Published on Sunday, July 16, 2017
Growing up in a suburb of Los Angeles, Debbie Crocker never imagined she’d end up a farmer in Oregon. On the other hand, her husband, Collin, never left the family farm he grew up on.
“Literally, from day one, I never thought about doing anything else.” He says, standing in the farm office surrounded by his family.
About 30 years ago, shortly after the couple was married, Collin’s dad, Lanny, was ready to take a break. All his life he’d worked hard along with his brother, and was ready for a change of pace. He built a sailboat and left for the summer.
“That generation, Lanny and his brother, made the farm what it is.” Debbie explains. “They worked super hard at getting it going and then when Collin got old enough, Lanny was just exhausted.”
As newlyweds and young parents, Debbie and Collin also took on farming. “You know, we basically ran things. We were only in our twenties. Back then you didn't have cell phone service. It wasn't like you could call dad and see how things were going or get help with stuff. We were on our own.” Debbie continues.
The early years were hard. Raising a growing family on a limited amount of acres took sacrifice and innovation. Finding financing as young farmers was a struggle. But, by working as a team, the Crockers have grown the farm. Debbie smiles, “We've had to adapt over the years to what works. You get through it. You have to keep going. That is just the way it is.”
The farm has transitioned away from the row crops that were hard on their Oregon soils and diversified over the years. As their three children got older, Debbie went back to college at Oregon State. “I had the three kids and I thought it would help if I maybe had a degree in business to help out on the farm more because I'd quit school when I got married.” Debbie recalls.
“It took me four or five years to finish those four terms, but it was great. I'm really glad I did it.” She says. Through college, Debbie realized the importance of speaking up and dispelling the myths about agriculture she heard. Now she’s not only involved in the farming operation, but serves with organizations like Oregon Agri-Women to help empower others to share their stories.
Today, their diverse operation includes grass seed, sugar beet seed, pumpkin seed, mint and hazelnuts. The crops they grow can be found all around the country. Most of their grass seed makes its way to the east coast for lawns. The sugar beets that start off on the Crocker’s farm get sent to states like North Dakota for other farmers to grow. Mint harvested in Oregon is processed to flavor chewing gum and toothpaste.
Most recently, the family put in Debbie’s favorite crop, hazelnuts. “We just did it six years ago, and I'm really enjoying the hazelnuts. It's kind of an exciting new area for us. There's some people that have been growing hazelnuts around here for generations, but for us, it was a huge learning curve in learning how to be orchardists.”
The Crockers know finding new, innovative crops and rotating them is part of being good stewards. “I'm really proud of the fact that we've changed crops a lot.” Debbie beams. “Our soil is better now than we got it. We feel good about what we're leaving for the next generation.”
Collin and Debbie’s daughter, Emily, and her husband, Brian, have now joined the farm. But she didn’t always know that someday, she’d raise her own family where she grew up.
“I remember I did a study abroad for three months and it's just that weird feeling of, 'Well, what's going on, on the farm? What's the weather like? What are you farming?' You think you can get away and just cut your ties and have a different lifestyle. You can't. It's really in you.”
Brian didn’t grow up farming, but it didn’t take long for him to join the family tradition. “The passion and drive. I can see it with her. She enjoyed it so much and that just kind of made me want to be a part of it. And then it didn't take a whole lot of getting started to find out why everybody falls in love with it. The whole family is passionate about it and it's nice to be a part of it.” He explains.
Emily adds, “I'm thankful that my great-great grandfather came out here and started what he did and my grandpa took it to where it is now, and my dad could grow it to where we're going to be. So, I feel so fortunate that we had that strong family connection and we can grow and be where we are today because of their choices and their innovation. They wanted to move forward and never accepted anything less.”
That’s why the Crocker family farms.
Author: Natalina Sents
Categories: Why I Farm, Why I Farm Roadtrip
Tags: Beck's Blog, Why I Farm, Beck's Hybrids, Natalina Sents, Why I Farm Roadtrip, hazelnuts, grass, mint, Debbie Crocker, Collin Crocker, Oregon farmers, pumpkin seed, grass seed, sugar beet, seed