In 1852, Maynard Mallonee's great, great-grandparents settled in Washington, just south of present-day Olympia, becoming one of the early homesteaders in the Boistfort Valley. Maynard's grandfather, who focused his attention on dairying, was a pioneer in his own right, never going along with the agricultural rhetoric of his day. He believed in neither synthetic fertilizers nor sprays, establishing the credos with his family that the health of their animals originated in the health of the land.
Today, there are three generations of Mallonees on the farm in the Boistfort Valley; Maynard works alongside his parents, John and Mary, his wife Kim, and his three young children. The Mallonees follow many of the same practices that they have for decades, moving their 60 Holstein cows to new paddocks of lush pasture twice daily after every milking. Mallonee Farms spreads across 300 acres, and the herd forages for 220 days of the year.
In 2004, Mallonee Farms joined the Organic Valley Cooperative. The years since have been ones of constant discoveries. One came after Maynard read in a dairy journal that young calves from birth until three months should be fed two gallons of milk each day – significantly more than the normal allotment. Members of the Organic Valley herd health team seconded the notion, and he had enough milk to give it a try. Before his eyes, the health of his young animals improved. "I know that it's working well because I haven't lost a baby calf in two years," he says, knocking on wood. At three-months-old, "they look like little pigs," he adds with a laugh. "Round and shiny."
A second discovery came when scientists visited their fields to test the organic matter in their soil. The Mallonees have not plowed any of their ground in over 20 years. "My grandpa never did it and we never do it," Maynard states. The scientists discovered staggeringly high levels of organic matter because of the root mass. In fact, grass roots went down as far as 40 inches. The next research step will be measuring the amount of carbon the soil contains, which looks to be correspondingly substantial.
Perhaps the largest shock came when a Washington State botanist knocked on the front door of Maynard's parents' home. The botanist was on a cycling tour and noticed an endangered wildflower, the Kincaid's lupine, growing in the pasture along the side of the road. The Kincaid's lupine is one of the last remnants of the historic prairie that once covered large tracts of Washington's Puget Trough. Little did the Mallonees know that the small blue wildflowers that bloom in abundance each June are endangered.
The Mallonee Farms pastures house the largest known concentration of the rare Kincaid's lupine in Washington. The state declared the area a critical habitat, in part because the lupine has a symbiotic relationship with another endangered species, the Fender's Blue Butterfly, which completes its larval stage in the lupine's root system. For a moment, it seemed that the state would prohibit the Mallonees from continuing to utilize their pastures, which had a dark irony to it considering that for decades the flower had flourished in secret among the cows. As Maynard explains, "The same approach that allows our dairy cattle to thrive has made our pastures an ideal home for the lupine." The quality of the dirt and the minimal disruption to their pastures are pieces of that puzzle. Not to mention, "The cows won't eat it," Maynard adds.
The Mallonees wrote a ten-year pasture plan, in counsel with the state, that requires that they manually remove the blackberry, scotch broom, and other invasive species from their fields to help the Kincaid's lupine thrive, and the government removed its proposed re-zoning. Experts have since asserted that the plant most likely prospers as a direct result of the Mallonees' organic practices and the harmonious relationship between all the creatures, cows included, on the unplowed land.
In honor of the Kincaid's lupine, every June since 2006, the Mallonees have hosted a Lupine Pasture Walk, inviting people throughout the region to the farm to wander among the wildflowers and learn about soil fertility, organic dairying, and how to protect local pollinators, such as the Fender's Blue Butterfly. The Olympia Cycling Club tours the Boistfort Valley in the morning, reenacting the way the botanist first discovered the treasure trove of wildflowers.
More than a hundred loyal Organic Valley customers visited the Mallonees' lupines at the last field day. The turnout encourages Mallonee to believe that his children will have the opportunity to farm organically on the land, thus living alongside the Kincaid's lupine as its incidental protector for years to come.