Promoting agricultural unity and prosperity for over thirty-five years.
Story and Photos by Shannon Larson
Over forty years ago, Bernie and Mary-Lou Faber moved from Southern California to the lush land just west of Salem, bought seventy Holstein cows, and established their dairy farm with a mission to protect and nurture all forms of agriculture. “I have always believed in agriculture and the importance of working together,” says Bernie, whose personal mission has led to his involvement in different associations throughout the state. “There are some real challenges facing agriculture today, but if we work together we can get through this tough time.”
The farm still sits on the same piece of land on which it was built but has steadily grown over the years. The farm now houses around 380 cows and the Fabers are able to produce millions of pounds of milk per year.
Bernie’s desire to work in dairy production started when he was a young boy growing up on a farm in California. Although his parents sold the farm when he was only twelve, Bernie stayed close to the business by working with a veterinarian for many years. When he and Mary Lou married, they decided that they did not want their children raised in a concrete jungle and moved north to the country just outside Salem.
Bernie’s relationship with agriculture of all forms grew over the years and led to his involvement on many different boards such as the Oregon Dairy Farmers, the Dairy Commission, the Creamery Board, and the Northwest Milk Marketing Federation. Bernie also served as the chair of the Oregon Department of Agriculture State Board for four years and has been a member of the board for a total of seven years. He was also recognized by the Oregon Farm Bureau in 2007 with the Service to Agriculture Award and is the most recent recipient of the Agri-Business Council of Oregon’s Agriculturalist of the Year award.
Although Bernie has been a recipient of many awards and honors, he insists that he does not do what he does for recognition. “Ag has given a lot to me, and I just want to give something back,” says Faber.
Both of the Faber’s sons work closely with their parents and have decided to dedicate themselves to their business. Fred and Rich run the operation of the dairy with three other employees, all of whom have been with Cal-Gon for over 12 years. Their four grandchildren are also regular fixtures around the farm serving as the official computer experts.
Bernie’s dedication to agriculture has been applauded by many boards, ag leaders, and fellow farmers. His work in advocating the importance of agriculture to the economic, environmental, and social well-being of Oregon has given him an opportunity to reach out to groups outside of Oregon. Bernie has recently been working with commissions in Washington in hopes to bring both states closer in an effort to combine resources and knowledge and help preserve the future of agriculture.
He also feels passionate about working closely with environmental groups such as the Oregon Environmental Council. Cal-Gon Farms recently paired with Portland General Electric in order to build a methane digester that turns methane gas into electricity. The leftover mass is then turned into compost, which Cal-Gon exports to a solid compost company. “In the end, agriculture and environmental groups want the same thing, so there is no need to go in different directions in order to get it,” says Bernie. “We just need to work together.”
“Bernie Faber has provided an incredible contribution to Oregon agriculture,” says Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba. “Even though he is a dairyman, Bernie believes strongly that if all of agriculture speaks with one voice, it will be much more effective in telling its story. He has consistently been an advocate for agricultural unity and prosperity. In addition, Bernie is extremely committed to educating the youth of this state about agriculture and constantly looks for ways to celebrate the achievements of our young people who are involved in the industry.”
Bernie’s passion for agriculture has led to political action as well. “There are some real challenges for ag because of the economy and changes in the government,” says Bernie. “The most important thing we can do as an ag community is to develop relationships with new legislators and those who are not directly associated with agricultural work. We need to inform them of our importance.”
Over thirty-five years after Cal-Gon Farms was established, the small dairy farm continues to be a successful enterprise. “There are not a lot of people who are able to do what they want to do in life,” says Bernie. “I feel very lucky that I did.”