Tales from the Farm: Zenner Family Farm | Genesee, Idaho
Clint began farming at the tender age of 12. Now, almost 38, he is proud to say he has never pulled a plow. He, his wife Alecia, and their family represent a generation that cares more about food than ever before. Their personal values mirror their professional ones and being part of the Shepherd’s Grain collective is a natural extension of that. “There is no better model,” Clint says of the cost production championed by all our farmers, investors, owners, and consumers.
Looking forward, he expects that people's health will force them to change, encourage better habits like baking bread at home, preparing wholesome homecooked meals, “actually feeding your family with things that don’t have a 3-week shelf life or take less than 3 minutes to ‘make’.”
Day in the Life of the Zenners
He’s ready and out the door before 6 a.m., always. Clint and the crew line up to go over the day’s projects and priorities by 7. At this point, most of us are just pouring our first cup of coffee. Almost without exception, priority #1 is scouting the fields to check and see if any wily livestock got out of the pasture overnight.
Livestock: Not-So-Silent Partners
The benefits of introducing livestock to your agriculture operation are vast. Livestock brings even more intention and purpose to cover cropping by grazing and redepositing nutrients back into it, a la nature’s own fertilizer, which ultimately increases biological activity and regenerates the soil.
It seems the pros and cons of integrating animal husbandry into a farm are balanced, since animals require additional maintenance and care, but they also bring so much value to the underlying ecosystem, we would be remiss if we didn’t tell you: livestock do tend to come with a slew of potential surprises, a.k.a. risks.
“With livestock you never know,” Clint said. He thinks back to an occasion when he bought 60 head of 800-pound yearlings (calves) at auction. He put them in a pen to turn out on a cover crop for intensive grazing in mid-summer. Long story short, they escaped sometime in June and it took until the next February to find them all. They had spread over two states in three different counties.
Consumers and the Future of Food
Clint admits that even though he’s been in agriculture his entire life, thinking about the food he ate didn’t really hit home until he and Alecia had children. Their consumer habits changed dramatically – they started scouring ingredients labels and, as a family, they committed to avoiding unknown chemicals and preservatives. Alecia started making baby food at home using fresh fruits and vegetables, local in most cases.
It’s important, for them, to know what they are eating is safe and has been produced in an environmentally conscious manner. The Zenners see the domestic market paying closer attention to what they consume. As part of the Shepherd’s Grain collective, Clint is excited about the potential for sharing these values far and wide. For now, since he doesn’t have the luxury of time to spend on social media and marketing channels to spread the word, he and Alecia continue to host and attend farm meetings, gather around meals with friends and neighbors, and Clint says he invites anyone who’s interested to reach out with questions about cover cropping, grazing, harvest, and – ahem- cattle crisis management.
Try, Fail, Learn, Record, Repeat: Because… Science
“It’s that simple, Clint said. When we asked if he had any recommendations for resources that could help consumers better understand food production, the food economy, and the future of food, he said “You can’t go wrong with Google. For winter, because things slow down a bit, I’m looking for seminars and educational events – my goal is usually 1-2 every year.”
Like many of his farming colleagues, Clint says he tries to pay close attention to the buzz and research going on in different climates across the nation and around the globe. For example, there are several Swedish and Finnish farmers that come to the states as part of Shepherd’s Grain farm tours. One of their most popular questions is how to adopt no-till effectively. To that he offers the following advice: “First, you have to start with one piece of ground and take notes. Make the experiment a large enough financial investment that it will sting if you ‘fail’ – that’s the best way to make sure you take it seriously.” A huge part of converting to no-till from traditional practice is moving away from using fossil fuels altogether. For farmers who may be set in the ways of their predecessors, this requires a complete shift in mindset.
Listening to and understanding each other’s struggles, relative to climate or otherwise, is an important part of the process. “We’re all learning from each other,” Clint said. In other words, there is no such thing as failure, only opportunity to carry new knowledge forward and grow along the way.
Additional Resources You May Find Interesting
University Studies from: