Eric Odberg and family.
In the lush green hills outside of Genesee, Idaho, lies a twenty-two hundred acre family farm that has been worked for over one hundred years. Eric Odberg, a fourth generation family farmer, is bringing innovative ideas and practices to this farm, ensuring that it will be strong and healthy for the fifth generation. Eric and one of his sons were featured on the cover of Farm Aid’s new report, Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family Farm-Centered Food Systems.
Eric Odberg is no stranger to farming. His family has been growing food on the same land since 1901, when his great grandfather, Matthew Odberg, decided to try his hand at it. Since then, farming has been a tradition and a livelihood that has been passed down in the Odberg family from generation to generation. “I always knew I was going to be a farmer,” Eric confesses. “My parents never forced me into it, I just wanted to.”
When Eric’s father was ready to retire, Eric had just graduated college and decided he wanted to take over the family business. Eric focused on crop production, raising winter and spring wheat, barley, garbanzo beans, peas, lentils, and mustard.
Shortly after taking the reins from his dad, Eric began to notice a big problem. The frequent rainfall and thunderstorms that occur in the Pacific Northwest region were causing erosion of his farmland, most of which consists of steep slopes with grades of up to 45 percent. Like many farmers, Eric used a plow and a cultivator to plant all his crops. But the regular disruption of the land meant large amounts of valuable soil were being washed away with each storm. “I knew there had to be a better way,” Eric says.
After consulting his father, who was open to new ideas, Eric decided to switch from his family’s traditional farming practices to a no-till method called direct seeding. Instead of relying on tilling and plowing to plant and weed his crops, Eric uses a drill to plant new crops directly into the residue of the previous year’s crops. Since the change, Eric’s farmland has become much more resilient to the elements. “After I started direct seeding, nothing like that [erosion] has happened since,” he notes.
Direct seeding has not only saved Eric’s land from the wind and rain, it helps to make his soil better suited for growing. “If you’re continually tilling the soil, then you are releasing organic material into the atmosphere,” Eric says. By direct seeding his crops, Eric keeps organic materials in the ground where they enrich soil, thereby enriching the food being grown in it. “It’s a win-win. It saves us money because there are much fewer passes with machinery, and it’s a real win for our land and the environment. Our carbon footprint is about half what a conventional farm’s is.”
Eric’s efforts to utilize conscientious farming practices have not gone unnoticed. Odberg Farm’s sustainable approach caught the eye of Shepherd’s Grain, a northwest based company producing superior-quality flour from wheat grown by family farmers in an environmentally responsible manner. Eric’s farm is one of thirty-three farms in the northwest that raises wheat for Shepherd’s Grain.
Shepherd’s Grain’s philosophy about sustainability extends beyond the environment, into social and economic sustainability, meaning they value the relationships between farmer and consumer and believe farmers deserve a fair price for their product. As a Shepherd’s Grain farmer, Eric is able to sell his wheat for a premium he wouldn’t receive on the commodity market, and to see the fruit of his labor on the shelves of local grocery stores and in the goodies of local bakeries. “When Shepherd’s Grain approached my wife and I we were very excited. You’re selling a product based on your practices, and being rewarded for the way you farm.”
Eric believes that his involvement with Shepherd’s Grain will ultimately improve the area he lives in. “Local, sustainable farming practices are a key thing.” Eric says. “Shepherd’s Grain is local, and it is helping the community. It’s creating a tie between the consumer and the grower. I really think for the future that this will be the trend.” Eric explains that it’s also an opportunity for him and his wife, Malia, to work together on the farm. They’ve become spokespeople for the unique approach of Shepherd’s Grain and local and regional, sustainable agriculture.
Eric and Malia have three young sons, and Eric hopes one day they will be the fifth generation to work this land. Eric is dedicated to keeping his farm sustainable, but notes, “It’s something you have to be committed to.” By sticking with his sustainable practices, Eric is ensuring that his family’s land, his business, and his community will be healthy and productive for generations to come.Date: 7/22/2010