Building a Broad-Based Agricultural Enterprise & Farmer Training
On a cool and overcast Monday in July, thirty-two people convened at Cloud Mountain Farm Center in Everson, Washington for the sixth farm walk in the 2012 Farm Walk series jointly sponsored by Tilth Producers of Washington and the WSU CSANR Small Farms Program.
The tour began in the packing shed with introductions by Doug Collins and Chris Benedict of WSU and Ann Schwartz of Tilth Producers that provided some background on the Farm Walk series. Visitors learned
about the thirty year history of the farm and its transition from a commercially operating farm to a non-profit farming education center growing crops, offering farmer training, and hosting research trials, a retail nursery,public workshops and special events.
Participants transitioned to the field by first visiting Cloud Mountain Farm’s grape and peach trials, where Tom talked about varietal choice and cultural management. Tom has a long history of collaboration with the Washington grape industry, and his grapes are cultivated primarily for propagation material and fruit plants.
The farm is located near the Canadian border and receives an ample share of wind from the Fraser River Valley and Straits of Georgia. Thus, Tom and Cheryl have designed structural, retractable wind breaks and hoop houses to grow many of their diverse crops successfully under these cool and windy conditions.
The group moved onto the apple production area that historically was a major component of the farming operation. But as the apple industry changed and prices dropped, the Thorntons diversified their production systems to meet the growing demand for local produce.
Next, attendees toured the vegetable hoop houses, which were in full production with a diverse selection of tomatoes and peppers. Tom utilizes drip irrigation and carefully manages potassium and nitrogen fertility with fertigation. He also makes a special effort to get good air circulation and prevent condensation that could lead to disease.
Tom then led the group onto their day neutral strawberry trial where they are evaluating different varieties. Interns are also evaluating the potential for fall planting plugs instead of the more customary spring-planted bare root technique.
We finished up the tour by visiting a real treat, Tom’s unique and productive cherry high tunnels. Tom has developed a variety of new production technologies, and Cloud Mountain Farm sells high-quality cherries to a variety of markets throughout Whatcom County.
Written by Chris Benedict; photos by Nancy Allen