Collaborative Farming, Resource Sharing, & Land Conservation
Over thirty beginning and experienced farmers gathered on the Enumclaw Plateau to hear from three farms part of the Enumclaw Sustainable Farmers Network. With a focus on livestock production and resource conservation, the ‘walk’ was emphasized in farm walk as we visited Boise Creek Boer Goats, Providence Farm (dairy cows), and Ode to Joy Farm Enumclaw (pastured poultry) – all of which are neighbors. Further, all three farms we visited were pasture based operations giving a nice comparison of pasture management needs for different types of livestock. Also, Erin Erickson from the King Conservation District was on hand to answer questions about resources available to farmers through the programs they offer.
Farm walk attendees first gathered in the pasture of Boise Creek Boer Goats – owned and operated by Liz Clark. Liz not only operates Boise Creek Boer Goats, but she also works with King Conservation District (KCD) and was able to speak to their resources and programs available to farmers. She explained how she utilized their Farm Plan as well as KCD’s soil and hay testing services. Liz test her hay every year to gauge what nutrients might be lacking. Her pasture is certified organic because she shares her hay/pasture with Ryan Mensonides of Providence Farm, a certified organic dairy.
Liz chose boer goats because they are a traditional meat goat breed. She discovered that they “don’t do wet” very well and has been in the process of culling out the bad genetics in her herd. Liz advised to look into the management of farms where you are getting your stock so that they perform well in your management conditions. Liz processes her goats through Puget Sound Meat Cooperative and sold her meat through the farmers market. She also rented out her goats for blackberry and brush removal.
The group then walked across the road to Providence Farms, a certified organic cow dairy. Owned and operated by Ryan and Hailey Mensonides, the dairy was established as an Organic Valley Dairy in early 2012. Ryan spoke candidly about the challenges of being a beginning organic dairy farmer, especially when it comes to making financial ends meet. With 140 cows, they have done every application possible for cost-share and grant programs for beginning farmers to help build up the existing infrastructure. Ryan’s ultimate goal is to process on farm and make cheese.
Ryan grazes his cows as much as possible during the spring and summer without ruining the ground. He’ll also graze on Liz’s pasture and pasture at Ode to Joy Farm. He shared that one month of pasture is worth $15,000 of feed cost for his cows. He completes no-till seeding of his pasture and puts up a silage mixture for the winter. Besides finances, one of Ryan’s biggest challenges is dealing with sick cows. Even though organic dairies have much lower cull rates and disease rates than conventional, there are no simple treatments for sick cows and he has to spend extra time (and money) towards preventative measures. Ryan also utilizes many of KCD’s services including nutrient management planning and cost-share programs. At the end of our visit at Providence Farm, Ryan needed twenty cows moved down the road to pasture at Ode to Joy Farm – the last farm on the farm walk – so attendees were enlisted to make sure they all got there safely. It was great to see – and be apart of – such resource sharing amongst neighbors.
At Ode to Joy Farm, owner/operator Joy Behrendt shared with us her production of chickens, ducks, and geese. She gears all her production towards what she can sell at the Issaquah Farmers Market. She sells eggs from each type of poultry and a limited amount of produce – she explained she really only has time for the livestock production. Joyce is grass-based and has moveable chicken tractors and poultry houses that she’ll move around her pasture. She is in the process of building her own processing unit to be able to offer frozen stewing hens and chicken at her farmer’s market booth.
Joyce was the farmer who initiated the Enumclaw Sustainable Farmers network as she wanted to connect with other producers near her. It was truly great to see how Joyce, Ryan, and Liz work cooperatively to ensure success of not only their farm operations but to provide for the viability of their rural community.
This project is supported in part by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2012-49400-19575. For more resources and programs for beginning farmers and ranchers please visit www.Start2Farm.gov, a component of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.