Jennifer Wengeler, Member Spotlight, March, 2013
Jennifer Wengeler lives and farms twenty-five acres north of Spokane, moving there three and a half years ago, after working, living, and growing food in Seattle for many years.
When and how did you start farming?
This is my first start at farming. I grew up in Spokane; my dad would have loved to live in the country. He bought some acreage, and my sister and I each got five acres. The land next door came up for sale with a house on it, and it felt like a dream come true, so I bought it.
It is dry, not fertile, Ponderosa land. Ten acres was horse pasture for fifty years. Organic pasture renovation has been my big challenge. I am struggling with weedy, compacted land that is hammered. Since I am committed to organic, I did not want to do as many suggest: spray to kill weeds.
How are you dealing with your challenges?
I applied for and received an NRCS [National Resource Conservation Service] grant for getting land back into healthy production. I have plans to cover crop in spring, plow again, and seed in fall with goals of building soil and decreasing weeds. I use cultural methods of weed control . A year ago I got three baby bottle goats. Before that I ordered bugs from WSU to interrupt the bug cycle. The goats eat a lot of weeds but did not look like a long term strategy. I still have the goats, and they are still eating the weeds. I spend hundreds of hours digging knapweed and Bugloss. It has made a huge dent, but not fast enough. I am under pressure to produce income on my land because it zoned for agriculture. I need to hasten the pace!
I see how it is hard for small farmers starting out and trying to be organic. With Eastern Washington’s water issues, crops need to be drought tolerant. I have a well for the house, but not for irrigation, and I have learned to time my planting.
How did you learn these things?
I have gone to many farm classes. There is a wealth of options offered by WSU Small Farms Team. I don’t have a network, just the woman I buy feed from, and I am looking for connections for livestock. I thought about starting lambs, but it’s too much work to take on without the info. If I had a more local source of education I might. There are so many more educational opportunities on the west side [of the Cascades]
So, could you say it’s lonely?
I don’t know about lonely, just fewer resources. I would love to meet more small farmers.
What are your greatest struggles as a farmer?
The first is learning how to farm pasture organically. I have been to pasture renovation classes, and there is a lot of emphasis on spraying weeds. Instructors themselves seem to need information on how to do it organically. Second is finding mentors. I am sure there are people out there who want to mentor, and I am willing to mentor others in poultry and goats.
And your greatest successes?
Far and away I have had the most fun with the goats. In morning I take them to pasture; at night I take them to the barn. I have had so much fun these past three years, doing something brand new at my age, 68.
Is your family involved?
I have a partner who is not a farmer, but is accustomed to living in the country, and is competent with country survival skills.
Do you have any unique farming practices?
I dig to remove knapweed, and you can really make a huge dent in it without spraying, especially if you enjoy the labor. I love working out in the pasture in the evening. It’s a wonderful way to be outside in the end of the day.
What goals do you have for the land?
Having healthy soil and plants in the pasture. My overall goal is continuing to believe that I am doing something good for the earth and having fun; that I am really contributing to the health of the soil and the farm.
What do you do for soil maintenance?
I have been trying Hugelkultur and biochar, both are permaculture methods to incorporate more organic matter into the soil. I also use cover crop, compost tea, and I tried Mighty Mustard® as a garden crop.
Why are you a member of Tilth Producers?
For educational opportunities and networking. The meal times at the conference are really interesting and fun. I want to get to know local members and network in the region.
Why do you practice organic?
I grow and sell things that have been grown organically so others can have the health benefit. Also, permaculture has influenced me, and I want to incorporate more practices on the land. It’s Important to me to not use chemicals: for soil health, and for clean water ways. I have had health issues that have influenced me to live my own life with fewer chemicals.
Who have been your inspirations?
My Dad for starters – he valued the outdoors. I have been inspired by so many people who have given and gone to workshops and conferences.
What is your favorite crop?
My favorite is tomatoes – oh my gosh my tomato harvest was just incredible.
By Jacqueline Cramer