Jim Meyer, Member Spotlight, January 2015
Last fall, Tilth Producers caught up with Jim Meyer of Cascadian Home Farm in the Skagit Valley. Jim has been a proponent of organic production systems for decades. It was wonderful to talk with another long-time member of Tilth Producers during our 40th anniversary celebration year.
Tilth Producers (TP): When and how did you start farming?
Jim Meyer (JM): In 1972, I moved onto a ten acre farmstead-type farm in Colorado with thirteen other like-minded individuals and we started to farm organically, though we didn’t really have much information to draw on at the time. I later moved to California in 1979, to a farm owned by The Johrei Fellowship—a spiritual group that focused on Nature Farming. I farmed there until the late 1980s. In 1988, the Fellowship bought a conventional farm that we converted to organic. Then in 1993, I moved up to Cascadian Home Farm here in Washington where I was drawn to the four-season climate.
TP: From your years of farming, what have been your greatest challenges?
JM: Moving from California to the Pacific Northwest was a gigantic challenge. In California the climate is different and most farms grew annual crops, supported by irrigation systems. I wanted to get involved in perennial crops so I moved to the Northwest and got my feet wet more than once!
TP: What have been your greatest successes?
JM: Blueberries! When I arrived at the Farm [Cascadian Home Farm] there was eleven acres of three year old bushes. Once I learned how to manage them, I was able to develop a reliable program for producing blueberries and we made a splash in local markets, eventually adding them to the branded products. Generally speaking, getting in and being a pioneer in organics has been a great success for the farm.
TP: Do you set goals for your production? If so, what types of goals have you set over the years?
JM: I do. Those goals changed with the different places I’ve farmed. For instance, the big goal in transitioning the farm in California from conventional to organic was to enhance beneficial insect populations for pest management. When I came to the Pacific Northwest, figuring out how to grow berries was a big goal. Using the farm as an educational tool and a platform to teach people about organically grown food is an on-going goal. We do this by farming with nature, offering a self-guided tour, using the composting program as a demonstration tool, and showcasing habitats for beneficial insects—all to get more people to understand what makes organic food organic and what it takes to grow organically.
TP: Do you have any unique farming practices that you feel have increased your production efficiency?
JM: I am always talking about farming with nature and using it as a guide and example. If it happens in nature, how can it happen on the farm? We rely on beneficial insects for pest management—they are 100% of our insect pest control. The beneficials have always come in—sometimes later than I’d like—as long as we provide them with habitat.
TP: What do you do for soil maintenance?
JM: Compost! We make our own and it is a great way to augment the soil. It’s also another opportunity to educate—I’ll dig my hands into compost and show people the biology there and it blows their minds. I also utilize cover crops and crop rotations. The fertilizer we do use focuses on mineral balances with micronutrients. I always ask the question, is there a good balance here?
TP: This may be a silly question, but what is your favorite crop to grow?
JM: Blueberries! I love them because I give them a little water and some sawdust and compost and they pretty much grow themselves. They are suited to this climate and it’s fun to grow something that wants to thrive here.
TP: With your years of experience as a grower, what are three pieces of advice you would give to a beginning farmer?
JM: Work directly with your customer to learn what they want and like—direct marketing allows you to see them and ask those questions. It’s also a great way to get positive feedback for your products, which can be a boost for a new grower. Also, it’s important to be reliable—deliver what you said you were going to deliver. Focus on making quality topnotch. In a larger sense, trust nature and work on sharpening your observational skills. Use those observations to inform your production and marketing systems. Finally, look for opportunities to give back. We are still building this movement and this alternative agriculture. Find a way to share your gifts.
TP: Why are you a member of Tilth Producers?
JM: A fellowship with like-minded individuals. We want to produce some Tilth! The sharing of knowledge with other farmers is how organic has really grown rather than everyone holding their cards. People are sharing what they are doing so we can grow the organic industry more and more.
TP: What role do you see Tilth having in promoting the next generation of sustainable and organic farmers?
JM: Two things: education and advocacy. I think education for emerging farmers with the farm walks, journals, and the conference are great ways to share basic production technologies and the nuts and bolts of a growing system. Staying engaged on the broader perspective with advocating for the future and the integrity of organic systems to keep the industry growing.
TP: Tilth Producers just celebrated its 40th year as an organization. What is your vision for agriculture 40 years from now?
JM: I’ll be optimistic: 40 years from now organic agriculture will be the conventional agriculture of the time.
After twenty-two years managing and stewarding Cascadian Home Farm, Jim is planning on a much deserved retirement in fall of 2015. He will continue his work on food distribution and food security in Skagit County. The next evolution of the Farm will expand on the foundation Jim built of educating visitors, customers, and staff about organics.
Angela Anegon, Tilth Producers Education Coordinator, shares Jim’s optimism for an organic future. She can be reached via email at email@example.com or phone 206-632-7506.