Planting A Future: Profiles from Oregon’s New Farm Movement spotlights 18 Oregon farms and farm supporters who are committed to a return to ecologically sound agricultural practices. This group reflects the diversity of people, both young and old, who are reshaping our state’s food system and reclaiming our right to eat well. In their stories you will hear how they came to be where they are, learn something about the challenges they face, and share their happiness at the successes they’ve enjoyed thus far. The following profile has been excerpted from Planting A Future.
Mike and Patty Kloft and their one-year-old son, John, are a young family working hard to save their way of life and continue along the path of their forebears. Their home is a traditional family farm. The kind that’s disappearing at a breakneck pace. And they are traditional farm people. The kind you might have met twenty or forty or even sixty years ago.
Growing up on a family farm in the 1950s afforded me many opportunities to meet just such people, and after spending a couple of hours with Mike and Patty, I realized I could just as easily have met them back then. Their farm is their life. It defines them and influences every thought they have. And one of the most important aspects of their approach to farming reflects their approach to family… how do they make what they’ve been entrusted with even better for the next generation? That’s a question which lies at the very heart of sustainability. But it’s how you answer it that really matters.
Mike and Patty grew up less than three miles apart in the countryside near Mt. Angel, Oregon. Mike’s family started their farm in 1939. Patty’s dates back to 1890… same family, same farm all that time. There’s a lot of history packed into those years. But times change, and by the year 2000, as Mike was coming into his turn at running the farm, he was wondering if there was going to be any farm to run.
“Things had gotten to the point where we just weren’t making enough money to sustain everyone anymore,” said Mike. “My grandfather started out with a dairy, and then in 1985 they sold their dairy herd and just ran beef cattle. That worked well enough for awhile, but after about fifteen years, we knew it wasn’t going to last. I was going to college down at Oregon State studying ag around then, and I was wondering if I was going to have to get out of farming.”
Fortunately Mike signed up for a class about world foods and the cultural implications of international agriculture which was being taught by OSU Small Farms program director Garry Stephenson. I don’t know how much Mike remembers about international agriculture, but he clearly recalls a conversation he had with his professor.
“After class one day Garry and I were sitting around talking, and I told him I wasn’t sure what I should do about our farm because we weren’t bringing in the amount of money we needed,” said Mike. “I was out of ideas, but he asked me to tell him what we do. So I explained it and he was like, ‘well, it sounds like you’re raising everything sustainably.’ And I had never even looked at it that way, but it was true. We were and always had. We just didn’t know we should be marketing it that way.”
As Mike lays it out, his family always had run a sustainable farm focused on producing healthy, quality products. For them, that meant controlling all of their inputs by producing them on the farm.
“We produced our own livestock, our own feed, our own bedding… everything was right here,” Mike explained. “We used no hormones, no antibiotics, no animal byproducts. We’d always raised our own GMO-free feeds. Garry pointed out that we were obviously passionate about it, or we wouldn’t be doing it that way, and he was right. Turns out it was more a matter of us finding the market that fit our farm than it was trying to change our farm to chase some other market. I actively promote that approach to people now, and I know Garry does the same. So that’s how we got started in the sustainable farming market, and by 2001 we were able to get into our first alternative grocery stores.”
Over the following ten years Lonely Lane Farm continued raising sustainable beef, getting it processed at Mt. Angel Meat Company and selling to stores, a few restaurants, and direct to consumers at farmers markets. But that doesn’t mean there were no changes on the farm, and Mike would probably say the first big change was the most important. It all started innocently enough while preparing for a farmers market.
“Patty’s dad was raising pigs for us,” said Mike, “and I was talking to him one day and said we needed some extra help at the farmers market. So he said he’d check to see if any of his girls wanted to help. Patty’s older sister wasn’t interested, but Patty said okay, and that’s actually how we got to know each other.”
Patty explains that she’s about twelve years younger than Mike so they’d never really had an opportunity to get to know each other until they started working together.
“We were talking about that last night,” said Patty, “how it was nice to work together and become good friends before we started dating. Then after a few years, we decided to get married.”
“You stumble on something good,” adds Mike, “and you’re lucky you do.”
I’m sure a part of the personal compatibility of Patty and Mike can be attributed to their shared values, because Patty comes from the same type of farm as Mike. The only real difference is the fact that Patty grew up on a hog farm, and it’s something she likes to talk about. For the majority of our interview Patty let Mike do most of the talking until I asked her about pigs – what breeds they raised – and she perked up.
“They’re actually a mixture,” she said. “For a long time when I was growing up as well as raising fat hogs we also did a lot of 4-H. And it seemed to us that they were kind of into colors. So we actually bred for color. To do that we just changed our boar out every year and picked a different breed. So we have everything in there from Spotted Poland to York, we did Hampshire, Duroc. We always kept our own sows but over time we ended up with quite a mix.”
I shared with her that growing up my family raised mostly a hampshire-yorkshire-duroc cross, but that a friend of mine raised Berkshires. And she responded in a way only a true farm girl could… “They are such pretty pigs. I always liked Berkshires. We had some of those around, too.”
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(Top) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Mike and Patty Kloft, owners of Lonely Lane Farm and Century Oak Processing, with their son, John.
(Second) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Mike Kloft's father still lends a hand on this three-generation family farm.
(Third) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Cattle have come in from pasture to eat. All feed is sustainably grown on the farm.
(Bottom) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Silos and hay sheds are common sites on traditional family farms.
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