2010 20.4 Tilth Producers of Washington & WSU Small Farms Team 2010 Farm Walk Recap…What You Missed

Here’s a sampling of the topics, crops, & information discussed and demonstrated at some of the 2010 Farm Walks.

Black Sheep Creamery

On a rainy April day, 42 participants joined hosts Meg and Brad Gregory, their intern Danielle, Patty Kaija with Friends of Lewis County Animal Shelter, and co-sponsors Doug Collins (WSU Small Farms Program) and Melissa Barker (Tilth Producers of Washington) for a walk around Black Sheep Creamery and farm.

In an emotionally stirring and somber opening, Brad and Meg recounted their experiences during the 2007 flood; they lost 70 percent of their flock and had to be rescued from their home by boat.

Patty Kaija recounted that 5,000 livestock were killed in Lewis County during the flood. Disaster preparedness was a focus of the farm walk and Patty emphasized the importance of having a plan.

Meg and Brad now have at least two evacuation plans and are confident they could move their sheep to safety at a moment’s notice.

While the flood was devastating, many in the group teared up as Meg and Brad told of the incredible volunteer effort that helped them return their farm to working order.

People arrived with heavy equipment, meals, helping hands, and even new sheep to rebuild the flock. Meg continues to keep in touch with the community through her musings; updates that she posts on their web site about happenings on the farm.

The heavy rain did not stop a hearty group from traversing the pastures with Brad as he talked about his grazing strategy. Other highlights were the Anatolian Shepherd dogs that protect the flock from coyotes and domestic dog predators along with the viewing of cheese production and tasting of their delicious sheep milk cheeses.

Hedlin Farms
La Conner

Farmers Dave Hedlin and Kai Ottesen each took half of the group on a very informative tour of the high tunnels, greenhouses, and machinery. High tunnel management topics included venting, door construction, site suitability, wind issues, cropping, and how to increase heat for summer or long season crops.

Each farm walk group covered the full gamut of greenhouse production for tomato, pepper, eggplant and basil –all premium crops that require extra heat to harvest reliably in the Northwest. The farmers demonstrated unique tying techniques, how to get the most out of one plant and the allotted space, controlling bugs with beneficial insect releases, controlling fungi with cedar chips on the ground and perlite around the base of the plant.

After the greenhouse tour, each group talked about working heavy clay soils with different machines and the virtues/drawbacks of cultipackers, diskers, and rototillers. The two groups met up back in the barn to discuss the pros and cons of different direct marketing systems and generational farm succession. Nash Huber of Nash’s Organic Produce in Sequim contributed to the discussion of how to turn over farm management and ownership to young growers.

Tonnemaker Hill Farm
Royal City

Fifty four people gathered on a bright and sunny, albeit windy day to listen to Kurt and Kole Tonnemaker, third generation farmers, describe their farm origins, evolution to organic production, and current practices. Standing under the newly constructed porch of a large permanent farm stand, Kole expressed mild surprise that people come from all over, right to their farm to buy produce ranging from tomatoes, melons, eggplant, cucumbers, and peppers, up to some 200 varieties in all.

Brother Kurt, who lives in Issaquah, coordinates a booth at 13 farmers’ markets in the greater Seattle area during the season. This requires making three trips back to the farm near Royal City each week to ensure a constant supply Tonnemakers focus on heirloom tomatoes and melons along with over 100 types of apples, pears, Asian pears, peaches, sweet cherries, nectarines, plums, prunes, apricots, and pluots.

In the Columbia Basin irrigation area water flows through canals, making possible extensive crop production, but not without one drawback—wind.

Poplar windbreaks protect orchards while the creative use of straw and old hay enable Tonnemakers to buffet gusts that would otherwise erode the soil and wipe out tender transplants, such as the peppers we saw planted in one area of a pivot irrigation circle.

The curves of the gentle north sloping hillside create its own microclimate of air currents and frosts. Kole explained how they strive to work with the temperatures to plant the most appropriate varieties where the thermometers read the coldest for longer into the spring.

Mulches, low flow irrigation techniques and ground covers were all visible and served as stimulus for discussion. Greenhouses round out the endeavor, permitting them to raise their own seedlings and extend the season of fresh product.

Manuel Mendoza Orchard

There were 19 attendees at the Mendoza Farm Walk this September. Simultaneous Spanish/English translation with the help of Dr. Malaquías Flores of the Small Farms Program and Carey Hunter of Tilth Producers helped ensure all attendees caught the words of hard-won wisdom imparted.

Orchard owner Manuel Mendoza led discussions on weed control options, pollination issues, blossom thinning, irrigation methods, tree training, and apple variety choice.

Pest management in organic tree fruit systems was a hot topic, with Nik Wiman from the WSU Dept. of Entomology leading the science-side of the discussion.

Two destructive pests—codling moth and oblique-banded leafroller—were identified. Controls such as mating disruption and natural enemy conservation were discussed. The group then proceeded to find and identify those small, but numerous soldiers defending Mendoza Orchards and learn how to encourage their presence.

Cristina Alvarez of Northwest Farm Credit Services and Tilth Producers answered questions about crop insurance that arose. Loans and other funding sources were also discussed.

Filaree Farm Walk

On a balmy afternoon in September, 26 farmers and ag professionals learned about on-farm diversity, aquaponics, cooperative marketing, and seed saving at Filaree Farm near Omak.

Watershine Woods, founding farmer of the Okanogan Producers Marketing Association, demonstrated innovative production and marketing practices, including a rotating root washer and garlic storage warehouse.

Participants viewed a new swather in action that breaks down the cell walls of cover crops so they are more bioavailable to improve soil fertility.

The farm is being transitioned into three parts; the orchard and world renowned garlic operations are being purchased by employees, while Watershine will continue to farm the row crops, animals, and hay.

In her 75 – degree tomato greenhouse, a tilapia tank set-up contributes to the farm’s diversity. Water from the fish tank is flushed through a bio-bed of squash and other plants that filter out, use the fish waste, and oxygenate it, which then recycles clean back to the fish tank.

A unique orchard with Russian olive and Siberian pea trees pruned tall for shade and pest management provide biodiversity to attract beneficial insects to help protect the heirloom apples, nectarines, and peaches. Animals contribute to weed control and soil fertility during certain times of the year so no additional fertility is

Farmer Mariah Cornwoman gave a seed saving workshop, discussing the importance of locally-adapted seed.

WSDA’s Patrice Barrentine and Fred Berman from the Small Farm & Direct Marketing program, and NOP organic inspector Jeff Collins were on hand to answer questions and contribute to the discussion.

Don’t Miss the 2011 Farm Walk Season!

Now that you know what you’ve been missing at a Tilth Producers Farm Walk, be sure to keep an eye out for the 2011 schedule coming to member mailboxes next spring.

Tags: Black Sheep Creamery, Farm Walk, Filaree Farm, Hedlin Farms, Manuel Mendoza Orchard, Tonnemaker Hill Farm