The La Biondo Story

I did not set out to be a farmer. It is not in my immediate family history, but it may be in my Italian genetic code. I grew vegetables in small back yard gardens for many years and I kept a garden and a few chickens at my fishing lodge I owned on the southern Oregon coast.

This farming thing started with the remains of one abandoned raised bed in the back yard of a property I looked at in May, 1999. I took one look at the rich soil, the bright sun, the open, southerly orientation of the land and I could have cared less about the ugly brown house and ugly, tired looking brown barn. I was 45, Joe was 56, we had been together 6 years then and a life on this island in the middle of Puget Sound was the new adventure we were looking for since Joe retired from long haul trucking. Joe took a job driving the local school bus and I was about to step back into mortgage lending after a long break. Within a week of moving on to the property, a fellow bus driver gave us a small flock of young chickens. Turned out to be mostly roosters, they fought all the time, they wouldnʼt go in at night and within a few weeks they were almost all dead by raccoons. A few weeks later, another new friend stopped by to see our new place and he said the land was perfect for goats and offered us one of his baby goats. Just one, an 8 week old Alpine doeling named Rebecca. This we knew Nothing about. The idea of fresh milk was most appealing, so we said yes. We built a house from an old truck canopy, put a fence around a piece of back yard and we had a goat! None told us goats are herd animals and do NOT like to be left alone. Rebecca cried hysterically the minute we turned our backs on her. She would climb, jump and fly over anything we put up to keep her in her yard. No matter where we were on the property, she would appear crying and as soon as she got close to us, she would stop crying, start munching and be perfectly happy hanging out with us. It was like having a puppy. Until it was time for bed. We had to lock her in her house where she would cry herself hoarse all night, keeping me awake most of the night. A few days of this and I started looking for a mate for Rebecca to play with. I heard about a woman who was giving away 2 of her goats to make room for horses. We had no idea what a Nubian goat was, but they were free to a good home. ClaraBelle and her son Sky Bear were the most enormous goats we had ever seen. Of course we had not seen too many goats, but they looked huge and they had these funny Roman noses and those long, pendulous ears. Then they reared up at us. Yikes! what were getting into? The owner came over to approve our home for goats, helped is move them in and told us ClaraBelle would be the Alpha goat and little Miss Rebecca was going to have to mind herself. ClaraBelle AND Sky Bear immediately went about the business of head butting Rebecca out of the small house Joe had built. Oddly enough, Rebecca was fine being bullied. She had company! She completely stopped crying, she slept on the very edge of the house, she had a herd, no matter they didnʼt like her yet. She would charm them over time. With our few surviving chickens, three goats, a vegetable garden and a creaky old barn, we felt officially like farmers.

From my first attempt at cheese making, to raising my first pigs, to gathering eggs daily, to taking the salt shaker out to the garden to graze on warm from the sun juicy tomatoes; all of this took my love affair with food and my desire to feed people to a new level of curiosity and adventure. I wanted to know my food. In 1999, the phrase “know your food and where it comes from” was just starting to form on the lips of the world around me.

The more food I grew, the more people I fed the food I grew, the more I was charmed and driven to do this life called farming, the deeper in love I fell with my little piece of paradise.

This farm is a visceral experience for me. I donʼt claim to ever really know what I am doing. Itʼs always a work in progress and a grand experiment. I walk out into the garden or pasture and I listen. Just listen. One day this spring, I was standing in the back pasture and I heard the whole pasture gurgling. Remember Rice Krispies? When you first poured the milk on the cereal? It was that kind of sound. It was a dry moment in a 27 day run of rain. I am sure the ground was trying to say “Please make it stop raining!!!”

As I listen and watch, I am led to do the next task, project or curiosity. Sometimes I am led into the kitchen to make rhubarb sauce.

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