Programs explore Western Washington ag water challenges

WSU King County Extension, Snoqualmie Watershed Improvement District, King Conservation District, and King County are sponsoring three workshops covering the challenges ag water management — not enough, too much and flood planning.

All of the programs will be conducted at Sno-Valley Senior Center, 4610 Stephens Ave, Carnation, Wash.

The first program, March 19 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., is entitled “When You Don’t Have Enough.” Speakers will discuss water rights, irrigation techniques and soil moisture monitoring.

Other workshops in the series include:  “When You Have Too Much!,” April 16,  and “Developing a Farm Flood Plan, May 21.

For more information, go to the WSU event site.

All workshops are free, but participants must pre-register to ensure there are enough resources available for all attendees. Register online for any/all of the AWM workshops at For more information, contact Kate Ryan, (425) 357-6024.



Apprenticeships can put young farmers on right track

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Justin Moran had his heart set on farming from the moment he arrived in the United States.

“I wanted to be an active participant in society. I wanted to do good in the world,” Moran said at the 2018 Oregon Small Farms Conference at Oregon State University. “Farming seemed to be the best fit for all those interests I had.”

Moran, 35, met his wife, Teagan, at a farm in his native England before they decided to move back together to her home in Portland in 2013. The couple now manages Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, Ore., a small community in the Willamette Valley.

For several years in between, Moran honed his skills through hands-on fieldwork and apprenticeships at local farms, experiencing everything from 55-hour harvest weeks in the hot summer sun to artificially inseminating pigs during just his second day on the job.

Without that immersion, Moran said he would not have the confidence to manage an entire farm operation so early in his career.

“I literally got thrown in at the deep end,” he said. “We got to develop a whole bunch of practical, hands-on skills on the farm.”

Moran spoke Saturday at the Small Farms Conference as part of a seminar on agricultural internships and apprenticeships. Meghan Fehrman, education program director for Rogue Farm Corps based in Ashland, Ore., said on-farm programs provide valuable training for the next generation of farmers.

The average age of Oregon farmers is approaching 60, Fehrman said, and as those older farmers begin to retire, more than 10 million acres — or 64 percent — or Oregon’s agricultural lands are set to change ownership over the next two decades.

Rogue Farm Corps works with host farms in the Portland metro area, central Oregon, the south Willamette Valley and Rogue Valley to ensure young farmers are ready to take over those operations and keep them in production.

“The aging farmer population is a huge concern across the nation,” Fehrman said. “We’re really in a situation where we’ve got to figure this out.”

As a core member of the National Ag Apprenticeship Learning Network, Fehrman said Rogue Farm Corps has spent the last year and a half sorting out legal and program requirements for farms to host interns and apprentices. The so-called Ag Apprenticeship Toolkit should be released within the next week, she said.

“There’s a lot to consider for these programs,” Fehrman said. “We really want to make sure apprenticeships are upholding that environmental justice part of our work.”

Internships through Rogue Farm Corps run for one season, from April through November, and include between 1,200 and 1,500 hours in the field with a mentor. Apprenticeships are more intensive, lasting two seasons and incorporating more managerial experience and business training.

Moran said he believes the structured framework of an apprenticeship provides a rich experience for both the mentor and the student. But he said it is not for every farm.

“For people considering hosting interns, if you just need labor, it’s not the right idea,” Moran said. “Be prepared to equip yourself with those skills to offer a rich experience.”

OSU Extension agent preaches goals, vision to beginning farmers

CORVALLIS, Ore. — It often begins with a few acres and a dream of living the good life, tied to the earth and in harmony with nature.

But, as Rachel Suits told a room of would-be farmers Saturday, starting a small farm is not easy. The hours are long, the labor strenuous, and it could take years before they see any return on investment.

Suits, who works for Oregon State University Extension Service in the Columbia River Gorge, led a presentation titled “Exploring the Small Farm Dream” as part of the 2018 Oregon Small Farms Conference at the OSU campus in Corvallis.

Roughly 1,000 people maxed out attendance at the daylong conference, with seminars held at the LaSells Stewart Center and CH2M Alumni Center. Suits’ talk was tailored specifically to new or beginning farmers, offering tips and resources on how to get started.

Running a successful farm boils down to three questions, Suits said — What do you want to do? What can you do? and What can you sell?

“That sweet spot is right in the middle,” she said.

First, Suits recommended making a detailed map of the property showing where fields, buildings, fences, roads and water sources are. That, she said, will help determine what is logistically possible on the new farm or ranch.

Water is especially important, since access to irrigation dramatically increases the number of options available to farmers.

“There are still options (for dry farming), but the more high-value crops require irrigation,” Suits said.

Every county has a local watermaster who can tell whether the land has existing water rights. However, Suits said getting new water rights through the Oregon Water Resources Department is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible.

Soil and climate make up the other pieces of the environmental puzzle, Suits said. She praised the Northwest as having some of the best soils in the nation, though beginning farmers should collect soil samples to test for nutrient levels.

Climate, on the other hand, varies widely in Oregon, from the dry and frosty east side to the rainy, more temperate Willamette Valley. Micro-climates also form around slopes and valleys, which can trap cold air and moisture in pockets.

In addition to understanding the environment, Suits emphasized having a concrete vision and goals for success.

“There is nothing worse than going to work every day and hating it because your skills don’t match up,” she said.

Depending on the individual, a farm may grow crops or livestock. It may be organic or conventional. It may emphasize tradition, or pursue innovation. Those decisions are informed by the farmer’s values.

“Your values really play a role in your vision,” Suits said.

Of course, the economics of farming are also inescapable, Suits added. Beginning farmers must know how long they can afford to wait before turning a profit, while understanding and adapting to changing markets.

“My best advice for you is to start small and learn,” Suits said.

Heyona Cho, 28, said she is interested in eventually starting a farm but is still in the process of developing her own goals.

Cho, who was born in South Korea and raised in California, is an apprentice at Unity Farm in Northeast Portland, part of the Oregon Food Bank, which seeks to train farmers and break down racial barriers. She attended the Small Farms Conference to learn more about resources available to her.

“I think the most important message I’m taking is there are a lot of resources out there,” Cho said. “I just need to reach out.”

The conference began Saturday morning with a rousing pep talk from Javier Zamora, of JSM Organic Farms in Aromas, Calif., who was on hand to discuss the role of Latino farmers in the growing Northwest organic movement.

During his introductory remarks, Zamora said he is not against big farming — the country needs to grow a lot of food to feed the world. But he said they also need a lot more small farmers who can make a difference in their communities.

“It’s really difficult. It’s not easy,” Zamora said. “If you have the passion, and you’re willing to put in the hours, you will make it happen.”

Funding available for NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants

Federal grants are available through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to help farmers and ranchers develop tools, technologies and strategies for conservation on working lands.

The NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants program is intended to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches in each of six project categories: energy, climate change mitigation and adaptation, plant health, soil quality, wildlife habitat and water quality or quantity. Funding for the grants comes from the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Up to $250,000 is available in Oregon for eligible landowners, local and state governments, tribes and non-governmental organizations. The deadline to apply is Friday, April 6.

Ronald Alvarado, NRCS Oregon state conservationist, said the Conservation Innovation Grants, or CIGs, are critical for developing science, technology and innovative tools to address natural resource concerns.

“CIG helps bridge the gap between initial product development and taking that product or approach to market,” Alvarado said. “The overall goal is to incorporate new innovations into NRCS technical manuals and make them available to the agricultural community.”

Applicants can request up to $75,000, with at least a 50 percent non-federal match that can be cash or in-kind work. Projects must be within Oregon and may be area-based or statewide in scope.

Since 2009, Oregon CIG has awarded $2.3 million in competitive grants. More information about the program is available online at

For questions about the application process, contact CIG Program Manager Loren Unruh at 503-414-3235 or email

Small apple growers disappear as industry grows

GRANDVIEW, Wash. — Concord grapes, part of his family’s farm for 75 years, grow on one side of his driveway, but on the other they’ve been replaced with a year-old planting of the new state apple, Cosmic Crisp, which Frank Lyall sees as an investment in the future.

“The Concords go to Welch’s. They’re hardly a high value crop anymore. People are taking them out,” says Lyall, 60, who farms in the Lower Yakima Valley, where in 1915 his great grandfather began with prunes, hay and cattle.

There was a time when the Lyalls’ operation, which now includes 450 acres near Grandview and Mattawa, would have been considered large. Today, it’s small, and like so many other small growers in Central Washington, Lyall looks at the mounting pressures that have knocked some of them out of business and wonders how long they will survive.

There’s the shortage of labor and its increasing cost. The cost of mechanization. The growth of government regulations. Then there’s the cost of replanting with new apple varieties, usually around $30,000 per acre. Combined, they make the viability of small-scale tree fruit farms daunting.

Orchards shrink

The numbers are equally daunting. In 1925, 46,240 Washington farms grew apples. By 2012, only 2,839 remained, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture.

Lyall, who is president of the Yakima County Farm Bureau, believes some of the region’s large tree fruit companies, which grow, pack and sell their own fruit in addition to fruit from small independent growers like himself, would be just as happy if more small growers disappeared.

Some people share that view. Others dispute it.

“It’s been said that yesterday’s 60-acre grower is today’s 600-acre grower and tomorrow’s 6,000-acre grower,” Lyall said.

Ever-thinning profit margins contribute to 4.3 percent fewer principal farm operators in the U.S. between the last two U.S. agricultural censuses of 2007 and 2012. The shrinkage was greater for Washington apple growers, whose ranks dropped 7 percent during that time.

“It’s remarkable to me how many farmers have hundreds of acres or smaller and are going concerns but don’t seem to have anyone in their families who want to take over when they retire,” he said. He doesn’t plan to retire. His brother, Charles Lyall, runs the farm in Mattawa. His nephew, Jim Lyall, works with him in Grandview.

Some 120 miles to the north in East Wenatchee, Susan Droz Rankin, 71, and her brother Paul Marker, 68, sold their small orchards, totaling about 16 acres, a few months ago because they wanted to retire, no one in their families wanted to farm and regulations, costs and a shortage of labor continued to erode profits.

“In 2005, we had people stopping in looking for work. In recent years, no one has. It’s been a real struggle to find people, and we even increased our wages to higher than H-2A (foreign guestworker) piece and hourly rates,” Rankin said.

Food safety paperwork is “overwhelming” and mechanization and variety replacement is too costly, she said. New pesticides that are softer on the environment have to be applied more often, adding more costs, she said.

“Farming used to be a lot of fun. The whole family got out and worked from dawn to dusk and enjoyed it, especially at harvest,” Rankin said. “Now all these issues have taken some of the fun out of it.”

About 135 miles farther north, near the U.S.-Canadian border town of Oroville, Dave Taber, owner-operator of 275 acres of tree fruit, said he has been questioning his survival for years, largely due to less labor availability and higher costs.

“Small growers have been in decline in most commodities. Lack of capital to modernize and the burden of regulations hits them hardest and discourages their children from taking over,” said Desmond O’Rourke, a retired Washington State University agricultural economist.

“There are specialized niches where small growers can shine if they can get the capital. They can’t make it on low-priced mainstream varieties,” he said.

Apple history

A closer look at Census of Agriculture numbers shows 27,150 Washington farms producing apples in 1910, increasing to 35,535 in 1920 and 46,240 in 1925. The Great Depression hit them hard, and many growers went bankrupt. Federal loans eventually helped save the industry.

USDA also recommended the formation of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association, which started in Wenatchee in 1941 and tracked fruit prices, which helped growers and packers determine prices.

But the biggest drop was from 35,571 farms in 1950 to 10,318 just four years later.

“The U.S. economy was booming after World War II. It was the only world economic power. A lot of people got out of farming, not just apples, but all farming, to make more money in the cities. It was a huge societal shift,” O’Rourke said.

The 1989 Alar scare — a suspicion that the pre-harvest growth regulator caused cancer — crashed apple sales and prices and caused another multi-year decline in the ranks of growers. So did poor returns in the late 1990s.

“I don’t think small growers ever recovered from the Alar panic. That really shifted the economic model. It ended the industry dominance of the small family farmer and the co-op (grower-owned packing cooperative) model,” Lyall said.

A different era

“It used to be a farm family was a basic unit of labor or production in a tree fruit operation. A man and wife and kids could run 30 to 60 acres and do most of the work themselves, hire help at harvest and make a living. It’s become increasingly difficult to do that,” Lyall said.

“Towns, once prosperous middle class communities on tree fruit, are now less than that. They’re reliant on government assistance programs. There’s a general decline in the social health of communities as we see more crime and social dysfunction. That’s been the tragedy of the whole thing,” he said.

The shift has impacted whole communities, he said.

“It use to be Wenatchee was the Apple Capital of the World and was a very attractive small city on the banks of the Columbia, a desirable place to live,” Lyall said. “I would say the apple capital now is Mattawa, but no one wants to move to Mattawa. It’s a town significantly below average income and socio-economic levels.”

Consolidation of retailers has forced the consolidation of the tree fruit industry and the new model is about a dozen large companies controlling around 80 percent of production and sales. Large companies are better equipped to deal with labor, mechanization and replanting costs and government regulations, but “it’s coming at a large socio-economic cost to the farming communities of Central Washington and it’s a subject no one wants to touch with a 10-foot pole,” Lyall said.

Regulations have always been the bane of small growers because they take the focus away from growing fruit and reduce nimbleness, he said.

Larger retailers favor food safety regulations but aren’t willing to pass increased costs on to consumers, he said.

He credits President Donald Trump with rolling back regulations that, he says, grew the most under presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

It’s also ironic that big companies complain about outside investors driving up land prices even as they partner with them to buy more land and plant more trees to have enough fruit volume for new packing lines, making land unaffordable, causing overproduction and consolidation, he said.

Will small survive?

Will small apple growers someday be gone and a few large companies grow, pack and sell all the fruit?

Lyall says it’s hard to know, and that it depends on what government and large buyers want, since they created the current economic model.

Michael Butler, CEO of Cascadia Capital, a Seattle investment bank, believes most small growers will eventually die out and six to eight large companies will remain. A few small growers will survive if they have a niche product and link up with a large company that can distribute their fruit, he said.

The best model, he said, is the large company growing, packing and selling mostly its own fruit with the remainder from small growers.

“We find a lot of mid-sized companies filling 30 percent of their volume with their own fruit and 70 percent with fruit of small growers. These companies are in the danger zone,” Butler said.

As independent growers go away, those mid-size companies need more fruit and are borrowing to buy land and make or buy orchards, he said.

“The big vertically integrated (grow, pack and sell their own fruit) companies are just as happy if the small growers go away. The mid-sized vertically integrated not so much, as they need to replace the fruit,” Butler said.

Chuck Zeutenhorst, general manager of First Fruits Marketing of Washington in Yakima, said he’s not aware of any large companies that want their small growers gone.

“It’s a competitive industry but there’s a lot of goodwill,” he said.

Companies have wonderful partnerships with independent growers and “there is a general feeling that we want everyone to be profitable,” he said.

First Fruits is the sales arm of Broetje Orchards, of Prescott, and two other companies. Zeutenhorst, 61, grew up on an orchard, and said that years ago growers were the industry kings but now have taken a backseat to marketing. Small growers suffered from the loss of generic domestic promotions when the Washington Apple Commission lost its domestic authority in 2003, he said.

“In the short term, with the level of worldwide apple production coming at us, I think times are coming that could be very difficult. Will the industry be dominated by four to six large companies? I think there’s a chance of that. I don’t want it to happen,” Zeutenhorst said. “In the long term, I think the small grower may make a comeback.”

The industry is becoming saturated with new varieties to be sold domestically while domestic consumption is not increasing and varieties that do well for export are being reduced, he said.

Overall volume is substantially increasing and “at some point something has to give. It reminds me of the federal debt,” he said.

Development costs of new varieties are “incredible” and only large, vertically integrated companies can afford them, he said.

Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association in Yakima, said consolidation is a natural economic trend in any industry as it grows but that small growers won’t totally vanish.

Lots of towns had breweries 60 years ago, he said. Consolidation reduced them to a few big companies and now small craft breweries represent a new variation of small hometown breweries.

“It’s hard to predict what will happen because there are broader economic trends that drive what happens. There’s a lot of pressure to get fruit marketed through fewer channels because large retailers want to deal with fewer suppliers,” DeVaney said.

Consolidation may be disrupted, he said, by Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, increasing fruit sales via the internet.

There are immediate efficiencies to large companies growing their own fruit and it gives them dependable supply, but then they also have tremendous capital tied up in land, which may not be efficient, he said.

“I hear companies talk about the importance of maintaining close relationships with independent growers. A good producer who can produce quality is an asset,” DeVaney said.

But Lyall maintains the consolidation of four industry organizations four years ago to form the Tree Fruit Association “was designed to help small growers go away” because their voice was significantly reduced with the loss of the Washington Growers Clearing House Association, on whose board he served.

“If large companies wanted small growers they would have left Growers Clearing House in place because they would have recognized the importance of independent growers having an independent voice in the industry,” he said.

DeVaney replied that consolidation occurred throughout the Clearing House’s existence and the merger of the four organizations was not designed to force small growers out.

“The focus is to provide services to all growers. Five of 13 board seats are set aside for independent growers and there are more growers than packers,” DeVaney said. “We try our best to represent all and there is more that unites us in common interests than divides us.”

Networking, internships, education help farmers get started

MABEL, Ore. — Like most farmers, Shelley Bowerman and Dan Schuler started small.

An initial passion for food sparked the pair’s interest in food production. Bowerman wanted to increase her access to high-quality, local and organic food. Schuler had already begun gardening and growing food. They met in the University of Oregon’s Urban Farm Program and realized they had similar interests.

“It snowballs until you find yourself wanting to pursue different niches in the industry; you find yourself as a producer,” Schuler said. “You fall in love with the seasonal ebbs and flows of growing food.”

As new farmers take root and established farms transfer land within families, there’s space for a new generation of farmers, Melissa Fery, a Oregon State University Extension small farms agent, said. While many resources are available for new producers, Fery said educational programs are important to cover the fundamentals.

In the past, the OSU Small Farms Program hosted a farm planning series, “Exploring the Small Farms Dream,” and assembled focus groups designed to assess the needs of beginning farmers.

“The idea is to get more information from people who have been farming in recent years,” Fery said. “How they got involved, the biggest questions they had starting out, what they needed to learn first, and where they found information. We’re looking for gaps and ways we can improve programs.”

Bowerman and Schuler both attended the latest focus group held on Feb. 8, as well as gatherings such as Saturday’s OSU Small Farm Conference every year.

They are about to start they’re third season at Moondog’s Farm, and have a long-term lease on a 42 acres northeast of Eugene and Springfield nestled next to the Mohawk River. The farm runs on a community supported agriculture model and grows organic vegetables and wholesale seeds.

The farm has three priorities: contributing to the conservation of wild habitat, co-existing with habitat while ensuring food production and bringing in the community.

The two agree that beyond educational programs, Moondog’s Farm couldn’t have gotten started without the network of farmers surrounding them.

“We meet people on a regular basis who are market gardeners and it’s just them,” Schuler said. “They have to be in charge of all the production and marketing. It sounds like a nightmare. One thing I feel really fortunate for is having a community that supports us.”

He said they have also leaned on other established farmers, in terms of bulk purchasing and borrowing equipment.

The biggest challenges they’ve had has been breaking into the industry, finding a market and learning the nuances, Schuler said. Bowerman added that the “classic farmer conundrum,” when the expenses happen before the income does, is trying as well.

“It’s having the faith that the bit of investment will pay off,” she said. “It’s something I grapple with for sure, but I have a lot of trust in what we’re doing and the people around us.”

Bowerman said that everything she learned came from other farmers.

“I mean everything,” she elaborated. “Everything I know is from other people.”

Cultivating these relationships takes maintenance, Schuler said, and it’s important to be active in the farming community. Mentor relationships can become even more valuable down the road.

Finding these mentors through networking is another benefit to attending educational seminars, especially because Oregon has many types of farms from which to learn.

“When you think about educational needs, it’s very diverse,” Fery, of OSU’s Small Farms Program, said. “(Farmers) bring in their own skill set. They’re great at one thing, but need help with another.”

For that reason, Schuler finds internships or working at farms part-time to be especially valuable.

“You see the progression of their systems and how their overhead works,” he said. “When it comes time to build your own systems, you have four to five different models so you’re not building from scratch. We draw bits that are applicable to what we do.”

Although Schuler said they are engaged with local programs, he said the best way to learn to farm is by doing it.

Computer programmer creates future of small farming

ATHOL, Idaho — Luke Black has big plans for his small farm.

He and his wife, Emily, even use the process of “mining” cryptocurrency — digital currencies such as Bitcoin — to heat their chicken coop. They have installed the computer “miner” on the wall and use fans to blow the heat into the coop to keep their chickens warm.

Market garden beds on their 10-acre farm will soon have sensors that send data about the crops to a server in his house. A full-time computer programmer, Black wrote the server software and designed and built their irrigation controller.

He also wants to develop artificial intelligence that would take information about the soil, crops, marketplace and weather and automatically make decisions about the farm, alerting employees about work that needs to be done.

“Sorry, farm managers of the world, but if I can replace that job with a computer, then I don’t have to pay that and that’s more money for the workers and for us,” he said.

Luke, 36, spent most of his childhood on his grandparents’ farm outside Rathdrum in northern Idaho. Emily, 32, comes from a cattle ranch in Montana.

Luke raises hops and heritage grains. Emily likes the market garden and raising chickens for eggs.

“Anything to make our lives easier with technology, I’m completely on board with that,” Emily said, calling herself the “supporter” in Luke’s plans for the farm. “I help with anything, but that’s not my passion. Mine’s digging in the dirt and being on the ground with (the chickens).”

Luke eventually hopes to reach tech-level salaries while farming. He says many other computer programmers are also interested in farming.

“All of us younger, millennial tech guys are realizing we can’t be in the tech world much longer,” he said. “It’s hard on your body, sitting all day, working those hours and stress. The problem is you can’t make a living farming.”

Large agriculture uses some IoT — the initials for the Internet of Things — connecting physical devices to the internet, but it’s difficult to get cost-effective information about crops in small-scale farming, he said.

“Small farms are not extremely profitable, but what Luke is developing can be affordable for the small farm,” said Colette DePhelps, a University of Idaho Extension area educator for community food systems in Moscow.

“Luke is a farmer doing the development side of it, so he gets agriculture,” she said. “That’s going to create a responsiveness in the system that might not happen if it came from the technological sector (and) folks who did not have experience in agriculture.”

Luke sees a “revolution in the making.” The farmers of the future will be programmers, he said.

“I don’t think you’re going to be able to be a successful farmer without knowing how to code,” he said. “Whether people like it or not, what’s going to end up happening is people like me are going to get robots on the fields that can run 24 hours a day, that don’t take a break, and can produce things far cheaper than most people will be able to do.”

His next step is to put devices in the field to send data back to his servers using a wireless Wi-Fi signal.

“There’s a big hole in the market for small-scale guys, there’s no real good sensor packages that we could use to do this,” he said. “I’m not an electrical engineer by any means, it’s just a hobby. But I’m doing it all myself because there’s nothing out there right now.”

Black is not interested in designing such technology himself.

“I don’t want it to be me, I want to be a farmer,” he said.

Tough challenges face ‘new agrarians’

Caleb Howard is young, full of ideas and ready to be a rancher. The only thing standing in his way is land.

Howard was one of a number of panelists who were part of the discussion of issues in Winter Fishtrap’s Young Agrarians event Feb. 16-18.

Some have access to family land and can avoid the cost of having to purchase property. Howard is not one of them.

He painted a frustrating picture for potential ranchers who do not have the luxury of leasing smaller acreage for their agricultural dreams.

“My parents are not going to be ready to release management for another 20-30 years,” he said. “Retirement begins with a six-foot hole in the ground.”

Howard would like to have several hundred acres and a grazing allotment.

“I’ve looked into buying land,” he said. “It’s not hard to get a loan — but it’s hard paying it back,” he said.

In the meantime, he is managing land with a “side hustle” of marketing 1,000 head of cattle per year — for others.

He also keeps 20 cows of his own.

“I probably ought to just sell them — but I enjoy them,” he said.

Despite his success as a manager, his goal is to be ranching his own land.

Nella Parks of Cove, who operates a vegetable production business on half an acre and Mary Hawkins of Wallowa, who operates a small meat processing business, Hawkins Sisters Ranch Chickens, were also panelists.

The trajectory toward sustainable farming included years of education, internships at several different agricultural businesses along the way, the assistance of family and neighboring farmer and ranchers, the volunteer labor of extended family, and numerous “side hustles” or day jobs to raise money to keep the farm going.

The reward was worth the effort, both women said.

Hawkins benefited from access to third generation family farmland and relatively low startup cost, she said. Parks is also on family land she leases and opened her greenhouses with a Natural Resources Conservation Grant.

“My whole story would not have been possible in another place outside this community,” Parks said. “I had so much help in Cove. People who have spent 30-40 years in agriculture just wanted to give me their knowledge. They had no one coming along behind them.”

Hawkins is the only small (under 20,000 birds) chicken farm and processing plant operating in Oregon — but a small operation that feeds nonGMO, locally sourced, custom chicken feed has high costs.

“My chicken costs five times more than meat in the grocery store,” Hawkins said. “But my customers know me and my chickens are healthy and happy. My customers are on a list for chickens. I sell out all the time.”

Breakout sessions that followed the panels allowed for brainstorming of solutions to the problems presented and swapping information. Land trusts, formal lease agreements between private individuals, the possibility of putting philosophically-motivated investors together with young agrarians, new lending models being presented by banks, developing intern programs and developing educational opportunities were considered.

The program sought to answer the questions: Who are the new generation of farmers? What are the barriers to begin farming today? And How has farming and ranching changed over the past 30 years?

Turns out three days was not enough to solve all the problems, including the issue of succession –– who will be tomorrow’s farmers?

In Oregon, agricultural land makes up 25 percent of the state –– 16.3 million acres –– but in the next 20 years, 64 percent of those lands will change hands.

By one estimate, 80 percent of farmers do not have a succession plan: no one in the family is willing to continue the farm and they know of no one who can purchase the farm and continue operation.

Oregon’s farmland is in danger of fragmentation, and once land is subdivided, it soon becomes lost to agriculture, permanently.

There are significant financial barriers.

“Student debt crushes the ability to get started at anything,” said Kate Greenberg of National Young Farmers Coalition, one of the Winter Fishtrap speakers. Studies have shown that student loan debt is the second greatest obstacle to land ownership.

“You probably aren’t going to own land for a long time. None of us are going to have the same trajectory that the generation before us had,” Greenberg said.

Fishtrap leadership declared the event a resounding success.

“Everyone who attended walked away with something new,” executive director Shannon McNerney. “This is just what we hoped for.”

Presenters came from a variety of fiends and backgrounds.

“We’ve got people from the full spectrum here in Wallowa County. Ranchers who have been here for generations and newcomers,” McNerney said. “That diversity of experience and knowledge is what we wanted (to present) when we brought back Winter Fishtrap.”

Around 75 mostly from Washington and Oregon attended.

Mid-Valley Winter Ag Fest returns

The Third Annual Mid-Valley Winter Ag Fest returns to the Polk County Fairgrounds and Event Center in Rickreall, Ore., this weekend.

The slate of family friendly events begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, when the fairgrounds and the Polk Heritage Museum open to the public, and continues through Sunday, Feb. 25, according to a press release from the organizers.

The weekend event will be preceded at 8 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, with a free CORE pesticide training for applicators presented by Oregon State University Extension and Polk County Farm Bureau in Building B. Breakfast is included.

A “Grower to Grazier Connections” workshop will be presented at 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, by the Polk County Soil and Water Conservation District. Livestock and horse owners will learn about the many grass, legume and other kinds of seed available for high quality forage production. RSVP to or 503-623-9680 ext. 101 to reserve a light dinner.

At 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, a special screening of the “Food Evolution” movie will be presented by Polk County Women for Agriculture with refreshments provided.

Weekend workshops include:

Saturday, Feb. 24

2 p.m.: “Living with Your Well Water.” Main Building Seminar Area. Free of charge with a $5 adult admission to Ag Fest. Host: Polk SWCD. Bring a cup of your well or domestic drinking water for confidential nitrate sampling.

3-4 p.m.: “Streamside Restoration on Your Farm.” Main Building Seminar Area. Free of charge w/$5 adult admission to Ag Fest. Host: Polk and Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District. Tips for success and funding opportunities.

Sunday, Feb. 25

11 a.m.-1 p.m.: “Farm Succession Planning Workshop.” Main Building Seminar Area. Free of charge with a $5 adult admission to Ag Fest. Hosts: Rogue Farm Corps (Nellie McAdams), Schwabe Williamson (Joe Hobson), Greenbelt Land Trust (Claire Feigner) and two local farmers.

2 p.m.: “Living with Your Septic System.” Main Building Seminar Area. Free of charge with a $5 adult admission to Ag Fest. Host: Chrissy Lucas of OSU Extension. Bring a cup of your well or domestic drinking water for confidential nitrate sampling.

3-4 p.m.: Streamside Restoration on Your Farm. Main Building Seminar Area. Host: Yamhill Soil and Water Conservation District, Marc Bell and Josh Togstad.

Family attractions at Winter Ag Fest include an expanded 4-H petting zoo, a new balloon installation by Joy Entertainers, a “G” train display and a working sawmill; demonstrations all weekend long by the 4-H horse club; roping demonstrations by the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association; Dutch oven cooking; and free face painting.

Local 4-H clubs will also offer fun contests in Building B during the weekend.

Early spring plants and advice will also be available from the OSU master gardeners.

For additional information go to

Weekend hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25.

Adult admission is $5. Children 18 and under are free.

UI Extension course helps owners manage small acreages

University of Idaho Extension offers a one-day program to help owners of small rural acreages manage their land.

“Ten Acres and a Dream” will be March 16 in Sandpoint and March 17 in Hayden.

Topics to be covered include: living on the land — a great American tradition; homesteading infrastructure; growing fruits, vegetables and other crops on small acreages; working with county government; raising large and small livestock and managing pastures on small acreages and Idaho panhandle forestry fundamentals. Three UI master volunteers will share their Idaho rural living experiences.

The new program was the idea of the Master Forest Stewards, according to UI Extension.

The stewards were interacting with many landowners new to a rural setting, said Chris Schnepf, extension educator for forestry with UI Extension in Coeur d’Alene.

“Even simple things like, ‘How do you make contact with your neighbors?’” he said. “Sometimes you live in a rural area and someone pulls up in a pickup, some landowners are a little suspicious … or when you get out of the car and there’s nobody there, kind of shout something out. Basically the idea is making your presence known, not just surprising somebody in their backyard. People move out to rural settings for a variety of reasons. One of them often is privacy.”

Program enrollment is limited to 75 participants per session. Pre-registration is encouraged, no later than March 9. A $15 registration fee includes resource materials and refreshments.

“My gut instinct is we’re probably going to go to max capacity and end up repeating it down the road in different locations,” Schnepf said.

Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai and Benewah counties collectively have more than 1.5 million acres of private lands, 47.5 percent of all lands in those counties, according to UI Extension.

Schnepf said the program will emphasize how to do right by the land, managing weeds and creeks, and addressing a wide variety of different visions for landowners.

“Giving them a little bit of traction for making those things a reality,” he said.

For registration questions on the Sandpoint session, contact the University of Idaho Extension office in Bonner County at (208) 263-8511. For registration questions on the Hayden session, contact the University of Idaho Extension in Kootenai County at (208) 446-1680. Registration forms can also be downloaded at