Small-scale farmers find big success

OTIS ORCHARDS, Wash. — Fifty chicks, only three days old, huddled under the heat lamps on Paul and Sue Puhek’s farm.

The Puheks received the chicks the morning of Oct. 19, replacing their entire flock, which had reached four years old.

“When a chicken gets to four years of age, that’s like 100 human (years),” Sue said.

“They’re eating almost the same, and you’re getting 20% of the eggs,” Paul said.

Since 2002, Paul and Sue have operated S&P Homestead Farm in Otis Orchards, Wash., about 19 miles northeast of Spokane. They are among a growing number of small-scale farmers across the nation who have found success.

Their farm income is split between egg production and produce. In addition to eggs, they raise such vegetables as green beans, onions, carrots, beets, peas, Swiss chard and eggplant on roughly 1.5 acres of their 3-acre parcel.

The farm is one of the original vendors at the Liberty Lake Farmers’ Market. It also sells through the LINC Foods cooperative in Spokane.

Their expertise is a sought-after commodity, as other small-scale farmers seek information from them about succeeding in agriculture. They frequently teach the basics of raising chickens in classes through the Washington State University’s Spokane County Extension and the Spokane County Library District.

A Cultivating Success Beginning Farming and Ranching class for aspiring small-scale farmers toured their operation the same October morning they received their shipment of chicks.

“They’re doing a variety of things on just a couple of acres, really,” said Pat Munts, small farms coordinator with WSU Spokane County Extension. “To me, they just kind of typify what a small farm family could look like. It’s all at a scale that a beginning farmer could do.”

Small farms — those ranging from 1 to 9 acres — make up 32.2% of Washington’s farms, according to the USDA 2017 Ag Census. More than 11,500 farms are less than 10 acres, out of a total of nearly 36,000 farms in the state.

Nationally, more than 273,000 small farms make up roughly 13.3% of more than 2 million total farms.

Sue, 60, is a fourth-generation farmer. Her family raised vegetables, chickens and rabbits in the suburbs of Phoenix, Ariz.

Paul, 61, is a lifelong Otis Orchards resident. His family truck-farmed and kept a large garden as he grew up, selling raspberries and offering U-pick crops.

They have three adult children, who help on the farm when they can.

Paul still keeps a full-time job as a technical drafter, a job he’s held for 40 years. Sue does not work outside the farm.

The farm is profitable each year, Paul said.

“We can’t live off that profit, at this point, but it does make money,” he said. “I tell people it makes enough to make me want to do it again.”

Chicken and eggPaul and Sue both say their parents raised chickens while they were growing up.

Paul’s parents started when he was 5 years old.

“My mother always had chickens and it was, ‘OK, Sunday’s coming up, chicken dinner,’” Sue said. “She would just go out, ‘Eeny meeny miney, moe, who’s bugging me the most?’ Wring the neck, plucked them. … ‘I’ve got too many roosters, which one of you are the meanest?’ and it would hit the pot. We would have chicken, whether it was roast chicken, fried chicken, chicken-and-dumplings or whatever. That’s the way I grew up.”

The couple started raising chickens in the mid-1980s, in a tiny barn with less than a dozen chickens providing eggs for their family.

They’d always have a surplus, so they put a sign out by the road: “Eggs for sale.”

“Of course, people will stop and buy eggs,” Paul said.

They then began selling eggs at the farmers’ market.

They can raise up to 120 chickens in the small building where they keep the birds.

Feed and straw for bedding are their biggest expense.

“When you’re buying chickens, the baby chicks are anywhere from $3 to $4 apiece,” Sue said. “It takes six months for that baby chick to lay an egg. So you’re feeding this $4 baby chick for six months feed that’s about $18 or so a bag until they start laying.”

After that six months, she said, the chickens lay eggs “like gangbusters” for the first year. After that, their productivity begins to taper off.

“I always figure first year is 100%,” Paul said. “Second year is going to be around 75% or 80%. Third year, you’re looking at 60%. After that, you probably should get new chickens.”

The Puheks plan to run their chickens for two years. For their older birds, they hope to find a butcher, a big need for small-scale farmers in the area.

Chefs have expressed interest in buying their spent layer hens, which they say have more flavor, but the chickens must be processed at a USDA facility to be sold.

It would be an added value, Paul said, but there’s a one- to two-year waiting list to rent portable slaughter facilities.

How did they get rid of the birds from their previous flock?

“I put an ad on Craigslist that said, ‘Free chickens,’” Paul said. “I got like 10 to 12 responses in half an hour.”

Produce accounts for the other half of the operation. The Puheks started farming after getting married in 1980.

“We were living in a trailer in a trailer park, and we literally tore up the backyard and planted vegetables,” Sue said. “Not only were we feeding us, we were feeding the neighbors.”

They’re always looking for different varieties of vegetables, new and old.

“Typically, if we don’t like it, we don’t think our customers will like it,” Paul said.

Sue is a certified master food preserver, so she can educate customers about canning, dehydrating and freezing if they purchase 5 pounds of carrots and aren’t sure what to do with them.

“Sometimes you have to not only develop your customer, you’re developing a market,” Paul said.

Approachability is key when selling at the farmers’ market, the Puheks say. They’ve seen other vendors grumble about answering customers’ questions all day, or sit in the back of the booth and ignore the people they hope will buy from them.

The Puheks also test their produce so they know how to advise their customers. For example, they experimented with purple carrots, now one of their top sellers, Sue said.

“We sell out of those first,” Paul agreed. “You can throw the produce out on a table and stand there, and hope it goes, or you can say, ‘Hey, come take a look at this.’”

But the farmers’ market only lasts 22 weeks each year. For chicken farmers, that creates a quandary: The chickens don’t stop laying once the market season is over.

“If you have 100 chickens, you’re going to get 80 eggs a day,” Paul said.

In the off-season, the Puheks sell their eggs through the LINC Foods co-op to wholesale or straight to retail.

“They’re one of the last few really functioning farms in Otis Orchards, which is a historically important agricultural district in our region,” said Beth Robinette, co-founder of LINC Foods. “They’ve been able to keep that going in that area.”

The Puheks sell their eggs for $5 a dozen at farmers’ markets or $3 to $4 per dozen to the co-op.

Their cost of production is roughly $2.25 to $2.50 per dozen.

The Puheks expect to remain profitable, even with the delay in egg production as the new flock matures.

Produce is also profitable, but they are at the mercy of the weather, Sue said. Costs are relatively low, as long as the couple watches their inputs and doesn’t have a crop loss.

When planting produce, Paul said, the couple factors in expected demand, including what they had too much or too little of the previous year.

“Everything you grow has to have somewhere to go,” he said. “If you grow it and don’t sell it, it’s actually costing you money — the cost of taking care of that produce, harvesting it, the seed — if it rots or gets sowed underground, it’s not just a lost sale, it’s lost revenue. You’re spending money on produce you’re not selling.”

Getting startedWhen they teach classes to beginning farmers, Sue tells students chickens are one of the easiest types of livestock to raise.

“They’re not too picky about where they live, what they eat, and you wind up getting eggs and meat,” she said.

Paul and Sue warn beginning farmers to be ready for chickens when they arrive.

Paul recommends having all infrastructure in place before buying.

They’ve seen too many instances of people purchasing chicks on a whim.

“They have nowhere to put them — they’re raising chickens in their bathtub or sticking them in a box in their laundry room,” Paul said. “OK, now they’re too big for the laundry room — where do they go?”

The Puheks have designed their operation to make things most efficient for them, not for the birds.

“The chickens don’t care,” Sue said. “I’m sure you’ve seen on the Internet the cute little tiny houses and stuff for chickens. I’m looking at that going, ‘How the heck am I going to clean that? How am I going to get into it? How am I going to water, how am I going to feed?’”

Giving backThe Puheks practice the three parts of sustainable farming — community, business and taking care of the land, said Munts, the WSU Extension small farms coordinator.

“(They’re) a good demonstration of how you can manage at a scale and still make a profit, but still maintain jobs and everything else,” she said.

Munts is particularly impressed with the Puheks’ willingness to share their successes with other small-scale farmers.

“I can’t say enough about how they’ll say, ‘Yes,’ every time I call them,” she said. “They’re just so community-minded, it’s just wonderful.”


Grazing sheep in vineyards and beyond

Oregon State University Extension experts say that research shows that there’s a benefit to year-round grazing of sheep on vineyards.

OSU will present a program entitled “Grazing Sheep in Vineyards and Beyond” Aug. 8 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Rd
Central Point, Ore.

“Recent research has shown incredible benefits of using sheep year-round in properly designed/retrofitted vineyards, including increased net profitability per acre from the vineyard as well as the livestock, increased soil fertility, and reduced labor costs as well as fewer tractor passes, elimination of tillage and reduced needs for fertilizer.”

Kelly Mulville of Paicines Ranch,  and who is also a Holistic Management International certified educator, will be the presenter.

The cost of the event is $20 for one participant, or $30 for two from the same farm. To register, go to the event website.

You could get reimbursed for some organic certification costs

The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program is now accepting farmer and processor applications for reimbursement of 75 percent of your certification costs (up to $750 per scope of certification), according to Oregon Tilth.

The USDA National Organic Program currently recognizes four scopes of certification: crops, wild crops, livestock and processing/handling. Reimbursements will be made on a first-come, first-serve basis until all funds have been allocated.

The Help Center provides information on requirements, eligibility, the application process, and key deadlines.

To learn more, please visit:

Micro hop farm caters to micro breweries

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — Don Norton likes to think outside the box. Along with growing organic hops, Norton and his wife, Tina, also add value to the plants by selling vines and making wreaths, and by leasing out his picking equipment.

Don Norton first got interested in growing hops because he wanted to home brew, but in 2007 when he heard about a hop shortage, it confirmed that this was a market he wanted to explore.

Although he had no sales when he first started producing — which he said is “supposedly a no-no because you’re supposed to have the hops sold before you even put them in the ground” — he marketed and sold his product until he landed what is now a 10-year-long local customer: Mountain Rose Herbs.

“It worked out,” he said.

The other side of the operation is Tina Norton’s focus. She sells hop vines and wreaths made of the vines to antique shops and florists, and they have been featured at special occasions such as weddings and funerals.

She started the project after shoulder surgery when she needed something to do.

“I taught special education and I was having a hard time without being able to work,” she said. “This helped; this was my therapy.”

A small operation, Norton’s Hop Farm has 1 acre of heirloom, Cascade and nugget hops. Don Norton said that everyone loves Cascade and they’re the easiest to sell, but he mainly picked them to grow because that’s the hop he likes.

Norton didn’t have any background in farming when he started, and said he learned about farming and organics at the same time. He added that it was probably for the best, as he didn’t have to learn how to transition from conventional practices.

“It’s just good to the earth,” he said. “ I always had a little bit of a sense of wanting to be clean, natural and pure.”

He added that “getting better dollars for the product” was an incentive as well.

The farm has gone through several changes over the years, including in its clientele. After Norton bought a hop picker, he leased a 2-acre abandoned hop farm in the area where he was able to harvest 800 pounds of hops. That year, he sold hops to six breweries in the area, including McMenamins and Viking Braggot. He was able to sell out.

Unfortunately, Norton said, the lease fell apart, but it’s given him time to focus on expanding his own field. Although it’s going to be a couple of years before he has more hops to share with the breweries again, he said that he has a good relationship with them.

Although Mountain Rose Herbs has been good to the farm, Norton said his goal is to continue expansion and work on gaining back more of the brewery clients. Down the line he wants to buy a pelletizing machine so they don’t have to wait for the fresh hop season.

Despite the ups and downs that come with the business, Norton said that the farm has been a good adventure.

“I enjoy the sales and dealing with the brewers,” he said. “And days working out in the field with a beer: it feels good and it feels right.”

Learn the in’s and out’s of agritourism

A lot of small farms are getting involved in agritourism to boost the bottomline.

But, there are a lot of things to consider before you dive in. Significant hurdles have arisen for agritourism over the years — including insurance liability issues and land use problems.

The Oregon State Small Farms Program will present Agritourism 101, a free presentation on the in’s and out’s of agritourism, March 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. at MPFS Youth Farm
4320 Winema Place Northeast, Salem. It will be presented by Extension agritourism agent Mary Stewart.

The program is free. For more information and to register, go to the program website.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture — the most recent available — reported an income of over $15 million from agritourism in Washington state, and Idaho had just over $5 million. Oregon brought in over $10 million, and California topped them all with nearly $38 million in agritourism income.

Nationally, the sector makes up 3.8 percent of agricultural income, based on the 2012 census, which reported over $704 million in agritourism income across the U.S.

OSU presents Rural Living Day 2019

If you own a small farm or are considering a move to the country, you might want to check out Rural Living Day 2019.

Presented by Oregon State University Extension and OSU’s Small Farms Program, Rural Living Day is March 9 from 9 a.m to 4:30 p.m. at Harrisburg High School, 400 South 9th St.,
Harrisburg. The cost is $25.

“If you are a small acreage/rural property owner or considering a move to the country you won’t want to miss this event. Workshops throughout the day offer something for everyone,” according to the event website. ” Classes on Bee Keeping, Compost, Pasture Management, Well Water Management, Soils, Tree ID, Wildfires and more.”

For a complete schedule and to register, go to the event website.

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 Farms Conference registration opens Dec. 17

Registration for Oregon State University’s popular Small Farms Conference opens Dec. 17.

The conference will be conducted Feb. 23 at the LaSells Steward Center and CH2M Hill Alumni Center at Oregon State University’s Corvallis campus.

“The Oregon Small Farms Conference is a daylong event geared toward farmers, agricultural professionals, food policy advocates, students and managers of farmers markets,” according to the event’s website.  “Twenty-seven educational sessions are offered on a variety of topics relevant to the Oregon small farmers and include a track in Spanish. Speakers include farmers, OSU Extension faculty, agribusiness, and more.”

Early Bird registration will be available Dec. 17 through Jan. 20 for $60 per person. Thereafter through Feb. 13 registration will be $85 per person. Conference organizers warn that registration is limited and could close before Feb. 13.

For more information, go to the conference website.


Day-long program presents all things dairy goats

Emerald Dairy Goat Association and OSU Extension Service Small Farms Program will sponsor Dairy Goat Day 2018 Nov. 3 in Pleasant Hill, Ore.

The day-long program will be presented from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Pleasant Hill High School, 36386 OR-58, Pleasant Hill, Ore.

“Classes, displays, and hands-on learning in a friendly, low-key setting will strengthen your goat confidence and know-how,” according to the event website. ” If you are an experienced “goat person” or you hope, to be, this event is for you.”

The cost is $25/ per person or $40 for two people from the same farm, and 4-H  Youth can attend for $5. To register or get more information, go to the event website.

The website lists the following session descriptions:

Getting Started with Milk Certification Part 1 and 2: Kathy Sackman, Washington DHIA. Learn the essentials of becoming a certified milk tester.  Take the certification test or renew your current certification.  Plan to attend both sessions, Part 1 and 2 to complete the certification process.

Common Diseases of Goats: Dr. Charles Estill, OSU Extension Veterinarian. Learn about the common diseases that affect goats in the Pacific Northwest.  We’ll  cover prevention and treatment options to help keep your goats healthy.

Managing Internal Parasites: Dr. Charles Estill, OSU Extension Veterinarian.Internal parasites are a concern for a majority of goat owners. Topics in this class will include parasite life cycles, how to recognize parasitic infections, resistance to dewormers and researched treatment options.

Pasture Management: Melissa Fery, OSU Extension Small Farms Faculty. If you are unhappy with the current condition of your farm’s pastures, plan to attend this session. We’ll discuss basic management strategies for more productive, healthy pastures for your livestock.

Finessing Freshening: The 123s of Milking and Handling: Sage Rosene, Emerald Dairy Goat Association. This session is perfect for new goat owners who would like to learn proper technique for safely milking does.  Tips for udder care, cleansing and handling will also be shared.

Herbal Nutrition and Health for Goats-2 part session: Katherine Drovdahl MH, CR, DipHIr, CEIT. Katherine is the author of “The Accessible Pet, Equine and Livestock Herbal.”   All those letters after her name stand for “ Master of Herbology, Certified Reflexologist, Diplomate of Holistic Iridology, Certified Equine Iridology Technician & Researcher, International Certification in Aromatherpy.  Her book covers goat nutrition and goat body systems and support, all the backyard herbal way. Her presentations will give you a fascinating introduction to the herbal way for your goats.

Cheese Making: Kristina Kreedy, Emerald Dairy Goat Association. Learn how to preserve milk from your home dairy. A cheese making demonstration and a short introduction to the exciting world, both science and art, of making cheese

Guardian Animals for Goats: Meg Hicks. This presentation will primarily focus on guardian dogs but will also introduce llamas and donkeys. Learn how to protect goats with facilities improvements.

Raising Goats for Meat: Meg Hicks. This presentation covers selecting breeding stock, breeding, feeding & care, marketing, and basic butchering for personal use.

Adventures with Pack Goats: Wayne Sherrard, North American Pack Goat Association. This presentation is for the beginner interested in pack goats.  Wayne will be teaching you how to select goats with packing potential and all about the equipment to get you started.


Webinar series features ‘Funding for Farmers’

Two University of  Idaho Extension educators will conduct a free webinar Oct. 9 entitled “Funding for Farmers.”

“This webinar on Funding for Farmers is designed for farmers and ranchers seeking to learn about SARE grants and opportunities. Participants will learn whether they are eligible for SARE grants, what are previously funded Idaho SARE proposals, and vet your ideas with experts.”

The webinar will be presented by Lauren Golden and Colette DePhelps, of University of Idaho Extension. It will be presented live  via a video conferencing platform. Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 11 a.m. Pacific/noon Mountain.  For more information and to register, go to the event website.

The webinar is part of a series of lunchtime webinars offered by Cultivating Success™.  While the webinars are offered live, they are also recorded and can be accessed at the program’s website.