farming

Hay Baler Damaged in Goshen Grass Fire

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Goshen, Ore. — Warm temperatures and dry conditions posed a challenge to firefighters who battled a grass fire at a Goshen farm Monday afternoon.

Crews from Goshen and Pleasant Hill Fire Districts, along with South Lane Fire & Rescue and the Oregon Department of Forestry, responded to the emergency around 12:45 p.m., after someone reported seeing flames near Scharen and Hampton Roads.

According to firefighters, the fire was sparked by a hay bale that got stuck under a hay baler machine being pulled by a farmer in the field. They say the friction and heat caused by dragging the bale caused the hay to ignite.

“Most land owners are fairly knowledgeable in this,” said Chief David Wolting of Goshen/Pleasant Hill Fire Districts. “They watch the weather conditions and try to harvest their fields when the conditions are right and sometimes you just can’t predict these kinds of things,” said Wolting.

The flames quickly spread to about an acre and burned grass and other hay bales in the field. No one was hurt, but the farmer’s truck and hay baler were damaged by the fire.

Farmers Get Tax Credit for Donating Food

farmerMEDFORD, Ore. — Governor Kitzhaber signed a bill  Thursday that aims at bringing fresh food to hungry families.

Last month, the state legislature unanimously passed Senate Bill 1541, better known as the crop donation tax credit.  This will give farmers tax credit if they donate raw natural food to food banks.

Farmers in the Rogue Valley said this will give them the initiative to give back.

“By and large, most of the food at the food banks is processed and prepackaged. So when they are able to get fresh local food, they just love it, and we love sharing the abundance of our valley with Oregonians of all incomes,” Luna Michelle, Happy Dirt Veggie Patch owner.

Michelle said the tax credit will help benefit her farm.  She said it will help cover the cost of picking, handling, and transporting the crops to food banks.

Boondockers Farm: Preserving Heritage Breeds for Future Generations

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Boondockers Farm: Preserving Heritage Breeds for Future Generations
by Mike Bullington, EDN

The flower pattern on Rachel Kornstein’s rubber boots is faded from long hours in the sun and smeared with mud from a parade of duck feet that follow her as she moves about her chores. Framed by dark hair and a ponytail, her face holds the weight and passion of a generation looking at a future full of uncertainties. Together with her partner, Evan Gregoire, they are the owners and full-time crew of Boondockers Farm.

Mornings at Boondockers start later than is traditional with farmers—up and out by 9 or 10 a.m.—but they continue up into the late evening with a never-ending list of tasks: feeding ducks, chickens and dogs; milking three cows and attending to their heirloom vegetables, while remaining ever on the watch for predators. After dark, Evan shifts from his role as a traditional pasture farmer into—more fitting for a man just out of his twenties— a marketing manager, utilizing a campaign of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to promote the heritage animals and heirloom vegetables they are raising on their forty acres in the Spencer Creek district of rural Lane County.

Boondockers’ primary breed is the Ancona duck. Originating in Great Britain in the early 19th century, it is a flightless duck with characteristic black splotches randomly marking their bodies and webbed feet. Along with five other species of duck, 12 breeds of chicken, and five species of turkey, the Ancona are listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). The ALBC list of endangered and threatened poultry and livestock breeds contains over 100 unique breeds that are being bred into extinction. With the modern farm’s emphasis placed on production and profitability, commercial, fast-growing breeds are preferred over the diversity of slower-growing heritage breeds.

Like their heirloom vegetable counterparts, heritage breeds have been developed over hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Built into the diversity of these breeds is a insurance policy against disease and natural disasters. Jeannette Beranger, from the ALBC, likens relying on a single breed to a bad investment in the stock market. “If you put all your stock into one company and they tank—you are in a lot of trouble,” Beranger explains. “Keeping these breeds around is setting the future of agriculture up with some security.”

Over the last 50 to 75 years poultry farming has undergone a huge transformation. Birds have been brought indoors in order to control their environment and utilize mechanical means of feeding and harvesting. “The change from hand tools to industrial agriculture, from food being for feeding people to food being for profit. Chemicals—,” Rachel breaks off with a look of stern disagreement. “Food is becoming like warfare.”

Boondockers Farm officially started with two endangered ducks (named Housh and Suni) in the front yard of a rented house in Eugene in 2004. Evan and Rachel had known each other for about three years when Evan left a career in sports marketing and management in Los Angeles. With a small severance package and no clear direction other than to have “a balance of trees to concrete,” they moved from the busy work-a-day world of Southern California to Eugene.  What they never imagined when they made the two-day drive up I-5 was that they would not only dedicate their days to rural heritage farming, but to preserving an entire breed of animal, the Ancona duck. Boondockers is currently the primary source of Ancona ducks in the United States with 60 breeding pairs. “We didn’t even know we wanted to be farmers back then,” Rachel laughs, sitting cross-legged on the ground with a flock of baby ducks and yearlings pecking the ground about her. “We wanted a lifestyle that is connected.”

Two endangered ducks turned into three (Housh and Suni had a baby named Tiny) and then into seven and then into 37—at which point the habit of naming them became impractical. A new piece of property was leased with more room. Chickens, vegetables and cows were added. And to guard them all the couple began breeding Pyrenees Mountain Dogs. “We shifted to calling ourselves a farm,” Rachel says, half distracted by a baby pecking at her shoe. A constant chorus of high-pitched chirps emanates from the flock of immature birds who have not developed the characteristic quack just yet. Roaming back and forth with a seemingly single mind they peck at her toes, the ground and anything that does not move away quick enough. The ducks are young to be out on their own—just three days old, their down still crusted from hatching. Rachel has decided to let them out from under the heat lamps and into the warm sun early because the time foraging is good for them. “It’s just the healthiest thing for them,” she explains. “They eat so many things and learn natural behaviors.”

Commercial breeds are dependent on controlled environments. The Broad-breasted White turkey, which accounts for 90 percent of all turkeys being raised, cannot reproduce naturally. It continues to exist only because of artificial insemination. A joint study between the ALBC and Virginia Tech demonstrated that commercial poultry breeds have a weakened immune system in comparison to heritage breeds and are therefore more prone to illness. The implications of this are clear: one massive disease outbreak or natural disaster that disrupts their controlled environment and this food source could disappear.

If there is a poster-child for factory farming, it is the Cornish Cross chicken. The Cornish Cross is the classic supermarket chicken. It eats until it can’t walk. It outgrows its skeletal system in a matter of eight weeks due to breeding. Because of this rapid growth it is prone to broken legs, lameness and sudden heart failure. Rachel, moving now to throw her brood some feed, tells of a friend who lost over 40 Cornish Cross chickens in one day because they were too heavy to move to the other side of their pen to get out of the direct sun and get a drink of water. “Within six to eight weeks their internal organs will hemorrhage, their legs will break, and they die. They can’t grow any larger. They can’t move to get food. They sit in their own poo in little pens. And then we eat them.”

Evan walks with a casual gait as he goes about his chores on the farm with a hint of Southern California surfer-dude left in his voice. His youngish face sports an almost impish grin peering out from under a tan floppy shade hat and a three-day beard. This evening’s chores for Evan includes moving portable fencing that is used to corral their Delaware Broilers in with the dogs at night. The Delawares are a second endangered breed being preserved at Boondockers. The white and black speckled chickens are a slow-growing heritage breed—taking an average of 16 weeks to reach market weight and are known for their mellow disposition, well developed eggs and quality meat.

Evan is rotating the electric fencing protecting their coop further up the hill in order to give the land a rest. All about him the white Delawares run to and fro as if directed by some inane chicken logic. One adolescent male catches sight of Evan bending down to pick up an empty feed bag and runs towards him—its head and neck stretched forward, wings back and strong legs pumping quickly in a comical manner—in case feed is coming. Satisfied that it has not missed out it moves on to examine the side of a plastic bucket with intense curiosity.

The local food movement is not taken seriously by some customers—“Convenience, that is the key word,” Rachel explains with wide eyes, pointing out the ultimate excuse with a hand in the air. But she is realistic about people’s abilities, conceding that not everyone is going to grow their own food. What she insists on is that they have a better appreciation for where their food is coming from. “It’s gotta be a grassroots movement,” Rachel declares while pulling a length of garden hose nearby. ”Just demand the product and get it.”

“There are kids growing up who do not know what butter is. Where did it come from?” Ultimately, she explains, it is up to the customer to know what they are buying. “Look into every aspect of what you are eating, not just the labels — ‘pasture raised, grass fed, organic.’ They could be in a filthy cage. The grass fed label… they can be in confinement.”

What is comes down to is knowing your farmer. “The way people know their family doctor — I don’t see there being any difference,” she says, ”In fact, I think you would want to know your farmer in the same way.”

Evan takes a break from pushing the portable fence posts into the ground. “It’s also about making food choices based on what your proximity is to certain things,” he declares as a matter of fact. “Get chickens, start seed saving.”

“Is it really cheaper when you are not getting the nutrients you need when you’re growing up and then you’ve got issues when you’re older?” Rachel asks, as if pointing out an obvious fact.

“I know. We ate a lot of fast-food,” Evan confesses. “My mom was a single parent. She cooked when she could,” he continues, relating with some sheepishness the secret of their own evolution. “Wendy’s is $2 tonight and we’re broke. It’s easy. When we moved up here and we started this, that is how we were feeding ourselves. “That’s the irony of it,” he says, shaking his head.

Change is familiar to these California transplants who have gone from a lifestyle of fast-food convenience to, despite the long hours and the weight of responsibility, a life of farming. “It takes financial support and a whole lot of moral support from family, community members, friends,” Rachel points out.

Rachel is walking up the gravel road from the barn to where their breeding Ancona pairs are housed with two 100-pound, 5-foot 6-inch tall Pyrenees Mountain Dogs. The Pyrenees have been bred for generations to protect livestock.

“Our dogs are well tested out here,” Rachel says as she surveys the landscape. The wooded forest brings raccoons, foxes, and weasels. Above in the air are hawks that could snatch up a baby duckling in an instant. Recently a duck was lost to what is believed to be a skunk that was after the eggs still in its womb. “It happened in broad daylight,” Rachel recalls. The dogs alerted to the presence but not before the duck was dead.

Rachel’s eyes mist over and her voice shakes, letting slip the great passion she feels about her calling, about the gravity of their responsibility to these breeds and to the future of food. “It’s a huge responsibility.”

Winter Green Farm: A New Face at the Market, an Old Hand at Organic Farming

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Winter Green Farm
by Sarah Nicholson, EDN

Driving (or biking) along Noti’s Poodle Creek Road, you feel like you’ve found one of those locations that make the Willamette Valley so special.  All of a sudden, the valley opens up and you see rows and rows of vegetable crops, a cluster of in-field greenhouses, a herd of cattle grazing in pasture, and a planting of flowers adorning the roadside.  A little white sign announces that you’ve come to Winter Green Farm, which considers itself “a productive farm creating harmony with the earth, humanity, and ourselves.” A long-time Eugene-area organic farm, Winter Green is now bringing its bounty back to Eugene’s Saturday Market/Lane County Farmer’s Market for the first time in eight years.

Started by Jack Gray and Mary Jo Wade way back in 1980, Winter Green Farm’s ownership is now shared by three families.  Wali and Jabrila Via joined in 1985, and then in 2009 Chris and Shannon Overbaugh joined after years of employment on the farm.  The farm now boasts a large crew, some who come for a season and others who stay for a decade.  At the peak of the season, when the basil is green and the crop is plentiful, the crew grows to about 25 members.

In addition to growing 10 acres of crops for Farmer’s Markets, the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program produces on 9 acres.  1.5 acres of blueberries are harvested for both the market and CSA customers, 1.5 acres of fragrant green basil are grown for the farm’s new pesto business, and 2.5 acres are set aside for a wholesale burdock (gobo) crop, which has been a farm staple since 1986.  On top of that, 70 acres are in permanent pasture and another 21 in temporary pasture for the farm’s herd of beef cattle.

Spearheaded by owner Wali Via, the farm uses biodynamic methods in addition to organic methods as part of the larger belief in the farm as a living organism.  Winter Green Farm (WGF) prides itself on producing the majority of its fertility on the farm, through it’s cattle herd, extensive composting, green manure crops, and crop rotation.  As a WGF employee for three seasons, I saw first-hand how important this view of the farm as a living organism is to its owners.  For a farm as large as Winter Green, striving to get anywhere near a closed loop is quite a challenge, and it takes a lot of careful planning and decision-making to create and foster a sustainable system. Another past employee described it as “the best soil management” of any organic farm he’d seen.

Owners and Market Managers Chris and Shannon Overbaugh said that despite successful markets in Portland and Bend, Winter Green Farm came back to the Eugene market this year to increase the farm’s presence closer to home.  “We feel it’s important to be a part of our local community and to meet our sustainability goals of selling what we can produce as close to home as possible.” Part of the challenge is starting over again in a new market, especially when it comes to having a less coveted booth location.  But “besides the less than optimal spring,” the Overbaughs say the market has been going okay so far.

They note that they are “committed to the market for the future”, and would like to see a market that is “well-managed and has a focus that meets the needs of both the community and the membership.”   A spacious venue, as well as a potential covered space to host a year-round market, are a few vendor-friendly options for the market’s future.

 

To find Winter Green Farm at Eugene’s Saturday Market, walk by the main farm and producer section on 8th street to where the booths make a right turn, and you will find a big blue sign hanging above their booth, about halfway down the row on the left-hand side.  WGF’s booth is located right in front of Park St. Café, next to Field to Table Catering.  If you can’t make it to Saturday Market, Eugene also hosts a farm stand in the parking lot of Emmaus Lutheran Church on Wednesdays from 2:00 to 6:00.  For more information on any aspect of Winter Green Farm, check out their website or contact them by e-mail at: [email protected]

Photos by Winter Green Farm and Sarah Nicholson

Oregon Farm to School Act Could Bring More Local Food to Eugene Schools

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As farms continue to pump out locally produced and processed goods and  school children continue to wolf down cafeteria lunches, it’s a curious conundrum that more food doesn’t pass directly from local producers into the school systems. In Lane County, the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition and other local organizations have been addressing this issue for the past several years.  With a mission to strengthen the local economy, benefit public health and support local food producers, WFFC has been promoting farm to school connections, becoming a leader in the region and the National Farm to School Network‘s State Lead Agency for Oregon.  Now, with a current bill pending review by Oregon’s House of Representatives, the potential exists to strengthen that connection even more.

House Bill 2800, known as the Oregon Farm to School Act, is sponsored by Rep. Brian Clem (D-Sa lem) and Tina Kotek (D-Portland).  Clem has been pushing Farm to School connections since 2007, and his proposals have resulted in the creation of two positions: one in the Department of Agriculture and one in the Department of Education, both devoted to working with schools to incorporate more locally grown food into their nutrition programs.

The current bill would use grant money to reimburse school districts up to 15 cents per meal for food produced or processed in Oregon.  Current funding for Oregon school lunches comes from the National School Lunch Program, with Oregon being one of the few states that doesn’t help pay for meals.  Reimbursements must also be spent on Oregon food, thus continuing the cycle.  Grants will also be made available to assist in school garden programs, with the potential for incorporating school produce into the lunch program as well.

The original draft of HB 2800 demanded $22 million in state funding, but has since been dramatically reduced.  HB 2800 is now vying for $2 million from state Economic Development Funds.  In part, the reduction means that grants will be awarded on a competitive basis to qualifying schools throughout Oregon.  Originally, the measure was introduced to assist all school districts in the state, but with the budget shortfall these funds will only be available to a select few. Eligibility will likely depend on several factors: schools may be required to have a certain percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, and districts that receive grant money may also need to show that they will be able to integrate the local foods offered with an educational component for students.

Megan Kemple of Willamette Farm and Food Coalition believes that the three districts currently working with WFFC are well poised to take advantage of these funds.  WFFC has already created an active Farm to School Program within the Bethel, Eugene 4J, and Springfield school districts, and has established connections with many growers and food producers in the region, providing the framework to make further improvements to the school lunch program.  In addition, a high percentage of students in these districts qualify for free or reduced lunch.  The educational component of the program should also count as big points for these districts.  WFFC has created a comprehensive educational program that includes lessons about where our food comes from, farm field trips, harvest meals where students prepare freshly harvested farm foods, school garden sessions, nutrition lessons, and tasting tables offering fresh produce from recently visited farms.  The school garden sessions are done in collaboration with the School Garden Project of Lane County, and “garden-based nutrition education” is implemented with the help of Oregon State University’s Nutrition Education Program.  These factors give Kemple confidence that, if the bill does pass, our Eugene-area school districts are likely to reap the benefits.

Nutrition Services Director Rick Sherman of the Eugene 4J school district says that his district has been able to increase its local purchasing by tenfold in the past year.  In 2009, 4J purchased 1,340 lbs ($1,825) worth of local products from Lane County. In 2010, that number increased to 14,252 lbs ($13,635).  Sherman says his district has been able to work with Willamette Farm and Food Coalition in establishing connections with local food producers.  Sherman believes in supporting the local economy: “it’s just the right thing to do,” and says that he has been “able to obtain competitive pricing locally.”  Sherman mentioned that local distributors Emerald Fruit and Produce and Organically Grown Company have been a big help in conserving time and resources spent on finding and purchasing locally grown produce.  “For some reason the public’s perception is that we don’t purchase locally,” Sherman notes.  But, he clarifies, if you include local purchasing from companies such as Franz and Darigold, “our numbers would truly be outstanding.”

One way that the 4J School district promotes local food purchases is though it’s Harvest of the Month program, which highlights a fruit or veggie (or a mushroom or a bean) from a local producer during a month of the school’s lunch program.  Highlighted produce has included kiwis from Greengable Gardens (Philomath) in January, dried pinto beans from Hunton’s Farm (Junction City) in February, and green beans from Thistledown Farm (Junction City) in September.

In a report compiled by Kemple, Bethel School District purchased 18% of its produce from Lane County farms, dairies or food processors in 2009Emerald Fruit and Produce has played a large role in assisting Bethel’s purchases of locally grown food.  Springfield Public School District purchases fewer local products than the other large school districts in the county, but they do buy apples from Wildrose Orchard and carrots and lettuce from FOOD for Lane County’s Youth Farm.  They also utilize Emerald Fruit and Produce for local purchasing.  Other local farms that have been big contributors to the Farm to School program include Detering Orchards and Thistledown Farm.

Randy Henderson of Thistledown Farm says his farm could feed every child in Eugene if the schools had the funds to pay for it.  With 500 acres in production, it’s not a matter of supply; the problem is that produce is often cheaper to buy from Mexico than it is from local farms.  Another issue is the lack of local processors since AgriPac left town, which happened in part because the row crops (corns, beans, beets, carrots, etc) of the Willamette Valley have all gone to grass seed production.  Much local produce is grown during the summer months when children aren’t in school.  Thistledown, however, has been able to sell products such as frozen strawberries to schools during the winter and spring months.  For Henderson, nutrition is still one of the biggest factors in supporting Farm to School programs.  If schools were able to buy more produce, his farm would be able to keep up with demand.

For Roger Detering of Detering Orchards, supplying schools with produce is “part of doing good business, and provides a good outlet for smaller apples that the kids enjoy.” He also says that if schools were able to purchase more local foods, he would be able to supply them with more produce.  Both farmers support the program, but worry that timing is unfortunate for such a bill to pass.

The Farm to School bill has received vast local support.  It passed unanimously through its last phase in the legislative process, and is favored by local farmers, food producers, schools, and organizations like WFFC and the School Garden Project.  It is also predicted to be an economic boon as well.  Agricultural economist Bruce Sorte with Oregon State University estimates the $2 million would create 24 jobs in the first year as the demand for local food products goes up.  Kemple points out that is not so much a matter of opposition to the bill as it is simply finding the funds in Oregon’s dwindling budget to support the program.

According to a progress report from the Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Policy Workgroup, the bill has passed unanimously out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and will go to the Ways and Means Committee before it reaches the House floor.  It will be assigned to a sub-committee (most likely Natural Resources) before moving into the full Ways and Means and then out onto the House floor.  Because of other budget decision-making, HB 2800 will probably not be addressed for a couple more weeks.  Kemple is hopeful that the bill will pass, but concerned that the state’s budget is so limited.

 

Photos courtesy of Willamette Farm and Food Coalition

 

Land use group challenges King Estate restaurant

Oregon is fiercely protective of its farmland — more so than many other states. Over the years, law­makers have tried to craft laws spelling out which activities can take place on farms and which must stay out. But much of the day-to-day oversight of winery activities has been left to the counties, which take wildly varied approaches.

via Land use group challenges King Estate restaurant.