Webinar explores beneficial insects for biological control in vineyards

Oregon Tilth and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service are hosting a free, one-hour webinar on biological pest controls for vineyards.

The webinar will be April 3 from noon to 1 p.m. PST.

“Vineyards are a rapidly expanding specialty crop industry across the U.S., and they represent an easy entry point for the adoption of conservation biological control (natural or ecological pest management). In this webinar, learn about the needs of beneficial insects that provide conservation biological control and how conservation practices such as flowering cover crops, insectary strips, flowering field borders and more that can sustain natural pest management.”

The webinar will be presented by Thelma Heidel-Baker, conservation biological control specialist, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Random Lake, Wis.

For information on how to join the webinar, click here.


Passion drives small farmer’s aspirations

EAST WENATCHEE, Wash. — It’s just dirt right now, but soon Nate Perkins will be discing the ground for the start of his fourth season as a small-scale urban farmer.

It’s not Seattle or Portland, but his 14 acres surrounded by new housing is about as urban a farm as you can get in this city of 13,000 people on the banks of the Columbia River.

Perkins is among thousands of aspiring farmers in the Pacific Northwest and across the nation who are thriving on small acreages by selling their crops directly to local consumers, often with a side serving of entertainment courtesy of a petting zoo, corn maze, hay ride or other family entertainment.

The USDA defines small farms as generating less than $350,000 in annual gross receipts and on which the owner works. In Washington state, 35,269 farms — or 90 percent of the total — are defined as small.

Kellie Henwood, a regional coordinator of Washington State University’s Small Farms Program, said agritourism — including the other activities besides a farm stand selling crops — is a way for small farm operators to diversify their income sources.

“More and more people are looking for opportunities to connect with their food source, either locally or in their travels,” Henwood said. “Agritourism has shown that farmers are constantly innovating and adapting and without a doubt contributing to the economic development in their communities.”

But what makes Perkins’ small farm unique is its location — smack dab in the middle of a new housing development and just outside the city limits. Instead of the city growing up around an existing farm, he chose the location to take advantage of its easy access to customers. Visibility is good for selling produce right out of the field, as he does, because it’s a high-traffic spot on the south side of four-lane Grant Road leading to the regional Pangborn Memorial Airport. New homes line South Mary Avenue to the west and will soon populate the nearby 207-lot Maryhill Estates subdivision to the south and east. The development will include 96 apartment units and 5 acres for businesses.

Good neighbor

The entire area used to be apple orchards. Perkins’ 14 acres went fallow for years. Pumpkins were grown on a small part of it for a couple of years as a school fundraiser.

Perkins, 41, a fruit salesman for one of Washington’s largest fruit marketers, Chelan Fresh Marketing, wondered why someone didn’t do something bigger.

“I saw it as a massive opportunity,” he said. “The perfect location.”

He views the current and coming housing as a big asset, providing plenty of potential produce customers. And the developers like his farm.

“It’s great. It’s a nice activity for the community during Halloween and he makes nice produce so it’s a win-win for everybody,” said Jason Gaul, a Maryhill Estates partner.

In 2015, Perkins leased the 14 acres and with the help of his then-girlfriend, Annie Weaver, started Annie’s Fun Farm, growing and selling pumpkins, squash, melons and offering family entertainment in the form of a corn maze, an apple sling shot, a big dragon castle bounce house and hay rides.

After a second season, Perkins bought 11 acres, continued leasing 3 acres and entered a third season as sole owner of the business, keeping the name Annie’s Fun Farm.

County records show Perkins paid $825,000 for the 11 acres — that’s $75,000 an acre — and $355,000 for an adjoining home on 1 acre.

Gaul said he and his partners had previously looked at buying the ground as part of their development, but it was too expensive.

Perkins acknowledges that some may think him to be a “little nuts” to spend so much to grow vegetables, when he could have found cheaper ground farther away from town.

But it wouldn’t have been the same, he said. Elsewhere, neighbors couldn’t have seen their food growing right next door. To him, that’s what “makes it cool.”

“It’s a passion. Something I enjoy,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have a good career and so I can buy some land and do this.”

Affinity for farming

Perkins was born in Toledo, Ohio, and from the age of 10 grew up in Loveland, Colo. His mom worked in banking and his father in construction, but his great-grandparents, on both sides, had farms and as a youngster he helped plant crops.

“We always had family gardens and my mom canned our baby food,” he said.

One of Perkins’ first jobs was in a King Soopers grocery store, a Colorado chain owned by Kroger, one of the nation’s largest food retailers. He worked in produce and stayed with the company during and after college. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in restaurant and resort management at Colorado State University in 2000.

Perkins ascended in the Kroger corporation and in 2005 was assigned to Wenatchee as the company’s national buyer of apples, pears and cherries.

Chelan Fresh Marketing was a client he bought fruit from and in 2010, the company recruited him to join its domestic sales desk.

“I love produce. I’ve always loved and missed the retail side of it, working with the consumer. So this kind of fits in with that,” he said of his small farm.

He gets that direct contact with consumers by selling about 95 percent of what he grows right out of the field in a temporary stand he puts up and takes down each season. The rest of his crop is sold to other produce stands in the area.

“I have a vision of having a fruit stand and sustainable small farm. Growing unique varieties that taste good. Not necessarily high-yielding but good quality and flavor,” Perkins said.

He realizes he’s a bit of an anomaly — someone who works for and believes in corporate agriculture but also works in and believes in small farming and the local food movement.

“I like the idea of supporting the local community in general and bringing the community closer together,” he said. “The farm becomes part of the community and helps build a sense of community.

“A lot of people thank us for being here because it’s fun for the family. It’s outside. People come and spend hours. People come from Seattle and buy stuff. They say they like the flavor of the fruits and vegetables from this area.”

But his goal isn’t to create solely a tourist destination, but to be a part of and serve the local community — a place where people can see their food growing and get to know the people growing it.

The season

The season starts with tilling, discing and ground prep, adding a base layer of fertilizer and making growing beds with plastic mulch and drip tape irrigation. Transplanted tomatoes, peppers and onions are the first to be planted in May.

Strawberries he planted last year will produce their first crop this year. He grows several varieties of watermelon and cantaloupe, 20 varieties of hard squash, a large variety of summer squash, pumpkins, all sorts of cucumbers, a range of chili peppers, sweet corn, egg plant, tomatillo, onions, basil, cilantro and other crops.

“Half of my customers are Mexican so I have people working here who are bilingual,” he said. “I cater to the whole community.”

He adds entertainment in October to attract even more customers. In addition to the bounce house and apple sling shot, he has a corn maze and petting zoo with miniature ponies, goats, turkeys and chickens.

The only pesticide he uses is to combat worms in his sweet corn. He’s fought aphids with lady bugs and wants to move toward greater use of cover crops to replace fertilizers and keep weeds down.

“Buying seeds is cheaper than buying chemicals,” he said.

His farm is not organic. If it were, he would have to spray more often since organic sprays are “soft,” he said. Neighbors have asked about his sprays but haven’t complained about the noise from his 75-horsepower John Deere tractor.

“They probably get as much noise from Grant Road as they do from my tractor,” he said. “The only complaints have been about dust so we try to make sure not to be doing field work when it’s dry and the wind is blowing hard.”

He bought a corn seeder from Kallstrom Corn in Ephrata, Wash., but plants and harvests everything else by hand, employing up to six people at the season’s peak.

Parking can get crowded on busy weekends in October, but he picks crops inward from South Mary Avenue to make room for parking in the field. Neighbors Howard and Steve Delp allow 20 to 30 cars to park at their place to help out.

“We love having the farm here. He does an excellent job and every year is trying to make improvements like more drip irrigation and less overhead,” said Howard Delp.

“You couldn’t have a nicer fellow for a neighbor and he has a real passion for what he does,” Delp said. “Anything we can do to help him out, we do.”

Profitability

Sales continue from August through October. He sells melons by the pound and sweet corn by the ear, $6 to $8 per dozen. Mini-pumpkins are $2, larger ones are $12 and giant pumpkins go for $25 to $50 each.

Perkins smiled when asked about profitability.

“We’re not even close to being profitable if you add in the cost of the land,” he said. “A goal is to get annual revenues to service the land debt. I do have a joy for it. I like doing it, but I want it to pay for itself and I think long-term as I build up the retail side it can be very profitable, but it will take a lot of years to get there.”

He won’t make it, he said, on an August through October sales season. He would like to turn his field into a Christmas tree lot in November and December to augment income but hasn’t done so yet.

“I do not have any partners or investors. I put my life savings into the purchase and still have a sizable debt,” he said. “I barely broke even on operations last year even though sales were up 70 percent and have increased each year.”

His advice for others: “Have a good day job. Like anything, you have to be in it because you love doing it.”


UI Extension offers ‘Rural Land Purchasing 101’

The University of Idaho Extension will present a primer for people interested in buying rural property April 12.

Rural Land Purchasing” will be presented from 6 to 9 p.m. PDT at Sacajawea Hall SAC 144 at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston.

Rural Land Purchasing is designed to inform prospective purchasers of rural property about the significant factors that make purchasing rural land more complex than buying the typical house in town. Issues such as water rights, well drilling, easements, financing, location, government assistance programs, and appraising rural land value are only some of the topics that will be covered. Whether it is five acres or five hundred, or whether you’re buying a weekend recreational escape, or planning on starting an agricultural operation, purchasing land is one of the largest single investments most people will ever make, and this workshop is designed to provide the information and contacts to resources needed to make a good investment decision.

Cost is $15 per person or $20 per household (limit 2). Make checks payable to “UI Extension Workshop Fund.” Send registration form and payment to: 2200 Michigan Ave., Orofino, ID 83544. Call the UI Extension office at 208-476-4434 or email clearwater@uidaho.edu to request detailed program information.


WSU Clark County Extension to host small farm expo

Workshops on topics such as controlling weeds, maintaining pastures and raising goats will be presented at the 13th annual Small Acreage Expo on April 14 in Vancouver, Wash.

Washington State University Clark County Extension organizes the expo. Amber Lefstead, the extension’s small acreage program coordinator, said about 120 people typically attend.

She said that many own 5 to 10 acres, and about half are farming and the others are interested in starting. The expo draws people mostly from Clark County and the Portland area, she said.

“We always have a good turnout,” Lestead said. “People who come seem really happy with it.”

Besides workshops, the expo will have representatives from organizations, such as the local conservation district and farmers’ markets, available to talk with landowners.

The expo will be from 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at the Heritage Farm, 1919 N.E. 78th St., Vancouver.

The advance registration fee is $15. The fee on the day of the expo will be $25. Those who register by April 10 will receive a free box lunch.

For more information and to register online, go to expo2018.brownpapertickets.com.

Here is the schedule:

Session A: 9 to 10:15 a.m.

• Managing grazing for sustainable pastures, Gary Fredricks, WSU Cowlitz County Extension.

• Equine health and best management, Anne Marie Ray, Ridgefield Equine Clinic.

• Weed’em and Reap, Kara Hauge, Clark County Vegetation Management.

• Native Vegetation Landscaping, Brad Mead, Clark County Public Utilities.

Session B: 10:30 to 11:45 a.m.

• Septic inspection (gravity fed systems), Sean Hawes, Clark County Public Health.

• Sustainable timber harvest, Matt Provencher, Washington Department of Natural Resources.

• Grearing Up for Goats, Amy Gustin, Clark County Dairy Goat Association.

Session C: 12:45 to 2 p.m.

• Composting, Pete Dubois, master composter.

• Maintaining a healthy well, Brigette Bashaw, Clark County Public Health.

• Pond Care 101, Doug Fenwick, Clark Conservation District.

Session D: 2:15 to 3:30 p.m.

• Drainage Q&A, Seth Kenworthy, Drainage Masters.

• Sustainable living for small farms, Eric Lambert, Clark County Public Works.

• Transforming irrigation efficiency, Firas Al-Oqaili, Oregon State University.


Workshops help farmers transition land to next generation

The Oregon nonprofit Rogue Farm Corps is convening four, day-long events this April to help the current generation of farmers develop succession plans and the next generation of farmers find working land.

“Changing Hands: A Workshop Series on Farm Succession Planning and Access to Land,” will feature the critical tools and resources that farmers, ranchers, and foresters need to keep Oregon’s working lands working.

“The goal of the Changing Hands series is not only to educate, but to help build the connections necessary for a resilient farm community,” Nellie McAdams, RFC’s farmland preservation program director, said in a press release. McAdams has been on the road this winter and spring talking about succession planning with ranchers, farmers, foresters, and other community members.

“The tidal wave of farmland transition isn’t coming — we’re in the middle of it,” she said. “But we also have the solutions at our fingertips. This event is designed to help people discover and take the next step towards transitioning or accessing land.”

Retiring farmers can learn from experts about what it takes to pass on their business to the next generation — keeping it in the family or finding others to carry it on.

Aspiring farmers can learn about creative ways to start a farm business with topics on finding, leasing, financing and buying agricultural land.

The day-long workshop starts with breakfast at 7:30 a.m., and the program begins at 8:30 and goes through 5 p.m. with lunch and afternoon snacks included.

Register by April 10 for $20, including meals. Late registration will be $30.

Find the workshop most convenient to you below.

Agenda:

7:30-8:30 a.m.: Registration and breakfast.

8:30-9 a.m.: Welcome and keynote.

9:15-10:30 a.m.

• Succession Track: Working with your family to plan for succession.

• Access to Land Track: Finding and leasing farmland, including creative pathways to land tenure.

10:45 a.m.-noon

• Both Tracks: Buying and selling agricultural real estate.

Noon-1 p.m.: Lunch at facilitated discussion tables.

1-2:15 p.m.

• Succession Track: Working with your attorney and professional team to plan for succession.

• Access to Land Track: Financing options for purchasing land, conventional and emerging.

2:30-3:45 p.m.

• Both Tracks: Creative methods for passing on assets and management to next generation.

3:45-4 p.m.: Thank you and takeaways from the event.

4:15-5 p.m.: Snacks and networking.

Workshop locations:

Portland area: Friday, April 20, Harmony Campus Community Room, Clackamas Community College, 7726 SE Harmony Road, Milwaukie, Ore. https://bit.ly/2GxL1un

Medford: Monday, April 23, SOU Higher Education Center, Room 129,101 South Bartlett St., Medford, Ore. https://bit.ly/2Ia65EB

Redmond: Friday, April 27, Central Oregon Community College, Redmond Technology Education Center, 2324 Southeast College Loop, Redmond, Ore. https://bit.ly/2DZiKrr

Springfield: Monday, April 30, Sprout! Regional Food Hub, 418 A St., Springfield, Ore. https://bit.ly/2Fuu8gI

Rogue Farm Corps is an Oregon nonprofit that exists to train the next generation of farmers and ranchers through hands-on educational programs and the preservation of farmland. For more information: https://www.roguefarmcorps.org/


USDA: Small farms by the numbers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a small farm in terms of income, not acreage.

Since 2013, a small farm is any farming operation producing annual gross cash farm income of less than $350,000.

USDA further divides small farms in terms of whether the operator is a full-time farmer. A “retirement farm” is one whose operator is retired, but continues to farm on a small scale. Operators who report a primary occupation other than farming have “off-farm occupation” farms. Small farm operators who report farming as their primary job have “farming-occupation” farms.

Under the economic definition, small “farming-occupation” farms are either “low-sales farms,” having gross cash farm incomes of less than $150,000, or “moderate-sales farms,” having gross cash farm sales of $150,000 to $349,999.

According to the Economic Research Service, here is how small farms stack up:

• Small farms make up 90 percent of all farming operations, and hold 58 percent of farm assets.

• Moderate-sales farms account for 10 percent of the nation’s farm production, low-sales farms account for 6 percent of the value.

• Five percent of farms are classified as “moderate-sales” farms, while 25 percent are “low-sales.”

• Forty-two percent of farm operators list some other primary occupation.

• As a group, small farms of all types account for 23 percent of the value of U.S. agriculture production.

• Farms with incomes below $150,000 tend to have lower operating profit margins and have greater risk of financial problems — margins lower than 10 percent.

• Seventy-seven percent of low-sales farms have margins under 10 percent, while 5 percent have margins of 10 to 25 percent. Thirteen percent have margins greater than 25 percent.

• Financial viability improves when income exceed $150,000. Twenty percent of moderate-sales farms have operating margins of between 10 and 25 percent, while 26 percent of operations have margins greater than 25 percent.


Organic cover crop workshop planned in Corvallis

Oregon Tilth, Oregon State University and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is conducting an organic cover crop workshop March 29 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The workshop is free and will be conducted at the USDA-NRCS Corvallis Plant Materials Center 2000 NE Granger Ave., Corvallis, Ore.

From 9 a.m. to noon there will be expert presentations. During lunch, which participants will provide for themselves, there will be a farmer-to-farmer roundtable. There will be a field tour after lunch.

To RSVP, contact Ben Bowell at Oregon Tilth at Ben@tilth.org or 503-580-4767.


Deadline near for OSU seed stewarding course

Registration for a seven-month course to develop seed stewarding and farming skills in March 25.

“The Growing Seed Agripreneurs Course trains farmers and gardeners in the art and science of organic seed saving and production,” according to the event website. “The seven-month course includes weekly skill training through hands-on care of the seed production garden at the OSU Teaching Farm and monthly workshops and field trips to five local seed farms. Participants will learn and practice how to grow, steward, harvest and clean seeds from a range of vegetable, flower and herb crops. In addition, participants will learn how to select, evaluate and improve crop varieties through variety trials and traditional plant breeding techniques as well as how to increase scale to sell seed commercially if desired.”

The course will be taught by Sebastian Aguilar of Chickadee Farm in Talent, Ore. It will be conducted Thursday evenings, April 5 through Oct. 8, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Oregon State University’s Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center (SOREC)
569 Hanley Road in  Central Point.

Registration is accepted online.

 


Southern Oregon Beekeepers Association plan ‘bee school’

The Southern Oregon Beekeepers Association will conduct its Spring Bee School April 7  at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point.

“The Art and Science of Keeping Bees in the Rogue Valley” will include presentations and hands-on demonstrations for beginners and experienced beekeepers. The program will start 9 a.m. and end at 4:30 p.m. Participants are asked to bring their own lunch and protective bee gear if you have it.

The cost of the program is $45, and participation is limited to the first 100 people. The registration deadline in April 6. To register, and to see more details, go to the event website.

The Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center is located at 569 Hanley Road in Central Point.


Documentary will tell the stories of female farmers

Filmmakers from Washington state want to tell the stories of America’s women farmers.

They are working on a new documentary film called “Women’s Work: The Untold Story of America’s Female Farmer.”

“We’ve been putting women back into the narrative of the modern-day story,” said co-executive producer Audra Mulkern, founder of the Female Farmer Project.

Traveling across the U.S., Mulkern wanted to learn more about the “sisters of our past,” trying to find women who stepped up during wars and times of crisis to work the land.

“Where were those women in the history books?” she said. “They just didn’t exist, and I really had to dig deep to find any images at all. That’s what really inspired this, to shine a light on those generations of farm women who are missing from history.”

The documentary will explore past and contemporary women from various regions, said David Tanner, co-executive producer.

Tanner and Mulkern met during a Focus on Farming conference in Snohomish County, Wash., and launched the partnership to make the documentary.

“Women are farming, they’ve always been farming,” Mulkern said. “What’s missing is their place in history. As we look at agricultural history, we have been conditioned to look at farming as sort of men’s work. We’d really love to reinsert women back into that narrative, to really celebrate those women who have done it all along and are still doing it, and inherited those wonderful legacies.”

The team launched a fundraising campaign March 8, which was International Women’s Day, with a goal of $50,000.

It’s important that the project has grassroots support, Mulkern said.

The filmmakers hope to broadcast the film nationwide next March for National Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day.

They are still looking for stories, said Kara Rowe, co-executive producer.

“It seems like every little community has some grandmother’s journal or a little book their aunt put together that talks about what their great-grandmother did, some of those little stories that are out there but they’re more family heritages than publicly known,” she said. “We are still looking for some of those stories about our matriarchs that have always been there, it’s just that their stories aren’t as well-known as some of the male-dominated stories that are out there.”

Tanner and Rowe also directed the documentary, “The Gamble: The Washington Potato Story,” and produce the television show, “Washington Grown.”