Past Farm Walks

October 2015 Renewable Energy Farm Walks – Broad Leaf Farm and Tahoma Farms

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Solar Energy on the Farm I
Broad Leaf Farm
Everson, WA (Whatcom County)

Solar Energy on the Farm II
Tahoma Farms
Orting, WA (Pierce County)

Tilth Producers teamed up with Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (Northwest SEED) to bring our community a series of farm walks focused on renewable energy, supported by an Environmental Justice Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Northwest SEED is a Seattle-based organization that works to create communities that are powered by locally controlled clean energy solutions. They do this by providing technical assistance, education, advocacy, and implementation of clean energy projects. This exciting partnership with Northwest SEED kicked off with two farm walks in October, with each emphasizing the use of solar energy on the farm.

At both farm walks, Mia Devine, Northwest SEED Project Manager, presented on the effects of climate change within agriculture, how renewable energy sources can help mitigate climate change, and the benefits of renewable energy. She also provided the details on finding funding and taking advantage of incentive programs to pay for solar installation. Such programs and incentives include the USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), federal tax credits, Washington Solar Production Incentive, and MACRS Depreciation. Overall, Mia explained that if a farmer were to take advantage of all programs and incentives (plus account for the energy they are not purchasing), the cost of their system would be 65-75% off after year one. Amazing! Also in attendance at both farm walks was Shannon Ellis-Brock of Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union who spoke to their Energy Smart Loans, low-interest loans for solar projects up to $35,000. She was extremely helpful and succinct in outlining the benefits for both the farmer and the regional economy to locally finance a solar project.

The first of the farm walks was held at Broad Leaf Farm in Everson (Whatcom County). Owned and operated by Dusty and Leslie Williams, this 10 acre, certified organic farm utilizes a 8.6 kW solar electric system which supplies about 25% of the farm’s electricity needs. Dusty always played around with the notion of solar-power and utilized an off-grid system in the 1970’s. When he learned of the availability of incentives through Mia Devine, Northwest SEED Project Coordinator and fellow Whatcom Co. farmer, Dusty made the investment, having his system installed by EcoTech Solar, a Bellingham based company, in 2014. Dana Brandt, founder of EcoTech, was in attendance and presented on the basics of solar terminology, the basics of a photo-voltaic system, site requirements, installation, and cost variables. Since he help Dusty with his system, Dana was able to speak directly to the process used to assess the site, determine the size of the array needed, and see the system through its installation.

Also in attendance at Broad Leaf, was Jeff Aslan, Energy Program Manager of Sustainable Connections (a non-profit based in Whatcom Co.), who spoke about the various services they offer to increase energy efficiencies in the region. This includes providing energy assessments for businesses – including farms! – to help them understand their energy usage and create goals around obtaining renewable energy systems. After attendees were able to see the general set-up of his solar array, Dusty took attendees on a short tour around his farm, a portion of which he leases to young farmers. It was great to see how Broad Leaf is utilizing renewable energy and also providing space for the next generation of farmers!

The second farm host was Tahoma Farms near Orting (Pierce County). Farmer owners Dan and Kim Hulse greeted everyone to their certified organic farm, which in years past was a large dairy operation. The farm itself is on land secured through the PCC Farmland Trust as a conservation easement. Between their organic production practices and mission to preserve farmland, it was no surprise that Dan made the decision to install a large solar array a-top one of the old livestock barns. To speak to the installation of Tahoma’s particular array, Chris Brooks, Project Manager for Sun’s Eye Solar based in Tacoma, was in attendance to explain all of the inner workings. Besides explaining the basic terminology and system set-ups, Chris essentially sold everyone on the use of micro inverters. Afterwards, Dan and Kim took everyone on a tour of their farm – namely their wash stations and packing shed.

Overall, both farm walks were very informative on the steps farmers can take to obtain solar on their farm. Further, they proved that solar energy systems perform well in Western Washington with plenty of local manufacturers and installers to choose from. So don’t let the dreary days of winter fool you into thinking that it’s not possible to install and utilize a solar array of your own.

To view the farm walk booklet for Broad Leaf Farm, click here.

To view the farm walk booklet for Tahoma Farms, click here. 

Summary by Angela Anegon. 


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These farm walks provided in partnership with Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (NW SEED) with support from an Environmental Justice Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Quackenbush Farm – Farm Walk – September 14, 2015

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Accessing Land as Beginning Vegetable Farmers

Quackenbush Farms, Ridgefield, WA
September 14, 2015

On a drizzly, mid-September day, eighteen farmers, farm interns, and community members gathered at Quackenbush Farm near Ridgefield in Clark County. Attendees were greeted by owner/operators Matt and Jennifer Van Wey, and Rachel Quackenbush who began their farm adventure together in February of 2014. These young farmers were able to share the fresh memory of what was required for them to access land, gain resources, and begin a vegetable farming enterprise.

In the beginning, Matt, Jennifer, and Rachel (along with a fourth young farmer no longer working with them) wanted to start a small farm after the one they had all been working on closed down. They found their parcel of land on Craiglist and were attracted to it because it had viable acreage, several out-buildings (including a non-functioning walk-in cooler), and a comfortable house. They signed a lease on the place in February 2014 and broke ground in March. Matt was transparent about their costs explaining that splitting the farm rent (about $1700 per month all-told) and all the upfront expenses of starting a farm (about a $6000 total initial investment) made starting a small-farm both doable and with minimal financial risk. Since they are renting, he shared that it is almost an experiment in discovering what they are capable of doing with land and with a farm business.

As far as off-farm employment, Matt still holds a full-time position with the Department of Lands, Jennifer has been able to work full-time this season (in 2014 she still worked part-time off the farm), and Rachel works for them part-time. Matt explained that off-farm jobs certainly helped reduce the financial risk of beginning a farm business. The most difficult and time consuming part about launching the farm, was the marketing aspect. Keeping their website updated, promoting their CSA, talking with local restaurants – all required more time than Matt had anticipated. He suggested that any new farmer should make the small investment of building out a simple, well-designed website. In 2015, they decided to start attending the Vancouver Farmers Market. They now estimate that of their total farm sales, 60% come from the farmers market, 40% from their CSA, with a small percentage coming from their farm stand (which they keep stocked, with payment on the honor system).

As we walked the two acres in production at Quackenbush Farm, Matt and Jennifer pointed out how they reuse and repurpose farm materials to keep their input costs low. For example, instead of purchasing a heating mat set-up from a greenhouse supply company, they built their own repurposing scrap wood to make bench tops and then purchasing simple deicing cables, foam insulation, and sand. The hot beds gave them the bottom heat required to start over 500 tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings to get a jump on their season – without the need to heat a full greenhouse. The property that Quackenbush rents also includes two acres of a forested area, which they like to think of as a resource for pollinator and general ecosystem diversity. Jennifer keeps goats within this area that she milks for her own use. The farm also has chickens and ducks for some egg sales.

Besides the challenge of marketing, Matt and Jennifer came upon a major one this season – aminopyrolid contaminated manure. They were in need of supplemental manure for their compost, and purchased a few tons of horse manure from what they thought was a reputable source. They used the manure to amend soil that was then planted mostly in tomatoes. Soon after, the plants began to show signs of herbicide damage, and after have the manure and soil tested, they determined it was a aminopyrolid herbicide contamination. Aminopyrolids are a class of pesticides that are used for control of broadleaf weeds – often in hay production and in landscaping. When animals eat hay from a pasture treated with the pesticide, the chemical is not broken down and appears in their manure. This contaminated manure then causes problems in the growth of many vegetable crops, especially the nightshades such as tomatoes. Matt and Jennifer filed a report with the Department of Ecology, but are now left with a pile of essentially unusable manure. They were able to replant some of their tomatoes in another area, but the loss was huge for them this year. Lesson learned – always know (and test!) the source of soil amendments.

In the future, this small farm would like to expand to more farmers markets and restaurants. Since they started farming, Matt and Jennifer have experimented with over 50 varieties of plants, but they would now like to focus on what works for their land and their markets – bringing that number closer to 30 different varieties. They would also like to be able to hire a full-time employee and/or offer internship opportunities. As with most farms, labor is a challenge for them, especially when it comes to harvesting and keeping up with weeding. They do receive harvest help with CSA workshares, a program Matt says they will continue to do. Not only do they receive four hours of labor a week, but the workshares engage the community and help promote the farm. As far as the issue of weeding, Matt would like to experiment with biodegradable plastic mulches and put in more cover crops.

At the end of the farm walk, attendees helped harvest winter squash that Jennifer then directed into a shed for curing. It was apparent that these young farmers have certainly taken the time to experiment and discover what works best for them and their land. For now, renting allows them to build a farm business that will carry them into the future as they turn visions into attainable goals. We look forward to seeing how Quackenbush Farm continues to add to the food system of Clark County!

Click here to view the farm walk booklet for Quackenbush Farms.

Summary by Angela Anegon


This farm walk funded in part by the WSDA Specialty Crop Block Program.

 

Nisqually Tribal Community Gardens – Farm Walk – August 25, 2015

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Building Food Community: Nisqually Tribal Community Garden Program

Nisqually Tribal Community Gardens, Du Pont
August 25, 2015

The farm walk at Nisqually Tribal Community Garden was the first time Tilth Producers had visited a Tribal farm – and it didn’t disappoint! Over thirty-five farmers and community members gathered at the community garden near Du Pont to hear the stories of the staff involved in maintaining the garden for the larger Nisqually community. The presenting staff included Caitlin Krenn (Community Garden Program Supervisor), Carlin Briner (Production Supervisor), Grace Ann Byrd (Field Tech), and Janell Blacketer (Field Tech). To add to the discussion around tribal food sovereignty, Valerie Segrest of the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project was in attendance to lend her perspectives and share details of her own work.

Carlin began by explaining that what makes the garden special is its stories and not so much the production. With one acre in vegetables, one-third acre in berries, a ‘Little Garden’ containing natives and perennial herbs, and three acres planted with a 100 year old orchard, the garden is a community effort through-and-through. Carlin spoke about how Nisqually Tribe has a long history of community gardens, with this project beginning in 2007. Caitlin and Carlin explained that the design process for the garden came without a big plan or vision – at least in the beginning. The Tribal Council requested that they begin gardening on the site, so they installed raised beds and every year since have expanded and planted crops based on the needs of the community. Carlin shared that informal discussion guides the goals of the garden from year to year, though they recently completed a facilitated community planning to develop a two-year strategic plan. Funding for the garden is provided by the Nisqually Tribe, so they have some flexibility in programming based on the needs of the greater community.

The Nisqually name for the garden means ‘Place to Gather Spirit Power’, an apt title given all the services it provides for the community. The produce grown in the garden is distributed primarily to the elder center as well as a weekly garden stand at the community center. Janell described programs with elders and youth where she shares recipes to make preparation of new vegetables easy and appealing. Grace and Janell also spoke to the use of herbs and collection of wild plants (such as nettle) to create medicines and body care items. The garden also serves as a resource for other community garden projects in the Nisqually Tribe, with the staff helping to answer production questions and sharing plant starts. The community nature of the garden also lends itself to be used by other Tribal programs including substance abuse rehabilitation, seasonal job training, and youth education.

As the garden staff took attendees around the garden, it was apparent the wealth of food and community that this garden provides. They are hoping to expand to a larger piece of acreage down the road so that they can incorporate more rotations into their vegetable production. This also comes from a need to meet the food demands of the Nisqually community.

Click here to view the farm walk booklet for Nisqually Tribal Community Gardens.

Summary by Angela Anegon


This Farm Walk 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.

 

Starvation Alley Farms – Farm Walk – August 10, 2015

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Freshly Pressed: Washington’s First Certified Organic Cranberry Farm

Starvation Alley Farms, Long Beach
August 10, 2015

A stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean, Starvation Alley Farms welcomed seventeen farmers and community members to learn about organic production of cranberries and value-added products. Owned and operated by Jared Oakes and Jessica Tantisook, the pair took attendees on a tour of their two businesses – the cranberry bog and the juicing facility. Cranberry expert Kim Patten (WSU) and his lab technician and cranberry grower, Chase Metzger, joined the walk to answer questions about production of this North American native fruit.

The walk began at Starvation Alley’s ten acres of certified organic cranberry bogs. When they began transitioning to organic, the bogs presented plenty of pest and disease challenges. For example, there is no organic control for twig blight, so Jared and Jessica have had to live with it and burn really bad areas of bog affected by the fungus. They also hand weed in the winter and have found it difficult to deliver enough nitrogen to the plants with organic products. Jared shared that they have essentially been completing research while trying to run a farm business – a costly but necessary situation to becoming productive organic cranberry growers. Jared and Jessica also described the process of flooding the fields from a pond on-site to wet harvest in September and October. These harvested berries are then washed and frozen in at a certified processor in Portland. Freezing the berries allows them to juice year-round.

The second half of the farm walk was spent at Starvation Alley’s juicing facility in town. Complete with a cute store front for tourists, the facility includes a commercial kitchen where they process and bottle their juice. They currently juice their own organic berries for a certified organic juice as well as berries from local and transitioning growers (like Chase) for a non-organic juice that they call “Local Harvest” juice. Even though it’s not organic, Jared and Jessica felt it important to support local growers.

Attendees were able to see some berry juicing in action, while Jared and Jessica described the process of research and development they went through to develop a cold-pressed juice. This included following food safety protocols that allowed them to sell into institutional markets. They also sell at farmer’s markets in both Seattle and Portland and have found a large niche market with bars that use their juice to create craft cocktails. On the whole, Jared and Jessica are keen on innovation whether it is in clever production practices in their bogs or unique marketing partnerships for their juice. This farm walk not only offered a peek into the challenges of growing organic cranberries, but into what it takes to grow a farm business.

Click here to view the farm walk booklet for Starvation Alley.

Summary by Angela Anegon


This Farm Walk 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.

 

Leach Orchards – Farm Walk – August 3, 2015

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Organic Pest & Disease Management in Apples and Pears

Leach Orchards, Yakima County
August 3, 2015

Near Zillah, WA, twenty-one farmers and agricultural professionals gathered at Leach Orchards to learn about organic pest management in apples and pears, plus drought issues that have faced the Yakima Valley this season. Hosted by orchardist Scott Leach, the farm walk hit all the high points of what it means to be a certified organic orchardist. On-hand to lend their expertise regarding organic tree fruit production was Tom Unruh (USDA-ARS) and David Granatstein (WSU).

Tom Unruh spoke about biocontrol in tree fruits and the decade’s long research he has been completing – often times right in Scott’s orchard! Biocontrol he spoke to included traps, lures, and mating disruption. Scott utilizes pheromone canisters timed to mist mating disruptors in his orchard blocks between dusk and midnight when moths are active. He iterated that this is just one tool of many to control pests and he utilizes an orchard consultant to place canisters and recommend other courses of pest control. As far as other production practices, Scott applies gypsum and a prilled, organic fertilizer for his NPK needs. He also uses a copper product to help control blight.

A large portion of the farm walk was dedicated to speaking about the drought this season, and how that has affected Scott in his management. He dedicated time early on in the growing season to replace old sprinkler heads to fix leaks and prevent loss of water. Scott prioritized what tree blocks needed water the most and generally irrigated every other tree row, every other day. He predicts that water issues and water rights will continue to be at the forefront of issues for growers no matter the seniority and no matter the irrigation district.

Based on where he sees the market going and what he likes to grow, Scott plans to replace his fresh apple blocks with apricots and pluots. He doesn’t want to have to compete with large apple growers. David Granatstein shared that the organic apple market has seen a 70% increase in the past 2-3 years and pears and cherries have seen about a 60% increase. This is a promising outlook for mid-sized organic growers such as Scott.

Click here to view the farm walk booklet for Leach Orchards.

Farm walk summary by Angela Anegon.


This Farm Walk 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.

Perrault Farms – Farm Walk – July 27, 2015

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Behind the Brew: Organic Hops Production

Perrault Farms, Toppenish
July 27, 2015

Twenty-six farmers and agricultural professionals came together at Perrault Farms to learn about organic hops production. Located in the Yakima Valley, Perrault Farms is a family business and Jason Perrault, fourth generation hop farmer, along with his cousin Tim, led the walk. Jason shared that Washington, Idaho, and Oregon account for 100% of the U.S. hops production with the Yakima Valley accounting for 75% in itself. So it was wonderful to be on one of a few large-scale, organic hops productions in the state.

As they spoke about the management of organic hops, Jason and Tim led attendees through one of their organic hop yards where the hop vines were barely beginning to develop flowers. In total, Perrault Farms has 1500 acres in hops production, and 45 acres in certified organic hops. These hops are used mostly by craft brewers in Washington, Oregon, and in New York. The biggest challenge with growing organic hops is pest and disease management. The largest issues being aphids, mites, and powdery mildew. Management of nitrogen is also difficult in organic hops as these plants use up nitrogen very quickly during their growth phase. To get a quality product, nitrogen needs to be managed intensively which can be hard to do with organic products and methods such as cover crops and compost applications – two forms of fertility that Jason does employ. After about five years of being organic, Jason said he finally sees the ecosystem of his organic yards balance so that pest and disease issues became less dramatic. Jason is also active in breeding hops varieties that provide a high yield as well as resistance to pests and disease.

Jason has begun to adopt many of the organic practices within his conventional blocks as well. He will plant cover crops within his alleyways to build up soil health and provide habitat for beneficial insects. Whether organic or conventional, the Perrault hop yards are always being monitored for threats of disease and pest pressure. Jason has identified people in his crew to do pest counts and weekly as part of their Integrated Pest Management plan that tracks both populations of beneficial insects and pest insects.

The farm walk then included a tour of Perrault’s new processing facility which will see its first hops harvest this August and September. Attendees were even able to taste beer produced with Perrault hops in their tap room. Jason believes that now is the time to sell and grow organic hops, especially with the increased responsiveness to unique varieties and organically grown hops from the craft brewing industry.

Click here to view the farm walk booklet for Perrault Farms.

Summary by Angela Anegon


This Farm Walk 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.

Sleeping Lady Organic Garden – Farm Walk – July 13, 2015

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Farm-to-Resort: Agritourism with a Certified Organic Garden

Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort Organic Garden, Leavenworth
July 13, 2015

Looking up towards Sleeping Lady Mountain sits 67 acres of preserved land. Known as Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort, the spot has a rich historical presence and is a hidden gem for travelers that come from across the country. Over twenty farmers and farm interns gathered to hear about the resort that has a certified organic garden on site. The two-acre, certified organic garden provides much of the produce and herbs used in our restaurants, as well as fresh flowers throughout the resort. Garden Manager, Amy Cummings and the resort’s Marketing Director, Lori Vandenbrink presented about the environmentally friendly gardening techniques utilized, farm-to-table application, agritourism and marketing.

Lori spoke about the history of the resort and importance of sustainability to the current owner of the resort which is why the garden plays an integral role in supplying the kitchens on site with fresh produce on daily basis. As an operating resort having a certified organic garden in the midst of guests can be difficult, but ultimately they feel like the benefits far outweigh any negative consequences. Guests are free to stroll throw the main garden at any point in the day to enjoy the flowers, herbs and vegetables.

Certified organic by the Washington State Department of Agriculture in 1996, the organic garden is managed by Amy and staff by using natural fertilizers and regularly rotating crops to improve the soil. The garden staff also works to attract environmentally beneficial insects, such as bees and ladybugs, to maintain the health and sustainability of the garden. Currently, the gardening team is preparing to extend the growing season through the use of a greenhouse and cold frames, which would provide fresh, local and organic produce to Sleeping Lady’s culinary team on a year-round basis.

As Amy leads attendees to their greenhouse, she stops to point the small garden boxes immediately outside of the greenhouse. Now empty, these boxes were the first things planted in the spring providing early mixed greens, radishes and herbs for the restaurant. Walking into the greenhouse we’re immediately greeted by heat, leftover seedlings from the start of the season and a hydroponic system. Pausing here for a few moments, Amy covers the basics of her hydroponic system . While not certified organic because the NOP requires a control point of soil to certify, Amy relies on the hydroponic system to grow butterhead in early spring and later in the fall.

From there, Amy leads the group into another greenhouse which has eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes growing. While she discusses the varieties growing in the greenhouse, and how she works with the culinary team to accommodate their needs while balancing what grows well in Leavenworth climate and their garden soil. Outside of the greenhouse, we pause to discuss deer control. Around the two-acre garden sits an eight foot fence, and the garden staff has had challenges with deer jumping over and digging under the fencing. Amy and her team planted buckwheat outside of the outer garden in hopes of deterring the friendly fauna from jumping the fence.

The next part of the farm walk focused on noxious weed control and composting both projects led by Amy’s garden team. A section of the farm has been covered with noxious weeds like garlic mustard, St. Johnswort, rush skeletonweed, and sulfur cinquefoil. As these weeds have been culled out of the garden area, they are put into piles to dry out and then mixed with horse manure from the resort’s horses and made into compost for the garden use. Compost is also made in The Earth Tub, designed by Green Mountain Technologies, designed specifically for on-site composting of food-waste. The Earth Tub is a fully enclosed composting vessel featuring power mixing, compost aeration, and biofiltration of all process air. Organic materials such as food scraps, manure or yard waste are loaded through the large hatchway in the cover. These wet organic materials are then covered with dry materials such as wood chips, shavings, leaves or small weeds to prevent odors and insure that porosity and moisture levels are ideal for composting.

During the walk, Amy spoke about the importance of bringing the community together with the organic growing practices and how important it was for their entire business to appreciate the growth of the garden. Throughout the walk, it was easy to ease the passion the team had for the garden, and also the sustainability of the entire resort.

Click here to view the farm walk booklet for Sleeping Lady.

Summary by Kate Nagle-Caraluzzo


This Farm Walk 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.

 

Mystery Bay Farm – Farm Walk – June 15, 2015

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Sustainable Farmstead Goat Dairy

Mystery Bay Farm, Nordland, WA (Marrowstone Island)
June 15, 2015

It was a micro-farm walk at this micro-dairy on Marrowstone Island, as five attendees gathered to learn about farmstead goat dairying from farmers Rachael Van Laanen and Scott Brinton. The farm walk began in Mystery Bay’s barn, where Rachael spoke about maintaining a goat herd and the general milking process. Currently, the farm has twenty-one Alpine dairy goats that are milked to make cheese and yogurt.

Rachael explained that they don’t dehorn their goats because they’ve never had an issue keeping the horns, and they also don’t show their goats (where dehorning is required). The basic cycle for their goats starts with fall breeding (they keep two bucks) to provide spring births. They dry their does off by Thanksgiving to give them a two month break from milking. The does will give birth in February/March, when they will begin milking again. This past spring, Rachael said they had 39 babies, which they try to find new homes for as quickly as possible. She only allows the babies to milk with their moms up to seven days after they are born, and then will switch to formula – which is cheap compared to the milk that can be used to make Mystery Bay’s wonderful cheeses and yogurt. Rachael tries to “pre-sell” her baby goats as much as possible to nearby farms that either raise them as milkers or meat goats. She keeps around fives does every year as replacement milkers and to refine the herd as necessary. Her suggestion for anyone looking to purchase goats, is to be really picky when it comes to disease-testing records to ensure a healthy start.

Rachael and Scott feed their goats all grass hay – most of which they produce in their own pastures. They have found that goats are true browsers and need a high percentage of roughage. As browsers, Rachael has noticed that the goats don’t like to eat hay that has fallen out of their mangers. At milking time, the does receive a 100% organic grain mix (16% protein) plus regular supplements as needed. Mystery Bay milks twice a day – 6am and 6pm – using an automated bucket milker. Rachael advised that an automated milking system becomes most cost effective once a milking herd exceeds 7-10 goats.

Mystery Bay’s milking parlor is attached to the wash room, where the raw milk gets passed to be filtered and cooled in a water bath. Rachael explained that it is important to cool the milk as quickly as possible to prevent the milk from “breaking down”, which results in off flavors (such as a “goat-y” taste). First and foremost she believes that healthy goats will provide rich, tasty milk but that it is as important to properly handle that milk to ensure a delicious end product. Rachael mused that operating a dairy is 90% cleaning, as everything that the milk touches needs to be washed and sanitized properly for both the safety of the product and the integrity of the milk.

Next to the wash room is the cheese making room. Though attendees could not go into this room (or the wash room) Mystery Bay had a large viewing window for everyone to view its set-up. In this room, Rachael pasteurizes her milk in a pasteurizer she sourced from Micro Dairy Designs. Unlike other commercial pasteurizers which are often too large for small dairies, this pasteurizer allows Rachael to pasteurize anywhere from 3-20 gallons. This affords her the ability to process small batches of milk to test out a new cheese or recipe without having to pasteurize a large quantity of milk.

Rachael makes chevre and yogurt every two days, nearly year-round. She will make a fresh ricotta in the spring as she has found the richness of spring milk lends itself well to this soft cheese. With making fresh cheese (not aged), Rachael noted the importance of high quality milk, which provides all the nuanced flavors in the cheese. Depending on the season, she will notice a dramatic change in the flavor and texture of the cheese in reaction to what the goats are able browse in their pastures.

At the time of the farm walk, Rachael was draining the whey from some chevre (which takes 24 hours). She trades this whey with a local farmer who uses it as animal feed. Initially, Rachael didn’t intend to make yogurt but after an employee experimented with a recipe and they discovered how delicious it was, she began making test batches to take to markets. Rachael shared that it wasn’t that big of an investment to begin yogurt making as they already had most of the equipment necessary for its production. The yogurt is incubated for 8-9 hours in glass jars.

Scott then took the attendees through Mystery Bay’s pastures, which he manages through a rotational grazing system. A trained ecologist, Scott manages the pastures as close as possible to how they would naturally be managed in a wild system. Mystery Bay has five of their own acres and they lease another 20 contiguous acres. Scott’s long-term goals for the pastures include introducing more silvopasture and coppicing tree systems into the pastures – for both the goats to forage and for additional farm resources. Using semi-permanent fencing, Scott has developed a system of 32 paddocks, which the goats rotate through four times during the growing season (the goats are otherwise kept in the barn yard October thru March).

Mystery Bay harvests their own grass hay. Scott explained that grass holds the most protein during the “boot stage” of its development, which is right before it grows out its flowering parts. Additionally, the protein quality of a grass decreases as long as the weather is nice, so haymaking often needs to occur at a moment’s notice from nature. Since goats need variety, Scott tries to introduce other food sources and encourages the growth of wild roses and blackberry. He plays around with tree grafts and has found success in grafting pear on top of hawthorn – the pears get to go to the farmer, and the goats get to browse the hawthorn. Scott shared that he believes in replicating success, and doing so has allowed him to improve his pastures in a sustainable manner.

The attendees were also able to see the vegetable garden where Mystery Bay grows produce for themselves and all the herbs used to flavor their chevre. From pasture to parlor to the final product, Mystery Bay Farm provided an excellent example of how to operate a sustainable dairy operation.

Click here to view the farm walk booklet for Mystery Bay farm.

Summary by Angela Anegon


This Farm Walk 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.

 

Zakarison Partnership – Farm Walk – June 8, 2015

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Building Soil Tilth: Grazing Sheep on Cover Crop

Zakarison Partnership, Pullman, WA
June 8, 2015

The Palouse region greeted twenty-six farmers, agricultural students, and agricultural professionals with a warm, breezy day for the farm walk at Zakarison Partnership. The Partnership is owned and operated by Sheryl Hagen-Zakarison and Eric Zakarison who were eager to host a farm walk that displayed all the fantastic research they have occurring on their farm in partnership with Washington State University (WSU). This research included building soil fertility through grazing sheep on cover crop in a rotational system and quinoa variety trials. Soil and crop researchers and experts in attendance included Lynne Carpenter-Boggs and John Reganold, both of WSU.

To begin the farm walk, Jonathan Wachter, a WSU graduate student, led attendees out to his test plots to discuss his research on reintegrating perennial pasture and livestock into rotational cropping systems common to the Palouse region. This year is the fourth season of the project in which Jonathon is testing three basic treatments – conventional, integrated (livestock allowed to graze), and organic. The conventional rotation involves rotating through spring pea and either winter or spring wheat utilizing reduced tillage but otherwise conventional inputs and disease management strategies. The integrated rotation involves grazing sheep on spring and winter pea green manures rotated with either winter or spring wheat (also allowing the sheep to graze on the wheat stubble after harvest). This integrated system utilizes reduced tillage and the grazed green manures to reduce the use of nitrogen fertilizers. The third treatment was organic in which the first three years of the rotation grew alfalfa hay as part of the transitional period to organic. Sheep were grazed on the alfalfa this year (2015) to help terminate the crop, followed by a planting of spring pea. The Zakarisons have a total of 160 sheep (55 of those being ewes) that are grazed through Jonathan’s plots.

Jonathan’s preliminary results are promising, revealing the ability for an integrated system to build soil health.  The total soil carbon increased in the plots cropped in hay and the organic matter accumulated even 7 feet beneath the soil surface. Grazing also returned nutrients to the soil and had the added benefit of reducing weed pressure. In 2016, all three treatments will be planted in winter wheat, so Jonathan hopes to see more of a difference in terms of economic returns and yields when comparing the systems.

The group then walked to a different part of the farm to view 20 acres that Sheryl and their farm employee (and future partner), Mary Stewart, had recently fenced in preparation to put the sheep out to graze. These 20 acres were planted in a “crop cocktail” that included Flex Forage peas, beardless barley, turnips, and daikon radish. This cocktail is not only nutritious for the sheep (which they allow to graze down by 50%) but it serves as a green manure to prep the soil for fall planting of winter wheat. Eric will add liquid urea to the soil before planting, if needed.

The farm walk then ended by relocating to a different piece of Palouse hills owned by the Zakarison Partnership, on which quinoa varieties were being tested. Rachel Wieme, WSU graduate student, spoke about these plots in which she is testing the viability of certain varieties of quinoa for growth in the Inland Northwest. Quinoa is a crop that has been in high demand in recent years, and with some great work done by WSU, the crop is being researched more and more for its ability to be incorporated into cropping systems here in the Northwest. Rachel explained that even though it is a broadly adapted crop and is drought tolerant, quinoa is not heat tolerant and prefers cool night temperatures. This type of environment isn’t indicative for many parts of Washington State, but there is room for improvement through the exploration and breeding of different traits in quinoa. Rachel’s research also centers on a three-year rotation of chickpea, barley, and quinoa. Overall, her research takes a system approach to get a basic idea of how quinoa within a cropping system affects yields, crop quality, soil biology, pest pressures, and soil structure.

This farm walk gave interesting look into the research being completed to give farmers options to build their soil fertility, increase their economic viability, and explore new cropping systems and crops. Sheryl and Eric are the type of farmers that encourage the use of research to improve our farming systems in a sustainable way. Further, it was apparent that they are invested in furthering the future of sustainable agriculture through training new farmers, such as Mary, to carry on the work of improving our farming systems. The farm walk ended with a lovely community potluck in which a dozen farmers and students continued to network and share information regarding sustainable agriculture.

Click here to view the farm walk booklet for Zakarison Partnership.

Summary by Angela Anegon.


This Farm Walk 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.

 

Let Us Farm – Farm Walk – June 1, 2015

Aside

Cover Cropping on a Diversified Organic Vegetable Farm
(plus soil blocking hands-on!)

Let Us Farm, Oakville, WA

June 1, 2015

It was a rainy day near Oakville as 26 farmers and farm interns gathered at Let Us Farm to learn about cover cropping in an organic vegetable cropping system and engage in a hands-on soil blocking opportunity. Farmer-owners Steve Hallstrom and Cecelia Boulais have been farming for over 20 years and were eager to share how they manage their 88-acre farm. Soil scientist Doug Collins of the WSU Small Farms Program also presented about the use of cover crops for fertility with his graduate student, David Sullivan, and intern, Holly Lane.

For the past nine years, Let Us Farm has relied solely on cover crops to build the tilth of their soil. Steve explained that they use both winter and summer cover crops to provide all of their nitrogen and other plant nutrient needs. They do utilize organic fertilizers in their soil mixes for starting plants in the greenhouse – amendments such as green sand, blood meal, rock phosphate, and lime. Let Us Farm also greatly relies on a clever crop rotation to avoid diseases and nutritional problems.

Steve and Cecelia have a robust internship program, and this season they are hosting three – Aaron Sexton, Alex Drake, and Rachel LaManna. Their interns play a part in all aspects of production, as Steve is keen on training the next generation of farmers. Aaron led a demonstration on soil blocking and helped attendees practice making soil blocks, which was harder than it looks! Consistency is key when it comes to successful soil blocking because if they are too hard, the plants will have a difficult time rooting, and if they are too soft, they will fall apart. Aaron explained that you want the soil mix to look glossy-wet when making blocks. Let Us Farm exclusively utilizes soil blocks to start seedlings, which are grown on heated benches in their greenhouse.

As Steve led attendees around the farm, he pointed out their various high tunnels and hoop houses – all of which are cover cropped. Besides the hoop houses, the only other method of season extension Steve uses are hot caps – wax paper cloches – that he will place over individual plants such as squash, to alter their immediate micro-climate. The plants often grow through the paper, or once it is warm enough, they will either remove the hot caps or push them down around the plants as a kind of mulch. He also explained their conservation efforts and planting of pollinator strips. These strips are a mix of annuals and perennials to achieve four different nectar bursts over the course of the growing season, providing plenty of food for pollinators.

The group stopped at a couple different cover cropped parcels, where Doug and David demonstrated how to estimate plant-available nitrogen. This is done by cutting a representative sample of about one square meter within the cover crop stand, and separating out the different species present. There are nitrogen calculators that can then be used to estimate the pounds per acre of nitrogen provided by the cover crop. The other option is to send the vegetation collected into a lab to determine the nutrients provided. Cover crop mixes that Let Us Farm often involved both a grain (such as rye or wheat) and a legume (such as Austrian winter pea). The grain suppresses weeds and disease, and provides a structure for the legume to grow. Steve will mow and cultivate the cover crop into the soil before it goes to seed.

During the walk, Steve and Cecelia shared their seed saving efforts – especially with certain varieties of lettuce that they are particularly fond of – and spoke about their biggest pest issue, the Western spotted cucumber beetle. Attendees were also able to test drive some of Steve’s tractors and tour the old dairy silo he and the interns are reconstructing into an observation tower and potential housing. Even through the rain, it was easy to see Steve and Cecelia’s passion for caring for their land, for growing delicious food, and for training the next generation of farmers.

Click here to view the farm walk booklet for Let Us Farm.

Summary by Angela Anegon


This Farm Walk 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.

 

Wobbly Cart Farm – Farm Walk – May 18, 2015

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Organic Farming & Pollinators: Assessing Pollinators on Your Organic Farm

Wobbly Cart Farm, Rochester, WA

May 18, 2015

Asha introduces the farm. (PC Angela Anegon.)Over forty farmers and community members gathered near Rochester at Wobbly Cart Farm to learn about assessing pollinators in an organic farming system from the WSU Native Pollinator Project. Wobbly Cart Farm is a certified organic vegetable farm, owned and operated by Asha McElfresh and Joseph Gabiou. The farm is in its 11th year of production, and in the midst of its 2nd year working with the WSU Native Pollinator Project. Elias Bloom and Rachel Olsson (both graduate students from WSU) along with Bob Redmond of The Common Acre, presented a wonderful farm walk on identifying, assessing, and managing native pollinators.

Elias Bloom talks about pollinators. (PC Angela Anegon)Wobbly Cart operates on two sites, and the walk started at their main site where they have their packing shed. Asha introduced everyone to the farm speaking briefly about the basic structure of their farm partnership, their organic production methods, and their markets including a robust CSA program. From there, Eli took over and spoke to everyone about the importance of native pollinators and the many possible reasons for pollinator decline. He Rachel Olsson talks about pollinator characteristics. (PC Angela Anegon)stressed the importance of farmers monitoring pollinators on their farm. The farmecosystem is extremely complex but taking time to assess native pollinators within its context can tell a farmer plenty about their ecosystem’s overall health. Further, it is of high economic importance for farmers to be aware of pollinators, which provide the service of pollinating their crops – many of which cannot be pollinated by imported honey bee colonies (which in many cases are simply not as effective as native pollinators). Eli spoke about how the use of non-native bees and the importation of bees to pollinate crops can be detrimental to native populations. Imported colonies often bring with them disease that spread to native pollinators, weakening the local ecosystem.

Microscopes nad specimens. (PC Angela Anegon)After Eli’s introduction to the day, we relocated to Wobbly Cart’s second site, a property owned by Joseph. Attendees split into three groups and rotated through three field stations. The first field station was learning how to identify different pollinators. Rachel let this station explaining to everyone the different morphological features of the bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, moths, bugs, and beetles that may provide pollinator services in the field. She shared plenty of specimens Looking at pollinators under scopes. (PC Angela Anegon)that attendees were able to look at under microscopes and hand-lenses. It was fascinating to see all the different sizes, shapes, and colors of pollinators.

The second station was ledby Bob, who explainedthe different techniques for catching and trapping pollinators in order to observe them and determine approximate numbers. Pinned pollinator. (PC Angela Anegon)They ranged from low-tech (watching a defined floral area for pollinator visitors) to setting up colored traps filled with soap and water to attract and (unfortunately) kill visiting pollinators. Bob also explained the different methods of preserving captured pollinators in order to identify them using the basic characteristics explained at Rachel’s station. These methods are being used within the native pollinator project to sample various farm sites and develop a baseline of population numbers for pollinators.Bob Redmond explains pollinator collection. (PC Angela Anegon) Bob also spoke about the work his non-profit, The Common Acre, is doing to preserve and create pollinator habitat, and most importantly, educate the public on the significance of pollinators.

The third and final station was with Eli, who led an active observation of pollinators in Wobbly Cart’s strawberry fields. It was the perfect day to observe pollinators as Eli explained that sunny, warm (above Bob Redmond shows collected pollinators. (PC Angela Anegon)70 degrees) with a wind less than 5 mph is ideal conditions for pollinator activity. He reiterated the need for farmers to spend time observing their fields to determine the types and level of activity of pollinators. Part of determining a lack of pollinators and/or change in pollinator activity on the farm is creating baseline observations. Eli recommended observing the same spot (one that has active blooming flowers) every week and recording the Observing pollinators. (PC Angela Anegon)number and types of pollinators. Attendees were allowed to practice this by sitting in Wobbly Cart’s strawberry field. It was not only educational to watch pollinators, but it was meditative. A field certainly looks different when one takes time to observe its activity rather than being the one forcing the activity e.g. planting, weeding, harvesting.

At the end of the farm walk, everyone gathered for a final discussion regarding the information Strawberry flowers. (PC Angela Anegon)shared. Overall, farmers are encouraged to be observant in their fields, plant successions of flowering plants to give pollinators food throughout the season, and be aware of practices that may harm their populations. Eli challenged all attendees to tell at least one person about what they had experienced on the farm walk. Spreading the word about pollinator services within our agricultural and other ecosystems is as needed Pollinator observation in strawberries. (PC Angela Anegon)as monitoring and assessing the health of these amazing organisms. So if you’re reading this, spread the word! Advocate for organic farming, the planting of pollinator habitats, and the continued research and education around assessing and managing native pollinator health.

Click here to view the farm walk booklet for Wobbly Cart Farm.

Summary by Angela Anegon.


USDA SpecialtyCropBlockGrantProgramLogoThis Farm Walk is supported in part by the WSDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and 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.


 

Green Bow Farm – Farm Walk – April 27, 2015

Aside

Multi-Species Rotational Grazing at a Family Farmstead

Green Bow Farm, Ellensburg, WA

April 27, 2015

Marcy introduces farmers. (PC Angela Anegon)Christina Miller and Matthew Cox, farmer/owners of Green Bow Farm in Ellensburg, welcomed sixteen fellow farmers and agricultural professionals to learn about multi-species rotational grazing and farm marketing. In attendance as agricultural experts to speak to the theme was Frank Hendrix (WSU Extension – Animal Sciences, Irrigated Pastures, Range and Riparian Management), Tip Hudson (WSU Extension – Rangeland & Livestock Specialist), and Mark Crowley (Kittitas County Conservation District).

One of two chicken houses. (PC Angela Anegon)Located northwest of Ellensburg, Christina and Matthew moved to their property in 2011 and quickly began experimenting with raising different types of animals. They grow chickens (layers and broilers), Icelandic sheep (fiber and lamb), beef cattle (Scottish highlanders and sometimes Jersey steers), turkeys (for Thanksgiving sales), and ducks. All of these livestock are pasture-based and they are often kept in the same pasture – Green Bow has a total of three that they rotate the animals through.

Green Bow raw fleece, yarn, and knitted fabric. (PC Angela Anegon)When Christina and Matthew first started, they did not expect to raise animals for fiber. They really like the Icelandic breed of sheep as they are a versatile and hardy breed. The sheep not only provides a lovely fiber, but they produce tasty lamb and milk (the latter of which Green Bow has not ventured into except for personal use). They have someone come to the farm and shear the sheep twice a year. Green Bow washes and dries the raw fleece and then sends it to a mill in North Carolina to spin into yarn. They sell the yarn un-dyed (Icelandic’s have beautiful colors) and also sell raw fleece and lambskins. As far as management, Icelandic sheep like goats in that they don’t operate with a strong herd mentality, which can make them difficult to round up. They are excellent birthers (often producing triplets) and Matthew and Christina have yet needed to intervene during a lambing. These sheep browse for broadleaves and other forbs in pasture making them and a good companion to the cows which prefer the grasses. Ecologically and socially they have found their sheep and cows to be a great match.

Scottish highlander. (PC Angela Anegon)The cows Green Bow raises are Scottish Highlanders and they currently have five in their breeding herd. Matthew shared that they may be smaller, with lower hanging weights but the meat has a great taste. All of Green Bow’s animals are 100% grass-fed and finished. Matthew uses apple cider vinegar in their stock water to help control parasites in all the livestock (at a rate of one tablespoon per gallon). The vinegar helps with liver flukes which are extremely detrimental to the cows. The ducks also help reduce liver flukes by eating snails which play host to an integral part of a liver fluke’s life cycle.

Sheep and cows in pasture 1. (PC Angela Anegon)Green Bow has three pastures that they rotate the animals through. When they first purchased the farm, the pastures were in pretty bad shape. Matthew began irrigating the fields which led to drastic improvements (the farm site only receives 9 inches of annual rainfall). Green Bow also produces their own compost, which they use to make compost tea to spray in their pastures by injecting it into their irrigation system. They utilized a couple different NRCS-EQIP grants and small grants through the conservation district to help build fences and purchase their irrigation system.

Eggs to be collected. (PC Angela Anegon)As far as marketing, Green Bow sells at the Ellensburg Farmers Market and the West Seattle Farmers Market. They also recently began a meat CSA. Matthew explained that the CSA model is nice because they receive money upfront, which helps them to manage their cash flow a bit easier. They also lean on social media to advertise their farm and product offerings. Christina enjoys posting pictures of the farm and sharing recipes with their customers through these platforms. It has been important to both Christina and Matthew to educate their customers on their products (for example, it has helped them sell the unusual cuts of meat) and on the importance of supporting small farms. As a result of this education, Green Bow has built a knowledge base for their sustainable products and, in turn, a loyal following. They also sell their fiber products through their online store and a website called Woolful.com. Both Matthew and Christina have found it laborious to manage their online sales as it takes time to manage transactions as well as the website itself. They much prefer the connections they have built with their consumers through their CSA and at the farmers market.

Green Bow's multipurpose hood house. (PC Angela Anegon)Green Bow believes in utilizing and selling as many products as they can out of one venture – an idea that has served them well so far. In the future, they would like to grow herbs to make value-added spice rubs and other products to complement their meats. Since Matthew and Christina don’t have any employees or interns, their expansions are mindful of what they can handle while still maintaining their family life. All-in-all this family farmstead was a great example of a passion for food and animals translating into a sustainable livelihood.

 Summary by Angela Anegon.

Click here to view the farm walk booklet for Green Bow Farm.


USDAThis Farm Walk 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.

Spencer Farm – Farm Walk – March 30, 2015

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Utilizing Compost and Vermiculture to Build Soil Fertility
Spencer Farm, Malaga, WA
March 30, 2015

Bruce Spencer explains observing his soil's tilth. (PC Angela Anegon)For the first farm walk of the 2015 season, Tilth Producers and the WSU Small Farms Team visited Spencer Farm in Malaga, WA (a little south east of Wenatchee). The farm walk focused on this certified organic farms use of compost as their main source of fertility. In addition to the practical knowledge shared by Bruce Spencer, farmer/owner of Spencer Farm, in attendance was David Granatstein from the WSU TFREC who has decades of experience researching organic agriculture and fertility in orchard soils.

60 year old cherry next to 3 year old cherry. (PC Angela Anegon)Bruce Spencer started the walk by explaining how he has built up his soil fertility over the past 38 years of growing. The site of his 6 acres is extremely rocky and not very tillable. Early on, he purchased top soil from alfalfa fields on the Waterville Plateau. Bruce has always practiced organic methods of production and was one of the first farms to become certified in 1987. In the beginning, Bruce used plenty of approved amendments for his soil. After twenty-years of purchasing inputs for his soil, Bruce calculated that he had spent nearly $250,000. While he recognized the value of healthy, fertile soil he decided that spending that amount of money was not sustainable. So he invested instead in making his own compost on the farm. The two basic ingredients of his compost are wood chips from the county and steer manure from a neighboring farm. Bruce will also add in crop residues and utilizes biodynamic inoculants. Through making their own compost, Spencer Farm eliminated the need for unnecessary amendments and has great soil fertility as a result.

A block of mixed varieties of apples. (PC Angela Anegon)As Bruce took attendees around the farm, he talked about how good soil will smell sweet and alive. He had attendees get a handful of soil and smell and feel it as he spoke about the importance of microbial populations in healthy soil. Besides the addition of four inches of compost to the vegetable areas every other year, Bruce plants a rye cover crop in the fall and turns it under the spring. He’s experimented with different cover crops over the years, but has found rye to be the hardiest choice and one that creates the most biomass. Bruce noted that managing the fertility of annuals versus perennials (as with his fruit trees) could not be more IMAG2037different. With annuals such as vegetable crops, you can learn a lot in one season about soil management whereas with fruit trees, it can take years to understand what is occurring within the soil. Bruce concluded that a person’s best bet is to consult with other fruit growers and current research to guide soil management practices within trees as there isn’t a lot of opportunity to get it right.

A few years ago, Bruce utilized a NRCS-EQIP grant to build a high tunnel for growing fruit trees. This fruit ripens a month to two months earlier than trees out in the field, allowing him some fruit to market earlier. Bruce explains growing trees in a greenhouse. (PC Angela Anegon)To pollinate these trees, Bruce purchases a bumble bee hive which he sets in the middle of the high tunnel. Honey bees don’t work as well under plastic.

Bruce and Grace utilize vermiculture to clean their potting soil mix, allowing them to reuse it within the season and from year to year. The Red Wigglers will eat the root balls and other organic matter left behind, and adds in their nutrient rich castings. They also vermicompost food scraps from their home and commercial kitchens (where Bruce makes fruit wines). To build his vermicomposters, Bruce utilizes old, plastic fruit bins and he is sure to keep a balance of Vermicompost set-up for potting soil. (PC Angela Anegon)“greens” and “browns” so that the compost doesn’t get too hot for the worms to do their work.

To build the compost for the rest of the farm, Bruce gets steer manure from a neighbor and wood chips from the city and county. He’ll mix a bit of compost from the last pile to help inoculate it as well as biodynamic preparations from Peaceful Valley. He adds water to the compost if it seems dry and turns it regularly. He recently used chicken compost from an organic source in Canada, but was advised that it’s important to check the resulting compost for salt levels. If the salt levels or EC (electrical conductivity) is too high in compost, it can kill plant roots. Overall, Spencer Farm was a great example of how an organic farm can maintain soil fertility for both annuals and perennials, utilizing compost.

Click here to view the farm walk booklet for Spencer Farm.

Summary by Angela Anegon.


USDA

SpecialtyCropBlockGrantProgramLogoThis Farm Walk is supported in part by  WSDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and 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.

China Bend Winery – Farm Walk, October 13, 2014

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Producing Organic Wine & Value-Added Products

Bart Alexander gives a history of China Bend. PC Angela AnegonFor the last farm walk of the 2014 season, we visited China Bend Winery, located on Lake Roosevelt near Kettle Falls, WA. Owners Bart and Victory Alexander shared their passion for the art of organic wine-making using their estate grown grapes. A dozen attendees were even able to see their grape harvest and crush in process.

Bart and Victory purchased the land forty years ago and began planting the vineyard in the early 1980s. They were growing their grapes organically before certification even existed. In the process of developing their vineyard, they experimented with seventy-two different varieties of grapes that they sourced from around the world.China Bend canner and food processing equipment. PC Angela Anegon In the end, they found seven varieties that were well suited for their climate and soil. Victory also grows a little over an acre of vegetables that she utilizes in her value-added products such as dilly beans, salsa, jam, jelly, hummus, pesto, and various other dips. She processes on-site in their certified kitchen and sells to various local farmers markets, on-line, and at the barter fair in Okanogan County.

China Bend vineyard. PC Angela AnegonBart keeps his own nursery stock of grape plants that he has grafted from cuttings he gets when they prune the vineyard in the spring. The vineyard is planted in small manageable blocks as Bart found there to be different soil types across the vineyard acreage. In an average year, they will harvest four tons of grapes per acre. Bart limits the yield to enhance wine quality in flavors and sugar content. When he initially planted the vineyard, Bart installed overhead irrigation, but he suggested that anyone planting a new vineyard invest in drip irrigation. During this past growing season, Bart shared that he only irrigated once.

China Bend grape harvesters in action. PC Angela AnegonAs attendees walked through the vineyard, Bart explained that making good wine is often times more art than science and making quality estate wine comes down to growing grapes that grow well on your land.  During the fall, he’ll systemically sample grape blocks for the flavors developing and test the sugar or “brix” level with a refractometer. He deems the grapes harvestable when they have developed a good flavor (what he called a “wow” flavor) and when the brix level is between 23-24%. Bart also looks for a pH between 3.3-3.4. Attendees were able to observe China Bend employees harvesting ‘Leon Millot’ grapes and also the initial crushing of these grapes. China Bend will harvest grapes from the end of September through October.

Punching the cap. PC Angela AnegonOnce crushed, the grapes are allowed to begin initial fermentation. Bart and his winemaker, Loyal, use both natural and commercial yeast to get fermentation started. Since China Bend doesn’t utilize any additives to control for spoilage, Bart shared that he doesn’t feel secure until the grapes start fermenting and the chance for contamination is lower. Loyal demonstrated how he punches the cap on grapes completing initial fermentation. This releases carbon dioxide or what is known as “monk’s breath”. They aim for the wine to reach an alcohol content of around 12.5%.

China Bend wine display PC Angela AnegonAfter initial fermentation in tanks, the wine is put into bladders for up to three months to allow solids to settle out. The wine is then pumped into oak barrels where it is allowed to age for two years. China Bend does not rack, filter, add sulfites, or add any other additives to their wine.

At the end of the walk Bart gave tastings of the wine to all attendees. It was great to see the whole process from grape harvest to the tasting of the final product.

China Bend Winery Farm Walk Booklet


 

USDAThis 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.

 

Enumclaw Sustainable Farmers Network – Farm Walk, October 6, 2014

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Collaborative Farming, Resource Sharing, & Land Conservation

Attendees gather in Boise Creek Boer Goats pasture. PC Lauren VanderlugtOver 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.

Liz Clark of Boise Creek Boers answers questions.  PC Lauren VanderlugtFarm 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.

Ryan Mensonides of Providence Farms.  PC Lauren VanderlugtThe 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.

Providence Farm cows.  PC Lauren VanderlugtRyan 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.

Joyce demonstrates how she moves her poultry hoop house.  PC Lauren VanderlugtAt 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 evisterating station in progress.  PC Lauren VanderlugtJoyce 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.

Enumclaw Sustainable Farmers Network Farm Walk Booklet


USDAThis 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.