by Ryan Moeggenberg
On a late December morning Marcee and I went out to Alfalfa to meet Kathi and Tom Miller of Fresh Start Farms. As we pulled in the driveway we were greeted by the very friendly farm dog Charlie and Tom walking from the barn. I had been in contact with Kathi through brief text messages as she lost her speech due to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). She had heard of my high energy personality and commented that she was past that and focused now on efficiency. Through our conversation around the kitchen table with Kathi, Tom and their grandson TJ, she may not have spoken much, but she said a lot. By the end of the conversation I barely needed her to write on her whiteboard to get her points across or her opinions known.
While munching on homemade peanut brittle they told us stories of the hundreds of foster kids that have lived with them over the years. The farm was a good place for teens to learn responsibility, to be loved and be treated with respect. Tom and Kathi used to own an art gallery on the coast. Kathi was adamant to have Tom show us some of his pieces of art. He has painted scenes of the Cascade Mountains viewed from their farm, the Fresh Start Farms mailbox including the view down Johnson Ranch Road toward Powell Butte. Elephants, Zebras and stunning landscapes that he has sold for thousands of dollars.
They say they do things on the farm the right way meaning the hard way and it is working for them. It does have its limitations. For example, the pastures could potentially have twice the grass if they chose to fertilize conventionally. Instead, the herd of cows are fed in different areas therefore concentrating manure in that area. Once the feeding area is ‘manured’ sufficiently, a good harrowing breaks up the manure to naturally fertilize. This is part of the efficiency that Kathi had mentioned in our text messages. When I was little, we fed our herd in one area near the barn because it was convenient but in the spring we spent days hauling manure out to the fields to fertilize before working it into the ground. Weed management is handled the right way also. Hand pulling as they pop up on their 40 acres so they aren’t relying on potentially harmful sprays.
In order to safeguard their animals they are strict on bio-protection. If the vet has to make a farm call they change their boots and clothes before coming onto the property so as not to carry any disease or illness from anywhere else they may have visited. This is also the reason they do not do farm tours. Another assurance is that they have a ‘closed herd’. Meaning that they do not purchase animals and bring them onto the farm. They have their bulls and boars to do the servicing rather than artificial insemination. This means that their cows and sows come into heat naturally rather than using hormones.
After our conversation around the table, Tom and TJ took us on a tour of the farm. It’s too bad they don’t do regular farm tours because this part was a real treat. The greeting by Charlie the farm dog is typical of a good dog but what came next was not typical of farm animals. If you have ever heard Tim McGraw’s song Down on the Farm you might know the line ‘Don’t mess with the bull, he can get real mean…’? Well that doesn’t apply to Fresh Start Farm. We walked right up to their bull in the pasture and he didn’t mind at all. The three 800 lb pigs were even more intimidating but they walked right to us begging to be patted and scratched.
Kathi said we should pass on the words “EAT BACON”! They’re going to have a lot of pork this spring, just in time for BBQ season, but plan ahead. Ranching/farming doesn’t allow for instant gratification, just planning and effort. Fresh Start Farms offers memberships for $50 a year. Beef and pork will be sold in quarter, halves and wholes only. Poultry and eggs are available exclusively to members. The membership allows you to purchase poultry and eggs and unplanned harvests. Call and leave a message at 541-317-5925 for information.
Photos by Marcee Hillman