Monday, July 22, 2019

“Loyal to soil” – Farm walks provide farmer-to-farmer learning

Spoon Full Farm shows a map of their property 
by the Yakima River, which borders it.
Karla Salp

When learning something new, there is no more effective way than getting your hands – or your feet – dirty. That’s where the Washington State University Food Systems and the Tilth Alliance come in.

 Phoebe Autry, garden manager, talks about no-till gardening
WSU has been coordinating educational farm walks for over 15 years. The goal is to provide a venue for farmers to learn from one another about organic, sustainable, and innovative farm and food businesses throughout the state. While farmers are the primary audience, attendees also include researchers, agricultural professionals, and even gardeners.

This month’s first farm walk, for example, was a visit to Spoon Full Farm at Thorp, near Interstate 90 just west of Ellensburg.

Spoon Full Farm is a relatively new diversified farm. They are transforming land which had been a hay farm for decades. Their motto is “loyal to soil” and they see themselves primarily as “soil farmers.” They grow vegetables, fruit, and flowers as well as graze cattle and raise chickens for eggs. But their guiding principle is to choose farming methods – such as no-till – which have been shown to improve soil quality and which they hope will grow better produce.

Anna Brown talks about Spoon Full Farm's rotational grazing
Two dozen attendees walked the 100-acre property to learn more about how Spoon Full Farm operates, ask questions, and see first-hand the benefits and challenges that can accompany no-till practices. During the walk, topics discussed included:
  • Dealing with weeds in a no-till garden
  • Addressing high winds on the farm
  • Rotational intensive grazing of cattle
  • Raising chickens for eggs on pasture
WSDA staff members frequently attend the farm walks to provide resources and ask questions. On this walk, for example, our Regional Markets team brought the hot-off-the-press new Small Farm and Direct Marketing Handbook, or the “green book.” The handbook has fact sheets on a wide variety of topics of interest to new farmers. And our produce safety team provided feedback about good produce safety practices that were being used on the farm as well on the walk.

Mericos Rhodes talks about raising pastured chickens for eggs
If you missed this farm walk, don’t worry – there are several more scheduled throughout the summer on a variety of topics:

You can also find booklets from past farm walks on the Tilth Alliance website. In addition to the WSU Food Systems/Tilth Alliance farm walks, other agricultural organizations also host these valuable experiences. Follow WSDA’s Facebook page and check out our Facebook events calendar to stay informed when they occur.