It’s nearly dusk when I hear Kent Clark tell the crew he’ll be cooking dinner: “Hope you like steak, because that’s what we’re having.”
We all smile. Of course, we’re having steak.
“Can you season those strips while I get the grill going?” Kent asks.
When you’re in someone’s home, the answer is always yes. Always. But when that home is located on the vast Double R Ranch in rural Loomis, Washington, the foundation of the Agri Beef and Snake River Farms cow/calf and genetics operation … Well, you put a little more emphasis on the “yes.”
Kent’s wife, Lana, is in the kitchen preparing the sides as I season the strips. Being around Lana feels as if I have been in her home before, many times. She’s warm and hospitable, with a noble presence. It reminds me of being in an executive chef’s kitchen. I want to respond to her requests with, “Oui Chef!” I can’t help but sample some of Lana’s dishes as she makes them. Comfort food at its finest.
I wander over to the covered patio to talk to Kent as he gets ready. The Argentinian-style grill is set up inside a large stone chimney adjacent to the dining room and I can already feel its heat. “This thing gets pretty hot,” Kent proclaims.
How could this not be good? Sometimes, this is all you need in life.
As the sun sets, cold air starts to settle into the valley. The temperature drops rapidly. After all, we’re in far northern Washington, about a stone’s throw from British Columbia.
As Kent cooks the steaks, I find a place on the grill for the corn on the cob. Relaxing on nearby couches are Kent’s children and the rest of the crew: World-champion barbecue pitmasters Tuffy Stone, Myron Mixon, and Chet Gentry. They have the night off — it’s Kent and Lana’s show. I just try not to burn the corn.
The TRANQUILITY. The CATTLE. The LAND.
The Double R Ranch covers roughly 100,000 acres of private and permitted land. The setting is bountiful. Miles and miles of pines and sprawling mountains go on for as far as the eye can see. It’s no surprise why people would want to call this place home, yet few people do. With a population of 159, give or take, the cattle far outnumber the people in this part of the country.
Around 1,500 mother cows and their calves are on the ranch at any given time. It takes a lot of commitment and technical expertise to raise calves into the finest beef in the land.
The work on the ranch is plentiful. “There’s always something to do around here. Always something to fix, cattle to move,” Kent says.
It takes a particular personality to thrive in near-total isolation. As recently as a few generations ago, this is how most people lived. Not these days. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who could survive without all the conveniences of modern society. Not Kent.
“I grew up in a place smaller than this. I never wanted anything different,” Kent proudly says, which is partly what makes the Clarks a perfect fit for the Double R Ranch. They love the work. The tranquility. The cattle. The land.
You could say Kent and Lana were destined to live this life. Away from it all on a ranch while raising their family alongside the cattle raising their own calves. Kent was born in rural Burns, Oregon, population 2,806. He grew up in even more rural Drewsey, Oregon, population “about 25.” His school had only 120 students from all over rural eastern Oregon. Lana was born in Lakeview, which bills itself as the “Tallest Town in Oregon.” Population around 2,400.
“I’m a fourth-generation cowboy,” Kent says. “My great-grandfather homesteaded our place.”
Some people spend their whole lives seeking purpose, trying to find that one job that gives them satisfaction while providing financial resources. Kent didn’t have to look further than his own father. And grandfather. It was all he knew growing up, and that was just fine with him.
To Kent, cowboying isn’t a job; it’s a way of life. A lifestyle. “The cows don’t take weekends off,” Kent says. “Holidays either. They need to eat. You have to want this life.”
After high school, Kent went off to Oregon State University to study animal science, thinking briefly about becoming a game warden. That never happened. After graduation, Kent went right into cattle operations in Paisley, Oregon, where he stayed for 14 years until he applied for the ranch manager position with AgriBeef in 2011.
As fate would have it, he already knew his future supervisor, Wade Small, the Executive Vice President of Business Development for AgriBeef. They had met in 1999. Small world, especially in the cattle industry. Most people know or know of each other. In fact, Wade went to school at Oregon State with Lana. The stars couldn’t have aligned any better for Kent, Lana, and the road ahead.
These days, cowboying seems to be having another day in the sun with the popularity of shows like “Yellowstone” and “1883.” To the people who live the life, it never went away.
But unlike television, life on a working cattle ranch is a little different. “I watched one episode of Yellowstone, and I kept shaking my head,” Kent recalls.
The actual life of a cowboy is not filled with the drama of TV. It can’t be. There’s work to be done. There’s no off season when you’re raising cattle. The days are long, from sunup to sundown. Every day.
“I get up about an hour before sunrise and quit work after it goes down,” Kent says. “The summers are long because it stays light most of the day here.”
LABOR OF LOVE
Every season has a specific focus. Calving occurs from February through late April. In May and June, the focus is on artificial insemination, along with turning cattle out onto spring pastures. And the cattle don’t move themselves. While technology has greatly improved systems, processes, and quality consistency, much of the cowboy work is performed the same as it ever was: on horseback, 24/7/365.
“We do almost everything on horseback, moving the cattle from pasture to pasture,” Kent says. “Sometimes it takes a week to move a herd. Then it’s time to move another. And another.”
Summertime is when cattle start to feed on about 2,500 tons of hay, getting ready for winter. By the end of the summer, the cows are about 25 miles from the main ranch house, grazing in each pasture from spring to about the end of October.
It’s a labor of love that Kent and Lana wouldn’t have any other way.
It takes a team of dedicated individuals to get an operation of this scale and importance right. Remarkably, the Double R Ranch has only four full-time employees, plus Lana and Kent, who manage the herd and responsibilities. Our modern world has evolved to include various specialized jobs with fancy titles. Not for cowboys and ranchers. They don’t do one thing; they do everything. This is the way on a working ranch, the way it has been for generations.
These days, it’s not as easy finding people who seek this life, unless they grew up in it. And that’s not always a given, with sons and daughters sometimes forging their own path outside of the ranching and cattle industries.
“It’s getting harder and harder to find people who come to us with experience,” Kent says. “They used to know how to cowboy. Not anymore. We train all the new people now.”
This seems to be the norm across many industries recently. Good people are hard to find. Good cowboys, even harder. Passion and work ethic is hard to teach. You either have it or you don’t. There’s not a lot of room in the middle. It helps when you have the support of a good organization.
“It’s great to work for a company (AgriBeef) that cares for its people and customers,” Kent says. “The culture is simply different. They form relationships and work with all levels of the business. Although I never met Robert Rebholtz Sr., his son (Robert Rebholtz Jr.) is genuine and our culture comes from his attitude.”
Riding around the ranch in Kent’s truck, it’s easy to understand why he and Lana love this place so much. The picturesque backdrop is captivating. Large swaths of pines and firs dominate the terrain. The air is crisp and fresh. Aside from the wind rustling through the trees and the occasional moo, it’s eerily quiet, which takes some getting used to. In the cities, we’re accustomed to tolerating constant noise.
As we drive up and down mountain passes, we see cows and their calves, here and there, along with other wildlife.
“My brother went to the big city (Portland, Oregon). I had no desire. This place) is already bigger than where I grew,” Kent says with a laugh.
After nearly 24 years of marriage, Kent and Lana still wake up every day with smiles on their faces, prepared for anything the ranch throws at them. They’ve created a beautiful life for their four children, Zach (23), Cody (21), Kaylee (18), and Sadie (15) to call home, along with eight dogs. Lana works beside Kent, “all day, every day,” as Kent puts it.
“She’s the real boss,” Kent says with a slight chuckle, yet with the utmost deference for his wife. Anyone who has a strong woman at home knows this to be true. And this mutual support and respect is key to the work being conducted on the Double RR Ranch.
Time will tell how the beef and cattle industry will evolve in the future, but one thing is for certain: Kent will always be ready to saddle up and do what he’s always done.
“As long as there’s demand for a steak, there will always be a place for a cowboy,” Kent says.
God, I hope so. A world without steak doesn’t appeal to me.
Which brings me back to those strips Kent cooked for us. They’re about as good as any steak at any steakhouse I’d ever been to. And I’ve been to a lot of steakhouses.
But as much as I enjoy the food, what I appreciate most is sitting at Kent and Lana’s table, along with our friends and their family, listening to them share their story. To me, the best meals revolve around good people. Interesting people. People who endure, who teach you something about life, about yourself.
Don Draper once said, “make it simple, but significant.” That’s the Double R. That’s Kent and Lana.