Thursday, January 14, 2016

Food News: USDA Features Two Portland Metro Farmers

The Cully neighborhood of Northeast Portland is a hotbed of urban experimentation, with new restaurants and bakeries popping up like proverbial weeds on Northeast 42nd Avenue, along with co-housing developments and small-scale urban agriculture. A recent article on the US Department of Agriculture blog profiled one farmer, Stacey Givens of The Side Yard Farm, who needed to expand crop production and extend her growing season so that she could offer more produce over a longer period to her roster of restaurant accounts.

The high tunnel at Side Yard Farm.

One answer to her quandary was to construct a high tunnel, a type of greenhouse with polyethylene walls and roof that heats up from the sun's solar radiation. Like any greenhouse structure, the heat generated warms plants and soil faster than heat can escape it. But, like most small farmers, the price of constructing such a structure was way beyond Givens' means. That was when a friend told her about a program through the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that was geared to help small-scale farmers like her build high tunnels to expand their businesses.

The article quotes Kim Galland, NRCS district conservationist for Multnomah County, who said, "These high tunnels are producing food on a local basis for an area that has a metropolitan base, so it cuts down on the energy consumption of the region.

"It allows Stacey to plant earlier in the spring and later into the fall, while protecting her crops from frost. High tunnels allow farmers to get higher yields, better production, hit the market earlier and provide longer service to their customers—and it’s all being done on a small-scale urban farm."

Photo from USDA blog.

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Another Oregon farmer was profiled recently on the USDA blog as one of the farmers who are realizing the benefits of improving the health and function of their soil through working with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

An organic farmer and co-owner with his wife, Amy Benson, of Square Peg Farm in Forest Grove, Chris Roehm has always seen healthy soil as a prime goal of their farm, but he said they saw almost immediate results when they fine-tuned their existing system by integrating cattle and forage crops into their rotation.

"One of the components of our soil health management plan that we are happiest with is the integration of growing forage crops for grazing animals with our annual vegetable production," Roehm said in the article. He also noted that even their farmers' market customers noticed the increase in yield. "The first year after that foraged ground has been turned over is like magic, everything just flies up out of the ground, there are hardly any weeds, the bugs don’t know what to do; it’s really fantastic."

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