Duane Brandsma | #048 11/23/2020

An intense battle with mental illness took Duane Brandsma away from his family's farm and the work that he had cared so deeply about. Duane gives an inside look into the deeply personal details of what really happened when he says he "cracked," and why he's now speaking out about the mental health crisis among farmers.

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Corby Groen | #044 10/12/2020

A rare medical condition nearly took the life of organic dairy farmer Corby Groen earlier this year. He shares the amazing story of how doctors raced to figure out what was killing him from the inside, and how his family and the surrounding community was able to keep the farm going while he was hospitalized for months.

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Macala Wright | #043 10/05/2020

Even with a successful career in fashion, entertainment and marketing in LA, Macala Wright wasn't happy or healthy. She explains how she reached her breaking point, turning to farming and real food to heal her body and mind, and ultimately bringing her life full circle.

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Kristyn Mensonides | #042 09/28/2020

She could have gone into a career in marketing, but instead Kristyn Mensonides chose to return to her family's dairy farm. In this week's episode, Kristyn gives us a look inside life as a herd manager working with her family and a team of workers to produce milk for a farmer-owned cooperative.

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Viridianna Barajas | #040 09/14/2020

Despite the nature of her job as an administrator, Viridianna Barajas feels very connected to the food produced at the dairy where she's office manager and HR director. She opens up about her family's heritage of growing and making food.

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Blake Carson | #038 08/31/2020

Although he's just out of college, Blake Carson has been growing food for years alongside his grandpa. Now as he helps other farmers, Blake sees a future with more food grown locally in spite of the challenges.

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Blake Carson:
I like to see things grow, I like to make food. I swear my whole life revolves around food prep and all that stuff.

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
My guest on the podcast this week gives me hope for the future, I guess, of growing food, particularly in Western Washington. You’ll see that he has a passion for helping people grow food. He’s an agronomist right out of college. Blake Carson is his name. He works for Skagit Farmers Supply and he’s worked alongside his grandpa for years helping to grow food. So he has that background, that history, he has the experience to know the big challenges, but he also has the vision for the future where he wants to see food grown here that we don’t necessarily grow here anymore, but he knows that we can because he knows that history from working with his grandpa.

Dillon Honcoop:
Fascinating conversation and really inspiring when you hear that … And Blake is a really soft spoken guy, but he’s super transparent. You can tell this is all very important to him and that he’s thinking about how to make our food system here in our region better. Again, his name is Blake Carson. We had a great chat right in his grandpa’s machine shed. And I know I, for one, really enjoy this conversation this week. My name is Dillon Honcoop. This is the Real Food Real People Podcast, documenting my journeys all over Washington state to get to know the real people behind our food.

Dillon Honcoop:
So when was it that you got into farming because your folks aren’t in farming, right?

Blake Carson:
No, my parents aren’t. So my grandpa, he of course has farmed for quite a while and I started raking hay when I was nine years old. So, little nine year old me was out there jumping the clutch and wearing a cowboy hat raking hay. And yeah, I’d pretty much started right about then.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what kind of farm did your grandpa have at that time?

Blake Carson:
He had just got out of the peas they’d left in Whatcom County and I think … Yeah, so he was doing about a couple 100 acres of hay where he’s selling it to horse people, feeding it to his replacement heifers, and he also did quite a bit of field corn. So that’s where I dipped my feet into doing a little bit of field work with four wheel drive tractors and whatnot.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. What had he farmed over the years though? You said he had done peas in the past, what else had he done back in the day?

Blake Carson:
So years ago, he and his brother they dairied together and they also did peas, sweetcorn, dabble a little bit with some green beans. Then they had their separation and he continued to just do the whole field corn route with other dairies after they quit dairing and just making it work with what he had.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’re nine years old, starting to work on the farm. Do you live in town at that time or what?

Blake Carson:
I lived right down the road from my grandparents farm, so yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay. Well, that made it easy then to be right there?

Blake Carson:
Yep, yep. He’d always come pick me up in his old beer farm truck and I was always excited. I mean, most kids at nine years old, they are pretty excited to go out to the lake or whatever, but I was always itching to get back onto the tractor.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you caught the farming bug early on-

Blake Carson:
Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
… from your grandpa?

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s awesome. So where did you go from there? Because you, I’m assuming, kept helping on the farm right through high school and decided, “I want to be in farming.”

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So I played sports in high school. Towards the end of high school, I started working for a local seed potato farm. I did that springs and summers, falls, I did football. But from there, I decided to go to school at Washington State University. I was going to go be a Coug, go Cougs, and I was going to go do construction management. I saw there was a lot of opportunity for higher wages and a lot of job placement, but after a semester there, I decided just it wasn’t really my thing and I wanted to go back to agriculture. So went and pursued a degree in Agricultural Technology and Production Management, AgTM.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s a program like that teach you? What were you doing in classes with that stuff?

Blake Carson:
It’s basically a wide variety of … you have like science classes, your soil science, your biology or chemistry, and then you have a lot of business classes. I did a business minor as well, but there was a lot of Ag business, stats, economics, and then there was just a bunch of irrigation and hydraulics, electrics, all that stuff. So it was a pretty well rounded education I’d say.

Dillon Honcoop:
So everything on how to farm-

Blake Carson:
Yeah, pretty much.

Dillon Honcoop:
… from whatever perspective? So what was your plan at that point? What did you want to do with that degree when you were still in school?

Blake Carson:
I had no idea. I just wanted to … I don’t know. I thought about, oh, going to work for Simplot or McGregor or something like that through the basin, but I just ended up coming back here to work for Skagit Farmers Supply.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, talk about your job now. You’re an agronomist?

Blake Carson:
Yes, I am.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, what does that mean?

Blake Carson:
So I pretty much am responsible for all of the inputs in a handful of accounts that I have either opened or received. And I just check on their fields and make sure that there’s no disease or pass or anything bothering the yield on the crop, and I just make educated opinions on what kind of fertilizer inputs and chemical inputs that we’re going to use on this particular crop.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what kind of crops are you keeping an eye on right now with the different farmers that you’re working with?

Blake Carson:
So I deal with a lot of potatoes, I deal with field corn, I deal with some seed crops, hay or grass, of course, and then a little bit of pickling cucumbers and green beans, and I guess I’m dabbling into berries right now.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like raspberries, blueberries?

Blake Carson:
Yes, raspberries and blueberries.

Dillon Honcoop:
And Whatcom and Skagit County is your area?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, Whatcom, Skagit, and I have a couple of accounts in the Snohomish.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay, pretty wide area.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I’m all over the place.

Dillon Honcoop:
Driving all over, keeping track of all these farms.

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dillon Honcoop:
Seed crops, what kinds of seed crops?

Blake Carson:
Spinach seed and Swiss chard seed. It’s-

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay, those are probably in Skagit, right?

Blake Carson:
Actually the farmer that I deal with, he’s in Arlington.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay, down South there.

Blake Carson:
Yep. It’s very unique actually seeing the … It’s very high risk, but it can be very rewarding for a lot of these guys.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what’s it like helping to grow this food that people are going to eat? What does that mean to you?

Blake Carson:
Well, being on this side, the Ag consulting side of farming, it’s a whole lot different because you’re working with somebody else’s livelihood and you got to take that into consideration with every decision you make every day. And which brings on a different level of stress because you can get unloaded on for making a mistake and it could be an honest mistake, but you try to minimize those mistakes and try to make a great crop and that everybody will enjoy.

Dillon Honcoop:
A lot of farmers … Everybody knows the farming population is aging, here you’re a young guy. When did you graduate college, by the way?

Blake Carson:
This last December, so 2019.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay, so you’re just fresh out of college?

Blake Carson:
I’m fresh.

Dillon Honcoop:
Have you had to deal with people being like, “Oh, you’re a young buck, what do you know?”

Blake Carson:
Absolutely, there are a lot of people that don’t take me very seriously which, I mean, it’s to be expected. But then, for me, I’ve been able to keep a level head and just navigate through those situations and people notice it. So, I just try to be the best field man, the best all round person that I can be because I don’t want people to hate me or-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Well, is that like that on the job too? I would imagine brand new as an agronomist on this team, I know that team has some people who’ve been doing it for an awful long time and you probably have to feel like you prove yourself there too, right?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I definitely have to prove myself a lot. There’s a few guys, they don’t take me very seriously or, “Oh, he’s the new guy.” Like “Oh, I’m trying my best, man.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, for sure. I don’t know, but what makes more of a difference, your fresh college education or their years of experience? That may lead to different conclusions, right?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, it definitely could. I mean, I’m not sure. I mean, I’m sure they probably think that, “Oh, you went to college, you don’t know anything,” which, I mean, I have learned quite a bit in the past, what is it? Eight months since December, but I’m not sure how to answer that one.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was your first season like? As an agronomist, things are busy in the late spring time when lots of stuff is being planted, then it gets less busy later on, right?

Blake Carson:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was that first rush like keeping on top of everything? And I know it can just be, go, go, go.

Blake Carson:
Well, first off, I actually interned for Skagit last summer, so I had a little taste of what it’s like to be in a field man’s position. I rode with a couple of field men and figured out like, “Okay, this is stressful.” But my first spring, this last spring, it started off in late March because we had a really nice couple of weeks there in late March. So I got a little taste of it. It was nice because we were able to get some of the operations done before it all has to happen at the same time. So it was nice to divvy it out a little bit.

Dillon Honcoop:
For sure.

Blake Carson:
But I mean, there’s a lot of times where I’d be flying down the freeway and “Oh shoot,” I have to pull over and finding an exit and sit there and dilly dally with somebody order or whatever. It’s nice though, my pickup has Bluetooth, so I could just sit there and just take phone calls and … But yeah, it was very hectic.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’re on the phone a lot and then having to pull over and probably get on your phone and deal with emails and orders and websites and all that stuff too?

Blake Carson:
Oh yeah, it’s a whole different world. I didn’t realize that there was so much email and the email really, really takes a toll, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. I think anybody work in a job dealing with lots of email or what it is about it.

Blake Carson:
Oh yeah. Well, it’s funny. It would be a lot easier to have like a group text message if you need to communicate, but for some reason they have to make a group email. I don’t know why, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
Get on those strings, new emails keep popping up, “Yeah, is this something I need to look at or not?”

Blake Carson:
Yeah. You can just call me or text me and it’ll be more effective.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, for sure. So you got through the first season, what are you going to do different next season? What lessons did you learn?

Blake Carson:
I think that I probably need to be a little more organized. I have a lot of learning left to do and there’s a lot of economic principles that you don’t just pick up. You have to have a season or two or three or however many it takes to figure out, this is how this crop reacts to this herbicide or however you got to do it. But I think I have a lot of reading to do this winter. I plan on taking my CCA exam, I think, this February so I can become a certified crop advisor. Just everything that you can do in the off season to be better for the following season.

Dillon Honcoop:
So there’s a lot of science to it?

Blake Carson:
Oh, there certainly is, I mean, just understanding. I listened to Ag PhD a lot on the Apple Podcasts or whatever, and I learned a lot of principles that I just jot down as I’m driving around doing not a whole lot or whenever I’m not on the phone.

Dillon Honcoop:
You said sometimes you just have to deal with people giving you a rationale, “You know what?” Because they didn’t like maybe what you did or said. You had any real bad experiences with that so far?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I’ve had a couple of people give me a couple of nice words and you just got to take the BS, I guess. That’s part of the job. They don’t put that in the job description, but you know it’s there.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do you think the reason is for that? It’s just because this farming stuff is so high stress?

Blake Carson:
I mean, there’s so much going on at once and there’s money involved, and money just gets people pretty upset. So-

Dillon Honcoop:
Worried about losing money?

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And say an operator makes a mistake, well, you got to take the blame. You’re not going to throw your operator under the bus and-

Dillon Honcoop:
So the people that work for your company who are actually out driving the tractor applying or planting or whatever?

Blake Carson:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So it’s those people you mean by operator may make a mistake?

Blake Carson:
Yeah. So I’m not saying they have, but like if they do make a mistake that you got to take the fall for it as a field man because that’s not fair to your guy that blah, blah, “Oh, my guy did this.” It’s my problem. I got to deal with it, I got to talk to management to figure out, “Okay, how do we resolve this problem with this grower so he isn’t mad at us?”

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. I’ve been that operator back in the day when I was planting corn for a similar operation to what you work for. Yeah, I was the operator and I made a few mistakes.

Blake Carson:
It happens.

Dillon Honcoop:
And the poor agronomist who was in your shoes had to probably go to the farmer and say, “Look, we didn’t quite get this right, maybe he missed a little spot or didn’t put enough fertilizer with.” And that’s stressful because then you feel like, “Ah, here, I’m just …” At that time I was a young guy in college, “I affected this guy’s crop now.” And usually there was a way to fix the problem some way, but it makes you nervous and that does really crank up the stress. I remember some pretty stressful days in the cab of the tractor. I don’t know if you’ve experienced that in the cab of your pickup where some days you’re just, “Ugh,” just feel like you’re in a vice.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, you’re ready to be home.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you get to be out in fields and growing food all the time too. That has to feel pretty awesome.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, it’s a privilege to be able to see all these different cropping systems. I mean working with seed potatoes, you only see one or two cropping systems and that’s the way it is. And you learn a lot. I learned a lot on the seed potato farm and a lot of basic principles about mechanics and all sorts of stuff like that. But being able to see how every different farmer works their ground and how they apply their insecticide and everything about their program, it’s interesting to see how they’re successful or where they could change.

Blake Carson:
And that also gives me opportunity to have an opinion on, “Hey, you might want to look into this,” or you don’t want to say like, “Hey, this is what you need to be doing,” because no farmer wants to hear that. But I’m sure we’re here to make recommendations, that’s what we do.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, “Have you considered this option?”

Blake Carson:
Yes, exactly.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you worked for a seed potato farmer back, what? In high school and college?

Blake Carson:
Yes, I did. I worked for a seed potato farmer for four or five springs and summers in high school and college, which helped me get through college doing those 100 hour weeks.

Dillon Honcoop:
100 hours?

Blake Carson:
Oh, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow. What kind of stuff are you doing for 100 hours in one week?

Blake Carson:
Oh, I’d be doing a lot of field work or planting potatoes or getting irrigation equipment ready. I mean the biggest push for me was always the planting season, but I mean, after that 60 hours a week doing irrigation, 70 hours a week doing irrigation, pulling hose, all sorts of stuff like that, repairs. I mean, that’s always going to happen on a farm, repairs.

Dillon Honcoop:
Constant.

Blake Carson:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Always something breaking.

Blake Carson:
And the hose reel would always eat itself or something like that. Ugh, I don’t miss that too much.

Dillon Honcoop:
And that seed potato farm that you worked for just recently went out of business.

Blake Carson:
Yes, they did.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’d be sad to see.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, it was pretty terrible. I mean, I’m pretty close with them and it’s a shame. I feel terrible.

Dillon Honcoop:
What does that mean with longtime family businesses like that going out, farms calling it quits, not just in seed potatoes, but in other areas? What does that make you think? Here you’re a young guy coming to this farming community, what does that make you think about the future? Are you worried about it?

Blake Carson:
I’m a little bit worried about the population increasing in Western Washington and the cost of land in Western Washington, it’s hard for … If you’re a family business or a family farm and you go out, there’s no getting back into it, really. I mean unless you have a large amount of capital to be able to get back into it these 20, $30,000 an acre pieces of ground, you’re not just going to be able to pull out your pocket. And for the crops that we have here in Whatcom County, I mean, besides corn, it’s going to take a lot of inputs as far as per acre cost.

Dillon Honcoop:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), very expensive too. A lot you need to invest before you start harvesting a crop and trying to make some of that investment back.

Blake Carson:
Exactly, you can’t just go out and throw some potatoes in the ground, then, “Hey, look, I got some seed potatoes.” You got to have the storage, you got to have the equipment, you got to have buyers, you got-

Dillon Honcoop:
As a ballpark, what would you say? What does it cost? What kind of investment does an acre of seed potatoes have into it before they actually realize anything back from it?

Blake Carson:
I don’t know, probably five, $10,000 an acre. I mean, it’s tough out there. And-

Dillon Honcoop:
Which is back to what you were saying about people being stressed and when money is on the line, that’s it too, because they’ve invested a lot already. And then if at some point in that chain before those potatoes are harvested and sold and that money is back in their pocket to pay off some of those investments in debts, if you mess up something in that chain, it’s like, “Whoa.”

Blake Carson:
You’re right.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s intense.

Blake Carson:
And you could just mess up at the end. You get a disease and you put your potatoes in storage, and there goes your storage. I mean, it’s never ending for them until it’s on the truck and gone.

Dillon Honcoop:
You want to do your own farming in the future?

Blake Carson:
I’d like. I mean, it’s tough to see where I’m going to be, but I mean, it’s all I know as it would be nice to be able to at least farm on the side just to have my foot into it and just have fun with it, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Even though all you’re describing doesn’t sound fun at all, it’s sounds stressful.

Blake Carson:
No, no. That sounds very stressful, huh?

Dillon Honcoop:
But apparently there is some fun to it as well.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I think probably part of the pride of calling yourself a farmer and feed people, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. What would you like to grow?

Blake Carson:
I don’t know, I’d like to grow some annual crop. I think that’s what we need here in Whatcom County is an annual crop that doesn’t take as much of it as an investment and sell as a locally produced food because it seems like that’s the way that … with the coronavirus, at least, everybody is looking for a local crop, locally produced food that they can get to. So finding some co-op that could store or process these kinds of locally grown foods would be ideal.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you were saying like grow a crop that isn’t necessarily grown here in Whatcom County now?

Blake Carson:
Right, or it might be grown to an acre or whatever. I’m sure there’s probably crops that an organic guy or hobby farmer might have in their backyard that would be worth looking into for a few other people to grow.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re saying maybe the big guys could learn something from the little guys?

Blake Carson:
Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Do you think farmers feel that or I know there can be some skepticism both ways between really, really small hobby farms and big farms and those in between?

Blake Carson:
I definitely see a big gap between the bigger farms and the smaller farms. And the bigger farms, they got everything going for them and I don’t blame them for wanting to think that way, but being small on a smaller side of the scale, you are always looking for something different, I imagine.

Dillon Honcoop:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), easier to pivot and do something different when you’re small?

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dillon Honcoop:
I’ve always said both sides could learn a lot from each other if they didn’t feel so competitive. And for what reason? Because they aren’t actually competing usually in the same market at all.

Blake Carson:
It’s not apples to apples at all.

Dillon Honcoop:
No. But like you were saying, the big guys could learn a lot from these little guys who are able to try different stuff and figure it out. Little guys could learn from the big guys too, about some of the ways and the efficiencies that they’ve found.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, and marketing [crosstalk 00:23:36]-

Dillon Honcoop:
Because the big guys have to be so efficient to do what they do.

Blake Carson:
They got to have good accountants.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, to keep on top of everything.

Blake Carson:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you could grow a crop, produce local food, maybe something that isn’t already grown here. I don’t know, what would that be like?

Blake Carson:
I don’t know, I always heard about how fun the peas were when the peas were around and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Growing peas, yeah.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, it would be cool.

Dillon Honcoop:
My dad used to grow peas when I was 10.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, my grandpa grew peas as well.

Dillon Honcoop:
So I guess what I was thinking when you were saying, “Well, grow something that isn’t growing here now,” why now? Why isn’t that stuff grown here?

Blake Carson:
Oh, I think everything has to do with marketing. Well, when Twin City Foods left all the … Or I guess there was probably several processors, but I mean the recent one that I knew about was Twin City Foods, and where do you sell your peas? I mean, you could sell sweet corn on the side of the road. That’s going to get you so far, but finding a place to be able to sell your local foods if there was some storage that you’re able to get ahold of or processor or whatever, I think that’s the biggest barrier for a lot of these people wanting to put something in.

Dillon Honcoop:
So there’s just not the processing facilities infrastructure here?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, that’s nothing like the Columbia Basin or Skagit Valley where you just go to Othello or wherever and there’s processor here, processor there, here’s your contract and put it in.

Dillon Honcoop:
So there’s no other reason we couldn’t grow that stuff here?

Blake Carson:
I mean, as far as I know, say, for example, the Skagit Valley, the quality of the green beans, green beans have such higher quality than the ones in the Basin because the cooler nights, they don’t get wind burnt here or down in Skagit Valley. I imagine the sand probably has a lot to do with getting wind burnt. So I’m pretty sure that there are a lot of crops that you could grow here that would probably have a lot higher quality as long as it’s not something like onions that’s going to take probably a lot longer growing days. But yeah, I think that there’s a lot of opportunity for a lot of those crops to come back. I mean, I heard they used to grow up carrots here, they used to grow all sorts of things here in Whatcom County.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, back when they were processing facilities to actually package that stuff up and get it to the consumer. That seems to be the gap, and you’re not the only person that I’m hearing that from.

Blake Carson:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Blake Carson:
That’s a big gap. But I mean, I think that the way that the coronavirus and I mean just as we’ve gone on in the last few years that there’s probably going to be a shift where people do want local food and there’s a great opportunity for Whatcom and Skagit to supply local food to Bellingham, to BC, to Seattle, because there’s a lot of acres around here and a lot of dairies going out.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. You work with any dairy farmers right now? I know that community is under a lot of pressure.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I work with a handful and it’s a very unique … I still don’t understand the whole base thing. I mean, I get it when people want to get out and get a lot of money and wish they wouldn’t have two years ago, but I mean, I think it’s a very complex topic that … I mean, it’s been happening for quite a while here, I mean, how many dairies used to be here 30 years ago? 600 or-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, something like that.

Blake Carson:
Yeah. I mean now there’s probably what? 100, 50, 75 maybe?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, I think somewhere more under 100 now. Yeah.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, yeah. I mean, obviously there’s a lot of consolidation that’s happened, but now it’s not so much consolidation, it’s get out.

Dillon Honcoop:
Get out and the cows go away, they go somewhere else.

Blake Carson:
Yes, no more cows.

Dillon Honcoop:
From all the farmers, dairy farmers, crop farmers that you work with, what’s the biggest pressure that you’re hearing they feel they’re under? What are some of the things that they’re worrying about in the big picture?

Blake Carson:
I hear a lot about water. And-

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the concern with water? What are they worried about?

Blake Carson:
Tribes shutting them off. Hearing about, I mean, the cost of land is increasing, there’s farmland being lost to housing developments. I think that’s all I can really think of right now, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Well, and you know because you work directly with these people weighs pretty heavily on their mind?

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And markets too. I mean, I have a guy that has … he does wheat and straw and I mean, you’re not ever going to make money on wheat here. And I mean, that’s just one of those rotations, but it’s really hard to make money on wheat in Western Washington. We don’t have 4,000 acres with a very low land costs where it makes sense to grow wheat. I mean this 20, $30,000 an acre here and you’re not covering that cost with wheat.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, totally. You mentioned water too. If people lost access to water, what would that mean for farms around here?

Blake Carson:
Like potatoes, I mean, you definitely need water. I mean, there’s some pieces of ground you can get away without watering but you’re not going to get nearly the yield that you want without water. So a lot of guys get shut off, there goes yield potential.

Dillon Honcoop:
Would they be able to just deal with that or pivot and do something else? Or what would happen to those farms?

Blake Carson:
I mean, that’s probably going to impact their yield quite a bit. I mean, we work with a grower here in Whatcom, he uses drip tape and it’s a very efficient use of water. I mean, it costs a lot of money to run that stuff, but who knows? I mean, it might be the way to go for a lot of people.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Well, thankfully we get quite a bit of moisture here.

Blake Carson:
We do. We’re not the Basin for that.

Dillon Honcoop:
And our aquifer is usually only 10 to 20 feet down, so that helps keep the soil at least have a little bit more moisture in it for more of the year.

Blake Carson:
Right. I hear about some of these depths in some of these wells in Eastern Washington and it’s just mind boggling.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, I visited with Case VanderMeulen while back there in Mesa and I think one of his wells is at 1,800 feet down.

Blake Carson:
That’s quite the bill.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s crazy to think about.

Blake Carson:
And how do you pump that far?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, it takes a lot more juice. There’s a lot more investment in the electricity to be able to irrigate than for us who, here in Western Washington, have to pump the water up 20 feet max usually, makes a big difference.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I know. Yeah, you don’t see much more than 20 feet here as far as irrigation wells.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, and we’re blessed with that reservoir. In other areas, they use reservoirs above ground, but here our reservoir is the groundwater.

Blake Carson:
Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
And that has also helped a lot of people take their irrigation off of streams and use this groundwater instead when they’re able to protect stream flows, which is a good thing.

Blake Carson:
Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
How has coronavirus affected your day to day?

Blake Carson:
I’m pretty mobile and I work remotely from my work truck, so I don’t see too many people, I don’t sit in an office with too many people. I actually had the coronavirus back in June.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Blake Carson:
Yeah. So I have no idea where I got it, but yeah, it didn’t affect me too bad.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, well, explain how it went, tell the story.

Blake Carson:
Oh, well I was spraying a grass field of mine in one of my hay fields and a little open station, 2440 John Deere and parked along, and the next day I-

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that this tractor right here?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, that one. Yeah, I didn’t know it was right.

Dillon Honcoop:
I love that, I love that.

Blake Carson:
Yeah. And so next day I had this little tickle in the back of my throat. And so I got towards the end of the week, it was like a Tuesday that I noticed that and it was like Thursday and started to get worse and I figured, “Well, I’ll just go to Skagit Valley College, they have a drive through swab deal or so I’ll just go there to rule the coronavirus out.”

Blake Carson:
And I guess, that Saturday they said, “Oh yeah, you have coronavirus.” “Oh shoot.” Yeah, my girlfriend and I had a quarantine for … Oh, she had to quarantine way longer than I did because it was like, for me, is 10 days after the first symptoms and I just felt under the weather for about a week and I can’t taste or smell anything for two weeks. But other than that, it wasn’t terrible.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why did she have to quarantine longer?

Blake Carson:
Because she could have been exposed to my symptoms because they went on for 10 days [crosstalk 00:33:22]-

Dillon Honcoop:
So did she ever get it?

Blake Carson:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
She didn’t get it?

Blake Carson:
No, and we live together.

Dillon Honcoop:
Hmm, crazy.

Blake Carson:
Maybe she gave it to me, I don’t know. But-

Dillon Honcoop:
But she didn’t show any symptoms, but she had to quarantine longer because in case she did, then it would be that much more delayed?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, so she had a quarantine two weeks past my 10 days. So she was at home for quite a while. She actually started working from home, which worked out, less driving and-

Dillon Honcoop:
What does she do?

Blake Carson:
She actually works at Skagit Farmers Supply too in the credit department.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh really?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, yeah. We met at WSU.

Dillon Honcoop:
Nice. So you work at the same operation as your girlfriend?

Blake Carson:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you don’t actually work together on a daily basis?

Blake Carson:
No, not at all. No, not at all. I asked my boss, “Wouldn’t be weird if she applied?” Because it was actually really hard for her to find a job. Well, she got a degree as Ag economics from WSU and she had a terrible time finding a job. And, was it May? Oh, no, April, because she got let out early because of the coronavirus, and so I asked my boss, “Oh, is it weird if Emily applies?” And he goes, “Oh no, not at all. Okay, whatever.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Perfect, yeah.

Blake Carson:
Yeah?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, he’s got to think, “Oh, is there some conflict or something?”

Blake Carson:
Right, yeah. It wasn’t too bad.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, what does she want to do? She want to be a farmer too?

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I think-

Dillon Honcoop:
She just wants to be an Ag economist.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, she-

Dillon Honcoop:
Did she like the actual get in the dirt stuff too?

Blake Carson:
She likes the numbers, but she really likes the baldy calves. She just loves the baldy calves for whatever reason.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why? What’s different about them?

Blake Carson:
I don’t know, I guess they’re cute little buggers.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you guys raise some calves or she does or-

Blake Carson:
Yeah, so my grandpa’s got a whole, I don’t know, 20 head of Angus and yeah, they just calved like a month and a half ago.

Dillon Honcoop:
Explain what’s a baldy calf?

Blake Carson:
Oh, it’s a black Angus with a white face, beyond me, why they get that, I’d forget. But yeah, they just have a white face calling them up like a bald eagle and it’s a bald calf, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right. Is that because they’re crossed with something else or are they still-

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I think so. It has something to do with … I don’t know, to be honest with-

Dillon Honcoop:
I don’t either because I’m not a big animal person as much but I know I’ve been told before.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I would like to-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s why I was hoping you would know.

Blake Carson:
Right. No, no, no. [crosstalk 00:36:03]-

Dillon Honcoop:
But you’re like me. You sound like you’re more of a crop guy like me.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, I’m more of a crop guy, but I want to dabble into the cattle a little bit more. I mean, I always help separate the … He used to have like 200 head of replacement heifers here for quite a while, so-

Dillon Honcoop:
Your grandpa?

Blake Carson:
Yeah. So, I’d always help separate and I didn’t necessarily hate the animals, but I just love the tractors.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, yeah. Me too. Totally get that. And I helped my grandparents on their dairy farms, but I wasn’t a cow guy. I was a tractor in field and crop guy.

Blake Carson:
It seems like on most dairy animal type farms, they’re either one or the other from what I’ve noticed.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. And you see a lot of families split up duties that way too where one brother does the field side and the other brother does the cow side or something like that.

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. That works out, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, for sure. So you think you might end up doing some farming yourself?

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re working with other farmers?

Blake Carson:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s crazy life.

Blake Carson:
It is, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
Driving all over the place. Why do you love it so much? What keeps you going through those stressful days?

Blake Carson:
Now, I don’t know. I like to see things grow, I like to make food, I think. Between hunting and fishing and growing food, having a garden, I mean, I think I swear my whole life revolves around food prep than all that stuff, but I don’t know, I just like to. It’s beautiful seeing corn grow, it’s beautiful seeing potatoes grow, beautiful seeing them getting harvested, and I guess just the process of the hard work, I think. I attribute 99% of my work ethic to the agriculture lifestyle, so I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thanks for sharing your story and opening up about what you do and why you do it.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, thank you.

Dillon Honcoop:
It takes so many people and it’s cool to see someone like you even just straight out of college being willing to make that jump into it. Because a lot of people right now are saying, “Why would you get into farming? Farming is going downhill.” I hope it isn’t because I think we need to still be growing the food that we eat here.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, people got to eat, man.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. And we need people like you getting in to farming to keep it going for the next generation and beyond.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, it’s tough. I mean, I guess a lot of guys I went to school with in Pullman, there’s a lot of young people, there’s quite a few young farm kids, but as far as Western Washington, it’s hard to find very many young college aged folks that are going to be into farming, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Why do you think that is? Why do people your age coming out of college not want to get into farming?

Blake Carson:
Probably a generational thing. I mean, I think kids not working over the summer and I think you hear about the older generation, they all milk cows in high school and middle school or whatever, and a lot of the kids that I went to high school with or a lot of kids that you see now, they play video games and go swimming, which I get you got to do that here and there, but I feel like getting that early work in and being able to be a part of something like that, I think, keeps that farming around.

Dillon Honcoop:
You learn to value that at a young age, the hard work and then the payoff for putting in that work to see the crop grow even as a young kid to work and discover, hey, you have a few bucks, “I can go buy my own bike,” or-

Blake Carson:
Exactly, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
… that kind of a thing.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, throwing some heavy ryegrass bales into the hay mount when you’re 10 or 12, that teaches you a few things too.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, for sure. And plus it makes you stronger.

Blake Carson:
Absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

Blake Carson:
Yeah, thanks, Dillon.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
With somebody that young, it’s going to be really fun to watch what he accomplishes. And he’s just getting his feet wet right now and learning from a ton of people with a lot of experience. But like he was saying, he wants to do this himself, more than just helping people as an agronomist, advising them on their crops, he wants to grow food himself and he has a vision for the way that it could be different than it is now. So again, I’m really thankful that that Blake was so transparent and open with me about what he’s thinking along those lines.

Dillon Honcoop:
Love these kinds of conversations, this is what I’m all about, that’s what this podcast is all about, is getting to know these real people because there are so many of them in our food system. And elevating their voices, getting to know them helps us get closer to change. Realfoodrealpeople.org is our website where you can get all of the episodes that we’ve done to date. And we’ve got a lot more planned, let me tell you.

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m Dillon Honcoop, I grew up on a local red raspberry farm in Whatcom County, so the same place that Blake grew up. And so that’s where we shared some common background. I’m on a journey all over Washington State though, to get to know the Blake Carson’s and so many others out there growing our food. I would really appreciate your support. To be able to keep doing this, we need to expand our reach and bring more people into the conversation. Please share these stories and information about the podcast on your social media if you can, on Facebook or on Instagram or on Twitter, Real Food Real People, or I guess @rfrp_podcast is the handle on our social media channels.

Dillon Honcoop:
Check us out on YouTube as well, we’ll have the full interview that you just heard available to watch so you can see the machine shed, you can see the tractors, you can get a look at some of the great expressions on Blake’s face. Thank you for your support. Thanks for being here again this week on the Real Food Real People Podcast.

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.

Rosella Mosby | #037 08/24/2020

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

Transcript

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

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

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

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

Rosella Mosby:
Grocery store-

Dillon Honcoop:
If I live in Seattle-

Rosella Mosby:
… restaurants.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Good idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosella Mosby:
I hope so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosella Mosby:
Or California.

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

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

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

Rosella Mosby:
Totally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s awesome.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
When did you join the picture?

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

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

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

Rosella Mosby:
Totally.

Dillon Honcoop:
I love that.

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Little did you know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
The communicator.

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

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

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
But just generally.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Why?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
So, they have to get new?

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

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

Rosella Mosby:
Which we have no control of.

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that true? Really?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s scary.

Rosella Mosby:
… that’s a problem.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s scary.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Are those adults or are those kids?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, man.

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

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

Rosella Mosby:
No, I’m saying-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Packaged stuff.

Rosella Mosby:
Yeah, totally.

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

Rosella Mosby:
About $75,000 and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Any of your kids interested in…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, and I should also thank our sponsors. Real Food Real People podcast is sponsored in part by Save Family Farming giving a voice to Washington’s farm families. You can find them online at savefamilyfarming.org. And by Dairy Farmers of Washington, supporting Washington dairy farmers, connecting consumers to agriculture, and inspiring the desire for local dairy. Find out more at WAdairy.org.

Kady Porterfield | #036 08/17/2020

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

Transcript

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

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kady Porterfield:
Event center.

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

Kady Porterfield:
Yes, Kittitas County Fair.

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

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

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

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

Kady Porterfield:
Awesome.

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

Kady Porterfield:
Oh, yeah.

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s awesome.

Kady Porterfield:
It’s pretty awesome, yeah.

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

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

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

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

Kady Porterfield:
Right, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kady Porterfield:
Right, and I know-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kady Porterfield:
Something like that, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kady Porterfield:
That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
In the meat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kady Porterfield:
29.

Dillon Honcoop:
29 classmates.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s your-

Kady Porterfield:
Go tigers!

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
So you love them both?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
So what positions did you play?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you still play much?

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

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

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

Kady Porterfield:
Oh, yeah.

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

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

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

Kady Porterfield:
Yeah, yeah, and actually-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
That is true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kady Porterfield:
Yeah.

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

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

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

Kady Porterfield:
Thanks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Derek Friehe | #028 06/22/2020

Just because a farm is big doesn't necessarily mean it's not a family farm. Derek Friehe shares the story of his family's roots, and his unconventional path back to farming.

Transcript

Derek Friehe:
I’m gonna go through some of those bad years. I’m not just… It’s my land, it’s where I grew up, it’s many cases, my parents or grandparents are buried here, it’s where I want to raise my kids. It’s more… Yeah, it’s not just a job.

Announcer:
This is The Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
Every time I interview a person behind our food here in Washington State, there’s some new cool twist. This week certainly isn’t any different with Derek Friehe and his family’s roots in Europe, and how that came to Washington State, his background in the corporate world and coming back to the farm. He’s got a lot to share. We get into also what’s happening right now with COVID and how it’s affected potato… Washington State here is one of the biggest potato-growing regions in the country, and they’ve been very hard hit by all the market disruptions and things that happen with potatoes and people not going to restaurants anymore and buying French fries. That’s actually been a huge thing for folks. So, he shares all of it, lots of story to get to.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thank you for joining us this week. I’m Dillon Honcoop and this podcast, The Real Food Real People podcast, is documenting my journey all over Washington. This time we go to Moses Lake, and we hear again from Derek Friehe of Friehe Farms, a big farm but still with family roots and it’s all about the family still as large as they’ve gotten in, and that’s a really cool part of this too. So often, farms are judged by how big or small they are, and I think that’s the wrong criteria to use because there are big farms that are great. It’s not about the size of the farm and you’ll hear that in Derek’s attitude and just his whole outlook on why he does what he does in growing food. Join with me in getting to know Derek Friehe of Friehe Farms in Moses Lake, Washington.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’ve been doing the farming thing your whole life. You’re multiple generations into this, right?

Derek Friehe:
Second generation.

Dillon Honcoop:
Second?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, so I’ve been back on the farm five years. I mean, I grew up on the farm and then has gone for like eight years down in California. I went to school down there. Yeah, second-generation farmer. My dad actually emigrated from Germany over 30 or 35 years ago and kind of settled. He married my mom who’s American. She is from Seattle and so he kind of discovered the Northwest and sold the little farm over there and started here and it was bad time to be farming, good time to have opportunities to buy land, and so he just started small and found this area just at east of Moses Lake that was started developing. And yeah, it’s grown quite a bit since he took it over 35 years ago. My brother and I are then back five to six years now.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you and your brother are in the farming operation now, but had both left the farm?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. We actually went to the same school down in California, and we weren’t studying ag so it’s weird. My dad was trying to figure out what to do with the farm, how to transition out of it himself while hoping to get some family back, but at the time we weren’t studying ag. We both studied business, which proved to be really helpful, but still-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, for sure.

Derek Friehe:
… it’s definitely… I mean, you got to know your stuff, like agronomy-wise, if you want to be successful, so that’s been the steepest learning curve. I enjoy the business side and that’s kind of both. But yeah, farming is just a lot of experience. Just year over year knowledge gain, but yeah, it’s nice to have some of the theory behind it and I’ve got supplemented with ag classes here and there, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
So, do you wish that you would have gone to school for-

Derek Friehe:
I don’t know-

Dillon Honcoop:
… real agronomy or farming or something-

Derek Friehe:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
… in agriculture?

Derek Friehe:
In some ways, yeah. I wish I would have, but then that’s a counterfactual. You go back and what if… I met my wife there, some of my best friends, awesome experiences shaped who I am now and so-

Dillon Honcoop:
So what-

Derek Friehe:
… education standpoint, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what was your plan at that point? Like what were you wanting to do?

Derek Friehe:
I didn’t know. I was two years undecided down there, trying to figure it out. I mean, yeah, farming… You’ve heard it before. It’s always like in the back of your mind. If you’ve grown up on it, it’s kind of in your blood. So, even you, you didn’t go back to the farm but you’re still involved in Ag.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right.

Derek Friehe:
Always in the back of my mind. Even going in business is still in the back of my mind like, “Oh, at least the farm’s a business,” and even after post college I’m going into like food-type businesses. Even if those were corporate, but it’s still the food direction with maybe the idea of going back one day and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Because you knew about that stuff, right?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
When you were a kid, what was your dad doing farming-wise? How big was the farm? What was he farming at that point?

Derek Friehe:
Every year it seemed like he was growing… I mean, potato is kind of the mainstay of the farm. That’s where a lot of the growth came from. He didn’t farm any potatoes in Germany, so he worked for a farm west of town for years, just kind of learning the ropes of this area, and then he bought one field and then another field. Then, at some point, I think he rented out his ground and somebody else farmed potatoes on his ground and he was just, I think, standing by the side of the field one day and was like, “I could do that. It’s ridiculous. Somebody coming into my field and growing a beautiful spud crop.” Again, a lot of the principles in ag are the same. Potato is a whole different level than like wheat, for example. Now, he’s a good farmer. He had educational background from Germany, and he was good at what he did.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, that family history is fascinating. You said he did farm in Germany as well?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, he did. If you’ve ever been over there, all the land is farmed. There’s not a lot of new development. It’s generations of farms that had been kind of held together and there’re all small and kind of broken up. There’s not a lot of big farms. There’s not a lot of opportunity for him, and he was very entrepreneurial, risk taker. There wasn’t that there any room to grow. In those times, it was an okay farm. But for our standards, it was like one field’s worth. It was like 130 acres and that was big over there. So, I think being exposed here and marrying my mom, coming over here, he was like, “Dang, there’s a lot of room to grow here.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Derek Friehe:
Like I said, the farming wasn’t great. Wheat prices are like two bucks. It was time to get in, even though you weren’t making a ton of money, people are going broke, and so it was a combination of good timing, luck, skill, being an opportunist and risk taker.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did he meet… You said your mom’s from Seattle, how did he meet her? How did that all go down?

Derek Friehe:
She was an exchange student so she was over there, actually in a village like 20 minutes away from where he grew up. I don’t actually think they met there. I think they met in Vienna, somehow randomly. That’s where they met, connected there and then, I think after that they were like, “Oh well.” I don’t know if they ever made the connection that she was staying like… They must have made some kind of connection because when they went back, that’s when they hit it off and had a longer engagement back and forth, and eventually came back here and got married. Actually, my older sister was born over there and then a few months after she was born, they came back, settled here permanently.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you speak German?

Derek Friehe:
Oh, man, I used to be pretty good at it. No, I should’ve taken Spanish.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Derek Friehe:
No, I went to language school over there for a bit. We were always going over there pretty much every other year or so-

Dillon Honcoop:
Quite a bit of family back in Germany still-

Derek Friehe:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
… that you’re connected with?

Derek Friehe:
It was mostly my grandma lived over there. He only had one sister. They only had one kid, not a huge extended family. Just when my grandma was still alive we’d go back over there. But yeah, not as much anymore.

Dillon Honcoop:
You grow up around him, starting to grow this farm. He’s an outside-the-box thinker trying to do something different, bigger, better, and it was all potatoes when you were a kid, or was he already branching out into other stuff too? Because you, guys, do all kinds of stuff.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. And potatoes, especially if you’re on the ground, you got to rotate it so you’re doing potatoes, let’s say, every four years so you’re doing other crops in between.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right.

Derek Friehe:
That’s just the big one that takes most the financial risk and time, money, people. He was doing wheat, corn, things to rotate around now. But yeah, now we’ve delved into organics, a lot of forage crops. Yeah, probably 15 different crops that we do. Most of it, again, is potatoes. So, it’s all kind of rotating around that for the most part.

Dillon Honcoop:
Growing up here, what was it like moving down to basically LA where your school was?

Derek Friehe:
It was a big change, but that’s part of the allure of growing up in a small town and wanting to figure things out and see the big city. I don’t know. I was into sports like high school or so. I got to play soccer down there and, I don’t know, I had the beach and tons of people and they’re just different. My sister had gone there, so I was exposed to it and knew what to expect. It was a good school and, again, I didn’t know I want to be a farmer, so I wasn’t like, “Oh, am I go to WSU or something?”

Dillon Honcoop:
Right.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, it was good. The biggest change probably happened when we had our first kid, so that was kind of the game changer. I loved my job, I liked being down there, a lot of friends, community, but then you have a kid there. Except this tiny little house that’s way overpriced, commuting an hour and a half every day to work, and it just hits you like, “What am I doing here? I don’t want to raise a family here.” It takes, I think, a little bit for some people to go out and experience that before for coming back, so definitely I appreciate a lot more. You have a different boss, you work for a different company, you get a… I don’t know, you learn a lot as opposed to just coming straight back. So, definitely I appreciate it a lot more.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was it like making that decision? Like, “Okay, we’re going to pack up, we’re going to move back to the farm”?

Derek Friehe:
My brother actually moved back a year before, so he was kind of the test case, like he’s moving back. We kind of keep an eye on how he’s doing, how he’s liking it, and so that definitely helped because it’s definitely a big move. But again, after having a kid and more kids, you want to be close to family, you want to be close to grandparents and have the free babysitting and the community support, and you start thinking long term and made sense from a… and just way of life. I love working outside in my hands, but then you get the challenges of the business side, I can kind of bring my business experience to it, too. So, yeah, it was a little bit of a leap of faith, but also it’s home, it’s not crazy. A lot of people move all over the country into new places, and this wasn’t a new place, it was familiar, so it wasn’t hard.

Dillon Honcoop:
How was it for your dad? I mean, when you tell him, “Hey, yeah, I want to come back to the farm.” Was he pumped about that? Was he like, “Wow, you got to kind of prove yourself”? I know that’s how my dad would be.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. He’s pumped in his own way, he’s German, he’s stoic, he’s… He was pretty excited. You could tell you he was pretty happy. He worked so hard to build this up, and I could see you get up in age and you’re thinking about legacy and what am I passing on and built it up for what? He was wanting to retire and he’d gotten into flying, and so he was doing a lot of that. He was looking for definitely the next generation to step up. Actually, all four of us kids had at some point been all over the country and then we all came back.

Derek Friehe:
Right now, all of us are either in town or my sister is an hour away, but she was an accountant. She was a CPA down in LA, and then eventually came back to the farm for a year before getting married so she was in accounting so she’s in the farm and then… So yeah, everybody’s away and then within two years, everybody’s back. I think they are pretty happy about that. Of course, all the grandkids come and we’re the first one to have a kid and within… Well, he’s now 7 and now there’s 14 grandkids so just…

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, there’s something I love is just because you come back to a small town and get the family element, you got the support structure and let’s have kids and go down to the city and one, two kids, maybe per family. [crosstalk 00:13:19].

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, for sure.

Derek Friehe:
It’s definitely easier to have bigger families and get that support.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many kids do you have?

Derek Friehe:
I got four.

Dillon Honcoop:
Four kids.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. Sister has five, brother has three, youngest sister has two.

Dillon Honcoop:
It just sounds tiring to have that many children running around.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I have two but-

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. No, it’s… I mean, I tell my wife, she works way harder than I do. I can do it, so it’s up to her if we have any more because she’s the one putting in the long days and I come home, I get to play with them, and she’s the one dealing with all the fights and, yeah, pretty amazing what mothers, stay-at-home mothers, they work hard but it’s fun. I love being a dad. I can’t imagine life without them.

Dillon Honcoop:
Back to you come back to the farm, what does your dad have you do right away? Because on one hand, it’s like, “Well, you’re new here,” but on the other hand, you’re coming in with a business degree and business experience. Did he throw you in a tractor or did he say, “Get in the office and you’re now going to be dealing with our business dealings,” and things like that?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. I think a little bit of both. I think, yeah, it’s hard because at least I was used to that corporate-type life, making big decisions or at least being part of them and then start on the bottom a little bit. I did a little bit of tractor work. I did most tractor in high school and harvest and all that, so I had some experience there. But yeah, definitely kind of grunt doing stuff that like we have high schoolers doing now or interns. So, you do all that first couple of years and get your feet wet there.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, it was frustrating, it’s like, “Ah, I should be doing a lot more,” but it’s also laying the foundation and learning a little bit of everything. It’s that tension of, “Yeah, I want to move up quick.” But you can only move up having that ground layer of experience, doing everything, so yeah. It’s also a big farm now, so it’s not like I’m coming back and having to do everything. We have awesome tractor drivers, that’s all they do. They sit on the tractor all day and they’re really good at it. And for me to come, they don’t necessarily need me to come in and do it, as opposed to just a father-son operation where you’re coming in like, “No, sorry, you’re doing everything.” I feel like I still have ton to learn. I’m already six years into this and in some ways, I’m still scratching the surface on a lot of stuff.

Dillon Honcoop:
Interesting. You come from the corporate world. A lot of people say that family farming doesn’t really exist. They’re all big corporate farms. Having come from the corporate world, what’s your reaction to that? Now being in this operation, it’s big. You, guys, farm a lot of acres, got a lot of employees but is it the same as like working for a corporation?

Derek Friehe:
No, not at all. No. Just even you’re stuck in an office all day, you’re all dressed up. It’s meeting after meeting and you’re sitting in front of a computer doing Excel spreadsheets. There’s still a little bit of that here, but it’s not the same at all, especially for a big farm, it feels like a family operation. We got good farm managers and hopefully some amount of organizational structure, but it’s not the same deal. We’re big, we got 50 full-time employees, but I think in the corporate world, that’s pretty small from most of those big corporations.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many acres do you farm between all the different crops you, guys, have?

Derek Friehe:
Probably around 10,000.

Dillon Honcoop:
A lot of people can’t… Even for me coming from Western Washington farming, which is so much smaller. It’s more the size of what you’re talking about your dad doing in Germany, right? That’s hard for me to fathom, but then for you to explain, “No, it’s still like a family. It’s run by the family.” Yeah, you have 50 employees but compared to a big corporation, like you say, that’s nothing.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the ethos of the company? Like when I came in here, I’m seeing signs all over, with COVID going on and thanks for what you do, essential farm employees, seems to be a really upbeat positive kind of vibe you, guys, have here.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, I’d like to think so. Hopefully, it starts with leadership and there’s good leaders kind of setting the tone. Farmers by nature have to be optimist, I think, just to keep coming back year after year, so there’s definitely a positive energy, I think, most the time and I think all the COVID stuff. In some ways it’s helped, I think, with the perception of farmers. I think if people went to the grocery store and then all of a sudden, they’re not seeing food on the shelves, I think they start to, it’s just never happened before. I think most people think food grows in the groceries. I don’t know where they think their food comes from. But as soon as it’s not there then they start to wonder like, “Oh, food’s a big deal,” and then you trace it back to who’s growing it and where it’s coming from and, I think, hopefully there’s more of an appreciation for who grows it, supply chains and distribution centers that can get it to you. But yeah, it’s definitely essential. It’s definitely affected our industry for sure.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Derek Friehe:
But no, I think our folks had done a good job of trying to be safe and be smart about how we’re within six feet of each other and doing something trying to, I don’t know if you saw the guy when he first came in, he was cleaning doorknobs and just trying to keep things clean and in my mind, just common sense stuff that maybe we should probably do normally, but it’s only COVID stuff. For us, it was nice because we weren’t all that affected like we got plenty of people that are out of work and sitting at home and… We’re busy, and I don’t really feel the effects too much, which is nice.

Dillon Honcoop:
Plus, you have space. You don’t all have to be crowded together in an office most of the time.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. Farming by nature is socially distant, which I prefer.

Dillon Honcoop:
We’ve been hearing a lot though about how brutal COVID has been for a lot of different farm markets, meat, dairy, milk being dumped, and then also potatoes and especially here in Washington State, other places too. But I know here in Washington State, we heard stories of potatoes with nowhere to go. How’s that hit you, guys?

Derek Friehe:
It’s definitely affected us on kind of two fronts. It kind of hit during planting which is, we’re northern basin so we’re a little later planting. When we get the news, we hadn’t even started planting yet, so we are able to… I mean, you still have a quarter to a third of your cost in the field already before you even plant the seed. So, we did get cut some of our acres and the processors said, “Hey, you got to cut, let’s say, 10% of your acres.” And so we got to go out and try to find stuff that’s what can we cut that doesn’t have too much money into it. Those are real dollars that have been spent that have basically gone away. But luckily, we had some landlords that were gracious enough to either let us plant something else or just say, “Hey, you can come back next year and grow.”

Derek Friehe:
But yeah, I’ve heard numbers up to 50% on average some guys getting cut and some guys 100%. Some of those direct guys that go right from the field to the plant.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Derek Friehe:
So they cut the acreage for next year. So, this is 2020 crop but you still have 2019 crop in storage. We still have quite a bit from the fall in storage and so that was the other concern, we’ve heard guys that got basically left… I mean, their potatoes got left in storage, saying, “Hey, we don’t want these anymore. Figure out what to do with them.” That had me more concerned because when you don’t plant them, okay, you eat some of the cost but stuff that’s in storage, those are all full-cost potatoes, right? They’re sitting and if they don’t take those, you’re definitely in a world of hurt and our processors told us you’re just going to store them later. By the time we start harvest this fall, we might still have potatoes from last year in there.

Dillon Honcoop:
How long can you store potatoes and they’ll still be good?

Derek Friehe:
I think if you have a good storage and a good spud, you can go a year or more.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s amazing.

Derek Friehe:
We don’t typically do that.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s the cool part about potatoes, right?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. In that way, yeah. We’re lucky. It’s not like the leafy greens, they’re the perishable, highly perishable stuff, mushroom.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, days if not hours sometimes to get things done with those things. If they’re cutting what they’re going to have you plant, say, now. Well, those are potatoes that will be eaten next year, right?

Derek Friehe:
Right.

Dillon Honcoop:
And let’s hope that we aren’t having panic buying ups and downs and restaurants closed and all this disruption at this time next year. I guess how do you know how much less to plant now when in theory you should plant just as much as you have in the past for the next year?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. We’re all contracting potatoes. We don’t really do anything on the open market. It’s the processor who we sell our potatoes to that dictates. They are the big companies, and they’re trying to do their best to forecast, “Hey, what it’s going to look like in a year from now? And what are French fries sales going to be?” They are the ones kind of, I mean… In my mind, they’re guessing, as much as we are, what it’s going to be and so I think they were trying to be conservative and they did not want to go along. That’s why there was definitely a drop off in demand. Obviously, restaurants close, not as many potatoes, French fries. I mean, do you cook French fries at home? It’s not many people do that so if you’re not going out, there’s definitely a demand loss there. But yeah, the big question is for next year. Did they screw themselves by shorting planting, and then all of a sudden, demand picks up and they have short product.

Derek Friehe:
That’s kind of my prediction because I feel like there’s a lot of overreactions happening with COVID and people want to return to normal, people want to go out and eat French fries and have a burger. My guess is they’re going to be short, which in some ways is good for us. We’ll see if it reflects in the price, usually it doesn’t, but it’s better than being long, I guess, for us.

Dillon Honcoop:
To answer your question, yes, I do sometimes make French fries at home.

Derek Friehe:
Nice.

Dillon Honcoop:
I found an old-fashioned, I think it was in an antique store, an old-fashioned potato fry cutter. It’s a little plunger thing, kind of those can crusher things, except it plunges the spud through like a waffle-shaped knife and yeah, it’s pretty awesome. I was thinking about that when this COVID thing was happening and I heard about the problems in the potato markets, it dawned on me. It was like, “Yeah, most people don’t make French fries at home, but they should because they’re awesome and it’s kind of a fun thing to do.”

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. Of course, I’ve heard of air fryers and people have typically deep fryers in their house, but there’s different ways of doing it. But the fresh market definitely, people definitely stocked up on potatoes, it just wasn’t the French fried kind.

Dillon Honcoop:
What happened to all those potatoes, and is happening I guess, that there’s still some left that there wasn’t a market for? What do you do in that situation? I know the Potato Commission was doing some pretty big events, even like at the Tacoma Dome, getting potatoes to people and stuff. There was some outside-the-box thinking going on, I know.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, but it’s still not making that much of a difference. I mean, I’ve heard numbers as much as a billion potatoes that they’re trying to get rid of and I think they’ve gotten rid of a few million, which sounds like… It is a lot, it’s just kind of a drop in the bucket compared to what they really need to get rid of. I don’t know what they’re going to do. I mean, worst case it goes to the cows but the cows could only eat so much potatoes, I suppose.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Derek Friehe:
But then, I don’t know. It’s going to hurt a lot of guys.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Are there potato operations that will be forced out of business by this whole thing?

Derek Friehe:
I would imagine so. I don’t know. Guys have survived other stuff and hopefully their banks are lenient with them. I don’t know. I mean, we hate to rely on federal bailouts but, I don’t know, some of the federal relief programs haven’t really touched potatoes too much so they kind of need to get that sorted out and then figure out the guys that actually eat it and hopefully they can stay afloat. But yeah, I would imagine it’s going to hurt some guys.

Dillon Honcoop:
The potatoes you, guys, grow, what do they go to? Like French fries, food service kind of stuff, what else? I mean, are they used for [crosstalk 00:25:52]?

Derek Friehe:
I think pretty much all French fries and probably hash browns. So, the plant down the road is who we sell our potatoes to and that’s Simplot, and that’s primarily an export plant. Being in the northwest close to the port, biggest market being Japan and the East Asia, a lot of stuff gets exported that way. McDonald’s-type spec fry is what they’re going for.

Dillon Honcoop:
What does that mean spec fry?

Derek Friehe:
Like the McDonald’s is the gold standard. They have really tight specs for… I mean they want every fry obviously [crosstalk 00:26:26] to look the same, so you need pretty high quality. It has to meet all the quality attributes for them to be able to ship it there.

Dillon Honcoop:
Now, let’s talk about market disruption and stuff with COVID challenges. It takes me back to your comment about farmers being optimists, and it also makes me think of your background in corporate business. Some of these risks and difficult situations that farmers end up in trying to grow food, would a corporation even make some of those moves that you see farmers saying, “No, we’re going to go forward even though we’ve lost money for a few years, but we think there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

Derek Friehe:
That’s an interesting question because even corporation… I mean, there’s all sorts of ways to take risk. A lot of corporations, at least I kind of felt that way. I mean, a lot of times you’re not the one, let’s say, taking the risk. You got a good salary, sometimes you might have stock options, but you’re not necessarily the one, at least where I was at, I was kind of working for a big restaurant chain. It was the franchisees. It was the folks that are investing a bunch of money that were the ones risking a lot and potentially making a lot. I mean, the corporate, you’re more of a cog in the machine a little bit, you’re not as… I think, they’re a little more risk averse.

Derek Friehe:
When it comes to farming, I think there’s something about being tied to the land and that rootedness that gives you the ability to weather stuff or there’s a longevity to it that’s worth seeing through as opposed to something like, “Hey, I’m going to build this house or I’m going to spec it out and see if I can take a gamble. Well, if it doesn’t work out, I’m going to give the keys to the bank and move on to the next thing.” I mean, your land, your livelihood and maybe there’s generations, there’s history, there’s memories there, there’s something about that that I think, yeah, maybe it makes you take the long view in investing in it and saying, “I’m going to go through some of those bad years. It’s my land, it’s where I grew up, it’s many cases, my parents or grandparents are buried here, it’s where I want to raise my kids. It’s more…

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, it’s not just a job that I want to risk my future. I mean, you have plenty places, people go out and risk and they have to declare bankruptcy and then move on to the next thing, not farmers as much. I don’t know the statistics on that, but that’s my general sense now that I’m out on the farm. You raise your kids here and it’s a way of life. It’s not just a passive investment that I’m just going to invest like stock market. I have skin on the game but it’s nothing to do with my day-to-day reality-

Dillon Honcoop:
Not your whole life.

Derek Friehe:
… family and tradition and [crosstalk 00:29:20] speculation-

Dillon Honcoop:
I often ask farmers because times can often be tough for farmers. It’s not huge margin stuff. It’s hard work. Then the question sometimes is, “Well, why do farmers keep doing it?” You’ll see these farmers take losses sometimes year after year. It’s like, “Why do you keep doing it?” But I think what you’re explaining there kind of gets at some of the answer, that there’s more to the equation than just the dollars.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. In any business, yeah, you have to make money to keep operating and you can only go so long with the equity of your land before it runs out if you’re not doing a good job or if the markets don’t allow you to succeed. But I think farmers, I think they love what they do, I think it’s not just business that I’ve invested in that can be here one day then gone the next. I mean, I think they love it, they’re passionate about it. It’s typically type of family and I think they like being on a tractor. I think they like touching the dirt, and it’s physical, it’s something you can stand on. And there’s something kind of romantic, fulfilling about like seeing something from start to finish like that where you’re kind of stewarding, kind of a co-operator with the land, with nature.

Derek Friehe:
There’s something kind of beautiful about even being dependent on weather and you definitely play a role, but you’re not in control. I mean, you do as much as you can do, but at some point like the others outside external things that dictate your future, but it’s fun. Come harvest time after a year of planning and trying to do everything right, and weather cooperates and you get to kind of see harvest, I mean, kind of standard cliché, like reap what you sow and you can see the fruits of your labor. I mean, it’s a cliché for a reason. There’s something, yeah, kind of romantic and beautiful about it.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the secret to growing awesome potatoes?

Derek Friehe:
Oh, man.

Dillon Honcoop:
I mean, what’s even just the process in a nutshell for people who don’t know how potatoes are grown? Like you plant them from basically pieces of potatoes.

Derek Friehe:
You plant them from… yeah. So, it’s pretty amazed when you get into the seed piece of it because I mean, that seed is a third generation seed. So it’s like three years ago, they started with a nuclear like kind of stem and then grew tiny seed from that and then another generation of seed from that. It’s a long process even just to get the seed and that’s a big deal, too because there are certain regions, Montana, someplace in Idaho, Canada that grow really good seed that aren’t infected, don’t have a lot of disease, so that’s a really big deal where you get your seed. And yeah, that’s the first big part of it is getting good seed, doing a good job planting. It’s a lot more complicated than just going down the road and getting some wheat seed or corn seed or something like that.

Derek Friehe:
So, you have to do a lot of research, you have to a lot more. I mean, and then you got to cut it. So, I mean, for four or five weeks we have a whole bay that’s like a little mini factory in there and that’s conveyors and belts and cutting equipment and people on the line cutting, taking bad seed out. I mean, it’s a whole process just to get the seed ready to put in the ground.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, they get the actual full sized seed potatoes and then cut them into pieces?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because you can get multiple plants out of one potato that way?

Derek Friehe:
Right. Right. Your seed cost would be astronomical if you’re going big seed, so you’re going for about 2.5 ounces average, that’s what we go for anyway. But obviously, potatoes come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, so you’re trying to do your best to cut them down either once or twice to get them in that range.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because the key is they need at least a couple of eyes on them because it’s those eyes on the potato.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. You want your eyes on there. If you don’t have eyes, you’re just planting some little piece of potato, that’s not going to do anything. But yeah, about two, two and a half ounces will get plenty of eyes and you’ll be good. So yeah, we plan April and pretty much the whole month and then it’s a long growing season. We’d start harvest September 15 usually and go for a solid month, so it’s one of our actually longer crops. And yeah, it just takes a lot of babies and I think it’s not necessarily a secret, but I think the key is you’re just always checking it. I mean, you just got to babysit.

Derek Friehe:
I have heard it said the most important thing you could put in the field, like the most important input is either your shadow or your boots, or I mean just being there. It’s not a special fertilizer, which you got to get all that stuff right, but you got to be in there. Moisture management’s huge, but yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you got to irrigate a lot to keep them going?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. It would take a lot of water. I mean, some people say 30 inches of water per year, which is on the higher end versus weed that do 17 inches and be fine.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, that’s what you have those big circles for?

Derek Friehe:
Yep.

Dillon Honcoop:
With overhead irrigation.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. We only get like eight or nine inches of rain here, so we’re absolutely dependent on canal systems, wells to produce enough water for all that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. That’s what I was going to ask. Where does that water come from here? Like, if you have those sprinklers in a big pivot, one of those big circle irrigators that goes around, where is that water coming from? Is that from a well that’s underneath that irrigator?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, a couple of different sources. So, we got a canal that runs close to our farm, so we’ll pull out of there for some ground and then we got deep wells for some of it, too, so kind of a combination between those two things. It’s all sorts of water.

Dillon Honcoop:
And out here, where does the water in the canal come from? Is that part of the whole system of dams and rivers?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, so Columbia River, just behind Grand Coulee right there. So, they’ll pump it up, and then it will go into banks, Banks Lake, and that’s a massive reservoir, and then it will go through canal systems. And Billy Clapp Lake down into a whole network of both big and small canals. So, we’re close to the East Low, so one of the biggest canals will pump directly out of. That’s a really good source of water. I mean, it’s I think, 600,000 acres irrigated out of that whole system. And I think we’re only using like 3% of the Columbia River. So, it’s amazing how much water’s going through there and proportionally how little we’re actually using of the river to irrigate all that and create economy that’s pretty massive in this area.

Dillon Honcoop:
And a lot of people fed.

Derek Friehe:
Yep.

Dillon Honcoop:
All over the globe, really.

Derek Friehe:
Yep.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thinking about all the controversy over the dams and stuff and a lot of people think, “Oh, well, we can replace that hydro power,” but those dams are so much more than just hydro power, right? Hydro power isn’t necessarily for some of the dams in our region. The first most important use, right? It’s irrigation, flood control, and lot of those other things. Well, what did those mean to you in being able to farm here?

Derek Friehe:
I mean, that’s everything. I mean, that’s the only reason people are here. This is a desert. I mean, I don’t know how big Moses Lake was before, but it was pretty small and I don’t think people liked living here for that reason. The dust blows and you can’t even do dryland wheat, really. I mean, you’re getting 40-bushel dryland wheat here, just because we don’t get enough rain. So, you completely transform the whole region of the state that produces food, like you said, for the nation, for around the world. And then families, communities, recreation. I mean, sometimes I complain about the west siders that come over here to kind of get out of the city and fish, hunt, because I mean, there’s boat, recreation, all that stuff. So, it provides for a whole state in a lot of ways, so a pretty amazing area.

Dillon Honcoop:
What kind of a focus do you guys have on environmental issues with your farm?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, I think it’s both. It’s in our self-interest. I mean, yeah, stuff gets mandated that we don’t always like, because they don’t make sense and they’re pretty burdensome. But yeah, big picture, I mean, we want to take care of stuff. I mean, even big push on like soil health and raising organic matter and all that. I mean, yeah, we will run to that. I mean, all that stuff helps us grow crops and keeps things around for again, I go back to the generational thing. I mean, farmers typically are kind of family businesses that they want to keep for generations. So you are thinking long term, you’re thinking, “My kids and grandkids, what are they going to be farming?”

Derek Friehe:
It’s not just, “Hey, I’m going to take a short term, mind the soil and abuse things just, so I can get a short term profit gain. I literally am short handing my kids and my grandkids.” So, there’s like a built in, I think, check on that and you’re looking at the short-term like my decision to put more manure down or green manure crops might not pay off by next year, but you do know like, “Hey. This is the science behind it and this is good,” like a long-term investment that that will pay off at some point, again for future generations and all.

Dillon Honcoop:
Green manure, what does that mean?

Derek Friehe:
Like a plant that’s not necessarily a cash crop, so like after I’d take off wheat or something I could plant like a lagoon or something that builds the soil. I’m not necessarily taking nutrients off, but it could fixate nitrogen, it could kind of build the soil and you’re putting it back in and I mean, that’s a real cost. I got by the seed, I got a plant it, I got to fertilize, sometimes I got to water it, all that stuff just to-

Dillon Honcoop:
Also, the opportunity cost of not getting some other crop off of there, right?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, right, so yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
But that builds the soil, and ultimately, you’re fertilizing your soil in a more natural way.

Derek Friehe:
Yep. Yep. So, that’s a long-term play. I can’t put that on the spreadsheet and say, “Hey, I know my cost and this is, I got a 5% return on that investment.” Like yeah, no, but it’s still good and I’m thinking long-term.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you guys are doing some organic stuff?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
How do you get into that? What does that involve? And is that potatoes or is that other things?

Derek Friehe:
We haven’t done potatoes yet. We have another processor down the road that does a lot of fresh or processed sweet corn and peas, and so, we’ve gone the sweet corn. It got us into it and then that’s actually my brother’s expertise and what he’s gotten into, so he’s really taken the bull by the horns on the organic and we’ve the three-year process to transition conventional to organic. And so it’s again a long view of like, “All right. We’re going to invest in this and probably take in the shorts and lose money for those three years while we transition.” But definitely a big learning curve on it’s a different way of farming and it definitely has its value and benefits and hardships. I mean, I tried to plant a circle of peas this year and had to plant twice and second time even failed to, so it’s sort of-

Dillon Honcoop:
What happened?

Derek Friehe:
Oh, it was farm conventionally a long time and I think there was some like Pythium build up and because it’s organic, you can’t put any seed treat on it, so I think it just attacks the seed and-

Dillon Honcoop:
So, what’s Pythium?

Derek Friehe:
It’s like bacteria that’s in the soil. I mean, there’s-

Dillon Honcoop:
Some soil pest.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s attacks the seed.

Derek Friehe:
There’s all like hundreds of them, thousands that are in there that they’re everywhere. It’s just peas are a little more susceptible. Yeah, that’s organic. I mean, down the road, I did exact same variety with a seed treat and it looks awesome. So, just the cost of doing organic sometimes, I guess.

Dillon Honcoop:
And such is the way of farming, too where you’re going to do one thing and then you try something different and find out, “Oh, there’s this issue,” some issue that you hadn’t dealt with before.

Derek Friehe:
Yep. Yep.

Dillon Honcoop:
Always something new.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. And I mean, as long as you’re learning from it. I mean, you try to sometimes those are expensive mistakes and yeah, you try to imagine what you’re going to do different next year, even though the second time planting, I thought I had fixed that, I think and apparently not, but yeah, that’s what’s great about farming, right? You’re not producing a widget. I mean, it’s everything’s changing. There’s a hundred different variables that go into producing good crop. So, there’s always something different and you’re always puzzling, always trying to figure it out and it keeps you on your toes and sometimes awake at night, but it’s fun.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, what do you all grow? I guess we’ve talked a lot about potatoes.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you mentioned sweet corn and you mentioned something else, too.

Derek Friehe:
Wheat.

Dillon Honcoop:
And you talked about peas and wheat.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. Bluegrass seed is another big one, so Kentucky Bluegrass seed is another big rotational crop. And then we’ve gotten into organic asparagus is a new growing emerging crop on our farm, which is interesting because it’s like a spring harvest, so while we’re planting everything else, we’re harvesting the asparagus, and-

Dillon Honcoop:
When do you plant the asparagus then?

Derek Friehe:
Well, that’s also-

Dillon Honcoop:
In the fall or in the middle of winter, or what?

Derek Friehe:
Oh, we just actually got done planting another field.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, really?

Derek Friehe:
But it’s going to be three years until you’re in production.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, really? Wow.

Derek Friehe:
It’s a long, it’s a perennial crop, so it could stand in the ground for 10, 15 years, but yeah, that’s the latest and greatest on our farm. But yeah, like I said, alfalfa, Timothy hay, sometimes we do beans if fits in.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, it’s all about-

Derek Friehe:
Canola seed, a couple of fields of that.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, it’s all about the rotation or which dirt given field is or what makes the call on that?

Derek Friehe:
Well, because potatoes the big one, we’re rotating around that, so you got that every four years, so the other three years, you’re figuring out what to grow. And sweet corn works really good in rotation. It’s good before potatoes. It builds up the soil before going to potatoes. And again, some of us markets. We got a processor down the road, so it makes it really easy to deliver to them. Wheat, I don’t always like to do wheat. It’s not that profitable, but it works really well before bluegrass. And the Bluegrass is good from both the soil health standpoint and seed crops. You can sometimes make more money. So, kind of between those solid four and then you can mix it up here and there.

Derek Friehe:
And doing a lot of alfalfa because it transitions really well to organic, so your number one issue in organic is weeds. You’re just constantly dealing with weeds and so alfalfa because you’re cutting it four times a year, you’re constantly picking out weeds. So it’s an easier way to transition and you still have a crop that you’re hopefully breaking even on or making some money on.

Dillon Honcoop:
Where does that alfalfa go? I mean, that’s bailed up as hay or is it forage, like forage crop?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. So, it’s also mostly exported, too if it’s high enough quality. So, down the road, we got some friends that run a press and a lot of times we’ll sell our alfalfa to them. They’ll press it, cube it, put it into containers and ship it overseas, so to Asia and-

Dillon Honcoop:
And they’re feeding it to cattle over there?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, dairy cows. I think dairy cow is a big one. Sometimes horses, but cattle. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So much stuff to keep track of. How do you track at all?

Derek Friehe:
I don’t. I can’t. Yeah. No, we got it we got a good team. We got a lot of guys that keep track of different things. And so, that’s probably, yeah. No one person can keep track of it all, that’s for sure.

Dillon Honcoop:
When you came in coming from the business world and got involved in some of the business stuff here, did you make some changes, kind of say, “Hey, here’s some new ways of going about things,” or how do you manage that kind of stuff?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, I mean, not… I see little things that I could have done. Like I took over it stuff, I was like, “We need an IT company. We need better internet.” I mean, people are always complaining about the internet. So, I don’t know. I just found little things that people had issues with that weren’t up to my standards, I guess. We need good internet here. That’s important.

Dillon Honcoop:
What does a farm need internet for?

Derek Friehe:
Oh, my gosh. Well, that’s a good-

Dillon Honcoop:
I could probably answer that question, but you can probably answer it better than me.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, well, especially well, our accounting. We have a really good accounting team and they’re pretty connected with all that stuff. But I mean, you’re a big thing, well, this relates to another issue I saw like utilizing technology was like on pivot, like pivot control, having stuff on your like telemetry, having it on your phone. It’s expensive to get it on your phone. We use field net, so that’s a thematic product and that’s all the circles that we have mostly. But basically getting the panel, the circle panel on your phone and being able to control it from there was like huge. And I definitely made a push to get that done and we tested on a few fields and I was like, “This is a no brainer.” like this is-

Dillon Honcoop:
So, what can you control them from your phone, like you could actually irrigator?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. You can start it, you can stop it, you can set programs, you can set when it stops, you can view it from anywhere to figure out where it’s at. If it breaks down, you get a text. I mean, it’s just real time. And having to drive in every single time, wear and tear and pickups. It’s pretty amazing like how much. I mean, sometimes I’m lying in bed, like checking it and I can set a call stop and start, so that it stops at a certain time and that saved me a whole trip out there, like it’s definitely paid for itself. And it’s just one of those technology pieces that is pretty amazing that 15 years ago didn’t have that huge productivity efficiency gains.

Dillon Honcoop:
Does that save water? Like being able to make sure that you don’t have issues there and you have your timing right for irrigation?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. I suppose it can save. Yeah, yeah. It can save. I mean, you could just be more precise, you can plan a little better, you can make sure it’s off when it needs to be or check it quicker and make sure either it’s on or off, but more so just for the crop itself. If something happens, you can respond a lot quicker if it’s on and not moving and watering in one place. I mean, just from a crop man, I mean, I think you can do a better job irrigating, get better crops from it, for sure.

Dillon Honcoop:
Versus if it breaks down in the middle of the night and just sits there pouring water into one spot and you have a big mud hole and you wasted a bunch of water and you have a big mess on your hands.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, yeah. Yeah or if it really needs water, and it shuts off in the middle of the night, and maybe I wasn’t getting to that field until midmorning, but I can first thing right there, turn it up. It’s going to get hot and needs it, and so yeah, your response. So, ideally, you should be able to get better crops.

Dillon Honcoop:
It makes it hard to get away from work, though.

Derek Friehe:
In some ways.

Dillon Honcoop:
I guess, you’d have to wake up in the middle of the night and adjust your irrigation if you wanted to fumble out in bed.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. No, in some ways… Yeah, but yeah. No, but in some ways, it makes it easier like I can take off for weekend and still monitor stuff I need to or make some changes and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Spend actually a little bit of time with your family.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. Exactly.

Dillon Honcoop:
But keep an eye on the irrigation.

Derek Friehe:
Exactly. Well, I love it. I can’t go back, even though it costs a little bit.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Derek Friehe:
But, it’s pretty sweet.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s been the hardest thing on the farm since you’ve been back? And farming has its challenges, what’s been the most challenging time for you so far?

Derek Friehe:
It’s just the learning curve is steep. I mean, it’s one of those things I want to figure out. I want to solve it a lot quicker than just the seasonality of farming allows for. I encounter problem with planting like, I don’t come around to that specific thing for another year and so it takes me five years to get just those five events to happen as opposed to if it was replicating itself more often. I could really feel like getting up to speed quicker and just the long process and just long enough for years, so that you forget and having to relearn it, and it’s just… I mean, that’s why these good farmers, I mean, they’ve been doing it 50, 60 years. They’d just seen everything and there’s no book that can teach that to you.

Dillon Honcoop:
Even though, them, I mean, 50 years, that’s only 50 chances.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, you got to make each one of those count.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Because that’s a lifetime.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. That’s not very many. I mean, it is and it isn’t. I mean, it’s yeah. You really got to be on top of it and try to ideally take notes or I don’t know. I mean, it’s just, yeah, a lot of it’s by gut for a lot of these guys just because they’ve done it so many times, but it’s taken so many years to get to that point. So, that’s been the toughest thing. I wish I could learn way faster and it’s just sometimes slow.

Dillon Honcoop:
You set some kind of record or something with wheat growing, right?

Derek Friehe:
You saw that, did you?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Well, what was the story there? As a potato grower, well, obviously you guys grow wheat on your rotation, but it sounds like you’ve really honed in on some cool stuff that you’re doing with growing wheat.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. So I became the wheat guy a couple of years ago and I take this on and managed it. And so, I did and I looking around and I saw that that competition, a lot of the winners were coming out of this area and it’s like, “Man, are we missing something?” They’re literally miles away and they’re getting yields like that, and-

Dillon Honcoop:
What was the competition? Like what’s-

Derek Friehe:
It’s just a national wheat yield competition. I mean, it’s-

Dillon Honcoop:
So, it’s like to see who can get the most off of an acre or how?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, it’s small plots so it’s like three-acre test plot that you got to set it aside, harvest it, weigh it, have it certified by a third party and if it’s a tie enough, you can win the competition. So, it’s not like a full field but it’s still kind of a small sample size. And anyway, I saw that. I saw some of the ground mist, who were involved in that and just reached out to him like, “Hey, we got to grow wheat. Can you help us out?” And so, I brought him in. Yeah and like first year, we took part in it. We got a combination of picking the right spot, good year, good field. And yeah, won it with 180 bushels to the acre, so not that the whole field did that but that three-acre plot that did it. Yeah, it’s cool. Won a trip to San Antonio and yeah, kind of fun for the farm, I think for the guys to see that.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, this is what the highest wheat yields in the country?

Derek Friehe:
The nation, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Derek Friehe:
For certain class oats irrigated spring wheats, so as opposed to either dryland spring wheat or winter wheat or irrigated winter wheat and all that, so in that class, it got the highest. But yeah, it was kind of amazing, because we’re only potato growers, so I think it was surprising for the guys, it’s like, “Oh, okay.” Because we do other crops pretty well too, but it’s kind of fun.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Something like that though, does that change the way the things that you discover when you’re doing that. Does that change the way you farm the rustier wheat from little the test plot or?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. We’ve definitely made some changes. I mean, it’s a small sample one year. I mean, you take that with a grain of salt, like you need to replicate that for a few years, different fields, see if we can get the same results. But yeah, yeah, I made some changes to the program. And again, I think our farm is more like, “Hey, we’re not going to spend a ton of money on wheat.” It’s low cost. Let’s just plant it because we have to, and it’s a good rotation, but not spending a ton of energy, time on it.

Derek Friehe:
So yeah, I kind of took it over, and I’m still learning a lot and that was part of it, too, is bringing in somebody that can teach and compare notes with and see what they’re doing. So yeah, it’s helpful and yeah, icing on the cake to witness something like that, too.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. What did the long-time wheat farmers in the neighborhood say to you about that really? What are you doing, you young buck?

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, I know.

Dillon Honcoop:
You got lucky.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, pretty much. Yeah, I know. Sometimes, I think it was lucky, but no, it’s a good area. I mean, like I said this area, I think some of the neighbors have worn it before and they’re at the right latitude. We got the right temperatures. I mean, it’s got good water, soil. It all adds up. I mean, I listened to a deal yesterday, I think UK and New Zealand are the highest grossing wheat yields in the world and a guy in New Zealand got like 250 bushels or something. So anyway, that puts in perspective, there’s still a long way to go, but it’s pretty amazing to be able to get those yields.

Dillon Honcoop:
So now, are you gunning for 250 bushels.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, sure. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you think you could do that?

Derek Friehe:
No. Not right away. We’ll get there.

Dillon Honcoop:
[crosstalk 00:54:49], isn’t it?

Derek Friehe:
If I can get it to 200, I’d be happy.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah. I don’t know if that’s ever happened in the U.S., probably not.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, thanks for sharing your story. There’s a lot of cool stuff you guys have going on here and I could sense it right away when I drove onto the farm, just signage and the people here, and it was a really positive vibe.

Derek Friehe:
Oh, good.

Dillon Honcoop:
So, I could tell it you guys really care about what you’re doing here.

Derek Friehe:
Good. Yeah. No. It’s a hopefully a good play. I mean, you don’t know what employees are saying behind locked doors, but you hope you create a culture that they look forward to coming to work to and feel taken care of, and feel part of the family.

Dillon Honcoop:
And I appreciate you being willing to open up and share the personal side of all of it, too.

Derek Friehe:
Yeah, yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Derek is so relaxed, and it’s just… I mean, obviously, he’s faced challenges and done a lot of different stuff, a lot of hard work, but you can tell he’s just the person that can take it as it comes and keeps a positive attitude and it really was cool visiting the farm there because they’re a big operation but it doesn’t feel like that. Everyone’s communicating and talking. It’s a really positive atmosphere and I really enjoyed my visit there at Friehe Farms.

Dillon Honcoop:
If you enjoyed this conversation with Derek, make sure to check out our YouTube channel. I’m just starting to get it up and going, so I’ll be adding more stuff as I go here, and hopefully I’ll even be able to add some of the conversation that went on even beyond what we have here on the podcast, some extra conversation that we had. I want to say before it was over, but it’s only over when it’s over and I get my car and drive away. The conversation just continues, so I’ve got more of that to share on our YouTube channel. Just Real Food, Real People on YouTube, just search it up. It should be easy to find.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thank you for your support. Thank you for subscribing Google podcasts, on Spotify, on Apple podcasts, you name it. Also, following our social media channels Real Food, Real People on Facebook, on Twitter and on Instagram, and checking out our website realfoodrealpeople.org. Again, my name is Dillon Honcoop, grew up on a family farm and I just want to share the stories of family farmers and all the other people behind our food, in the restaurant world, in the research world, we’ve had here people who distribute food. All kinds of stuff that is part of bringing food grown here to our tables.

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.