Monday, June 18, 2018

American Flowers Week promotes cut-flower producers

Katie Lynd
Regional Markets Program

Red, white and blue… blooms? We’ll be seeing these patriotic colors as we celebrate our nation’s independence. Now, for the fourth consecutive year, they take center stage during American Flowers Week (June 28-July 4) – a time to highlight local flowers and the people who grow and design with them.

Close to home, WSDA Regional Markets and the Washington State Farm Bureau are partnering on a project funded by a WSDA Specialty Crop Block Grant to market and promote Washington cut flowers. By promoting American Flowers Week through social media with the hashtag #americanflowersweek, #WAgrown, and #WAflowers, project partners hope to make more flower growers in Washington aware of this marketing opportunity and help consumers get to know where their blooms come from.

Triple Wren Farms with their cut flowers in Ferndale, WA
American Flowers Week, a project of SlowFlowers.com engages the public, policymakers and the media in a conversation about the origins of their flowers. The campaign is timed to coincide with America’s Independence Day on July 4th, providing florists, retailers, wholesalers and flower farmers a patriotic opportunity to promote American-grown flowers.

“Red, white and blue blooms and bouquets are encouraged,” says campaign founder Debra Prinzing of Slow Flowers. "With Washington's status as the nation's second largest state producing cut flowers, flower farmers and florists in the Evergreen State have a unique platform to tell their story through local and seasonal flowers."

How can you get involved? Share your photos of local flowers on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – and don’t forget to tag your farmer or florist! You can also use the visual resources available at AmericanFlowersWeek.com, including logos and social media badges, a coloring map and downloadable fact sheets and infographics.

We can’t wait to see what creative endeavors our farming community brings to #americanflowersweek. Share your blooms and include #WAgrown and #WAflowers as well. We hope to highlight some farms and flowers on WSDA’s social media channels later this month. Join us for American Flowers Week!





Thursday, June 14, 2018

WSDA report examines the challenge of getting local produce to schools and other institutions

Chris Iberle
WSDA Regional Markets 

Serving local produce and minimally processed foods is a goal for many school cafeterias and other institutions, but there are challenges to reaching that end. To understand the challenges and potential solutions better, WSDA’s Regional Markets team studied supply chains in Washington state for local, minimally processed food from farm to school for 2016-2017.

The study, “Value Chain Strategies for Source-Identified Minimally Processed Produce for the School Market,” was completed earlier this year.

The study also sought to identify strategies for developing a “value chain” infrastructure and building relationships to help local farms meet the demand for these products from schools, hospitals, and other institutional buyers.

The value chain model 

A value chain model is one that considers how value is added to a product or service at each step along the supply chain to best meet customer needs. The model seeks to maximize the business benefit that comes from engaging interested parties at all steps along the chain, from the initial supplier through the end customer.

Value chains often provide increased transparency so it is clear where the food is coming from and how it is produced. They also foster collaboration between suppliers, distributors, processors, sellers, and buyers.

Many value chains help develop relationships among the various partners built on shared values, reflected in their business operations and the products they make. Below are some of the findings of the report.

Farmers working together 

In Washington state, several different groups of farmers have formed cooperatives and food hubs in order to develop value chain relationships with processors, other food businesses, and their end customers.

WSDA studied some of these food hubs and small farmer co-ops to understand what barriers they encounter when developing source-identified, minimally processed products such as fresh cut fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, or Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) vegetables and berries, for schools and institutional markets. WSDA also identified some strategies that farmers and food hubs are using to overcome those barriers and meet school demand for minimally processed produce.

Access to processing

The availability of appropriate, minimal processing infrastructure, such as space and equipment to cut, freeze or dehydrate food, varies widely depending on the region and the crop. Finding scale-appropriate processing equipment and meeting minimum volume requirements for frozen processors was especially challenging. While fresh cut processing services are available in some regions and for some products, the lack of information about them and the lack of coordination among these services means less access for smaller farms.

Existing and emerging supply chain models

One emerging supply chain model for providing source-identified, minimally processed fruits and vegetables to schools and other higher-volume markets appears to be food hubs, which are currently poised to meet this demand in three main ways, each with their own opportunities and challenges:
  1. Processing capacity: Some food hubs have developed internal infrastructure to process their own members’ produce into specific products. They are still working to refine their operations, marketing, and suppliers to achieve a financially and operationally viable business model. 
  2. Sales of farmer-processed products: Some food hubs do not have their own processing infrastructure, but may have individual farmer members who already produce their own processed product that is sold through the food hub. This may offer a good fit for meeting institutional buyer needs.
  3. New partnerships: Some farms and food hubs already sell to a small or medium sized processor, and could launch or develop source-identified products with a processor to better serve K-12 school buyer needs. 
Learning from businesses building new relationships

Through interviews and surveys, WSDA learned more about traditional supply chain operators, such as conventional processors, and emerging alternatives, like food hubs and farmer cooperatives, and believe both can learn from each other to foster value chain development.

Conventional and traditional agricultural minimal processing infrastructure either no longer exists or has consolidated to serve primarily high-volume, larger-scale farms. This leaves little room for custom runs to serve smaller farms or for purchasing raw product from smaller-scale suppliers. Traditional processors have developed flexible, competitively-priced products that meet some school buyer needs, but face challenges sourcing from local farms and building value chain partnerships, such as co-packing for farmers, food hubs, or schools.

Negotiating values, relationships, and new participants

WSDA tried to understand whether new physical infrastructure are needed to fill the supply chain gap, or whether new relationships and integrating new participants in the value chain could fill this need.

Overall, there is high demand for specialized, mechanized facilities and equipment for processing, product storage, and transportation at small and medium scales, oriented to local regional markets. Until further investment in infrastructure is made, or capacity for new processing is built within current staffing or facilities, food hubs and small to mid-sized farms will have very limited access to the processing services they need within their region.

The full report includes a profile of the five food hubs that participated in the research project, and four case studies on specific products (dried treefruit, sliced carrots, frozen strawberries, and bagged salad mix).

To assist food hubs and small farmer co-ops with these issues, WSDA developed a toolkit for product development and potential supply chain partnerships. This also includes a Salesforce database to help with networking and referral services to support regional links in produce value chains. Simply email farmtoschool@agr.wa.gov to request these resources.

This project was funded and made possible thanks to a USDA Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program grant.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Help track the lily leaf beetle

Karla Salp
WSDA Communications

Lily leaf beetles mating
Warmer weather and flowers are here and so is the lily leaf beetle! For the second year in a row, the Washington State Department of Agriculture is enlisting help from local gardeners to track this pest. Last year WSDA was seeking to collect the pest itself. This year we need help to track the development, life cycle and spread of this invasive beetle that threatens both homegrown and commercial lilies and fritillaries.

The beetle only recently invaded the Pacific Northwest and we do not know how (or if) its seasonal lifecycle differs from other locations where it has been found. So far, the beetles have been found in Redmond, Bellevue, Renton, Issaquah, and a gardener recently found one as far south as Maple Valley.

With the help of local gardeners, WSDA is hoping to learn:

  • When the beetle starts to mate and lay eggs.
  • When new generations emerge each summer.
  • When it stops reproducing and begins to overwinter at the end of the year.

Confirmed lily leaf beetle sightings as of May 31, 2018
Tracking the precise timing of the lily leaf beetle’s lifecycle will enable researchers and gardeners to know when to start looking for this pest and when different control activities – like releasing our parasitoid wasps – should be implemented.

You can help with this effort by simply scouting your lilies weekly and reporting what you see. WSU Extension and WSDA have created a website where your observations can be easily uploaded, giving us real-time mapping of this pest’s lifecycle. The lifecycle reporting website is located here. You can also find more information about the lily leaf beetle from Washington State University and in a previous WSDA blog post.

WSDA entomologist Maggie Freeman is heading up the lily leaf beetle project. You can email her with any questions about the project at mfreeman@agr.wa.gov.

We wouldn’t be able to understand the life cycle of the lily leaf beetle locally or develop ways to control them without your help.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

“Fat is where it’s at” when it comes to Washington asparagus

Colleen Donovan
Farmers Market Integrity Project

Sizing up spears was one of many lessons growers shared with a group of King County farmers market managers who headed from “market to farm” to learn about Washington asparagus. Knowing where, when and how asparagus grows, what to expect from market vendors, and facts to share with shoppers helps farmers market managers better promote Washington farmers.

Tip number one: don’t go skinny.

“Fat is where it’s at. Thin is not in!” was how farmer Alan Schreiber explained that asparagus with thicker spears is more tender than “skinny” asparagus. The greater girth gives fibers more breathing room. Farmer Manny Canales noted that the skinny asparagus is tougher because it works harder to stay upright in the spring winds of the lower Yakima Valley.

Another interesting takeaway from the day was that Washington’s asparagus varieties usually have dark purple “bracts” – those triangles on the sides of the spear. The “tip” of the asparagus is made up of lots of bracts. And the colder the temperatures, the more purple you should see in the asparagus. So, expect more purple in your asparagus in early April at the beginning of the season than at the end in June.

What should you look for when buying asparagus at your farmers market? According to Alan and Manny:

  • Look for asparagus with the white end of the spear left on. This is the part that was once underground. This might look a little less neat and tidy, but it preserves the plant’s energy and keeps it fresher.
  • To get the best part of the spear, farmers recommend snapping off the bottom instead of cutting. As the asparagus ages, the “snapping point” moves up the spear. So, fresher asparagus breaks closer to the bottom end. 
  • The tip should be tight and not starting to flower. 
  • Well-cared for asparagus has been kept cool and hydrated. Outdoors at a market, look for spears standing in water. Treat asparagus like cut flowers to make it last.
  • If the bundle has a regular rubber band and has mixed sizes, then it has not been through a packing line. (The classic blue bands with PLU 4080 printed or PLU 94080, if organic, are usually for asparagus headed to wholesale markets.)  

According to Alan, who is also the Executive Director of the Washington Asparagus Commission, when asparagus is super fresh, you can rub two spears together and they squeak. But, to keep the peace, don’t try this at the farmers market until after you’ve bought your bundle. That’s a tip from the market managers.

Once you have your fresh, fat, Washington-grown asparagus, you can steam, simmer, roast, grill, or sauté it. Asparagus is incredibly versatile. The snapped off ends are great for flavoring soup stocks!
Asparagus is great for you too: low fat and packed with nutrition, especially Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and folate.

Now’s the time to find Washington asparagus at a Washington farmers market. Enjoy! And remember: “Fat is where it’s at; thin is not in.”

Colleen Donovan is the Coordinator for the Farmers Market Integrity Project, a statewide collaboration of market managers, farmers, and industry leaders working to ensure transparency in local foods. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Answering gypsy moth eradication questions

Karla Salp
WSDA Communications

On Tuesday, May 8, we conducted the first of three planned treatments to control gypsy moth in Pierce and Kitsap counties. Various questions about the treatment have been asked on social media both before and after the treatment. While we have responded to those concerns on various posts on social media, we wanted to provide a central location for information about two topics: a viral video and treatment on school grounds in Kitsap County.

Spraying on School Grounds

Cougar Valley Elementary

During our treatment planning, we anticipated treating Cougar Valley Elementary school at 10 a.m., which is what we communicated to the school district prior to treatment.

Subsequent adjustments to the flight plan were necessary to manage flight restrictions over the Kitsap Naval Base and for the safety of the pilot. In order to avoid flying in the prohibited area, the applicator had to modify the initial flight plan. This meant that the pilot would arrive at the school sooner than initially anticipated. We indicated to the applicator that treatment should not start at the school until after 9:10 a.m. when classes would start and students would be inside. The pilot arrived at about 9:05 a.m. and began treating the school grounds. Some children were still outside when treatment began.

We worked with the Central Kitsap School District on Tuesday to inform parents, identify what happened, and provide revised information about when to expect treatments to start at the school. We have finalized a modified application plan by working with the base personnel to adjust flight time restrictions over the base. This will now allow us to treat the school grounds no earlier than 9:30 a.m., if future treatments occur on a school day. We have also communicated this revised plan to the school district.

Again, Btk, the product we use to treat for gypsy moth caterpillars, has an excellent safety record. More info about Btk and human health is available on our website. However, if anyone has health concerns from the treatment, they can contact the Washington State Department of Health at 1-877-485-7316.

Clear Creek Elementary

There have been claims that Clear Creek Elementary school was sprayed when children were outside for recess. Clear Creek Elementary was not in the treatment area and was not sprayed. However, the plane did fly over the school as it was making its turns.

Viral Video

A video which has now been viewed thousands of times makes several claims about the treatment in the Silverdale area. In the video, the individual claims that her animals are being harmed by the spray and she makes broad statements about the types of impacts the spray can cause. Here are the facts:

  • Btk is not toxic to humans, pets, livestock (including goats,) birds (including chickens,) bees, fish, or other animals. It is toxic only to caterpillars and only after the caterpillar has ingested the Btk. Only coming in contact with the product, but not consuming it, will not harm even the caterpillar.
    Btk is a naturally occurring soil bacterium. Foray 48B, the formulation of Btk used in this application, is approved for use in organic agriculture. More information about Btk can be found on our website.
  • The video makes various claims about potential detrimental health impacts to humans. Btk has an excellent safety record. You can find more information about the Washington State Department of Health’s review of Btk and Foray 48B on DOH’s website and on our website.
  • The video claims to show Btk in the air on her property. While Foray 48B can be seen far overhead when the plane first dispenses it, the product is not visible as it approaches the ground. Also, according to our ground observers, there was fog in the area. 

In addition to the video, this same individual has made other claims on social media both before and after the treatment.

  • The individual claims that we sprayed her property 19 times. Treating the entire 1,000-acre block requires several passes with the plane. Anyone in or near the treatment area would have heard the plane many times. However, no place in the treatment area was treated more than once.
  • There have been claims that we used a product other than Btk, which left an orange powder. Btk does not leave a powder but does leave a sticky residue. See our blog about what to expect during gypsy moth treatments
  • There have been claims that Btk killed her bees. Btk is not toxic to bees. In many years of using Btk, we have not had complaints of Btk killing bees. 

Our commitment

Our agency has been working for over 40 years to prevent gypsy moths from becoming established and have used Btk many times for this purpose. Btk is also used commonly around the U.S. and the world to control caterpillars for gypsy moth treatments and on organic farms. We chose this product because it is both safe and effective. Our own staff members are always stationed in treatment areas, whether conducted by air or on the ground, and have the highest exposure to Btk. They have never reported any ill effects from exposure to this product.

While Btk has a long-term, excellent safety record and is even approved for use in organic agriculture, the risk that gypsy moths pose not only to the environment but also to human health is substantial. While we continue to protect our environment from this devastating invasive pest, our goal is always to provide extensive outreach so that the public is aware when eradication takes place.

Outreach this year has included news releases, social media outreach and education, public open houses, four postcard mailings to addresses in or near the treatment area, signs in the treatment areas and promotion of the ability to sign up for email, text, or robocall notifications to find out when treatments will occur. We are planning two additional treatments and encourage those who would like to know when they occur to sign up for these notifications.