Tilth Alliance director looks to build bridge between urban, rural

The new executive director of the Tilth Alliance says she is “incredibly impressed” with the Washington farmers she’s met.

“Given the climatic changes that we’re seeing occur, I think Washington farmers are going to find themselves really being a leader in food production … over the next couple of generations,” said Melissa Spear. “I see them working very hard to do the work that’s necessary to assume that position. I just really am looking forward to engaging more with that community.”

Spear joined the Seattle-based organization Nov. 26.

“What really interests me about (the alliance) is it straddles the urban and the rural,” she said. “Having a productive relationship between those two is critically important, they depend upon each other.”

The organization co-manages the 10-acre Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, which recently completed a two-year construction project. The alliance is developing support for the agricultural community on the site, and educational programs about food production, cooking and wetland restoration, Spear said.

The farm is certified organic by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Spear got her bachelor’s degree in zoology at the University of California-Santa Barbara. She got a master’s degree in forest science from the Yale School of Forestry and a master’s in business administration from the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain.

Originally from California, Spear was doing similar work while living in Connecticut for 30 years. She worked for the Trust for Public Land, which included preserving several important farms, she said.

There, she became interested in the challenge of maintaining a viable agricultural enterprise and farm, she said.

She also served as executive director for Common Ground in New Haven, Conn., a high school, urban farm and environmental education center that introduces agriculture to an urban population, including how to grow food, healthy eating and sustainable agriculture.

“The interests aligned really well with what Tilth was up to,” she said.

Spear also moved to the West Coast to be closer to her daughter, who is “permanently located out here.”

Washington agricultural communities face many of the same challenges that Connecticut communities do, Spear said.

“How to really strengthen the relationship between the urban centers and the rural communities who generally are our food producers,” she said.

The alliance can help, she said, and promote sustainable and organic agriculture.

That includes making sure consumers, or “eaters,” understand the impacts of their food choices, she said.

“Any time you eat something, producing that food item has a set of social, environmental and economic impacts,” Spear said. “I think having some understanding of what those impacts are will influence your food choices.”

Spear sees ways to modify food production and distribution to address climate change. That includes increasing organic matter in soils; prioritizing soil health; no-till farming and cover cropping; and reducing food waste.

Spear hopes the organization can continue to represent both farmers and consumers, as a source of education and information.

The alliance works with schools to use gardens as a teaching tool and introduce the concept of food production.

“All children should have some understanding of the important role agriculture plays in bringing food to the table,” she said. “That’s a missing link right now for a lot of kids. They think their food comes from a box wrapped in plastic or a plastic bag and don’t understand it requires a farmer, a farm and some knowledge to produce it.”


Avoiding big risks on small farms

CORVALLIS, Ore. — While a prevailing school of thought among some business owners is to take big risks and embrace possible failure, Ellen Polishuk says farming is not like other businesses.

The difference, Polishuk said, is most farms survive and thrive based on execution, as opposed to innovation. Fail to grow healthy crops, or operate machinery safely, and the consequences can be severe.

“We’re risk-takers already because we chose agriculture, one of the riskiest realms to work in,” Polishuk said. “I don’t think we need to celebrate here this idea of, yeah, you just keep trying.”

Rather than celebrate failure, Polishuk, a farm consultant based in Washington, D.C., stressed the importance of working together and learning from past failures to avoid future setbacks in a presentation Feb. 23 at the Oregon Small Farms Conference, hosted by Oregon State University in Corvallis.

Prior to founding her consulting company, Plant to Profit, Polishuk spent 25 years farming herbs, vegetables and fresh cut flowers in northern Virginia. She identified several areas where farms can fail, including poor management practices, choice of markets, health, safety and planning.

Class participants shared mistakes they made in working their own farms — including Polishuk, who recalled an incident where one employee hit herself on the head using a metal post driver. The lesson, Polishuk said, is making sure farms offer workers compensation to avoid risking lawsuits and losing close relationships.

Polishuk remembered another story where her neighbor, while working alone, managed to run himself over with a tractor. The man was OK, but Polishuk said it emphasized the importance of paying close attention to safety features on machinery and making sure there is someone to help in an emergency.

“This is a dangerous game, when machinery is involved,” she said.

Farmers also need to pay attention to their own physical and mental well-being, Polishuk said. She recommended doing yoga stretches to keep the body from breaking down, and seeing a counselor to help deal with the day-to-day stresses of running a farm.

“It’s great to have one, 45-minute session a week that’s completely devoted to your (situation),” Polishuk said.

At the end of the day, Polishuk said farms need to turn a profit to stay in business, which is why it is so critical to choose crops that can make money and are well suited for the land.

Perhaps more than anything, Polishuk said new or beginning farmers should realize they do not need to go it alone.

“Figuring things out on your own doesn’t usually work, and if it does, it usually takes a lot of time,” she said. “There are a lot of ways to exercise this impulse (to farm), and not have to do every single thing yourself from square zero.”


Small farms conference offers classes, networking

CORVALLIS, Ore. — For Elliott and Rae VanZandt, getting into their first farmers’ market last year proved to be a learning experience.

The couple, from Klamath Falls, Ore., tends a small garden with squash, zucchini, garlic and other produce, as well as an assortment of wildflowers. While Elliott said they enjoy growing their own food, he never before considered selling at the local market.

He and Rae came Feb. 23 to the Oregon Small Farms Conference at Oregon State University in Corvallis, looking for ways to improve their farm stand heading into year two. One lesson in hindsight, Elliott said, was they probably focused too much on crop diversity, and not enough on quantity.

“We weren’t predictable for our customers,” he said. “We just want to refine, and get better.”

As the farm manager for Dragonfly Transitions — a therapeutic training and mentoring group for young adults in Southern Oregon — Rae is no stranger to running a successful farm, though she said she gained a lot at the conference by hearing from other farmers about their past experiences and mistakes.

“It was really experiential, which I think farming totally is,” she said.

More than 900 people from across the state gathered at OSU for the annual Small Farms Conference, featuring a full day of educational talks on topics ranging from growing techniques to markets to bills under consideration at the Oregon Legislature. A trade show was also split between two buildings, the LaSells Stewart Center and CH2M Alumni Center, on campus.

Lauren Gwin, associate director for the OSU Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems, said small farms are a not only a key part of the state’s agricultural economy, but also environmental sustainability. Of approximately 35,000 total farms in Oregon, about 32,000 are classified as small farms under the USDA’s definition, meaning they make less than $350,000 in annual income.

“They are a huge part of our state,” Gwin said. “These farmers contribute to our dinner tables, they contribute to clean water and clean air, and they contribute to the vibrancy or our communities.

In many cases, Gwin said small farmers serve as the face of local agriculture at farmers’ markets in larger cities, creating a link across the urban-rural divide.

The Center for Small Farms, through OSU Extension Service, offers a variety of classes and networking opportunities for small farmers to find their niche and connect to markets. Gwin said the conference also gives farmers a sense of community, and a shot of excitement for the season to come.

“I just look around and people’s faces are lit up,” she said. “They’re going to take what they learn here, they’re going to take all this energy, and they’re going to go back to their own farms.”

Megan Corvus has been coming to the conference for five years, and said she enjoys seeing her friends and hearing what everyone has to say during the sessions. Corvus and her partner, Talina, started Blackbroom Farm in the Willamette Valley six years ago, raising chickens for eggs and a small herd of meat animals, including lambs and goats.

“After winter, coming to the conference is a great way to get ready for the season,” Corvus said.

It may be “mud season” now, but Corvus said small farmers should be thinking about what they are going to do next season, and how they are going to get it done. The conference, with its educational sessions and experiential mentality, is a great way to get those creative juices flowing, she said.

“It’s a good jolt (of energy),” she said. “Half of the value is just hearing what other people have to say at the sessions.”


Organic, sustainable bridge builder

WENATCHEE, Wash. — Discovering that applying mulch to orchards for weed control was actually more beneficial in protecting trees from soil heat and water stress was just one innovation of David Granatstein’s career.

But he says his greatest contribution to agriculture was bringing people together over controversial issues. The two big ones were organics and sustainability.

Granatstein, 67, retired last fall as Washington State University Extension sustainable agriculture specialist, which included being a lead on organic agriculture. Now he is a professor emeritus.

Years ago, when Granatstein held the first organics session at the Washington State Horticultural Association annual meeting, the topic was controversial. Organic was seen as a fringe movement.

“It was viewed as a direct attack on conventional, implying it was poisoning the earth. Those feelings were pretty raw,” Granatstein says.

There was division, animosity. Each side had a stereotype of the other. Granatstein believes he helped people overcome that.

Building bridges
“My goal has always been to build bridges and help people see there are things they can learn from each other,” he says. “The world isn’t black and white, but gray.”

Today, many of the state’s tree fruit companies grow conventional and organic fruit. Organics make up about 15 percent of apples and pears and 7 percent of cherries.

“It’s been a 20-year evolution of the industry to accept organics and understand and recognize the benefits. There was a whole discussion on whether organics are sustainable,” he said. “We’re still working on acceptance and definition of sustainability.”

It’s the idea that agriculture should be profitable, environmentally sound and socially acceptable.

“When USDA started its sustainable ag program, it was ‘What the hell,’ people hated it. ‘You say sustainable. That’s implying I’m not.’ People took it really personally,” he said.

Growers thought protecting the environment could only come at the loss of profitability. It was either or. Granatstein helped educate all sides that environmental benefits could pay and that profitability was necessary for growers to invest in their land and people. In short, that practices to guard the environment could also guard the pocketbook.

For example, erosion eventually depletes the soil wheat farmers need. Reduced tillage reduces erosion, which in the long run benefits the farmer. Other examples: biological controls and natural predators reducing pests in fruit trees and therefore reducing use of pesticides.

“David is a key force that put WSU on the map as a leader in sustainable agriculture outreach, research and education. His influence and impacts will be long lasting,” Todd Murray, director of the WSU Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension Program, said upon Granatstein’s retirement.

Tracking organics
In 2000, Granatstein began tracking organic acreage, transition acreage, the number of organic farms and varieties and specifics of organic crops. The main categories are tree fruit, vegetables and forages but he also tracks more than 100 other crops of lesser organic volume.

His annual reports have been used by growers, others in business, academics and policy makers. The reports are in greater depth than efforts by USDA. He gleans the data from state and private organic certification programs in Washington, Oregon and California and, he says, covers about 98 percent of organic farms in Washington.

Organic production has grown from a gross farmgate value of $101 million in Washington in 2005 to $667 million in 2017. That’s 6.2 percent of total farmgate.

Granatstein’s initial motivation in pushing organics was to lessen farming’s impact on the environment. But he knew he also had to show an economic reason for growers to adopt it.

In 2014, production costs of organic Gala apples were estimated at 12 percent higher than conventional Gala, the yield was 8 percent lower but the price was 42 percent higher. That led to a 270 percent higher profit margin for the organic crop.

In fact, he found, the market price for organic turned out to be 100 percent more than conventional gala, making it even better.

While the profit margin of organics over conventional has been narrowing in recent years, it is still large enough to make organics worthwhile, he said.

Finding his calling
A key moment in Granatstein’s career was during his undergraduate years at Cornell University. He was good in math and science and wanted to become an engineer. But he loved the natural world, hiking in the Adirondack Mountains.

In a biology class, he realized there was a whole science to the natural world and later realized agriculture had a huge impact on the environment. Combining agriculture and the environment clicked for him.

He had been born and raised in Syracuse, N.Y., with no farm background. His father helped manage a family clothing business. His mother used her Spanish training to work at the state employment security department.

Upon graduation from Cornell with a bachelor’s degree in environmental conservation in 1973, Granatstein worked for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. He was about to join the Peace Corps but thought it “ludicrous” that he was going overseas to teach farming to people who had been doing it for 3,000 years when he never had.

Career path

A friend from college invited him to an alternative ag conference in Ellensburg, Wash. He went and ended up co-manager of Libby Creek Farm, an organic farm in Okanogan County, for the next seven years.

He next spent a year in southern Africa working as an agronomist on a WSU farming systems project while getting his master’s degree in soil management at WSU.

He was farm research director for the Land Stewardship Project, a private nonprofit, in Minnesota for two years. There he tried to find alternatives to address nitrate and herbicide pollution in groundwater.

“It needed to be profitable and environmental at the same time. It was really my first chance to work on sustainability,” he said.

While there he wrote, “Reshaping the Bottom Line,” an early sustainable ag book for farmers.

In 1989, he became project manager of the Northwest Dryland Cereal/Legume Cropping Systems Project at WSU in Pullman. It was one of the first USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension projects in the West.

In 1992, WSU formed the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. Granatstein became statewide coordinator and moved to Wenatchee to be more centrally located. He held that position for 26 years until his retirement.

He has been involved in many projects relating to soil, compost, orchard floor management, climate, fruit production and was a founder of the Food Alliance, an ecolabel program in Portland. He has conducted sustainable ag training in Russia, Argentina, Italy, Germany, Taiwan, Ghana, Chile and Canada.

More recently, he spoke in Kyrgyzstan and at an international pear symposium in Uruguay. In retirement, he plans to complete at least the 20th year of his organic farming statistical report.

Concerns, optimism
Looking ahead, Granatstein said the tree fruit industry needs to be mindful of its environmental footprint with the expanding use of orchard inputs such as plastic netting for orchard protection.

There’s a lot of plastic waste when the netting gets old. While netting makes economic sense, “what’s the environmental impact, is use of a non-renewable resource sustainable and is it socially acceptable?” he asks.

Granatstein has held educational forums on the pros and cons of genetically modified organisms.

“Most GMO technology to date doesn’t meet my own personal sustainability perspective, but I suspect that will change,” he said.

Roundup Ready crops help with no-till but weeds become resistant, stronger herbicides are used and more genetic engineering is needed for the crop, he said, making it a never-ending cycle.

Genetic modification of apples to resist disease better fits with his sustainability concept but still needs careful evaluation for unintended consequences, he said.

“I’m not suggesting it be allowed in organic at this point,” he said.

“Overall, I’m really optimistic about the future of ag,” Granatstein said. “Particularly our understanding of microbiology and the potential for better microbial management in agriculture leading to breakthroughs similar to what we see in human health with the human microbiome findings.”


Small farm conference addresses big questions

Cultivating the Harvest, the 20th annual Inland Northwest small farm conference, will be March 1-2 in Moscow, Idaho.

Topics include finding and keeping labor, pollinators, regenerative grazing for small dairies, no-till and minimum till practices for vegetables, access to new markets and strategies for when the weather is unpredictable, said Colette DePhelps, area community food systems educator for University of Idaho Extension.

Those needs are also cited by larger farms, DePhelps said, but smaller farms might use roto-tillers or small tractor implements, which come with a different set of management challenges and research questions.

“The technology is so different on small farms,” DePhelps said. “There are total similarities (to larger farms), and we want to bridge that scale. We don’t want a small farm-large farm divide.”

On the Palouse, some small fruit and vegetable operations can see pest pressures from other farms, DePhelps said. How smaller farmers manage for pests can be specific, she said.

The event begins at 1 p.m. March 1 with several workshops and tours, including Washington State University’s bee lab and UI’s meats lab.

The agenda includes performance in the evening of the play, “Map of My Kingdom,” by Mary Swander, commissioned by Practical Farmers of Iowa, about farm families deciding on a succession plan.

The next day begins at 8:30 a.m., at the Pitman Center on the University of Idaho campus.

Keynote speakers include Beth Robinette of the Lazy R Ranch in Cheney, Wash., and LINC Foods cooperative in Spokane and Laura Garber of Homestead Organics in Hamilton, Mont. Both have experience forming cooperatives, DePhelps said.

Bill Snyder, Washington State University entomologist, will speak about on-farm research.

“On-farm research is a very useful tool for improving your production system on your farm and answering questions that you have,” DePhelps said.

DePhelps expects 100 to 150 people, weather permitting.

A panel discussion will cover lessons learned over the last two decades.

The conference celebrates 20 years of small farm programming, an increased number of small farms and ranches and gains within the local food system, DePhelps said.


‘Criminal’ mentality helps detect organic fraud

To avoid fraud, the organic food industry should “think like a criminal” to identify its vulnerabilities and shore up defenses against corrupt suppliers, according to experts.

The exposure of both massive and small-scale schemes to misrepresent conventional crops as organic has compelled organic companies to analyze their supply chains for weaknesses, industry representatives said Feb. 15 at the Organicology conference in Portland, Ore.

The Organic Trade Association, for example, plans to offer a training program later this year to food companies that want to update their organic system plans with fraud prevention measures, said Gwendolyn Wyard, the group’s vice president of regulatory and technical affairs.

When asked whether the exercise could result in “a textbook of how to cheat,” Wyard replied that organic food companies are simply trying to pre-emptively understand the strategies of unscrupulous actors.

“Fraudsters are going to do what they are going to do,” she said. “Any way you slice it, they are already thinking that way.”

The Organic Valley cooperative has focused on the risks to its supply of livestock and poultry feed, most of which is produced by members but which does include some imports from overseas, said Logan Peterman, the company’s agricultural research analyst.

The company’s assessment identified several “rabbit holes” in its supply chain that were potentially susceptible to fraud, such as the “spot market” for crops that are purchased without a long-term contract, he said.

Convincing brokers to divulge the source of crops is inherently difficult, as they prefer to keep such information confidential so customers don’t circumvent them by going straight to suppliers, Peterman said.

Organic Valley was able to gain some certainty about such crops by communicating with organic certifiers, who were able to provide generalized information rather than the sensitive data contained in transaction certificates, he said.

The possible problem with this approach is that some brokers aren’t certified as organic because they don’t take physical possession of the crop, Peterman said.

Even a company as large as Organic Valley, which has more than $1 billion in annual revenues, cannot easily dictate terms to suppliers in the global food industry, he said.

“If you go in there like a bulldozer, it’s amazing how fast you can burn bridges,” he said.

Based on what it’s found, Organic Valley is trying to rely more on its pool of growers for supplies, as opposed to external parties who may not have as strong a commitment to the cooperative’s values, Peterman said.

The company also recognizes that it must build long-term trust with brokers who are willing to cooperate on verification, he said. Brokers don’t deal directly with consumers and so aren’t as affected by scandals, such as the extensive importation of fraudulent organic grains uncovered in 2017.

“It speaks to the importance of managing those relationships,” he said. “How do we get them to care the consumers will eat us alive if something else comes up?”

Organic certificates are now often issued and conveyed electronically, allowing for more “creative” forgeries that match fonts and add certified crops, said Connie Karr, certification director for Oregon Tilth.

“If you’re relying on just the organic certificate, you’re potentially at risk,” Karr said.

To verify the authenticity of a certificate, companies can compare information from suppliers with lists maintained by certifiers, she said.

For brokers that aren’t organically certified, Oregon Tilth requires such extensive corroborating information that some have opted to obtain certification instead, Karr said. “It’s not really easy for them to be uncertified with us anymore.”

Proving fraud is often an arduous process: In one case, it took seven unannounced visits over two years to find evidence of deceit by a Southern Oregon alfalfa grower, she said.

Another key lesson is that collaboration with other certifying agencies and USDA’s National Organic Program is crucial to unearthing instances of fraud, Karr said. “We’ve never been successful finding fraud on our own.”

 


Nature’s Indulgence grows in value-added way

CALDWELL, Idaho — Spending the last several years making a name for Nature’s Indulgence in the handcrafted, small-batch granola and oat business suits Doug Sanders, who has spent his life growing, handling and preparing food.

He has customers and suppliers around Idaho.

“I love supporting Idaho,” said Sanders, whose parents grew up in fruit-growing families in the state’s southwestern region. “We grow so much. We export a lot. I would like to see things we grow in Idaho be sold in Idaho.”

Nature’s Indulgence buys all of its grains in-state. Sanders requires at least half of everything he sells to be produced in Idaho, well above a prominent local-food organization’s minimum. He does not use ingredients derived from genetically modified organisms.

“It’s a positive when an Idaho company uses another Idaho company’s product with a different perspective and in a different way,” said Megan Harper, commerce development analyst at the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

The ISDA-administered Idaho Preferred program, which promotes Idaho food and includes Nature’s Indulgence among members, requires food and beverage processors to use at least 20 percent Idaho-grown content by weight.

Suppliers to Caldwell, Idaho-based Nature’s Indulgence include Highland Milling — which Doug’s father, Dave Sanders, owns in Bancroft, in southeast Idaho — The Teff Co. and Steele Apiaries in the Boise area.

A local oatmeal company and the Boise-based Albertsons grocery chain are among his many customers.

“He is unusual in that he was in the wholesale business first, and then segued to also be in retail,” said Jim Toomey, who directs the University of Idaho Agribusiness Incubator, where Nature’s Indulgence is based. “Usually it’s the other way around, if people get that far.”

Sanders, 29, graduated from the Northwest Culinary Institute in Vancouver, Wash. In 2012 he acquired Nature’s Indulgence, which family friends had started in their Utah home in about  2001. He moved it to Caldwell four years ago. Nature’s Indulgence now occupies 3,400 square feet.

“I have been designing the space all along to meet our needs and our customers’ needs,” Sanders said.

He said he employs part-time help now, and plans to add one or two full-time staffers over the next year “when I can pay them enough.”

Sanders said he aims to pay 1.5 times minimum wage, “realizing from experience that this type of work is physically demanding.” Idaho’s minimum hourly wage is the federal minimum, $7.25.


A Full Root Cellar, Hard Earned: Wild Hare Organic Farm

The root cellar at Wild Hare Organic Farm is finally full this year. After two years, “we could grow through winter with confidence and load up the root cellar without worry, because it was fully ours,” says Katie Green. In 2017, Mark and Katie Green purchased a 21-acre farm just outside of Tacoma from local sustainable farming leaders, Dick and Terry Carkner—and the deal they struck ensured it will stay a farm forever.

Katie and Mark discovered their drive to farm over a decade ago on the east end of Long Island, New York. Katie answered a craigslist ad and took the leap, selling produce to restaurants and big buyers. The Greens were hooked, “the work and the life of agriculture really spoke to us,” says Katie. Since then, they’ve both worked at organic and conventional farms. Katie primarily focuses on the business side of farming, while Mark’s a motivated grower – a perfect combination of skills to take on their own operation.

Puget Sound natives, the Greens moved back to the Pacific Northwest with their newborn daughter to be closer to grandparents. They stumbled on a special spot, right next door to the Carkners. For over 30 years the Carkners’ farm, Terry’s Berries, was a community hub, selling U-pick berries and organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. The Greens gradually started helping the Carkners out next door. When Dick and Terry announced their interest in retiring, the Greens were a natural fit to be the next generation on the farm.

While the Greens and Carkners shared a vision for the future of the farm, it was still a challenging process that took two years. Katie says, “it was not a simple, straightforward real estate transaction by any means. And it is somewhat of a miracle to witness a farm making a transition to another farmer (instead of a corporate developer, for instance).”

An essential piece of making this purchase possible was a long-standing partnership with PCC Farmland Trust, a nonprofit land trust working to protect and steward threatened farmland in Washington. The Trust served as a dependable guide throughout the process of transferring the farm from the very beginning, setting up a lease agreement.

The Trust also navigated the process of putting a conservation easement on the farm to purchase the property’s development rights. This included weaving together different funding streams from state and federal funds to loans from a variety of ag lenders to make the deal happen. The easement in turn allowed the Greens to purchase the farm at a more affordable rate, while preserving the farm for generations to come—an important legacy for the Carkners to leave to their community. For the Greens, “knowing that the easement is in place gives us peace in knowing that this farm will continue to grow for many generations of farmers beyond Mark and I, regardless of what path our daughter chooses.”

“This wouldn’t have been possible without the care and resources PCC Farmland Trust  put into the process. They were the first to celebrate with us when the deal was closed,” says Katie, “We’re beyond honored to be one of their Forever Farms and are thankful that this program has helped put our purchase of the property within reach.”

For other farmers looking to take over a farm, the Greens have a few words of advice: “There’s a whole lot of emotional currency at stake when land passes from farmer to farmer, personal savings and retirement plans aside. Try to outline some general decisions early on – for example, sell “everything in the fields” rather than divvying every little piece of equipment up. Be prepared for the process to be intrinsically hard and it will take time. Get professional early– even if you assume good will, there are just so many pieces to track. It would be helpful to have your own attorney who can follow all the pieces and represent your interests, instead of the deal as a whole. Don’t be afraid to talk about money and numbers from the beginning, there are a lot of emotions, but you have to be about business and numbers too. Having a succession counselor or other coach along the way is essential.”

Robin Fay from PCC Farmland Trust coordinated the deal, and he learned some lessons from the simultaneous sale of the conservation easement and the farm as well. Fay says, “it takes a combination of patience, willingness, and commitment by all parties involved. If you’re interested in a conservation easement, a land trust is a good place to start. They are a unique entity that can navigate these deals, playing the role of air traffic controller and helping design the project.” But most importantly, Fay says that even though this was a hard process, it was worth it.

Now the Greens will continue to feed their community healthy, delicious produce through their CSA shares. This coming year, the Greens will be able to do more rotational growing and more early greens. They’re looking forward in the coming years to the big perennial investments they had put off when they were leasing the land. This plan includes replanting berries—continuing the legacy of Terry’s Berries for the future.


Organic farmers seek support from Oregon legislators

SALEM — Organic farmers gathered Feb. 6 at the Oregon State Capitol to meet with legislators and push for support of an industry that annually generates $350 million in farm gate sales.

They are asking the Legislature to formalize a state Organic Advisory Council, and set aside money in the budget for four full-time positions dedicated to helping farmers transition to organic practices and certifying organic farms.

Organic Valley, the nation’s largest organic farm cooperative, hosted the event, which included a reception featuring remarks from Gov. Kate Brown. Last August, Brown and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley visited the Organic Valley creamery in McMinnville, Ore., which opened in 2017 with $350,000 in support from the state’s Strategic Reserve Fund.

Brown said she is committed to maintaining Oregon as a leader in organic agriculture. The state currently ranks ninth overall with 864 organic businesses.

“I am very excited about this sector in Oregon’s agricultural economy,” Brown said. “We know it is a very valuable component of the agricultural sector.”

Overall, Oregon farmers generate more than $4.5 billion in annual farm gate sales and services.

Other event sponsors included the Organic Trade Association, Oregon Organic Coalition, Organic Materials Review Institute, Oregon Tilth, Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences, OSU Extension, Friends of Family Farmers, Mountain Rose Herbs, Organically Grown Company and Hummingbird Wholesale.

Organic producers also spent time meeting with lawmakers, highlighting their businesses and advocating for a greater voice in policy decisions. The Organic Advisory Council would be made up of farmers, researchers, retailers and distributors, meeting quarterly and providing input on proposals affecting the industry.

Farmers must demonstrate they are using organic practices on their land and animals for at least three years before they can be certified organic. The four newly created positions would focus on assisting certified and transitioning organic operations, and may be associated with OSU, the Oregon Department of Agriculture or another nonprofit organization.

Melissa Collman, a fourth-generation dairy farmer who runs Cloud Cap Farms in Boring, Ore., said she spent the morning meeting with Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, and Sen. Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, and felt their message was well-received.

“We just want to remain relevant and competitive,” Collman said. “We’re doing the best we can to bring a healthy product to market.”

Cloud Cap Farms is one of 39 Oregon dairy farms that have joined Organic Valley. The co-op paid $56 million to the farms in 2018, and produced 7.6 million pounds of butter and 12 million pounds of milk powder at the McMinnville creamery.

Collman said the farm milks 200 cows, and grazes the animals on open pasture. While they do not have many inputs, Collman said additional research could help them with issues such as weed management, helping to produce a better and healthier product.

“Our cows already do so well in this area,” she said. “But the resources we need would go into managing our grass to keep it at that better quality.”

Steve Pierson, of Sar-Ben Farms in St. Paul, Ore., is on the Organic Valley board of directors. He said legislators who support organic agriculture are also helping to keep small family farms in business, which has a ripple effect in rural communities.

“If you look at what’s happening to the rural economy, there are fewer and fewer farms to support the local businesses,” Pierson said. “It’s just a downward economic spiral in those communities.”

Pierson said transitioning to organic in 2005 and joining Organic Valley has allowed the farm to remain profitable, and all three of his kids — Kevin, Ryan and Sara — have returned to the farm after graduating from OSU.

Sara Pierson, 23, said she could not imagine life any other way.

“I’m excited to raise my own family there, and hopefully see them become the sixth generation at our family dairy,” she said.


Southern Oregon Hemp Co-op holds first meeting

MEDFORD, Ore. — A newly established farmers’ cooperative aims to unite Southern Oregon hemp growers and processors as they enter the budding industry.

The Southern Oregon Hemp Co-op held its first meeting Feb. 1 at the Roxy Ann Grange in Medford, Ore. More than 80 people filled the grange hall to hear presentations about growing hemp, and benefits offered by the co-op for selling into markets including pharmaceuticals, beverages and cosmetics.

Mark Taylor, a longtime construction and development contractor in Medford, founded the co-op in December 2018 after trying his hand at growing 2.5 acres of hemp. Getting started proved more difficult than he thought, learning the right techniques and spotting issues in the crop.

The worst thing, Taylor said, was the bottleneck of product when he tried to sell in October after harvest.

“This is real critical,” Taylor said. “We shouldn’t have to go begging for buyers.”

Instead of small and mid-size farmers trying to go it alone, Taylor said the co-op can pool their resources to fight for fair trade and price. The co-op will also work to line up buyers in advance, so growers don’t panic late in the season and sell to the lowest bidder.

“We are going to be large enough to offer millions of pounds of hemp,” Taylor said. “We’re going to move product, and we’re going to make it easier for you to move product.”

So far, the co-op has 23 members signed up, representing about 400 acres. According to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, there are 75 registered hemp growers and 22 registered handlers in Jackson County, and 45 registered growers and 14 registered handlers in neighboring Josephine County in southwest Oregon.

The 2018 Farm Bill opened new opportunities for U.S. hemp farmers by defining the crop as an agricultural commodity, and removing it from the list of federally controlled substances. That means farmers can sell hemp products across state lines, while gaining access to crop insurance and banking.

While the crowd at Roxy Ann Grange speculated about hemp markets, Taylor said the vast majority of processors are still interested in extracting cannabidiol, or CBD, isolate to make products such as lotions, mints, drinks and oils. Taylor said the co-op is already identifying prominent potential buyers.

“We’ve got to get out in the forefront right now,” he said.

A self-styled marketer, Taylor is promoting hemp from Southern Oregon as coming from the finest farmland in the country, grown by farmers in predominantly pesticide-free soils — what he calls the “Golden Triangle.”

“I’ve taken that term, and yes, I’m proud of myself,” Taylor said. “We’re already nationally known.”

The co-op, Taylor said, can streamline the business aspect of locally grown hemp and give local growers a leg up in the marketplace.

Matt Cyrus, a sixth-generation farmer growing hemp near Bend, Ore., also spoke at the co-op meeting. Cyrus predicts there will be 30,000 to 40,000 acres of hemp grown across Oregon in 2019, and he cautioned against out-supplying the market and pushing down prices.

“This industry has progressed exponentially the past three years,” he said.

Cyrus said he sees opportunities with farmers banding together in a co-op, balancing supply and demand to keep farms healthy and profitable.

“The world is our market, literally,” Cyrus said.