Meet The Modern Farmers: Suzanne Willow and Lanita Witt
Photograph by Daniel Cronin
It was winter in Ashland, Oregon, when Suzanne Willow (right) and Lanita Witt happened upon a freshly plowed path near Grizzly Peak. They followed it.
“We saw a For Sale sign pointing to nowhere,” recalls Witt. “We drove down and found forest land buried in four feet of snow — and an old farmhouse, built by a Swiss dairy farmer back in the 1920s.”
A few weeks later, the physician assistant (Willow) and OB-GYN (Witt) plunked down $5,000 and became the owners of 440 acres. That was 30 years ago.
“My mom said ‘absolutely not,’ ” says Witt, laughing. Her parents grew up in a German farming community in Texas. “She told us to keep our day jobs.”
And they did. The pair worked full-time even as they amassed a roster of livestock, raised with the help of their daughter Brooke (who has since moved away). Today, the 100 percent off-the-grid farm has Berkshire pigs, goats and chickens. Their sustainably raised meat and dairy are beloved by the Ashland food community.
The pair worked full-time even as they amassed a roster of livestock, raised with the help of their daughter.
For the first nine years or so, they ran the farm themselves — in addition to performing their “real” jobs. They also practice sustainable forest management and run a wetlands restoration program.
“We’ve worked our patooties off,” says Witt, now 64, who is still full-time at the hospital and sells Willow-Witt’s products at the local farmers market. “We have worked to have this land. We are stewards of it. And every day, I come home to heaven.”
They now have three employees who help with the chores and what has become a booming agritourism business. So booming that, for the first time since 1985, they expect to break even.
Adventurous souls book the studio and Meadow House in winter for cross-county skiing and stargazing. In summer, there’s a private campground and cozy canvas tents. Guests cook whatever they pull from the overflowing garden and a freezer stocked full of goodies like goat sausage and pasture-raised pork. Lanita also leads goat-packing trips in the Cascades-Siskyou Wilderness.
The off-season — at 5,000 feet and in below-freezing temps — is their time to relax by the fire.
“We play Scrabble, read books, look after pregnant animals,” says Witt. “It’s a beautiful life.”