Down a winding unpaved road on the outskirts of the Victorian Village of Ferndale, you'll find a farm nestled among many others in a verdant, fertile valley. This farm is special, though, thanks to the young couple running it. Thomas and Cody Nicholson-Stratton, the Foggy Bottoms Boys, manage and operate their family's farm in much the same way it's been done for nearly 100 years.

In the kitchen of their beautifully decorated Victorian-era farmhouse, Thomas brews a pot of coffee and, with a sleeping baby swaddled in a sling around his chest, Cody explains that he grew up within these very walls. In 1925, Cody's great-great-grandfather started raising dairy cows. Since then, multiple generations have worked the land and tended the livestock. Cody's grandparents live in a house just next door and though his grandfather is "retired," he still helps with the laborious task of milking. They don't turn down the help — with a brand new 1-month-old foster child and round-the-clock schedule of farm chores, they can certainly use it.

Cody and Thomas, an Oregon native, met while Cody attended college near Thomas' hometown. Their paths diverged shortly after and both went on to earn degrees (Cody in agriculture and Thomas in marketing and business) from universities in separate states. They kept in contact via social media and eventually began dating. Then Thomas was offered a job operating the Humboldt/Del Norte 4-H Chapter and Cody's grandfather offered to sell his share of the farm to Cody, and the rest is history. The couple was married on the farm several years later, with the whole ag community in attendance.

After taking the reins, the two dubbed themselves The Foggy Bottoms Boys and diversified the farm, which now raises rabbits, chickens, doves, sheep and ducks. They sell the milk produced in the dairy portion of the farm to Rumiano Cheese, a company whose environmental values align with the Nicholson-Stratton's. Sustainability informs much of the operation and they work to "balance regional traditions and new, research-backed methods" in the pursuit of healthier soil and animals. The farm checks all the important eco-friendly boxes: It is certified humane, non-GMO and certified organic. The chicken coop is solar powered, they use integrated pest management (i.e. the chickens) to combat insects, they manage the pastures in a way that promotes carbon sequestration, they don't use chemical fertilizers, they irrigate at night (if at all) to save water and energy, the water that cools fresh milk for storage is reused on the pasture and they grow their own silage feed and hay rather than having it shipped in. All of these efforts help the farm run as efficiently as possible, naturally.

The animals seem just about as happy to be there as the Foggy Bottoms Boys are. The Jerseys are out to pasture 365 days a year (except in 1964, when Ferndale flooded, Thomas and Cody add) and get hands-on care regularly to monitor for health and wellness. Some of the cows have names (Sephora is a memorable one) and the pair admit they have a few favorites. As one Jersey moseys over to a water trough, Thomas stops her, giving her eyes and ears a once-over, and scraping a small clod of dirt from her face as if she were a pet. The cow carries on unphased. "We're used to the animals' habits and quirks," Thomas says with a smile. Spiraling around their feet are several beloved sheep dogs.

click to enlarge AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler

Their large wooden barn, which houses the pregnant heifers, equipment and hay, is a remarkable space, recalling nearly a century of labor that's taken place beneath its roof. Cody and Thomas still stack the hay in small bundles themselves, a method that's been all but abandoned on larger, more industrialized farms. "It's very old school. It works very well for us," Cody says with a laugh. At the same time, he notes that his family has always been open to innovation when it was useful for the farm and good for the environment. In fact, according to Cody, Humboldt County farmers have often been the pioneers of eco-friendly practices in the industry — the couple is just carrying on that legacy. So, while "sustainable practices" may sound like a totally modern term to outsiders, in actuality, they have been implemented on Humboldt's farms for decades. Recently, Cody was elected by his fellow local farmers as the Humboldt County/Del Norte district director of Western United Dairymen.

Though neither Cody nor Thomas ever planned on owning a farm, it appears that they are exactly where they are supposed to be. When asked about what the future holds for them, Thomas lights up. "Our 10-year plan is to make the farm a form of education." With less than 2 percent of the population directly involved in agriculture, Thomas is working to involve the public and help them reconnect with the land and animals that feed them. He has already begun this work through the local 4-H and social media. Eventually, they'd like to invite people for farm tours and farm stays. Thomas points to a garden near the back door of their farmhouse, explaining his plans for its beautification, making it a space for he and Cody — and future guests — to enjoy. Only flowers could make their farm lovelier.

As we say our goodbyes, the baby slung to Cody's chest fusses. If all goes as planned, he could be the next generation of Foggy Bottoms farmers.

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