|The big tent of Oregon agriculture|
|Chris Jagger delivers boxes of vegetables.|
Farms big, medium, or small-there's room enough for all
By Bruce Pokarney
There are two sides to the debate.
Some say small farms and marketing local are the future of farming in Oregon and across the nation. Big agriculture is destroying the small family farm.
Others may claim large-scale production and a global marketplace provide the real fuel that keeps ag's economic engine going and feeds the world. Small, local producers don't really move the needle of overall agricultural activity.
The truth of the matter is both sides need each other. And generally, what is good for Oregon agriculture is good for both the small farmer of a dozen acres and the big guy who operates a spread of several thousand acres. Both need consideration as decisions are made on resource allocation and marketing assistance programs. As diverse as Oregon agriculture is when it comes to the vast array of commodities being produced, the quilt of farm types in Oregon depicts an industry that comes from many directions, but ultimately has the same goal of attaining economic and environmental sustainability.
For its part, the Oregon Department of Agriculture continues to offer services and assistance to all shapes and sizes of farms throughout the state.
An agency for all agriculture
"Whenever I talk about agriculture in Oregon, I talk about a three-legged stool," says ODA Director Katy Coba. "There are farms that focus on local marketing, others that service regional markets, and still others that primarily export. Some do all three or combinations of these. There is room enough for all these marketing strategies and, in fact, we need all of them. These are all end markets that make up the mosaic of different opportunities for our growers."
In speaking to Oregon State University's Small Farms Conference earlier this year, Coba told the audience that growers choose which markets they want to serve, and the type of management and production systems they will use. ODA assists any size of farm regardless of organizational structure. As a regulatory agency, ODA is involved in natural resource management, water quality issues, and activities of growers who use pesticides. Resource stewardship requires all agricultural operators to do things right. That is becoming increasingly important to consumers as they make purchase decisions and resources become more scarce.
"Our agriculture can be diverse, but should be largely unified," says Coba. "I am sometimes troubled by different sectors in this industry shooting at each other and tearing down the image of the other. That helps no one and only creates confusion among consumers."
ODA has a dual responsibility to regulate parts of the industry while also helping promote and market all of Oregon agriculture.
"We have a long history of dedicating staff time and effort as well as securing grant funding and other financial assistance to help small farms sell their goods," says Gary Roth, administrator of ODA's Agricultural Development and Marketing Program. "In many cases, the people from the ag community that come to us don't have the size or resources to effectively market their products by themselves. We identify opportunities that make sense for them and connect these small farms with the tools they need to be successful."
Some of the specific ODA efforts directed at small farms include:
"Certainly our programs also help those who sell beyond Oregon's back yard, and the export market is a major focus of Oregon agriculture," says Roth. "But our mission is to foster a sustainable Oregon economy through the state's agricultural production regardless of whether the products come from a small farm or a large one."
- Serving on the Oregon Farmers Markets Association Board, as farmers markets are a key outlet for many smaller farms.
- Working with retailers on "buy local" programs, and identification of locally grown and produced goods.
- Helping launch Food Hub, an online platform that brings local growers and buyers together for sales opportunities, helping small farms that might lack the resources to be visible to all potential buyers.
- Managing the Farm to School Program, working with school food purchasers to find out their needs, challenges, and interests, and connect them to producers.
- Operating the federal organic cost-share reimbursement program. Many organic operations are small. This program has added several hundred thousand dollars back into growers' and processors' hands.
- Assisting in the development of the Farm Direct Nutrition Program in Oregon that enables growers to receive "WIC" coupons given to qualifying low-income families with small children or women who are pregnant.
- Supporting industry sector "clusters" that include small producers, such as the Oregon Cheese Guild, by providing seed dollars to help bring together large and small producers, thus creating a core group that could be large enough to support group activities.
Farm size, sales, and structure
Agricultural economists estimate that, at today's costs associated with producing crops and livestock, a farm operation needs to generate at least $250,000 in gross sales in order to have enough left over for family living expenses, health insurance, land costs, and other essentials.
According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, there are approximately 38,500 farm and ranch operations in Oregon. The Census counts any establishment as a farm if it has at least $1,000 of sales in the year of the Census, or has the potential to sell that much. It's that second phrase that picks up a lot of the farm numbers in the Census. These are farms that might have a few acres of Christmas trees but didn't sell any because the trees were not mature enough; or someone with a couple beef animals, but didn't sell any in 2007. More than 30 percent of the farms in Oregon fall into this "could have, but didn't" category. That's nearly 12,000 so-called farms probably not operating to make a profit and support a family.
The next grouping of farms-those with sales in the range of $1,000 to $10,000-makes up the largest number of farms in Oregon. Approximately 14,275 farms fall into this category, or 37 percent of the total count. These farms are usually less than 10 acres each, are located closer to urban areas, and service local markets. These farms generated about $53 million in sales in 2007 (1.2 percent of total farm sales), or an average of $3,700 per farm. A farm in this category, by itself, does not support an individual or family at this level of sales.
The next group of 6,000 farms in Oregon grosses between $10,000 and $50,000 annually. They manage 1.5 million acres, gross $144 million in sales, or $24,000 per farm. For this group, it is still very difficult to be economically viable through farming alone.
The next step up in size related to sales includes 2,777 farms that gross between $50,000 and $250,000. This group of growers manages 4.4 million acres and grossed $454 million in sales, averaging about $163,000 per farm. Some certainly make a net profit, but many likely rely on work off the farm, many times by the spouse, to support the operation. They are also likely to serve both local and regional markets, and their footprint is scattered through Oregon's regions and landscapes.
Finally, there is a group of about 2,700 farms that gross over $250,000. This isn't a large number of farms considering the total count in Oregon. These are farms generally larger in size and family composition-meaning there are usually several family members in the operation. They are more likely to be organized as a family corporation for operational, liability, and management oversight. These farms manage about 8 million acres in Oregon. Some of that is rangeland, wheat ranches, and hay or other larger-acreage farms in Eastern Oregon. But there are also many nurseries, Christmas tree, grass seed, and other diversified growers in this group. Collectively, they generated $3.8 billion in sales in 2007, more than 80 percent of total agricultural farmgate sales in Oregon that year. The average gross farm revenue in this group is about $1.3 million.
"Some say those are the big corporate farms," says ODA analyst Brent Searle. "I respond by saying 98 percent of all farms in Oregon are family owned and operated, regardless of size, type of farm, or organization. Less than 2 percent of Oregon farms are non-family corporations. "
"So, let's be clear that big isn't bad just because," says ODA Director Coba. "Larger operations can be good stewards just as smaller operations can be. Keep in mind, large farms often provide the infrastructure that enables all farms to function with such advantages as the presence of equipment dealers and manufacturers, food processors and marketers, roads, and other necessities that reflect agriculture's common interests."
Small farms, big challenges
Farming can be labor intensive for both large and small operations. As the number one expense listed by farmers, labor can eat up a great deal of potential profit. The small farm may not have enough people to do it all-planning, growing, harvesting, identifying customers, getting products to customers, managing resources, and making improvements. Time is just as precious a commodity as the crop itself for many of these operators.
Some small farm operators voice a desire for "size-appropriate regulations" that don't overburden smaller farms with licensing requirements, paperwork, or fees.
"We hear the same comments from farms of all sizes and we have been involved with several work groups examining ways to accommodate these concerns, including such issues as farmers' market rules and food safety requirements," says ODA Food Safety Division Administrator Vance Bybee. "We continue to work with interested growers and industry organizations to address these issues. But food safety is food safety at any size. Microbes don't care about the size of a farm. Proper management and handling of food products is the key."
ODA provides education and certification programs to help growers address these types of issues.
The price paid to the farmer is paramount to any size grower. But smaller farms, due to limited volume scale, must allocate costs to fewer units of production. That is partly why those producers have to charge more. Educating customers about the real costs of growing on a smaller scale and valuing local production is a key strategy for the small farm sector of Oregon agriculture.
"The ‘buy local' phenomenon is based on the premise that consumers want to know where their food comes from," says ODA Assistant Director Dalton Hobbs. "Many consumers are willing to pay more for locally grown food. You can see it in the popularity of farmers' markets, farm stands, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and local sourcing of produce in main line retailers. In most cases, those products cost more, but the consumer still wants them."
With a major USDA effort to promote a "know your farmer, know your food" campaign nationwide, small farms in Oregon could benefit from a better-educated public.
Greater than the sum of its parts
"Farms of all sizes, shapes, and forms add to the fabric of Oregon agriculture," says Katy Coba. "All are important and we want all to be successful as stewards, businesses, and community citizens."
More cooperation and collaboration between small and large farm interests can only help the entire industry. When it comes to producing, promoting, and selling Oregon agriculture, everyone is looking for success. Team Agriculture has enough spots to accommodate all players.
|Dealing with the dreaded Drosophila|
In entomological shorthand, it is known as SWD, for Spotted Wing Drosophila. Its formal name of Drosophila suzukii suggests an exotic species, which is exactly the case. But this is an exotic pest—an invasive species that first showed up in the Pacific Northwest late last summer and early fall. The tiny fruit fly has captured the attention of growers of small fruits and stone fruits in Oregon who hope education and research will lessen Drosophila’s impact this growing season.|
Working with industry are three major players—the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Oregon State University, and the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS). The seriousness of the pest is reflected in the Oregon Legislature’s approval of $225,000 during the special session for research, monitoring, and education.
What makes Spotted Wing Drosophila especially troubling is that its larvae infest ripe and ripening fruits, unlike most fruit flies that prefer rotting fruit. Once the larvae hatch and begin feeding, the fruit gets soft and mushy. It’s difficult to detect infested fruit until it is too late. The insect is capable of producing 10 generations of pests per crop growing season. Eradication is not a viable option. Control is the best chance Oregon has in protecting crop yields and maintaining markets.
Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries are at risk. These crops have an annual production value of nearly $100 million. Cherries are also susceptible to Spotted Wing Drosophila, and have an annual production value of $56 million. Stone fruits—including peaches, pears, prunes, and plums—are also targets of SWD and collectively have a production value of $25 million. There is even potential impact on wine grapes. While the Willamette Valley is a primary growing region for these crops, producers in the Columbia Gorge, Southern Oregon, and the fruit orchards of Umatilla County are also concerned, not to mention growers in neighboring Washington.
There is much to learn about SWD and how to deal with it. Thanks to OSU and Peerbolt Crop Management, a private consulting and insect scouting service located in Oregon, monitoring efforts are already underway this spring to see where the fruit fly is located and how big the population may be this year. Simultaneously, OSU and ARS are looking at developing a region-wide Integrated Pest Management Program that will offer growers the best tools for dealing with SWD. That toolbox may contain chemical insecticides, alternative crop protection products, and recommended management practices that will minimize the impact of the pest. A series of special training sessions for growers has been launched. The key is to share as much information as possible with producers as soon as possible, empowering them to protect their fields and orchards in the months ahead.
At this point, there are probably more questions than answers regarding Spotted Wing Drosophila. Will the pest be back this year in high populations or was last year a “perfect storm” of conditions for SWD? Will researchers come up with enough tools early enough to control the insect pest this year? And how will consumers and markets react to the presence of Drosophila should it become firmly established in Oregon?
The good news is that the industry, government, and the academic community have come together quickly to coordinate a response to the threat. The fruit fly won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year. With a little luck and a lot of effort, Oregon agriculture will be able to successfully deal with the latest insect pest.
For more information, please go to http://swd.hort.oregonstate.edu
Oregonians and Americans in general may not always realize it, but they have a strong connection to agriculture on a daily basis. This year’s National Agriculture Week, which took place in March, aimed to capture the attention of consumers who think they have no relationship to agriculture. I found that this year’s theme, “American Agriculture: Abundant. Affordable. Amazing.” rings true for Oregon. I also believe it’s a message to be heard year-round.|
When Oregonians eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they are consuming agriculture. When they play on their lawn, they are enjoying Oregon agriculture. When they bring home a Christmas tree or plant beautiful shrubs in the backyard, it’s probably Oregon agriculture. I think consumers interact with agriculture a lot more than they give themselves credit for.
Facts and figures underscore the positive impact agriculture has in the daily lives of Oregonians. On average, each farmer or rancher produces enough food and fiber for approximately 144 people. In 1960, that average number was about 26. US consumers spend a little more than 9 percent of their disposable income on food—a percentage much lower than other countries.
Despite a decline this past year in value of production and sales, agriculture continues to be responsible for more than $25 billion in sales of goods and services in Oregon, representing more than 10 percent of Oregon's total economic activity. Oregon agriculture has been a constant and stable economic engine, increasing in production value 20 of the past 23 years.
Statistics aside, I have narrowed down to three, the most important things Oregonians need to know about agriculture.
First, it’s an important part of our state’s economy and an important part of the nation’s economy. Second, we want to grow our own food in the US and don’t want to become dependent on food imports the way we became dependent on imported oil. Third, it is important to support your local farmer and think creatively of ways to do that. Yes, buying their products is a way to show that support, but Oregonians also must recognize the farmer’s need to have all the tools to produce that product. Farmers need access to water. They need to be able to keep land in production. They need to be able to control pests and diseases. All these factors are important.
The immediate call to action for Oregonians involves purchasing local products, not just during a special week, but 365 days a year. I’m asking consumers to buy local and thank a farmer if they see one. Go to a farmers’ market, dine at restaurants that use local products, shop at grocery stores that sell local products. Understand that it’s not just the fresh product that is local, but many processed foods also rely on ingredients that are grown locally. Every time you buy local, you support Oregon agriculture.
Consumers aren’t the only ones who can take action. Farmers and ranchers need to realize there is an audience out there hungry not only for the food they produce, but for their stories. When we can get farmers or ranchers to talk about what they are doing, people love it. The challenge is getting producers to take that step. Consumers are very interested in hearing about where their food comes from, how it is produced, and how farmers and ranchers take care of the land and water.
I have now seen eight National Agriculture Weeks as ODA director. Despite a lack of knowledge sometimes displayed by people not associated with farming, I appreciate that most Oregonians feel good about agriculture. I challenge them to better understand what it takes to produce crops and livestock. That continues to be my wish all year, every year.
|Oregon straw helps "bale" out the Olympics|
By Bruce Pokarney
Millions of television viewers worldwide and those attending the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in British Columbia may not have seen it, but underneath the snow on Cypress Mountain—the venue for snowboarding and other competitive events—hid nearly a thousand tons of wheat straw bales originating from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. An alarming lack of snow and unseasonable temperatures caused organizers for the winter games to scurry to find a solution. Quick action by Canadian importers, Oregon growers, and the Oregon Department of Agriculture saved the day.
You might say, Oregon agriculture helped “bale” out the Winter Olympics.
“Oregon played a pretty big part in helping the freestyle and snowboard events on Cypress Mountain by providing large straw bales to extend and support the snow that was available,” says Randy Black, regulatory specialist with ODA’s Commodity Inspection Division. “Now that we’ve reached the end of the Winter Olympics, I think we can say we helped make the games a success. Maybe we even helped some of the snowboarders break some records.”
Cypress Mountain, not far from Vancouver, BC, simply didn’t have enough snow this winter. With temperatures often reaching a relatively balmy 50 degrees Fahrenheit, snow on the ground was in danger of rapidly melting. Olympic organizers sent out a request for as many as 3,000 straw bales as one solution to the pending crisis. When word reached importer Dewey Rozendal of Chiliwack, BC, he immediately knew where to go—Oregon.
“All that I hauled up there came from Oregon,” says Rozendal, owner of Roz Ventures, Inc. “We hauled more than 1,300 bales in about five days after the request was made. What was up there on Cypress Mountain during the Olympics was all Oregon wheat straw.”
Helicopters kept busy lifting thousand pound bales and dropping them onto the mountain. With a little luck weather-wise and with the help of artificial snow, the need did not reach 3,000 bales. But there is no doubt that the straw was a necessity as the games approached and the clock was ticking.
“The straw was used to fill in all the bare spots,” says Rozendal. “Instead of needing five feet of snow, they put down a straw bale and covered it with less snow. The straw also provided insulation between the ground and the snow. It slows down the snowmelt and helps the snowpack stay there a little longer.”
In late January, Rozendal sent his trucks down to the Willamette Valley with loads of wood pallets and horse bedding material. On the return trip up Interstate-5, those trucks brought back straw bales. The first bales arrived in Canada on January 22. By the time Roz Ventures, Inc. completed delivery, as many as 40 loads of baled straw had been delivered to Cypress Mountain.
“It makes sense to get the straw from Oregon at this time of the year,” says Rozendal. “It’s all flat ground from here to Oregon. I don’t have to go over the mountains.”
That straw would never have crossed the border into Canada if it hadn't been for the efforts of ODA. Through inspection and certification, a variety of field crops are cleared with the required phytosanitary certificate that indicates the commodity is clean of pests and diseases. Without the piece of paper with ODA’s stamp of approval, there is no guarantee the commodity meets the export country’s standards.
“We were able to complete some inspections very quickly to meet Canada’s needs,” says ODA’s Black, who completes the paperwork for hay and straw exports from Oregon. “These shipments were a benefit to our growers. They were able to sell a lot of the straw that otherwise might not have been sold or would have taken longer to sell.”
Each day, Black may sign phytosanitary certificates for as many as 150 containers of straw headed for the Pacific Rim. That’s where the bulk of Oregon hay and straw exports end up. Japan, Korea, and Taiwan use the compacted straw and hay as cattle feed. Last year, more than 1.5 billion pounds of Oregon hay and straw were shipped to the Pacific Rim, all requiring ODA certification. By comparison, less than 26 million pounds of hay and straw were sent to Canada, mostly wheat straw. Still, Canada remains an important market for Oregon.
“They use our wheat straw as compost for mushroom production,” says Black.
From mushrooms to moguls. Oregon wheat straw found a new application.
“We are proud to know that an important Oregon agricultural commodity was featured in the Winter Olympics, even if nobody ever saw it,” says Steve VanMouwerik, past president of the Agricultural Fiber Association and State Board of Agriculture member.
There was no lack of snow at Whistler, BC, where many of the skiing and sledding events took place. But Olympic officials took no chances at Cypress Mountain. Trucking snow from higher elevations and using the straw bales from Oregon may seem like extreme measures, but they were necessary to ensure the kind of Winter Olympic Games the world is accustomed to seeing.
As Olympic athletes competed and the entire world watched, it became very clear to organizers of the games—not having enough snow would have been the last straw.
|OCF&R travels across Oregon to find its new coordinator|
By Madeline MacGregor
|Sharon Leighty is the new OCF&R coordinator|
After six years of selfless service, husband and wife team Glenn and Judith Mason said good-bye to their jobs as Oregon Century Farm & Ranch (OCF&R) program coordinators. The program board pondered its loss and anxiously wondered how to find a "single someone" to fill two pairs of very tall boots. After a thorough round of interviews, a one-woman powerhouse was hired and the result has been nothing short of amazing.
As a fifth generation Oregonian, Sharon Leighty brings her zeal for history and agriculture to the board and infuses her boundless energy into everyone around her. Leighty's connection to the agricultural industry is in her genes—her family has farmed in Central Howell since the late 1800s. Leighty grew up a farm kid—performing her share of chores, and participating in FFA. She still owns 33 working acres on the family farm. Her genuine enthusiasm for historical preservation is evident in everything she does.
"I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the OCF&R Program," Leighty says. "It is important for all Oregonians to understand the critical role family-owned farms and ranches play in the economic and social vitality of Oregon." Leighty is no stranger to historic preservation programs, nor the infinite challenges they face during budget crises. Her tireless work on the Oregon 150 project—the state's sesquicentennial celebration—helped raise money when funds were scarce.
The management board believes that Leighty will help shine a similar spotlight on the program's struggle to remain viable. Many Oregonians, and even successful agricultural producers, do not realize that OCF&R is entirely funded through donations. Program Chair Kyle Jansson is hopeful about maintaining the lifeblood of OCF&R. "We look forward to working with Sharon. Her extensive background in fundraising, nonprofit management, and historical preservation will be a real asset to our program."
And Sharon is not letting the ground beneath her feet grow weeds. She has already set the fundraising wheels in motion by fostering "VIPs" to attend one of the program's most fun (and usually private) events—the application review process.
Wading through a pile of applications might seem boring or tedious to most, yet nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to OCF&R applications. Farms and ranches considered for either century or sesquicentennial status must submit a long list of materials for review. While some applications may contain only rudimentary information such as proof of the original deed, land donation grant, names of crops produced, original owner, and current owner—most are filled with fascinating agricultural nuggets: historic photos from the 1800s, vignettes of family life on the Oregon Trail, early glimpses of Willamette Valley or Eastern Oregon crops, struggles with weather, marriages and deaths, and family trees with their roots intact. It's an agricultural history buff's dream: spending three hours with like-minded individuals, holding documents in hand, and traveling back through time.
When not organizing time travel for OCF&R, Sharon is fast-forwarding into the future with her ideas for the program's success. As a testament to her organizing skills, Leighty was on a recent "vacation" in sun-drenched Palm Springs. While relaxing by the pool, she was happily chatting on her cell with the Oregon State Fair coordinator, making sure the OCF&R awards event was on schedule for the 2010 Labor Day weekend. Leighty freely admits she may resemble the energizer bunny when it comes to planning. "I'm used to securing event sites three years ahead of time, so this was a piece of cake!"
As Sharon balances her Bend region consulting business "Sharon Leighty & Company" with the OCF&R coordinator position, she also acts as benefactress. She is an active community volunteer—and donates 15 hours of her professional services each month to organizations throughout Oregon. Since her primary residence is in Deschutes County, Leighty is perfectly situated to find the first century farm or ranch from that area. Deschutes is the only county in Oregon without a century farm or ranch in the program. Although Leighty will continue to live in Bend, she will maintain a local Salem phone number and Oregon Farm Bureau email address for easy OCF&R contact.
To speak with Sharon or ask questions about the OCF&R Program, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 503-400-7884.
"Pick-nic" for a donation
On June 10, agricultural producers who have supported the OCF&R program in the past will be invited to attend the application review process with the management board. If you have been an in-kind or fund-supporter to the program, you may receive a phone call or email invitation. Be prepared to have a wonderful time and experience some home-cooking by the management team—it's rumored that chicken and blueberry crisp are on the menu! If you don't hear from the program and wish to be included (space is extremely limited at this first event), please contact the ODA liaison at 503-986-4758.
|Emerald ash borer emergency exercise|
Beginning March 9, ODA participated in a joint full-scale plant health emergency exercise, sponsored by USDA-Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, Plant Protection and Quarantine (APHIS-PPQ). In addition to ODA and USDA-APHIS, participating agencies included Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), US Forest Service, Oregon Invasive Species Council (OISC), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Also joining the exercise were employees from Oregon State Parks, Marion County Extension Service, and a few local nurseries. The exercise began after the discovery of a (fictitious) emerald ash borer in Marion County. For two and a half days, the team responded to a virtual, yet realistic, emerald ash borer emergency, while controllers and evaluators guided and observed. The exercise concluded with a mock press conference and a post-exercise hotwash. Some of the feedback received included comments such as “You guys really worked well together,” “Excellent documentation,” and “ You guys were awesome!”|
Exercises like this one ensure that ODA staff and our partners are prepared to respond in the case of an actual pest invasion emergency.
|Farm to school profile|
|Welcome to a new feature in the Ag Quarterly on farm to school. This feature will give you an inside look into farm to school programs from around the state at different stages of development, and highlight ODA's efforts to serve up more Oregon produced food to Oregon school children.|
What is farm to school?
While farm to school programs are unique to the place and people who run them, they consist of a spectrum of activities that both serve up and celebrate Oregon's agricultural bounty. These programs connect local farmers and food processors with school cafeterias in preschools, grades K-12, and colleges. They include efforts to serve more Oregon agricultural products on the lunch line and activities that directly connect youth to food production such as planting school gardens, taking field trips to ranches, and bringing farmers to the classroom.
While the terms farm to school and school gardens may seem trendy, the concepts are deeply rooted in our country's history. Early reports of school gardens date back to the late 1800s. Interest in, and funding for, these programs peaked in World Wars I & II. In fact, much like our current Department of Homeland Security, we had the United States School Garden Army. It was a time in our country's history when people ate more fruits and vegetables than ever.
Farm to school activities in Oregon
Interest in farm to school and school gardens has waxed and waned over the decades, but in the past 10 years there has been an upsurge. Nowadays, Oregonians throughout the state are interested in farm to school as a way to connect urban and rural communities and to promote economic development. With about 65 school districts buying locally produced foods and 200 school gardens across the state, educators are increasingly utilizing farm to school programs as a way to also improve students' health and wellness and support academic achievement.
Oregon is the first state in the country to have a farm to school position in both the state departments of Agriculture and Education. This ensures that issues related to both supply of and demand for agricultural products are addressed, and that awareness about Oregon foods is a critical ingredient in all programs. Statewide efforts are also supported by extensive public-private partnerships through the Oregon Farm to School & School Garden Network. The next annual meeting of the School Garden Network will be April 28, 2010 in Eugene, Oregon. In addition to the countless community groups and coalitions supporting localized efforts, there are five regional farm to school coordinators.
If you are interested in learning more about farm to school programs in Oregon or attending the next School Garden Network meeting, please contact Michelle Markesteyn Ratcliffe, ODA Farm to School Program Manager at <email@example.com> or 503-872-6600.
|Farm to school reaches to the east side|
By Michelle Markesteyn Ratcliffe
|Andy Sexton, Farm to School Coordinator, Oregon Rural Action|
Seeing as this is a new feature for the Ag Quarterly, we wanted to talk with folks who are also just starting up farm to school programs in Oregon. So just where is the new hot bed for farm to school activity? Why it's Union County.
Starting in 2005, a coalition formed under the auspices of the Union County Commission on Children and Families called U.C. Fit Kids, has had extensive community conversations and researched rural strategies to address childhood obesity. This rigorous process spearheaded by Oregon Health Sciences University and Eastern Oregon University, in collaboration with numerous community partners, identified farm to school programs as just the way to improve what kids are eating.
To hear about efforts underway in Union County, we met up with Oregon Rural Action's new Farm to School Coordinator Andi Sexton. Oregon Rural Action is a community-based organization that works to promote agricultural and economic sustainability, good stewardship of our land, air and water, and social justice.
Oregon Rural Action (ORA) began facilitating farm to school programs just four months ago. Funded in part by a grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust Foundation, the goal of the program is to help kids make food choices that are more nutritious. The program introduces kids to local fruits, vegetables, and meats through tastings featuring a local food item each month. The tastings are part of the "Harvest of the Month" concept, made possible through purchased local foods, school to cafeteria gardens, and farmer to student educational events.
Q: What brings you to being a farm to school coordinator at Oregon Rural Action?
In my ‘past life' I worked for the USDA Natural Resources as a conservationist. One of the highlights of my job was connecting our youth to farmers and ranchers through different educational events. I am also fortunate to live on a working family ranch-Sexton Ranches. We have a family of four and my husband is a fifth generation rancher. We raise grass fed meats-beef, lamb, pasture chicken, eggs, and direct-market added-value products of salami and sausage. So the connection for us is that this has been our way of life in terms of providing food to our community. Being parents, it is a priority for us that our kids are eating right. When the opportunity came up to actually do this at the work level too, it was a perfect match.
Q: What have been the highlights of your first 100 days?
January was focused on schools and bringing them on board. February was focused on farmers and reaching out to them. In March we held a workshop with over 55 people to talk about farm to school, and what it means for our community. There are six different school districts so you can imagine the potential for six different farm to school concepts. So the goal was to have a working understanding of what the different menu items are for farm to school programs, how they can be tailored to each school's unique situation, and then how we help facilitate bringing a program into their community.
Q: How are kids involved?
The biggest opportunity for kids will be actually growing, harvesting, preparing, and tasting food that is either grown by them at their school or at a farm they visited. They also get to rate the foods and give input into whether or not their school should continue to grow or buy that item. It puts them in the driver's seat, and as the driver we hope that eventually they will be driving a healthier ‘body' with better fuel. We also hope to share these experiences with their parents so the parents are also part of the program by continuing to purchase healthier food items. And of course, the bigger piece is that the students make the connection of where their food comes from, and how by eating foods that are grown locally, it helps to support a local community. These are the types of things we are hoping to do.
Q: How do you get a farm to school program working with only a 90-day growing season?
Tips and tricks. We got tips from the Bend-La Pine School District that has a successful farm to school program and they are at 4,500 feet, which is up to 2,000 feet higher than us. Tricks are being able to store some of the food items, processing, extending the growing season-with hoop houses or greenhouses-and perhaps working our diets more in line with what we have available. For instance, now tomatoes are coming from Mexico, maybe instead of reaching for the Mexico tomato we should be using canned tomatoes from the last local harvest, or focusing our attention on what is available, such as local squashes and potatoes that are currently in storage.
Q: What advice would you give others who want to get more local foods into schools?
Bring all stakeholders together and find out what is the most important thing to them and know that a school might not have the capacity to purchase 100 percent local. Find out what we can do that will still have an impact and create a win-win situation for kids, the school, and growers. There is a lot of low hanging fruit such as farm tours or tastings that go a long way. Also, the program is not just about purchasing local foods. Students need to know where the food comes from, who grows it, why the grower is an important part of a healthy community, and why the food is good for them. And schools need to tell their stories about the efforts they make to be part of their local agricultural community. It's no secret that schools have tight budgets and that they need help from their local communities. Well, guess what? It's the same for farmers. They need local food purchasers to support them, particularly in their own community. If we help each other out, our communities will be stronger and more self sufficient.
|New oilseed crops emerging in Oregon|
By Stephanie Page
|Camelina is a relatively low-input crop.|
Several alternative oilseed crops, including camelina and soybeans, are emerging in Oregon. Researchers, seed companies, and many growers are experimenting with these crops, hopefully paving the way for more options for Oregon’s agricultural producers.
Oregon State University researchers have helped expand the options available to growers in several ways. With support from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the national Sun Grant Initiative, OSU researchers evaluated several oilseed crops at OSU’s Hyslop Farm in Corvallis, including camelina, flax, and safflower. The main goal of the ODA-funded research was to find other dryland oilseed alternatives to canola within Oregon's four protected districts. Sun Grant funds supported research on camelina at the Columbia Basin Research Station in Pendleton. At OSU’s Malheur Experiment Station, researchers have worked for many years to develop soybeans with cold tolerance, and trials of these soybeans were also planted at Hyslop farm in 2009.
Camelina, a non-irrigated oilseed crop, can be grown in a wide range of conditions and requires relatively low inputs. Tomas Endicott with Willamette Biomass Processors explains that growers around Oregon are trying camelina this year for a variety of reasons. "In areas of Eastern Oregon where wheat yields are 40 to 50 bushels per acre, camelina can net as much as wheat. In the Willamette Valley, growers are using it as a nurse crop with grass seed, or as a rotational broadleaf crop. In Jefferson County, growers are using it for weed control in dryland areas that they'd otherwise have to cultivate all summer."
David Lockwood with Corvallis Feed and Seed reports that Willamette Valley growers are learning spring is the best time to plant camelina on poorly drained Willamette Valley soils. “A few folks planted it last fall on some pretty wet ground, but it’s not taking very well. All but one grower wants to replant, and we’re getting additional interest in spring planting too.”
OSU has conducted camelina trials for several years in Pendleton, Moro, and LaGrande. OSU Extension Soil Scientist Don Wysocki says the Sun Grant project is in its final year, but he hopes to conduct additional research on camelina in the future. “We’d like to look at the rotation effects, and I still think planting practices need a little more work. As growers try it more and more and gain experience, that will help too.” One challenge for potential camelina growers is that Poast is the only herbicide registered for camelina at this point, so growers don’t have options to control broadleaf weeds. “If you get a very competitive stand established, you can get around needing a broadleaf herbicide,” says Don Wysocki. Wysocki also emphasizes that growers need to pay close attention to a field’s herbicide history. “Know the plant-back period, especially if you’re following cereal crops with camelina.”
Camelina oil can be processed into biodiesel, and several companies have also produced biojet fuel from camelina. Camelina meal may be used as livestock feed, but only as allowed by the federal Food and Drug Administration. More information on the requirements and limitations for feeding camelina meal is available from ODA’s Commercial Feed Program at 503-986-4691.
Soybeans have potential for growers looking for an alternative irrigated crop in certain regions of Oregon. "Generally, anywhere you can grow corn, you can grow soybeans," says Tomas Endicott. Stan Armstrong and daughter Michelle, who farm in the Gervais area in the Willamette Valley, grew soybeans using seed from OSU’s Malheur Experiment Station in 2009 and had good yields. Michelle Armstrong, who works for Wilbur-Ellis in Woodburn, reports that several growers have been interested in trying soybeans this year, and Wilbur-Ellis has sold about 25,000 pounds of seed to Willamette Valley growers.
“I feel pretty confident that the cold tolerance issues have been resolved with the varieties that are available now,” says Michelle Armstrong. “We have growers trying soybeans in several locations in the valley this year. If growers are interested in trying them in the future, I’d recommend trying a few acres to start. Be cautious and know the crop you’re growing before you plant. Order seed early because we’re already running out.” Field tours of the soybeans will be scheduled this summer and growers can contact any Wilbur-Ellis office for more information.
As growers gain confidence that these alternative oilseeds can be grown in Oregon, the next important question is the market. “The camelina price is OK compared to wheat,” says David Lockwood. Corvallis Feed & Seed and Willamette Biomass Processors (WBP) are two companies contracting for camelina this year, and WBP is also contracting for soybeans. Pendleton Grain Growers is not crushing oilseeds at this time, but is serving as a local delivery point for growers that are trying camelina.
Growers interested in soybeans, camelina, and other oilseeds evaluated through OSU trials may consult crop fact sheets, enterprise budgets, quarterly research reports, and other information on the OSU Oilseeds Project Web site at http://cropandsoil.oregonstate.edu/bioenergy
ODA would like to thank Oregon State University researchers for their work to make more oilseed crops available to Oregon’s agricultural producers. We would especially like to acknowledge the work of OSU agronomist Daryl Ehrensing, who passed away unexpectedly last summer.
|Commodity Commissions looking for applicants|
|The Oregon Department of Agriculture is seeking applicants to serve on 23 of the state’s 25 agricultural commodity commissions. The suggested date for applying is May 3, 2010. Those appointed as commissioners administer producer assessments spent on the commodity commission’s promotion, education, and research projects. This year, 74 commissioner positions are open. Most appointments are for a three-year term beginning July 1, 2010. Some commissions have four-year terms. All vacancies announcements are available online at http://oregon.gov/ODA/ADMD/pages/cc_applications.aspx.|
In order to qualify for an appointment, interested individuals must complete an Application and Qualification form, be a citizen of the United States, and be an Oregon resident. Additional qualifications may apply. All qualified candidates will be considered for appointment. ODA Director Katy Coba appoints all commissioners.
Of the 70 open positions this year, six are for public members. A public member must be a US citizen, an Oregon resident, and have an active interest in improving economic conditions for that particular commodity. A public member cannot be directly associated with the production or handling of the particular commodity served by the commission. Public members have included a banker, executive chefs, community college professors, a golf course manager, farm equipment sales people, and grocery store marketing executives.
No commissioner, whether producer, handler, or public member, may serve on more than one state board or commission.
Those interested in being a commissioner can contact Kris Anderson at 503-872-6600 for more information. Individual commissions or producer organizations can also provide additional information.
|Ag Progress Awards Dinner|
|The 18th annual Agricultural Progress Awards ceremony was the Oregon Department of Agriculture's way to salute industry leaders. The event, held during National Agriculture Week in March, celebrates progress in agriculture made through partnerships between business, higher education, and state government.|
ODA Director Katy Coba presented awards recognizing innovation and leadership in the following areas:
The Northwest Food Processors Association, for its collaboration with ODA and others in such areas as food safety, energy, and transportation. (Dave Zepponi accepting.)
Individual Contributions to Agriculture
John McDonald (with wife, Ginger) of Hillsboro, for his long time and extensive work with Oregon’s soil and water conservation districts.
Excellence in Conservation
Jerry Erstrom of Vale, for his work in the Willow Creek Restoration Project and other efforts to improve water quality and efficiency in the region.
|Nick Furman of Coos Bay, executive director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, for his leadership and promotion of the state’s seafood and dairy industries.
Chef of the Year
Leif Eric Benson, executive chef of Timberline Lodge, for his innovation and promotion of Oregon agricultural products with a focus on the Oregon potato.
|Thayne Dutson of Sisters, recently retired Dean of Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Director of the OSU Agricultural Experiment Station.
Excellence in Education
Oregon Public Broadcasting, for its television production “The Silent Invasion,” a documentary raising public awareness of invasive species. (Jeff Douglas accepting.)
ODA Distinguished Service Employee
Kim VanZandt, Financial Services Manager.
Excellence in Marketing
Certified Onion, Inc. of Malheur County, a non-profit organization of onion shippers, using ODA certification services to assure food safety. (Gary Bybee and Kay Riley accepting.)
ODA Employee of the Year
Rose Kachadoorian, Pesticide Registration Specialist.
Statewide mandatory furlough
April 16, 2010
Oregon Women for Agriculture Auction and Dinner
Saturday, April 17
Linn County Fair & Expo Center
4:30PM silent auction
7:45PM oral auction
April 24-25, 2010; Sat., 8:30 am - 5 pm, Sun., 10 am - 5 pm
Oregon State Fairgrounds, Salem, OR
Ages 12 and under FREE, Adults $7.50
Oregon Ag Fest is an activity-filled festival where kids (and grown ups too!) can touch, taste and experience life on the farm.
Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) Advisory Committee meeting
May 4, 2010, 1:30 PM
Conference Room D, ODA basement, 635 Capitol St. NE Salem
More information: 503-986-4699
Shipping Point Advisory Committee
May 5, 2010 from 10:00AM to 2:00PM
Oxford Suites, 1050 N. First St.
More info: 503-986-4620
Oregon State Board of Agriculture meeting
June 2 & 3, 2010
More info: 503-986-4552