Pages tagged "Oregon Farmers"
Seeding the Future With Hope
Our co-director, Rhianna Simes, was recently featured in a story by the Mail Tribune, "Seeding the Future With Hope, Celebrating Women’s Work with Plants in the Rogue Valley: Rhianna Simes." This is one part of a series of stories about women gardeners in the Rogue Valley. Read the full story below to learn more about Rhianna and Cultivate Oregon's recent projects.
“We must set ourselves to the task of revitalizing the earth. Regreening the earth, sowing seeds in the desert — that is the path society must follow.”
— Masanobu Fukuoka, “The One-Straw Revolution,” 1978
Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008) was a Japanese farmer, philosopher and author who developed and taught natural farming methods. One of his techniques was the ancient practice of making seed balls, in which different kinds of seeds are mixed together, rolled into clay, and then dispersed onto the ground. Nature takes over from there, and the result is a garden or field filled with diverse plants that support wildlife and humans.
Inspired by Fukuoka’s teachings, Phoenix resident Rhianna Simes decided seed balls were an ideal way to help regreen some of the scorched earth in her hometown left by the devastating Almeda fire that occurred in September 2020. A year after the fire, Rhianna organized Sowing Seeds of Hope, a community seed swap that included making seed balls and throwing them into burn areas.
“It was a fun and tangible way for people to celebrate the importance of seeds,” Rhianna recalled. “I’m really looking forward to seeing the plants that come up in the spring.”
Rhianna and co-director Laura Jean have established two programs aimed at increasing access to seeds. Seeds to the People provides donated seeds to low-income and underserved populations in Oregon. Rhianna and Laura are working with the Medford library to establish a free “seed library” with some of the donated seeds. The Local Seeds for Local People program focuses on providing locally grown and adapted seeds to farm programs and school gardens in the Rogue Valley.
“We want to support existing farming programs by providing them with seeds that will thrive in our environment and support local seed growers, and by providing education about the importance of planting and saving locally adapted seeds,” Rhianna said. “Seeds are an amazing bridge — they are part of our past and our future.”
So far, she and Laura have partnered with The Farm at Southern Oregon University, the ACCESS Food Share gardens and mobile food pantry, and the Rogue Valley Farm to School gardens.
Another focus of Cultivate Oregon is to provide education and incentives for local farmers who use regenerative and carbon sequestration practices. They hosted a virtual Soil Symposium in November 2020, aimed at helping landowners learn how to produce healthy soils and mitigate against the effects of climate change. In April 2021, they co-hosted the Living Soil Awards with the Friends of Family Farmers organization to celebrate Oregon “HEROs” (holistic, ecological, regenerative operators).
Rhianna also spends time at state conferences and agriculture-related public hearings to advocate for organic and regenerative farmers, and for open-source seeds.
“Farmers are busy facing layers of challenges,” she said. “It’s hard for them to be in an advocacy position, so we make it a point to show up and advocate for them. We know that without farmers we have no food; without seeds, we have no future.”
📷 Photo by Rhonda Nowak
Protect the Specialty Seed Industry in Oregon
Cultivate Oregon and coalition partners are back in Salem to protect Oregon agriculture and the specialty seed industry by creating accountability for genetically engineered (GE) contamination events in Oregon! SB 434 and identical bill HB 2882 have been filed and have been placed in the Judiciary Committee in both the Senate and House. It is possible that we will need to call upon you to help us support these bills in the next couple of weeks. You can help by submitting testimony, traveling to Salem to testify at a hearing along with our lobbyist and other coalition members, and/or adding your name to our public list of supporters. So please sign up for our newsletter and action alerts to stay updated.
SB 434 and HB 2882 hold patent holders or licensed manufacturers accountable when GE organisms are found on land without permission of the owner or lawful occupant. These bills WILL NOT pit farmer against farmer. The parties that will be held responsible are the corporations behind genetic engineering, not the farmers who use them since in some instances, contamination is out of the hands of the farmer who planted the seed. GE contamination, and the threat of contamination, costs farmers, including Oregon farmers, billions of dollars. It is time to level the playing field and hold the corporations behind the technology that is responsible for this contamination accountable.
Sponsors and sign-ons of these bills include: Sen. Frederick, Sen. Manning, Sen. Dembrow, Sen. Prozanski, Sen. Gelser, Sen. Golden, Rep. Marsh, Rep. Helm, Rep. Sanchez, Rep. Holvey, Rep. Hernandez, Rep. Nosse, and Rep. Gomberg.
We’re not doing this alone--Our Family Farms, Center for Food Safety, Oregonians for Safe Farms and Families and Friends of Family Farmers are involved in this important work to ensure that we have a specialty seed industry for generations to come.
As many of you know, GE contamination is a one-way contamination and the burden falls on the farmer who needs to fence it out, which can be impossible in some geographic regions. Further, the legal precedent is not favorable for a farmer who is inadvertently contaminated by somebody else's GE crop. GE contamination is often irreparable. For example, the GE bentgrass infestation in Malheur and Jefferson counties is now the responsibility of the state since the federal government deregulated bentgrass, so there no longer are any legal teeth to hold Scotts and Monsanto responsible for this ongoing contamination.
Oregon is an incredibly unique seed growing region and it is important that we protect this legacy. Oregon is one of the top five vegetable seed producers in the world, owing to the state’s fertile valleys and temperate climate. Specialty seed growers in the state grow radish, cabbage, onion, Swiss chard, squash, beets, grasses, among others, for seed, which are planted by farmers around the world. Our specialty seed industry is worth at least $50 million dollars annually with room for growth if the right protections are in place. Ensuring that Oregon has a robust specialty seed industry that includes organic seed production will help create an environmentally and economically resilient food system, especially in terms of adaptive seeds that will help fight climate change.
Why is this legislation needed:
- Federal regulations are inadequate.
- There are no statewide GE regulations in Oregon.
- All counties, exception Jackson County, are preempted from making decisions about what type of seeds are grown in their jurisdiction.
- The ban on growing canola in the Willamette Valley sunsets later this year. Canola poses exceptional threats to a wide variety of organic and conventional vegetable seeds and as of right now, it is unclear how ODA will address this before the ban sunsets. Potential GE canola contamination unfortunately hasn’t been a large part of the official discussion, and even non-GE canola seed was recently found to be contaminated. As a result European farmers are ripping up their crops and won’t be able to use the fields for two years. See: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-gmo-bayer-idUSKCN1PV1RG
Read full text of both bills and track them here:
SB434 - https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2019R1/Measures/Overview/SB434
HB 2882 - https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2019R1/Measures/Overview/HB2882
Read testimony from last year’s bills here (first public hearing) and here (second public hearing).
Wallowa County Farmers Embrace Soil Health
Wallowa County farmers look to innovation
In Oregon farming communities, a common reaction to the idea of practices that enhance soil health is: “That won’t work here.”
A group of farmers in Wallowa County are proving the naysayers wrong — replacing skepticism with innovation. Over the last few years, these farmers have teamed up to share ideas, experiment with field trials and seek technical expertise to develop a unique recipe for soil health that suits their operation.
And even better — they are seeing results on-the-ground, such as better soil moisture and water infiltration, reduced weed pressure, higher crop yields, and enhanced cattle forage, just to name a few.
Their argument is that if it works in Wallowa County, it can work anywhere. That’s because these guys farm in a cold, high climate with a very limited growing season. The ground is only frost-free for about six precious weeks of summer.
“Innovation is driven by challenges,” said Nick Sirovatka, an agronomist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Oregon. “Without challenge, it’s too easy to sit back and keep farming the same way. But producers in the Wallowa Valley know they have to try new approaches if they want to remain profitable and sustainable for the long term.”
These farmers were inspired by their NRCS District Conservationist at the time, Nate James. James worked closely with these producers, encouraged them to try different cover crops on their farms and share lessons learned. All of them are using a combination of soil health farming practices, such as cover crops, no-till, crop rotations, and grazing.
Photo from Flickr.
GMO grass is creeping across Oregon
Missteps by agribusiness giants allowed the invasion. Now they're off the hook for cleanup.
In the failing light of an unusually warm January day, Jerry Erstrom and I race along a dirt track behind Rod Frahm’s white pickup. Here, near Ontario, Oregon, a stone’s throw from the Idaho border, Frahm grows onions, squash and corn. But today, he wants to show us something he’s growing against his will: a genetically engineered turfgrass designed for golf courses.
Frahm slams on the brakes next to a dry irrigation ditch, jumps out and yanks up a clump, winter-brown but laced with new green shoots. Beneath his gray fedora, his dark eyes glint with anger as he holds out the scraggly specimen. “I have it in a lot of my ditches,” he says.
Just to be sure, Erstrom produces a plastic vial the size and shape of a .22 caliber cartridge. He stuffs a few blades into it, adds water, and mashes the mixture with a wooden rod, like a bartender muddling mint. Then he inserts a plastic strip and hands it to me. It’s like a pregnancy test: One line confirms it’s working, while the other detects a gene that unmasks the intruder.
We wait, batting away gnats and breathing in the aroma of onions, whose colorful skins litter the county roads. Then the results appear: This is indeed the variety of creeping bentgrass that agribusiness giants Scotts Miracle-Gro and Monsanto engineered to tolerate the herbicide Roundup.
The grass arrived here uninvited, after crossing the Snake River from old seed fields in Idaho. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which vets most new genetically engineered products, had not approved the plant’s release. But in 2010, landowners discovered it growing in great mats throughout the irrigation system that stretches like a spider web across Malheur County.
Creeping bentgrass has not created a catastrophe, as some anti-GMO groups warned it would. But it thrives in canals and ditches, where it collects sediment and impedes water flow, and it has proved difficult to control. That makes it a headache for Frahm and other growers — like the heavy snows that crushed their onion sheds last year, and the host of other weeds they already battle.
No one believes the bentgrass can be fully eradicated, either. And as long as it’s around, some fear it could contaminate non-GMO crops and invade natural areas. “It just scares the bejeezus out of me,” says Erstrom, a retired Bureau of Land Management natural resource specialist who chairs the Malheur County Weed Advisory Board.
So far, Scotts has led the battle to rein in its escapee, with some recent success. But in a series of decisions over the last several years, the USDA has relieved Scotts of future responsibility in return for the company’s promise not to market the grass. Scotts has pledged not to turn its back on the problem, but after this summer, it no longer has to bankroll cleanup efforts. Now, Erstrom and others say there are no legal safeguards to keep the task — with its reported $250,000 annual price tag — from becoming the burden of local growers and the state and county governments.
To critics, the case laid bare glaring weaknesses in the country’s oversight of genetically engineered, or GE, crops. While biotechnology’s defenders say the process is already overly rigorous, others have long argued that regulations, which haven’t changed significantly since 1987, don’t do enough to protect agriculture and the environment. Neither the USDA nor any government agency must weigh the full social, economic and ecological impacts of GE products, says Jennifer Kuzma, co-director of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University. “There’s really no place that’s looking at this broadly from a risk-benefit perspective.”
In Malheur County, landowners must reckon with the consequences. Erstrom says the USDA’s handling of bentgrass has forced a polarized community to grapple with a problem it didn’t create. “They took it out of Scotts’ hands and dumped it into the laps of the irrigation district and the farmers.”
Photo from Flickr.
Friends of Family Farmer's Recap of 2018 Farmer Listening Sessions
If you missed out on attending their sessions, you can still make your voices heard through their Farmer and Rancher Survey, open until May 31, 2018. Details on their site.
Since December 2017, Natalie Danielson – my fellow FoFF Grassroots Organizer – and I have facilitated Listening Sessions for farmers and ranchers throughout Oregon. We have completed 18 so far and have heard from almost 200 producers along the way who raise vegetables, fruit, animal products, and just about every other crop or product that can be grown in Oregon—all of them operating on a family-scale.
We traveled well over a thousand miles up, down, and across the state. We stayed in a variety of places, ate at some great restaurants, and explored towns I’d never been to before. By far, my favorite part of this was visiting so many of Oregon’s Grange Halls. We tried to host as many of our Listening Sessions as we could at local Granges because they tend to be centrally located for producers. As one farmer said at the Multnomah Grange in Gresham, "I think this is the first time I’ve ever used a Grange for what it was intended for and this feels really good."
The goal of our Listening Sessions is to gather input from as many of Oregon’s socially responsible, family-scale producers as we can about what issues they are facing. This is important to us because we want everything we do, every policy we fight for and every program we run, to be supported by Oregon’s family farmers and ranchers."
Photo from Friends of Family Farmers.
A Look Inside Life of a FoFF Organizer and FoFF Programs
Friends of Family Farmers does incredible work in our state, and has some valuable resources we wanted you to be aware of.
Recently, Lindsay Trant of FoFF published a blog post detailing her experience as a Field Organizer and describes some of the programs and resources FoFF offers. Be sure to read the full post and consider donating to help them continue their work!
The side of agriculture that I get to see during my farm visits is largely regenerative, restorative, and responsible. I get to travel all over the state learning from amazing farmers and ranchers that are working hard to provide food in incredibly innovative manners. They work with their land, their communities, and their animals to create a vibrant and diverse food system throughout Oregon. The growing number of producers that have joined our Oregon Pasture Network (OPN) are great examples of this. You can read more about the work our OPN Members do here. and can support them directly via our recently published OPN Product Guide.
On the other side of my role with FoFF, I work with young and aspiring farmers; the ones who dream of continuing the work of other producers before them, working to regenerate our food system. Over the course of the summer, I attended and presented at events put on by organizations with similar missions to ours. I showed beginning farmers how to use Oregon Farm Link (OFL) to find land to start – or expand – their farming operations, and recruited landholders to list their land on OFL in order to find someone to keep the land in agricultural production.
Photo from Friends of Family Farmers.
Chris Hardy on Dill and Beneficial Insects
Farmer Blog: Chris Hardy
September 28th, 2017
Harvesting dill seed today and continue to be amazed at how much this plant supports beneficial insects and pollinators. Nearly every plant in the dill patch either has green lacewing eggs (the tiny eggs on long threads), monarch caterpillars or inconceivable numbers of ladybug larvae, nymphs and adult lady beetles.
Next year's farm plan will include perimeter hedgerows and succession planting of dill and other herbs including fennel, another easy to grow powerhouse nectary plant that has been bustling with life all year.
Diverse staggered plantings are so important in providing early and late season nectar needed to sustain them through the long cold winter ahead.
- Chris Hardy
(Photos by: Chris Hardy)
County, Azure Farms reach agreement on weed control
Sherman County, Ore., commissioners and Azure Farms agreed to a weed control plan that may settle a dispute that pitted the organic operation and its supporters against conventional wheat growers who don’t want weeds spreading into their crops.
The farm near Moro in the north-central part of the state agreed to control weeds, with “control” defined as “little or no noxious weed seed production that would affect neighboring fields” and spread by the wind. Conventional farmers are chiefly concerned about seeds from Rush Skeleton, Canada thistle, White top, Diffuse napweed and Morning Glory, or Bindweed.
Azure weed plan takes root
After hearing other comments similar to those expressed by Cranston, David Stelzer told the audience that he had authorized the social media campaign. He said, because he does not have a Facebook page, he did not understand the ramifications of his postings.
“I am sorry,” he said. “I do apologize for unleashing social media on this county, I didn’t want to vilify the county in any way.”
The Stelzer family, including David’s brother Nathan, farm manager, expressed surprise that so many people were upset about their production practices.
Nathan said two big projects in Dufur, where Azure is headquartered, had kept the company too busy to be diligent about stewardship of the land in Moro, where there is a large distribution center for organic products.
He told the audience that his son, Nathaniel, was newly married and he and his wife, Sarah, would be living on the Moro property to concentrate on weed control. He said Azure had also hired a consultant to work on a biological program to address the problem.
“We have every intention of living peaceably with our neighbors and do not want to do them any harm,” said Nathan.
His son also spoke to the crowd.
“Thank you for coming and voicing your opinions. We didn’t realize it was an issue because we knew you sprayed. It wasn’t until this all came out that we realized we’d hurt you and we’re sorry,” said Nathaniel.
The Stelzers agreed to work with Rod Asher, supervisor of the weed district, and other Sherman officials to develop a new weed control plan that would not require chemicals, which they strongly opposed.
“It’s a long-term thing, organic methods are slow,” said David. “Nothing works quickly in nature, it takes time.”
He said the demand for organic foods was growing and Azure did not want to lose the market they had built over the years by spraying weeds.
Azure was established in Dufur in 1989 and expanded its operation to Moro in 1999.
The Stelzers proposed a combination of tillage, mowing and organic products to get rid of weeds.
Coexistence: Azure Standard, Oregon Farmers, Weeds, and Herbicides
Sherman County may order owners of a 2,000-acre organic farm to spray noxious weeds or face a possible quarantine.
Local wheat farmers say weeds spreading from Azure Farms, on the outskirts of Moro in north central Oregon, cost them money in the form of additional herbicide control. Most critically, growers of certified wheat seed say their crops will be worthless if contaminated by Rush Skeleton Weed, Canada Thistle, Morning Glory and White Top spreading from the farm.
Spraying the weeds with Milestone or other herbicides, however, would cause the farm to lose organic certification for three years. Azure Standard, which operates Azure Farms, is a major distributor of organic products.
Sherman County gave the farm until May 22 to respond with a weed management plan. If not, the county will ask the Oregon Department of Agriculture to quarantine the farm.
The issue has blown up on social media.
The manager of Azure Farms, Nathan Stelzer, urged supporters to “Overwhelm the Sherman County representatives with your voice.” A video posted on the farm website called for people to express their outrage reportedly has resulted in hundreds of phone calls and thousands of emails to county officials.
The issue may come to a head Wednesday when the county’s Board of Commissioners takes up the issue. The county is expecting such a crowd that it moved the session from the courthouse to the Sherman County School gym, 65912 High School Loop, Moro, at 4 p.m.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.