Washington workshops address hemp issues

Washington farmers will learn about the essentials of raising hemp during two upcoming workshops, the first of which is this week.

Naked Science Topicals LLC in Spokane is sponsoring a workshop  on the global hemp outlook, regional possibilities and hemp production from seed to sale at 5 p.m. April 11 at the Museum Event Center, at 5225 N. Freya St. in Spokane. Cost is $50.

Bellingham, Wash., farmer Tom Lauerman will speak.

Lauerman returns, with state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley,  on June 1 to discuss the legalities of raising hemp. Shea is the author of a state bill on industrial hemp production.

The June meeting will be at the same location. The exact time is to be determined.

The state is issuing licenses to raise hemp, said Naked Science Topicals co-owner Tracy Sirrine.

“This is a very viable crop. It has a large number of uses — everything from fiber to fuel,” Sirrine told the Capital Press. “Hemp can replace a lot of the things we’re having issues with now, such as deforestation, and can be used to clean soil.”

The business has been operating for a year.

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.”

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.

‘Adequate’ spring rain, hotter summer ahead

Pacific Northwest farmers will see “adequate” rain this spring before temperatures go up for the summer.

“Adequate moisture, evenly spaced, that ought to keep you going,” Art Douglas, professor emeritus at Creighton University, told the Capital Press. “Not a great growing season but not a disaster.”

Douglas offered his annual weather forecast Feb. 5 at the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum. He has spoken at the event since 1989.

El Nino, the warm phase of temperature fluctuations in the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central equatorial Pacific Ocean, tends to mean dry weather in the Pacific Northwest, but Douglas doesn’t believe this one will turn out that way.

“I don’t see an indication of any kind of severe drought this spring,” he said. “You’re going to get some moisture in here to push along, and hopefully things will work out.”

Douglas expects a cold February followed by a warmer March through May.

“I think February will end up being your coldest month of the winter, and then probably by March it will be back to above normal,” Douglas said.

Moisture levels west of the Cascade Range, he said, will be below 80 percent of normal. East of the Cascades, Eastern Washington will be 80 to 90 percent of normal, he said.

In southeast Oregon, moisture levels may be closer to normal, as rain and snow from California creep into the area, he said.

Douglas said conditions could be cooler and wetter in May in the western U.S. But come July and August, conditions will definitely be warmer than normal, he said.

The weather will be “drier in the north, but maybe some of that monsoon moisture (will be) getting into extreme southeast Oregon and southern Idaho,” he said.

Asked about fire risk, Douglas replied, “My guess is, it’s not going to be good for you. Maybe not as bad as last year, but given the average above normal temperatures … I think this fire season will just get progressively worse.”

Douglas said 2019 is most likely to be comparable to years such as 1986, 1989, 1999, 2001, 2014 and 2017.

But he said it’s tricky to make predictions as sea surface temperature patterns are typical of El Nino, but upper levels of the atmosphere are poorly tied to the ocean, which is not typical of winter weather patterns.

“Normally the upper level heights are governed by what the sea surface temperatures are forcing on them, and that’s not happening,” Douglas said. “It’s probably an indication that we’re getting ready for a pretty major circulation change, not only in the atmosphere, but also in the ocean. These two are fighting each other. They’re duking it out, and I really don’t know which one is going to win.”

Forecasts for the next few months will be unstable as the ocean and atmosphere try to become better linked, he said.

Sea surface temperature patterns are not likely to change over the next six months, he said.

Elsewhere, a dry spring in the Corn Belt will need to be closely watched, he said. It will allow Midwest farmers to plant early, but dry conditions are likely to persist through the summer.

“I think we kind of have a fingernail-biting situation in the spring and summer,” he said. “Dryness is going to start being talked about more and more in the Midwest, and there’s going to be more and more concern for the crop.

“Is this thing going to get out of control and be a major drought? I personally don’t know what it’s going to do,” he said.

Weatherman predicts good winter for region’s growers

Pacific Northwest farmers are likely to see normal or above-normal precipitation this year, weatherman Art Douglas predicts.

Douglas, a professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., will offer his popular weather forecast at opening session of the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum, 9 a.m. Tuesday, Feb.

Douglas has been a fixture at the Expo since 1977.

“The first thing we’ve got to keep in mind is we have an El Nino, and it’s not been a normal El Nino development,” Douglas told the Capital Press in November.

An El Nino is the warm phase of temperature fluctuations in the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central equatorial Pacific, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It usually means dry conditions in the Pacific Northwest.

A La Nina is the cold phase of those fluctuations, and means wetter conditions in the Pacific Northwest.

A La Nina means “horrendous” winters for the Pacific Northwest, which is not expected at all, Douglas said. He said the main cold for the winter was in November and December, followed by above-normal temperatures from February into April.

Douglas also expected dry winter conditions in the Northern Rockies, and storms off the West Coast.

During the spring, Douglas expects good moisture through northern California, Nevada, the northern Rockies and the Northwest.

“Compared to a lot of El Ninos, not as big a threat for drought, and at the same time, the dry period’s going to be the winter, and it’s not going to extend into the spring, which often does a lot of damage as you’re trying to get the crop back,” he said.

Douglas predicts 90 percent of normal precipitation in the Spokane area.

The biggest question is whether the El Nino continues into the summer and the fall, he said.

El Ninos typically have an average lifespan of 12 to 14 months but some can last longer — two to three years. One El Nino lasted from 2014 to the end of 2016, he said.

Forecasts indicate current weather patterns are similar to the early 1990s, when El Ninos tended to repeat, without La Nina cooling, Douglas said.

Conditions have tended to be drier than normal, Douglas said. The trend should turn wetter in the end of February through to April.

“Average temperatures above normal, far less threat for winterkill … and then we head towards the end of winter-spring, mild temperatures and then normal to above normal precipitation,” Douglas said. “So that’s pretty good.”

Workshop offers cattle basics for new ranchers

A University of Idaho Extension workshop will help new ranchers learn the basic of cattle ownership.

“The Basics and Beyond: Cattle Ownership and Management 201” begins at 7:30 a.m. Jan. 29 at the UI Extension Office at 2200 Michigan Ave. in Orofino.

Idaho is the second-fastest growing state in the nation, said Bill Warren, UI Extension educator in Clearwater County. Many people want to live on rural land and have a new lifestyle, he noted.

“Many of them do not have any experience living on rural land but do want to have cattle, grazing and other things,” he said. “A lot of my programming is geared to that audience, and this workshop is one of those.”

This year, he decided to add more time, going more in depth with some more intermediate topics.

Topics covered will include infrastructure needed to house, contain, and feed  and water cattle, the economics of owning cattle, trade-offs of owning yearlings vs. raising cattle year-round, basic equipment, basics of grazing management, winter feeding, cattle health issues, do’s and don’ts of buying and selling cattle, cattle breeds and other topics.

The workshop will also cover the benefits of owning and managing cattle, including pasture and rangeland management, improved grassland health, weed control and reduced wildfire risk.

Cattle ownership can generate additional income from a rural property, with grazing qualifying ranchers for property tax categories that lower valuation and reduce property tax bills, according to UI Extension.

Warren aims to help participants make better decisions and avoid costly mistakes.

Cost is $10. Pre-registration is recommended. Call 208-476-4434 or e-mail clearwater@uidaho.edu

This program builds on last year’s Introduction to Cattle Ownership and Management by reviewing the basics for new cattle owners as well as adding more depth and intermediate topics for those with some cattle experience.


Sixth season of ‘Washington Grown’ begins airing

A new season of “Washington Grown,” the television show spotlighting the state’s agriculture, premiered Jan. 3.

Aimed at educating the public about Washington-grown food and agriculture, the TV show airs in the Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Yakima, Tri-Cities and Pullman markets.

Now in its sixth season, the show is funded by eight agricultural groups and organizations, and a USDA specialty crop block grant.

The first episode focuses on potato exports, including international chefs holding a cooking contest in the state, said Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington Potato Commission, one of the primary supporters of the show.

Last season, the show added interviews with food truck owners using a particular crop in their recipes, in addition to interviews with restaurants.

The show has added 30-second to one-minute videos of recipes submitted by viewers. Several guest chefs taste-test the recipes, said David Tanner, co-executive producer of the show.

Another new segment focuses on purchasing produce at grocery stores, and how to buy and store it.

Tanner cites several upcoming episodes about cherries, edible flowers and Seattle restaurant owner Eduardo Jordan, recipient of the James Beard Foundation Best Chef of the Northwest. Jordan’s restaurant JuneBaby, also in Seattle, received the foundation’s Best New Restaurant.

Last year, the show went national on RFD-TV, which focuses on rural audiences and agriculture news. Voigt said 80 million households have access to the channel. Executive producer Kara Rowe said the show had 130,000 views when it premiered in July 2018.

The show is now beginning fundraising efforts for the seventh season.

It costs roughly $350,000 to produce a 13-episode season.

The show will remain a Washington-based program for the sixth and seventh seasons, Voigt said. But after that, it might make sense to go broader and bring in other funding partners in the Pacific Northwest, he said.

Industry members from Oregon and Idaho expressed interest in participating during a National Potato Council meeting July 2018 in Leavenworth, Wash., he said.

Because the show is produced using USDA specialty crop grants, the emphasis must be on specialty crops and produce.

For the seventh season, Voigt would welcome partners from the livestock sector.

“This whole show is about trying to educate the public,” he said. “So to give an idea of what exactly a rancher has to do in the way of grazing or protecting their herd, I’d love to tell that story.”

Rowe said the show is open to suggestions as it prepares to film the seventh season.

“We will never run out of stories,” she said. “All those cool little nuggets that are out there, so any time people have ideas, we’d love to hear about them. We’d love to hear about the guy down the street doing something cool or the little farm that nobody knows about.”

App connects local farms, customers

SPOKANE — Vince Peak and Eric Kobe are the innovators behind Share.Farm, a new smart phone application that helps local farmers find potential customers, and vice versa.

“We want people to know where their food’s from, what goes into producing that product and getting it to them — having a more close relationship with that local farm and seller,” Peak said.

In addition to allowing farmers to offer their crops for sale through the app, it also shows which restaurants purchase local items and serve them on their menu, Peak said.

The app also shows potential customers which local products are available nearby, or if they pass a participating farm or market, they will receive a notification of the products available.

The app launched in August. Peak said they have 1,000 customers in the Spokane area, the company’s primary territory.

The app provides farmers with another revenue source, Kobe said. Small-scale farmers who have produce to sell can use the app to reach customers.

With the app, farmers can sell product seven days a week instead of just two or three like they’re doing at farmers’ markets, Kobe said.

Kobe said the app allows vendors to share their stories directly with customers, and buyers to know where their food comes from. It’s one-stop marketing, he said.

Farmers use the app by downloading it free of charge from the Apple or Google stores, logging on, listing all items for sale and linking to a payment processor to conduct transactions through the phone. When they get an order they can then determine the means of distribution — delivery, on-farm pickup or a mutual meet-up point.

“All you need is to setup a vendor profile, list the items you want to sell and they must be grown by you or your business,” according to the website.

Farm.Share does not charge a vendor fee but has a service charge of 7-13 percent, depending on the size of the order, according to the share.farm website. The app uses the Stripe Connect Express for immediate payouts to sellers.

Some 130 farmers, primarily in Eastern Washington, are signed up.

Peak said the company is talking to farmers in Wenatchee and Yakima about selling directly there. He also plans to start targeting Seattle and Portland.

Adam Hegsted, chef for the Eat Good Group, uses the app to buy local products for all of his restaurants.

“We try to get as much local product as possible,” he said. “Getting product in the winter is not always easy. If there’s more people buying things on a regular basis, more things will be available.”

Peak and Kobe say they got involved because they care about what they eat and want to direct purchasing dollars to local farmers and businesses.

Smaller users, such as gardeners, could also make money selling their crops using the app, Peak said.

Using the app, livestock can also be pre-sold before it even goes to slaughter, Kobe said.

The creators are working with sellers to improve the app.

Kobe hopes to reach 5,000 customers in 2019.

“We’re surrounded by amazing farms all over the place,” he said. “This is one of the biggest growing places in the country, and no one’s buying as much local food as they could. Users will be able to see sellers who are in their own backyard.”

Author seeks harvest tradition stories

ENDICOTT, Wash. — Author Richard Scheuerman is seeking stories about harvest traditions in the Pacific Northwest.

Richard Scheuerman, who is also co-founder of Palouse Heritage Grains, spoke this week at events in Colfax and Pullman, Wash., to coincide with the release of his book, “Hardship to Homeland,” published by Washington State University Press and available throughout the region.

“I’d love if (farmers) would share memories they might have,” Scheuerman said. “Old World harvest traditions, but hey, I’m also interested in the fact that when we were kids, our fathers threw their hats in the combine on the last minute of harvest.”

“Hardship” is the story of the Volga Germans moving from Germany to Russia to the Pacific Northwest in the 1880s.

The book was originally published as “The Volga Germans” in 1985; the new release has a new introduction and a collection of folk stories based on true events.

“It’s a bit peculiar, because there are really strange things that were in our elders’ memories about early life here, encounters with strange people,” Scheuerman told the Capital Press. “Those stories are all retold as they were told to us.”

Scheuerman said he had a special interest in telling the folktales passed down through the generations, such as seeing the northern lights for the first time and thinking the world was ending, or students being roped together to avoid walking over a cliff in the middle of a blizzard.

“These people were farmers, and their agrarian traditions inhabit all aspects of the story,” Scheuerman said. “Their farming traditions, culinary lifeways — all those things figure into the text. They’re wrapped around the life of peasant farm people. They had many folk beliefs about the seasons of the year, how that affects life and how that affects the crop.”

Scheuerman is also working on a three-volume series on agricultural traditions and themes in great art and literature, tentatively titled “Hallowed Harvest,” including connections to the Pacific Northwest.

“Why did Monet paint his grain stack series? Why were the last 20-some paintings by Van Gogh all of wheat fields? Why did Willa Cather write about growing up on the farmlands of the Great Plains?” Scheuerman asked.

Scheuerman’s interests go all the way back to farming and biblical connections. He believes stories in the Old and New Testaments have great lessons for any time, but especially now.

“We’re starting to lose our connections with the earth, and in an increasingly industrialized world, we’re finding out how precious those connections are, how vital they are to sustaining a quality of life that’s being threatened in our day and age,” he said.

To share harvest tradition stories, contact Scheuerman through Palouse Heritage Grains.

Tilth keynote speaker emphasizes diversity for farming future

SPOKANE — Farmers of different backgrounds must work together to bolster support for future generations, a California grain farmer says.

Mai Nguyen gave the keynote speech, titled “Regenerating Diversity,” during the Tilth Alliance’s conference Nov. 10 in Spokane.

Nguyen, a Sonoma County heirloom and ethnic grain farmer, is the California organizer of the National Young Farmers Coalition and co-owner/operator of the Sonoma Grain Collaborative.

Nguyen said she works to find cooperative ways for growers to increase seed, access markets or obtain financial credit.

“These are important times to remember farmers have been doing a great deal of work and that it’s often been overlooked,” she said.

She’d like to see farmers move from viewing one another as competitors to being colleagues, working to identify common problems and find solutions together.

“We get to see how each other work, we’ve built a lot of trust,” she said, pointing to a friend who is a ”multi-generational Republican” from a completely different background.

Such relationships are important when rural populations are becoming more isolated, and 1 percent of Americans are farmers, Nguyen said. Six percent of that 1 percent are younger than the age of 35.

“We really need to stick together to be America’s farming future,” she said.

Nguyen said the coalition engages politicians to take agriculture more seriously and show that the American food system has been built by a diversity of people across a diversity of landscapes.

Nguyen spoke of her experience working with others to ensure that California farmers have better access to land and resources. The Farmer Equity Act, passed in 2017, is designed to create a state definition for and provide assistance to socially disadvantaged farmers.

Nguyen said President Trump’s budget proposes eliminating federal grants designed to offer such assistance.

Nguyen said the equity act is “the very first California civil rights agricultural bill to ever exist.”

The act creates a new executive position in the California Department of Agriculture to support the effort. Nguyen said she was disappointed when the person selected for the position, slated to represent farmers of color across the state, was a white woman.

“While we are acknowledging that there’s progress we’re making in terms of saving more seed, cultivating more knowledge, creating cooperatives, there will be those moments where we have to question what progress and change over time looks like, and how quickly that will take place,” she said. “Even though there are those moments, it’s also really important to celebrate what we’ve gained.”

During a recent party to celebrate the passage of the act, Nguyen spoke with a young boy, who told her “I was always ashamed of what my parents did, but now I think I want to be a farmer.”

“If we’re going to raise that 6 percent to maybe even 7 percent, we need to do that work of sharing that seed, creating cooperatives, cooperating, localizing and celebrating,” she said. “That’s really how we’re going to be able to generate diversity in our landscapes, as we do this common ground work of sustaining our future.”