We are pleased to present to you this month, Dan and Sarah Schneider and their grown children, Doug and Cassie. We have worked with Dan and Sarah since 1993, and admire their methods and their philosophy tremendously. Dan is the brother of Ed Schneider, who was our highlighted farmer in February, 2013. Dan and Sarah live in Eltopia, Washington, which is in the Great Columbia Basin.
Dan and Ed are the third generation of their family to farm; their father and grandfather, both named Walter, were farmers also.
Because Dan had been raised on a farm, he never considered doing anything else. He wanted to be a farmer, because of his love for the outdoors, and being able to operate the farms. He began farming with Ed and their parents in 1982.
Then, in 1989, Dan and Sarah began their own farm operation, naming it Generation Three Farms. The two worked together, Dan in the field, managing the crops and employees, Sarah running the books and caring for the home, but also baling hay, planting the orchard, and doing chores as needed. Says Sarah, “My husband are side-by-side with our dreams and goals for our life and for our farm. I have loved being involved from beginning to end. In so many businesses today, you work only in one specific area, rarely being given a chance to be involved in the big picture.”
Theirs is truly a family operation. Of course, they were raised on a farm, Doug and Cassie were also involved in the operation all their lives. But then, they each intentionally chose to join the family business. Doug attained a degree in Agricultural Economics from Washington State University in 2006. Cassie’s formal education was at Eastern Washington State University, and her degree is in Business Administration. Doug joined his parents in farming in 2006, Cassie joined the operation in 2012.
Doug is married to Tiffany, who is a labor and delivery nurse, and Cassie is married to Nick, who is a high school social studies teacher. Cassie and Nick also have a 2 year old daughter named Emerson (Emmy).
When asked why they decided to become farmers, they answered:
Doug: I enjoy the lifestyle, and also working with my family.
Cassie: I work as the bookkeeper in the office. I decided to join the farming operation because I saw a great opportunity to work closely with my family. I am lucky enough to be able to bring my daughter to work with me. I couldn’t ask for anything more!
Now that Doug and Cassie have joined ranks, their operation is in its 4th generation. This is quite a legacy! In 2012 they formalized this big change in their operation by changing its name to Desert Sky Ag, LLC. Dan and Sarah believe that their operation has grown and prospered with the addition of their children and their many strong points. This change has enabled Sarah to pull away from daily responsibilities of the office, and concentrate on caring for granddaughter, Emmy. She says that, while she is still involved with the books, she couldn’t ask for a better life.
For many years, Dan and Sarah were predominantly alfalfa hay growers. In recent years, though, they have really diversified their crops. A question and answer portion of the interview:
What crops do you grow?
We grow timothy and alfalfa hay, sweet corn, peas, dry beans, apples, cherries, field corn, wheat and buckwheat.
Tell us about the type of farming you do:
We are 100% irrigated. Our apples and cherries are organically grown. All of our other crops are conventionally grown, meaning that we frequently use minimum tillage methods.
Do you use any sustainable practices? Please tell us about them:
Dan: All of our farming is sustainable, really. We believe in sustaining a healthy environment for our family and farm, our community and country.
Doug: We do use sustainable practices. We are Global GAP certified (Good Agricultural Practices) with our tree fruit. We also keep in-depth records on what we produce and how we produce it.
Do you have any methods that are cutting-edge or fascinating that you would like our readers to know?
Dan: We are now WSDA (Washington State Dept. of Agriculture) organic certified in our tree fruit sector of our farming operation. We strive to insure that all of our crops are safe for our end-users, and of the highest quality we can possibly achieve.
Doug: We use AMS and GPS equipment which enables us to be a lot more efficient when planting and doing tillage work. This also fatigues the tractor driver a lot less.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a farmer?
Dan: Water rights, protecting family farms and challenges of a global marketplace.
Doug: Changes in the markets and adverse weather!
What are farming’s biggest rewards for you?
Dan: The positive responses about our farm from family, friends and our consumers. And, the price of a job well done!
Sarah: To see our growth in the farming industry, as a family, and also as individuals.
Doug: Seeing the crop from beginning of planting to the end of harvest.
Do you participate in any civic or industry organizations?
Dan: Washington Hay Growers’ Association, Washington State Horticulture Association, Washington & Oregon Asparagus Growers’ Association – Past Board Member, Farm Credit Services – Past Board Member.
Doug: Washington State Hay Growers’ Association.
What are your hobbies:
Dan: Taking naps with my grandbaby, Emmy, traveling, fishing, hunting, snow-skiing, woodworking and classic cars.
Sarah: Gardening (or small scale farming, considering my garden’s large size, hahaha!), piano, reading, sewing, and in general, making a home for my family.
Doug: Hockey, golf, brewing and traveling.
Tiffany (Doug’s wife): Shooting, traveling, baking and crocheting.
Cassie: My interests are spending time with my family, and I love being a mother!
Nick (married to Cassie): Spending time with family, golf and hockey.
Do you have any stories you’d like to share?
Dan: My sisters, brother and I were the workforce on our parents’ farm. We had many good times growing up, with freedoms that many other kids weren’t privileged to have. Not to say we didn’t have our difficulties, though! Our parents provided us with a platform for success in most of our efforts, and the understanding of a hard day’s work.
On the lighted hearted side, more recently I was gleaning some apples after the harvest crew had gone through our orchard. I reached up for what looked to be a fine apple, but it was hollowed out on the backside by a wasp nest! I wasn’t stung, but it was exciting, to say the least. Another episode involving wasps happened after putting my work pants on in the early morning; I took them right off the clothesline and put them on. The wasps had been partying inside my pants overnight. They must have been a bit lethargic in the cool of the morning, but by the time I drove down to our shop to meet with our employees, the wasps awoke. As I was talking with our men, I had to drop my pants, because they were stinging me. I got three stings between my legs. Boy, my employees must have figured I had really gone over the edge. It was pretty embarrassing. I guess the wasps have it in for me!
Sarah: It seems like there is always something to tell. Two stories come to mind. The first involves me helping in the orchard. Picking cherries has never been my forte, but they needed help, so there I was. Harvest was going well, the orchard was full of people we had hired for picking. They were all working fast and furious to fill their bins with cherries. They were all mindful of ladder safety, and cautious when necessary. Me too. Anyway, I had my stepstool (my first mistake – I should have had a real ladder), my head was in the tree, and I was trying to reach that clump of cherries just out of reach (my second mistake!). The stepstool tipped, and I grabbed for the nearest overhead branch. It broke off with a loud CRACK that echoed throughout the orchard. I landed in a pile on the ground with a loud shreek! I was fine, other than a bruised ego and backside. I’m sure seeing the boss’s wife falling off her ladder was hilarious to all the professional cherry pickers! Hahaha!
My second story is a tale of baling. For all who have never baled hay, you do this in the middle of the night, when the dew is just right. We do it then, so that the tender leaves won’t shatter as the hay is compressed into the bale. The night can produce a sort of trance-like feeling as you drive around and around the field at a very slow speed. The tractor has a tranquilizing rhythm to it as well. I was awake, but just barely, and was extremely relaxed. Anyway, I was in this state, and I heard a loud BANG! The tractor tipped percariously to its side, and there was goop all over the windows outside. Thinking I had done something very bad to the tractor, I slammed it in park and leapt out. The tractor’s tire had literally blown up! Another Hahaha!
Sarah, by the way, is a fine and accomplished cook. When asked for recipes, she says that they enjoy what they produce, fresh from the field. Simply prepared is the best! You can’t beat a just-picked-apple, or corn-on-the-cob picked right out your back door, hot and dripping with butter. Sarah grinds her own wheat, too; she climbs into the back of the grain truck and loads up a couple of big bins with freshly harvested wheat. She cleans it by using fans to blow away the chaff. Then she washed and dries it on low in the oven, and finally grinds it into flour for the family’s bread. The flour is whole-grain, wonderfully fresh and healthy.
The Schneider Family, or Desert Sky Ag., LLC, is the epitome of the modern farm family. They are inclusive and progressive in that they are planning for the next generation. They use the newest technology avaiable, in order that they may be efficient in their operation. They are sustainable in that they work diligently to protect the land and the food they produce. We are proud to be affiliated with the Schneiders in their business, and are proud of them for their approach to farming.
Thank you, Schneider Family, for producing our food for us!