For Julie and Rich Clifford of Clifford Family Farm, getting back to agrarian roots was a matter of necessity. Both grew up in Utah with links to the rural way of life—Julie’s grandparents were farmers and Rich’s family kept horses—so it was natural for the couple to keep a garden and a small flock of chickens when they married 30 years ago. But home-grown food became a way of life for the couple as they began raising a big family, not only for sustenance, but to foster the spirit of self-sufficiency.
The mother of eight, Julie understood first-hand how busy and stressed lifestyles have become. She was concerned about the disconnect she saw, in many people, between food and farm. It was important to her to retain her family’s links to the land.
In earlier days the flock, significantly smaller than the farm’s current bustle of 1,700 birds, was just to keep their own brood in eggs and meat. Twenty years ago, the family moved to their current three-acre farmstead in Provo from a plot half that size. Julie and Rich relearned the art of farming with help from the USU Extension Master Gardener Program and area farmers who, Julie says, have gone out of their way to help.
The couple has kept an apiary for seven years, with more than 60 hives currently producing honey. Pigs are a more recent venture: Now on year three, they keep about 50 animals. The couple rounds out the farm with produce, including staples like carrots, beets, squash and tomatoes as well as salad greens. “We’ve hit our comfort zone as far as size,” says Julie.
The kids are mostly grown, now, and gone into occupations that take them beyond the scope of the farm; two are in the police department, one is a microbiologist, one is away on a mission. Although Julie says that every two or three months one of her kids will come home in need of a farm fix, and spend some time helping out—and her 16 grandchildren have proved to be enthusiastic helpers—the microgrant from Slow Foods, received in 2011, has been an invaluable aid to increasing efficiency on the farm. The grant, along with money raised from a farm dinner hosted with the Heirloom Restaurant Group in Provo and money the couple had saved themselves, allowed the Cliffords to buy a used Ford tractor. The tractor has made a big difference in what they can accomplish: Besides plowing land for feed and produce, it has also helped simplify the chores of animal husbandry. The animals require about two tons of feed a week, which the Cliffords previously had to move using more laborious means. With the tractor, a single ton now takes about 15 minutes to move.
This gives the Cliffords more time to spend with their loyal customers, who are more interested and involved with the farm than ever.
“Five or six years ago people would ask and I’d say “certified organic” and that was the end of the conversation. People just wanted a catch phrase. Now they they’ll ask if they can visit the farm, how the livestock are raised, how they’re slaughtered….” She estimates that over 80% of their customers have been buying from them for five years or more: “We have wonderful customers, very loyal.”
It was this loyalty, oddly enough, that encouraged the Cliffords not to renew their organic certification. When feed prices and other costs associated with the farm went way up over the last few years, Julie and Rich Clifford maintained their commitment to farming with the same earth-friendly techniques that they had always used, but they had to consider whether it was worthwhile to invest money in the certification process. When they took the question to their customer base to see how they would feel about a rise in cost, the response was heartening. Julie says that their consumers told them “we know you, we’re comfortable with the way you do things” and were comfortable buying from them without the official stamp of approval. This is a positive sign to Julie that people are developing more of a connection to, and more ownership of, their food. When it comes to the current fervor for local, organic produce, “there is always a faction that will do it just because it’s popular right now, but as people get into it and develop the habits and enjoy the quality, I think people will come to expect and demand it.”
You can find the Cliffords’ produce, eggs, and meats at restaurants around Utah including Tin Angel, Communal, Frida Bistro, Talisker, Pizzeria Seven Twelve, and Avenues Bistro on Third, among others. Meat is also available year-round through their website at cliffordfamilyfarm.com From now through spring, you can purchase pork, eggs and honey and sometimes greens at the weekly Monday drop at 738 S 600 E in Salt Lake. Info: 801-368-7250.
Regular readers of CATALYST are aware of the myriad benefits of eating locally, but if you haven’t been sure where to start beyond attending your weekly farmer’s market, we’ve got you covered: For the next year, in partnership with Slow Food Utah, CATALYST will be bringing you info about local resources for eating well. Slow Food Utah is a chapter of the national Slow Food USA organization, itself part of a global grassroots movement that aims at providing food that is, in all ways, better—for the people eating it, for the people growing it, and for the land base it comes from. Thanks to a micro-grant program sponsored by Slow Food Utah, locally focused projects that increase biodiversity, provide access to more healthful food, or contribute to our community’s knowledge base are springing up on farms, community gardens, and backyards all across Utah. Whether you’re looking to connect with local farmers, or are considering your own farming project, CATALYST will be bringing you profiles of the recent recipients of Slow Food Utah’s micro-grant program to help map out the local farming landscape.