“Growing food for my community is so satisfying,” says Trina McAlexander, the new proprietor of Mt. View Orchards in Parkdale, Ore. “I love the seasonality. We’re in harvest right now, picking peaches. There’s no other experience like walking through the peach grove during harvest, the smell! And, the dahlias are popping — they are profoundly beautiful. I’m walking around the farm totally grateful and amazed.”
Trina bought the small, 50-acre family orchard from her parents in 2014. “I felt called to farming, to carry on the family farm, since I was a young girl,” says Trina, “I started socking away money as soon as I could, working as a nurse practitioner so I could buy my parents’ farm.”
Trina’s parents purchased the orchard in 1974, two miles from the farm where her mother, Ruthie, grew up. This is an iconic place, with the Columbia River Gorge to the north and Mt. Hood to the south. These views are part of what makes the county’s farmland worth more than any other agricultural land in the state.
The hurdles of farm succession are that much more challenging for the next generation of a small farm. The success of Trina’s farm transfer is rooted in solid partnerships, Trina’s unwavering dedication and her willingness to both diversify and consistently re-evaluate.
“When I bought the farm in 2014, I looked at my parents’ Quickbooks and said, ‘We’re going to have to mix it up, or we’re going to sink,’” says Trina, “but we had to do more than just stay afloat. There’s too much responsibility to our community.”
The orchard was working for Trina’s parents because “they didn’t have a land payment — but to pull a living, repair the equipment, wait a year to be paid and THEN make a monthly land payment and pay all the electric bills? Instead of letting that pull me down, I used that kind of energy to come up with other creative ideas.”
She worked with Rick Liebowitz from the Small Business Development Center at Columbia Gorge Community College to better understand what was working and what wasn’t. “He’s been a great coach. I learned that you have to stop and look at your numbers and your profitability, not just when it’s easy, but throughout the season.” It was clear they were losing money every few years on their beloved d’Anjous. They had to go. Ruthie says this was the biggest challenge of the transfer. “My dear spouse almost had a heart attack when we were cutting down all these pears.”
Trina’s new mission is to weave together farming, fermentation, and hospitality. Their farm stand is now more diverse and there are U-pick options and a new vineyard. There’s a winery/cidery with a tasting room, where you’ll find those peaches on a pizza, and a stunning venue for weddings.
“We’ve become a thriving farm,” she said. “We are able to be generous and give back. We send bonus fruit to the food bank and support local organizations like Gorge Grown.”
Trina now works side by side with her parents Ruthie and Lyle. “They are treasures! They are turning 75 this year and they are doing whatever it takes to make the transfer work. My mom just got off the cutter, my dad just dropped off peaches, we are in partnership. We are also in total collaboration with our agricultural employees that have worked for us and live here with us for three generations—we can’t do this without them.”
Ruthie’s advice to other elder farmers is two-fold: “It’s really important that we be flexible. So many farmers are pretty rigid. If none of their children are interested, that’s difficult. But elder farmers should seriously think about who they are selling to and give them a different rate—not the top rate, but a reasonable family rate—if people really want to sell to someone who will farm.”
Trina’s advice: “Young farmers should have a guide like the Small Business Development Center to help look at your numbers. Let your parents’ farm and business ceiling be your floor. Build off that and grow your ideas. I don’t make my identity all of my ideas because some of them are going to be great and some of them aren’t going to be as great. Be humble, honest, and brave enough with yourself to look at what you’re doing and question if something is working or not financially. Don’t get stuck in doing things one way.”
Both Ruthie and Trina talk about how their neighboring farms are run by farmers in their 70s, 80s and even in their 90s. Trina says, “I would love it more than anything if anybody reads this, and they have any inclination to grow food, or believe in this idea that we need to grow food and that this is a noble profession. Figure out your financing and come back and start farming—the time is now to jump in.”
For more resources on succession planning and land access: https://www.roguefarmcorps.org/resources