This isn’t your grandfather’s farm

Posted 3/18/21

A life in agriculture is many things: hard, rewarding, tough on a family, the best way (many believe) to raise kids and difficult to pass along to the next generation.

The last factor is in part …

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This isn’t your grandfather’s farm


A life in agriculture is many things: hard, rewarding, tough on a family, the best way (many believe) to raise kids and difficult to pass along to the next generation.

The last factor is in part because the next generation knows how hard a life it is, the steady pressure in many places to sell the land for development and because so many kids leave the rural life and take up a career elsewhere. It is also very difficult to pass along because it is nearly impossible for a younger person who wants to stay in agriculture or get into it without a family connection to purchase land and find a way to make a living off that land.

There is a brighter side to the equation, though, brought about in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. That worldwide virus brought into clear focus how fragile our food supply lines can be and how important it is to have locally sourced food available. And there are several bright entrepreneurs in the Big Horn Basin who are breaking out of traditional molds to enter or expand agriculture in new, innovative and exciting ways. Several of those enterprises are featured in this edition’s From the Backyard to the Barnyard special section.

Take for example Scott Richard and Elijah Cobb. They work together at Shoshone River Farms. Back in the day, their plant sale meant customers came to the farm off U.S. Highway 14-A and made their selections in person. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to run out of a particular variety of herb, vegetable or flower. When the pandemic hit, their pre-order was already a tool available, but it really put a fine tune on the planning calendar for the business. When the sale went to pre-order only, it meant the farm staff knew how much of what to plant so that the seedlings were ready for the plant sale. It also streamlined the process for the farm to grow enough of its own plants for the farmers’ markets. The community supported agriculture feature really grew during the shutdowns because members wanted to know they could get a box of locally grown produce each week without having to venture out of their homes where there was the potential for catching the virus. Now it has become a convenience they may not want to live without. 

Expanding on that is the food hub where small growers consolidate their produce to supply larger quantities to restaurants, grocers and schools. Besides offering incredibly fresh food, there is no cross-country supply chain that can be broken. 

These are all ways to market and supply produce that is locally controlled. And the farm income is more secure because of it.

Then there is Crazy J Orchard, where a couple of youngsters figured out how to raise meat birds, heritage pigs, free-range laying hens and fruit on a small plot of ground. The food will find its way to consumers through direct sales, pick your own weekends and soon, a small storefront. 

Not detailed in the special section are a small dairy near Greybull that is starting up a home delivery service of its ultra fresh products, just like the milkman used to bring, and a family-owned meat packer and dairy in Byron that was heavily damaged by a recent fire before it could serve the first customer at that location. The family is in the process of cleaning up and probably rebuilding, carving out a niche in an area that will welcome it.

Whether these farmer folk were assured of success or told it couldn’t be done — the soil was too poor, the land was too costly, no one would want home-delivered milk or there aren’t enough custom butcher customers to make it pay — they went ahead and braved the frontier, took the leap of faith to move to the next level.

Because that is what farmers and growers and producers do: keep the way of life alive, even if it doesn’t look like your grandfather’s farm.