Steve Pabody | #035 08/10/2020

A freak incident almost killed Steve Pabody, completely changing his perspective on how he manages his small farm in Ferndale, WA. Hear how he and his wife started Triple Wren Farms with no farming experience, and grew it into a diverse, thriving operation.

Transcript

Dillon Honcoop:
They saved your life.

Steve Pabody:
I think so. I think several times, probably.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
The good news is, those nurses, I told them, I said, “You guys saved my life and I can’t really return the favor, but you get free blueberries for life.”

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

Dillon Honcoop:
A very scary freak incident almost killed Steve Pabody. He’s our guest this week. He and his wife founded and own Triple Wren Farms in Ferndale, Washington, producing various veggies and some fruit and blueberries and a lot of flowers, dahlias and other flowers. That’s kind of their claim to fame. He came from no farming background and worked his way into being one of the biggest flower producers in the area. He has an incredible story to tell, including that scary episode where he almost lost his life but bounced back, and it’s changed his perspective. So join me in this conversation with Steve Pabody at Triple Wren Farms. I’m Dillon Honcoop. This is the Real Food Real People Podcast, documenting my journeys around Washington State to get to know the real people behind our food.

Steve Pabody:
A friend of mine, his wife’s always posting, right?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Steve Pabody:
So he posted one, a picture on Instagram. She’s a flower farmer as well. He’s looking down. He goes, “This is what my opinion is of all my wife’s photos. Oh, my poor flowers.” I said, “Yeah, that’s spot on, man. Spot on.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Hey, but if it works, if it sells the flowers, right?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. 27,000 Instagram followers, it’s got to be working.

Dillon Honcoop:
How did you guys do that?

Steve Pabody:
We just post pictures of … Well, two things, two things. Number one, we have an amazing flower field and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, as we can see here.

Steve Pabody:
Yes. Yes, yes. And of course, my wife’s photography. But then a lot of what she’s done the last couple years is we’ve just kind of shared our heart. So where she may be learning some personal things or we just navigate some sticky situations, she just shares that. I think that really kind of connects with people, so they get excited about that. But without good photography, I don’t know.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s all about the photography, especially on the ‘Gram.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. On Instagram for sure.

Dillon Honcoop:
I mean, you’re a flower farmer. We’re going to hear all about the farm. But you didn’t start farming, right?

Steve Pabody:
I didn’t.

Dillon Honcoop:
What were you doing professionally before you decided to become a farmer?

Steve Pabody:
I actually went to school for theology.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Steve Pabody:
Yes. And so I worked at some ministries, a Christian camp, and then I was in the pastorate for a little while, and then it was just a brief time where I was between really God’s direction in my life and a friend of mine offered me a chance to babysit their orchard. I told him, I said, “Hey, I don’t know anything about apples. But even worse, I don’t know anything about farming. I don’t know anything about agriculture. I don’t even know anything about business.” So he asked if I would maintain his property and watch over his orchard and run the whole operation. So meanwhile, my wife picked up a book at the library and it says, “How you can be a flower farmer.” She thought, “Oh, that’s awesome.” She showed it to me and I said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m going to run this orchard and we’re going to grow vegetables and be market farmers.” And I didn’t sell a lot of vegetables.

Dillon Honcoop:
So where was this?

Steve Pabody:
It was right in Ferndale. Ferndale, Washington, yep. And so while I was busy trying to figure out how to grow apples and how to keep everything alive, she was reading flower farmer books and it just … I don’t know, I think it kind of ignited something in here where she was like, “Hey, yeah. I always thought it would be cool to grow a lot of flowers and now we can do it profitably.” We sold every stem she grew, and what the rabbits didn’t eat of my vegetables, we composted whatever we couldn’t consume ourselves. And so I knew that that was not the future for me, and so we started growing flowers and it just kind of took off from there. Now obviously-

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, how did you get this farm?

Steve Pabody:
Well-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s one of the hardest parts, is to get in to get some ground to grow stuff on, right?

Steve Pabody:
It is. It is. And in the beginning, when we were just watching somebody else’s property and doing this as an experiment, we didn’t really think that we would ever own our own place. So we just started looking around, started talking to farmers here in Whatcom County that know about what ground is good and what’s important. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with farmers and they say, “If I could do it all over again, I would make sure I had 100% water rights.” That’s probably the first thing that everyone tells me. Have water rights. And then know what kind of soil you have. Another smart farmer told me, “You should grow whatever your soil is set up to grow already. Don’t try to grow broccoli in Whatcom County. It’s going to be a tough run.” So-

Dillon Honcoop:
Hey, I hear that it can be done.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, and I know-

Dillon Honcoop:
On the right soil if you can find it.

Steve Pabody:
And there’s some great farmers who do that. But yeah, even in the flower world, there are some flowers that like a thick, heavy soil and there are some flowers that don’t. And so we’re on this beautiful berry soil. It’s got that Lindale loam and that trope loam, and I got a little bit of [inaudible 00:05:37] muck as my property slopes down to the peat bogs over there. But yeah, I don’t do good with flowers that need that thick, heavy, chunky stuff. I do stuff that grow beautiful on this loam. And as you can see, something’s working.

Dillon Honcoop:
They’re doing all right. Something is working.

Steve Pabody:
They’re doing just fine, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
So talk about that journey. You get this piece of land at some point and start … What was your philosophy going into this? How much was it just pieced at a time and how much was there an overarching plan of, “This is where we want to get to”?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. The story of how we got it, or … It is an adventure.

Dillon Honcoop:
Either one.

Steve Pabody:
I don’t want to bore you with that, but …

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, either one. No.

Steve Pabody:
Well, I guess-

Dillon Honcoop:
We’re here to hear the details. All the gory details.

Steve Pabody:
Okay. Should I drop names? Do we want that, too?

Dillon Honcoop:
Hey, whatever you feel comfortable with.

Steve Pabody:
I got to be friends with Randy Craft with Barbie’s Berries and very graciously he answered about a billion of my questions like, “Hey, I’m thinking about doing this,” or, “What do you think?” Just even irrigation questions and just general knowledge that I should have had that I didn’t that he and just … Again, I could name probably 30, 40 farmers that have just graciously looked at me like I look at my small children and patiently told them what’s going on.

Steve Pabody:
So when I was talking about land, I knew that I probably should just find some farmers who knew the area and knew what might be available in a couple years or what is a good place to look. Randy said, “Hey, you should look at that property that the USDA is up for foreclosure. They’re auctioning it off and they’re looking for a new farmer, a young farmer to come take it up.” And it just worked out. We got in there right when they were closing it and they did a raffle, almost. And so we still had to pay for it, but we had the ability to-

Dillon Honcoop:
It wasn’t like, $2 ticket and who comes away with the property kind of thing? Not that kind of raffle?

Steve Pabody:
Unfortunately. No, no, no, no. I wish it was that kind of raffle. No. But the have a program where some of their funds are allocated toward new farmers, young farmers, beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers, and if you’ve been farming for more than three years but less than 10 years, you qualify as … You just need some help, generally. And so that’s how we got this property. Then when we got here, we were still at the orchard. We were trying to do both, trying to manage the orchard and trying to manage this, trying to get this up and going. It was a foreclosure, so the property owners kind of took away everything that you would think that … They took the pump and they took a lot of stuff. So anyways, it took a lot longer to redo the house than I was anticipating, and then just to get things in place that I didn’t have and didn’t know exactly what I needed. So again, the great community here at Whatcom County selling me what I needed.

Dillon Honcoop:
So what were you doing to be able to pay the bills at that point? How were you making it go?

Steve Pabody:
After we got this property?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Steve Pabody:
Well, we were selling flowers and hoofing it. I mean, in the very, very beginning, how we started getting an income is I did have my housing and a living because I was managing somebody else’s property. I was living at their place, so just had utilities, basic things. And we just grew flowers and sold them to anybody that would buy them, so that meant driving to florists, talking to grocery stores. And eventually, it just happened that we found a couple of buyers at grocery stores that said, “Oh yeah, we’ll buy your product.” We’d take sample buckets and say, “Hey, look, this is what we can do and we can do it for you.” So they were gracious enough to give us a shot, and then we just started tripling and quadrupling what we were growing every year. And now we have a little bit of extra.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you had kind of a philosophy, though, of sustainability in putting this all together, right?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, I think that in the beginning, it’s a very romantic notion to think that you could just jump into the middle of something that we’ve been doing for hundreds of years and make sense of it, number one. But getting back to the land, growing our own food, growing agricultural products that we’re reselling, the idea was, let’s do that in a way that benefits nature and the world around us instead of takes away from it. And I think there’s so many people now that have just been awakened to a lot of the flip side of that, just making a profit at the cost of everything around you. In the community that I’m in, the agricultural community, I don’t know anybody who thinks that way because that’s just like burning the bridge that you’re walking on, right?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

Steve Pabody:
Eventually-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s a good analogy.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. I mean, maybe burning it behind you as you’re walking, maybe, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
But still, that’s stupid and-

Steve Pabody:
Right, and nobody does that. I mean, farmers understand, “Okay, so I’ve got to manage everything. So that means keeping water on my field but doing it efficiently so I’m not spending all the money in infrastructure, electricity, and just wearing everything out.” So it’s all about balancing everything out. “There’s bugs on my vegetable.” Well, nobody really wants to eat vegetables with bugs. They don’t. So you got to do something to keep them off. You can go out and pinch them all off if you want, but that’s going to limit the amount of vegetables you can grow effectively, right? So all of those things, just really understanding how the plant is growing, what it needs, how can you help it.

Steve Pabody:
So sustainability was a thing that we were striving for in the very beginning because there are some family goals that we have and the idea … When the opportunities started to present themselves … I say opportunities because it’s almost like we’ve course corrected every year. We do one thing, it’s working great, and then the customer decides, “Oh, we don’t need those sunflowers anymore.” Okay, now what am I going to do with 1,000 sunflowers a week for five more weeks? Well, better find somebody else to sell them to. When we started scaling up our dahlia operation, we were wholesaling them to another farmer who was then retailing them. And we said, “Great. What’s the limit?” They said, “Oh, there’s no limit. We’re selling out, so as many tubers as you can give us, we will sell.” And then they decided, “You know what? We’re going a different direction,” after we just bought a bunch of tubers.

Steve Pabody:
But, I mean, we’re indebted to Chris and Erin Benzakein out of Mount Vernon with Floret Flower Farm. We’re indebted to them because Chris said, “Well, why don’t you just retail your tubers?” And I said, “Man, we can’t do that. We’re not you. You’re the picture perfect flower farmer.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Everybody knows Floret now. They’ve become such a thing, right?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Well, I mean, Erin posts a picture and a bazillion people say, “Yay, I want to be just like you and own a flower farm,” and so when they decided to stop selling tubers and start breeding their own, I had a bunch of tubers that I was planning on them selling. So Chris says, “Well, you just sell them.” And I was like, “I can’t do that.” We sold them.

Dillon Honcoop:
Nice.

Steve Pabody:
And consequently, we’ve had to triple what we’ve had the last couple of years. We keep tripling every year. This year, I’ve got about 28, 29,000 in the ground. Believe it or not, it’s August and I’m still putting tubers in the ground.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. So I don’t think I’ll triple next year. 100,000 dahlias is too much for me. But yeah, it’s safe to say that we’re in the 30,000 dahlia range, and we’re still selling most everything we can produce.

Dillon Honcoop:
And selling them to who? Just online direct to the consumer, or what?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, yeah. Online is the place where we sell our tubers. And then fresh cut flowers, we sell them everybody in the area. Well, anybody who wants them. Currently, we just packed an order up for Charlie’s Produce, and I was amazed to find out where they’re going. I said, “Where are these things going to end up?” I thought probably a chain in Seattle. She goes, “Actually, these are going to Wyoming.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
I said, “What?” She goes, “Yeah, I’m not sure if these dahlias are going to Jackson Hole, but the last order we did with them went to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.” I’m like, “That is insane.” So closer to home, we sell Whole Foods. Not all of their stores, just about all their Washington stores are using our dahlias. And then the Metropolitan Market, it’s a chain in Seattle. They get our stuff. A couple other chains that sometimes order and sometimes don’t. We’ll just see how the new normal is. We’ll see if we still sell to those or not, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
Nobody knows, really, what’s going to happen next.

Steve Pabody:
No. Yeah. So we’re just trying to stay flexible and get ready to course correct again if we need to. But yeah, that’s where we are now.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s not just dahlias that you grow, though, right?

Steve Pabody:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
You kind of have a whole rotation going.

Steve Pabody:
Yes. We used to grow more variety. But in the beginning, we grew more variety because we would really specifically grow to what our customers would say they need. So when we were selling to small florists, they would really need us to succession plant everything so that they could have sunflowers whenever they needed them, or some of the more ethereal, delicate flowers. So we would grow lots of different kinds of those flowers where one particular flower like a cosmos … I mean, we might grow … In the beginning, now, we might grow five or six different varieties so that we could get the different colors so it would match what they needed. That’s just a lot of variety, a lot of planning. Fortunately, my wife handles all the planning. So that’s what we-

Dillon Honcoop:
Same.

Steve Pabody:
There you go. Very good. So that’s what we did in the beginning, and then we started to find that there was a bit more opportunity for us in the way that our overall goal was to grow more of less varieties. So again in the beginning, 150, 200 different types of stuff. That was insane.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like different types of dahlias, or dahlias and all different kinds of flowers?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Everything. Everything from hellebore starts in the winter to ranunculus, anemone, onto your summer flowers, then your fall flowers.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
At the same time, on rented land, we didn’t do a lot of this but we started to establish some perennials, so we put in some roses and some hydrangeas and some stuff that we knew was a longterm crop. But yeah, now that we’re on our own place, we’re still doing that. We’ve got a couple thousand roses and we put in four new colors this year, so put in the coveted Koko Loko and Distant Drums and Honey Dijon and State of Grace. So those are roses that even a designer can’t always go to the wholesaler and get them because they’re just not as bulletproof as some of the South American roses that are available. And so when we find-

Dillon Honcoop:
So that’s the stuff that’s in the grocery store, kind of all the time, middle of winter? That stuff’s coming from South America?

Steve Pabody:
Middle of winter, probably, yeah. There’s a lot of great farms down there, and I love the fact that as a … Because part of what we do is also we design for events and weddings. Not this year, but we had 60 two years ago, 44 or 45 weddings last year, and this year everybody canceled except two.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
Now, fortunately, some of those that had canceled have actually … They just needed to do really small backyard ceremonies, so we’ll sell them flowers, but it’s not the whole …

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, totally.

Steve Pabody:
… couple thousand dollar flower budget. No, they’re looking for $100 worth of flowers, some, because it’s them and their in-laws.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, exactly.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, but with the roses, the ones that are coming up in the winter, those are … or they’re for sale in the winter … those are very sturdy and they’ve been bred so that they store well and that they ship well and that they last a long time. That’s a little bit different than your grandmother’s roses that you went out there and smelled and just remember her baking cookies and going out and walking through her flower garden, yeah. So those are the kind of roses that we’re growing. I’m thankful for those South American farms that produce flowers when we can’t, but I’m sure willing to put my flowers against them …

Dillon Honcoop:
Nice.

Steve Pabody:
… during season any day of the week.

Dillon Honcoop:
Local.

Steve Pabody:
Local, and-

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s where it’s at.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, and it’s just if you’re getting a rose at a grocery store that’s coming from South America, that was picked sometimes a week and a half ago, put in cold storage, kind of like Han Solo from Star Wars, frozen. Not quite, but … And then by the time it gets to the grocery store, a lot of those are going to a distribution center and then it’s taking another day to transit, then it’s coming here. I mean, by the time you get it here, it’s already almost on its last leg.

Dillon Honcoop:
A little different than when people get your flowers. They’re cut the same day.

Steve Pabody:
A lot of times, yep, same day or the day before.

Dillon Honcoop:
Or the day before.

Steve Pabody:
Yep, so we can condition them and get them to you so they’re just in the perfect state.

Dillon Honcoop:
Awesome. Now, you guys grow more than just flowers, though, too, right? You’ve got blueberries, other stuff. What else do you have?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. The addictions, they run deep. We did-

Dillon Honcoop:
Addictions. I like that.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Well, just as kind of a side note, I started keeping bees because we needed bees for the orchard, so I just started talking to the beekeeper who brought them in and I thought, “This is amazing. I love this.” And he goes, “Well, you should buy a couple of hives.” And I’m like, “Okay.” So I bought-

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’re a beekeeper, too.

Steve Pabody:
So I bought three hives and then he’s like, “Well, if they’re healthy and they’re getting lots of nectar, you need to split them and keep them healthy, keep them balanced. You split them.” So I split them, and all of the sudden I had nine hives at the end of the year. Then I had 14 and all the sudden I turned around and I had 37 or 38 hives and I was like, “This is a problem.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Another addiction.

Steve Pabody:
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. So it’s the same way with, hey, I love good food and I love to grow things, and so I’ll start planting some garlic and then next thing you know, I’m like, “I got 600 feet of garlic. What am I going to do with 600 feet of garlic?” So yeah, we got a lot of vegetables and what we kind of pivoted this last year is growing vegetables and just edible flowers so that we could use them for our events. However, our events, all of our night retreats have been canceled.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. All these big plans that a lot of people have had related to events this year, 2020.

Steve Pabody:
Yes. However, we’ve been eating really good here at Triple Wren Farms. These gourmet tomatoes and all the specialty sweet corn. [crosstalk 00:20:42]

Dillon Honcoop:
You have a little you-pick thing going on here, too, right?

Steve Pabody:
I do.

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that just for blueberries, or can some of those other veggies go to people that way?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, sometimes we do put other veggies in our farm stand up there. But yeah, when we got the property, it had two and a half acres of blueberries on it, and so I was like-

Dillon Honcoop:
Blueberries take a long time to establish, so hey, they’re already there, a lot of that work’s been done, right?

Steve Pabody:
Right, yeah. So thank you to the person who planted them and maintained them for the last couple of years. But yeah, they’re actually about 30-year-old bushes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh wow.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. So I don’t do hardly anything to them, much to the chagrin of most of the blueberry farmers listening, I would imagine. But yeah, I mow them and try to keep the blackberries out, but I don’t even have a water on them yet. Fortunately, most of them are in really good, thick soil so they can make it through. And this year, we’ve gotten the extra rain. The berries are huge and they’re delicious. So yeah, with minimal effort, we have a phenomenal blueberry for you pick. It’s a great way for people to pick blueberries, spend some time outside of their quarantine area, and then walk through the flower fields. A lot of people love to do that.

Dillon Honcoop:
How many total acres do you have here?

Steve Pabody:
There’s a little over 20.

Dillon Honcoop:
20 acres.

Steve Pabody:
Or in the words of a wise farmer … I said, “I’m looking for about 20 acres.” He goes, “That’s a lot of grass to mow.” Should have listened a little bit more to the wise, sage advice. The more property you get, the more management it’s going to take. So yeah, five acres is looking pretty good right now.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you wouldn’t be able to produce nearly as much product as you do, right?

Steve Pabody:
Well, that’s true. Yeah, there’s about six acres in the flower production. Then I’ve got the blueberries, and I’ve just tilled up another four acres in the back that I’m just trying to put the fertility back in there. For years, the people who were here before me hayed it, and that, done well, is great for your soil. But if you don’t put any nutrition back in, or if you just cut and don’t ever give back … So yeah, I’m in the process of putting some dairy solids. My generous neighbor, Mr. Ed, has got all the-

Dillon Honcoop:
The manure.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. I asked him in the beginning, I said, “Hey, do you mind if I grab some of that press solids?” And he said, “Yeah, I mind if you grab a little. You should take it all.”

Dillon Honcoop:
That sounds like Ed.

Steve Pabody:
He said-

Dillon Honcoop:
I know your neighbor.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I said, “Well, you want me to call and let you guys know that I’m there picking it up? I’ll just drive over and pick it up with my tractor because I’m next door.” And he goes, “Do I want you to call?” “Yeah, so people don’t think I’m stealing.” He goes, “Stealing poop?” He said, “Trust me. Steal all the poop you want.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh man. So you grow food, you grow flowers. Talk about your family. I mean, you guys are kind of doing it all, plus some extra crew that comes in at times for harvesting things, et cetera?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Of course, COVID changed all that. We normally have quite a bigger crew early spring, and then harvesting, there’s … We ship thousands of stems every week, and so we just physically can’t do that with two people. We tried. It’s not possible. So yeah, there’s about a dozen people that are seasonal. A couple of them are closer to full time and this last year, pretty close to year round, but still just a little bit of gap when that COVID hit us. So we had to scale that back, especially with inside, the shipping and the tasks that we had to do that was inside a barn, we couldn’t really socially distance. And so that we just had to do all in house, so it was Team Pabody. But yeah-

Dillon Honcoop:
Work, work, work.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. But during the season, like I said, there’s about … I think we’re at 12, maybe 14 people. And that will drastically be reduced after we get our first frost, because from July til … For us, we get a frost the first week of October, and so from then it’s go time. We’re out in the fields cutting flowers, shipping flowers, and then once we get over that, then the wonderful task of working in the Pacific Northwest, October and November, digging the plants out of the ground, storing them, getting them ready for winter, is a race against that freeze. Frost is one thing. With that freeze comes and if you didn’t get it out of the ground before then, that’s it. Game over.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’ll kill the tuber.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, yeah. Kill the tuber and any of the other plants that you were trying to grab.

Dillon Honcoop:
Now, explain that with dahlias, because that’s kind of your main thing. That’s your claim to fame. You saw the flowers and you saw the tubers. Explain how that works. They’re not like a normal flower that you would grow from seed that people are used to. They have a tuber, kind of like a potato, that’s in the ground and then you save it for the next year. Not really like bulbs. Related I guess, sort of, but-

Steve Pabody:
Perhaps distant cousins. So the dahlia is originally a Central American flower. That’s another reason why we love Central American flower farmers, because they gave us the dahlia. So it was imported to Europe as a food crop, and then, right, next-

Dillon Honcoop:
They ate the tubers?

Steve Pabody:
You can eat the tubers. They’re a little fibrous and they don’t taste as good as those Idaho golds.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, I would imagine.

Steve Pabody:
So quickly, people said, “This is way too much work to get something subpar to a potato, but the flowers are amazing.” So then they started making it to the gardens. I don’t know how long they’ve been really popular. They seem to have recently got a surge, probably in part to Floret, maybe some other big names out there. But when we first started growing them, we were just growing them just for the cuts, and now we grow them for all of the above. We grow them for the cuts, for the tubers, and then we’re doing some breeding, just a little bit.

Steve Pabody:
But yeah, in the spring, around here with this climate, we usually tell people to go for around Mother’s Day, you want to get your tubers in the ground, and then just wait. So it warms up, they start popping out, and they’ll flower all the way until … if they’re cared for. If you keep water on them, keep them fed, and you keep cutting them. Believe it or not, if you stop cutting the dahlias, it doesn’t flower as much because it starts putting seed pods. It signals for the plant that it’s going to reproduce that way. So it’ll reproduce with seeds and it’ll also reproduce with tubers. So while you’re seeing those seed pods up top, it’s producing tubers down below. And what comes out of the seed is not going to be the same flower that formed that seed pod. There’s-

Dillon Honcoop:
Because it’s a cross, right?

Steve Pabody:
Well, yes. And, I don’t know, just the way the dahlia’s made, a seed doesn’t come true. Sometimes it’ll be very close. It’ll have the same color, maybe even the same form factor, but it’s never the same flower. The tubers, however, are exactly the same. So we bring those up, like I said, in October. Dig them up and store them and then divide them and sell some of them and plant some of them and do it all again. Rinse, sleep, repeat. I can’t ever remember how that thing goes, but yeah, we do a lot of that around here.

Dillon Honcoop:
So it’s you and your wife and then you have two kids?

Steve Pabody:
Two kids, yes. Fortunately, my son is getting old enough now that I can put him on the mower and say, “All right, go put in your couple hours of mowing.” And he has joined the harvest crew for some of that. It’s just such a mad rush, because there’s that window where you can harvest the flowers and have a pristine product that once it gets to be about 10:00 in the morning, that window is done.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. We’ve tried starting really early, but with our crew, we generally don’t start before 6:00. So 6:00 to 10:00 is when we’re all hands on deck.

Dillon Honcoop:
Go, go, go, go.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, yeah. And of course, Sarah and I sometimes will be out here as soon as we can start to see, and then take a little break for the heat of the day and just do other stuff, or we weed. That never seems to stop around here. Mow, tie up flowers and get our stuff straightened up, and then in the cool of the evening, a lot of times we’re coming back out to harvest more flowers. So yeah, that’s why we have so many hands on deck, and so my son’s gotten incorporated into that. My daughter cuts flowers, but generally not that we’re going to resell. She loves to design and she’s got four or five arrangements in her bedroom right now, so it’s great.

Dillon Honcoop:
Now, isn’t she part of the name of the farm, too?

Steve Pabody:
She is.

Dillon Honcoop:
Where did Triple Wren come from? Or how did-

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, so, you got to be in the circle of trust to know that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, well.

Steve Pabody:
In the very beginning when we realized, “Hey, this farming, it really is hard work. We got to have a plan. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to have to go all in.” And so we decided, well, what motivation do we need to get out of bed at 5:00 in the morning? Okay, well, we can build something for our kids. Maybe they don’t want to go into agriculture. I’m not sure. But we want to at least give them the opportunity. So our stewardship of the land, our stewardship of our opportunity, all that went into why we initially started doing this, and we thought, “What’s a cool name?” Well, my son is Steven George Pabody, III, so there’s the triple. And my daughter’s name is Chloe Wren, so there’s the Wren. Triple Wren Farms.

Dillon Honcoop:
Got it.

Steve Pabody:
So with any luck-

Dillon Honcoop:
It was named after your children.

Steve Pabody:
It is, yeah. Like I said …

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s cool.

Steve Pabody:
… something’s got to get you out of bed in the morning and keep you going until midnight at night sometimes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, I would say, from what I’ve seen of what you guys do, part of your success has to do with how you’ve branded yourself, too. People recognize who you are. You stand for something. Well, talk about that. How did that come about? I mean, you explained how the name came about. How did you do the branding? How big of a role has that played in how you have put this together?

Steve Pabody:
Well, I think that with the popularity of social media, people are looking for stuff out there that they connect with. Everybody loves flowers. So at the very beginning, we just started really picking up on the need to have good photography of the flowers we grow. I’m always reminded of this, especially here in Whatcom County. There’s some incredible farmers here. There’s some incredible growers of flowers, and I’m surprised nearly every year, I learn of another incredible farmer or incredible grower, but nobody knows about them. The people that know about them have met them or know somebody who knows them, right?

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s why I’m doing this podcast, because I want to go and get to know these people and allow a lot of other people to join in and also get to know them and know their heart for what they’re doing.

Steve Pabody:
That’s a very lofty goal. That’s great. So yeah, we realized very quickly that we needed to present ourselves on social media. And even though most farmers don’t want to take the time to put content up, whether that’s just pictures and a funny picture about what the cow is doing that day, like Erica. She’s doing a great job with this.

Dillon Honcoop:
Erica DeWaard, yeah. Farmer Girl.

Steve Pabody:
Oh, she’s-

Dillon Honcoop:
Episode three of the podcast.

Steve Pabody:
Oh, is she?

Dillon Honcoop:
My third interview …

Steve Pabody:
I-

Dillon Honcoop:
… on Real Food Real People. You can go back in the archives and look at it.

Steve Pabody:
I don’t know if I heard that one.

Dillon Honcoop:
Or listen to it, I guess.

Steve Pabody:
I’ve heard most of yours, but I might have missed that one. So sorry, Erica. I’ll go immediately today and listen to your episode. SO yeah, I mean, just that connection. It really is just giving people a window into what you’re doing. We try not to put pictures of us digging the dahlias in October when everybody’s fingers are numb and it’s nasty outside and you’re just having to find joy from inside to keep-

Dillon Honcoop:
But isn’t that reality?

Steve Pabody:
That is, and we do post those occasionally. But mostly what we post is, “Hey, do this kind of hard labor and look what it’s going to do.” And the flowers and the beautiful side of it, and trying not to gloss over the negatives. Because it doesn’t matter what you do in life. There’s parts of that that you’re not going to like. If I was an accountant, it would be most of that job. But there’s some incredible things about an accountant’s job. I love accountants. So this is the highlight of what we do, is you see the finished product or you get to taste the produce or the blueberries, or you get to have that perfect, warty, twisted pumpkin on your front porch that I grew.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s right, you grow the pumpkins, too, yeah.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, we got a pumpkin patch in the fall. But yeah, if you have the opportunity to come to a farm, you get that window. But then you kind of say, “Hey, remember when we went to Triple Wren Farm and ran to that dahlia festival that they have? I would like to grow some of those here.” And get on our Instagram or go to our webpage and you can see what flowers are available. It’s just off to the races from there.

Dillon Honcoop:
Okay. Give us the shameless plug. What’s the web address?

Steve Pabody:
Triplewrenfarms.com.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s easy to remember.

Steve Pabody:
Easy peasy.

Dillon Honcoop:
And-

Steve Pabody:
Farms is plural. That’s the only thing that confuses some people.

Dillon Honcoop:
And @triplewrenfarms, I think, too, is the social media handle.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I don’t know, the auto fill thing will come up.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, yeah, perfect. The Facebook, the Instagram. I’m not really posting on Twitter anymore, but all those other platforms we’re trying to get away from and just focus on a couple of them.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you said earlier to me when we were setting up here, you have a background in IT as well?

Steve Pabody:
Shh, don’t tell anybody that. They’ll call me for their computer problems.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, they’ll call you for their flowers.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I was in IT for a little while and was basically on upgrading systems, so the hardware side of things. Back before the operating systems were so intuitive and you actually had to tell them where to go to access the hardware pieces or to the system boards or to the memory, back when you had to get down and dirty with that stuff. Now you just go buy it from the store, plug it in, and-

Dillon Honcoop:
And it works.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. The wizards that come now are …

Dillon Honcoop:

[inaudible 00:34:28]

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. I saw you messing around trying to get everything to sync up. So yeah, I have a little background in that, but don’t really delve into that too much these days.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s it like dealing with stress on the farm? Because you come from a different background, not from farming, so you’ve experienced stress in different realms, doing IT and doing stuff like dealing with camps and being like a minister, and now farming. They all have their own kinds of stress. How do you compare all those, and what have you learned through that journey how to deal with that?

Steve Pabody:
I’m not quite sure how to answer that. The stresses are different, right? And sometimes it may be a guilty pleasure of mine to just get out in the fields and just weed dahlias or get on the tractor and just mow.

Dillon Honcoop:
Let the stress go, yeah.

Steve Pabody:
Right. When you’re dealing with people, you just have to be a lot more observant because everybody’s problems aren’t the same. Everybody’s recollection of the truth isn’t the same, and so everything’s so different, especially in our climate today. Just so many things to think about and consider, and just to be gracious with. I think that maybe part of the blessing of having those different stress levels is I realize a crop failure is not that big a deal. I mean, it certainly could alter my future. It will alter my future, let me just clarify that. And it may inform what we do next year, but spring is coming. There’s a new season on the horizon. And-

Dillon Honcoop:
You’ve dealt with more stressful things than that in the past, gives you a different perspective.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. People dealing with interpersonal problems or with pressures that are life altering, stakes are so much higher when you’re dealing with that. As opposed to this, we’re going to get another shot next year to do it all again. So-

Dillon Honcoop:
Whether that’s a good or bad thing, it’s going to happen, yeah.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Pros and cons, you put in 10 acres of raspberries and lose those raspberries, it takes you a while to recover. Or some of our longer term crops. If we mess up with those, the stakes are higher. But at the end of the day, we can recover from those. And so with all of the pressures that’s going on and with all of the uncertainty in our society right now, in the world, those are much more monumentous as opposed to, “Where am I going to sell my flowers?” I’m concerned that I can sell all my flowers. And not to backtrack, but all of our planning this last January was for events, overnight retreats. We got these cute little … I say cute like I know what cute means. But according to my wife, it’s this cute little setup. I just look at it as a lot of extra extremity, lights and twinkle lights and lanterns.

Dillon Honcoop:
We won’t tell her that you think that.

Steve Pabody:
Hopefully she won’t listen to this. That’s the key. No, but she spent a lot of time and a lot of effort making them just feel nice and romantic and homey, and you get into these little tents, so that’s what you can do for overnight. And then in conjunction with that, having some different focuses in our workshops or we do farmer training. We had a dahlia camp set up for this year, trying to still pull that off in a different kind of way. And all of that kind of has changed. So those kind of stresses and those kind of pressures are related to what’s going on right now, but yeah, they’re manageable. They’re manageable. Because at the end of the day, you got to get out here, you got to keep your plants alive, manage everything, and then you just look at the flowers, listen to the rooster crow in the background, go out and feed the hogs, feed the animals, everything’s good again.

Dillon Honcoop:
When you made the decision to go into this farming thing, did you go full time with it right away? Or were you still part time, that was a side hustle, and then it-

Steve Pabody:
Yes. For me, it was unusual because somebody asked me to manage their property. So they did that. Again, that covered the land. I didn’t have to make a land payment. I didn’t have to worry about rent because I was living in their house. But I was also working off farm, like I think most farmers actually do. So working off farm, and then the flowers kind of, like I said, started as just an idea my wife had about what to do or just an experiment she was doing that was successful. So then what happened is we kept growing and I would work on it before work and after work. It just got so big so fast that I stopped my off-farm employment and then just jumped in both feet, full steam ahead.

Dillon Honcoop:
Was that scary?

Steve Pabody:
It probably should have been. Again, not paying attention to the sage advice that I was being given. “Don’t quit your day job.” But we just were running into so many opportunities so quickly that it wasn’t that scary because I was … I came to the point to where we had more opportunity than we had product, and so what we needed was to grow more flowers. So once we started doing that, then the income came in, at least for a little while.

Dillon Honcoop:
Have you had a moment where you’re like, “Why did I do this?” Where you’re not sure if you’re going to make it? I know farmers kind of ride that rollercoaster where things are great and then they go through the valleys where things are like, “I’m not sure if this is going to work.”

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, I think most small farmers anyways probably are there every year and they go, “Okay, so we-“

Dillon Honcoop:
Big farmers, believe it or not, too.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Yeah, probably now, especially. I know some dairy guys that are just like, “We gave away more milk in the scariest times than …” Years to recover that. Yeah, so sometimes it’s good to be a small farmer.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Double-edged sword.

Steve Pabody:
Because 2,400 head of milking cows don’t stop producing milk and don’t stop eating.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, you can’t wait and have them produce milk when it’s worth more.

Steve Pabody:
Right, yeah. “We’ll wait until everything gets back to normal and then we’ll start milking again.” Yeah, no, just unfortunately that’s not reality.

Dillon Honcoop:
So with COVID, it sounds like you guys are managing, even though it’s probably hurt the bottom line pretty badly.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Again, I think the thing about farming is not only is there the science of growing and just everything that has to do with that, but there’s also a farmer has to, at some degree, be a entrepreneur or a businessman. I think the key to entrepreneurship is flexibility. Seeing an opportunity, seeing a hole in the market, and filling it. “Nobody grows good sweet corn. Okay, I’m going to grow sweet corn. We don’t have a good beef producer.” And I know we have great producers here in Washington-

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re just saying hypothetical.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, hypothetically. Nobody’s growing ostrich in Whatcom County, so that’s a great thing for somebody to be in if there’s a market for it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, true.

Steve Pabody:
Not really sure that that would be my first choice, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
I thought there was somebody who did that or does that, a [crosstalk 00:41:46]

Steve Pabody:
I probably offended somebody. They’re like, “What? I got all these ostrich.” So if you grow ostrich, let me know. I’ll get some ostrich from you. Yeah, so the aspect of having to shift and to pivot I think is kind of in the whole … That’s what you sign up for. Sometimes [crosstalk 00:42:04]

Dillon Honcoop:
Helps with an annual crop, too. It’s easier than a perennial crop, like you were talking about.

Steve Pabody:
It is. Yeah. And fortunately, we have plenty of annuals, but we have some perennials that kind of … It helps, too, with that. So you get a infestation of something and it knocks out one crop and, “Okay, well, we do still have blueberries. We do still have roses and hydrangeas and all the other stuff.”

Steve Pabody:
But in answer to your question, I think just really trying to filter everything that we know is happening and realizing where the potential is. And then it’s kind of shifting. I got a good friend down in Seattle and his whole business, his whole … And I don’t know how many people he’s got working for him, but he’s a wedding … What does he call himself? He does everything. He’ll do the catering, he’ll do the planning, he’ll do the flowers, he’ll set up the whole venue.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, he’s a little bit amazing, I think. But when this whole thing happened, of course all of his events just said, “Nope, we’re not going to do them.” And so he’s just doing something different until he can do weddings again, because that’s what he really loves to do. He loves to choose the linens and everything, make it just perfect for you. And so in the meantime, he did a pop-up shop. He was doing little arrangements with some accents for your home décor, and I thought, “Man, there’s nothing that guy can’t do.” But he shifted because he obviously wants to take care of his employees and feed his family, and he put too much time and effort into his business to just watch it fly away, so he did something different and it’s working. And he’ll probably … well, not probably. I know he’s anxious to get back into the wedding game.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, for sure. As, I would guess, your wife probably is, too.

Steve Pabody:
Yes. Yes. There’s a little bit of sadness that so many of our weddings canceled and more of them postponed. But again, it just gives us the opportunity to just do something different in the meantime. Pretty convinced that they’re not going to go away. People are still going to get married and they’re still going to want to have a nice spread with flowers. And so I know that’ll come back eventually. It may be different and we’ll pivot in accordance and meet what people need when it starts to run again.

Dillon Honcoop:
Pivot.

Steve Pabody:
Pivot.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s the word of the day.

Steve Pabody:
There you go. I love that word. Probably use it too much.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s been the scariest moment in this whole journey?

Steve Pabody:
Well, you might be referring to my health episode.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, or anything else that … But I know that you almost died at one point.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. According to my nurse, I died several times. He just kept bringing me back.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Steve Pabody:
Well, yeah. I was-

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Steve Pabody:
I didn’t realize this until high school, but I was born with a heart defect and I didn’t discover it until I wanted to go out for football and they said, “You have to have a physical.” And so I did and the doctor said, “Oh, you got a heart murmur,” and I said, “What does that mean?” He goes, “Don’t worry about it. It’s stunted your growth and caused severe mental retardation, but other than that, you’re good.”

Dillon Honcoop:
He actually said that to you?

Steve Pabody:
He did. He was a football doctor, man. So-

Dillon Honcoop:
But he was just trying to rattle your cage?

Steve Pabody:
Football doctors are not known for their bedside manners. As a matter of fact, completely opposite, right? He was a great football doctor.

Dillon Honcoop:
You got to know your audience when you say something like that. I know there are some kids who would be totally crushed.

Steve Pabody:
NBA.

Dillon Honcoop:
But apparently you were okay with it. You got that he was joking.

Steve Pabody:
I understood that, yes. Not the smartest guy in the room, but eventually things trickle down and I do perceive the intended jests. So yeah, I didn’t really worry about it. Then I got to college. After a couple of years, they looked at me again and they said, “This has gotten a lot worse. You should consider having surgery.” And I said, “Okay.” And they said, “Actually, you’re going to have to have surgery eventually because this is not going to resolve itself,” just in the short amount of time that they had done some tests when I was in high school to when I was a junior in college. And so the ironic thing is I left college and I went to a youth camp where I was doing manual labor, and my health increased. I was working hard every day and [crosstalk 00:46:17]

Dillon Honcoop:
So you had been getting checked because your health wasn’t doing well? You were what, fatigued or something?

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, there was a flu that went on at the college that I went to and a third of the college got sick with this flu, so I was in the … they had their little on-campus hospital. And they said, “Hey, we hear something weird going on with your heart.” I’m like, “Oh yeah.” I said very arrogantly, “Wow, you’re a pretty good doctor because not everybody catches that heart murmur.” And she says, “Well, my specialty is cardiovascular health, so yeah, I’m going to catch any flutter that you have.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
So when she looked at my echocardiogram, the test that they had done, she said, “I want you to have another one because this sounds significant.” And then thankfully, she said, “No, this is a big deal for you.” So again, we took it really serious and I limited all my physical activity and my health actually started to decline. They gave me a key to the elevator in the student building so I could ride the elevator to the third floor instead of walk up the steps. And I was in the dormitories on the third floor as well, and they moved me to the first floor so I didn’t have to use the steps. And all of that stuff affected me negatively when I stopped doing it. So after college, I went to a youth camp. I maybe a bit naively just through caution to the wind and said, “I’m going to jump here because this is awesome fun.”

Dillon Honcoop:
So you start using your body and you get that energy back.

Steve Pabody:
I did. I did, and I started getting healthy again.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re probably thinking, “I’m fine.”

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, that’s right. “I’m going to walk it off,” right? Isn’t that what all guys say? “Just let me walk it off.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, that’s true.

Steve Pabody:
So that worked for … Well, it’s been a couple years since I’ve been in college, I’ll be honest with you. But now in my 40s and farming, things are going well for a while-

Dillon Honcoop:
So you still hadn’t done anything with it.

Steve Pabody:
No. And I am originally from the East Coast, so I was under a cardiologist’s care there and when I moved out here, I conveniently didn’t find one out here for a couple of years.

Dillon Honcoop:
I see what’s going on.

Steve Pabody:
Much to my wife’s chagrin. Finally, sense prevailed and she convinced me to go to a local cardiologist and they said, “Okay, well, you’re doing manual labor and you look good, so I think we just look at it.” And I said, “Well, you think I can get away from surgery?” My cardiologist is Dr. Tom Oliver and he said, “Oh, no, no, no. You’re going to go under the knife for sure. But you’re the best judge of when we need to do that.” And so just yearly checkups. And then 2017 came around. We got this farm that we’re on in 2016. Didn’t really get settled on it until 2017, but that’s when things really started to kick off and we expanded drastically. But then my health started declining and I didn’t understand, hey, it’s getting harder and harder to do what was already kind of difficult.

Steve Pabody:
Then in 2018, it really started to plummet, and so then we had a surgery scheduled. I went in, went through surgery fine and was actually walking right after surgery, and the doctor told me … My surgeon said, “You’re going to be out of here in a couple of days. This is amazing.” He says, “You’re walking, this is a good sign. Most people, it takes them a good half a week to a week to get out of the hospital after open heart, but yeah, you can maybe … Let’s see if you can do it in three days, four days.” And I’m like, “All right, you’re on.” Then my heart rebelled.

Dillon Honcoop:
This is while you’re still at the hospital?

Steve Pabody:
Yes, fortunately. Fortunately, yeah. I had another day, then I just real lethargic and thinking, “What’s going on?” My heart was beating real fast and then it would slow down and it was having trouble regulating. The surgery was pretty extensive. They replaced my entire aortic root and a couple of valves. While they were in there, they did a couple of other things that are helpful they wouldn’t normally do unless they already have you opened up. But they’re like, “Hey, while you’re open, let’s go ahead and put a clamp here and let’s put a safeguard here.” And so, great. I can’t say enough good things about my cardiologists over at North Cascade Cardiology with PeaceHealth.

Steve Pabody:
But when things started to come to a head, the heart would beat about three times what it was supposed to and then it would drop down. It was dropping down into the 30s and the 20s beats per minute, so if you know anything about your heartbeat, that’s not good. Even for super athletes, 30 beats per minute is too slow. So then it just gave out. Fortunately, my nurse … shout out to Aaron. Thank you very much, Aaron. He kind of foresaw that things were going south fast and so he got me all hooked up to this special machine that-

Dillon Honcoop:
So your heart stopped then while he was hooking you up, or what?

Steve Pabody:
No, he was quicker than that. He-

Dillon Honcoop:
He knew that something was going to happen and that he needed to hook you up.

Steve Pabody:
He said, “I think you don’t need this, but just so that the doctor knows that I’m thinking forward, I’m going to put these things on you.” So he put those pads on me, strapped them on, got me all-

Dillon Honcoop:
He’s probably saying that, but inside he’s like, “This is not looking good with this guy.”

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. He’s probably saying, “I’m about to lose this guy.” So we’re still joking around, having a good time, and I was on, obviously, a lot of …

Dillon Honcoop:
Painkillers.

Steve Pabody:
… opiates, so I was having a good time no matter what. But then, yeah, then it just started dropping, dropping, dropping, and then we got down to 20 beats a minute and he said, “If it goes below this, I’m giving him the needle,” the epinephrine, I think.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
It’s amazing how much of the stuff that you remember when you’re right in the middle of it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Crazy.

Steve Pabody:
Or don’t remember, or refresh. But yeah, he had to give me that shot a couple of times and it didn’t work and then the heart just stopped. So they brought me back and then they put me on that external pacemaker and it kept shocking me when my heart would stop beating, and so-

Dillon Honcoop:
So your heart stopped beating more than once.

Steve Pabody:
Yes. Well, your heart beats how many times a minute, hopefully in the 60s and 70s.

Dillon Honcoop:

[crosstalk 00:52:16]

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And so when it beats slower than that, it’s a problem. But then when it stops beating, it’s a serious problem. So yeah, he put me on that very nice machine that causes a little bit of pain, but the reward is worth it.

Dillon Honcoop:
So basically it’s hooked up to you but it’s like giving you the paddles that you hear about in the ambulance kind of thing.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, just not with a full charge, right, because my heart just needed a little bit of encouragement after they got me going again. Then they immediately took me to surgery and put a pacemaker in to keep that thing going.

Dillon Honcoop:
So how many times did your heart stop?

Steve Pabody:
I don’t know. I know every time it got below a certain amount, that machine took over and gave me a charge, so then it would beat again faster. So I think that’s the main thing, is that thing kept my heart up to where I was getting enough oxygen, so more mental retardation wasn’t kicking in.

Dillon Honcoop:
Crazy. See, that’s like knocking on death’s door, if your heart is continually stopping. What did they find out? How did they fix it?

Steve Pabody:
In the words of my cardiologist, “Sometimes your heart just throws a hissy fit after we go in and touch it.” So, I mean, the medicine … A number of the doctors told me this.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
They said, “We call it practicing medicine for a reason.”

Dillon Honcoop:
No way.

Steve Pabody:
As much as they know, there’s always a loop, there’s always something unexpected. So everything looked like it was going smooth. I thought I was recovering smooth. A small part of me said no. So yeah, I’m thankful for the care I got at the hospital and the extra mile that the nursing staff and the doctors gave me, and here we are, ready to do it again.

Dillon Honcoop:
They saved your life.

Steve Pabody:
I think so. I think several times, probably.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

Steve Pabody:
The good news is, those nurses, I told them, I said, “You guys saved my life and I can’t really return the favor, but you get free blueberries for life. Free flowers for life.” So it’s been a pretty joyful reunion to have some of my nurses come back out here and a couple of my doctors visit me during season and-

Dillon Honcoop:
Amazing.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah. I’m able to send them home with honey from my hives, gourds, zucchinis, produce, flowers, blueberries. “Take it. Take it all.” Eggs.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s amazing.

Steve Pabody:
Life is sweet, especially when you almost didn’t have it. So it makes you thankful and it makes the stresses and the plates that you have to juggle almost manageable.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s quite the story. How does that change what your future’s going to look like, what you end up doing next year, 10 years down the road, whatever your plan is with this farm?

Steve Pabody:
Well, the goal is to continue to grow it to where it’s sustainable. Not only the fertility in the soil so that it can sustain more growth and different crops, but on the business side that it’s paying for itself and it gets to a … Our plans are to grow it to where we can have more than one full-time person, or with Sarah and I, more than just a couple of us full time so that we have opportunity to do other stuff.

Dillon Honcoop:
Like take a week off and go on vacation?

Steve Pabody:
Hey, let’s not get crazy here. We do this because we love it. We don’t want to go away from it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Every farmer I talk to on this podcast, “What’s a vacation? What are you talking about?”

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, from midnight to 4:00 in the morning, that’s my vacation every day. I take one every day.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh man.

Steve Pabody:
Yeah, and we’re trying real hard to pour ourselves into our kids, and when you are pulling long hours, sometimes that kind of gets out of balance. So having the ability to take a day and do something fun with your kids, or my son is into archery, so I’ve told him for a couple of weeks now, “Hey, let’s build a target, a better stand for you.” So yeah, I’ve got the wood but I haven’t assembled it yet. So getting to a stage to where we’re focusing on what’s really important for our future, for our kids’ future. At the same time, continuing to enjoy the benefit of capitalism. We can build a business that provides for our livelihood and others, and really does something impactful on our community. There’s nowhere else in Whatcom County that you can come and see 30,000 flowering plants that I … Well, excuse me. Let me take that back, because I guess everybody that has vegetables here, they’re always flowering, right? Just maybe not quite as beautiful as the flowers that I have.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing your story and having me out here to the farm. I mean, this is amazing out here. And what you guys are doing is really, really cool. But the story is the best part, that journey that you guys have been on to get where you are. Really, really cool stuff.

Steve Pabody:
Well, thanks. I appreciate you having me on and it’s always good to talk with you.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
It was pretty cool to record that episode surrounded by flowers in the middle of the field. We’re going to work on getting the full video of it up on YouTube. Sure would appreciate if you would subscribe to our YouTube channel as well. Thank you again for being here on the Real Food Real People Podcast and supporting us by sharing our content far and wide to help grow the circle of those of us who are getting to know the real people behind our food. Find us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and of course check out 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.

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

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

Transcript

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

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
I am.

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Getting it right.

Juan Garcia:
So that approach goes a long way.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was that like when Lyle passed?

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

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

Juan Garcia:
No, no.

Dillon Honcoop:
This was totally unexpected, right?

Juan Garcia:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Just like out of the blue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juan Garcia:
You think you-

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

Juan Garcia:
No.

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

Juan Garcia:
Now what?

Dillon Honcoop:
How are we going to do this?

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
You must have never caught me-

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

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

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

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

Juan Garcia:
November six, seven years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juan Garcia:
I think so. Oh yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s interesting.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
How did you meet her?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Pressure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica Newhouse | #008 02/03/2020

Despite facing major health problems, Jessica Newhouse remains passionate about continuing her family's century-old dairy farm in Eastern Washington. She opens up about her journey from growing up in what she calls the "concrete suburbs" of Portland to becoming a family farmer near Yakima.

Transcript

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
And they basically open and remove part of the bony projections on your individual vertebrae to make room for these titanium rods that stretch from, like I said, the base of my neck to about my waist.

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

Dillon Honcoop (host):
She’s faced major health problems and still battles chronic pain, but continues to keep supporting her family’s century-old dairy farm. This week I talk with eastern Washington dairy farmer Jessica Newhouse about her journey from her childhood in what she calls the concrete suburbs of Portland, Oregon to farming with her husband and has family near Yakima. Her passion for what she does, and her determination to overcome huge obstacles is so inspiring, and I’m sure that you’ll enjoy our conversation as we continue to get to know the real people behind our food. I’m Dillon Honcoop. I grew up on a family farm in northwest Washington and I’m on a mission to discover and share the real life stories of our region’s farming community here on the Real Food, Real People podcast.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
I started 2019 pregnant, and all the sudden in February, I started getting nerve pain in my legs and pretty soon it got to the point where I wasn’t able to pick up my toes on my right foot. It started progressing and I started getting more weakness in my right leg, and then it started going to my left leg, and my surgeon … Everybody just has a surgeon that they talk to, right? I have a outstanding issue of scoliosis, and so when I was pregnant, he was saying, “Well, it could be nerve entrapment from your bones just carrying the weight of your pregnancy.” He’s like, “So we might need to do this surgery that we’ve been contemplating while you’re pregnant.”

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Yikes. Scary.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah. I was like, “Okay, that’s not just me. That’s my unborn child going through surgery.” Then things started progressing really fast, and so they … I don’t know how much detail you want to go into, but-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Whatever’s good for you.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
No, and so he wanted me to come in for an emergency MRI, so I had a two-and-a-half-hour MRI, which that zaps so much energy out of you, just trying to lay still. And so at that time, with things the way they were progressing, they thought it was Guillain-Barré, which is an autoimmune disorder. So they moved away from my spine and started suspecting Guillain-Barré, which apparently affects pregnant women a lot. And so that’s an autoimmune condition where your nerve cells biochemically have a similar signature to the common cold, and then it starts attacking your nerve cells so you progressively start losing nerve function in your body. We were literally in the ER in Pasco and they said to us, they said, “Well, don’t go anywhere. We’re going to see where we can transfer you,” and I was like, “I’m going home. I came here for an MRI,” and I’m pregnant and I’m freaking out.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
No kidding.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Meanwhile my husband’s eating Panda Express just like, “We’re going to take it as it comes.” I was like, “Okay.” But anyway, they thought it was Guillain-Barré, and so they discharged us from Pasco and said, “Here’s your transfer paperwork.” They hadn’t told us Guillain-Barré yet, but they said, “You need to drive up to Spokane right now, to Sacred Heart. If you start feeling like you can’t breathe, pull over and call 9-1-1.” And-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
You’re kidding me. And you’re like, “Why aren’t you hauling me in an ambulance?”

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Well, they wanted to fly me to Seattle, but insurance didn’t want to cover it and we didn’t have flight insurance. That would be $40,000.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Oh man.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
So we were like, “Screw it, we’ll drive.” And meanwhile, I’m sitting there going, “This is an episode of Dr. House, the show from …” And I was like, “I can’t feel my legs.” That’s such a common thing on that show and I’m like, “What is happening to me?”

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
So we get to Spokane and I was in a room, seeing a physician. I couldn’t move anything lower than my hips, so they’re like, “We need to get you to ICU and start this treatment.” Meanwhile, I’m 16 weeks pregnant and they’re saying, “If you start feeling it in your thumbs and then in your fingers, the next thing to go is going to be your ability to breathe so then we would need to intubate you.” So I’m trying to process all of this information in less than 24 hours.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
So then we go down to ICU and they’re prepping the treatments and everything. Treatment only takes a week, maybe two, but because it progresses so fast and they don’t know to what extent it will progress to, they were like, “You could be in the hospital nine months, just relearning how to walk and how to do basic things.” So I’m trying to process all this. We’re in ICU about to do the treatment, and there’s, like, seven doctors standing around me going, “Hmm, huh, hmm.” And one of them says, “Let’s do a nerve conduction study in her legs just to make sure before we start this.” And I remember looking at them going, “Yeah, I vote for that option.”

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
So they do a nerve study and they find that my nerves are able to receive the appropriate signal, and from the MRI, they’re seeing that my brain is able to send the appropriate signal, but for some reason, it’s like the signal was being transmitted and the receivers were going, “Where’s the signal?” but they were just on different planes. So I spent a week in Spokane at Sacred Heart, and then I spent a week in Spokane at St. Luke’s doing physical therapy right alongside people that had just had a stroke or an embolism of some kind, basically doing the same thing that they were doing, which is just relearning how to walk and retraining those nerves to fire again

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So what was it? It wasn’t this Guillain-Barré thing?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
No. They say that it was a … How did they put it? They said it was a conversion disorder. So that for some reason, there was some stress or trigger that triggered my brain with the excess stress that my brain couldn’t handle. My brain, instead of just saying, “Hey, I’m really stressed, I’m really anxious,” it says, “No, we’re just going to quit doing this function.” Apparently it can happen with walking. If people get super stressed, they can go blind with conversion disorder.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Really?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
It’s just this unexplained chemical but physical miscommunication.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Is it super rare?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
I don’t know if it’s super rare. I mean, I guess it’s not rare because at St. Luke’s where I was at, they have a whole unit for conversion disorder.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Really?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
It’s not like they see one every day, but …

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So had you been under a huge amount of stress? Or was it something to do with pregnancy, or …

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
I think the only huge stress at that point was contemplating, “Okay, I might have to have major spinal surgery when I’m pregnant.” I think that was a huge part of it. I don’t want to cast blame or anything, but I think a lot of it was work, too. You’re trying to … with a … Gosh, what was he? One and a half at that point? A one-and-a-half year old an then trying to raise him and balance family and work. Then you’ve got your own structural anomalies that you’re trying to handle, and yeah.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So yeah, what was going on … I mean, you say work. That means the farm.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Right, the farm.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
What was going on at the farm at that time?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Oh, what isn’t going on? Well, it was right after the blizzard, so that was all right around the beginning of February, so it was right after that big blizzard, freak snowstorm that we had, so we were handling that. A lot of it was a lot … Our dairy farm is … How do I correctly phrase this? We are the longest continually family-run dairy in the Yakima Valley. 101 years now, maybe it’s 102. So I think my husband and I feel this huge pressure to do what we love but also maintain this farm that has lasted for so long. We really like to call it a legacy farm, not that we like to tout ourselves, but …

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
So yeah, the farm itself, I think, is in a little bit of a transition with the owners currently reaching an age where they’re … I don’t think talking about age or potential retirement is comfortable for anybody.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Yeah, for sure.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
So I think it’s this situation where we’re needing to navigate that, and what happens to the farm because of that. Meanwhile, we keep going and we keep doing what we need to do.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Does that freak you out?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
It does. It does. Sometimes it feels like this David and Goliath kind of situation. You feel like you’re kind of sitting here going, “Okay, I really like cows. I really like to milk cows. I really like being a dairy farmer.” And then you look at this oncoming wave of, okay, there’s societal pressures, there’s economic pressures. Does what I see for the farm jive with what the current owners see for the farm, and how do we navigate this and find a balance with those and then see at our current size, will we be able to survive with everything getting more expensive? It’s a whole host of things.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So how does the arrangement work with the owners, and how did you guys … You and your husband, you’re both involved with the farm, right?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yes. Yeah. He’s more of the handyman. He’s not purely a handyman, but he … If anything breaks, that’s usually … If one of our employees come to me and says, “Hey, this is broken,” if it’s not a simple plug and go, I call him and he goes and fixes it. He’s really technically savvy. I am human resources and then cow records. So basically, anything clerical for the farm with the exception of payroll and taxes, that’s me. I like to get out with the cows more, as much as I can, but all the-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
If you do, what do you do with the cows?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
We move cows. I basically help train our employees how to understand how a cow sees her world and be able to effectively communicate with them.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
You can talk to cows?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Well, not talking. But, I mean, you can. I mean, I call them … So whenever I move cows, like if I’m helping some guys milk in the barn, I usually call them sis or mama. Because being a mom, I understand. But yeah, no, a lot of it is understanding how she sees … so how she literally sees and how she hears her world and paying attention to those physical cues for her. Because you can move … And it’s all about asking a cow how to move. You’re not telling, you’re not demanding. You are asking her, and just by standing there with your hands in your pockets and if you’re just paying attention to how she’s using her senses to view her world, you can ask her to do things and she’ll do what you would like her to do.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Like move.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah, like move forward or move backwards. It’s all about applying … just your presence next to her, if positioned correctly, invokes pressure on her “bubble.” Every cow as this comfort bubble, and if you move-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Every human does, too.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah. Some are larger than others.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Some are a little too small, the close talkers.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Right. I know a couple of those.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Are there cows that are like close talkers?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah. Some cows are like, “Hey, I’m going to share my opinion with you,” and others are like, “Nah, you stay over there. We’re good.”

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So how did you get to be in this position on this farm? It’s not your farm. You don’t own it.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
No, no, no.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So how did both you and your husband end up there?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Well, my husband’s been … if he were here, he would probably correct me … but I think since he was 10 he was working on the farm. I don’t know when he started getting paid, but I know that he started working on the farm …

Dillon Honcoop (host):
I know how that goes.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah. So he’s been working on the farm since he was a kid and we actually met up at WSU in Pullman. I grew up in Portland. I like to call it the concrete suburbs, where your neighbor was literally close talking right next to you, you lived that close with each other.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So you didn’t grow up on a farm.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Absolutely not. No. And I never thought I would end up here, but I love it. I absolutely love it.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So you meet at WSU.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
You meet this farmer guy who’s now your husband, and how does it go from there?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Oh gosh. We knew each other in our Animal Science 101 class. We were at the sheep lab and there’s this pen with this one ram, which is a male sheep, for lack of a better term. And so they asked for two volunteers and he hops in … and I feel so bad saying this, but he hops in and I’m like, “Man, this guy needs help.” So I just hop in there with him. You have to understand, I had sat in the front of the class for all the lectures. He was in the back making wisecracks, just kind of paying attention, and I was like, “Okay, I’m going to go in and help this guy.”

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
So we get in the pen … and I don’t know whether you want the PG version or whether you want the little more scientific analytical version of this. Anyway. So the lab director says, “Do you know what you’re doing today?” And my husband says, “No, you haven’t told us yet.” And that’s when I knew. I was like, “This guy’s quick. He puts things together really fast in his head.” And he said, “Well here, take this tape measure.” So he gives my husband the tape measure. Meanwhile, this ram is still standing here. And I can see the writing on the wall, what we’re doing, and my husband takes the tape measure, he’s like, “So what are we going to do?” And the lab leader says, “You’re going to measure the reproductive efficiency of this ram by measuring his testicular circumference.” I’m like, “Okay, we’re doing this.”

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
And so my husband … my non-boyfriend at the time … looked at the tape measure and looked at me and then just without a word hands me the tape measure.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So you didn’t even really know each other at all?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
No, we didn’t know each other at all. We knew of each other, but we didn’t know each other.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
And here you are about to measure a sheep’s … together.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah, private parts. And he looks at the tape measure, looks at me, and without a word just hands it to me. And I’m like, “All righty. I guess we’re doing this.” So he basically then volunteered to just hold the ram, make sure he wasn’t going anywhere, and I got on my hands and knees and did the dirty work. Then I think it was either that day or the next day that he knew some people that lived on my floor in the dorm and he brought over a Costco lasagna and I kind of crashed their party, and then we just started hanging out from then on. Then, gosh, over time it evolved into … He started working at the Dairy Center at WSU and then I quickly followed suit and started working there. Then he started living there in the apartment above the parlor, so when I would finish with calf chores and it was so cold in the winter, I knew I had a place. I was like, “Okay, I can go upstairs and I can cuddle and get warm before my first class.” So there were perks to that.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
This is before or after you were official?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
We were dating at the time.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Oh, okay.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
We were officially dating. It was Facebook official. But no, so … gosh. So then we worked there together and then we got engaged a year before we graduated. At that time, we both … I think it was kind of unspoken at first that we were going to come back to the dairy. He kind of told me after we started dating, like, “Hey, my family has a dairy farm.” And by that time, I knew that I wanted to be in dairy. I didn’t go to WSU thinking that I was going to be in dairy. When I was growing up, I always felt more connected with animals than I did with people. Not that I’m not a people person, I love people, but I just felt like I had a stronger comfort level with animals.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
So I knew from early on that I wanted to go to vet school, and my dad and my uncle and my grandpa all went to Oregon State, and my personality is, “Oh, well if you guys are all going to do that, I’m going to do the exact opposite. I just need out. I need to go somewhere else.” And so on an offhand comment, somebody had said, “Oh, WSU up in Pullman has a great vet school.” I’m like, “Sold, sign me up. Go.” And it was the drive up there when I was going to move up to the dorms that I realized, “Oh, there’s nothing out here.” I’m like, “What did I do?”

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
But I moved in and I was so naïve in a way. We started classes and I was like, “I’m going to work on cats and dogs.” If, by all means, that’s what you want to do and that’s what you want to go to vet school for, awesome, super. WSU’s a great place for it. But then the … I guess I should have gone the biology route maybe if I-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Because you started getting into the science.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah, because we went into animal science and I think one of the first labs that we did was at the dairy farm there in Pullman and I don’t know, I just got hooked.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So when you say, “the dairy farm,” that’s WSU’s?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
WSU has a dairy farm, not Dairy Center. Yep.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
And so that’s where students run the whole thing, basically told.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Basically, yeah. It’s-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Learn the trade and try different stuff and …

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah, yeah. It’s a Dairy Center that WSU has had for … oh gosh, I don’t know how long. Decades. And then the milk from all of the cows at WSU goes to the creamery there on campus, so they make …

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So that-

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
… Cougar Gold cheese and the Ferdinand’s ice cream and all that good stuff.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Somebody hasn’t had Cougar Gold before.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Who? You?

Dillon Honcoop (host):
No, I’m saying if someone has.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Oh, if someone hasn’t.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
They need to go out and find themselves … I think you can order it online or something.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
You can order it online.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
You got to try that.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah. I want to-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Stuff is incredible.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
I want to say we actually … In the dorms, you have this dining hall account, and if you have any surplus at the end of the year, it goes poof, it disappears, or you can use it up. All the sudden, my boyfriend at the time, my now husband, comes in and he’s like, “I bought 16 cans of Cougar Gold.”

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Wow.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
And we still have them in our fridge six, seven years later, so they age really nice.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Yeah, what’s it like-

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
So if you want a can before you leave, you can.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
What’s it like after it’s aged that long? Does it get sharper and sharper?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
I think so. I think a little bit. I think it depends on what variety you’re putting in there that’s in the can. I don’t know if Crimson Fire, which is a more spicy version of one of the cheeses that they make … I don’t think it gets spicier. I think it just gets more sharp, but it’s really good. It’s really good.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So going way back to the health stuff, you had this nerve thing going on. They figure out it’s this … Now, what was it called again?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
They figure out that it’s not Guillain-Barré.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Right it was a-

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
And that it was the conversion disorder.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Conversion disorder.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Was there any risk to your still-in-the-womb baby at that point?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
No. No, that was purely just me.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So what were they saying about the pregnancy at that point? Everything was good?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah, she was doing fine. And so after spending two weeks up in Spokane, came home and they said, “Oh, well this should never happen again,” and I’m like, “Excellent, great. Cross that off the bucket list.”

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Yuck.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
And so we come home and just get back to work and doing everything, and she was due in July, I think. Then I went in … Fast forward months and months and months and our daughter ends up showing up six weeks ahead of schedule. Our big thing at that point was that her lungs were well enough developed that she could breathe on her own. And Lord almighty, did she come out screaming. So that’s when I knew. I’m like, “Okay, lungs are good. I don’t know what else is wrong, but lungs are fine.”

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
So yeah, she was on room air. She didn’t need supplemental oxygen at all. Her main hurdle in getting released from the NICU was just learning how to eat. She was in a huge rush to get here, and then we spent 44 days up in the NICU. Month and a half.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
44 days in the hospital.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Or jail, depending on how you want to look at it. That is one of the … yeah, one of the hardest things.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
What was that like? That has to be brutal.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Brutal, brutal. It was hard for me and it was hard for my husband, too, because she just wasn’t real. She’s real to the point where you’ve had your baby, they let me hold her for a couple minutes before they had to take her to the NICU, and then I could hold her afterwards, but she just didn’t feel real. I mean, you prep your home and you think, “Oh, the crib’s ready, the sheets are on it, everything’s ready to go,” and you have your baby and then you come home and your baby’s not here. And you’re just sitting here going, “Wait, where’s my baby?” And it was hard-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So she was in the NICU …

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Correct

Dillon Honcoop (host):
… in Tri-Cities 45 minutes away, and you were having to come home.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah. I would go every day. I’d try to be there for .. I would take our son to daycare, and that’s where he normally went so that I could go to work. I would take him to daycare, drive 45 minutes to go see her, be there for two or three feedings, and then be back in time to pick him up and then come home, and then do it all over again 44 days in a row.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Who was covering all your stuff on the farm?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
My husband. It got him out of harvest equipment. He got to be the office lady for a little bit. He liked it. But-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
And who took care of the harvest equipment, then?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Our dairy’s a unique situation where we dairy, but we also do custom harvesting. So for our own cows, we harvest 1000 acres randomly dispersed throughout the area, and it grows corn, we grow alfalfa, we grow triticale. I don’t think we grow any other form of grass. And so we do that. In spring and in fall, we have to harvest our own feed for our own cows, milk cows day in and day out. There’s no seasonality in that. And then we do custom harvesting for other farms, too.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So your daughter was born super early, but that wasn’t it for 2019 and its health issues for you, right?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
No, no. So-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
The punches kept coming.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah, yeah. It was crazy. When she came home, I did a few weeks with … I think I was home with our son for two, maybe three months. He was actually coming to the dairy with me and I would actually clear off a bunch of records off my desk and he would sit in his little chair on my desk. And talk about … I have a boss. I mean, my boss is my father-in-law because he’s the owner. But talk about somebody staring at you being like, “Are you going to get your work done today?” A two month old just kind of doing nothing, staring at you. But he ended up going to daycare so I could work full time, and so with our daughter being technically a preemie … a healthy preemie, but a preemie … I stayed home with her for a few weeks, and then I was like, “I need to get back to work. I can’t do this. I love you but I need to get back to the cows.”

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
So then we went back to work and I started having a lot of pain that I had had after our son was born, a lot of the nerve pain and a lot of pain right in my hip. I was like, “Great, this pain is back.” And going backwards, after my son was born, they found that my lowest lumbar vertebrae is compressing the inner vertebral disc … kind of the spongy cushion that it shares with my sacrum … and so that disc was pushing on my sciatic nerve, causes the sciatica. So I had-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Not a nice thing, if anybody’s experienced that kind of pain.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah, no, it’s like fire just running through your legs. So I had an epidural steroid injection for that, which relieved the pain, and then I got pregnant. Then with the limited real estate of the human body, everything kind of went, “Okay, we’re going to stay in this position because we have to carry a baby.” So then when our daughter was born, everything had more room to relax and loosen, so then all that pain started coming back. So I had another X-ray done, thinking that we would have another injection, only to find out that my scoliosis has gotten a lot worse, which opened a whole other host of issues.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Now, scoliosis, that’s something you find out you have when you’re a kid, right? If I remember.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
I think it was fifth grade, they were doing scoliosis screening …

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah, and see, they never-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
… and this awkward thing where you had to take your shirt off and they had to look at your back and it’s like, okay.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah. I think thy gathered everybody up in the gym for that and they’re like, “Hey, everybody …” obviously boys with boys and girls with girls. But I had been complaining of really low back pain. Usually it’s not symptomatic and you start noticing a difference in shoulder height or a difference in where your waist falls compared to your left side versus your right side. And if you bend over, typically you have what they call a rib hump, which is … So scoliosis is really a three-dimensional problem. It’s where the vertebrae that make up your spine curve, and then they also twist and rotate, so it’s a three-dimensional issue. The rib hump comes from the third dimension, which is the twisting of your vertebrae. So as your vertebrae twist off center, they rotate and twist your ribcage off center, which makes it look like a hump on your one side.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
We found out when I was in sixth grade, and at that time the curves were not bad enough that they wanted to do surgery right away, so I wore this rigid torso brace for all summer. Still insisted on doing horse camp, so I was riding horses while wearing this rigid torso plastic brace. But despite all that, my curves kept getting worse, so that’s when they said, “You’re going to need surgery.”

Dillon Honcoop (host):
What was that like at 12 years old, to have that?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
I was actually, coincidentally, having this discussion with my mom last night as I’m prepping for this next surgery. I don’t know how much you can really tell a 12 year old at that point. You don’t want to keep them completely blind from the situation because it’s their body and they have a right to know, but I remember thinking, “I’m getting filtered answers to my questions because they don’t want to scare me.” And I’m like, “Well darn it.”

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Were you scared? Was there any sort of fear with that?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
I think there was. I think it was the unknown. In a way, being naïve and not knowing what it was going to be like on the other side was kind of a blessing, too.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Totally.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
I think at first … I remember being in the car with my mom when they diagnosed me and we were headed home, because I hadn’t been to my pediatrician for years because I was so healthy. And that’s, I think, my parents’ one big regret is they were like, “We should have been taking you in even though you weren’t sick. We should have been taking you in for yearly checks.” It just wasn’t something they thought of. But I remember being in the car when I was first diagnosed and saying to my mom, “All the kids are going to make fun of me.”

Dillon Honcoop (host):
That was the second thing I was thinking about, was first being scared about it and secondly, I remember being so painfully insecure at that time in my life.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Oh, going into middle school.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
It’s just brutal.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Leaving sixth grade … I mean, this was at a time where I was leaving elementary school and going into middle school and I was like, “Yeah.” Then all of a sudden this happens and I’m like, “Oh, wait.” When you see these subtle differences that scoliosis gives … unless it’s really severe and really progressive, really fast … it’s hard to notice. Unless you know what you’re looking for, it’s hard to notice. So it was one of those situations where I’m sure looking back on it, once I knew that I had it and I stared at myself in the mirror, I’m like, “Oh, this is so obvious. Everybody’s going to see it.”

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Right, because you’re keyed in on it.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Right, exactly. But yeah, I was talking with my mom last night and gearing up for this next surgery. I was thinking, “Do you remember me being scared at all that morning going into it?” She’s like, “No, you were really quiet. You were just kind of like, ‘Okay, if we got to do this.'” I mean, there was an option not to do it, but for my long-term health, there was no option. And in surgery, they are … I don’t know if this is a correct term, but filet would be a good term. I mean, my scar runs from … depending on where your curve is, it runs from the base of my neck to about to where my waist is, and they basically open and remove part of the bony projections on your individual vertebrae to make room for these rods, these titanium rods that stretch from, like I said, the base of my neck to about my waist.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
And they put screws in your vertebrae with hooks and then … It’s so medieval describing this, but have these rods attach to these hooks to force your spine to straighten. Then they took part of my iliac crest … which is the top portion of your hip … made this kind of paste or jelly, and then basically stuffed it in between all those vertebrae.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Really?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
To encourage those bones to fuse together into one long column of bone, essentially. So by the end of that, I think that surgery was 10, 11 hours long and I was two inches taller getting wheeled out as opposed to going in.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Wow.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
And then between 2003 and 2019, my lumbar … so the curve unfused beneath my current hardware … has gone from 20 to 40. So we’re a little back to where we started, maybe a little worse.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
And that’s what’s been causing you so much pain?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
What’s the pain like?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Oh gosh. It depends. I mean, the sciatica is constant. With more aggravated kind of activities … so bucking hay and moving cows and milking cows … I know that I’m going to hurt later.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Are your legs feeling like they’re on fire right now sitting here talking?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Oh yeah. Yep.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Really?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah. And it’s a different kind of pain sitting versus standing or standing versus walking. Essentially, the only pain-free avenue that I have is laying down watching Netflix. So …

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Well, at least there’s that.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah, there’s that.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
But seriously, you’re a pretty happy person most of the time when I’ve seen you. If I was in pain all the time, you wouldn’t want to talk to me because I would be so just grumpy and angry all the time.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Oh, my wick is short. And that was kind of one of our reasons for doing this surgery now. My husband was like, “This is not long term, not sustainable.” The pain already limits me in what I physically can do, and just when you’re in pain, you’re crabby. You’re just not happy. I mean, you’re happy but your tolerance for different things gets shorter and shorter. At this point, it’s a self-preservation technique. We know that unless this new fusion happens, my spine will continue to do wild and wonky things come heck or high water. That’s just the nature of the beast. And so if I know it’s only going to get worse, why not go through three or four months of trial and tribulation to solve the problem once and for all.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Well, that’s what I was going to ask. How bad is it going to be?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
I’m hoping that the pain will be less than the first time. I remember waking up delirious from pain meds the first time, screaming at my parents, “Take them out, take them out, take them out,” because it’s like you’re being stretched. Your body is forced to being stretched. So I’m hoping that it is better this time. I would hope that pain mitigation in hospitals has come a long way in 16, 17 years. But yeah, it’s going to be around three to four months of no bending, lifting, or twisting. So anything as far down standing up or sitting down as far as I can reach versus as far as I … in both directions, that’s what I’m going to be limited to, which means no picking up my baby off the floor, no dishwasher.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Will you be able to hold her at all?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
I’ll be able to hold her if somebody gives her to me. I’ll basically sit here and say, “Hey, could you hand me my baby, please?” Which will be hard. But I would rather do this when the kids won’t remember, so that when they get older and they want me to teach them soccer or swimming or anything like that, that I’ll have limitations but I’ll be pain free.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Are there risks going into this surgery?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Oh, for sure. For sure. Unlike my first surgery, this surgery will involve removing the cushion, the gel-like cushiony discs between each vertebrae. And so to do that, they have to go through the front, so anterior through my belly. The risk with that is that your aorta and your vena cava, the two largest veins and arteries in your body, lay right on top of your spine right in that area. So there’s a big risk of you can bleed out and you can die.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Like if they make a wrong move and-

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
If somebody had one too many cups of coffee that morning and they get a little jittery and …

Dillon Honcoop (host):
You laugh, but that’s scary.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
What can you do, though? What can you do? I’m trying to look at this … I am a firm believer that your attitude going into something like that is a huge determining factor for what your success is afterwards. If I go into this thinking, “My life is over. I’ll never be able to do this and do that,” then I’m going to come out a victim and I choose not be a victim. Will I have limitations? Yeah. Are they insurmountable? Well, I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to paint my toenails for the rest of my life, but I-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Really?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah. I mean, all of my bending … because I will be extending that metal in my back all the way down to my pelvis, and then six-inch screws in each side of my pelvis to preserve my hips … my bending will be limited to basically a deadlift. I will be deadlifting everything for the rest of my life.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
What’s that going to mean for the farm and what you do on the farm?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, a lot of my job right now is being behind a desk, so I don’t think it’ll change that aspect as much. I think I will have more of a … like we were talking about, bubbles. I think I’ll have a bigger bubble around myself as far as, okay, I need to protect myself in these certain situations, like-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Like if you’re out with the cows?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah, if I’m out with the cows or if I’m in a pen with cows, I probably won’t be letting myself shimmy between a cow and a fence really fast. I need to protect what I’ve worked so hard to have. My husband and I call cows … they’re like giant cats. They’re really, really curious. Cows are so interesting because they’re curious yet they’re timid. I just love cows. I’m such a nerd. I just love cows.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
When did you realize that, that you loved cows …

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Oh man.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
… that you were a dairy farmer? Here, a kid who grew up in the suburbs of Portland.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Oh man. It has to be when we first visited the dairy farm at WSU. My first very vivid dairy memory was we would always go to church on Sunday and then we’d go grocery shopping. It was, like, a block away. So we’d go and get our groceries, and I always knew when we were getting to the dairy aisle, not because I saw the milk case in the dairy section, but above the milk case, there was this mural of these green hills and a red barn and a nice, sunshiny sky, which is awesome, and these cows. Then there were these cow butts above the milk case and the tails would wag. And so my first very vivid dairy memory was, “This is where milk comes from.” Yeah, the cows are right there and it just plops … As a five year old or whatever, you’re like, “This is where milk comes from.”

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
It’s just so funny to think that … Oh man. Do I have to admit how old I am? However many years later that I went from consumer to producer and consumer. So it’s awesome.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
You see you doing this for the rest of your life?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah. Lord willing. It’s hard. It’s hard right now. There’s a lot of pressures from a lot of different angles that make it hard.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
How many cows do you guys have?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Right now, we milk about 850. We have right around 150 dry cows, so cows that are about two months away from calving. We give them a two-month break from producing milk, just to let them recharge and reboot their batteries and that kind of stuff. Milk 850, 150 are dry. As far as replacements … So our herd of heifers, so any calf that’s an hour old up to a heifer who isn’t producing milk yet that’s just about to have her first baby, we have probably about 1000 head. It’s a year-round, day in, day out, keep on keeping on kind of system, so …

Dillon Honcoop (host):
What about your kids? If things continue to go … I would say well, but I know how the good days and bad days all the time with farming. If things continue to go forward with the farm, are you going to encourage them to do that?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Oh, for sure. For sure. I don’t think that my husband had any outright pressure to come back to the farm. I think both of my in-laws made it very clear to him, “We want you to go to school. We want you to discover what your calling is, and if it happens to be the farm, then great. Come back.” But I think he for himself felt a very strong pull to come back to the farm.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So he’s passionate about it.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Oh, for sure. Yeah, yeah, for sure.So I think with our kids … We haven’t really talked about that. We’re just trying to survive toddlerhood. It’s-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
I hear that. I have-

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
That is a day in, day out, keep on keeping on.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
I have toddlers.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah. It’s crazy. But no, we would definitely … I think our goal with our kids is to encourage hard work. I feel like going through that is one of the huge differences I see in my husband and I. He grew up working, I did not. I got my first job when I was 15. He had already been working for five years. He was already saving up money for his first car. There’s just regional and for whatever reason differences in how kids are raised. I am so thankful for how I was raised with my parents, but in a way, I wish I could do it all over as an ag kid. There’s just such a hardworking, down to earth work ethic that I admire, and that even though I did not grow up an ag kid, I strive to have that for myself and for my children.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
It’s not like you go to school, you come home, and you work until 11:00 at night and then you go to bed and then you go to school. I think you gain a lot. I think you gain a lot of, “Okay, I am earning my way. It’s not being given to me.” And that’s not to say that non-ag … I’m not trying to say that non-ag kids get things handed to them, but you value things so much differently when you know the work that you put into it. It’s like in going to college, my husband had to pay for 50% of his college tuition, so he was working. For me, my parents had saved some funds ever since I was born and we used those, and then we took out loans, so then I had student loans to pay.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Looking back on it, I wish I would have paid for part of my way through school because I don’t feel like in the mornings when I had a 6:00 class, I was like, “Ugh, I can catch up on it later. No big deal.” Whereas my husband, he’s like, “No, gosh darn it. I’m paying for 50% of my education. I need to go to that class.” So I think there’s a huge value in working for what you have. I wouldn’t underestimate it or undervalue it for anything, not at all.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So you don’t long to move back to the city?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
No. And I know that it is for … I mean, a lot of people are drawn to it. It’s interesting to see Portland now. I grew up in Portland. It’s interesting to see Portland now from this perspective. We drive through the Gorge to go visit my parents. They still live in Portland. We drive through the Gorge. We start getting a little white knuckled because we know the traffic’s coming and we’re like, “There’s so many people. There’s so many cars.” I don’t know. I like having my space, my wide open space, and it’s just so … I feel like I can breathe here. Meanwhile, my dad, when I told him when I was back in school … my dad was like, “You’re going to do what?” He’s like, “I raised you in Portland. What happened? Why?” And I’m just like, “I don’t know. I’m just following what I feel is right and this is what I love.” He’s like, “I just don’t get it. I don’t understand. What did I do wrong?” And I’m just sitting here going, “I don’t think you did anything wrong. I think we’re fine.”

Dillon Honcoop (host):
So were they not supportive when you decided you wanted to …

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
I think they didn’t-

Dillon Honcoop (host):
You marry this dairy farm kid and move to the country?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
I think they didn’t understand. I think they’ve always been supportive, but they didn’t understand.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
Well, thank you for opening up and sharing a bit of your story. Good luck to you, too …

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Thank you.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
… with the whole surgery thing.

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Thanks. Thanks. We’re going to take it as it comes and it can only get better.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
And hopefully it goes smoothly …

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Oh yeah.

Dillon Honcoop (host):
… and the result, you heal up and you have as much movement as possible and you don’t have to worry about these things anymore, right?

Jessica Newhouse (guest):
Yeah. I might have gotten myself out of bucking hay for the rest of my life, but I’ll still be there.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Jessica is just so tough. Seriously, I couldn’t do what she does and I am really inspired by her awesome attitude with everything she’s had to deal with. Thank you for joining us this week, and make sure to subscribe to Real Food, Real People on whatever platform you prefer to get your podcasts. Also, check out realfoodrealpeople.org and feel free to reach me any time by email, 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.