Family Farm in Molalla Learning Ropes of Permaculture

In a world of mass-produced food and factory farms, life on the Dumme Kuh Farmstead in Molalla moves just a little bit slower.

The 33.2-acre farmstead raises chickens, goats, hogs, turkeys and ducks and is moving toward a permaculture model: a system of farming that simulates, or directly copies, the patterns and resilient features observed in natural ecosystems.

“What permaculture basically means is getting the animals to naturally work the land for you,” says Dumme Kuh owner David Bradfute, who has studied the work of permaculture pioneers like Joel Salatin and Sepp Holzer.

One example that Dumme Kuh practices is the use of “chicken tractors.” It may sound like something out of The Flinstones, but it’s simply a movable chicken coop, allowing chickens fresh forage such as grass, weeds and bugs, which widens their diet and lowers their feed needs.

“We pull them to a new piece of grass every day,” Bradfute says. “So they’re always getting fresh, new pasture. With our pigs, we do the same thing. We move them to a new piece of pasture every week. And our eggmobile, where the layers are, it moves every two weeks.”

Meat chickens at the Dumme Kuh Farmstead. Photo by Tyler Francke.

His daughter, Maddison Mitchell, has also studied permaculture and manages most of the farmstead’s operations. Mitchell, who lives on the property along with her twin sister and her family, holds a biology degree from Oregon State University and was once interested in pursuing a career in veterinary medicine.

“I really have no farming background at all,” she says with a laugh. “The second we decided we were going to look into doing this, I just got a bunch of textbooks, and Dave and I both started researching and learning.”

She has since taken courses in organic farming from Clackamas Community College and is planning the launch of Dumme Kuh’s garden, which will help fully realize the permaculture model.

“The way it works: Our cows will go through and do their thing in the pasture,” Bradfute explains. “Then, the chickens will come behind them and break everything up, help fertilize the soil again and bring back all the really good nutrients. And the pigs will be in that rotation, too.

“It’s just really good for the soil, and it’s really good for the animals. It basically takes everything that they produce and puts it right back into the earth. And it just continues to grow and get better for you.”

Maddison Mitchell, who also coaches the Canby High School rugby team, manages much of the operations of the Dumme Kuh Farmstead. Photo by Tyler Francke.

Bradfute became interested in homesteading after a yearlong stint with veganism.

“I was a little concerned about where my food was coming from and how those animals were being treated,” he recalls. “But living in a big household, it became hard to maintain any particular kind of diet. I just said to them, ‘OK, I’ll go back to eating meat, but I want us to start raising our own food.'”

Dumme Kuh does funny things with names. The name itself, pronounced “doo-May coo,” comes from the German for “silly cow.” Maddison says it’s what their mother used to call her and her sister, Makenzy, when they were “being squirrely.”

“Her heritage is German,” she says. “She spent some time there in high school, and she loved it. She brought a lot of it back.”

Many of their animals are named after musicians. One of their goats is named Bowie, and songs from Ziggy Stardust are piped in whenever he is under the weather. A chicken with a rather distinctive hairstyle has been dubbed Rockstar.

Two young emus bear the names Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only, after the famously feuding members of the Misfits, and they can be as rowdy as their namesakes. Glenn goes so far as to violently attack the camera lens of a visiting reporter.

Any celebrities worried about paparazzi might just need to get an attack emu. Photo by Tyler Francke.

“They like shiny things,” Maddison says by way of apology. “Their beaks are pretty soft.”

They have been developing the farmstead for about a year, and have been mainstays at the Canby and Wilsonville farmers markets for much of the summer season.

“The idea of it was to be able to provide food for ourselves and be sustainable, as well as be able to give food to our community,” Bradfute says.

At the farmers markets, they sell homemade pickles, chow-chow (a Southern-style relish that features cabbage and literally any other kind of vegetable: peppers, tomatoes, onions, carrots, beans, asparagus, cauliflower and peas), corn relish, jellies, jam.

One of their biggest hits has been “bacon jam,” a recipe that includes, of course, bacon, as well as brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, thyme, pepper and onions.

It looks, well, pretty gross, but “tastes amazing,” they assure us.

David Bradfute displays a jar of Dumme Kuh’s bacon jam at the Canby Farmers Market. Photo by Tyler Francke.

Bradfute says his wife came up with the recipe, and she’s not sure where she got it.

“We processed one of our hogs, and she said, ‘I think I’m going to use Kevin — his name was Kevin Bacon — to make this stuff called bacon jam,’ and we were all like, ‘OK, go for it,'” he recalls. “We tasted it and said, ‘Wow, that’s really good.'”

Because of supply chain shortages and the devastating economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, more people are becoming interested in homesteading and farming the way Dumme Kuh does, Bradfute believes.

“I think [the pandemic] absolutely plays into it a little more,” he says. “People are really interested in getting their food from farms like this because of not really understanding what’s going into the product that’s being sold on the shelf, as opposed to something like this, that’s a bit more ethical in how the animal was raised.”

To learn more about Dumme Kuh Farmstead, look them up on Facebook or Instagram, or listen to Episode 203 of Now Hear This: Canby, “Mama Didn’t Raise No Dumme”:

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