Bill & Esther, Gary & Kim, and Clinton & Kelly Welsh
Welsh Family Farm, Lansing, Iowa
24 year-old Clinton Welsh comes from good stock. He's the third generation of Welsh’s to work their family farm organically because Clint’s grandfather, Bill Welsh, certified their Lansing, Iowa farm organic back in 1980.
Bill Welsh remembers vividly the day he decided to go organic, because May 10th of 1981 was one of the worst and best days of his life. He was out planting corn on his farm in Northeast Iowa when his son, (Clinton's father) Gary, raced out to the field in the pick-up with the news that the cows were going crazy. By the time they got back to the barn lot, 4 cows were dead and the remaining animals were tearing around the enclosure as if they were indeed crazy. Twenty-four hours, four vets and help from countless friends and neighbors later, they discovered the culprit: a piece of an empty insecticide bag, a chemical routinely used on corn, had blown into the hay shed and contaminated a bale of hay that the cows had eaten. The Welsh's lost 13 cows that day but gained their future as organic farmers.
Today it is far easier for conventional farmers to transition to organic because there is a wealth of knowledge that has been gained and documented over the years, but when the Welsh’s made their decision in 1981, they were in the wind and faced with the task of building up the soils after decades of devastation from row crops grown with chemical inputs.
The Welsh's first organic crop didn't look so good, but they were determined and continued to experiment, to find a way. "We were just bull-headed enough that we were not willing to give up," says Bill. It speaks to his tenacity that he stuck with it, tenacity that had its foundation in what was always his overarching theme: "we've got to stop killing our land."
Bill molded their operation into the classic organic diversified stock farm, consisting of beef, pork, poultry, and crops. It was the way farms used to be before industrialized agriculture crept over the landscape. All the food for the animals and most of the food for the humans was raised on the farm. The manure from the animals was rotated back into the soil as fertilizer for the next crops.
Along with healthy soil as the basis of their farming, humane treatment of their animals has always been a cornerstone of their organic farm. The hogs are housed in a straw bedded building that remains open according to weather so that the hogs can wander freely in and out as they please. Beef cattle are rotated through several pastures in which native Kentucky bluestem grass has been nurtured over the decades and remains healthy and strong as a result. Cattle are fed hay and grains over the winter when the pasture is dormant and frozen.
While the Welsh's were firmly established organic producers by the mid 80s, it wasn’t until early '97 that Welsh Family Farms and a couple of other producers became the founding members of CROPP's first meat pool, which grew into Organic Valley's sister brand, Organic Prairie in 2003.
Through their long history as organic farmers, the Welsh's have seen the industry through its birth and its growing pains, to today as it flourishes. Through it all, nothing much has changed for them. When the national organic standards became the rule and organic was baptized by the USDA, the only thing that changed for the Welsh’s was the paperwork. The long journey is summed up neatly by a shirt the boys made for Bill Welsh on his 80th birthday recently. The front of it reads: organic farmer. The back of it reads: organic before organic was cool.
Clint's Dad, Gary, ran the farm with Bill, and now Clint and his Dad carry the mantle for Welsh Family Farm. Clinton was honored with the Gen-O Award in 2008 from Organic Valley/Organic Prairie, a major purchaser of the Welsh's livestock products. The award recognized his dedication to farming and educating others about organic farming through the open discussion forum he helped found with other area organic farmers.
It's all good, as far as Clint is concerned. "I wouldn't have been able to keep working on the farm if we hadn't gone organic. Kids I went to school with were farming with their dads but had to have another job off farm because the farms weren't profitable. Being organic, I make a living farming full time. So does my dad. And my Grandpa Bill has been able to retire comfortably.”
The Welsh family is one of five recipients of The Way We Live Award at the 2010 Iowa State Fair. The award recognizes industrious Iowa families who demonstrate a daily dedication to animal agriculture and exemplify farm values derived from hard work and a love for the occupation of farming.