Duane Brandsma | #048 11/23/2020

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

Transcript

Bobby Morrison | #031 07/13/2020

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

Transcript

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

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
For sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
How long do you age it?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
What happens if you go shorter?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Aging determines the quality?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
You got to keep stuff moving.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s a big territory.

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s finished product?

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

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

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

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

Bobby Morrison:
And lamb.

Dillon Honcoop:
And lamb.

Bobby Morrison:
And goats and alpaca.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, really?

Bobby Morrison:
And deer and elk and bear.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
What would you compare it to?

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

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

Bobby Morrison:
Pork.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah, that just-

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh, really?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Just because of the temperature difference or-

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

Dillon Honcoop:
What about smoking it?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Then, how long does that go?

Bobby Morrison:
As long as you feel like.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Doesn’t have to be refrigerated?

Bobby Morrison:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
Open air?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Is it better the longer you wait?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Gamey?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

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

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

Bobby Morrison:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
That stuff goes bad.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Store all of it as it cures.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
More expensive.

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Old fashioned?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s another thing to do.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
How many kids do you have?

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Where did you grow up?

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
What did your mom do in Ellensburg?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
What did your dad do in Seattle?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

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

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

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

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

Bobby Morrison:
Not a whole lot to be honest.

Dillon Honcoop:
But it’s still interested you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
No kidding?

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

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

Bobby Morrison:
At least try it though.

Dillon Honcoop:
What was the coolest restaurant cooking-

Bobby Morrison:
Experience that I’ve ever had?

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Is that pretty typical in that business?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
You move around?

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

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

Bobby Morrison:
16, 18.

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s intense.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
What happened?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I would think like ulcers or acid.

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Doing food stuff?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah, cooking in their kitchen.

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Wow.

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
That classic question.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

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

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

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

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

Bobby Morrison:
She didn’t hold anything back.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s got to look good.

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

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

Bobby Morrison:
Oh, man.

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
I’m thinking like carne asada.

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Recently, I just cooked …

Bobby Morrison:
On the grill.

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

Bobby Morrison:
In an oven with a broiler on.

Dillon Honcoop:
Grill over charcoal, way better.

Bobby Morrison:
I’ve never done that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Way better.

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
True.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

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

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

Bobby Morrison:
It goes to grind.

Dillon Honcoop:
Hamburger?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Why are you so passionate about food?

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
What was she doing?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
They cut back because of COVID?

Bobby Morrison:
They haven’t been open since.

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
They just want to stock up?

Bobby Morrison:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
We do?

Bobby Morrison:
I don’t know.

Dillon Honcoop:
I haven’t seen that.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bobby Morrison:
Correct.

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

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

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

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

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

Bobby Morrison:
Totally.

Dillon Honcoop:
How do I know that …

Bobby Morrison:
You don’t know-

Dillon Honcoop:
things are enforced?

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s the issue?

Bobby Morrison:
Everyone’s busy, man.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Just from using your hand so much.

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
That affects your back too?

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

Dillon Honcoop:
For sure.

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

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

Bobby Morrison:
No problem.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Awesome. Thank you so much.

Bobby Morrison:
Thank you. Appreciate it.

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

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

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

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

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

Transcript

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

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
The fun stuff to do.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
I drove past it.

Bridget Coon:
Did you see it?

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

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

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

Bridget Coon:
My husband went to school there…

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh wow.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Welcome to the COVID world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridget Coon:
Yeah, but…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridget Coon:
Right now-

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

Bridget Coon:
Yeah, yeah.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Mind blown, yeah.

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

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

Bridget Coon:
Grind it. That’s protein.

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

Bridget Coon:
Giddy up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Using all parts of an animal though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
True.

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Our farming goes somewhere else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridget Coon:
That’s not.

Dillon Honcoop:
No.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Nobody would believe.

Bridget Coon:
They would have not have known.

Dillon Honcoop:
Nobody would have believed you though.

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

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

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

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

Bridget Coon:
I hope we’re getting there.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, this is like-

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

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

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

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

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

Bridget Coon:
It’s well the point.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
So much different.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
For sure.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Definitely. What’s the future?

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Budgeting is not just for money.

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

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

Bridget Coon:
Yeah.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Totally.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, totally.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
For sure.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, for sure.

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Lucky.

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Totally.

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

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

Bridget Coon:
Yeah.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Crazy.

Bridget Coon:
We should work on that.

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

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

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

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

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

Bridget Coon:
Thanks for coming to Benge.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s awesome here.

Bridget Coon:
I think so.

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Awesome.

Bridget Coon:
Steaks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transcript

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

Announcer:
This is the Real Food Real People Podcast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Larry Stap:
Oh yeah.

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

Larry Stap:
Oh yeah.

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

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

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

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

Larry Stap:
On the farm that time-

Dillon Honcoop:
I actually can imagine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Sadly, I heard recently with what’s happening with COVID, a CSA in our region, a Community Supported Agriculture farm that does CSA boxes, their orders went way up, but right away also these new subscribers, they got calls apparently within the first week of people saying, “Well, I want strawberries.” “It’s not strawberry season.” “Well, what the heck, why can’t I have strawberries?” To me, I don’t want to believe that people are that far disconnected.

Larry Stap:
They are, and it’s… Well, it’s good and it’s bad. I mean, it’s an incredible success story to the grocery stores, and the whole support network behind moving food around this country and around the world. I mean, now we can just do it incredibly well with refrigeration, and freezing, and all that kind of stuff, and we got spoiled as consumers, there’s no doubt about it. But maybe it’s time to step back and say, “You know what, maybe it’s not so important I have strawberries year round, or whatever.” Milk’s year round, we can get that anytime, that goes around 24/7.

Dillon Honcoop:
At the same time, you guys have dealt with… you’ve proven that it’s possible, but you’ve dealt with the challenges of going local, of bringing that local product to market, to those more mainstream stores that people are used to shopping at.

Larry Stap:
Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
I would guess when you’ve learned how that works behind the scenes, maybe you realize it’s not as easy as some people might think. I know the grocery stores get demonized quite a bit, and it’s not always their fault that the system works the way that it does.

Larry Stap:
No, it doesn’t, but on the other hand, we talk about smaller and fewer, and bigger farms, it’s the same thing that’s going on in the grocery world. So the bigger you get, the less flexibility you have and stuff like that, but you are able to offer some other services that other stores might not be able to do. I got a lot of sympathy for the grocery community. One of the things that they struggle with is the same thing we talked about earlier, lawsuits. Consumers are looking to pretend they slipped on a banana peel, or they got sick eating this berry, or this cereal or whatever.

Larry Stap:
So liability is a huge thing for the grocery stores, it’s huge. And then as part of that liability too is, it’s kind of a reflection of our society, but if you’re big and corporate, you owe me so I have the ability to go in and steal, and it doesn’t bother my conscience, because you’re so big and so wealthy, that you have to share some of that wealth with me. And I’ve talked to so many grocery store managers and stuff like that, and what it costs them in terms of legal, and documentation and stuff the way the laws are set up, to stop a shoplifter, that sometimes it’s cheaper for them to let that shoplifter to walk out the door than it is to prosecute. And that’s a sad side of our society, very sad, not only because that person thinks that, that’s okay that they do that, but our society, or our legal world, or whatever, has become so rigid, and so structured that we actually allow that to happen because of costs.

Dillon Honcoop:
Versus the principle.

Larry Stap:
Versus the principle, yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
With COVID happening, this pandemic, what’s that changed for your farm and your operation?

Larry Stap:
At first we thought, “This will be just fine because we process our own milk and we sell it to the stores.” And in actuality, the first week after, I don’t know if it was a stay home or whatever, when all the businesses and restaurants and stuff that had to close, our milk sales made a significant jump. And then the second week into it, we got a call from a major grocery store chain, that said that they do not want to take our empty glass returns into their store, because they’re concerned of what that empty glass bottle could possibly bring in, in terms of contamination such as the COVID virus.

Larry Stap:
I thought it might have been a little bit of an overreach, I thought there was ways that we could manage around it, but it was made at levels way higher that I care to know about in the corporate world, and they said, “Not only do we not want to take glass at this time, but then we would not like to even sell your glass off the shelf.” Well this store chain that told us that, was probably one of our largest single group of stores that constitutes a pretty significant portion of our business. So we got that call at 10:30 on a Monday morning, that our milk sales were done in that store, so I immediately got on the phone, and this was the beauty of building relationships over the years with those people, they said if we could find an alternative package that they would carry our milk, because they absolutely loved our farm and what’s it done for their stores, and the local and the profitability.

Larry Stap:
So by Tuesday afternoon at two o’clock, we were bottling milk in plastic bottles. And I tell you what, it was chaos, it was crazy, but-

Dillon Honcoop:
You can’t use the same equipment to do that.

Larry Stap:
You can’t use the same equipment, you have to hand apply labels, you’ve got to find plastic jugs, you’ve got to… We had to design a label, get it printed, and then find people to start putting them all on our jugs and stuff like that. So even to this day now, we’re doing about half maybe in plastic to satisfy those stores during the crisis time, and half is still in our glass. But it’s a significant cost hit to us, because of all these additional costs that we have to incur just to bottle our milk again. But you know what, we’re bottling milk, it’s being sold, and it’s maybe not being sold at quite the previous volume it was. We have a very, very loyal, and now happy even bunch of employees, because we’re able to fully keep them employed at this rate, and doing this kind of stuff.

Larry Stap:
So it was a stressful couple of weeks around here, there’s no doubt about that.

Dillon Honcoop:
How are you protecting your employees with the threat of the virus? A lot of people are staying home, but you guys are an essential business, so they’re still coming for-

Larry Stap:
There’s not… I mean yeah, there are things you can do, but we have safety meetings, we talk about reinforcing how many times you wash your hands every day. We completely during the end of the day, we’re just sanitizing everything. We’ve got a foaming machine, and we’re just spraying it all over with sanitizer. And then we have safety meetings, and I really stress to our employees to think about what you’re doing when you’re not working here, be aware of it.

Larry Stap:
And what I try to impress upon them, and I’ve learned this from myself is, if get the virus I may survive, because if you’re young enough and healthy enough typically it will feel like a flu from what I understand. I think there’s so much misinformation out there. But if I were to get it let’s just say, and I continually see my parents who live right next door to me, they’re 87 and 89, and if I were to expose them to it, I would feel pretty bad. So you have to think beyond yourself with this COVID-19 thing. And I’ve got a great bunch of employees, and they’re doing a great job for me, and I think they’re very, very mindful about it all, very much so.

Dillon Honcoop:
I mean, a lot of people would never have thought of the glass bottle thing, back to that hiccup.

Larry Stap:
No.

Dillon Honcoop:
Explain how that works too. I mean, we talked about the benefit of glass bottles earlier, and then that was your kind of niche, but how does that… You guys market this stuff in a glass bottle, and then it’s available in the store, and you get basically a refund price when you bring that glass back?

Larry Stap:
Yeah. When a consumer buys our milk, you might say they’re actually buying two things, they’re buying milk that’s in the jar for a set price that the store determines, and they pay a deposit on that glass jar. Now, the consumer can do one of two things, they can decide to keep that glass jar if they want, or they can return it back to the store and get their deposit refund, and then we refund the stores and bring them back here to our little bottling plant, and wash and sanitize and refill them again. That’s part of our sustainability. That’s how the whole system works, but then the fear of what the bottles would be bringing into the stores, is what stopped it for a pretty significant number of stores, I will say that. So many stores.

Dillon Honcoop:
And it wasn’t on the front end, because they’re sanitized and clean when they come, it’s about people bringing them back from their homes.

Larry Stap:
Bringing the empties back from their homes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Oh yes.

Larry Stap:
That was their fear. I can’t argue with the stores, but I do know that there are a lot of suggested ways that they could mitigate by doing things a little bit different, but that’s their choice.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah. I don’t know what kind of a bin they have to put them in, but can you put it out front or something so they don’t have to come in the store? I think about all these things.

Larry Stap:
There’s a lot of ways, and we’ve sent out suggestions to the stores how to accommodate it and still be safe, but some of them are doing it, some of them aren’t.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why do people like the glass bottle?

Larry Stap:
Well, part of it is the sustainability, they can return it, it’s not filling a landfill, okay? It’s not a plastic jug, it’s not a carton. I always say, a glass bottle is one step above recycling, it’s reusable. And that’s huge, and that’s an ever growing concern in our nation and our world, at least nowadays. You hear about the plastic blobs out on the ocean, and you hear about… see trains and trucks running up and down the road full of garbage, bringing it to landfills. We live in a terrible throw away society, and if one little part that we can do is this, we’re thankful for that. And so that’s why we went to the glass.

Larry Stap:
It also gave us a marketing opportunity that we would not have had otherwise, so it opened a door for us to a lot of stores, for which we give much thanks.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, things have really changed. You were talking about recycling, things have really changes recently with plastic too in recent years, where that market just isn’t there anymore, and it’s not necessarily going to China where it was being recycled or who knows what was happening with it there. So that’s been a bit of a wake-up call for-

Larry Stap:
Yeah, you know.

Dillon Honcoop:
[crosstalk 00:33:49] assuming that you keep putting stuff in a disposable jug, I think more and more people are going to be interested in that part of what you guys do.

Larry Stap:
And a lot of it is driven by economics, good, bad or otherwise, but when it costs more to recycle and remake something than what the original is, unless you are driven to pay more for that reused or recycled product, it ain’t going to happen. So that’s why I think you see a lot of… like you say, the plastic has gone downhill, because to recycle the plastic and remanufacture an item is very costly. And when then take, for example, a plastic milk jug is probably… I’ve never looked into it, because I don’t know if they even make such a thing, but probably it would be half price for a new one versus a recycled one. I mean, that has been melted down, and reformed, and all that stuff, so it’s driven by economics.

Larry Stap:
One of the things that kind of always bothers me just a little bit too is, so often it seems like the more stable and necessary an item is in a consumer’s life, the cheaper it has to be. And example is food, people don’t want to pay much for food, but their travel trailers, and their vacations and all that stuff, usually is not too much of a price issue, but well, we can’t pay much for food. And that’s why sometimes I think we need to refocus or priorities-

Dillon Honcoop:
It is the stuff that keeps us alive.

Larry Stap:
That’s right, yeah. That’s right. Yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Do you ever think about retiring?

Larry Stap:
As I said earlier, I want to retire. I’m 65, I created this monster, I don’t how to get to away from it yet. But we’re in the process of beginning the stages of planning that out, and how that will all work. So yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Yeah, you can’t keep up the pace that you’ve done forever.

Larry Stap:
No, and in actuality, I have had the ability to transfer a lot of my responsibilities off already. I mean, I’m not in charge of the processing plant anymore. I go out there and know exactly what’s all going on, but I’m not in charge. Same with my oldest son taking over a lot of the administrative, he’s doing a lot of that. And my son-in-law, he pretty much takes care of the cattle and the land end of it, so I’m starting to shed more, and more of my responsibilities and delegate them out. The hard part is the things that you have built relationships up, and dealt with over all these years, that’s my struggle, is how to transfer that to someone. I mean, my ideal would be to transfer it to a family member, but there’s nobody ready in the wings and waiting to do that, so that’s how we’re… We’re just beginning to have some meetings on how to make that thing work. So yeah.

Dillon Honcoop:
Thank you so much for sharing your whole story, and everything that goes into this, it’s fascinating.

Larry Stap:
Thank you, I enjoyed doing it. As I said, we are truly blessed beyond what we deserve.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
What an incredible story, right? And people think Twin Brook Creamery is so cool already with their glass bottles, and small farm vibe, and Jersey Cows, and cream-top non-homogenized milk, but when you hear all of that, the human story behind Twin Brook Creamery, it just takes it to the next level of appreciating what goes into that milk that you can buy at the store.

Dillon Honcoop:
Again, my name is Dillon Honcoop, and this is the Real Food Real People Podcast. I’m really thankful that you’re here, and follow us on social media if you haven’t. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast, so you never miss an episode. We’ve got a lot more ahead, and we’re figuring out ways to get the podcast to keep on going, even in this age of the Coronavirus pandemic. We certainly hope that you are staying safe, and healthy out there.

Dillon Honcoop:
Take care everybody, and if you have a little extra time, maybe you’re quarantining, catch up on a few episodes of the podcast as well. This is a great time to do that, and if you do have the time again, make sure to subscribe. Maybe if you have a lot of time, shoot me an email, I’d love to chat. What are your thoughts on local food, and Washington grown food, and farmers, and maybe you have questions that you’d like answered. Maybe I can go dig up a farmer or two who could answer your question, and either get back to you in an email, or talk about it on the podcast. Maybe you’ve got a suggestion of a farm to talk with, or an issue to cover. I would love to hear any of it.

Dillon Honcoop:
You can email me… Well, you can message me on any of the Real Food Real People social media platforms, right now we’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or you can just email me directly, dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org. That’s my email address, I get it, it’s on my phone. So anytime you send that I will get it pretty much right a way, unless for some reason my daughters are distracting me or something, but I would really love to hear from you. Again, dillon@realfoodrealpeople.org. Dillon is spelled, D-I-L-L-O-N, by the way. And yes, realfoodrealpeople.org is the website, so go check that out there.

Dillon Honcoop:
And just mentioning that reminds me, I need to get blogging too and share some of my own story, and some of the things I’ve been ruminating on and learning, and some of the things going on even behind the scenes as we develop and continue to grow this podcast. So thanks for being a part of this, and we will catch you back here next week.

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

Larry Stap part 1 | #018 04/13/2020

Twin Brook Creamery is famous in Western Washington for their local milk in glass bottles. But have you heard the story of how this family farm defied the odds to become what it is today? Fourth-generation farmer and co-owner Larry Stap reveals what was really happening behind the scenes to make it all work.

Transcript

Larry Stap:
It was a huge risk, and like I said earlier, I don’t know for sure, but I know that we were probably within months of the bank foreclosing on us. It was that close. I know it was.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, Twin Brook Creamery is known in Seattle and all over Western Washington for being the local dairy that has milk in glass bottles, the old-fashioned way. You may have heard of them, but have you heard their story of how they came to be and how they made the transition from more of a traditionally run dairy to the way they do things now? Welcome back to the podcast. I’m Dillon Honcoop and I’m glad that you’re here. This week we hear from Larry Stap. He’s a fourth-generation family dairy farmer and the co-owner and founder of Twin Brook Creamery in Lynden, Washington.

Dillon Honcoop:
The story of how they got to where they are now is pretty amazing. We had a really long conversation. We will be sharing it both this week and next in two separate parts. I know I’m getting into the habit of these long conversations that don’t all fit into one week, but there was just so much stuff to cover so much to the story. It’s so much insight to share from a guy who’s been around the block and he’s been doing it for a long time. His family has been doing it that much longer. It’s pretty eye opening to hear from Larry about some different things, why it’s so hard for farms to continue on from one generation to the next. We dig into that issue.

Dillon Honcoop:
What’s different about what they do? Why do they do glass bottles? Why are they non-homogenized? How does the whole milk world really work and then about having a vision and taking a risk which applies to farming and anything else that people do, any other business idea? So many of us have ideas but you know struggle with taking that risk and to hear him and his family story about how they approach that is pretty fascinating. They had a vision and they stuck to it. He shares a little bit what was happening on the inside even as they were getting started, how many years it took them to get to where they are now.

Dillon Honcoop:
This is the Real Food, Real People Podcast where we share every week with you conversations with real people behind your food here in Washington State. Again, my name is Dillon Honcoop. I grew up on a family farm in Northwest Washington as well, not too far from Larry Stap, but a lot of this I had never even heard about the real personal story behind Twin Brook Creamery. Thanks for being here to learn a bit this week and next from Larry Stap.

Dillon Honcoop:
So you’re probably best known for Twin Brook Creamery.

Larry Stap:
Yes.

Dillon Honcoop:
Obviously, you had a farming career before Twin Brook Creamery and we could talk about that too, but talk about making that transition to go from the traditional approach to something that around here at least had never really been tried before. What was that like?

Larry Stap:
Well, the approach that I’ll spend a little bit of time on was the transition from going marketing our milk to a coop to becoming an independent processor. Probably what started it at all was ignorance. We had no idea what we were getting into. It actually all started way back in 2006 when our daughter and son-in-law asked if we could join into the dairy and his youth and enthusiasm, which I greatly appreciate, said, “Instead of milking 200 cows, let’s milk thousand cows or keep on going.” The challenge behind that was we were boxed in as far as real estate didn’t have more land, so we couldn’t really grow.

Larry Stap:
Your barn is going to only hold so much. You only have so much storage for nutrients in the form of lagoons. It would have been a multimillion dollar expansion if we would have done something like that. I’m not opposed to big, don’t get me wrong, but it just didn’t fit into our long-term goals in my head, so I said “Let’s look at doing something different and add value to our raw commodity.”

Dillon Honcoop:
Because the goal was to keep family involved.

Larry Stap:
That’s right. You’re always excited to keep that next generation involved on the farm because so many of the farms, and I’m guessing two-thirds, maybe even higher, are on their last generation, sad to say. It really is and I’m not saying that that farm will go out of production, but it will probably be absorbed by a neighboring farm or another larger farm or something like that, but anyway, to keep that into the next generation and stay small, you couldn’t do it at existing commodity prices. It would have been a real challenge. It’s not like I had been dairying and was debt free and all the rest of that kind of good stuff.

Larry Stap:
Adding value to our raw commodity, we had no idea what something like that would look like, but we just threw out there everything from bottling our own milk to making yogurt to making cheese to whatever. What we stumbled across, not through any fantastic research or anything like that, but nobody was doing milk in glass bottles and glass returnable bottles.

Dillon Honcoop:
The old way.

Larry Stap:
The old way, the old school. Nobody was making cream top milk, non-homogenized, natural, the way it comes right from the cow. That’s where we started. We started with an estimated budget of $75,000, what we figured it would cost us to get up and running. $250,000 later, we finally bottled our first bottle of milk. It was quite an eye opener.

Dillon Honcoop:
What did that feel like going through that? As the bills and that price keeps getting higher and higher, you got to be thinking “Did we make a mistake here?”

Larry Stap:
Oh, absolutely because the way you’re financing this thing is equity. You’re borrowing from the bank and it’s equity and it’s equity. It just kept going. Part of it was ignorance. Part of it was the regulatory world was not very friendly at times. Some of it, I understand later, was necessary, but it was never communicated that way. It was just like, “It’s my way or the highway,” and that was very frustrating. I can remember one time being so upset that I walked out of the building and went for a walk out in the field to contain myself. It takes a lot to get me upset. I’m a pretty tolerant patient person, okay? I don’t mean that in a bragging way, but that’s the way I’ve just been brought up and learned to handle situations in life.

Larry Stap:
Anyways, that’s the way it started going. We started bottling our own milk, but you don’t instantly find a home for 200 cows’ worth of milk overnight because even if a larger grocery store chain wanted to take your milk on, they don’t know who you are. They don’t know if you’re going to be here tomorrow. They don’t know if you got a quality product. Unbeknownst to us, they were watching us. About two years into it, we started be able to expand into some larger grocery store chains. Once that happened, it just snowballed, but in the process of that time, we started bottling milk in 2007.

Larry Stap:
The first year we broke even was 2012. We sucked equity even faster and faster and faster. Of course, during that time, conventional dairy went down. Economics went down in 2009 and 2010. I never officially know, but I know that we were probably within months, if not days, of being called on by the bank …

Dillon Honcoop:
Really?

Larry Stap:
… but we knew the market was out there. We didn’t have access to capital because our supply or our orders were starting to exceed our ability to bottle and we were just got a little tiny plant getting started. Northwest Ag Business Center, NABC, stepped up to the plate and really helped us and got some private money. Now, this is the most amazing thing. When we asked for private capital to expand our plant to take care of production needs to fulfill orders, we put a complete financial package in front of them, including all of our losses, many years of losses and put the word out.

Larry Stap:
We sat around a kitchen table individually with about seven different parties and not one of them even questioned, loaning us money privately, even with that history. They caught our vision. They knew it. We borrowed money from a lot of private individuals. We put it on a seven-year note. Two years later, we had them all paid off because we were able to expand it. It was amazing, just absolutely amazing.

Dillon Honcoop:
Before that, what were you telling yourself to get through? Were you to the point where you’re thinking, “Maybe we bag it”?

Larry Stap:
Not necessarily. We knew we just had to access some capital somehow, and with a crisis going on and the economy and banking industry back at that time, even if they did catch your vision, they just says, “No, it ain’t going to happen.” It was tough, but we never gave up.

Dillon Honcoop:
It sounds like it was because of that vision that you had that was so strong that you weren’t going to give up. Describe that vision at least. What was it at that time?

Larry Stap:
Well, I’ll give you an example of what kept us going. It was our vision, but after I told you, I told you earlier, we got started getting approached by store chains. One day, I get a call. I don’t remember if it’s call or an email, but from QFC store chain, Quality Food Center, out of the Seattle area where their headquarters in Bellevue and they said, “Can we put your glass milk bottle in all our stores?” and I says, “I would dearly love to be able to do that to you, but I don’t have the processing capacity to do that. I believe we got the cows, but I don’t have the processing capacity.”

Larry Stap:
Well, they wouldn’t take no for an answer. What they said was, “Would you start with a few stores and then slowly expand and grow into it?” I said, “Sure.” We started off with seven QFC stores, but that isn’t the end of the story. Here’s the amazing part. One of the things that my wife and I do to promote our farm and promote dairy in general and farming in general is we stand in the grocery store and interact with customers and give out samples. One day, we’re standing in one of the original seven QFC stores and these three gentlemen in black suits and ties come walking through the store with the store manager and you could obviously tell they’re corporate people.

Larry Stap:
I always never pass an opportunity to introduce myself and thank them for allowing us in and they all knew about us a little bit even though it was small at that time. As then, they proceeded on. One of the gentlemen came back and said to me, “Do you want to know why you’re in our store chain?” I said, “Absolutely, I’d love to know why.” Well, he said, “We received an order from Kroger company to look at a glass milk bottle line in your QFC stores because the stores on East Coast that we own have a very successful program in that line of glass.”

Larry Stap:
I said, “Well, I’d greatly appreciate that and I appreciate you taking the time to allow us to grow and expand into it.” One more thing he says, “If I could pay you a little bit more for your milk for a while, would you be able to grow faster into our stores?” I says, “Well, that’s a pretty stupid question to say no to.” For how many months, they increased the price of our milk to us to give us more capital to expand. We took that additional capital we got for a number of months, you take the additional money that we borrowed from the private people as well as a lot of hardworking employees, and next thing you know, we’re in all the QFCs.

Larry Stap:
Then of course, what’s also interesting is these grocery stores don’t like to beat one up to buy another grocery store chain.

Dillon Honcoop:
I was thinking about when you said it snowballed once you got a couple grocery stores.

Larry Stap:
It does. The Haggen caught the vision. QFC caught the vision. Next thing I know, Metropolitan Market has a store chain in Seattle and the Town and Country store chain. What has been so rewarding is how supportive they’ve been to our farm. I can contact the corporate offices of most all those chains. They just think the world of us. We think the world of them. It’s just been a really win-win situation for us.

Dillon Honcoop:
None of this picture that you’re describing is normal.

Larry Stap:
No, it absolutely is not.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s just not the way. Usually, the relationships are adversarial. They’re trying to get the lowest cost they can and what you described with them willing to invest in your operation and allow you to start smaller. Usually, it’s like, “Either you supply this certain need that we want or forget it,” right?

Larry Stap:
Yeah, but you got to think about the landscape that started 10, 15 years ago. Local wasn’t big way back then, but it was on a groundswell of a movement. For a large store chain to get involved local is relatively hard and they saw this as an opportunity, I do believe. The other thing by us putting it in glass milk bottles also was a marketing niche that didn’t compete with other, the plastic jugs or carts, okay? This hopefully would attract another set of customers to them. This is probably the biggest thing that sells it to these stores is the markup on our milk is far exceeding what plastic jug milk markup is and stuff like that.

Larry Stap:
They can actually take a local product, touted as local and make some money on the product that they sell which is absolutely wonderful for them and us. It opened the door. Now, I tell you all these things and I take no credit for it. We have a great faith in our God up above and it was also providentially put in place for us that I looked back at it and I thought I just still can’t believe it to this day. It just blows my mind away how everything. It’s not that we didn’t have struggles and challenges and still do for that matter, but it’s been so rewarding.

Dillon Honcoop:
But you weren’t able to move into that without taking that risk too?

Larry Stap:
Oh, no. It was a huge risk. Like I said earlier, I don’t know for sure, but I know that we’re probably within months of the bank foreclosing on us. It was that close. I know it was. It was just a challenge.

Dillon Honcoop:
After going through all of this, you’ve proven with this that there is a market for locally produced food. In a realm where people probably thought it wasn’t possible, what had the conversations been? What did the traditionalist say about all of this?

Larry Stap:
Well, I have gotten so much support from my local farmers by and large. I have a little market niche that doesn’t cannibalize somebody else’s sales. If I could show you emails that people that just for years haven’t drunk milk for whatever reason and they drink our milk and they’re coming back to it or there’s other little health reasons that they can drink our milk and not maybe some conventional milk and it’s just been so rewarding in that respect. We literally now, as I always say, have been so blessed that we created a monster we can’t get away from, but it’s been a wonderful, wonderful ride without its challenges, I say, but it’s been good and we’ve been blessed.

Dillon Honcoop:
Glass bottles, non-homogenized, explain what are the benefits of these things and how else is your milk different. What is it really that people like?

Larry Stap:
I got my main five points that I tell the customers or any perspective store chains or whatever, but number one, we know the exact source of our milk. It’s not commingled with anybody else’s farms. It’s our milk from our girls. We raise our own young stock. We have what we call a closed herd, a closed milk supply, so we control the quality. Number two, we use what we call low temperature of that pasteurization, okay? It’s a very slow process. We raise the milk up to 145 degrees, have to hold it there for 30 minutes and then we can cool it back down and bottle it.

Larry Stap:
Most all other milk is done at, let’s say 165, maybe 170 for 15 to 30 seconds or your ultra-pasteurize is around 280 and 290 for two seconds. What that low temperature gives us is retaining of the flavor of the milk, just completely different tasting milk. It’s just hard to compare, but it doesn’t cook the flavors out and it also retains some of the enzymes in the milk that higher temperatures cook out. Milk naturally contains a lot of enzymes in it that aid in the digestion. The more of those you can retain, the better the milk will be for your digestive system.

Larry Stap:
Number three is we don’t homogenize. It’s quite amazing that most people, when I say most, a lot of people do not know what’s the difference between pasteurization and homogenization is. To get technical and try to explain homogenization is, I come up with a very simple way to explain it to the consumers. When milk comes from a cow, it consists primarily of two things butter fat or cream and skim. The butterfat or cream is a larger particle than the skim and it will naturally float to the top of the skim. When you’ve heard of the sayings, “The cream of the crop,” or “The cream rises to the top,” that’s where that comes from.

Larry Stap:
Homogenization is a process that puts it through a machine at 2,000 to 3,000 psi and smashes or breaks that particle into a smaller particle and then it will stay suspended in the skim. We do not do that process. We leave it natural, so the-

Dillon Honcoop:
So your milk will separate?

Larry Stap:
Your milk will separate, so you can do one of two things. When you buy a bottle of milk from us, you can spoon the cream off and put it in your coffee or whatever you feel like doing or you just shake it back in and reincorporate it back in. Another thing that we do is glass does not alter the taste of milk. It’s an impermeable surface, you might say. There’s been some discussion on light taste alteration, but we really don’t ever get any feedback on customers for that at all. It will sit on a shelf for a couple of weeks under light and still tastes just fine.

Larry Stap:
Then, the third or one of the fifth thing that I talked about is we milk the jersey breed cows, the little brown ones, okay? They produce less volume of milk than the traditional black-and-white Holstein which is probably 90% of the dairy cows in the United States. What makes their milk different is the lower volume they produce but they also produce what we call a higher solid content. Now, milk is primarily made up of water which has no flavor, but the solids in the milk is what gives milk its flavor. To give you an idea of how much more solids are in the milk, a general rule of thumb goes like this, when you make cheese, all you’re doing is extracting the solids out of the milk.

Larry Stap:
You’re coagulating together with cultures and then the white, the whey or the water flows off. If you take 10 pounds of Holstein milk, the general yield is around one pound of cheese. You take 10 pounds of Jersey milk, the yield is around 1.5 pound of cheese. You’re talking 50% more yield. Now step back again and think about what I just said, flavor, where does the flavor come from? The solids, so when you have a higher solids content in your milk, you’re going to have a more flavorful milk. Then people have asked me, “Why do not more farmers bottle jersey milk or why the processes are not bottle more jersey milk and make it a more flavorful milk?”

Larry Stap:
It’s all driven by USDA pricing. A fluid milk has to meet a certain minimum solids content in the grocery store. If you exceed that, you’re in no way compensated by the milk pricing system. The incentive is to put in to the bottle or the jug the minimum, generally speaking, and for high-yield milk such as the colored breeds, we call them jersey, Guernsey stuff like that, the incentive is for those to go to cheese vats, powder plants, cottage cheese, ice cream because the yield is greater and that’s where they get compensated. That sets us apart. We had the jersey cows and that’s what we bottled and it also became part of our marketing niche.

Dillon Honcoop:
What do people say in the grocery store? I know like you explain this so well because I know you’ve done that thousands of times like you’re talking about earlier visiting stores and actually meeting your customers in person. What do they say?

Larry Stap:
Probably the biggest reward of going to the grocery stores is this, they’ll start talking to me and then they’ll ask me, “Well, do you work for the farm?” Then, I says, “Well, no. We along with our daughter and son-in-law and the bank, we own the farm.”

Dillon Honcoop:
And the bank.

Larry Stap:
It is a whole different appearance that comes right on their face like they actually cannot believe they’re talking with the farmer himself. That is so huge to me, not in a prideful way, but it reinforces the fact that we as farmers need to connect with the consumers. When we do, they just appreciate it that it’s not coming in secondhand information from some other party. Even a hired employee as well as they could probably do it, but when we do it ourselves, the consumer just makes that incredible bond. It’s j fun to watch. It’s fun to be a recipient on that.

Dillon Honcoop:
What kind of questions come up usually?

Larry Stap:
There’s so many different questions and I always say the questions are reflective of what’s going in the internet at that time like calves, “How do you take care of your calves? Is your milk A1 or A2? Are your cows grass fed?” and stuff like that and you have the opportunity then to really educate people. I’ll give you an example. People say, “Are your cows grass fed?” and I says, “You bet they are, but how do you think we feed them grass in the middle of winter when it’s not growing?” Well, they drop their jaw like, “Well, I never thought such a thing.”

Larry Stap:
Then, that opens the door to explain to them how we harvest grasses during a summer. We put it in storage in the form of hay and silage. If they don’t know what silage is, I’ll explain to them, but that’s grass fed year around. It maybe not green and fresh, but they get grass year round that way, you see, and it just helps to educate consumer. It gives me great joy in doing that, not just to promote our own farm but to promote agriculture and dairy specifically in general. Never, never run down anybody else’s farm. Every farm does it different. Everybody has their own way of farming, the way they process their milk. That’s fine. The way they ship their milk, whatever, like to dispel a lot of myths about big farms because there’s a lot of misinformation about that.

Larry Stap:
Just tell them, “About 98% of all dairy farms, big or small, are owned by families. Most people have no idea. They just think it’s big corporate. How they care for their cows, every farm does a little bit different. I happen to do it this way, but if my neighbor does it this way and he takes good care of his cows, so be it. So be it.”

Dillon Honcoop:
What does that mean, take good care of your cows? How can you tell if somebody is doing the right thing or not?

Larry Stap:
Well, just stop back and think about the cows. The girls on a farm are producing milk for you, which you have the opportunity to sell, which makes a living for you. Why would you not properly take care of your source of income. Now, that taken care of has all different aspects to it, but to say that farmers just abuse their cows or get by with whatever they can, he’s going to go out of business. He won’t be around. Even if he is, he’s going to get in trouble probably with things like regulators and stuff for other aspects of his farm.

Larry Stap:
If he has an attitude of not wanting to take care of his cows, he’s probably got not a good attitude about wanting to take care of the environment and that kind of stuff. That’s not the general way at all of dairy farmers, big or small. Almost all of them are very responsible. They’re stewards. We’re probably one of the few farms in the world that actually has a mission statement and it drives us, but it’s very reflective of most farms. Our mission statement goes like this, “We are a family-owned and operated dairy that exists to glorify God through the stewardship of the land and the animals that he’s entrusted to our care in the best way possible.”

Larry Stap:
Most farms probably do that, okay? They just don’t have a mission statement, but that’s the way most farms operate. Do they do it perfectly? No. Do I do it perfectly? No, but we try just like anybody else tries to take care of the environment in this world.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’ve been mentioning the environment. How do you approach that realm? There’s a lot of criticism out there that in general, commercial dairy farming, which you do is bad for the environment.

Larry Stap:
It’s all based in ignorance. Once you start educating the consumer about it, most of that badness, lack of a better word, goes away. One of the things I like to talk about too is the soil amendment of choice for crops to grow and I don’t care if it’s grass, if it’s corn, if it’s vegetables, the soil amendment of choice is manure. That is the nutrient of choice, right? You can go to the grocery store and buy bags of steer manure or steer compost or whatever and that is the perfect soil amendment.

Larry Stap:
Soil is a living organism just like a cow and you need to maintain soil health to grow high-quality crops, so that you can feed high-quality feed to your cows, calves, whatever. It’s all a reflection of stewardship again. Like I say, once you explain to whose ever questioning you or challenging you, it starts to make perfect sense. I’ve often said too that there’s a lot of people that are vegan by choice and that’s fine. I says, “Number one, we live in a free country where you have that choice. Be thankful because in a lot of places in the world, they don’t have that choice. Number two, I’m never going to run you down on your choice. I will never speak badly of you, but do not do the same for me.”

Larry Stap:
I’m making this choice here and I go back into, “What is the soil amendment choice of all the produce and products you like to eat that are nonanimal agriculture oriented?” Animal agriculture provides the majority of the nutrients that are needed for optimum soil health. Commercial fertilizers can supplement it very well, but manure has the source of bacteria and organic material that so many commercial fertilizers cannot provide. Now, there’s a lot of farms that are not blessed with access to the nutrients.

Dillon Honcoop:
Which by the way, we are on a working farm, and on a working farm, it’s not just the barn where things keep going. It’s in the house too, right? Technically, this is … When I’d interviewed you on a different issue in the past, this is the corporate office, right?

Larry Stap:
Yeah. It all started one time when United Way called us and asked if they could make a presentation for participation on our farm with United Way. The young lady that I was talking to on the phone, she says, “And what is the address of your corporate office?” and I says, “9728 Double Ditch Road, Kitchen Table.” That to this day has been a fun little thing that I always tell, the kitchen table is our corporate office and that’s where our business takes place. That’s where we do it.

Dillon Honcoop:
Right here.

Larry Stap:
Right here.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s the real deal and that’s true for so many family farms.

Larry Stap:
It is. It is very true. You can have an office in the barn or whatever, but the office in the barn usually gets dirty and there’s barn boots in it and there’s dust and there’s dirt and all that kind of stuff, but the real business takes place, well, actually two places, on the hood of the pickup or on the kitchen table.

Dillon Honcoop:
Leaning over the hood of the pickup, getting caught up on the news or making a deal or-

Larry Stap:
Signing papers, whatever.

Dillon Honcoop:
Talk about, you described making this decision, taking this risk to go from more of a traditional system on your farm to independent marketing of your product, direct sales to the consumer with a glass product and all these things that we’ve just discussed. That was a decision you made in large part to keep your family involved in this business, your daughter and son-in-law.

Larry Stap:
That’s correct.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s especially important to you guys because of the history of this farm and your family though, right? What is this, four generations now, five?

Larry Stap:
Well, I was born and raised on this dairy farm. It was established by my great grandfather in 1910, so I currently am fourth generation. Our daughter and son-in-law represent the fifth generation and they have six children, especially the oldest one, he’s 15 and he eats, sleeps, breathes cows, so we’re well onto generation hopefully number six. He’s got such a passion for cows and pedigrees and all that stuff. I hope we can keep him on the farm or we don’t lose him because some stud farm or something like that, that appreciates people like him, but he’s a fantastic kid, a hard worker, stuff like that.

Dillon Honcoop:
I drove by one of your fields on the way here and it looked like he was out driving tractor.

Larry Stap:
Oh, yeah. They’re loving the fact that there’s no school.

Dillon Honcoop:
What a world that we live in with COVID and everything that’s changed.

Larry Stap:
Apart from the fact that there is no school with this whole thing, they are homeschooled. They have the flexibility too. If they can get their schoolwork done at home on time and they can get on the tractor or they can get out in the barn and stuff like that, there’s some real incentives or even coming over here to grandpa and grandma’s place. They know that they can’t come here until their schoolwork is done, so it’s a good driver in a lot of ways.

Dillon Honcoop:
But then a lot education happens on the farm too.

Larry Stap:
Oh, absolutely.

Dillon Honcoop:
I know that because I did the same thing.

Larry Stap:
I can ask, “What are you guys studying today or something, you oftentimes can give living examples on the farm or what’s going on and stuff like that. Everything from math to geography, you name it. It can all be shared as you’re working, side by side.

Dillon Honcoop:
You’re fourth generation. How did you get started? Go back to when you were a kid. How did you work into it? How did this farm evolve during your time?

Larry Stap:
I worked beside my dad all the time. Never probably really considered it work. You went out, did chores. It was part of your responsibilities growing up. You maybe didn’t like it sometimes, maybe you did. That was just part of my life. When I graduated from high school, which my parents were really thankful I did, because I hated school, I had no passion. I then worked for a John Deere dealership right here in town for about five years and then started farming. Pretty much, I’ve never looked back since. I started in 1979, worked with my father-in-law for a couple of years and we branched out onto our own.

Larry Stap:
There’s been a lot of twists and turns and hiccups in the whole process over the years, but a supportive wife who probably does as much on chores in the farm, then our kids helped us. It just kept going, but I learned a lot from multi-generations in front of me. My grandpa was on a farm when I was a little kid here and you can see his work ethic, and then, you watched my dad’s work ethic. I’ve tried to mimic that in a lot of ways and pass that on to our children and keep it going. That’s the goal. The other thing that has come really home and center is that when it’s time to pass to generation or the farm onto the next generation, you make it financially feasible for that next generation to keep it going.

Larry Stap:
Greed is not part of the philosophy of farming. If greed was part of it, we could have sold our land years ago for many thousands of dollars more and moved on and done different things, but that’s not part of the mental makeup and the heritage that I’ve inherited and I hope to pass on.

Dillon Honcoop:
You talked earlier about a lot of farms are not able to go on. Often, that is because the kids, the next generation, they don’t want to do it, right?

Larry Stap:
That is so true and you can’t blame them. If you don’t love farming and cows, there’s an easier way to make a living. It’s just plain and simple. I don’t believe that a lot of your 8:00-to-5:00 jobs are ever going to give you as much reward as 10 or 12 or 14-hour a day on a farm seven days a week with a dairy especially, but I was so blessed to have a son-in-law who asked to join in a dairy. He was raised on a dairy. His dad quit when he’s 13. He was working an 8:00-to-5:00 job, was within hours of being a licensed electrician, okay? He’s working for an electrician and then he asked if he could join in the farm.

Larry Stap:
I said, “Well, you’re welcome to join, but you have to finish to get your license first, so that’s your backup if you bail.” He has never looked back on that. He spins long days, long hours, just scrape out a living here on the farm. He’s not only putting long hours in, but it’s not inside. It’s oftentimes out in the elements to fight northeasters or blistering hot heat or schedules that can’t be met or dealing with the regulatory world or on and on it goes. There’s just a whole raft of stuff that he could have chose to go away from and he didn’t. For that, we’re so thankful.

Dillon Honcoop:
Why did he choose that?

Larry Stap:
You’ll have to ask him. I cannot speak for him.

Dillon Honcoop:
Well, he must have a passion.

Larry Stap:
I think he does. He recognizes the value of raising a family on a farm. This gives them an opportunity to homeschool and have a farm and it reinforces your schooling and stuff and stuff like that.

Dillon Honcoop:
Be together as a family, rather than a part most of the day.

Larry Stap:
Yup.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s why I was homeschooled until I went to fifth grade. With farms struggling to move onto the next generation, though, sometimes it is that the kids want to do it, but it’s not necessarily possible too.

Larry Stap:
Yeah, the generation that wants to pass it on sometimes may not be in the financial position to do that. Farming is not easy. It’s not a life where you’d pay down debt real fast because you usually wind up paying down some debt and then this comes along and you got to borrow money for that or the milk prices tank or economy or whatever. Sometimes, yeah, it just does not work out financially. I think more than the financial part is the fact that the kids watch their dad work and work hard and work hard to put groceries on the table and not have big 401Ks and stocks and bonds and all the rest of stuff. Just work and they says, “I don’t need to do that. It doesn’t interest me. My passion isn’t like my dad or my grandpa,” and so they move on.

Larry Stap:
There’s even some younger families that I know of that, when I say younger they’re in their 50s probably, that have kids that are on the farm with them, but it just doesn’t work out financially to move it on to the next generation. That may sound strange, but until you’re actually in the trenches on a farm and know what it takes for capital and you don’t just buy a tractor and have a tractor the rest of your life. It depreciate out and it wears out. Then, you need to buy another one or your milking equipment wears out or you got to upgrade this and it takes a lot of money, just us.

Dillon Honcoop:
But if a farm is operating, why can’t it just move on to that next generation? If the parents are running it, why aren’t the kids able to keep running that same thing? What happens in between?

Larry Stap:
Well, you think about the parents who put their blood, sweat and tears and that they probably got some equity built up into it. Oftentimes, the equity that is a farm has is their savings. When they decide to quit farming, they don’t have a big savings account. They have an equity account. If that equity account is not big enough to finance the next generation, it just can’t happen and a bank is certainly not going to just step right up and finance the next generation, bank to their credit, lend money, but banks don’t take on a lot of risk either. If mom and dad aren’t going to co-sign, let’s say for the next generation, they maybe can’t do it. Even if they did co-sign, sell it to the next generation, mom and dad need an income to live.

Dillon Honcoop:
That’s their retirement.

Larry Stap:
That’s their retirement. All of a sudden, you got a bank payment and payment on mom and dad to borrow the rest of the money. It’s just a financial hit. It’s a challenge.

Dillon Honcoop:
Once they get taxed on that …

Larry Stap:
They get taxes on it.

Dillon Honcoop:
… transaction as well, right?

Larry Stap:
Yup, so it’s not easy. It definitely is not easy.

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

Dillon Honcoop:
When you hear the backstory and what goes on behind the scenes, the financial challenges, it makes it seem not much more daunting to keep family farming going. Sometimes, it feels like the odds are just stacked against it, but at the same time, what they’ve done there at Twin Brook Creamery is an inspiration, that it is possible to think outside the box, do something different. Next week, the conversation continues. That was just part one. We get into more of the real personal challenges and some of the hardest times they’ve faced on Larry’s steps farm including the loss of his son and so much more.

Dillon Honcoop:
It’s an incredible conversation. You won’t want to miss it next week. Thank you for being here. Thank you for supporting us. We sure would appreciate it if you share the podcast with a friend. Pass it on in your social media if you can. Share it on Facebook or on Instagram or on Twitter or on those platforms, rfrp_podcast is the handle, so check it out, subscribe as well. It just helps us bring this conversation to a wider and wider audience. Again, we thank you for your support just being here today.

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