Keeping Tradition Alive through Adaptation

Keeping a multi-generation farm alive and selling a multi-generation farm are both difficult.

A while ago, I spoke with the owner of the oldest family farm in Idaho. (The photo above is a picture he sent me of an aerial view.)

Michael Porter’s family first started farming in Idaho when James Haworth came in 1861 to start a flour mill, and the farm has been in the Haworth family ever since. And until the most recent owner change, the owner’s last name reflected it.

“It’s been in the family ever since, but my grandpa had seven daughters,” he said. “I’m the oldest grandson.”

He was in the middle of buying the farm from his grandfather when his grandparents died in an accident in February. He had already bought half, but the other half was divided between the seven daughters, leaving him to have to negotiate prices with all of them.

“Over the last months, I put together a plan to buy it from the seven daughters, so it will stay in the family,” Porter said. “It was really important to me to keep it in the family. It’s the oldest family-owned business in Idaho.”

Taking over the farm didn’t go as he expected back when he rode on the tractor with his grandpa, but it was worth it to him to fight for the 600-acre farm

Continuing the farming tradition requires adaptation to the circumstances.

Mckell Sears, one of my good friends, grew up on a dairy near ours. A while ago, she lost her dad. He was the owner and leader of the farm. But despite the tragedy, the family kept it going. Her whole family plus two cousins and their families work together.

Even while they’re in college, Mckell and her siblings come home to help as often as possible.

“Why do I do this? I do it because I honesty love it,” Mckell said. “I love working outside and feeling that I have accomplished a hard days work!”

And she told me that they decided as a family to make the difficult switch to organic. While they know the transition will be hard she said, they believe it is something they need to do to keep the farm strong.

Adapting can solve problems and bring in more profit, but sometimes farmers have to face the truth that they can’t keep going no matter how much they may want to.

For instance, I recently read a blog post from Faith.Family.Farming about their last milking. Four generations and now it’s over.

“Every year, milk prices fell faster and faster.  We tried to ride out the tide.  Some years were good, others were hard. . . . Making this decision felt like a tug of war between what our hearts said, and what the bank account said,” the author shared.

They did what they could, but in the end, they sold Patnode Lane.


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