Life in the Sky Valley Leads to New Zealand

Welcome to our series:

Dairy Grown

Volume No. 2: Life in the Sky Valley Leads to New Zealand

Follow along as we highlight those who grew up dairy and call Washington farmland home. These stories follow millennials to find out why they call a Washington dairy farm the best place to grow up and as such, have chosen to pursue a future in farming. Follow Dairy Grown for an inside look at how the dairy community impacted these young people’s lives as they reach new heights and start careers in agriculture.

At the first sign of light, Aaron Furrer and his family hustled to complete morning chores. The sun rose as the dew began to burn off the grass on their picturesque farm nestled at the foot of the Cascade Mountains along Highway 2. Aaron and his older brother Buddy worked on the tractor and prepared to make hay that afternoon.

Aaron and his older brother Buddy take a break while haying just out of Monroe, WA.

“We’d just finished with the tractor and were sitting there when he turned to me and said, ‘Aaron, when I die don’t let them clean the dirt out from under my fingernails.’” Aaron remembers with a smile. “It was just one of those moments where it’s like ‘yes, this is what farming is about’; it will never leave you, and I will never forget that.”

His grandparents, Edward and Betty Beetchenow, started Beetchenow Farms in the 1950s. Aaron knows every one of his Guernsey cows, every rafter in the barn and every inch of land on their third-generation farm. “My brothers and I made forts in the woods,” he laughed. “We even made bunk beds out there.”

“No two days are the same. It teaches you to be flexible and think quickly,” Aaron says, remembering long days spent haying.

The nearby mountain range is a sight to anyone driving past, but what’s contained inside the doors of that old dairy barn is just as remarkable – stories and memories spanning generations of a family built on love and hard work.

Never one to shy away from adventure, Aaron attended Stanford and majored in Management Science and Engineering with a concentration in Organization Technology and Entrepreneurship. Now, with an Ag Technology and Consulting career in Dunedin, New Zealand, he will never forget how the farm prepared him for college, and later, his career. In his opinion, growing up on his family’s 46-acre farm helped him go from the small town in Washington to the island country in the Pacific Ocean.

Aaron with his mother Vicki and their heifer Meg at the National Junior Guernsey Show.

From a young age, he learned what it meant to earn a dollar through business endeavors with his three older brothers. During the summer months, the brothers rented their parent’s equipment to make hay for customers along the 18-mile stretch from Snohomish to Startup, known as the Sky Valley. These valley towns were founded by homesteaders like his grandparents in the late 1800s, their trades primarily farming and logging. Still evident today, the lush valleys and mounting hillsides of timber tell stories of the community’s past while this generation of farmers continue their family’s legacy.

“No two days are the same. It teaches you to be flexible and think quickly,” Aaron says, remembering long days spent haying. “If you have a thousand bales of hay on the ground and rain is coming in, you better be able to do something fast.”

“Thirty years ago my mom met the Olds family while she was traveling in New Zealand – I doubt she imagined it would lead to a job opportunity for her son.”

By the time he was a freshman in high school, Aaron had saved enough money to start his own business. He successfully ran a freight factoring business through high school, working with a local brokerage company for accounting details and managing cash flow for trucking companies in the area. This led to Aaron being listed in the Top 5 of the National Federation of Independent Business’ (NFIB) Young Entrepreneurs of the Year, as well as a scholarship and trip to the NFIB Conference in Washington DC in 2012.

Aaron credits his success to his business ventures, but even more the life lessons learned from experiences in 4-H.

Aaron after a successful few days of showing at the Evergreen State Fair in 2011.

“I appreciated the comradery, the friendship; essentially the family that the agriculture community is,” he said. “I attribute all [I’ve been able to do] to dairy and to agriculture.”

He was a member of the Washington State dairy judging team multiple years and showed his heifer, Dot, at the World Dairy Expo.

Judging, in particular, taught him the ability of spontaneous speaking. The contests pushed him to the edge of his comfort zone at times. “It puts you on the spot when they fire those questions at you about the cows that were in the ring – you’ve got to remember that and think quickly and answer,” he said.

Being a little uncomfortable, he admits, was beneficial and helped him grow. Through farm work, 4-H, and his studies at Stanford, Aaron learned to try new things and embrace adventure.

“Thirty years ago my mom met the Olds family while she was traveling in New Zealand – I doubt she imagined it would lead to a job opportunity for her son,” Aaron joked. “I reached out to the Olds, and after a few emails and talking with a couple other people I was invited to New Zealand. I had always loved traveling so I jumped at the chance to work overseas and the rest is history as I got sponsored for a 5 year work visa.”

Aaron holds the Dairy Farmers of Washington flag with the AbacusBio team in Dunedin, New Zealand.

The Olds have been family friends since then, helping Aaron get his start in New Zealand. Since arriving in 2016, Aaron’s agricultural work has involved bees and honey, potatoes, sheep, dairy, and more. He began as an intern at AbacusBio, an agribusiness consulting company based in Dunedin and Edinburgh. He currently works as the technical manager on the startup of a new ag technology company called Next Farm, putting his skills to work with new products in water and effluent management for local farmers.

While there are many differences in dairy farming practices in New Zealand and the United States, Aaron identified one major similarity. He recognized that the New Zealand consumers seem just as confused about the ‘whys’ and ‘whats’ of farming as the US consumer.

His solution to bridging the divide? Introducing consumers to farmers. “Everyone needs a farmer in their life,” he smiled.

Aaron remembers watching people experience farm life for the first time back home on the farm. Over the years, hundreds have caught a glimpse of life on Beetchenow farms.

“It all comes back to having agriculture as a background,” he continued. “The beef cows, the dairy cows, pigs, making hay, showing dairy – it’s [just in my blood],” he said.

“Growing up on the farm for me, and for my brothers, was such a great opportunity, it shaped who we are and where we are today.”

Aaron enjoys every minute of his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live and work in agriculture abroad. On the days he finds himself in the office managing accounting and other business details, he is thankful his job also takes him across the beautiful terrain of New Zealand, where he feels at home. “I live for those days I am out on the farm,” he smiled.

The saying, you can take a boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of a boy rings true for the three brothers. “Growing up on the farm for me, and for my brothers, was such a great opportunity, it shaped who we are and where we are today,” he said. “At the end of the day, the farm has taken us really far.”

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