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Family farming: Five years later

H&N photos by Lee Beach
The Kliewer men, left to right, Larry and sons, Ry and Ty, are still farming and raising cattle, each on their own farm.

July 7, 2006 by Lee Beach, H&N

The Kliewer family Christmas card in 2001 was a picture of the striking contrast between their land the previous year and the aborted growing season which had just ended.

“It was brown. It looked quite deceased,” said Larry Kliewer, husband of Debbie and father of Ry and Ty. Both sons were still at home, and the family was trying to make sense of the water cutoff to farmers and ranchers on the Klamath Project.

This summer is the five-year anniversary of that year. It was a summer of struggle for farmers and ranchers in the Klamath and Tulelake basins.

“Wherever there was clover, that was dead,” Larry Kliewer said. “It took two years for it to come back. When the water started back up (near the end of the growing season), that little shot really helped. The alfalfa recovered really good.”

“That first winter,” Debbie Kliewer said, “we still had no doubts about farming. We don't go back to the articles or look at the pictures (of the water crisis.) It's a chapter I prefer to leave closed.”

That determination, married to a deep-seated faith in God, themselves and family, has helped the Kliewers cope and begin to prosper again. And many changes have taken place in five years.

The family now

The family gathered around Larry and Debbie's table for dinner and to talk about those years.

Ty and Ry came in from working on their own farms. Ry and his wife Laurinda bought a home at Falcon Heights. Ty and his wife Brooke now live in the house in which Ty grew up.

Larry and Debbie moved into a nearby home on acreage they bought in 2003, after leasing the land to farm in 2002. Her father, Marvin Newell had joined them for dinner. He lives about two miles away, and Debbie says it is a blessing to have them all close.

The newest member of the family is a smiling, fair-haired 2-year old, Grace, Ry and Laurinda's girl, the first grandchild in the family. Grace will be joined later this year by a baby expected by Ty and Brooke.

The land on one side of the home grows alfalfa which has already had its first cutting. On the other side barley is thriving.

Ty Kliewer

Ty started to build a herd of cattle at the time of the water cutoff. Today, Ty and Brooke have about 50 head. They raise Gelbvieh and Angus, and some cross between the two. Their choice of breed is based on marketability and ease of calving with a moderate-framed cow.

“As for bulls, we had a really good year,” he said. “We sold a lot more a lot quicker than we expected. In February I was laying in bed thinking, ‘How am I going to get rid of them?' A week later, they were gone, and I was very, very thankful.”

He has been asked to judge a number of cattle shows, including a jackpot show in Corvallis in the spring. He hopes someday to have an opportunity to judge at a show like the Western National Futurity in Reno, which he says is the third largest in the nation.

“Me and my wife bought a bull whose mother sold for $40,000 last year,” he said as he singled the bull, Fred, from a group of cows in the corral outside his parents' home later that evening. Fred is on loan there to breed with his parents' herd.

“I share Fred and I mooch off their equipment resources,” he joked, but it is indicative of what the family does - they help each other.

Ty taught agriculture at Henley High School for 2 1/2 years beginning in 2003, and was still farming as well. Now he devotes all his time to his farm, and Brooke works at the experimental station in Tulelake, where she was busy planting potatoes, strawberries and mint and cutting seed in the spring.

Ry Kliewer

Ry thought back to the end of that difficult season in 2001 and said, “I didn't even have a clue what was going to happen in 2002. We couldn't foresee what would happen. Things began to look better when George Bush got re-elected. He knows this nation relies on its resources.”

His wife, Laurinda, teaches English as a second language at Lost River Junior-Senior High School. She grew up in Etna, familiar with farm life. Their daughter, Grace, is still something of a miracle to them, and Ry said, “I still have a time fathoming that I'm a father now.”

Part of that miracle is that Grace is a healthy, happy 2-year-old. She became ill with e-coli a year ago and was rushed to Doernbecher Hospital in Portland for treatment. Laurinda said Grace's blood was attacking itself and she required dialysis several times. But she recovered.

“God was with you again,” Debbie said to Ry, “He reveals himself regularly.”

Ry and Laurinda are farming about 240 acres of organic alfalfa and grain, because it fits well with their operation. They are expanding an experiment in growing sweet corn from four to eight acres this year. Last year's corn was sold locally to Sherm's Thunderbird Market.

Thoughts about the future

“It's always still in the back of my mind (the possibility of water being cut off again,)” Larry Kliewer said. “I wish we had more resolved about this issue. When the judge in the Ninth Circuit Court said a few months ago, ‘Fish come first,' it still gives me a knot in my stomach.”

His greatest hope is both the water and the power rate increase problem will be resolved, and “that the farm economy stays as strong as it's been.”

“It'll be interesting to see what PPL does,” son Ry Kliewer added. “It depends on what Oregon Public Utilities Commission does. We'll find out next year. We might have to convert to diesel.”

With that in mind, he has been carefully following the Oregon Tilth Publication's reports on Oregon State University's experiments with soybeans, flax and canola, which are all high in oil content, as possible biodiesel sources.

“Here's how I see it,” he said. “In rural areas in political races, we're outnumbered. People in cities have a different idea about the environment. Every business has its woes and setbacks, but the fact is that ours were man-made by people with different views.”

Debbie echoed Larry's comments about resolving the water issues, and then asked, “How long is it before something is our culture?”

The question was spurred by recent comments by people about removing the bucket, the symbol of the 2001 Bucket Brigade. “How about farmers in the Basin - aren't they disrupting our culture?”

The family shares common hopes for the future - health and happiness, family staying close together, healthy babies, good friends like Gerrie Wells, who follows the family and calls often - and work to do.

“In 2001,” Debbie said, “it seemed like all I did was write letters and go to meetings. It's better to have a job than be a protestor.”

“Before 2001,” Larry continued, “I'd say, ‘I don't like sprinklers and I don't like moving sprinklers.' Now I hardly ever say that. Green is prettier than green ever was and sprinklers don't bother me.”

Debbie added, “I have a new sense of gratitude. 2001 is what really made me look at what is important.”




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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