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.
After our brief homage to pigs, Mike, Patty and I returned to the subject of Lonely Lane Farm and the other significant change that took place following the move to marketing natural, sustainable meats.
The development of an on-farm meat processing plant. If that sounds like a pretty significant development, it should, because it is. But from Mike’s perspective, it’s all about vertical integration.
“We always had talked about being vertically integrated,” said Mike, “which for us meant that if we had a cow herd we would be producing our own animals and all of our own feed. So we were doing cow-calf all the way through finished product with all our own inputs. I thought we were vertically integrated. But when we made the switch to this market, the product goes directly from our farm to the consumer. And I realized we weren’t completely vertically integrated because we could raise a phenomenal product to a certain point and then we had to turn it over to someone else and see what we got back. And we did that for awhile.”
Then Mike stumbled into another opportunity that opened the door to what turned out to be a long but fruitful journey. Without realizing what we was setting himself up to do, he managed to negotiate his own processing space in an existing meat processing facility by agreeing to assist them with some USDA planning requirements.
“That really helped us,” explains Mike, “because we were actually processing our own meat in that facility one day a week. Learning how to do it, and learning everything else that went along with it. We went on that way for awhile, but before too long, we realized that we were going to need more control and the ability to expand our operation if we were going to make it work. Either we needed to fully commit to the processing side or get out of farming. For us, it needed to be an all or nothing deal. Simple as that. So that took us in the direction of looking at processing facilities.”
The Klofts’ search for a processing plant included both existing facilities that were closed, with the possibility of reopening, and those still operating, but with owners nearing retirement. But after a couple near misses, they finally settled on converting buildings on their farm and creating their own plant. From that point, the focus was on determining what all needed to happen to get from point A to point B.
“Fortunately we’d been working in this area for awhile and we had built a pretty good rapport with the USDA inspectors,” said Mike. “I was able to call them and ask them what they were looking for in a facility. I mean, I can read the regulations, but I really wanted them to come out and walk through the space with me to see if what I was thinking would actually work.”
Mike and Patty weren’t overly reassured when the visiting inspector couldn’t visualize a plant working the way Mike explained it. He admitted that the plan sounded right, but the best response he could come up with was to just try it and see how it goes. Undeterred, the couple recruited family members and began converting an old dairy barn into a meat packing house.
Now if you’re wondering what the term family farm really means, here’s a good example. The principal players in the construction of what would become Century Oak Packing were Mike, his father, his uncle, and Patty. Plus, there was a cousin who just happened to be an engineer. And long story short, they got it done. The USDA came in; the facility passed scrutiny; and the Klofts were assigned a USDA inspector. Now they run the packing house five days a week year-round, providing employment for a crew of local community members and a retail meat-cutting capability for surrounding farms.
Now that the meat processing is running smoothly, both Mike and Patty are happy about being able to spend more time farming again, because that’s what they love the most. Both are open about the fact that they always wanted to continue life on the farm.
“For me personally, I always wanted to farm,” said Patty. “I just didn’t know exactly what form it would take to be honest with you. But after Mike and I started dating, I knew I could do this for the rest of my life. And now with our son, we want to make sure he gets to grow up in a similar way. He loves being outside, watching the animals, splashing in the creek. That’s country life.”
And though he doesn’t say so explicitly, I have to believe Mike already holds out hope that someday he will turn the reins of his farm over to his son, John.
“I will say that’s one thing about the farm we’re on,” Mike shared, “that beginning with my grandfather, they’ve always seen it as being a steward for the land for their own generation. Doing whatever they can do to improve the soil, the environment, the quality of life… everything they’ve got for the next generation that’s coming along. My grandfather did that for my dad and was willing enough to turn the reins over and let him go the route he wanted to go when the time came. And my dad did the same thing for me.
“I think that’s where we lucked out, because a lot of people aren’t that fortunate with successive generation farms. You know, sometimes a generation will get stuck in what they do and think that’s the only way to do it. They don’t realize that situations change and markets change and that you have to adapt. They don’t take the long-term view and try to make decisions that strengthen what they have rather than only trying to get bigger or just going for the money right now. So I’ve had a good example to learn from, and I feel like I’m really lucky that my dad told me, ‘I picked what I did for my generation, now you pick what you do for your generation.’”
It’s easy to believe that Patty and Mike are going to do whatever it takes to make sure young John has the same opportunities they’ve had.
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(Top) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Lonely Lane Farm near Mt. Angel, Oregon is home to Mike and Patty Kloft.
(Middle) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Mike and Patty worked with family members to convert an old dairly barn into a USDA-inspected meat processing facility.
(Bottom) Photo by Lisa D. Holmes. Mike and his facility manager at work cutting meat from the Kloft's farm and those of their neighbors.