Kyle Kunkler, DC Agriculture Staffer for Congressman Dan Newhouse, listens to farmer Jim Baird
Congress on the Farm
While Congress was on August recess, Tilth Producers hosted Kyle Kunkler, DC Agriculture Staffer for Congressman Dan Newhouse, for a tour and conversation at Cloudview Ecofarms and Baird Orchards. Cloudview is a small-scale, diversified farm producing mostly vegetables. Baird Orchards is a much larger nearby operation producing organic apples and other tree fruit. Jim Baird, who owns and operates both farms, led the tour, joined by Tilth Producers Policy Coordinator Ariana Taylor-Stanley, Cloudview farm manager Carli Thompson, and Diane Hyndman, Food Service Director for the local Wahluke School District, who regularly purchases food from Cloudview for the schools.
Jim Baird and Diane Hyndman find a moment during our snack break to review a contract for the upcoming school year
Farm to School in Action
During his time as Director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture prior to his election to Congress, Congressman Newhouse oversaw the introduction of Washington state’s Farm to School Program. He has since expressed support for farm to school work. We have urged his support for the Farm to School Act of 2015, a bill which would increase funding and flexibility for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program.
Jim and Diane met through the type of matchmaking program connecting farms to schools which this bill would help expand. They discussed the benefits that connection has created for them: Jim has gained a market for Cloudview’s produce and feels good about feeding local school children the healthy, organic food he grows. The children also frequently visit the farm, learning about where food comes from and perhaps setting the stage for a future in agriculture. Diane is happy to have a local source for healthy food that tastes good, accompanied by a natural educational opportunity.
However, both the farm and school district face barriers to collaboration. Diane follows many strict protocols when ordering food for the district’s meals, including getting bids from multiple producers, which can make the process too slow for including small-scale farms. Tight budget concerns also mean that the prices Jim receives for the produce he and Carli sell to the district are not competitive with his other markets. The Farm to School Act will help identify and eliminate barriers like these.
The group admires (and tastes!) Jim’s biofumigant mustard cover crop
An Organic Education
We recently celebrated Congressman Newhouse’s decision to join the House Organic Caucus. Kyle, whose family operates a conventional farm, had lots of questions for Jim about his organic practices and the economics of organic production. Jim showed the group plantings of a mustard biofumigant crop which serves as a cover crop, and also acts to mitigate soil-borne diseases when tilled into the soil. We also observed plantings of flowers which attract beneficial insects, along with a diverse array of strategies for creating windbreaks to help hold the soil in place, including trees, hedgerows, and strawbales.
Part of the group took an impromptu side trip to see Baird Orchards. Jim spoke about the high market price for organic apples which has helped make his decision to transition to organic decades ago worthwhile. While Jim has watched his conventional neighbors lose money on less popular apple varieties, his organic fruit has continued to receive a viable price.
Organic farmers continue to need allies in Congress to make sure organic practices are accounted for in policy and that research on organic practices gets funded. We will continue to work with Congressman Newhouse and Kyle on these priorities.
Baird Orchards is organic!
Training the Next Generation
Jim Baird founded Cloudview Ecofarm in 2006 after a successful organic farming career at a much larger scale. He wanted to learn first-hand about the operation of a small-scale, diversified farm, which are not common in his area of Central Washington. Cloudview functions as a non-profit, dedicated to feeding the local community and training new farmers through youth education, apprenticeships, and long-term employment.
With many farmers reaching retirement age, supporting successful beginning farmers has become a priority for many (including Tilth Producers’ members: “beginning farmers and ranchers” has been our top priority policy issue for two years, and it is already at the top of the list for this year’s currently in-progress survey). The Young Farmer Success Act, which we discussed in our previous on-farm legislative event, would address one barrier to success for college-educated beginning farmers: student debt. Kyle agreed to speak further with Congressman Newhouse about supporting that bill.
Cloudview’s rows of vegetables, pollinator-attracting flowers, and wind-buffering trees
Many thanks are due to Jim Baird and Carli Thompson of Cloudview Ecofarm for hosting this important conversation, to Diane Hyndman for sharing her district’s farm to school success stories, and to Kyle Kunkler for spending the day with us. Thank you all for your time and energy!