2016 - 2019 USDA Beginning Farmer Rancher Grant
This grant provides resources for the Organic Farm School, Northwest Ag Business Center, Whidbey Island Conservation District, San Juan County WSU Extension, and San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild to increase training, technical assistance, mentoring and land access for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers (BFRs) on the islands of Whidbey, San Juan, Orcas and Lopez.
Organic Farm School - funds provide a second instructor and expanded opportunities for students to learn and practice livestock management, tractor maintenance and repair, and more intensive marketing and financial management skills.
Northwest Ag Business Center - funds provide one-on-one business development assistance to at least 40 BFRs. NABC will provide in-depth technical assistance in developing a feasibility study and business plan, including sourcing capital, to 6 of these 40 and assistance in value-added product development to 2 of these.
Whidbey Island Conservation District and San Juan Islands Agricultural Guild - through this project, BFRs will be linked to farmland identified as available and suitable. Impetus for this objective comes directly from numerous BFRs, conservation organizations, agricultural strategic action plans, and landowners and is supported by a public desire to maintain the agricultural character and productivity of the islands. This project seeks to link 15 BFRs to farmland. The developed strategies could be used in any rural area with underutilized farmland.
San Juan County WSU Extension - funds will allow for the planning and implementation of six workshops annually, with each workshop repeated twice and distributed among the four islands of Whidbey, San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez. Workshops will cover crop production, livestock and poultry production, food safety, marketing, business planning and financial management.
WSU Extension will also develop an on-farm mentoring program to provide one-on-one consulting to six beginning BFR operations by a team of experienced local farmers.
Research Projects for 2019
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.
OFS On-farm Breeding Projects: In an effort to find and create 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 continuing several breeding projects for crops that are particularly important to us – snap peas, lettuce, and spinach. The snap pea we're currently calling "Striped Magnolia", as the seed for which it came from off-types within a seed crop we were growing of the purple-podded "Sugar Magnolia”. We selected pods that were mostly purple but with some green stripes running diagonally across the pods. They're very beautiful, and hopefully very delicious as well. The lettuce and spinach projects come from variety trials and crosses that were made for plant vigor and yield. Throughout the year at our farm stands, you'll be seeing (and hopefully eating) some of these project results, and with any luck, in a few years we'll be growing and selling the final finished products of these projects.
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.
Past Research Projects 2018-2011
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.
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).
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.
2012 - 2015 WSDA Specialty Crop Block Grant
Seed Development and Production - provided equipment and educational outreach to the OFS, students, and regional farmers to strengthen seed development and production efforts throughout the Puget Sound region
2011 and 2012 - Sustainable Path Foundation
Provided funds for seed equipment not covered by the WSDA grant