Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The man where the road ends

A portion of the historic 78th St Heritage Farm, housing WSU Extension offices

On his previous jobsite “out beyond where the road ends,” they spoke only Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba, three of more than 150 dialects spoken in sub-Saharan West Africa.  Before coming to Vancouver, local WSU Extension Director, Doug Stienbarger, helped reforest Togo and Cameroon. Stienbarger was there as an agro forestry field manager. Swahili, which  he had learned in Tanzania as a Peace Corps volunteer, was useless in West Africa, so he employed native-speaking students and children to explain land saving measures to landowners. In Washington, we have different obstacles.
In Washington, “Water,” Stienbarger explains, “is at the bottom of almost any farm issue. When Africans buy a piece of land, they get what they call ‘customary ‘tenure’. They can farm, but the state owns the resources, and someone planting trees can claim that land.” But in Washington, water rights present an almost similar challenge.  For one thing, he explains, water rights in Washington were doled out in the state’s early days. Those who were landowners then, got them. But if a property was parceled out, the water rights stayed with the piece where the well was originally located. Owners of other parcels can drill domestic wells, but they are allowed only 5,000 gallons per day; and that’s not enough to water crops. So people use domestic wells for their farms and hope nobody complains. Stienbarger serves on the board for the Conservation District, and “they help influence water decisions. But,” he says, “The issue is far from resolved.”
Stienbarger’s passion with water issues is only indirectly linked to his WSU Extension job.  A ruddy-complected man, prone to head thrown back laughter, Stienbarger can tell you volumes about farming and resource stewardship in one breath, and an equal amount about green biomass in the next. But you’ll have a hard time finding him in the spotlight. Instead, coordinators Jen Naas, Watershed Stewardship Program, and Eric Lambert, Small Acreage Program, present WSU Extension workshops and answer day-to-day concerns. They are the face and Facebook of the Extension on their Watershed Stewards and Small Acreage pages and on the Extension website.  These county funded programs offer the public farm-related education. Stienbarger is the axle behind their hubs, and he is the can-do guy, helping farm start-ups learn to manage their natural resources efficiently and profitably. But when I asked to video him, doing what he does, he guffawed, “Only if I have a bag over my head!”
Some of Stienbarger’s reluctance to stand in the limelight might be well founded. According to Rob Guttridge, Waste Reduction Specialist at Clark County Environmental Services, “Some people steer clear of anything they think is related to government. They think we’re looking for infractions, and of course, a program director, Stienbarger in this case, would represent that. But the county’s role in funding programs like the Small Farms and Watershed Stewardship programs is only meant to improve the landowners’ quality of life. We aren’t regulatory at all, but people perceive us that way anyway. So we stay in the background.”
Neither is Stienbarger’s directorship always easy. When asked for a comment about the influence Stienbarger had in her life, one woman said, “No. I won’t say. Go ask his wife.” Stienbarger’s wife, Cindy Stienbarger, Residential Sustainability and Outreach Supervisor at Clark County Environmental Services, was unavailable for comment. But, according to Guttridge, there are people still angry over his firing of three heads of the Master Gardener program seven years ago. According to reports, there had been serious in-fighting that Stienbarger settled by rebuilding the program with an all-new staff and location.

 Click here to view the 2012 Small Farm Expo

Today we’re lined up for workshops at the Small Farms Expo. It’s taking place at the 78th St. Heritage Farm, whose buildings also house Extension offices. Whether it’s Lorrie Conway’s “Hands on Cheese Making,” Tony Migas’ “Mushroom Cultivation” or Denise Smee’s “Conquering Mount Manure, “we drift quietly from place to place, taking in what we want from the array of land management offerings. We’re young, we have our nursing babies with us; we’re 80 years old, farming trees now that we’re widowed and too stiff to bale hay; we’re professionals, looking for ways to avoid chemical weed control methods; we’re farmers, trying to make our farms yield enough that we can quit our day jobs. We’re all benefitting from Doug Stienbarger’s directorship at WSU Extension.
Clark County Environmental Services, Water Conservation District, 4-H, Juvenile Justice, Partners in Careers, the National Weather Service as well as WSU have shared interests in the Heritage farm. Some programs are privately funded, some non-profit funded, and some get governmental money. Doug explained that funding for various programs can come from anywhere, and that programs and funding changes all the time. He said, “We WSU staff-members are actually tenants here. In 1989, the county agreed to supply office space, utilities and whatnot, and the university supplies the faculty.” There’s a kind of beauty in the arrangement, and a sense that important ground is being broken here. Again.
Again, because, until 70 years ago, the 78th St. Heritage Farm was the county poor farm. In a program dating back to 1898, the farm housed and fed the homeless in exchange for work at farm duties. The 78th St. property was given to the county by the Anderson family in 1871. After the original building burned down in 1922, the county replaced it with one that looked more like an Italian villa than a poor farm. Those were the years when Washington cities were establishing their first radio transmissions, Time magazine published its first issue, J Edgar Hoover took over the FBI and the poor farm provided a setting where impoverished people could work, live and eat.
When you walk along the thick walled halls of Stienbarger’s building today, you can almost hear the tread of a hundred years of people inching toward a new start in life. It’s because they’re coming back.  The same acres that fed the homeless in 1912 are stocking the county food bank in 2012. This time the crops are grown by juvenile offenders doing restorative community service, by displaced veterans who are putting their lives back together and by volunteers wanting to reconnect with community, “working together like we used to do.”
As folks around town line up for a shared seasonal garden plot and a renewed community experience at the 78th St. gardens, others are moving back to the country, and acre by acre, hoping to turn their land into money.  After a farm acreage low in 2003, USDA statistics from 2007 showed that figure increasing. Today there are more than 2,000 farms in Clark County, the average farm cultivating less than 40 acres, and these are the kinds of people Stienbarger is there to serve..  Instead of major farm businesses growing hundreds of acres of one or two crops, many farmers in Clark County today come from urban or non-farm backgrounds. For quite a few, their farm businesses started out as a hobby or a second income. Some of them knew little or nothing about farming or even marketing when they started. That’s why Stienbarger runs annual 12-week Living on the Land and AG Business seminars and that’s where his Farm Finder database comes in. Product information for any farm in Washington or Oregon is on the WSU Extension website, and people can get the information using the tool. “It’s not 100 percent accurate,” Stienbarger admits. “There are farms on there that are gone, because I only hear about needed updates if somebody tells me. Plus, a lot of what we have is happenstance. There are 1,700 farms in that data-base, so there’s no way I can check on each one regularly.” Yet, Stienbarger is the man who pores over Farm Finder visitor stats gleaning IP addresses as if they were baby chicks, and acts like a man who would check and update every contact himself, given the time.

Doug Stienbarger says farms and farmers are as varied as tomato strains, each farmer unique and each farm producing its own special harvests according to its own business plan. CSA’s, roadside stands, restaurant supply farms, commercial nurseries, dairies, poultry farms or what-have-you, they all have one thing in common.  They all have a better chance of success because of the programs Stienbarger runs. According to him, they are Clark County’s stars, but if that’s true, he must be the sun.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rick's Wild Mushrooms at Vancouver Farmers Market
Spring-like sunny weather drove people out of their homes Saturday, and many flocked to Vancouver Farmers Market. For some, early spring is about green onions or the first asparagus. Others' springtime indicator is all about morel mushrooms and, for that,  Rick's Wild Mushrooms is the place to go.
Because most of the mushrooms he harvests are foraged and are not easily mass-produced, Rick provides highly sought after morels, chanterelles,  porcinis, and others in season. 
Rick said he can offer fresh mushrooms for several months each year, much longer than their short harvesting season would normally allow. When asked how he does it, he said, "We go up really high". With snow sometimes still on the ground in July in Southwest Washington's Cascade Range, it makes perfect sense.
Without an internet listing or even a publicized phone number, Rick has no trouble selling his specialty mushrooms, fern fiddle-heads and nettle greens. Later will come wild huckleberries. 
The products he doesn't sell at the market or at Vancouver Food Co-op, he markets to specialty restaurants. According to Shawn Merrill at the co-op, certain varieties of mushrooms also freeze well, and can be found year-round at the co-op. Among them are the chanterelles, porcinis, and matsutakes.
 If you're a mycovore, you may consider joining the Puget Sound Mycological Society, and learn how and where to become a forager yourself.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What about that snail on a leaf?

We gardeners hate those disgusting leaf-chomping snails, but we love the Slow Food USA   ARK of TASTE snail. When an Ark of Taste snail is shown beside an available food listing, it means that its grower is helping preserve a food variety that industrial standardization threatens to eliminate. In the United States today, there are some 200 foods on Slow Food’s endangered list.
While the Slow Food movement in general attempts to improve sustainability practices worldwide, one of its close-to-home activities is that of raising public awareness to the weakening availability of some wonderful food varieties. Here in the Pacific Northwest that list includes geoduck, Olympia native oyster, black republican cherry and Ozette potato.
Slow Food says that over 800 varities of food world-wide are on the endangered list. The good news is anybody can be a part of biodiversity just by producing, selling or consuming foods that are on the list.

CSA/CSP Farm Tours Announced

Crocus announces spring

It's that magical time of year. Lenten roses, crocuses and primroses are in bloom, and Southwest Washington farmers are posting their 2012 community supported agriculture (CSA and CSP) shares and events.

March 21
Farm tour, “A Journey in Sustainability”
11116 N.E. 156th Street
Brush Prairie, WA 98606

Jim said: I plan to discuss how concepts and philosophies of the sustainability movement, bio-regionalism, appropriate technology and permaculture inform the farming we do here at Hunters’ Greens. The tour originated as a tour for the CSA farmers, so I may tend towards the technical nuts and bolts

March 24
Farm tour and pasteurized meat tasting event
1:00 – 3:00 PM
24311 NW 24th Ave
Ridgefield, WA 98642

Farmgirl Jen said:  Join Farmer Matt for a walking tour around IP!
See, hear and learn all about the past, present and future of this Diversified Family Farm and get all your Farm & Animal questions answered!
Also... Join FarmGirl Jen for our Annual Meat Tasting and get your Meat CSP & FarmStore questions answered! 

April 14
Details not yet listed check website for updates
Eric Lambert  said: Eric Lambert, Small Acreage Program Coordinator, WSU Clark County Extension, said: The Small Acreage Expo is a day of education, community building and fun. Come and learn about topics you're interested in and meet local agencies that serve our community.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Farm fresh produce at Vancouver Food Co-op

I’ve been looking for a centralized meeting place among local community supported farms in Southwest Washington…a one-stop website where consumers can quickly locate farm specific items. SW WA CSA Farms has a website where many of our local farmers are listed. The website includes basic information about how the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program works. The SW WA CSA Farms site is a starting place, but it is not interactive. It provides contact information. Only. In order to find out each farm’s features, a person would have to personally interview each and every CSA in Southwest Washington. I did manage to visit two farms so far, Northwest Organic Farm and Inspiration Plantation. (See previous posts), but the big project will take time.
Clark County needs an informational hub now, today. Our renewed interest in community interaction and local food production has engendered a need for cohesive, interactive information about local farm products. Nationally, Americans are trending back from social isolation toward a renewed sense of community, and many wonderful information hubs are cropping up. Kirk Wright wants the Vancouver Food Cooperative to become that communications hub for Southwest Washington's self-sustaining local farmers and consumers.
Wright, President of Vancouver Food Cooperative (VFC), in an interview this week, said that while farm fresh produce, dairy and meat products are not their only interests, these products are high in priority at the co-op, and he thinks VFC can help local producers succeed.
As Wright sees it, a dynamic, informative website is an essential part of economic success in today’s world. Besides providing local producers a conveniently located storefront for their products, Wright says a strong web presence is an essential component in linking interested consumers with local producers. VFC is revamping and upgrading its web presence right now. Wright sees a dynamic web presence as key to the co-op's future as well as being important for local farmers.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Interest in pasture-raised meat is mushrooming in Ridgefield

Matt Schwab explaining moveable chicken coop theory to farm visitors

RIDGEFIELD, Washington-- Before today, Matt and Jen Schwab say, when they opened their farm one afternoon each month, maybe five or six visitors would come. On cold and rainy February 18, 2012, more than 50 people showed up to take a look.

Visitors entered the 24 acres of fields near the farm store. Inside the gate 230 new brooder hens clucked and pecked  and next to them a small herd of piglets roamed free. Nearby were Chinese geese, Indian runner ducks and a variety of chickens; but the real attraction was Matt Schwab, farm owner.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Farmers can be Tweeters

Want an easier way to get messages to your buyers? Try Tweets!

Among this year's crop of websites is one that promises farmers they are just a step away from effective blogs, tweets and email campaigns. Targeting farmers,  AgChat offers real help with social advertising. AgChat's advantage over many other attempts to connect farmers into social media. AgChat is a Foundation with sponsors who pay to help make it meet farmers' social media needs.

Agvocacy offers Agchat, a weekly twitter chat at 8 pm Eastern time, where all a person has to do is log in to Twitter or go to the Agvocacy website.
Agvocacy defines  #AgChat  as "a weekly moderated conversation on Twitter for people in the business of raising food, feed, fuel, fiber." Visitors can share viewpoints and ideas about issues impacting agriculture, such as sustainability, water, communications, agronomy, animal welfare, USDA programs, mainstream media coverage and public perceptions of farming; or, they can just sit back and watch the conversation unfold.

Sister chat,  #FoodChat, also a creation of Agvocacy, takes place on the third Tuesday of each month. It is tailored more specifically to the interests of consumers, nutrition professionals, foodies and influencers of food choices. #FoodChat gives its followers an opportunity to “meet a farmer” and also helps those in agriculture learn from consumers.