Photo by Ron Newberry

Regenerative agriculture: A new, healthier way to farm

  • Friday, November 20, 2020 1:30pm
  • LifeNews

By Ron Newberry

for the South Whidbey Record

Cory Fakkema gets up early most mornings to herd his 100 prized Wagyu (also known as Kobe) beef cattle from the pasture they had devoured the day before to the adjacent pasture with sweet, knee-high grass waving in the breeze. Then he hauls the egg-laying chickens in their mobile house to the first pasture to let the chickens eat and enjoy what the cattle left behind. Cory is practicing a new kind of farming on his family’s very old farm near Oak Harbor. It’s called regenerative agriculture, and he is its passionate advocate.

He has a degree in environmental science from Western Washington University and he applies that ecological background to farming.

“Humans actually can increase the ecological diversity and abundance through well-managed interactions with nature,” Cory said. “Proper stewardship can improve health, quality and resilience just as much as poor management can deteriorate the land.”

He is the third generation to make his living on the Fakkema family’s iconic farm that stretches out more than 300 acres from Swantown Road to West Beach Road. It’s called Beach View Farm; it has an uninterrupted sweeping vista of pasture and forest all the way to Swan Lake, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and beyond.

And, since 2016, its beauty has been conserved by a permanent easement, making it the largest single area of farmland area on Whidbey Island protected by the Whidbey Camano Land Trust.

It’s been a farm for at least 150 years and the Fakkemas have owned it for the past seven decades. (The owner for at least 70 years before that was Capt. James Griffiths, a wealthy Seattle shipping broker, who visited in the summer on his yacht but left the farming to his hired hands.)

Through the years, it’s been a crop farm (potatoes, barley, oats, alfalfa, etc.). Then it became a dairy farm under the management of Cory’s father Richard Fakkema and his uncle Henry (“Hap”) Fakkema. The dairy business ended in 2000, as it did for most dairy farms on Whidbey about then, because of a sharp drop in milk prices and the increasing inability to compete with much larger dairy operations on the mainland. For the next 15 years, the Fakkemas leased out much of their farmland to others, who used it mostly to grow hay and other livestock feed.

Enter Cory, now 32, with a brilliant idea. He had been studying the work of Joel Salatin, an environmentalist and farmer in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, who developed the idea of regenerative agriculture and tied it to the local-grown food movement. In his writing, Salatin talks about taking care of the land and treating the animals with respect. Cory added, “and in the process they have an enjoyable, healthy life and then we get to reap the rewards on our plates.”

In 2015, he went to his dad and uncle to see if they were willing to try this idea at Beach View Farm. “Both gave me their blessing and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

It turned out to be an opportune moment. As they were growing older, Richard and Hap Fakkema began considering what to do with the farm property they had inherited from their Dutch immigrant parents. Perhaps develop housing on part of it? Maybe log some of the forest above the pastures? Instead, they decided to go with a Land Trust easement and maintain the farm intact.

“To me, the easement was definitely a good thing, especially compared to the alternatives at the time, which would have been hundreds of houses, logging and maybe a horse arena,” Cory said. “I get the chance to practice regenerative agriculture to improve the land. It went from potentially being destroyed to becoming an oasis next to the city of Oak Harbor.”

He even thinks a public trail that the Land Trust will soon open through the Fakkema Farm easement from Swantown Road to Joseph Whidbey State Park will turn out to be a good thing. “People will be able to walk through the pastures and see how well our animals are being raised and all we’re doing to restore and replenish the land.”

Cory gives this simple definition of regenerative agriculture: “We bring the animals to the food instead of bringing the food to the animals.” Traditionally, farmers let their livestock graze continuously on an open pasture for several days. The livestock eat everything they like – the “ice cream,” as Cory calls it – and leave behind the weeds and other unpalatable plants. Over time, the weeds take over the pasture and reduce the quality of the soil by extracting its nutrients. Hay and other feed must then be grown, harvested and given to the animals.

“We move the cows to a different pasture every day in which the grass has expressed its full growth and pushed out the weeds,” he said. The cows eat the tall grass and leave it behind as manure, which replenishes the soil and encourages water retention. Then enter the chickens whose scratching and pecking takes care of any insects and larvae attracted to cow manure, and help it quickly break down the soil. After the animals eat their fill, the pasture is given up to several months to regrow.

“It’s just happy, healthy animals moving around from pasture to pasture,” Cory said. “We don’t have to haul feed to the animals except in the coldest winter months. And we don’t have to pick up after them and slurry their waste, stink up the neighborhood and vaporize nitrogen into the air.”

In addition to Wagyu beef and egg-laying chickens, Cory also raises Katahdin sheep, a heritage breed known for “great lamb chops,” broiler chickens, some turkeys in time for Thanksgiving, and about 30 slower-growing heritage breed hogs “with great marbling and very tender meat.” This year, he expects to butcher and sell 15 cattle, 10 lambs, a thousand chickens and a couple dozen pigs. He also sells six to eight dozen eggs every day – by subscription only.

Most of his devoted customers live on Whidbey and demand for his products has been growing steadily. He said he hopes to expand his operation next year.

Cory can be contacted via the farm’s website at www.beachviewfarm.com

Cory Fakkema 
Photo by Ron Newberry
Cory Fakkema 
Photo by Ron Newberry
Photo by Ron Newberry
Rooster
Photo by Ron Newberry
Cory Fakkema 
Photo by Ron Newberry

More in Life

Photo by Cara Hefflinger
After Coupeville resident Geri Nelson saw these two Great Horned owlets and their mother, she posted to social media to see if there was any local photography interest. Cara Hefflinger came to the tree, camera in hand.
Coupeville owl family makes an appearance in photographer’s lens

O ne woman’s discovery of a brood of owlets in Coupeville caught the eyes of many admirers on social media, including one South End photographer.

Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record
Third grader Laszlo McDowell gets up close and personal with a gray whale skull.
Students learn about being ‘whale-wise’

South Whidbey Elementary School students got a taste of what it would be like to live as gray whales.

The Oystercatcher’s owner and chef, Tyler Hansen, prepares a dozen 3 Sisters beef bolognese lasagnas to go on the shelves at 3 Sisters Market. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
Chef liaises with other business owners

A Coupeville chef has expanded his partnership with local business owners to… Continue reading

Tim Leonard, owner of the Machine Shop in Langley, hangs a purple neon star he made on the wall of his arcade. Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group
Neon art show colorizes Machine Shop’s reopening

A cacophony of happy buzzers and bells and a riot of glowing… Continue reading

Rishi Sharma checks levels in his camera before interviewing WWII combat veteran Frank Burns of Freeland last Saturday. Sharma travels the country interviewing WWII combat veterans for his oral history project and nonprofit, Heroes of the Second World War. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
Recording for posterity tales of WWII vets across the U.S.

Rishi Sharma has met more than 1,100 World War II combat veterans to document their stories.

Rockin’ A Hard Place | All aboard for my big, post-jab Rock adventure

All aboard for my big, post-jab Rock adventure!

Freeland’s July 3 celebration canceled for 2021

The Celebrate America organizing team from South Whidbey Assembly of God had… Continue reading

Sarah Santosa is surrounded by some bovine residents of Ballydídean Farm Sanctuary, including ‘Rez, Dahlia and Poco. Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record
Animals put out to pasture, but not forgotten

A South Whidbey farm is welcoming those who may be interest in a COVID-safe spring photoshoot.

An Anna’s Hummingbird feeds from a red-flowering currant on Whidbey Island. Photo by Martha Ellis
Native plant habitat a wild bird’s best friend

Spring couldn’t come soon enough this year, not for just the birds, but for the nature enthusiasts.

Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record
Rolands Abermanis, owner of Freeland business SPUNKS, loads a box of pumpkin seeds for delivery. The business is hoping to move production to Whidbey soon.
Sowing success

Pumpkin seeds with a kick

Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group
Christopher Baldwin, owner of Island Time Coffee Company, arranges a display in Payless Foods.
New business perks up South Whidbey shelves

Three new blends of coffee are available in stores.

Joe Hempel (right), and Kristin Galbreaith finish their 35-minute, one-mile swim from Seawall Park in Langley. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Scantily clad is the dress code for these cold rush swimmers

Immersed for 30 minutes in frigid water would kill most of us. It energizes these swimmers.