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Variety on the Farm

The looming crisis in farm country is due to fewer young people engaging in agricultural activities.
Variety on the Farm

Variety on the Farm

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Base Vines & Cattle

Show Details

Show 1440: Variety on the Farm
Air Date: October 5, 2014

 

Transcript

Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” Well, there is a looming crisis in farm country, and that is the lack of new farmers to do the work. Over the past 20 years, we have seen roughly a 40 percent drop in the number of Oklahomans ages 35 and younger engaged in agricultural activities. Joining me now is our Andy Barth.

Andy Barth: Well, Rob, here are three numbers I want you to consider: 51, 57 and 155. Now, 51 is the average age of Oklahoma farmers 20 years ago, 57 is the average age today according to the latest census, and then there is 155. That is how many people on average one farmer feeds. America’s farmers are getting older, and fewer and fewer young people are taking their place. Yet there are those bucking the trends, taking the road less traveled and making a life down on the farm. And I spent the day with one such family. As the sun says good morning in Oklahoma’s Blaine County, the base family starts a new day.

Jennifer base: Other foot.

Andy: And as 2-year-old Ilsa watches her morning cartoons, 9-year-old Daphne heads out to feed her bottle-calf, Feona. And after chores, Daphne has school.

Aaron Base: Daphne, bus.

Andy: So Daphne heads off to class, as does her mom. Down the road in El Reno, Jennifer has school herself.

Jennifer: Seventh- and eighth-grade math is what I have.

Andy: This is Jennifer’s first year at Darlington School after seven years of teaching seventh through 12th grade in Geary. Team-teaching, she’s only in the classroom three days a week to give her more time at home on the farm with her husband, Aaron.

Aaron: I like the white faces because when everybody else is running black, it’s like you’ve got them branded.

Andy: The Bases run cattle as part of their operation, but these cattle are hormone-free and raised on grass.

Aaron: They know that when you show up, they’re going to get to go to somewhere they haven’t been and fight over fresh grass. I would do it just for the behavior of the cattle.

Andy: The Bases niche market their cattle to health-conscious people using social media, farmers markets and good old-fashioned word of mouth.

Aaron: There’s that misconception about, tough or lean or something like that.

Andy: But life on the Base farm isn’t all about all natural beef. Aaron still gets out on a tractor.

Aaron: I still do plenty of commodity farming. I’m mainly a commodity farmer.

Andy: And Aaron says both styles of farming go hand in hand.

Aaron: Doing all those other things really makes you appreciate. Sometimes it makes you appreciate the commodities a little more. Because it’s not easy. Direct marketing has its own challenges.

Andy: Something Aaron and Jennifer found out firsthand when they moved an old schoolhouse to their property.

Aaron: Noticed it. Noticed it was in really good shape for its age. And within a month or two we had it set up to move, and there weren’t many places like this around anymore. So we just wanted to see if we could save it. And we’re still figuring what to do with it, now that we’ve saved it.

Jennifer: It started out, we work on it in the winter, is when we took it to studs. So it was a little chilly in here when we were taking everything down and taking everything out. It took a couple years just because we did it when we could. There’s only so much I can do on my own, and then I have to have his help, or we have to have somebody come in and do something. So you’re waiting on people. So it just took a while. We didn’t have a contractor come in and do it for us.

Aaron: Yeah, we have a lot of projects. I don’t think we’ve planned on it in any way shape or form when it comes to diversifying. It’s just kind of happened. We kind of get, not bored, we get one thing done, and we continually have a project that we need to do.

Andy: Like starting their own vineyard, one of Jennifer’s big dreams.

Aaron: So I kind of told her that if we bought the land, she could grow grapes. And I used that as my leverage to get the land. It’s kind of backfired on me a little bit because now we have all of these other projects.

Andy: But Jennifer doesn’t seem to mind the extra projects. In fact, when it comes to grapes, she’s ready to go.

Jennifer: I wanted to grow grapes so I had gotten a few. I started taking classes. I did through the OSU Extension at Perkins, I did that year. And then we put in our acre, and I started doing classes at Redlands, and I did their certificate program for viticulture.

Andy: And while grapes are a large part of the base family’s farming operation, no wine will be made from these vines this year. Thanks to birds and grasshoppers, there are no grapes left. But that’s not stopping the Bases.

Jennifer: The birds, in a matter of hours, took all of the grapes that were there. And there weren’t many, but it was still going to be something at least. I won’t be using my grapes. From the classes that I took at El Reno I’ve got a few contacts on people that I can use for grapes.

Andy: Back at home, Jennifer labels and adds foil tops to her finished product.

Jennifer: We have the syrah, which all of our acre that of course you know we haven’t been able to get in a couple years.

Andy: One of four labels the Bases hope to showcase in downtown Geary, in this old building, still a little rough, with lots of work to do, but that hasn’t stopped them before.

Jennifer: You know when you’re still pretty small, like we are, you can’t hire people. You don’t have the money to hire people to come out and help you.

Andy: But this job can wait until tomorrow, because it’s time for family down on the Base farm. It’s Daphne’s job to pick cucumbers, green tomatoes and the occasional free-range egg.

Aaron: People don’t understand farming. And how do you talk to them, sell them something, make that connection?

Andy: At the end of the day it’s still a family farm, and with this diverse operation it truly takes the whole family. Well now the Bases have preliminary plans to have the new tasting room open for the holidays, and then, start work on the winery. As for the schoolhouse, they are taking reservations for parties, weddings and other events.

Rob: So it sounds like the Base family has plenty on their plate.

Andy: That they do, Rob, and it continues to grow. Aside from the chickens and the grass-fed beef, they’re planning to add free-range pigs for their consumers. And since the winery is taking off, Jennifer is taking night classes for her master’s degree in business administration.

Rob: So by my count, it sounds like each, both Jennifer and Aaron have about three jobs a piece. Is that for typical?

Andy: You know what, Rob, now it is. The young farmers coalition says that 73 percent of all young farming couples have to work outside the farm, and that off-farm income accounts for 90 percent of their overall income.

Rob: All right. Neat family. Thank you for doing the story, Andy. Now when we return, I sit down with another group of young farmers to talk about the future of life down on the farm.