMeulen:
So as far the whole pandemic, we haven’t really had too many hiccups. We’re providing all the safety gear, having do an extra cleaning, and disinfecting, and all that kind of stuff, and trying to do our best on social distancing, but yeah, we haven’t had too many challenges. So quite honestly, for me, my work life, hasn’t changed all that much pre COVID versus now.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about your team? How are the workers feeling about all of it? Are they worried?

Case VanderMeulen:
I don’t know if they’re really worried, but they are aware. They’re very aware and trying to do like I said, we’re a social distancing, and using face masks, and provide them, and temperature checks, and all this stuff. So far we’ve had pretty good luck.

Dillon Honcoop:
What does the future hold for this operation then? You keep growing, do you keep doing what you’re doing? How long do you see yourself staying in this business?

Case VanderMeulen:
Don’t know for sure. That depends a lot on whether my son wants to go take over the farm or not, we have a few more years yet to do that. I love what I do, so I have no need to quit at this point in time. As far as growing, we’re probably not to grow too much more on this facility because all the systems are maximized. Like I was saying earlier, we’re self sustaining, if we milk a lot more cows, then we would get more nutrients.

Case VanderMeulen:
Then we would have to spread our wings more so to speak from… Put those nutrients on more ground. Yeah, that would be. So at this point in time, we’ll probably just going to stay where we’re at. Plus of course, not of course, but to where we’re in our co-op, Dairygold, we have a base system, a quota system like I was talking about in Europe. So you can’t just start shipping more milk because the co-op can’t really handle much more milk right now.

Dillon Honcoop:
So all of your milk goes to that co-operative?

Case VanderMeulen:
That’s correct. I’m a member owner of Dairygold, and yeah, our milk, it’s used for either cheese or butter powder, Sunnyside plant.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s it like being a part of cooperative? How does that work? Does that work pretty well as compared to maybe a different model or a company buying your milk?

Case VanderMeulen:
I can’t really compare because this is the only thing what I’ve done. But obviously the idea from a co-op is that if you have a private processor, the processor would want to try to buy our milk as cheap as possible because… But it’s been pretty good, so the whole idea about a cooperative is that the “profits” that the private handler would make goes in the pockets of the dairy farmers. So that’s the background of it or the purpose.

Dillon Honcoop:
Earlier, you were saying, it’s hard to find good workers and-

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
… those are in short supply. What’s going on there? Why is it hard to find people to join the team? What is the deal with employee? I hear that so much in farming and all different kinds of farming across this state, there’s a workers’ shortage.

Case VanderMeulen:
I think before COVID, I think the biggest reason for that is that the economy was booming, so lots of workers need it. We only have so many, so you can try to pay more to somebody who works somewhere as else and try to recruit them. That operation or whoever where they would have to hire somebody else, so it’s significantly raised our cost of operation when there’s a shortage of people.

Dillon Honcoop:
I know some farm worker unions and stuff say, “Wow, there’s no shortage. There’s plenty of people here. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

Case VanderMeulen:
No, that’s not true. That’s not true. There’s probably maybe plenty of people, but we’ve got to have qualified people. You got to have people that want to do a good job and feel good about their job at the end of the day, and want to be part of the team. Some of those organizations feel that we are not treating our employees well or not paying our employees well. I would beg to differ. There is not one employee here on our facility that makes minimum wage. Everybody makes more than minimum wage.

Case VanderMeulen:
And there is no concern from my perspective that we don’t treat people well because we really try to do our best. It doesn’t mean that it’s always perfect. It doesn’t mean there’s never any controversies or people are always just happy. No, of course not, but we really try hard to get a really good culture on our operation. That’s really what you need.

Dillon Honcoop:
If it’s not true, then why are some groups saying that?

Case VanderMeulen:
It’s all about money. I’m not so sure that labor unions today are really that interested in the wellbeing of the employees, but more about their own organization and having lots of members. It’s questionable in my opinion. Like I said, we don’t mistreat people like some of those organizations are trying to claim. They have a different interest. Not quite sure what, but they have a different interest.

Dillon Honcoop:
What if you reach a point where you can’t get enough people to continue on this operation? Do you see that happening? I guess some people could say, “You can have more people. You just need to pay more. Pay $20 an hour, pay $30 an hour. Whatever it takes, then people will come.”

Case VanderMeulen:
That is probably true. That is probably true, but that isn’t then… High wages is not a guaranteed that they’re going to for one, do a good job or number two, be happy and satisfied in their working environment. Wages is only part of an employee’s wellbeing, so to speak. It’s just the same for all of us, we need to feel good about ourselves at the end of the day.

Case VanderMeulen:
I’m for sure not convinced that money or dollars at the end of the day makes us feel good. Money is a need, but it doesn’t give satisfaction at the end of the day if we don’t like what we do, no matter how much you get paid.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about the operation and like the business, at what point does that become unsustainable to pay more? I would imagine labor costs are a pretty significant part of your overall costs. Aren’t they?

Case VanderMeulen:
Absolutely. As far as expense is concerned or costs, feed is our highest cost, in fact, highest which is usually about 50% of our income. Then labor is the next highest one, which is, let me see, probably about 15% plus. And then we have all the other things. So if the cost of the labor increase significantly, then that becomes a real issue. I guess, what it comes down to is we still need to be competitive from an economic perspective with the rest of the country. Because State of Washington has a pretty high minimum wage to begin with.

Case VanderMeulen:
Like I said, it’s not like we’re paying anybody minimum wage, but if minimum wage goes up, everybody else expects also be ready to go up also, right? It’s just not sustainable keep going up, and up, and up for our business because we need to compete. My milk’s not much different than somebody in Idaho, for example, which has a lower wage brackets, so to speak. My milk’s the same as the cows in New York or in Minnesota.

Case VanderMeulen:
So we need to be competitive, otherwise, the dairy industry in Washington over time will be significantly impacted.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the biggest threat then? Is that the biggest worry about keeping dairy farming happening here in Washington State?

Case VanderMeulen:
I think so. Dairy is the second biggest ag sector in the State of Washington, behind apples. Apples and dairy in years past swaps back and forth on who’s the biggest economic ag sector in the State depending on where prices are. We are a significant financial impact for the State all together. Not that financial impact is the most important thing, but we do keep a whole lot of people working and getting good wages.

Case VanderMeulen:
Not only for the employees themselves, but also all the services around the dairy sector, so to speak. Equipment maintenance, parts of banking, financing, feed, the feed that we purchase. That’s a big economic impact.

Dillon Honcoop:
And that’s going to become more and more important as we go into what sounds like could be a pretty bad time economically here as people are going to be more interested in making sure we keep jobs available for people and people be able to make an income.

Case VanderMeulen:
You would sure think so, but that has not… It doesn’t seem to have an impact just yet. As long as the federal government keeps writing and everybody checks, I guess that’s… But that’s going to have to end at some point in time. Somebody’s got to pay for this. We need to go back to work as a country. My opinion.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thanks for sharing your story.

Case VanderMeulen:
Thank you [crosstalk 00:55:42]-

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s story that’s taking you halfway around the world.

Case VanderMeulen:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
Starting in the Netherlands and coming here to Washington State. And it’s pretty inspiring what you’ve been able to do starting just by yourself and growing this company. It’s pretty neat to see.

Case VanderMeulen:
Thank you. I’m obviously very proud of it, but at the same time, not the only one who did this, so yeah. If there’s a will, there is a way, and a will and persistency will win eventually. My opinion.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many hours a day do you have invested into doing this? And I would imagine that’s seven days a week.

Case VanderMeulen:
Oh yes. [crosstalk 00:56:30]-

Dillon Honcoop:
Some days, do you get a day off?

Case VanderMeulen:
I’ll get some days off, but 10 to 12 hours a day minimum, sometimes longer. But as to where the… I don’t do the day-to-day everyday work anymore. My job varies a lot. Meaning there’s hardly ever a day the same because we take care of challenges, and planning, and hopefully trying to look a little bit towards the future and see how we can stay relevant in today’s world because that’s what it’s all about. Right? We got to stay relevant.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thank you for taking time out of that busy schedule. And I hope I didn’t make your day that much longer.

Case VanderMeulen:
No, it was great. I don’t mind sharing my story. In fact, I think it’s important that we speak up and talk about the good things that dairy and ag in general has to offer the world. Not only here, but all through the world.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
What was fascinating to me about that is what he describes about the actual process that his very large dairy goes through to produce milk, manage the cows, employees, crops. It was very similar and very much in line with what my grandparents did many years ago, running their small family dairies that both of my parents grew up on. So in a lot of ways, this conversation for me demystified the really large dairy and showed me that it’s really what I already understand, just a lot more cows and people involved.

Dillon Honcoop:
So that was reassuring to hear. Thank you for being here on the Real Food Real People Podcast. We really would encourage you to subscribe to make sure you don’t miss an episode every week, and follow us on social media. And if something in this interests you, share it. It really helps us continue to grow this so we can include more and more people in this conversation about our food system and the people behind our food in Washington.

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.

Bobby Morrison | #031 07/13/2020

After cooking in restaurants all over the Seattle area, Bobby Morrison followed his passion and became a butcher. He shares his personal journey as well as insights from his unique perspective behind the scenes in our regional food system.

Transcript

Dillon Honcoop:
Depends on what you’re passionate about and what you want your end goal to be with your food and your health because in the end, that’s what it is. Your food is your health.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Welcome back to the podcast. Lately, we’ve talked to a lot of people with meat and beef in particular producing it here in Washington State, raising beef on ranch land, feeding beef, all this kind of stuff, but what about the next step, the person that takes that beef and turns it into something that you and I can buy at the store and cook up or that a chef in a restaurant can cook up? I wanted to talk with one of those people. This week, we talked with Bobby Morrison and it turns out he’s so much more than just that. He is a meat cutter, a butcher at Del Fox Meats in Everett, but he has a background as a cook and a lifelong passion that you’ll hear about for food.
Join me as this journey continues. This is the Real Food Real People podcast. I’m Dillon Honcoop and this is all about my journey to get to know the real people behind our food, the farmers, the ranchers, the butchers, the chefs and many more of the people that create the things that we eat. Thank you for being here this week.

What does a typical day look like for you on the job working with food? You work at Del Fox meats, right?

Bobby Morrison:
Correct. Yeah in Stanwood, Washington. It changes day to day, but well, typically, there’s nothing as typically right now with COVID.

Dillon Honcoop:
For sure.

Bobby Morrison:
Our business is busier than ever. Normally this time of year, we’re slower. Maybe we’re cleaned up and out of the shop by 3:00, 4:00, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
How early do you start in the morning?

Bobby Morrison:
Normal 8:00 this time of year, but right now, it’s been 7:00 or 6:00 and we and we don’t clean up anymore. We got a cleanup crew or a guy that comes up and cleans up, so in that way we can cut as long as possible and literally we are cutting from, so say Monday morning, we start at 7:00. We’ll start set up, put everything, scrap barrels, hooks, luggers, trays, get everything, all our [inaudible 00:02:39], everything is set up in place. Then, they almost roll out the beef and start cutting. Then, we have a break at 10:00. It’s about 20 minutes. Then, we’ll have another break at noon. Then, we’ll have a break at 3:00, but we’re cutting beef the whole time. We don’t stop until like 5:00, 5:15. It could go longer. Who knows what else comes up?

Dillon Honcoop:
Cutting beef, how does that work? What do you start with? Just in a nutshell, what does the process go?

Bobby Morrison:
Every shop is different. Every shop is different. Everyone cuts different. Everyone has a different theory or just a different method, however you want to put it. No one really cuts meat the same unless they’ve been cutting together for a really long time. Everyone breaks it just a little bit different. It’s like you could have it an inch different one way or an inch different another and it changes the muscle structure a little bit, but typically, the way we do it is we break everything by the half, and then, it’s quartered on the rail, so you would have what you would call your four quarter on the front and then the hind quarter on the back.
That four quarter that’s on the front, that’s where you get your … We’ll go from the bottom from the neck because that’s at the bottom up to your ribeye. You get your neck, your brisket, shank, arm roast, clod roast. You could get your flatirons and teres majors out of there.

Dillon Honcoop:
Let’s move this over for you a little bit.

Bobby Morrison:
No worries, my voice carries. Then, you’ll get into your chuck, short ribs and into your plate and then up into your ribs. There’s a couple other cuts you can get out of there, but that’s typically that front side, and then, what we’ll do is we take it and we’ll clean up the skirt and the neck and just anything that’s got some age on it. Then, we break it in between the fifth and the sixth rib. Then, we have it, and then from there, we’ll end up dropping it onto the saw, and then, it splits the arm and the brisket. Then from there, you get your chuck, your clod. The way we break is pretty basic. It’s nothing like you would see in a retail shop.

Dillon Honcoop:
Talk about Del Fox Meats. What is it and what’s the whole vibe of what the whole team is doing there?

Bobby Morrison:
What we’re doing is we’re doing on-farm slaughter, bringing it back to the shop and then aging it and then processing it that way.

Dillon Honcoop:
How long do you age it?

Bobby Morrison:
Beef is typically 14 days. We’re right on 14 days because we can’t go any longer or any shorter because our coolers are full and then-

Dillon Honcoop:
What happens if you go shorter?

Bobby Morrison:
Then, the customer doesn’t get a very good product and then we’re just-

Dillon Honcoop:
Aging determines the quality?

Bobby Morrison:
Correct and it also depends on how fat the beef is. When you get into that, it’s a little bit more delicate because you can age things longer if you want to, but again, we don’t have time and the space to do something like that for people. Some people want a three-week hang. We can do it in slower times, but right now-

Dillon Honcoop:
You got to keep stuff moving.

Bobby Morrison:
We don’t have space. We go out to the farm. We have a butcher truck, which the owner of the shop runs or is on. It’s a three-man crew and they go out. They go as far as the Canadian border. They’ll go all the way down to Carnation and farther.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s a big territory.

Bobby Morrison:
They’ll go out to the Friday Harbor. They go out to all the islands, would be a lot. They go butcher in the field and then bring it back. Then, we’ll weigh it, wash it or wash it or weigh it, put it in our chill cooler. It sits for 24 hours. In the morning, I’m usually the one that will take it out and rotate. It goes into one of three coolers that we have, depending on which one is full and rotation on. Then yeah, two weeks. Then, we roll them out and then we start cutting just like I was just saying in that exact way. We have one guy who will break, like I was saying, that front quarter. Then, we have another guy who break the hind quarter.
Then, we have myself and another guy and we have another guy filling in right now because we’re so busy. Then, we’re just trimming, break and just cleaning stuff up, making steaks, briskets, roast, netting stuff, just making it simple and then passing it over. We got two ladies that wrap, do amazing job and we got a guy who makes hamburger. He’s got to keep up with us and he does a great job because we it’s like we have to keep up with the butcher truck because they can kill faster than we can process, right? The pace that they keep us at is crazy, right? Because they’ll kill 20 beef in a day, right? They’ll make two or three loads right now.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many pounds is in the average beef?

Bobby Morrison:
It varies from anywhere from six, depending on the farmer and the cows and the feed, but it varies from anywhere from 600 to 1,200 pounds.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s finished product?

Bobby Morrison:
Finished hanging weight product. We get grass-fed cows that are lean as all get out. You honestly wish you could almost add fat to, and then, you have some cows or beef that’s just so fat you just see it and your hand just starts to hurt and the fats hard. You’re just wishing and hoping that your knife is sharp enough to get through it sometimes. It could be a razor and it just stops, and even, it could be older too. That doesn’t help.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re cutting me all day every day?

Bobby Morrison:
We did 63 pigs last week on Tuesday.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s another thing I was going to ask. We’ve been talking about beef, but you do pork as well.

Bobby Morrison:
And lamb.

Dillon Honcoop:
And lamb.

Bobby Morrison:
And goats and alpaca.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, really?

Bobby Morrison:
And deer and elk and bear.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Bobby Morrison:
Alpaca is about the craziest thing I guess. I don’t even know if it’s crazy and I’ve eaten it. It’s good.

Dillon Honcoop:
What would you compare it to?

Bobby Morrison:
It’s like a mix between beef and lamb. Red meat, really dark. It wasn’t … I forgot what cut. I think it was like pieces of top sirloin, but it’s really good.

Dillon Honcoop:
Of all those, what’s your fave?

Bobby Morrison:
Pork.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
A lot of people are just kind of meh on pork.

Bobby Morrison:
Well, because they don’t understand the value of pork and what it brings to just, I don’t know, I guess my opinion is different because I see it through a cook’s eyes. Then, I get to see it through my butcher’s eyes first because I started cooking before I even got into this meat world. It was planned a little. I cooked all over Seattle for 10 year, nine years from small cafes to big huge catering at Nintendo, to fine dining, doing eight to 10 courses.

Dillon Honcoop:
What kind of stuff were you making? What was your specialty?

Bobby Morrison:
Oh, man, I never really could say that I could have specialties, but I was so ADD about my cooking. I never cook the same thing. If I do, it’s just like I just always try to improve it. I’ve always had this, “You know it’s good, but I can always make it better,” mentality. That’s just life and everything for me. I’m always looking for ways to improve, but I really like curing bacon.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really? Did that start only once you had gone from being a cook to being a butcher?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah, that just-

Dillon Honcoop:
Explain how that works. What’s the process of making and curing bacon?

Bobby Morrison:
Making and curing bacon. For me, I like to just be as simple as possible. I don’t like to overcomplicate things. For me, bacon is pork belly, 50/50 salt to brown sugar.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, really?

Bobby Morrison:
I just give a nice even coat rub on the belly. Then sometimes, I’ll have it in a container or I’ll put it in a plastic bag and I’ll rotate that bag every day, every of couple days, check the moisture levels because what you’re doing is you’re pulling all the moisture out the fat or a little bit out of the fat because there’s not too much and mostly out of the protein. You’re just sanitizing it almost. Then making it so that beneficial bacteria can grow if you let because you have to age that. If not, you just … It’s about five to seven days rotating. You might have to re-salt it once because if you do it a little bit more, it’s a little salty. Then you just got to add fat and cook it with other things. I’ve aged bacon for a year. Let it get black mold on it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah. I just wipe it off with vinegar.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
See all these things that we’ve been trained for so many years to be scared of when actually they’re part of a natural process.

Bobby Morrison:
Actually, I learned this technique from Brandon Sheard, the Farmstead Meatsmith. Early in my career in between right when I was getting into butchery or meat cutting, I took a couple of his classes when he first started up like eight to 10 years ago, something like that. I’ve been just loving it ever since and just the simplicity of it. You can change the flavors of your bacon by just where you let it sit and just hang out. From your countertop to having it in your fridge.

Dillon Honcoop:
Just because of the temperature difference or-

Bobby Morrison:
Temperature difference, the smells of your kitchen cooking. That’s why unlike a lot of you would see like old text or in other old butcher shops or anything like that, you always see cured meat hanging above things, right? It’s doing that not only for air and circulation, but it’s also picking up the smells of your environment.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about smoking it?

Bobby Morrison:
That’s a choice. You could either smoke it, add flavor within your smoke woods or you can just let it hang out after you rinse your cure off, your salt, sugar after about five, seven days and then you just kind of let it hang out on the counter.

Dillon Honcoop:
Then, how long does that go?

Bobby Morrison:
As long as you feel like.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Doesn’t have to be refrigerated?

Bobby Morrison:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
Open air?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
How long do you do that before you slice it typically?

Bobby Morrison:
You could do it that day. You do it two weeks.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is it better the longer you wait?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah. It just depends on how develop flavor you want to go because I’ve noticed that the longer you do it a little bit, you get more of that funk, cheesy-

Dillon Honcoop:
Gamey?

Bobby Morrison:
I wouldn’t say gamey, but it’s more of a cheesiness. It’s just a different palatable mummy-ish flavor I want to say just because it’s like something that your tongue and your mouth isn’t used to, but at the same time, you can’t put your finger on it. I’ve done this and I’ve taken this bacon into like guys’ trips and they’d get pissed off of me because I don’t bring enough. I bring all this meat, I bring steaks and every, but they just want the bacon. You can eat it, just slice it and eat it raw like then.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah. Just because of the air, the circulation, the salt, the sugar, it’s like prosciutto. You just slice it real thin and you can see like. You can almost see through the fat. It’s cool stuff.

Dillon Honcoop:
How different is that than the bacon you buy in store? Because you can’t do that with bacon that you buy in the store, right?

Bobby Morrison:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
That stuff goes bad.

Bobby Morrison:
It can. The bacon in the store too is because it’s all pressurized cured. Even at our shop, we use a tumbler and we can have bacon cured in four hours. Then, we let it hang out for a day and then we smoke it. Then literally, you have bacon in two days, opposed to five to seven. There’s no way you could do it, you could but you could have a lot of space to do it that way.

Dillon Honcoop:
Store all of it as it cures.

Bobby Morrison:
There’d be no way you could charge the same price.

Dillon Honcoop:
More expensive.

Bobby Morrison:
No one would want to buy bacon. Well, they probably would, but they would just scoff at the price.

Dillon Honcoop:
What about this stuff that you buy at the store that’s like uncured because people that are worried about things that go into cured bacon, that’s curing it probably with different stuff than we’re talking about doing?

Bobby Morrison:
Correct. It has a celery powder. See, I should do more research on this and I’ve always needed to, but I’ve always just stuck with my salt and sugar just because-

Dillon Honcoop:
Old fashioned?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah, and I know what it is. Don’t get me wrong. I buy bacon from the store. I don’t have time to cure it like I used to because everyone works a lot, but I like being dad. I like coming home, being present and not having to be like, “Hold on. Let me take five minutes to make this bacon,” because it doesn’t take very long, but it’s like-

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s another thing to do.

Bobby Morrison:
It’s another thing to add to my plate.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many kids do you have?

Bobby Morrison:
Just one. Just one five-year-old, and man, she just keeps me so busy. We’re playing horses this morning. She’s just, “Dad, play with me. Dad, play with me.”

Dillon Honcoop:
I have a four-year-old, so I know the game.

Bobby Morrison:
Man, she just cracks me up. I forgot what she told me this morning, but she called me a knucklehead or something.

Dillon Honcoop:
Where did you grow up?

Bobby Morrison:
I grew up in Ellensburg, Washington. It’s crazy because I grew up in a farm town, beef town and I didn’t really want anything to do with it then. I just wanted to hang out, play my sports, hang out my friends, ride my bike, but no, I wanted nothing to do with farming.

Dillon Honcoop:
What did your dad do back in Ellensburg?

Bobby Morrison:
My parents actually separated. My dad, I actually got the best of both worlds, I thought as a kid because my dad always lived over in Seattle. When my parents split up, my mom moved us over to Ellensburg. I got the city life on the weekends, and then during the week, I got to hang out in the country. I always thought that was awesome because I get to experience it all and most people don’t. It allowed me to connect with a lot of people and in a lot of different spaces and relate to both sides. It’s definitely helped me out in my career and my journey and my path on this food passion that I have.

Dillon Honcoop:
What did your mom do in Ellensburg?

Bobby Morrison:
My mom, she moved over there and she was doing, it was rehabilitation for at risk youth when she first moved over there and then she ended up starting her own business. What was she selling? It was like old Western antiques.

Dillon Honcoop:
What did your dad do in Seattle?

Bobby Morrison:
My dad, he worked for CLC Light as a carpenter. My dad’s always worked with his hands. I didn’t realize I was going to end up working with my hands when I was younger, but I knew probably right around middle school I wanted to cook.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah. I knew I wanted to cook, but I never like-

Dillon Honcoop:
What was it that you were doing at that age where you were inspired by that?

Bobby Morrison:
I can remember actually my cousin cooked, making scrambled eggs with me when I was actually younger. That is the memory that’s always stuck with me in cooking, that was my eggs. Eggs were my first love and cooking was with scrambled eggs with my cousin.

Dillon Honcoop:
By the time you were saying in high school, what kind of stuff were you cooking?

Bobby Morrison:
Not a whole lot to be honest.

Dillon Honcoop:
But it’s still interested you?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah, it just interested me. It’s not like I pursued it or went to work in a restaurant. My first job was as a seventh grade, I worked for a logger and then I did that. I did work for him for a long time. Then once, I turned 17, I started working at the Albertsons in town. I did that at 17, 18 and then I graduated. As soon as I graduated high school, man, I was gone. I moved right over to my dad’s house two days. Garbage sack over my back and I was looking for a job in a restaurant as soon as I graduated.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was that first gig? What did you do?

Bobby Morrison:
To be honest, it was in the mall, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. I don’t know if I’ve ever really told anyone that, but only my close friends know. I wasn’t there very long, but at the same time, it’s cool because I did that when I was 18, and then all of a sudden, it’s like, I’ve been cooking for a while. Went to culinary school at North Seattle. Worked in a couple cafes and stuff. Then, a handful years later, all of a sudden, pretzel buns and pretzels become huge, right? Like everyone’s wanting pretzels.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re like, “I’ve done this.”

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah, it’s weird, man. People are trying to figure out in the bakery section, cooking, they’re like, “I can’t get these as golden brown as I want.” I’m like, “I can help you.” I’m like but-

Dillon Honcoop:
What is it? About the right amount of butter and the right heat-

Bobby Morrison:
No, to be honest, it’s baking soda and water. It’s just gives it a nice shine. You just brush it on.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah. Just as you’re done baking it and then throw your salt on.

Dillon Honcoop:
No kidding?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah. If it doesn’t work, don’t hold me accountable. Just because you heard it on the podcast doesn’t mean it always works.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s true. Don’t believe everything you hear on our podcast.

Bobby Morrison:
At least try it though.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was the coolest restaurant cooking-

Bobby Morrison:
Experience that I’ve ever had?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Bobby Morrison:
I want to say Purple Cafe in Bellevue, is really what … It wasn’t so much the restaurant itself, but it was the environment and the other cooks and the chefs I was working with that made the experience. That restaurant could have been … It’s in your restaurant could be, it all depends on who’s working in your team because I’ve worked in a lot of different restaurants. I was one of those guys that like I changed restaurants every year. I’ve worked in, I don’t know how many different restaurants-

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that pretty typical in that business?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
You move around?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah, because you’re always getting paid the same. Someone might offer you a quarter more an hour. You’re like, “A quarter more, I’ll take it. I’m out. I’m learning something new.” I worked two jobs for a while. I work morning shift somewhere, and then, I go work night shift somewhere.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many hours a day then were you putting in?

Bobby Morrison:
16, 18.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Bobby Morrison:
For a year, year and a half.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s intense.

Bobby Morrison:
I had some hospital bills I had to pay.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What happened?

Bobby Morrison:
Well, I didn’t know if it was from stress or what, but I ended up getting migraines in my stomach. They called it neuro-cyclic vomiting syndrome. Literally, for a period of three or four years, I had a really sensitive gut.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I would think like ulcers or acid.

Bobby Morrison:
I ended up getting those. They ended up giving me that just because I was thrown up so much. I ended up getting like two ulcers. I had to take medication for that.

Dillon Honcoop:
What were you, too much stress and you weren’t eating or what?

Bobby Morrison:
No, it could have been that because drinking a lot of soda and coffee, because working in restaurants, you get unlimited soda, man. I don’t drink pop. I don’t drink it anymore really, but I used to drink almost like a gallon a day because you get these 32-ounce cups, they call them portion cups. All you got to do is put it up in a window and someone fills it for you unlimited. Purple cafe in Bellevue is probably one of my funnest experiences working. I learned a ton. My chef there, his name is Harry Mills. Guy’s amazing. Just a great team leader and just knew how to challenge people just to the right amount, just perfect and get the best out of them and be able to promote such a great work environment.
If I could go work for someone again and he was doing it, I would leave my job and I would go work for him in a second. I could tell you hundreds of people that have worked for him, they would probably say the same thing.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Bobby Morrison:
Then another, his name is Kyle Cole. Where’s he chef now? He’s doing a pizza restaurant, I think, at Redmond. The guy’s wealth of knowledge in food and just passion. He pointed me in the right directions, showed me some different chefs, different techniques, taught me about doing the research and looking for the little details that are going to make a difference. Just the little things that are going to make your day that much better, but then are going to make your work even better and taste that much better.
He might not say it, but it’s just his personality and what he just brought to the table every day. He was intense. He was fiery. I think he’s a couple years younger than me even. I’m 36. It was an awesome team, man. Then from there, I went and worked at Google. That was an awesome experience.

Dillon Honcoop:
Doing food stuff?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah, cooking in their kitchen.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah, it was a good buddy of mine. He got me the job. Wait, sorry. I got to backtrack. Sorry, I went from Purple to Altura which is actually was nominated James Beard Best New Restaurant Pacific Northwest that first year that I was there.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Bobby Morrison:
That chef there, that guy’s amazing. His name is Nathan Lockwood. He’s from this area, went down live in California and worked for, I believe, the restaurant was Acqua. It was a two or three Michelin star restaurant. I only got to work with him for six months. Then, we had some family issues. My wife needed me home more. I had to take a day job. Then, that’s when I started working for Google, working in their kitchens. That was a great experience, ton of freedom. Just evolved at that way, and then after that, then I left and I went into retail butchery. I’ve worked in a retail shop and that was my first experience and that was at Bill the Butcher in Woodinville.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did you make that transition from cooking to butchery because that’s pretty different?

Bobby Morrison:
It is, but it’s always been in my plans going back to when I was in high school and I knew I wanted to cook. I had a friend of mine or my mom’s friend who one day pulled me aside, half drunk and said, “What do you want to do when you graduate?”

Dillon Honcoop:
That classic question.

Bobby Morrison:
I said, “I want to cook and I want to cut me. I want to be a butcher.” She said, “Well, cook first.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
“Don’t go cut me first. Cook first.”

Dillon Honcoop:
What was her background that she could give you that advice?

Bobby Morrison:
She was in beef sales. At the time, she owned her own business selling beef, grass-fed beef out of New Zealand. She had grown up a cattle ranchers daughter who ended up being, I believe, excuse me, head sales for IBP and marketing at one point, I think in the ’80s, and then around the late ’80s and then mid ’90s broke off and did her own thing and saw that beef was going more towards the grass fed. That was mid ’90s. Then, I didn’t get to hang out with her as much because shortly after, she passed away, but I’m doing exactly what she wanted me to do and that plan that her and I talked when she was a little blitzed.

Dillon Honcoop:
Sometimes, that’s when the real truth comes out, right?

Bobby Morrison:
She didn’t hold anything back.

Dillon Honcoop:
You get in to butchery and first you started retail. What’s the difference between what you’re doing now in retail? How big, how much different is that?

Bobby Morrison:
A lot. I think it’s a lot different because different customer base, different process. It’s like you’re going from setting up a case of meat out of a box that literally you’re just like denuding or trimming fat and being able to make it presentable and putting it in a case.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s got to look good.

Bobby Morrison:
You got to make it look good. Then from what we’re doing now, now it’s speed, being able to debone stuff because when you’re working with box stuff, you’re not deboning a whole lot. Just nice skills in general are a lot different. You’re having to use different positions. You’re using a lot more leverage, gravity for a lot of things, seaming. Just the cuts you’re working with are a lot different that you don’t see in a retail space.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the most underrated cut of beef that people don’t usually buy or think about but is actually awesome?

Bobby Morrison:
Oh, man.

Dillon Honcoop:
You people who cut me, you guys are the ones who know this stuff.

Bobby Morrison:
I know and it’s crazy. We were talking this off air about the difference between the city market I want to say and the rural is the best way to put it because you come out to my shop and like a hanger steak is, “Eww, why would you ever eat that? That’s gross.”

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s a hanger state like what?

Bobby Morrison:
For me, the hanger steak is a diaphragm muscle. It’s a singular muscle that literally hangs inside the cow and it helps breathe. It’s part of the skirt steaks and stuff, but it’s going to be one of the beefier cuts. Anything on the inside is going to have a lot, I want say, beefier flavor, so you got your hanger and your skirt. Maybe even your flap flank because they’re more on the interior side and there’s not a whole lot in between.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m thinking like carne asada.

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah, your skirt steak or flap … It’s called a bavette.

Dillon Honcoop:
Isn’t there a lot of stuff that is sold in the regular grocery store that’s called carne asada, but it’s just true-

Bobby Morrison:
It’s just carne asada. It’s just a style of thin cut me. You come get carne asada for us, it’s like depending on how you want it. You could get it out of top round. You could get it out of chuck, you could get it out of ribeye. It just depends on who’s cutting.

Dillon Honcoop:
Recently, I just cooked …

Bobby Morrison:
On the grill.

Dillon Honcoop:
… a London broil And way better grilled than the old school way of doing it which always tends to overcook it.

Bobby Morrison:
In an oven with a broiler on.

Dillon Honcoop:
Grill over charcoal, way better.

Bobby Morrison:
I’ve never done that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Way better.

Bobby Morrison:
I’ve never done that. I need to do that.

Dillon Honcoop:
I was skeptical, but man, read online, “Okay, this person says do it,” so I did it. It was awesome, but it really helped me taste the different flavor of the London broil. That was another cut that’s like it’s a little bit more of almost a gamey flavor to it.

Bobby Morrison:
The beefy, to be honest with the London broil, the London broil is actually just a style of cooking.

Dillon Honcoop:
True.

Bobby Morrison:
I don’t know it, do you know was it a top round?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Bobby Morrison:
Cool, because some places market it a little bit different. Like I said, regional-

Dillon Honcoop:
That new style of cooking has become synonymous with that cut but really-

Bobby Morrison:
Exactly. You could do the same thing with … When I was younger, a London broil for me was a flank steak, right? I don’t know why, but that’s just what my mom did. I didn’t know any different until I started cutting meat. It’s regional. It’s how you grow up. If you’re not around it, you’re not exposed to it. You just don’t know. It’s not your fault. It’s just how it is. Everyone treats cuts differently. A London broil, when I was working in the retail shop at Bill the Butcher rarely sold London broil, rarely would even someone come in and ask for a London broil because we would take that top round or bottom round even and we would use them for jerky or stew meat or hamburger.
I don’t know. It was really weird. We just never, but up north, we sell them all the time. All the time. Then, going back to hanger steak, flank steak or not the hanger, the skirt, bavette, what’s another one coulotte which is a cap of the top sirloin, in the city, you got people wanting those like crazy. Then, you come up north, it goes in the grind. I had a friend of mine come up and cut with us and she worked. Her name’s Alice. She works down in Mercer Island, but she’s moving down to Portland, but she came up and cut with us.
Her favorite cut is a flap steak or a bavette. She’s cleaning up all nice. I’d have her making it in stew meat and stuff. She’s like, “Really, no one actually wants this as a steak.” I’m like, “It’s not on our cutting card and Nope.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah, so we always turn it into stew meat. It’s great for stew. Then, the one time that we got a no stew meat, I looked at it. She was cleaning up. I was like, “Here, there’s no stew meat. You want to see what we do?” I just took my knife and go, “Wab, wab, wab, wab.” Three pieces, clean off a little bit of fattening and I threw it in the logger. She was like, “You got to be kidding me.” “Nope.” She’s like, “You are breaking my heart right now.” I almost thought tear because it looks nice-

Dillon Honcoop:
If you throw it in the logger, what does that mean? It goes to grind?

Bobby Morrison:
It goes to grind.

Dillon Honcoop:
Hamburger?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah, the hanger steak, same thing, goes to grind. Skirt steak goes to grind. She’s seeing this because she markets all these cuts all the time. People just like, she can’t keep them in her case long enough.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah. Then I’m throwing it into grind. She’s just like … I can just see her heart breaking.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why are you so passionate about food?

Bobby Morrison:
I think in all honesty because my mom cooked the living out (beep) of it when I was a kid. Like my vegetables, I will almost eat raw opposed to cooked. It’s just barely blanched when I cook it. They say perfect in some restaurants, it’s like you can go through your carrot or your asparagus and you should be able to cut it with a fork, right? Literally, it shouldn’t smash, but you should be able to have a little bit of force but be able to cut it with a fork. That’s almost too cooked for me. I just like it just barely cook because my mom, she would take a can of cooked beans and boil them.

Dillon Honcoop:
That drove your passion to like, “There’s a different way to do this.”

Bobby Morrison:
I guess because that’s the only thing I can come up with from looking back and trying to just reflect on how I’ve got here, right? Because I do that quite often to just give myself checkpoints and see how I’m doing. Yeah, that’s just a lot of what I come back to. My wife is the same way. My wife works in food. Well, kind of now, but not really because COVID

Dillon Honcoop:
What was she doing?

Bobby Morrison:
She was working at Daniel’s Broiler in Bellevue, serving steaks.

Dillon Honcoop:
They cut back because of COVID?

Bobby Morrison:
They haven’t been open since.

Dillon Honcoop:
They just laid a bunch of people off?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah, because they’re all on unemployment, but they actually start back up tomorrow. My wife’s actually got her first shift back on Sunday.

Dillon Honcoop:
COVID has really done a lot to the food world.

Bobby Morrison:
Oh, my God. Man, it’s changed the way we do business. Like I said at the beginning, we’re slammed. We’re so busy. It’s like fall. It’s busier than fall right now. We are doing so much beef and pork and people are wanting to fill their freezers more than ever before.

Dillon Honcoop:
They just want to stock up?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Or is it because they’re home and cooking more?

Bobby Morrison:
That could be it too or they don’t trust the food system. They don’t trust what’s going on. Your podcast you did with Camas, he had a lot of great things to say about our food system and what we do here in Washington. We live in one of the best food states in the world. It’s just hands down. Our climate, everything, that’s changing a little bit, but in the passion that our farmers and the people producing the food have is, I can’t say it’s the best because I haven’t been other places, but all I know is that people that come here are just surprised and just blown away by the products that we’re able to put out.
It’s cool because the different temperature climates that we get all over the state from the San Juan Islands to where we’re at now in Everett, up to Stanwood, up where you’re at and Lynden, all the way over to the desert when you go to Ellensburg and farther over to Sunnyside, Walla Walla. You get in … It’s like you got potatoes up north, you got potatoes out east, you got wine grapes up north, you got wine grapes out east. It’s just like, “Are you kidding me right now?” Not only that, then you got all this cider and apples and cherries and it’s just like, more and more and more and more.

Dillon Honcoop:
What don’t we have here other than like tropical fruit? I’m trying to think of what else we don’t grow in Washington State and grow amazingly well.

Bobby Morrison:
Coffee beans, we grow coffee beans here.

Dillon Honcoop:
We do?

Bobby Morrison:
I don’t know.

Dillon Honcoop:
I haven’t seen that.

Bobby Morrison:
You said, “What don’t we grow?” and I said coffee beans. Someone’s going to do it. It can be done. I know someone tried to do it in Wyoming.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah, or Wisconsin, one of the two.

Dillon Honcoop:
Boy, you just opened a whole new can of worms. I’m going to have to go google this now.

Bobby Morrison:
I’ll send you a link. I’ll send you links because I’m always researching, I’m always looking, like I said, to do something better, someone who’s doing it better.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think the people buying food at the store or at a restaurant or wherever need to know about where their food is coming from? You’re talking about how lucky we are here in Washington.

Bobby Morrison:
Just ask questions. Don’t just assume that the person serving you, handing you your food knows what they’re actually doing because to be honest, some people, they just don’t educate themselves on it. They could be serving it to you, but that’s just their job. You as a consumer, if you care about your food, you should do the research. You shouldn’t just act like you care about it. Just ask. Just do the research. Grow it yourself. It’s not it’s not hard, but it’s not easy, right? You just have to put in the time. That’s all it takes. Time, a little bit of research and grow your own food. That’s huge.
Know a farmer. That’s another one. If you can’t grow your own food, know a farmer. Everyone should know a farmer or have a farmer like they have a mechanic or a dentist or a doctor, because in the end, that is really what’s going to make you healthy. It’s not going to the doctor and to have them tell you, you’re having issues because you’re eating too much sugar. Well, all the candy. I have that issue. Probably if I go to the doctor, they’re going to tell me, I’m probably close to diabetes because I like candy.
At the same time, I know I do, I should not eat it as much, but at the same time, it’s tough sometimes when your wife makes a bunch of brownies and put salt and powdered sugar on top of them, and then, you got your five-year-old being like, “Dad, these are so good. Will you just have a brownie with me?” “No, I’m not trying to do that.” “Okay.”

Dillon Honcoop:
There are a lot of trends and fads out there and there are a lot of things that people are really worried about with their food. Are those things accurate generally that people worry about or are they kind of, in my experience at least, people are not worried about maybe things that they should be and that all obsession, super scared about things that aren’t actually bad at all?

Bobby Morrison:
Correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
Has that been your experience, knowing the backend of the food system?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah. Again, it just goes back to educating yourself as a consumer. When I was working at the retail shop in Woodinville, I was blown away with how much the consumers knew about the product that I was selling compared to even some of the people that I worked with because they didn’t know. Literally, I had customers tell them more about the meat that’s in that box than what they knew. For me, it was a real eye opener to be like, “I need to know more if I’m selling this and I’m talking to someone.” I’m going to tell you the truth. It’s just that’s the way I have always been.
I try to be as honest as transparent as possible. I try to pass that on to my daughter. I just tell people to educate themselves and I’ll do whatever I can to help put them in the right position to do that. I’ll answer all their questions, but yeah, it’s just looking them up, talking to the people raising it, looking into the people that are processing it, looking at those practices, looking to where it’s coming from, what’s the carbon footprint. There’s a lot of different variables and it depends on what you’re passionate about and what you want your end goal to be with your food and in your health because in the end, that’s what it is, is your food is your health in general. The healthier … You could say, “Yeah, I eat healthy,” but at the same time, it’s all in perspective.
My wife says we really healthy and I’m like, “We could eat healthier.” She’s going to scoff at me when she hears this, but at the same time, it’s like we grow a good amount of food at our house. We don’t have a big pot or anything, but it’s like the experience that we get or I get when I can watch my daughter come out to the yard pull carrot out or we’ve been eating strawberries like crazy like handfuls a day and just that experience and it’s like having her like eat a white strawberry and the bitter sourness that it has compared to just like one that’s too far ripe where it’s like fermented where you’re just like, “Oh, that’s alcohol,” but it looked awesome.
It’s like being able to experience that. To be honest, when I was five, I didn’t get experience. I don’t know. It’s just bringing those food experiences and just trying to connect with your food as best as possible. It’s like, yeah, it’s hard to do in the grocery store and everything, but it’s convenience. I totally understand convenience shop on the outside of the aisles, shop in the middle and you’re just going to go down a road that is not the best, but it’s not going to kill you. I don’t think yet. I can go off on tangents. I don’t know.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do people need to be worried about their food like living here in Washington State? Again-

Bobby Morrison:
Again, if you’re getting stuff from our state, no, not really because people are worried about the food, and again, do your research because the restrictions and the guidelines that we have to follow when we’re processing animals, the USDA is really strict, right? We have a lot of strict rules that we have to follow to make the meat that we’re producing. Wholesome and safe for people to eat. Yeah, there are bad actors out there and people that try to fake the funk, but again if you care and there’s a reason why these guidelines are in place, being able to find people that are transparent, wanting to show if they hide things, I wouldn’t trust them so much. If you can’t see what’s going on, it’s tough for me to trust you.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s my thing with food that’s grown farther away and especially in a different country or truck.

Bobby Morrison:
Totally.

Dillon Honcoop:
How do I know that …

Bobby Morrison:
You don’t know-

Dillon Honcoop:
things are enforced?

Bobby Morrison:
Exactly. Like you go to a grocery store and box meat, it’s like especially … It’s amazing what food and food programs can do for the quality of your animals. My buddy over in Ellensburg, Kyler, he’s starting up his beef business. It’s Pacific, PNW Beef. He’s got this cool feed program and I haven’t got to try his beef yet. I’m really anxious because he’s talked it up to me, but his feed program is he’s using, I believe it’s spent grains from Iron Horse Brewery over there. He’s got this, I think, I might mess this up. Sorry, Kyler, but it’s like chaff or something. It’s like loose hay that they mix a specific variety I think. Then, he’s got this other waste product. I believe it’s from a bakery that he mixes in with it.
It’s all formulated, right? Then they mix it and what he says is like the fat is like soft. How the hell is he describing it? The way he was describing is almost wagyu because it’s just got this soft, saturated, just melt really quick. For beef, it doesn’t happen very often, right? It all depends, but sometimes you see it and it’s just gross, but sometimes you see it and you’re just like, “Wow, that’s really interesting.” All fat on every beef is different. When you get the saturated stuff, it’s easier to cut, but sometimes you’re just like touching it and you’re just like, “Wow, it’s liquid already. How does it happen through gloves?” It’s just like, “How can that clog your arteries?” I don’t know.

Dillon Honcoop:
It sounds like the science is evolving on that with fats too. It used to be, “Oh, fats are way clogging your arteries and cholesterol and stuff.” Now, they’re saying no, it’s actually the cholesterol that your body produces and it actually is a response to potentially eating too much carbs which they told us to eat for a long time. Now, they’re like, “No, actually fat is maybe not the terrible thing,” but they used to tell us that it was.

Bobby Morrison:
I’ve been so busy, but I want to try this beef, and not only that, it’s from my hometown and it’s a friend of mine. It’s cool. I’m getting relationships with all different types of farmers from all different backgrounds. My buddy Kyler, he knows Camas. He’s good friends with him, who you did on your podcast, and then, it’s like I got small farm friends that I moved from like Snohomish down to Orting. Everybody is having issues getting their animals processed, 100%, whether it be pigs or lambs, their beef.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the issue?

Bobby Morrison:
Everyone’s busy, man.

Dillon Honcoop:
Just not enough processors like you guys there at Del Fox to do it?

Bobby Morrison:
Not just processors, meat cutters in general doing what I’m doing. Well, it’s because it’s hard work with not a lot of pay in the end. We work like 10 hours a day, 10+, 12. Where was I? I had golf with my uncle yesterday and I was telling him and he’s like, “Oh, I was a machine mechanic. That’s not that bad. You’re preaching the choir.” I’m like, “Yeah, I get it,” but you wake up and your hands are numb and you can’t button your shirt in the morning. Then driving to work and your hands go numb again. Then when you get on the block, you’re starting to cut. You can barely grab a piece of meat with your left hand because it’s numb then you can’t grip your knife because it’s numb. Then, you have to just shake it off.

Dillon Honcoop:
Just from using your hand so much.

Bobby Morrison:
All day. All day, flipping, pulling, tearing, grabbing. I feel really good because I’ve had time off, but it’s going to be nice to go back to work on Monday. We’ve gone a week, but yeah, it’s my back, my arms. I feel good now, but last week, my body was in a bad shape. I could barely bend over.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’ve never thought of that that being a butcher would be that hard on your body, but it makes sense.

Bobby Morrison:
Man, I’m standing in one spot for like nine hours. I could feel my ass disappearing, right?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Bobby Morrison:
Then my hamstrings are just so tight and I’ve just been trying to stretch them all week long. I change my shoes maybe twice a day, once a day. I have a pair of boots and I wear my Romeos. I just go back and forth because I got to change. Your feet are important. I learned that-

Dillon Honcoop:
That affects your back too?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah, and I learned that being in the restaurant working 16 hours. It’s different because I had different shoes on then. I’m more in a boot now. Kitchen shoes are more comfortable. At the same time, we work with hoses and water all the time. I don’t feel like being wet at work. That sucks because it’s cold.

Dillon Honcoop:
For sure.

Bobby Morrison:
We’re out here in 80 degrees, but we go in the cut room. It’s 40, going in the cooler and it’s 30, 25. You go in the freezers, it’s -15. I’m usually in a hoodie and a button up of some sort.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, thank you for sharing your story.

Bobby Morrison:
No problem.

Dillon Honcoop:
All the steps that I wouldn’t have expected, but as you explain all of it, it makes sense, the journey that you’ve on. For sure.

Bobby Morrison:
It’s not going to stop, man. It’s just going to keep going, getting better, evolving, meeting more farmers, doing more every day. I’m always looking for the next step, new projects, staying busy in this meat world.

Dillon Honcoop:
Awesome. Thank you so much.

Bobby Morrison:
Thank you. Appreciate it.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
After that conversation, I really want to try that old school way of curing bacon that he described earlier on. I should go back and actually write down the steps that he explained and see if I can make it happen. What a fun conversation with Bobby and a guy that’s just really passionate with such a broad perspective of our food system and what’s good and what’s bad out there. I have so much fun talking with the people that we encounter here on the podcast. Please support us just by following us on social media, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @rfrp_podcast. Check it out.
Also, go to our website if you haven’t already, realfoodrealpeople.org and feel free to 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.