Kim Shelstad will tell you that the number one lesson he’s learned as a farmer is to listen to the land. Despite his constant crowd-sourcing of pasture and livestock management tips from any and every likeminded farmer he can grab the ear of, when it comes down to it, he’s realized that every piece of land is different, and so must be every farmer.
Kim himself is far from conventional, both in his agricultural practices and his journey to farming. He’s a Boeing guy, recently retired, who had his fill of decades at a desk and decided to spend his remaining decades on the land.
Six years ago, he and his wife Janet bought 36 acres in the Orting Valley, nestled between Horsehaven Creek and the Puyallup River, where they knew the Farmland Trust was focusing farmland conservation efforts. This was more than a retirement project for Kim—this was a second career. The original farmhouse was unlivable, the pasture was in shambles, and Kim knew little about agriculture. But he was full of the most important ingredient to being a farmer: determination.
Kim and his son remodeled the farmhouse, keeping most of its original character intact, including Janet’s favorite cold storage room. They steadily recovered the pasture, removing abandoned equipment and 11,000 lbs of old rusted metal that had been swallowed by out-of-control weeds. They restored ponds and habitat for existing and returning wildlife. Each year they added something new, now nostalgically counting back on their fingers, “the year of the chickens, the year of the sheep, the year of the cows….” etcetera.
Throughout all of this, Kim was soaking up farming knowledge, attending courses at the WSU agricultural extension, researching optimal fencing technology, and arranging 20-minute chats with local farmers, which usually turned into two hours. It’s clear however, that Kim and Janet have learned the most from being attentive and observant on their land. Kim is committed to biodynamic practices, carefully responding and reacting to the subtle feedback his pasture and his animals give him. Their cows are gorgeous, seemingly dancing through the fields with joy. And they are loved— each has a name and a distinct personality, including “Maybe” the jet-black bull. Kim and Janet beam with pride and happiness as they walk their property, sharing stories of the animals and the land. They are always listening. “The farmer doesn’t change the farm,” Kim says with a smile, “the farm changes the farmer.”
One thing that hasn’t changed for the Shelstads, however, is their commitment to conservation. With as much work as they have invested to restore this prime farmland, they are sure that they want it to remain as such, long after they are gone. While Kim and Janet have the passion and exuberance you might see in new, young farmers, they also have the wisdom and experience to know never to take a single day, special person, or valuable place for granted. We’re delighted to be wrapping up the two-year process of conserving their farm next month, and we couldn’t be happier to be working with such devout stewards.
This property marks the 6th farm conserved by the Farmland Trust in the Orting Valley, totaling 350 acres of prime soils, critical watershed, and diverse habitat for native species and important pollinators. The Shelstad Farm extends a significant agricultural corridor that we are continuing to protect and expand together in this region, and they are joining a community of sustainable farmers strengthening a crucial local food system.
As always, thank you for your support in helping us reach this milestone. Learn more about the Shelstad Farm.
A special thanks to our funding partners: Pierce County Conservation Futures Program and the USDA NRCS Farm and Ranchland Protection Program.
Photos by Amelia Skinner Photography