Nestled in the lush foothills of the Oregon Coast Range, Nehalem River Ranch is 100 acres of pasture and forest along the banks of the river from which it takes its name. The area is home to herds of elk and deer, as well as steelhead and cutthroat trout and salmon, which migrate through the Nehalem River. In addition to managing the ranch’s domesticated species, the ranch’s owners, Hilary Foote and Jared Gardner, see care of the river and the riparian areas between the river and their pastures as central to their work as famers and stewards of this diverse and beautiful piece of land.
The couple moved to Nehalem from Portland where their interest in farming first began with a curiosity about the source of their food, and quickly developed into a thriving backyard CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program. Yet despite their background, this transition from growing produce to raising Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World (AGW) pigs and Certified Grassfed by AGW beef cattle is still surprising to many–Hilary and Jared included! Hilary, a vegetarian for 17 years, only began eating meat for her health in 2008 while she was pregnant. As their passion for food production grew, they both expected that they would expand further into vegetable production. But when they learned about a ranch 80 miles west of Portland where experienced farmers were looking to transition their cattle ranching business into younger hands, they jumped at the opportunity. Over the next two years, Jared apprenticed with owners Bob and Charlotte, falling in love with the land and the cattle. In April 2014, Jared moved to the ranch full time, and Hilary and their three children followed in July of the same year, renaming it Nehalem River Ranch.
In addition to the herd of 110 Hereford cattle that were previously part of the Foss Road Beef operation, Hilary and Jared added 22 American Guinea Hog and Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs. They see careful breed selection and breeding as an important part of high-welfare management and chose these hardy traditional breeds for their suitability to pasture-based management and the region’s wet climate, as well as their easy handling and mellow disposition—key characteristics when considering the importance Hilary and Jared place on opening the ranch to visitors.
In addition to appropriate breed selection, their AGW certifications verifies that Hilary and Jared are committed to raising their pigs according to the highest environmental and welfare practices: “We know our animals well and care for them responsibly,” they explain. “Natural behaviors and kinship bonds are supported by the peaceful environment we provide. Ample space is provided to discourage competition among animals. We’re birth through slaughter so we’re there for every moment and are able to immediately identify any potential health concerns.”
The ranch’s Certified Grassfed by AGW status for cattle guarantees that the Nehalem River Ranch’s beef comes from cattle fed a 100% grass and forage diet, raised outdoors on pasture or range for their entire lives, and managed according to the highest welfare and environmental standards on an independent farm. In addition to pasture, the only thing that Hilary and Jared ever feed their cattle is home-cut silage, and a small amount of purchased non-GMO grass hay and alfalfa over the winter months.
Hilary and Jared believe that the benefits of these production methods benefit not only their livestock, but also their land and the people in their community who consume their products. “The food we produce is not only healthier, but better for the environment as our natural, grass-based farming approach uses less fossil fuels, does not introduce chemicals or hormones into the environment, decreases tillage and returns natural fertility to the soil.”
Jared and Hilary also see public outreach as a vital activity for the farm. “People need to be connected to their food, so it’s important to bring people onto the farm,” Hilary says. They also want to help new farmers get started, just like Bob and Charlotte helped them, and are currently incubating two small farms on the ranch that produce vegetables and raise bees. Aside from its benefit to the growing farming community, inviting other farmers to take on diverse projects on the property means that they can benefit from layered production without having to do everything: “We want to be catalysts for new farms to help develop a farming community together. We can dream big, but we can’t do everything, so we need to collaborate,” says Jared.
Nehalem River Ranch welcomes visitors by appointment and, every September, hosts an on-farm customer appreciation celebration to recognize the local food economy of the Nehalem River Valley.
Certified Grassfed by AGW beef from Nehalem River Ranch is available from June through September at the Manzanita Farmers’ Market and year-round at the farm store at North Fork 53. Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW pork and Certified Grassfed by AGW beef and are available in bulk direct from the ranch. For more information about the ranch, visit nehalemriverranch.com or contact Hilary and Jared at firstname.lastname@example.org. For the latest from the farm, follow them on Facebook and Instagram.