Hoff Brothers farm keeps frontier legacy alive
Caretaker of a legacy: that’s how James Hoff describes himself. There’s a serene sense of awe and gratitude in Hoff’s voice when he talks about the legacy of the family farm, known as the Rainbow Ranch but doing business as Hoff Brothers.
In the fading light of an early autumn afternoon in September, Hoff, a fourth-generation Idaho potato grower, scans the land before him and marvels at the beauty of the farm that has been in his family for more than 100 years, along with the responsibility that he feels for the land and towards his ancestors.
“Something that’s always been important to me is all the previous generations, all of their hard work,” he said. “It just seems to be the ground work for the next generation, so there’s a lot of gratitude on my part towards my father and uncle, my grandfather and great uncle and all their efforts to keep this place preserved and hopefully have it carry on.”
With what seems to be a perpetual squint from a lifetime of farm work, Hoff tells the history of the farm in a quiet, subdued voice but one filled with an appreciation for all of the hard work put in by his ancestors on the land that he now farms.
“My great-grandfather emigrated from Norway in the 1880s, ended up in Idaho and fell in love with this piece of property,” Hoff said. “He had an eye for really good places. Now I get the privilege of being the farmer that operates it for now.”
In 1903 Hoff’s grandfather, Rasmus Hoff, bought the Idaho property from Sam Taylor, an original homesteader. Rasmus had an eye for investments and also accumulated a sheep ranch in the Dakotas, mines in Arizona and farmland in the southern California basin near Los Angeles.
According to Hoff, his great-grandfather died from pneumonia in 1916 leaving his widow, Jenny, to raise their three children, Mark, Phil and Helen. Jenny decided to liquidate most of the out of state properties and raise her children on the Idaho farm following Rasmus’ death.
James’ father, Robert and Robert’s brother, John, eventually inherited the property from their father, Mark and his brother, Phil. In the mid 1990s John purchased a farm in Weiser, Idaho, and moved there. Today, James oversees the Rainbow Ranch and the Hoff Brothers operation with his father helping during the planting and harvest seasons.
Hoff doesn’t look at farming as a job so much as a part of his DNA.
“I grew up here and I watched my dad farm,” he said. “I would always go with my dad whenever I could. I just always enjoyed it. I like the outdoors. I love this piece of land and I think it was just instilled in me and here I am.”
A love for the land comes with an ethical imperative for Hoff.
“Make it as good as it can be, it’s a very unique farm, I think,” he said. “I mean, there’s lots of farms but it’s not a lot of places that have a setting like this and the location and the foothills.”
The Rainbow Ranch comprises 2,400 acres. It’s located along Bonneville County’s southern border abutting Bingham County in eastern Idaho. Set against the foothills of Taylor Mountain with two tributaries, Henry Creek and Taylor Creek, the land has a pastoral quality that transcends Idaho’s seemingly endless rows of furrowed potato fields.
This past year Hoff grew 270 acres of Russet Burbanks, 750 acres of wheat and 130 acres of alfalfa with the remaining acres in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program. He grows table-stock potatoes on a four-year rotation and sells the Burbanks to GPOD of Idaho (General Potato and Onion Distributors), where they are destined primarily for the east coast market and New York City.
Flying and farming go hand in hand if you’re a Hoff. They have their own hangar with four planes and a grass runway located on the farm.
Hoff’s grandfather, Mark, started flying in the 1930s and all his children learned to fly. Robert and John started an aviation business at the Idaho Falls airport, which “kind of helps support our aviation habits,” Hoff said. His father at one time sold airplanes manufactured in Afton, Wyoming.
“It’s kind of like the farm, why do you farm,” he said of flying. “Well it’s what I was born into. That’s what I know and it’s the same with flying. I like the feeling of freedom that flying gives you.”
Hoff’s flying skills resulted in a supporting role in one of the Idaho Potato Commission’s (IPC) national television ads. The ad’s concept had Hoff flying his Stearman biplane with Mark Coombs, another Idaho potato grower, in the passenger seat searching for the IPC’s big Idaho potato truck.
He recalled the day the ad agency’s film crew came out to his farm during the first week of July for a long day of constant blocking and filming, starting at 6:30 a.m. and ending around 9:30 p.m. with the sunset and approaching darkness.
“There was quite a bit of flying involved and a lot of busy work,” he said. “It was really hot and wearing a heavy leather jacket when it’s 95-plus degrees outside was a lot of work.”
Along with his advertising work for IPC, Hoff is currently serving as an IPC commissioner. He has completed the second year of a three-year term and could serve a second term if nominated and approved by Idaho’s governor. He previously has served on the U.S. Potato Board, now called Potatoes USA.
Frank Muir, IPC president and CEO, said that Hoff is a great representative for the Idaho potato industry.
“He and his father, having this incredibly cool airfield with these authentic restored vintage biplanes, has given us many opportunities to bring guests to their farm and experience part of what makes Idaho potatoes so unique,” Muir said. “I just think James does an outstanding job of interacting with people.”
Today, Hoff and his wife, Darla, continue to cultivate the legacy of Hoff Brothers and the Rainbow Ranch and serve as ambassadors for the Idaho potato industry.
Their 21-year-old daughter, Savannah, is a junior at Utah State University and is working towards a degree in agriculture. Hoff is hoping that his daughter will follow his flight path at the Rainbow Ranch.
“I’m excited for her, to see what life brings for her should she choose to come back here,” Hoff said. “She indicates she wants to be here and she would make a great fit in both operations, in our aviation business and the ag business. She’s a smart kid, fairly mechanical, she can fly an airplane, drive tractors. She can do it all. I hope it’s a good fit for her. It would be neat to have the legacy continue for a fifth generation.”