Gibbs farm goes full circle
Diversity, flexibility have allowed the operation to flourish in the 35-plus years the family has been working land
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
LEAVENWORTH — Sipping a Coors, his torn and dirty jeans tucked into well-worn rubber boots, Grant Gibbs surveyed the people gathered around and got ready to talk about something he loves.
His Gibbs Family Farm has become a regional model for self-sustaining farming.
Carved from among the ponderosa pines and steep hillsides of Freund Canyon, the farm’s beauty and harmony could inspire poetry.
But romance doesn’t cut it in the sustainable farming business. Long days of gritty, hard work do, and sacrifice, ingenuity and a fierce sense of independence.
“I bought the farm in 1975,” Gibbs, 59, told a knot of farmers, orchardists and people interested in organic farming Thursday during a tour organized by the state Department of Agriculture. “I had this dream of a very diverse farm at that time, and that’s got it to where it is today.”
Gibbs owns 80 acres in the canyon. Half are reserved for timber. The other half is vibrant with plant and animal life that all contribute to its sustainability.
No one has just one job.
Bessy, the cow, manufactures the milk but also works as a “lawn mower” and “fertilizer” when tethered in the farm’s apple and pear orchard.
A few head of beef cattle take up a small pasture. Laying and fryer chickens provide income and help fertilize the soil and eat harmful pests as their pen is moved to different parts of fields to be cultivated. Hogs do the same, when he has them.
Grain grown on the farm is used for human and animal consumption. The leftover straw and coarse sawdust from the farm’s saw mill serve as animal bedding and then compost.
Gibbs’ daughter-in-law, Danielle Gibbs, oversees an expanding organic vegetable business that today is the farm’s single biggest income earner.
The Gibbses also farm 120 acres of land in Navarre Coulee, near Chelan, of which 30 acres are dedicated to certified organic vegetables and grains.
Danielle’s at work creating a commercial kitchen on the property to boost revenue by processing dried fruit and other organic products year-round sale.
Biodiesel powers all the farm’s equipment and vehicles used to take products to market. Gibbs is a member of a small cooperative that collects used vegetable oil from area restaurants and converts it into the non-petroleum-based fuel.
“For me, the grain is just as important as the straw. The timber is just as important as the sawdust,” Gibbs told the group.
Some may bring in more money than others, but everything is put to use on the farm, which he describes as “90 percent self-sufficient.”
“It’s a beautiful place and an inspirational place,” said Patrice Barrentine, direct marketing coordinator for the state Department of Agriculture and organizer of the farm tour. “It’s a leading farm that for more than 30 years has developed systems that work with minimum assistance from outside his farm. By having a truly sustainable farm it kind of closes the loop. It’s a great energy system.”
Gibbs, a high school dropout and former logger, earned a forestry certificate from Wenatchee Valley College. He’s largely self-taught when it comes to sustainable farming and energy.
He fielded technical questions from the ag group with ease.
Gibbs credits his inventiveness and skills at breathing new life into old machinery for keeping costs to a minimum.
The farm’s big walk-in cold room is chilled with a compressor off an old Darigold milk truck. At a chilly 40 degrees, the room allows Danielle to store her freshly harvested vegetables until it’s time to head to market.
Gibbs has raised all four of his sons on the farm, but the very modest lifestyle, razor-thin finances and never-ending work cost him two marriages.
His three adult sons moved away for a time but have returned to the farm to settle down with their families in homes made from trees harvested on the property. They help around the farm as well as work at their own jobs or businesses.
The youngest, Andrew, who just graduated from Cascade High School this year, lives with his mom, Gibbs’ second wife.
“I brought them up to love nature, and they were surrounded by it,” Gibbs said. “When they moved away, they felt out of place.”
Gibbs has been a frequent speaker on sustainable farming. He’s lead many tour groups around his property and was featured in the documentary “Broken Limbs” about challenges to the local fruit industry.
Back at his shop building, the tour over, Gibbs didn’t waste any time.
“Well, I guess I’d better get back to it,” he said, then hopped on his tractor and rode off.
Christine Pratt: 665-1173
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