2014 24.3 Farm Walk Highlights: Gleanings From the First Third of the 2014 Farm Walks Program
“Managing for Success on a Small-Scale Diversified Farm” Stockhouse’s Farm / April 28, 2014
On Puget Island, Rob and Diane Stockhouse have created a farm and an economic engine for agriculture in the Cathlamet area. Carrie Backman, Director of WSU Wahkiakum County Extension, told the group she attributes the farm’s success to the intentional community partnership fostered by Rob and Diane. They have been instrumental in promoting WSU’s Cultivating Success program and Master Gardner training while also encouraging agritourism to the area. Rog’s Retreat is a small guest cottage on the property that provides income from about seventy rental nights per year.
Diane noted that when she and Rob first moved to the area there was no place to buy local produce. Today Stockhouse’s Farm hosts a seasonal Friday afternoon market with about half a dozen area vendors. Rob also bakes bread and pizzas each week in the outdoor, wood-fired oven he built last year. New farms have sprung up in the area and this year the market will add a plant CSA farm, a chicken vendor and a goat dairy. Initially there were challenges in developing a market, but now there are about 100 regular customers and more than twice that many overall visitors. Rob and Diane do a lot of their own marketing and outreach with support from the port and area real estate agents.
Rob showed us their spacious planting room where starts are prepared for transplant to the farm’s hoop houses, in which almost everything is grown. He explained how the original greenhouses are repurposed carports with salvaged windows integrated as the sides, each offering a unique form of ventilation. Eventually more space was needed so the Stockhouses procured a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRC S) grant last year and built a full-size hoop house.
In addition to flower beds, outside fields are planted with onions, brassicas, winter squash and potatoes. This year the farm is experimenting with using row covers made from black ground cloth that are carefully held in place and can be rolled back and secured with staples as the crops develop. Rob and Diane hope that this system will allow the plants to thrive in their cool soil and not lose their ground cover to the island’s frequent, strong winds.
Ducks and chickens provide eggs and compost. Diane mentioned that they apply manure from their fowl along with off-farm steer manure as soil amendments. The last few years’ tests confirmed that the soil is well-balanced. The tour gave many examples of how the farm has adapted throughout the years. Diane stressed that with just two of them to support they can be flexible and try new things. It was clear that the Stockhouses have found the right balance between operational success and their own time commitment to the farm, while also fostering success for themselves and others within their community.
“Grain & Seed Production” Nash’s Organic Produce / May 12, 2014
Patty McManus-Huber, co-owner of Nash’s Organic Produce near Sequim, welcomed the Farm Walk group at the community barn adjacent to Nash’s Farm Store. More than 70 attendees showed up to hear from owner Nash Huber and his crew. Among the carpools headed to the Delta Farm were three of Stephen Jones’ graduate research students from the WSU Mount Vernon Research Center: Brooke Brouwer, Colin Curwen- McAdams and Louisa Winkler.
The valley’s soil is some of the Washington’s most fertile land yet demand for homes continues to drive up value. While Nash’s Organic Produce manages 700 acres, they own only a fraction of that in two small parcels; fortunately, 220 acres are protected. A recurring theme throughout the day was of farmland in the beautiful Dungeness Valley quickly dwindling.
Nash’s farm store offers the community organic produce, meat and grocery items. Events are regularly held in the barn, which also houses a 70-year-old stone grain mill brought into operation by Nash’s crew and overseen by Jay Smith. By far the dustiest job on the farm, Jay explained the basic process of milling whole grain flours. The first topic discussed was the remoteness of the Dungeness Valley. Consequently, everything is homemade, re-done, reworked or recycled from other things. Farm Field Manager Sam McCullough explained that their original five-gallon bucket system was replaced by a grain bin dumper made using a gear and a hydraulic arm found on the farm. The ton-size grain bucket was also conceived from various pieces.
Discussion turned to the seed cleaners and the various types of machines and screens employed. Seed cleaners are used first, with care taken to ensure an appropriate moisture level to avoid wasting energy. Then the seeds are spun in a bucket spinner, which uses friction to remove the fine hairs. Indent drums are used for grain sizing, important because growers need to have the appropriate size seed for their planters.
Sam acknowledged how the labor required for weed suppression is high, but that it’s important to reduce the amount of weeds processed along with the seeds. Nash noted that non-irrigated wheat fields will have weed seed set and that you need to remove it or risk losing a crop. He also noted that when converting land to seed production you have to be very careful to not inadvertently grow the next weed crop. Two weeds Nash’s has learned to live with are mustard and chickweed, the former which is being experimented with as an oil seed as it is 35% oil.
Talk eventually turned to tractors and implements. Farming so much land requires a great deal of equipment and it takes time and money to keep the machinery in optimal condition. Sam mentioned the need to think about cross-contamination and to keep machinery clean. Nash’s is judicious about what they grow and have chosen not to grow quinoa because it’s the same size as weed seed!
Later, the conversation turned to planting. Nash’s employs a “finger tiner” after the root has set a good anchor, being careful to not accidentally chew up a field. Since they grow their own seed they can plant thick, which helps them yield 150 to 175 pounds per acre for most grains. The audience learned that soil preparation for grain production is different than for vegetables. In seed fields, harvest winter crops are planted heavily and then ripped to allow water to get in and create ridges for the cover crops to thrive.
Nash’s has been marketing seeds for cover crops and feels that they are getting to a point where the quality of the seed will allow them to sell different volumes. Nash’s Farm Share Coordinator Sid Maroney added that they currently sell small quantities of vegetable seeds online. He also noted that they are starting to sell animal feed to other farmers. Nash’s has a separate machine to grind barley for animal feed—which ingeniously runs off of a truck engine—and is milled close to the livestock for convenience.
Grains and seeds require a lot of land. Nash recounted how he turned down 300 acres with good irrigation. Then, harking back to the earlier theme of non-agricultural uses in the valley, Nash decided that if it was available then he “had to farm it so that it didn’t grow houses instead.”
After the farm walk, attendees were invited to stay for a potluck hosted in Nash’s community barn. The tables were filled with lovely dishes including a tasty polenta Nash made using his own milled corn. He also treated everyone to pork burgers from their pigs. It was a great way to end the afternoon.
“Farmstead Cheese and Animal Husbandry on a Grade A Sheep Dairy” Glendale Shepherd / June 2, 2014
Eight miles south of Clinton on the eastern coast of Whidbey Island, 20 attendees were present for a Farm Walk at Glendale Shepherd, a Grade ‘A’ sheep dairy. Farmers, community members and resource people from Island County Extension and Whidbey Island Conservation District joined Glendale owners Lynn and Stan Swanson and their son Erik.
The walk covered aspects of the dairy from lambing through cheese-making. At the lamb rearing shed with 103 lambs artificially reared this past spring, Lynn explained that lambing season marks the beginning of their 51 ewes’ lactation. Lactation lasts seven to nine months—the first month provides one-third of the milk she’ll use to make Glendale’s dairy products. The Swansons will keep about 20 ewe lambs as replacement milkers to be bred this fall, and the remaining lambs will be raised for meat. In the lamb pasture, Stan feeds them using a moveable feeder that he crafted. Lamb sales provide enough income to cover all of Glendale’s feed costs, which are approximately 50% of their total operating costs. Glendale uses Puget Sound Meat Producers Cooperative and Minder Meat for processing, both of which are USDA approved facilities and amenable to being inspected for Glendale’s Animal Welfare Approved certification.
The group visited the dairy barn where the ewes are milked twice a day using a vacuum system milker. The five dozen ewes provide approximately 100 gallons of milk per week. The solar-power outfitted barn helps meet the energy needs of the milking room. After visiting the dairy barn, Stan and Erik moved the ewes from one pasture to the next; they have eight acres of pasture in all.
The group could not access the cheese-making and aging rooms due to food safety standards but Lynn displayed pictures of the rooms’ set-up. The cheese-making room holds a 55-gallon pasteurizer which they were able to purchase through a Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan. Lynn’s production is set up to be unidirectional in its movement to control for contamination. Glendale Shepherd produces a variety of hard-aged cheeses, yogurt and recently, lebneh—a soft yogurt-based cheese.
Lynn helped clarify the rigorous record-keeping necessary to ensure the sustainability of their farm and to maintain the safety and quality of their product. Her motto: “be on the right side of the issues”; do not be unpleasantly surprised by a change in protocols or food safety laws. Lynn has taken four classes on Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) and is in the process of finishing Glendale’s HACCP plan. She and Stan also completed a nutrient management plan with the Whidbey Island Conservation District. District Manager Karen Bishop helped the Swansons with their plan and explained how the document helps farmers realize what amount of livestock or crops their property can environmentally sustain. The HACCP plan also helps farmers address conservation issues, necessary for dairies—such as Glendale—to get their Grade ‘A’ permit.
The farm walk ended on a perfect note, with a tasting of Glendale’s cheese and yogurt products.
“Out of the Box Distribution: Puget Sound Food Hub” Bow Hill Blueberries/ June 18, 2014
Susan and Harley Soltes, owner/operators of Bow Hill Blueberries, led nearly 35 attendees around their fields, processing kitchen and warehouse area used as an aggregation point for the Puget Sound Food Hub.
The Soltes purchased the historic Anderson family farm in 2011 and converted it to a U-Pick operation. To ensure visitors weren’t in contact with chemicals, they became WSDA certified transitional organic and soon receive full certification. Bow Hill’s U-Pick operation accounts for 20% of their total crop with 10,000 pounds of berries picked by visitors in 2013. Harley explained how the farm’s different blueberries ‘zones’—U-Pick, kid’s camp, and professional— comply with their HACC P plan, and how the zones control for crosscontamination between U-pickers and professional pickers who harvest berries for all of Bow Hill’s fresh and processed products.
To better understand organic field management practices Harley, consulted with Charlie Anderson, former Sakuma Bros. Farms field manager, who advised they amply apply high-quality compost to help with weed and disease suppression, particularly mummy berry. Harley also utilizes foliar sprays of fish emulsion, potassium, and boron as well as feather meal as the main “calculable” source of nitrogen. For fungal disease control, Charlie suggested using an eradicant as well as a protectant. To control spotted wing drosophila (SWD), Harley showed the group their trapping system, which requires about an hour a day to monitor. Harley also talked about Bow Hill’s irrigation system, procured through a NRC S Equipment Grant, and the various machinery and implements they use. Since the alleyways are fairly narrow, they use a small, Italian tractor that fits between the bushes to reduce fruit loss.
The Soltes realized that for a farm of their size to succeed they would need to produce value-added products. As a result, Bow Hill developed several product lines which they sell at the Bellingham Farmers Market, their farm store, online, and soon at the Pike Place Market. They also sell through the Puget Sound Food Hub. Susan shared that the food hub idea came about when the UW Medical Center contacted them to purchase large quantities of berries. At that point Bow Hill began a relationship with Lucy Norris, marketing director of the Northwest Agriculture Business Center, who coordinates the Puget Sound Food Hub.
Lucy explained how the Puget Sound Food Hub (PSFH) essentially acts as the interface between institutions and farmers. Farmers who utilize the food hub retain brand autonomy while being able to sell products to institutions that otherwise would not be logistically feasible. When Bow Hill was added as an aggregation point, food hub sales increased. Lucy shared that in 2013 PSFH had 82 farms listed with about one-third of those actively utilizing the Bow Hill site and selling to institutions. This year it’s expected that 42 farms will have met the eligibility requirements to sell through the food hub. The Bow Hill system is designed to provide farmers a convenient self-service option for product delivery while freeing the Soltes from any direct oversight.
It’s clear that Susan and Harley have accomplished a great deal in just three years time, and that their partnership with PSFH benefits both their farm and other growers.
Farm Walks are hosted in partnership with the WSU Small Farm Program and are funded in part by grants from the WSDA Specialty Crop Block Grant program and from the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2012- 49400-19575. To find more resources and programs for beginning farmers and ranchers please visit www.Start2Farm.gov.
Summaries by Tilth Producers Staff Angela Anegon and Michele Catalano.
Tags: Blueberries, cheese production, Farm Management, Farm Walks, Food Hubs, Grains, Puget Sound Food Hub