Starvation Alley Farms – Farm Walk – August 10, 2015


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.


One-Day University: Soil Fertility, Composting, and Organic Farming – August 3rd, 2015


WSU Eggert Organic Farm and the WSU Composting Facility, Pullman, WA

Amongst the beautiful Palouse hills in Eastern Washington, thirty farmers, agricultural professionals, and community members gathered at the WSU Eggert Family Organic Farm to learn about soil fertility and composting. This all-day workshop covered a wide range of topics to help growers assess and improve the health of their soil. Presentations by WSU research faculty and graduate students addressed biologically improving soil and assessing soil in the field, crop rotations with quinoa, soil biotic activity measures, soil mycorrhizae, and compost teas.

Dr. Lynne Carpenter-Boggs (Associate Professor of Organic and Sustainable Agriculture) began the day by demonstrating different types of soil assessments farmers can complete in their fields. Referred to as ‘shovelnomics’ in the soils world, Dr. Carpenter-Boggs explained that the best way to get to know your soil is to grab shovel and simply dig. Through digging a farmer can look at infiltration and soil texture to begin to understand what plant roots are experiencing. Soil texture is a characteristic of soil that is something a farmer inherits, and can’t easily modify through management. Aspects of soil structure can be managed and improved through practices such as growing deep root plants (to break up hard pans), cover cropping, and adding compost.

Adding to the conversation of soil assessments, Brad Jaeckel (manager of the WSU Eggert Family Organic Farm) spoke to the soil management strategies that they employ at the Eggert Farm. Primarily a teaching farm, Eggert Farm also operates a CSA program with the 2015 season being its first productive year since moving to its current (new) site. To build soil fertility, Brad explained their use of green manures and some cover crops. Since they site is relatively new, he says they plan to experiment more with summer cover crops and other cover cropping rotations and strategies. Bodh Paudel (Ph.D. candidate in Soil Science) was also on-hand to share information about the use of green manures, which at the end of the day increase soil biological activity leading to increased soil health.

The workshop group then toured the nearby WSU Composting Facility. As the facility buzzed with activity, Dr. Carpenter-Boggs explained the composting process and the use of compost as a slow release fertilizer. The compost facility produces compost at a large scale with their feed stocks coming from campus landscape services, the animal sciences department, and campus dining. She explained that since they have such large windrows, the compost gets hot enough to kill pathogens and weed seeds. The facility also solarizes the compost and allows to cure for six months to allow the compost to go thru an “acid phase” and return to a neutral pH. Dr. Carpenter-Boggs cautioned that farmers who do not compost at a very large scale need to be aware that they will likely not get a “hot” pile to kill sufficiently kill pathogens and weed seeds.

After seeing composting in action, everyone carpooled to the Zakarison Partnership, where Rachel Wieme (Ph.D. candidate in Soil Science) presented her test plots of quinoa. She is researching the potential use of quinoa in rotation with winter wheat and garbanzo, and how it affects soil biology, pest pressures, and yields. The workshop group then spent the afternoon at the WSU Vogel Science center to listen to presentations on the use of compost tea from CeCe Crosby (Ph.D. candidate in Soil Science), soil mycorrhizae from Rachel, and soil biological activity from Bodh. Time was also spent looking at various examples of mycorrhizae under the microscope as well as the microbes that are active in compost teas. From field to compost to microscope, attendees of this workshop certainly received information regarding soil fertility and biology at all levels!

To view upcoming workshops and read other workshop summaries, visit our workshop homepage.

Summary by Angela Anegon

This workshop funded in part by a grant from the WSDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.