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Artisinal farm takes ‘slow food’ approach

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune A baby goat plays Thursday at Rogue Artisan Foods outside Jacksonville.
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Gillian Gifford Short, owner of Rogue Artisan Foods, feeds her baby goats Thursday at her farm outside of Jacksonville.
National nonprofit grant will help operation outside Jacksonville

At Rogue Artisan Foods, an idyllic 6.9 acres of dogs, goats, ducks, pigs, and chickens minutes outside Jacksonville, the owners of the young farm offer greetings from the field.

The dogs had already welcomed their visitors. The livestock protection dog, Bo, came up from the field where he was staying close to the goats. Bo leaned in close as Gillian Gifford Short, known as Gilly, spoke about her farm.

“As a little kid I knew I wanted to a be a farmer,” Gilly said. “My parents were like ‘No. You're not going to be a farmer, you’re going to be more successful than that.’”

In her canvas vest and plaid button-up, it’s difficult to picture her doing anything else. After culinary school, she worked in restaurants in Seattle. But her childhood dream still called. She went to Europe to study farming, leading her to a self-sustaining farm in Portugal. After a few years, Gilly came home to the States with experience and ideas.

She said the farm is not profitable yet. “It’s been a slow burn the last 8 years.”

Gilly and her husband, Evan Short, of Southern Oregon Bokashi, work together to run what she calls “a hobby farm.” It pays for itself, but she hopes for more.

The farm focuses on “slow food” — prioritizing animal welfare at the expense of quantity. They are sold out of all meat, save a few pork chops, and there will be no meat available for market until June. There are too few animals to produce any faster.

When asked whether she will get more animals, Gilly said, “I think I’m pretty maxed out here.”

Looking out at the fields, there looks to be plenty of room to add more animals, if profit were the primary consideration. But this thinking is why Rogue Artisan Foods was awarded the Fund-a-Farmer grant from Food Animal Concerns Trust.

A national nonprofit based out of Chicago, FACT defines its work in its vision statement: “That all food-producing animals will be raised in a humane and healthy manner.”

“Our grants are meant to help farmers improve the welfare of their food animals while prioritizing projects that use regenerative and sustainable farming methods,” said FACT representative Samantha Gasson.

For Gilly, the grant award was a surprise.

“I applied last year and didn’t get it,” Gilly said. She found the grant watching webinars on FACT’s website. “My first thought was, ‘Oh, you don't know how to write a grant, why even bother.’” But when she bothered with a federal grant during the pandemic, a check came in the mail.

Encouraged, she tried and failed to get a FACT grant last year. This year, at the last moment, she tried again.

She credited the previous grant failure to dry writing. “I didn’t really tell the story of the farm. This one I tried to tell the story, and our goals, and a little bit of humor in there, and I guess they liked that a little bit better.”

Thanks to the $3,000 grant, they can improve on a unique grazing practice — silvopasture — the integration of trees and grazing livestock on the same land, improving the health of the animals and the land.

Through agreements with their neighbors, the goats enjoy 40 acres of land. But the current fencing systems are no match for the curiosity of pigs or goats. The pigs knock it down. The goats escape or get tangled up in the attempt.

The FACT grant will make it possible to improve fencing and gates. Gilly explained that silvopasture is usually done with cattle or sheep, livestock that don’t have the inclination to eat everything, including the bark off the trees.

“Goats being goats, they like to destroy things,” she said. “We get the gates in and hopefully fix some of the fencing and figure out ways we can protect the trees from the goats.”

Gilly rattled off the variety of animals on the farm, pointing around the fields at the dairy goats, Lamancha and Nigerian dwarf crosses, meat goats Boer and kiko cross. Kunekune pigs, imported for their ability to digest grass, unusual in pigs, limiting the amount of feed needed to fatten them.

All the feed is certified organic or follows organic practices without the costly certification. A title her farm is missing. She encouraged potential customers to consider farms such as her own “beyond organic,” organic in spirit, not in certification.

When time comes for the animals’ eventual demise, she takes the goats and pigs to certified humane butchers. The chickens are the only ones she harvests herself. She assures that they die quickly.

The adult goats, the stars of the grant application, have gathered in a small pack with the same shape as a flight of migrating geese. Their apparent leader stares with his peculiar rectangular irises. The kid goats play on the other side of the fence.

Gilly heads into the corral with the kids so she can feed them. The babies come sprinting to a bucket hung on the fence with spigots around the sides. They crowd around and suckle like it was their last meal. Stragglers come trotting over and shove into the fray.

The bucket sways with the hungry energy of baby goats. Gilly said all the boys will go to what she cheerfully calls “freezer camp.” Some of the girls too. Once the milk is gone, the goats turn to the nearby humans, some nibbling at nearby pant legs.

Gilly encourages her potential customers to “visit your local farms, you can tell a lot about a farm just by looking at it.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.