Did you know that a fork can support an entire farm? LifeSource shoppers use their forks to support 75 head of cattle, 25 hogs, and a husband, wife and son every time they purchase beef or pork from Lonely Lane Farms. Those must be some very strong tines! Here is a story of the “tines that bind” us to one of our local meat suppliers, Lonely Lane.
Mike and Patty Kloft, operators of Lonely Lane Farms, carry on a farming tradition that began in 1890 when Patty’s great-grandfather, Joseph Bochsler, purchased 160 acres of farmland near Mt. Angel. The family raised cattle, dairy cows, grain, hay and hogs. In 1939 Mike’s grandfather purchased Lonely Lane Farm. The farm ran dairy cattle until the 1980s when they switched to beef cattle. With Mike and Patty’s marriage joining the two families, the farm has been in the same family for over 120 years!
While counting generations and years of farming is impressive, when I recently visited Mike and Patty at their farm I quickly became dreamy-eyed as I learned more about their approach to working the land and working with animals.
Back in college I took a series of courses on “Leadership for Sustainability” while at Portland State University. One class was offered by professors who were also part-time farmers. After visiting their farm I volunteered to start working for them the very next week—I was hooked! They raised alpacas, and as I learned more about sustainable farming practices, questions started to pop up. How sustainable is it to purchase hay and feed from other farms? How do we keep nutrients on the farm? What effect does producing only one crop have over time (even if it is the cutest darn thing you have ever seen)?
These questions led me to work for a number of other farms, mostly with livestock, but also for farms growing vegetables and cereal crops. I started to see that the most sustainable farm—the kind that would last for a century or more- needed to be self-reliant and flexible in the face of changing markets, changing weather, and ever changing availability of seeds, breeding stock and other farm inputs.
Fast forward from being a busy-brained college student to being part of the meat buying team at LifeSource where I work with local farmers and ranchers to provide fresh, high-quality meat to shoppers. And I find myself at Lonely Lane Farms. And I am in awe. Mike and Patty’s operation is a shining, yet humble, example of a self-reliant farm prepared to stand the test of time.
Lonely Lane’s stability begins with how they use the land. They practice crop rotation to ensure that the nutrients the plants pull from the soil by one crop are replenished by the next. They plant a diverse selection of forage crops including oat, grass, alfalfa and wheat that all give something unique back to the land and provide all of the feed needed for the animals. Mike also began using only non-GMO seeds for his crops in the late 90s, before genetic modification was on the radar for many people. All of the feed raised for the animals contains no GMOs.
The Klofts raise select breeds for their ability to thrive on pasture. I’m a bit of a breed geek , so I made sure to ask Patty what breeds of hogs her family raises. Her reply was great: “Pure bred mutt!” Their hogs have a direct lineage back to the first sows her great-grandfather owned in 1890. Over the years they have mixed in genetics that make for hogs that can survive and thrive on a diverse diet and be outdoors. As for their cattle, it’s a pretty sure bet that those that are gentle to work with, like to eat what’s in the pasture and can withstand an Oregon winter will weather the changes of time. Mike and Patty’s choice of Hereford cattle fit that bill nicely.
For Lonely Lane, self-reliance also meant building their own USDA-inspected meat processing and packaging plant. Initially Mike, Patty and Mike’s mother were all trained in butchering, allowing them to personally cut, handle and inspect every piece of meat that the farm sold. This allows for ultimate quality control and far less waste. They are also able to help other local ranches by offering the plant for their processing needs, serving 5 to 7 other farms every week.
Next time you make a meat purchase consider agriculture as a four legged chair. One leg represents the land. One leg represents the crop. The third leg represents the farmer. All of these legs must be strong and stable to hold up the chair, but they all ultimately rely on the fourth leg—the fork. Regardless of how self-reliant, how sustainable, how homegrown a farm can be, ultimately all farms rely on consumers to pull up a chair to the table with a fork in hand. These are the tines that bind.