Meet the Farmer
Location: Monroe, Washington
Project Lead: Snohomish Conservation District
Puget Sound RCPP Project Area: Snohomish and Skykomish River Watersheds. The Snohomish River Basin is second largest tributary draining into Puget Sound in Washington and it’s a high priority for salmon habitat enhancement. RCPP’s goal is to help improve water quality and fish habitat for Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed salmonids.
Project Description: Multiple nutrient management projects are planned for the farm. Initial projects are designed to improve manure storage and application.
Meet Chris Groeneveld
The sun was just breaking through the mist as we approached the Groeneveld farm, revealing a combination of green pastures and tall cottonwood trees nestled in the foothills of the North Cascades. We started our conversation with third generation dairy farmer, Chris Groeneveld, praising the pastoral landscape surrounding us. It’s his love of the land, working outdoors and being his own boss that makes life on the farm truly rewarding for Chris.
The Oprah Connection
Groeneveld became a direct supplier of milk to Seattle-based Beecher’s Handmade Cheese after Oprah Winfrey named their “World’s Best Mac & Cheese” as one of her “favorite things” and sales went through the roof. Beecher’s has strict guidelines for their milk suppliers and getting the fat percentage just right can be demanding, but the relationship has been gratifying. Chris said, “It’s been a fantastic partnership. They're a good company to work with and it’s been fun to be part of a local success.”
Coyotes and Elk and Bears – “Oh My”
Some farmers might find it a nuisance, even destructive, but Chris enjoys the abundance of wildlife that visits his farm. He doesn’t mind sharing the land with bears that fill their bellies with corn, elk herds wandering in the fields, coyotes building their dens, and large flocks of geese dropping in for a bite. Chris stated, “Many people say ‘let me take care of this’, but I tell them ‘nah’, we’re not losing that much and I'd rather have nature around. I really love it. We just kind of let nature happen around here.”
Full Circle Approach to Stewardship
The family’s 80 years of farming this land and Chris’ love of nature makes stewardship a natural part of managing the farm. It’s reflected in his “full circle” approach to nutrient management that has agronomic, environmental and economic benefits. He’s recycling manure for green bedding in the cow barns and using manure to enrich the soil in the growing fields. The increased productivity of his fields means that he can preserve the wild areas on his land. With the latest investments in manure handling equipment he can more efficiently utilize the manure and mitigate the risk of runoff in the creek that runs through his property. “We strive to be stewards of the land and to not always take from the land, we nurture it, do the best we can by it,” said Chris.
RCPP Helps Make Nutrient Management a Priority
The equipment for nutrient management comes with big price tags, so when times are lean, cows are the priority. Funding from RCPP helps make these expensive investments possible. As Chris explained, “When your back is against the corner and you're trying to decide where to put your money, a lot of times it goes into the cows because they’re your bread and butter. So it’s prioritizing and the more that there's backing for these kind of projects, the more we can do.”
I’d Rather Be Farming
Even with help from programs like RCPP and advancements in farming practices, it’s takes a lot of love and commitment to stick with farming. As Chris puts it “I don’t’ see myself sitting in an office. As much as I question, ‘why am I doing this’, I love it at the same time. Everything doesn’t come easy and we try to teach our kids if you fail, sometimes your best failure is your best learning. You can make your wrong choices and suffer the consequences, but you can also make great choices and live the highs of it.”
Story: Lorraine Nay, Alliance for Puget Sound Natural Resources
Photography: Courtney Baxter, The Nature Conservancy
This material is based upon work supported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under award number: 68-0546-15-006. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.