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There Is The Field....and Then There Is The Classroom

Have you ever wondered exactly what students at the Organic Farm School do? You see a lot of photos of their work in the field, but it can be tougher to show you what their classroom experience is like. So, we thought we'd give you a glimpse, via a list of just the classes for April and May. It's impressive. 

April 3rd - Crop Planning II: Space. Understand the dynamics at play – both in markets and in climate - in creating your crop plan to best utilize the space you have available.

April 4th - Farm Soils with Ron Hallbauer. Take an interactive field walk with a local soil scientist. Explore the different horizons of the OFS farm soil and how the valley’s geology and geography impact our farming 

April 5th - Equipment Introduction Workshop. Get a tour of the OFS equipment and learn the functions they perform. Get hands-on experience changing fluids, filters, and performing other routine maintenance.

April 6th Business Planning Overview. Explore the various components involved when constructing a business plan. Become familiar with the OFS business plan. Get feedback on your ideas from the rest of the group.

April 10th - Crop Rotation. Gain understanding of why crop rotation is practiced. Learn about the benefits and challenges of crop rotation systems. Explore different models of crop rotation systems.

April 11th - Propagation. Learn about the various methods for propagating crops, both field and greenhouse. Get to know the various types of containers and media. Understand temperature and light differences required for germination and growth.

April 13 - Organic Certification. A brief history of the organic movement. Learn the scope of practices involved in organic compliance. Find out what information a farm needs to keep. Learn about the events of the inspection.

April 17 - Crop Planning III: Time. Gain an understanding of the many considerations in timing a crop plan. Comprehend how the available field space interacts with time. Learn how succession planting can be utilized.

April 18th - Enterprise Budgets I. Learn what enterprise budgets are and why they are a valuable tool in managing a farm’s profitability. Get familiar with the types of information that should be gathered and how to most effectively capture it. Choose your crop to complete and enterprise budget for and begin formulating a plan.

April 19th - Mechanics I with Van. Become familiar with various components of tractors. Understand tractor operation and safety. Learn to perform basic operation checks, servicing, and trouble-shooting.

April 20th - Market Feasibility with Jeff Voltz of NABC. Learn the different components and considerations for conducting a market feasibility study, including: Consumer and product trends; Demographics; Brand development; Competition analysis.

April 24th - Tillage I. Review what tillage can accomplish, both positive and negative. Become familiar with the various types of tillage and the equipment used. Learn about the various functions tillage equipment can perform. Explore which tools are the most suited for which jobs.

April 25th - Animal Production Systems. Learn the various financial, production and marketing components of the OFS animal production. Go over chores and timelines for chickens, lamb, and pigs. Explore the benefits and challenges of integrating livestock into a vegetable system.

April 26th - Soil Biology with Gabe Garms. Learn about the elaborate ecosystem within the soil. Learn the various types of soil biota and their effects on crops. Collect soil samples from the farm and look at the soil biology under a projecting microscope.

April 27th - Brand Development and Outreach with Jeff Voltz of NABC. Explore the important components of brand development, including logo, selling proposition, and product positioning. 

May 1st - Pastured Poultry Production with Melissa Barker of Oyster Bay Farm. Explore the financial and marketing considerations for pastured poultry. Learn about the various production scenarios, including housing, pasture, feed, and slaughter. Become familiar with the various levels of permitting.

May 2nd - Pastured Sheep Production with Linda Neunzig of Ninety Farms. Explore the various start-up considerations for pastured lamb. Gain an understanding of production operations, including reproduction, grazing, and feed. Get insight into the financial, marketing, and processing aspects of pastured lamb.

May 3rd - Greenhouse Management. Learn about techniques to control the greenhouse environment for optimum plant growth. Get familiar with various ways to both heat and cool greenhouses. Explore different systems for watering, heating, and cooling. Review the OFS greenhouse system. 

May 4th - On-farm R&D Basics. Learn how to identify the need for a trial. Explore the practical considerations for designing a trial. Get familiar with various ways of reliably capturing the information you’re looking for.

May 8th - Nutrient Budgeting.  Learn what a nutrient budget is and its benefits. Explore ways to calculate the nutrients required. Learn how to calculate the fertilizer contribution of cover crops. Learn how to plan a nutrient budget.

May 9th - Mechanics II with Van. Understand the design and processes of each major tractor system. Get familiar with common failures of each system. Understand how to diagnose common failures. Become familiar with common repair processes. 

May 10th - Pastured Pork with Lucia Wyss of Hidden River Farm. Explore business and market feasibility of pastured pork. Learn about start-up costs. Go over production planning and operation considerations. Learn about marketing and procession aspects. Gain understanding into breeding programs and feed operations. 

May 11th - Business Feasibility with Jeff Voltz of NABC. Become familiar with the concepts of technical, economic, financial, and management feasibility. Learn how to employ exercises of these concepts to create a successful business model.

May 15th - Farmers Markets and Roadside Stands. Become familiar with the rationale behind direct-marketing. Get a brief history of farmers markets. Learn about the organizational and financial structures of farmers markets. Explore the benefits and challenges of farmers markets. Learn some practical techniques for having a successful market. Get an overview of the OFS farmers market operation.

May 16th - Harvest and Post-harvest/Food safety. Get introduced to appropriate harvest techniques for each type of vegetable. Get acquainted with various washing and cooling options and strategies. Understand harvest priorities and the effects of outside factors. Get introduced to food safety principles and procedures. Understand what GAP certification is, why it exists, where it’s applicable, and what is required. 

May 17th - Carpentry I with Hunter Black. Learn what a basic inventory of farm tools should be. Get to know what each tool is capable of and the best safety practices. Participate in hands-on carpentry activity.

May 22nd - Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Learn a brief history of CSA and why and how it was originally conceived. Explore the various CSA models. Discover the opportunities and challenges of running a CSA. Learn about CSA operations. Get a detailed overview of the OFS CSA program. 

May 23rd - Irrigation Theory and Practice I. Understand the role of water in farm systems. Learn water cycling terms and units of measurement. Explore how soil moisture impacts crop productivity. 

May 29th - Pest Management I: Intro and Weeds. Learn about basic weed biology and identification. Explore different cultural weed management practices, including stale seed-bedding, flaming, and bare fallowing. Become familiar with both manual and mechanical weed control techniques. 

May 31st - Carpentry II with Hunter Black. Learn about the different types of wood building materials and their various applications. Participate in the planning and drafting of a farm carpentry project (picnic table and arbor). 

 

 

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Considering the GF (Guilt-Free) Plate

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Considering the GF (Guilt-Free) Plate

by Dr. Sharon V. Betcher

(Everything we eat has a story about where it came from and how it came to be on our plate. This post is to be considered a conversation starter, as it has become quite a robust discussion amongst our students this year...please engage, with respect for the wide and wild diversity of thought on this topic.)

Considering the ethical currency of the human plate is one way concerned citizens are trying to work towards a thriving planet.  Not only is the sourcing of our food and its miles traveled becoming an intimate way in which we attempt to assume responsibility for planetary ecosystems, but persons increasingly sort our sense of obligation into dietary tribes—from vegans to freegans, including vegetarians, flexitarians, pescatarians and omnivores.  Hosting a banquet becomes an all new challenge as we attempt to please not just the palettes, but also ease the conscience of all gathered.  Even omnivores may differentially distill the politics of the plate to commitments such as eating only animal flesh that has been grass-fed, free-ranged or humanely, even locally raised by small-scale farmers.  So does any plate in the end warrant the stamp “GF”—that is, “guilt free?”

Some scientists working between climate change and the human diet suggest not just reducing the load of meat in our diet, but, if we are to feed 10 billion humans, cutting it out completely.  Two critical questions seem to branch out from this proposal:  Is the vegetarian diet free of the use of animals and animal products?  And what then happens to the lives of domesticated animals?

Intensive vegetable production often replenishes soil fertility by the additions of blood meal, bone meal and feather meal to provide nitrogen, phosphorous and calcium.  True to their common labels, these are the by-products of the slaughter of animals.  Vegetable proteins cannot be grown in all bioregions.  The increased scale of soybean production has been eating away at the equatorial Rain Forest and its’ biodiverse canopy of creatures.  And almonds, that basis of the heart-healthy diet, not only relies upon intense irrigation (amidst increasing water scarcity), but the cross-continental transport of “livestock.”  The vast majority of all honeybees in the U.S. are shipped, by truck and rail, to the almond fields of California in early spring, every spring, before being routed back through fields in central Washington, Georgia, Florida and the Dakotas. While the goal of vegetarian diets is often to reduce animal suffering, such suffering may be simply off the plate but still in the bigger picture. 

Further, the scenario advocated by scientists who are worried about feeding the expanding human population simply jettisons from concern a huge swath of animal life that the human community has domesticated.  Yes, humans did over centuries colonize animal life as we also colonized vegetables—from the potatoes and tomatoes first developed in the Andes, then “discovered” and shipped to Europe, to today’s quinoa.  Around 80% of the remaining planetary megafauna are found among domesticated species.  Removing them from our plate, could, given their domestic status, effectively occasion their mass extinction.  That possibility would be no more guilt free in terms of animal suffering than the omnivore’s diet.

Most small scale farmers rely on the services of animals for compost and soil fertility, if not also—as in the case of poultry--pest control.  Intense rotational grazing of large animals can actually benefit the soil community upon which every human diet is dependent.   Animals raised in industrial scale hog or steer operations do often meet up against human callousness, and human suffering itself is often an unnamed concomitant of the industrial scale (Meat production is physically and psychically hard on meat packers).  If we want small scale farmers to be the keepers of the land, then livestock are sometimes the fiscal formula for sustainable small-scale agriculture.  Further, if we are concerned about human-scale hunger, the “fruits” of animals, like eggs, are amazingly palatable and affordable without necessarily becoming co-opted by the “cheap” methods of the industrial food system.

So how does human responsibility for domesticated animals, concern about their suffering as well as their futures, enter into the politics of the plate and care of the land amidst climate change?  Perhaps the first step in decolonizing our relations to “livestock” is to consider not purchasing meat produced at an industrial scale, where and when that is affordable.  The second step could well be “Meatless Mondays” and other comparable strategies for building menus with less emphasis on the centrality of animal protein.  But as we all struggle towards ethical integrity in what we eat, the presumption that there is some GF (“guilt free”) plate may not at this time sufficiently engage with the 21st century challenge of making sure everyone has safe and affordable food to eat, the complexities of fertile soil, or the well-being and futures of domesticated animals.

 

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On-Going Projects for 2018

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At the Organic Farm School, we focus on giving new farmers a solid foundation in small scale farm planning and management. To do this, we engage students in the full spectrum of tasks they can expect to encounter as a farmer. We also work from a model where time and space are always given to exploration of new ideas and techniques, because this is how thoughtful farmers incorporate positive changes without placing their farm at risk. Here are the projects we're working on this year.

Reduced-Tillage Trials with Washington State University (WSU):In partnership with Doug Collins, PhD, from WSU’s Food Systems Program, the Organic Farm School is participating in our second year of reduced tillage trials for vegetable production.  Tillage of farm soils not only harms the beneficial soil microbe that reside there, but also releases much of the carbon present in the soil into the atmosphere, contributing to the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which are a major contributor to global climate change.  By trialing and discovering new systems of reduced tillage that drastically reduce the amount of soil carbon released into the atmosphere, these trials are working toward developing a functional system for organic vegetable farmers to sequester in the soil more of the atmosphere's excessive carbon, and to help make organic farming an even more ecologically friendly enterprise.  In 2017 we did a trial planting winter squash into narrow strips tilled into a mowed rye grain crop, and for 2018 we'll be planting broccoli into a terminated stand of vetch cover crop.     

Long-term Soil Carbon Testing:  Because we at OFS are concerned (but optimistic) about how organic farming relates to global climate change, in 2017 we began a long-term study on our farm's soil carbon.  We've identified two exact locations in our field to take annual samples from: one site will be tilled in a way that many organic farmers typically use (with spring tillage, summer cultivation for weeds, and fall tillage to establish cover crops), while the other site will continuously be the location of a years-long reduced tillage experiment.  By having the soil carbon from those two sites tested every October, we'll over time have good information on not only how tillage practices can impact soil carbon, but will simultaneously be gaining insights into how we can adapt our tillage systems to better serve our soil life, and the planet.

Olympic Sweet Corn Breeding Project with Organic Seed Alliance and the University of Wisconsin-Madison:  Working with our good friends from the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA), with help from corn breeders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Olympic Sweet Corn project is working to breed an open-pollinated sweet corn that grows well in the northern Puget Sound, meaning that it can germinate in our cool spring soils and ripen reliably in our relatively cool and short growing season.  Much of the sweet corn seed available to organic growers is bred for non-organic systems, has to be started here in the greenhouse, and needs more heat than we typically get here to mature a good crop.  This multi-partner breeding project is well on its way to developing a strong organic sweet corn variety bred by organic farmers, for organic farmers.  

Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC) Trials with the Organic Seed Alliance: The Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC) joins researchers and farmers in Northern U.S. states to address organic farmers’ seed and plant breeding needs. We at OFS are working directly with the Organic Seed Alliance, but the nation-wide collaborative includes researchers and educators from Oregon State University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cornell University, Washington State University, and the USDA.  These institutions, and the farmers working with them, are growing many of the same varieties of vegetables across the country to see how they perform in different organic systems.  For 2018 we at OFS will be doing the second year of a winter squash trial, and will also be trialing sweet peppers to see which varieties perform best outdoors in the mild PNW.

Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) with the Organic Seed Alliance: CIOA is a long-term breeding project that addresses the critical needs of organic carrot farmers by developing orange and novel colored carrots with improved disease and nematode resistance, improved weed competitiveness, and improved nutritional value and flavor.  For the 2018 season, we at OFS will be partnering with the Organic Seed Alliance to grow a seed crop for a strain of red carrot that they're in the process of breeding.  The CIOA project includes field trials not only in Washington but also in California, Indiana, and Wisconsin to evaluate the performance of 36 diverse carrot cultivars and breeding stocks for field performance (yield, appearance, leaf blight, nematode resistance) and consumer quality (flavor and nutrient content).

OFS On-farm Variety Trialing and Breeding Projects:  In an effort to find the varieties that work best for us, while also giving our students hands-on experience in the plant breeding process, this year at OFS we'll be starting several breeding projects for crops that are particularly important to us – lettuce, salad turnips, and cherry tomatoes.  All good breeding projects start with a variety trial, and so for 2018 we'll be evaluating several varieties within each crop that might best meet our needs.  Based on those results, we'll begin a years-long process of selecting individual plants from within the best variety to save seed from, or possibly cross-pollinate plants from a couple varieties in order to create the variety we want.  It can be a long and winding road, but we're excited to get started.

Enterprise Budget Studies:  As much as we love farming, the hard reality is that we can't do it if it doesn't make us any money.  To that end, 2018 will be the first year of many for each of our students to produce an enterprise budget for a single crop.  An enterprise budget is a management tool that helps farmers figure out how much money they make (or not) off a specific crop.  By tracking and calculating every single expense incurred to produce a crop (from the cost of seed, fertilizer, tractor fuel, and field labor, to packaging material and marketing costs), and then comparing that to the price they sell the crop for, students will be gaining a very detailed and informed view of what it takes to keep a farm financially viable.  This set of financial skills will not only provide us at OFS with better decision-making tools, but will be invaluable to our graduates as they start their own farms.  

Cover Crop Phenology Trials with Washington State University:  As part of a multi-farm study led by WSU's Doug Collins, we've planted four different types of cover crops (winter wheat, Aroostook rye, hairy vetch, and common vetch) that Dr. Collins hopes to gain valuable insight from about when to plant and when to incorporate into the soil to maximize the soil benefits from cover crops for organic growers.  As in many other aspects of farming, timing is everything, and knowing how much biomass a cover crop variety produces and when in the season it's at its most fertile will be a great tool to help organic farmers enrich their soil. 

 

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First Year Infrastructure

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So, you graduated from the OFS (or you started cold turkey) and you set about farming. Did you have access to a hoop house in your first season? Did you put it up, or was it already there? If you didn't use a full fledged hoop house, how did you propagate seedlings? How did you prepare for early markets? Looking for advice for our most recent grads here....

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The Question of Boots

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As the Class of 2018 begins to create their packing list, many are asking "what kind of boots do I need?" So, we're turning to you! As grads of the Organic Farm School (or as a farmer), what kind of boots do YOU suggest for students? What kind did you start with? Did you shift to a different kind as you learned more about the work? 

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