The northern end of the Cache Valley pokes into southern Idaho from Utah. Bingham Farms is so close to the Utah border, you could almost spit the distance.
Flanked to the east by the Bear River Mountains—part of the Wasatch Mountain range—and to the west by the Bannock Mountain Range, the 1,100 acres that the Bingham family farms are pretty darned scenic. Cache Valley was a meeting place for the Shoshone Indian tribes, and later the favorite meeting place of mountain men. It might have been the Mormon Mecca instead of Salt Lake if Brigham Young had listened to famous mountain man and scout, Jim Bridger, who recommended settling the Cache Valley because the Bear River and spring snow melt from the mountains provided plenty of water for agriculture.
Greg’s great grandpa Bingham saw Bridger’s wisdom, however, and settled in the Valley around 1911. Binghams have farmed there for a century now. In fact, they are planning to apply for the Century Farm designation from the state of Idaho.
Today the farm is home to about 220 milking Holsteins, and the land supports pasture for the cows, as well as alfalfa, wheat, barley and some corn. Bingham Farms has been certified organic since November 2007. Why did they make the transition?
“My dad was in the process of retiring and we had to figure out a way to buy the farm from him so he could retire. The only way to do that was to pay him the full market value of the farm,” Greg says. “I’d been farming with him for about ten years at that point, and I’d experienced firsthand the roller coaster ride we’d been on. I couldn’t see how we’d make it like that. Then we got something in the mail about an informational meeting for organics, so I went. I’ve been gung-ho ever since.”
“The big thing is I started seeing the health benefits manifest in my cows. I had grown up with the opposite. Even if I lost my organic market, I’d try to keep doing what I’m doing. I don’t want to go back to buying all those expensive grains and the commodities you have to put into them just to push production which only makes the cows unhealthy.”
Greg’s dad was “cautiously skeptical, but he never actively discouraged me. He’s a big recruiter now. He’s down at the stores asking the checkout people why they don’t have Organic Valley product on the shelves. He tells them, ‘I’m a dairyman and I’ve been drinking whole milk all my life. My wife’s trying to get me to drink one percent but I wouldn’t do it because it tasted like water. But Organic Valley one percent tastes great. It tastes like whole milk!”
Greg’s wife, Marci, was gung-ho as well. “I knew something had to change. When Greg wanted to take over this farm, I kept shaking my head and saying, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to make it.’ So when he came back from those meetings and talked about organics, I said let’s try it. Because I needed to see some financially reasonable way we could take over this farm and make a living. Now I’d never turn back. I get choked up thinking about it.”
Marci is the numbers and techno whiz in the family. She does all the bookkeeping, and she is a computer technician.
The grazing season in Cache Valley runs from middle of May until the middle of September or October. Greg says, “I’ve been transferring more and more crop ground to pasture. I think it pays off to have that land in grass instead of corn. Everybody says it’s a lot cheaper to have your cows running over your ground than your tractor, and it’s true.”
More than anything, Greg and Marci love seeing their cows on pasture. “Last spring I had to take Marci out there to watch the cows. Things were starting to green up and they were out there just standing by the fence looking toward that green grass, waiting to get out there. That first time out, they’re so excited. It’s really fun to watch. And you know when the cows are so excited for it, it’s got to be the right thing for them.”
Greg and his brothers, Dale and Gary, feel it is the right thing for the family and for the farm, too. “I told my dad that we want our kids to be able to actually inherit the farm instead of having to buy it to keep it. My dad bought it from his dad because that was the only way they could retire and still keep the farm in the family. And I did the same thing. Because all their life’s money and work was in the farm, they were never able to save up for retirement. My brothers and I would like to be able to have enough saved so we can retire and give the farm to our kids if they want it. “