Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Soil Health Initiative and WSDA looking for samples, participants

Dani Gelardi
WSDA Soil Health Scientist

Healthy soil is the key to success in farming. With healthy soil, farms are more successful, our environment is cleaner, and Washington can keep growing nutritious food for generations to come. With more than 300 different commodities grown in the state, healthy soil looks different from place to place and from crop to crop. 


Soil sampling. 

In the fall of 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (UDSA) awarded a $500,000 specialty crop block grant to WSDA’s Natural Resources Assessment Section (NRAS) that funded a soil health survey project in partnership with Washington State University (WSU). In spring of 2020 the state Legislature passed Substitute Senate Bill 6306 that created the Washington Soil Health Initiative (WaSHI), which provided $200,000 of additional funding to NRAS for more soil health research and outreach.

WSDA looking for more soil samples

Researchers have already been collecting soil samples as part of this initiative. But as the program begins to launch, coordinators are looking for Washingtonians who may be interested in contributing soils data to the WaSHI State of the Soils Assessment

If you’re a grower, an agricultural professional, a graduate student, or a conservation district staff member who wants to soil sample, we want to hear from you. 

Beginning in March of 2022, WSDA will pay for a laboratory soil health analysis for eligible projects, in exchange for support in collecting soil samples and grower management surveys. WSDA will also provide training and individualized soil health reports for participating growers. 

Soils data will be used to measure soil health across different regions and crops in Washington. This information will help WSDA protect grower livelihoods, environmental sustainability, and food security in Washington.

The deadline to apply to participate is 5 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. For more information or to apply, visit the NRAS Partnerships in Soil Health webpage

WSDA will also be hosting a virtual Q&A on Tuesday, Dec. 14 at 1 p.m.

Monday, November 29, 2021

The numbers are in: Farm to Food Pantry continues to make a big impact

Nichole Garden
WSDA Food Assistance Program

Washington onions are one of many crops bought
thanks to the Farm to Food Pantry initiative. 
Veterans Farm at Orting is a 160-acre swath of land nestled at the foot of Mount Rainier which serves as a farm incubator for beginning veteran farmers by leasing them parcels of land where they can learn to grow and raise food. This year, three of its farmers are growing food for Nourish, a Pierce County-based non-profit contracting with WSDA’s Farm to Food Pantry (F2FP) initiative. This initiative, established in 2014, is a partnership between WSDA and Harvest Against Hunger (HAH) that creates ways for Washingtonians in need to receive fresh food from local farmers and gives an economic boost to the local farms. 

Because of the initiative, Nourish is able to support the Orting farmers by purchasing their food directly. This partnership is mirrored across the state as F2FP continues to grow. 

Each of the Orting veteran farmers contributes a unique mix of products. Mark Jacobs of Jacobs Agro supplies hearty greens, such as collards and kale, as well as onions, potatoes, and tomatoes. Jillian Locascio of Dancing Sprouts Farm sells Nourish a bounty of greens, including spinach and bok choy. Terry and Regina Strong of Strong Roots Farm sent over summer squash, melons, cucumbers, and some of the 22 varieties of cherry tomatoes they grew.

Carrie Little, who manages the farm through the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs, says it’s gratifying to “watch these amazing humans get excited about growing food” as they develop solid relationships with organizations that pay them for their products. And, she adds, the farmers love knowing that their food is feeding community members who need it. Nourish is also happy with the arrangement and has earmarked extra funds to buy even more from the Orting operation. 

New partnerships like these are making a significant impact. According to the Farm to Food Pantry Annual Report 2020, hunger relief organizations across the state combined grant funds with match dollars to purchase more than 105,000 pounds of produce from 97 farms to feed residents in need across 23 counties in Washington in 2020. Participating farms also donated a whopping 448,153 pounds of surplus produce through Farm to Food Pantry.

With even more funding available this year, thanks to a significant investment from the state legislature, WSDA expects those numbers to continue to grow.

Grant applications

The 2022-2023 Farm to Food Pantry grant application is now open. In addition to produce, the initiative will allow purchases of grains, dairy, eggs, and meat during this grant round. Grants will also provide administrative funding to support the coordination of these efforts.

Applications are now being accepted from prospective Farm to Food Pantry regional agencies through November 30. Recipients will receive a biennial allocation, with between $3,500 and $20,000 available from January 1 through June 30, 2022 and between $3,500 and $30,000 from July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023. 

Washington grown spinach.
Organizations that receive a grant to build new relationships with their local farmer through procurement, or enhance their current relationships, will not do s
o in a vacuum. WSDA and Harvest Against Hunger provide ongoing support, including monthly cohort meetings for participating organizations as well as technical support and resources, such as the Grower’s Roundtable Kit, a contracting guide and farm contract templates, purchasing calendar template, and fundraising guidance.

By connecting farmers and hunger relief organizations and encouraging community investment, Farm to Food Pantry is meeting key goals of WSDA’s Focus on Food initiative: increasing access to fresh, nutrient-dense foods for people experiencing food insecurity; supporting Washington agriculture; and facilitating connections between food providers and producers at the regional level. 

People, no matter what their income, want to know that food grown in their community is feeding the people that live there. This initiative helps make that possible by giving emergency food providers across the state greater flexibility to buy food grown and raised by local farmers. WSDA and HAH are proud to help facilitate these connections.

Apply now to become a regional agency through 2023. Access the grant materials here and contact Maddie Price by email or calling 206-236-0408 x105 with questions about the grant or the Farm to Food Pantry initiative. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

WSDA Works – Plant services team keeps plants safe and healthy

Amber Betts
WSDA Communications

A nursery. 

Have you ever wondered why we don’t see more plants with disease and pests in our nurseries? It’s in large part thanks to the folks in the WSDA Plant Services Program (to name a few).

Early Beginnings

The work of the Plant Services Program began in the 1890s, well before WSDA formed in 1913. Back then, there were about 250 licensees that needed inspection to ensure plants offered for sale were free of harmful pests and plant diseases. Now, there are more than 5,600 licensed nurseries and 11 environmental specialists (also known as nursery and export inspectors) statewide. 

The daily life of plant services inspectors

WSDA inspectors like Sherry and Sue monitor nursery plants for diseases, pests, and overall health. Sherry inspects nurseries, monitors areas like Grandview for Japanese beetles, and assists local nurseries and other plant-related businesses with licensing requirements.

Sherry checks a trap for
Japanese beetle at outside
of a local nursery.

Sherry completes export inspections for hay, straw, hops, fruit trees, pollen, irises, lumber, potatoes, and logs. She says she loves learning more about agriculture in Washington State.

Since the outbreak of Japanese beetle in Grandview, Washington last year, Sherry has been busy keeping an eye out when inspecting the local nurseries. She also sets traps in the surrounding area, regularly checking and reporting her findings. In 2021, she found no Japanese beetles in her traps that surround all the nurseries in the Sunnyside and Grandview areas. Pest program coworkers set traps within city limits, and their catch totaled more than 24,000, but Sherry focused on nurseries, and making sure we weren’t transporting these pesky beetles across county or state lines with the sale of plants.  

Right now teams at WSDA are considering expanding the current quarantine to include moving soil and plants outside of the infestation. Sherry and her team will be a big part of that work, too. The variety of work she does is what keeps her job exciting and enjoyable.

“Coming from Illinois, the land of corn and soybeans, it’s amazing to see the variety of crops in the Yakima Valley and the whole state,” she said.

Poinsettias in a greenhouse. 

During nursery inspections, our plant services inspectors perform quarantine enforcement, ensuring protocols are being followed to ensure plants aren’t carrying pests when they travel, and when new pests arrive, they assist with the detection and subsequent quarantine steps.

The division’s mission statement says it all:

“The Plant Services Program is committed to facilitating agricultural trade and ensuring consumer protection by providing accurate and reliable inspection, testing and certification of agricultural plant products, and serving on the front line of defense against the introduction and spread of pests.”

Between our 11 inspectors, we certify more than $2 billion in agricultural products for export annually, and conduct hundreds of inspections. They inspect thousands of bare-root fruit trees for export to Canada each spring, they certify log and lumber exports, hay exports from Kittitas County, and provide planting stock, tree fruit, and grapevine certification. 

Sue inspects the ground where the trees are
shaken to rid them of pests before export.

Right now, our inspector Sue is making the rounds to inspect and certify Christmas trees pest-free for export. In order to prevent spreading pests, Sue and other inspectors visit tree farms during harvest. The trees are mechanically shaken to rid the tree of any potential pest. Then the trees are baled and shipped. Sue closely looks at a percentage of the trees during the process, and even inspects the needles that fall in the shaking process. If there are no pests found, the trees are certified and ready to ship.

Sue also inspects the many varieties of poinsettias growing in greenhouses in Mossyrock, set to hit holiday centerpieces next month.

Washington is fourth in the nation for Christmas tree production, and produces holiday greens used for a variety of celebrations at this time of the year.

There are nearly 400 Christmas tree farms statewide, the top-producing counties are Lewis, Mason, Clark, Pierce, and Thurston for cut trees. Noble and Douglas fir trees are the most popular Christmas trees sold in Washington, accounting for 90 percent of all sales.

Many of Washington's Christmas trees are exported to Hawaii, California, Canada, Mexico, Asia and U.S. military bases worldwide.

What the future holds

Close-up inspection of
Christmas tree needles. 

The Plant Services Program has some exciting plans for the future. They are currently exploring whether they can employ drones to inspect remote sites or utilize dog teams to sniff out plant viruses and fungal pathogens. They also plan to increase online enforcement efforts, facilitate the movement of hemp plant products, and build a planting stock certification center in Prosser, including labs, offices, and meeting space.

Ensuring that Washington plants are exported pest free will require an ongoing partnership between our Plant Services inspectors and those in the plant industry continuing to follow best practices and quarantine rules. Visit our website agr.wa.gov to learn more about Plant Services.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

WSDA Pest Program trapping season wraps up

Karla Salp

Each year, WSDA’s Pest Program sets thousands of traps throughout the state to catch invasive species that could threaten agriculture. The program surveys for over 130 pests – most of which have not yet been detected in the state.

Japanese beetles

Dozens of Japanese beetles in a ziplock bag
Dozens of Japanese beetles collected from a single trap

It was a record year for Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) catches - unwelcome news to farmers and homeowners alike. There was one catch in Washington across the river from Portland, a few as usual near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, but more than 24,000 in the Grandview area. Catching so many in Grandview this year was surprising considering that only three were caught in 2020 between Grandview and Sunnyside combined.

Japanese beetles on rose bud
Japanese beetles devour a 
Grandview resident's roses
The overwhelming number of catches in the Grandview area has many implications. First, WSDA has proposed a 49-square-mile Japanese beetle quarantine to restrict the movement of soil, yard debris, and plant materials that could spread the beetles. Second, WSDA is planning an extensive, multi-year eradication program to try to eradicate the pest – no easy task given the number of beetles already in the area. Finally, WSDA will conduct extensive outreach and trapping in Yakima and Benton counties in 2022. 

Japanese beetles attack over 300 different types of plants including roses, hops, grapes, corn, lawns, and many other crops grown in area gardens and farms.

If there is a silver lining to this beetle infestation, it is that the city, businesses, schools, and people in the vicinity have been open and willing to do what they can to help with WSDA’s response to this invasive pest. Another positive: although nearly 100 traps were placed around area plant nurseries, no beetles were found at the nurseries.

Invasive moths

Male Lymantria dispar
Our trappers set nearly 23,000 traps statewide this year looking for Lymantria dispar – the moth formerly known as the gypsy moth (a new common name has not yet been established.) This moth has devastated forests in the Eastern U.S. where it is established – eating over 300 different types of trees and plants. When there are cycles of large populations, they can strip entire forests from the canopy to the ground, leaving an eerie winter-like scene at the beginning of summer.

This year was a low year for Lymantria dispar catches – only six were found in the entire state. Unfortunately, one of those moths was caught in Eastern Washington just north of Kettle Falls - which is unusual in itself as most moths are normally trapped in Western Washington – and it was also a more concerning variety – Lymantria dispar asiatica, formerly known as the Asian gypsy moth. Lymantria dispar asiatica eats a wider variety of trees (including evergreens) and the females can fly, allowing them to spread more easily.

Apple maggot

apple maggot fly
Apple maggot fly
Our apple maggot (Rhagoletis pomonella) program continued its work of safeguarding Washington’s global reputation for delicious – and pest-free – apples. The program’s work consists of trapping pest-free areas to ensure they remain pest-free as well as trapping around threatened orchards that are near known apple maggot detection sites.

The good news this year is that many of our main apple-growing regions had no catches at all this year: Adams, Asotin, Benton, Douglas, Franklin, Grant, Lincoln, and Stevens counties. Less encouraging was catching 120 apple maggots in Kittitas County and 843 in Okanogan County.

In areas where apple maggots have been detected outside of the apple maggot quarantine area, the county pest boards are responsible for taking aggressive action. WSDA and the Apple Maggot Working Group (an advisory council composed of state and local government, industry representatives, and researchers) began working last year to examine how best to address the growing apple maggot problem in the unquarantined area of Okanogan County. That effort will continue over the coming months.

Asian giant hornet

Asian giant hornet queen trapped by chopsticks against tree with combs capped with white silk from the nest in the tree showing
Asian giant hornet queen from the
third nest with part of her nest
Our Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia) team had a busy season – finding and eradicating three hornet nests in August and September. Every nest was in a tree cavity, each demanding a creative approach to remove the nest. The most challenging nest was about 15 feet up a tree.

Public trapping and reporting again played a major role in locating the nests – two of the three were located after reports from area residents. Despite existing research indicating that the hornets predominately nest in the ground in their native range, all four nests eradicated in Washington over the last two years have been in tree cavities.

Our hornet program will continue for at least three more years. In order for the hornets to be considered eradicated, we must have three consecutive years with no detections. The biggest challenge to success is the lack of a highly-effective trap. While the traps we use catch hornets, they do not appear to be irresistible to them. USDA continues to work on a lure that will be more attractive to the hornets and we wish them much success!

Exotic wood-boring insects

velvet longhorn beetle
Velvet longhorn beetle
Many of the pests we look for are never found. Such is usually the case with our exotic wood-boring insect survey. Imagine trapping for years and never finding what you are looking for. As disappointing as it may be not to find anything, that’s exactly what we hope the results will be as we look for potentially harmful new pests.

This year, WSDA put out over 400 exotic wood-boring insect traps at high-risk sites such as ports, shipping distribution sites, and transfer stations. Trapped areas and other high-risk areas are visually surveyed for signs of wood boring insect activity. One day, they found one.

“This is the first time in all of these years I have trapped a target species,” Don Kitchen, one of the members of the beetle survey team, said.

This past summer, the velvet longhorn beetle (Trichoferus campestris) was detected for the first time in the state in King County near Kent. WSDA responded by setting more traps and conducting visual surveys of the area, although no additional beetles were found. WSDA will continue to put out additional traps, conduct visual surveys of the area, and conduct outreach about the beetle in 2022.

The work continues

WSDA’s Pest Program has had a busy year – and this roundup covers just a handful of the pests they monitor. With their continued work and the help of the public looking for and reporting suspected invasive species, our state should be protected from harmful pests for years to come. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Business accelerator for women class of 2022 announced

Amber Betts
WSDA Communications  

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Foundation announced the 2022 class of the Women’s Farm2Food Accelerator last week. Of the 50 women chosen to participate from Oregon, Nevada, and Washington, 16 were selected from Washington state.

The online accelerator, funded with Specialty Crop Block Grant funds from the three states, will help women farmers and entrepreneurs with food and beverage products explore expanding into new markets. Participants will receive training in marketing, product development, food safety, packaging and knowing your costs. Training will help women farmers and entrepreneurs launch new products or enhance existing products.

The 15-week Women’s Farm2Food Accelerator is grouped into four course areas:

    • Launching Your Product
    • Understanding Customers and Product Value
    • Product Development
    • Pricing and Pitching to Buyers

“This program exemplifies the mission of WSDA to increase the economic viability of farmers and food businesses, with resources prioritized for historically underrepresented farmers and ranchers, including women, minority, and small business owners,” WSDA Director Derek Sandison said.

Washington women selected for this program include:

    • Abbey T. Masciarotte, of Duck or Bump, LLC
    • Ariel Dorantes or Dorantes Orchards
    • Danielle Bock of Coco Churro
    • Emily Asmus, of Dovetail Enterprises
    • Erica Hernandez, Colibri Farm
    • Hayley Trageser of Fruitful Designs 
    • Karen Puyleart of April Joy Farm     
    • Kristina Kelly
    • Kristine Robinson
    • Mia Devine of Small Acres, LLC
    • Michelle Alger of Fable Farms LLC  
    • Natalie Evans of We Be Jamin' LLC.
    • Rebecca Frances Minna of Prospore              
    • Renee Kalsbeek  of Mamas Garden LLC         
    • Sharon Kaplan of Fruit Forest Farm, Meermaid's Treasures      
    • Stephanie Schlitz

In addition to the online training, the program will provide opportunities for one-on-one consulting with product development, pricing strategies and providing access to marketing specialists for the participants. Thanks to support from WSDA, the women will be able to display their products at the upcoming Good Food Mercantile in Portland, Oregon in April 2022.

NASDA Foundation collaborates with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Washington State Department of Agriculture, Nevada Department of Agriculture, Oregon State University Food Innovation Center, and Union Kitchen to develop and administer the 15-week training program.  

Visit F2FAcelerator.org to learn more about the Women’s Farm2Food Accelerator.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Students, get your forks ready – WSDA hosts farm to school institutes

Laura Raymond and Annette Slonim
WSDA Farm to School program

As school districts across the state establish farm to school connections, they are buying more and more Washington-grown foods to incorporate into new and growing farm to school meal programs. Successful farm to school efforts are nurturing relationships with local farms and other food producers, transitioning to scratch-cooked foods, successfully introducing new menu items, and much more. It’s an exciting opportunity for farmers and students in our state. 

Salad prep at a pre-pandemic workshop on
Farm to School food preparation.
But launching a farm to school program isn’t easy. It requires creativity, dedication, and new ways of working for cafeterias and districts to source seasonally, develop new recipes, and work with fresh and whole ingredients. 

Transitioning to more scratch cooking is a key component of success and this can be a challenging shift; many school districts don’t have the equipment, staff, or training they need to clean, peel, and chop freshly harvested vegetables or to handle large quantities of fresh dairy, poultry, and meats. 

Sourcing seasonally and locally can mean working with ingredients that are uncommon in the conventional school lunchroom, like whole grains and dried legumes, that are plentiful in Washington. These districts need resources and support.

USDA grant kick starts farm to school institutes

To help school districts get started or strengthen their existing farm to school and scratch-cooking efforts, WSDA was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service to develop a series of Farm to School Institutes. 

These institutes offered presentations that covered topics such as developing relationships with producers, procurement options and requirements, delivery and storage, hiring and training kitchen staff, earning student trust, serving culturally relevant foods, menu planning, and planning promotional events. 

During the three virtual events this summer, teams of school nutrition directors, nutritionists, cooks, board members, educators, and others learned from chefs, WSDA staff, and other school nutrition professionals in Washington who run successful farm to school meal programs. 

Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. Members of the teams from the more than 20 districts attending said the presentations provided a goldmine of information, resources, and inspiration.

WSDA held three institutes: one for districts in Western Washington, one for those in Eastern Washington, and one focused on tribal and traditional foods.

A trolley of fresh produce celebrating
Farm to School on Taste Washington Day
The institutes, run by a team composed of WSDA Farm to School staff, culinary professionals, and tribal and traditional foods educators, drew on the knowledge and experiences of school food professionals from programs of different sizes and styles: districts deep in our state’s agricultural regions, big-city school districts, districts serving a handful of schools, and tribes serving students in their communities. All left with an action plan to advance their own farm to school goals. Presenters also came from districts in various stages of farm to school implementation.
Here are just a few of the insights shared by the presenters:
  • The Muckleshoot Cooks Project emphasized the importance of on-the-job training for busy nutrition workers, serving traditional foods weekly, and striving for food sovereignty over time.
  • West Valley School District in Yakima plans meals using a seasonality guide and emphasizes the importance of having a central kitchen to the success of their project.
  • Coupeville School District Connected Food Program uses food from its on-site farm and local farmers. They offer just one hot meal option each day, made in part from foods they prepared in bulk.
  • Seattle Public Schools procures produce from about five local farms for certain meals since no single local farmer can meet the needs of the whole district.
  • Youth leaders from Food Empowerment Education Sustainability Team (FEEST) emphasized the importance of meals that are culturally relevant for students and the value of engaging students in menu development. 
As energized participants apply the skills and knowledge they gained through the Institutes, WSDA anticipates that even more students—in more regions of Washington—will be eating foods from Washington farms and food producers at school.

If you would like to buy food from local farms for your school food program, you can apply for a WSDA Farm to School purchasing grant. Visit agr.wa.gov/FarmToSchool or email farmtoschool@agr.wa.gov for more information about the purchase grants.