Where we come from....
My name is Natalie Sander Kern. I come from a large family full of loud, loving, and mischievous aunts, uncles and cousins. My dad, and his nine brothers and sisters, grew up on a small dairy farm in Tillamook, Oregon that has now passed through 3 generations. Almost a century ago, our farm was one of the early farms to be a part of the Tillamook Creamery Farming Cooperative, makers of Tillamook Cheese. My dad used to tell us stories of practical jokes they played on each other as kids, the 4:00am milking they worked growing up, and the values of hard work and family that become a part of the tough times you experience in a big family on a small farm. My own memories of the farm are from family trips, chasing barn cats with my cousins, wearing big black rubber boots to go out and explore the mucky fields and play in the nearby creek, walking down the road to feed carrots to Shadow, the neighbor’s donkey. I remember one of the severe floods in Tillamook county, several of my aunts, uncles, and cousins came down to walk the fields and clear debris that had taken out pasture fences and left behind silt from the Wilson river.
The Struggling American Farmer...
Our own Sander Dairy milk, combined with other dairies, is used to make delicious products at the Tillamook Cheese Factory run by the Tillamook County Creamery Association, a farmers' cooperative. As times change and farming and agriculture become more corporate, it has become harder and harder for my uncle to keep the family farm running. I know our small farm is not the only one struggling. There was a time when my Grandpa Sander could run the farm and support a family. Somehow keeping them fed with healthy meals, and providing clean clothes and prescription glasses, cause goodness knows that 20/20 eyesight does not run in our family. Even if government assistance had been available, he wouldn’t have accepted it. In only one generation the sustainability of a small farmer has become such that a single person alone struggles to make a farm profitable. In 2005, all the farms included in the Tillamook Creamery Co-op stopped using the artificial bovine growth hormone. While the quality of the milk is higher and healthier for consumers, the production yield of my uncle’s farm cannot balance the cost of production with the current business model that has been used in the past. Grain and hay prices have risen dramatically within the past four years due to trucking costs and droughts. Fuel prices have increased 250%* in the last decade, whereas the consumer price of milk has only increased by 28%*. Milk prices are such that the small guy cannot sustain livability. When you do a job 365 days a year, 24 hours a day and get up every morning to know you are going to lose money, it is not the best motivator to believe that you can still figure out a way to make it work - without becoming a cog in the corporate agricultural machine. The farm now stands at a crossroads. Between devastating flooding that ruined fencing and well systems, late spring freezes, and a host of other unforeseen events in the past several years, our family farm desperately needs help.
An opportunity for Re-Invention...
I'm trying to raise funds to help my uncle pay for grain and fuel to get the through the rainy winter, when the fields are too wet to let the cows graze. If there are additional funds after that I hope that it will help him a little bit to get the farm back to its feet - but more than that to give my Uncle hope that he can re-invent the farm and bring it back to a profitable family business, one in which another generation can take pride.
* fuel and milk statistics pulled from the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/surveymost?ap)