The best-laid plans: Lohman Farms

Posted on February 25, 2020
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“I told him he was the bravest man I’d ever known, to marry a woman with two dogs and 100 cows!”

It was here at Skagit Valley College that three future farmers, just kids then, found each other and formed an inseparable trio. Later, Annie Coulter, Dave Lohman, and George King would all decide to cross the mountains and finish their chosen agricultural fields of study at WSU (GO COUGS).

Annie graduated from WSU in 1984 with a degree in Animal Science Nutrition. With her newly minted diploma in hand, she soon married her longtime college friend George. Two starry-eyed kids’ fresh out of college, they were eager to dive into the world of agriculture. Annie and George returned to Stanwood to work at King’s family farm and start their lives and careers together. Annie briefly worked as a cattle breeder in northern Snohomish County while she and George established a Holstein heifer-raising operation. The couple also leased land and started crop farming acreage (mostly green peas and vegetable seed) on their own while continuing to assist George’s parents at the family farm.

Tragically, just a couple years into carving out their life together, George was taken from Annie in a terrible farming accident. Annie’s life as she knew it was abruptly and irrevocably changed. Annie, only in her early 20s, became the sole leaser of about 60 acres of cropland and the manager of growing heifer operation.

Annie explained that back then it was rare to see a single woman running a large crop farm and heifer operation. She’d taken on an incredible responsibility, unthinkable some might say, but she wasn’t going to let tragedy stop her from keeping the dream alive that she and George had shared.

At the end of that very tough year, Annie was confronted with a choice: renew the lease or sell her operation. The farm in Stanwood—where so many hopes were sown—meant more to Annie than any offer she had received. Several farmers encouraged her to release her land and sell her cows, but Annie felt they “were practically trying to steal it from me with the price they were offering.” With all the hard work that she had put into the operation, she realized that selling just wasn’t an option for her. When Annie approached her landlord to renew her lease, an unexpected conversation happened. The landlord said he never thought he’d be leasing land to a single woman, but he’d watched her work hard to keep the place going. He was willing to take a chance on her. Annie credits her landlord’s faith in her as the fire she needed inside to fuel another year of work on the farm.

Leasing the land was a victory, but Annie was soon confronted with the fact that she needed help with farm work that kept growing. Surrounded by doubters, Annie knew she wanted someone she could trust and who understood how much the farm meant to her. So she called on her old college friend Dave Lohman, who graciously agreed to help her. As a longtime friend to Annie and George, Dave realized that when Annie asked for help, he needed to be there. If they put their heads together, worked hard, and stayed with it, Dave knew they had an opportunity to honor George by making this farm succeed.

Two young farmers, not yet 30 years old, started shaping the legacy that today is Lohman Farms.

Dave didn’t have a background in farming, but he had spent plenty of time in the soil. As a teenager he worked a variety of farm jobs, helped out at the Morrison Farm, and picked berries for various producers. Dave graduated from WSU in 1985 with a degree in Agricultural Engineering and returned to the Skagit to work in the farm shop at Draper Valley Farms. With his gifted talents in the art of machinery, fabrication, and engineering, Dave truly is the brains behind Lohman Farms’ equipment and crops operation.

Working side by side, Annie and Dave’s professional partnership and longtime friendship grew into something more. In 1989 Dave took a chance and asked Annie to marry him. “I told him he was the bravest man I’d ever known, to marry a woman with two dogs and 100 cows,” Annie joked. As they continued farming together in Stanwood, they decided that they wanted to stop leasing land and buy some of their own. “We wanted to find a property that was stable, and that we could build a future on,” Dave said.

Fate and faith led them to 89-year-old Hannah Anderson, who was ready to retire her farmhouse property in Bow. “It was between us and another couple that she promised she’d let know if her property ever went up for sale,” Annie said. “The other couple had a higher offer and in cash, but she still decided to go with us.” Spending their very last penny, Annie and Dave not only closed on the property that day, they also formed a relationship with someone who would cheer for them along the way. “Once she sold us the place, she would drive by once in a while, checking up on us and to see what we were up to,” shared Annie.

Although Annie and Dave had moved, they still had to tend to their crops in Stanwood, which wouldn’t wait patiently for them to get settled. That first year in their new home, Annie and Dave had their hands full with needed renovations. The first thing they did was build a shop where an old-fashioned chicken coop once stood. “Hannah made us promise not to try and salvage that old thing and that it’s been used up and we need to knock it down,” Annie said.

Cold winters, flooding, and a change in agriculture markets that shifted their business focus hit their growing home. Determined to secure their home and animals during the tough seasons while still commuting to the Stanwood farm, Annie and Dave leaned on one another as they adapted to the changes around them. In 1999, with the dairy industry beginning to change, they decided to get out of dairy heifer production and focus on crops, especially seed crops, which is still their main focus today.

The road to the life we hope for is never easy—it’s full of twists and turns and unexpected outcomes. Along the way, Annie and Dave said they held fast to the Golden Rule as a guiding principle. “The golden rule with everything you do, no matter what. Those relationships with people, even though you might be competitors, those relationships are valuable,” Annie reflected.

Annie and Dave’s advice for people entering agriculture? “Be ready to work, and don’t assume you know anything.” They thought they had learned everything they needed to know in college. Annie realized that college textbooks aren’t realistic: things don’t always work out the way the books say they will. With decades of experience under their belts now, they were quick to admit they certainly didn’t know it all. Annie and Dave spoke highly of their many mentors, including Gene and Anna King, Marvin Omdal, and Jerry Rindal and advised that newcomers listen to their elders: “You have to be willing to adapt and be willing to listen to your elders. Some ideas might seem old fashioned but might actually be the best way to do things.”

The mentorship Annie and Dave received throughout their journey isn’t the only thing they appreciate about Skagit agriculture. They also love people’s dedication to this place: everyone cooperates for the good everyone, even with Skagit’s wide diversity of farming operations. Annie ended our interview by commenting, “the appreciation is for almost a crazy quilt and fabric made up of the different personalities and operations in the Skagit Valley.”

Thank you Annie and Dave for sharing your incredible story and for being our fourth and final profile for the Meet A Farmer series. Stay tuned for future profiles as we plan to continue sharing the stories of farming in Skagit County. It really does take all of us—conventional to organic, small to large—to make this county the rich agricultural powerhouse it is!