• Claire Desmarais

Growing up a farmer's daughter

Growing up, I spent my summers running through the luscious green vines that grew as tall as 25 feet, sometimes taller and sometimes shorter. The fields were like forests that felt like home.

On an early August morning, I would wake up with the sun to my dad saying, “Let’s go, it’s the first day of harvest.” These words filled me with excitement that continued to the truck and on our way to the nearby gas station. There, I picked up some powdered sugar donuts and my dad grabbed his large diet Pepsi.

Crewmen go through the fields during harvest with a top cutter that cuts the vines from twine so they fall into the trucks. The trucks take the vines to the machine to be stripped of their cones.

Back into the truck, we drove to the machine where the rustling of crewmembers worked to move the vines from truck to hook to machine. The fresh smell caused my nose to wrinkle and began to waft in the air. Depending on the variety, a fruity aroma sometimes seeped from the machine. To this day, that smell brings back these early-morning memories.

This was the typical start to my morning as a child on the first day of harvest, which happens every year around Aug. 20. My family owns CLS Farms—a fifth-generation hop farm in Moxee, Washington. We grow not only hops—which are used to flavor beer—but also apples, cherries, apricots, pears, plums and some other soft fruits.

CLS Farms is a fifth-generation hop farm located in the Yakima Valley.

I’m a farmer’s daughter. I am a farmer. I may not have put in the grueling hours yet that it takes to be where my parents or other members of the farm are now, but the farm is home.

As a baby, my dad would take me to meetings with brokers or other farmers and give me a bottle in the middle of contract negotiations or while standing in the middle of the fields. I also learned to drive a forklift at a young age by sitting on my dad’s lap.

A few days before school started, I would wear my new white sketchers to the machine. I’d play in the vine pile or walk through the kiln—where the hops are dried—and my shoes would have a permanent hop smell. You can’t wash that smell out so my teachers and classmates always gave me an odd look that I never quite understood.

A photo of my mother and I in the hop fields when I was a child.

But while I never thought much about growing up on a farm, moving to Portland has exposed me to a different lifestyle than what I was used to in Yakima, the town adjacent to Moxee.

In Yakima, we don’t have an acai bowl place everywhere or the hundreds of food trucks that take only a few minutes to find. But I'm not complaining too much because while we don’t have the same food trucks, we have some of the most authentic Mexican food restaurants.

Portland is a city. Yakima is a town. I could easily hop in my car and drive around the Valley to see the acres of farmland. In Portland, I see suburb after neighborhood after skyscraper. I like the change, but I miss seeing the apple blossoms or the plump orange and yellow apricots or the creeping hop vines growing taller every day.

Apricots are boxed in the orchards and categorized depending on shape. Photo by Claire Desmarais

Despite my move, I remember that my family also wasn’t the stereotypical farming family. I didn’t tend to the chickens or feed the horses because we didn’t have any. I didn’t wake up early to do the morning chores outside like it’s portrayed in the movies.

I did work for the farm alongside migrant workers who worked the long and hot summers to support their families. I never took what I had for granted because I knew my privilege.

I saw the value of working every summer because it made me appreciate the luxuries I had growing up. I went to private school my whole life. I had parents that attended all my sports games. I’ve traveled. But the job instilled a work ethic and a high level of empathy and respect for those who do manual labor.

Workers tend to the apricots that require a delicate touch because of their soft skin. Photo by Claire Desmarais

While I grew up working for the farm, it wasn’t uncommon for my friends or other high schoolers to do the same. Some of my friends worked on the cherry line for 12 hours or trimmed apple trees during the summer.

A group of my friends and I worked together one summer doing manual labor like weeding throughout the fields and orchards. Photo by Claire Desmarais

Having these jobs gave us not only a new perspective but also reinstigated the privilege we all had growing up. Manual labor is not easy, and not a lot of people are willing to do it. Some have no choice, but working in the fields taught me to use my privilege to help others by becoming an advocate for underrepresented individuals.

But whenever I go home from college or go to events with my parents, I’m always asked the question: Are you going to come home and run the farm after you graduate?

Newsflash: No, I am not going to come home right after. I’ve always loved the farm, and I do someday want to come back, but I also want to establish a career for myself and seek out new opportunities. I want to go to graduate school. I want to travel. I want to see new cultures and new cities. I want to make new friends. I want to make mistakes and learn from them.

Looking over one of the hop fields, the faint outline of Yakima can be seen. The red-roofed CLS Farms hop machine sits at the bottom of the hill. Photo by Claire Desmarais

The farm also isn’t some small-scale operation. It takes real work, intelligence and grit to run it every day. Hop farmers have a close-knit community that requires years of cultivating relationships with other farmers, brewers, brokers and others. It’s not easy to dive in, but rather it takes time.

I haven’t acquired the skills to do that yet, but through my own exploration, I will hopefully figure out what it takes to be a hop farmer.

But when I do go home from college for a weekend in the fall, my drive down into the Valley brings a sense of nostalgia from my childhood. The times I spent running around in the dirt or climbing the heaping pile of vines remain central to my identity.

The Yakima Valley and the farm are my home. I am a farmer’s daughter. I am a farmer.

Want to hear more? Send me a message and we can chat!