Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, October 09, 2015, Page 12, Image 12

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October 9, 2015
Small farms are gaining institutional recognition
Multiple motivations
FARM from Page 1
After an “obligatory
globe-trotting walkabout” and
some years involved in prop-
erty development, he settled
on agriculture and its ecolog-
ical and economic connection
to nearly everything, from cli-
mate change and social justice
to nutrition.
Drawn by Oregon’s land-
use laws that protect farm-
land, he and his wife, Mach-
elle, also a Microsoft refugee,
moved from Seattle in 2010
intending to create a farm
based on a model of “perma-
culture.” That is, an agricul-
tural and even social system
that mimics natural ecosys-
Varma believes Our Ta-
ble Cooperative is an alter-
native to a food system that
she says is broken, unhealthy
and mired in “hidden cultural
“The problem’s not one of
how to grow a better carrot,”
Varma said. “It’s much more
pervasive and deeper than
“People talk about the
subsidies in the Farm Bill,”
he said. “The real subsidy is
not in the Farm Bill, it’s that
a soda machine (was) consid-
ered normal in a high school.
That’s the subsidy to corn.”
He isn’t alone in his think-
Making a statement
“We have a generation of
people in their 20s and 30s
who are interested in going
into farming as a business and
as a statement of how they see
the world,” said Garry Ste-
phenson, director of Oregon
State University’s Center for
Small Farms and Community
Food Systems.
While the number of small
farms counted in the 2012
Census of Agriculture actual-
ly declined compared to the
2007 census, their impact in
urban areas is considerable.
In Portland, self-described
homesteaders converted aban-
doned city lots into specialty
herb gardens and sell to high-
Eric Mortenson/Capital Press
Andrew Watson, right, a former Netflix engineer who wants to start a small farm in Oregon, rinses
carrots grown at Clackamas Community College’s garden. The college offers students a certificate in
urban agriculture.
end restaurants. Others invent
tools scaled for small farms,
such as battery-powered til-
lers and adjustable handcarts
equipped with bicycle tires.
Some carve out a living by
hosting farm dinners, selling
at farmers’ markets and deliv-
ering to community supported
agriculture customers.
Increasingly, small farms
are gaining institutional rec-
ognition and help. OSU’s
small farms center and exten-
sion programs help beginning
and small farmers, while the
USDA provides grants and
expertise through agencies
such as the Natural Resourc-
es Conservation Service and
National Institute of Food and
In many cases, the agen-
cies are interacting with peo-
ple who were drawn to farm-
ing by a sense that the food
system doesn’t work and that
regionally, at least, they can
fix it.
A better way
Josh Volk of Portland, a
mechanical engineer who
turned his skills to designing
and building farm tools, said
farming is attracting people
who have worked in other in-
dustries or businesses.
“They’re not necessarily
looking for an easier way to
make a living, but they’re
looking for a better way to
make a living,” he said.
Volk, a consultant who
helped design Our Table and
who has written a manuscript
profiling four farms of less
than five acres, said environ-
mental concern is a common
entry point for new young
farmers, and agriculture is an
“If you’re going to be
growing things, you have to
be nurturing in some sense,”
he said. “It’s not a coinci-
It’s a movement that
shows no sign of fading. In
September, more than 200
people attended a one-day
small-farm school put on by
OSU. Also this fall, Clack-
amas Community College
southeast of Portland became
the first school in Oregon to
offer a certificate in urban ag-
The program attracted
students such as Andrew
Watson, a former statistical
engineer for Netflix who,
with his wife, is looking to
buy a small farm in Oregon.
He grew up on a convention-
al dairy farm in the United
Kingdom and now hopes to
grow vegetables and have
dairy goats and chickens.
“I devoted myself to high-
tech, now I’m devoting my-
self to producing food,” Wat-
son said with a smile. “It’s
quite a content switch, but
you’re still producing some-
thing people enjoy.”
Fellow Clackamas student
Chad Bennett was a recruit-
er for high-tech companies
in the Portland area such as
Intel before getting laid off.
He decided to pursue his real
interest, growing food, and
established a farm on the
one-fifth acre he owns in East
Portland. His wife continues
to work in high-tech while
Bennett grows leafy greens,
root crops and salad mixes.
He said Portland is a
food-conscious city that sup-
ports such ventures.
“It will be more sustain-
able if people are growing
food right around them,”
he said. “Otherwise you’re
using a truck and driving it
across the country.”
Community college in-
structor Chris Konieczka said
some in the urban agriculture
program are simply looking to
have the “sweetest” home gar-
den, indulge a hobby or make
a little money on the side. He
said others pursue it as an is-
sue of “food justice” — the
concern that the poorest peo-
ple can’t afford or don’t have
access to nutritious food.
Urban agriculture can
change the food system, sup-
port local economies and
spread economic benefit to
more people, Konieczka said.
“We’re kicking in a little
bit of difference to the world,”
he said, “and that feels good.”
Our Table Cooperative, the
Sherwood farm, incorporated
in 2013 and was founded on
that notion of change.
Varma and his wife chose
the site carefully, buying land
that was close to Portland’s
supportive foodies and access
to the urban amenities that
would be attractive to work-
They looked for land with
good soil and existing water
rights, the lack of which ham-
pers many beginning farmers.
They purposefully sought
property whose previous
owners had been through Or-
egon’s Measure 37 and Mea-
sure 49 land-use process, and
won the transferable right to
eventually add two more res-
idences. Most development is
not allowed on Oregon farm-
When built, those hous-
es will be rented to workers.
Varma hopes workers will
be attracted by a trade-off of
reduced income in exchange
for subsidized rent and subsi-
dized food from the farm.
Rather than focus on one
crop — by expanding the
blueberry acreage that was al-
ready in place, for example —
the farm grows multiple types
of vegetables, berries, flowers
and fruit.
“What we lose in efficien-
cy, we gain in resiliency”
through diversification, Var-
ma said.
Varma said the farm pro-
duces a lot of food but is not
yet making a profit and so
hasn’t yet paid dividends to
co-op members. The farm
hopes to make a profit by
Farm membership shares
cost $5,000 for workers;
$1,500 for producers and
$150 for consumers. Work-
ers can pay the fee up front
or with a down payment and
payroll deductions. The farm
pays a minimum wage of
$10.40 an hour for farmer
members and no more than
two times that for managers.
The wage rates are based on
the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology’s living wage cal-
culator for the Portland metro
area. Varma said MIT recently
increased its Portland calcu-
lation to $11.25 an hour but
the farm can’t catch up to that
until 2016. The farm’s three
owner groups are represented
by a board of directors.
Gianna Banducci, Our Ta-
ble’s marketing director and
a cooperative member, said
the farm has had a mixed
reception from conventional
farmers. Some are apprehen-
sive or merely curious, others
identify with the challenges
of starting a small, diversi-
fied farm.
“For myself, personally,
I’ve never worked harder,
I’ve never put myself into a
job like this,” she said. “At the
end of the day, it’s mine. If it
doesn’t get done, it’s because
I didn’t do it.”
Varma’s overriding con-
cern is maintaining the land
for farm use over generations.
The average age of American
farmers is 57, near retire-
ment, and developers may
be the only ones with enough
money to buy farmland
The shared ownership
model, or holding land in a
public trust and leasing to new
farmers, may be alternatives,
he said.
“We knew we wanted to
manage the land with an eye
to long-term health,” Varma
Japan may be allowed to protect several commodities, including wheat, barley
TPP from Page 1
to the United States, so our
longstanding position to the
U.S. government has been
to get other countries’ tariffs
down to zero as well,” he said.
“We’re anticipating that will
be the case, but we need to see
the details.”
Powers hoped sanitary and
phytosanitary standards cov-
ered in the deal would prevent
future trade barriers among
TPP countries. It’s an area in
international agricultural trade
that’s creating problems, he
said, with standards initially
designed to protect against
pests and diseases being used
to create trade barriers that ar-
en’t justifiable.
“We’re talking about how
do we obtain the kind of access
to export markets that other
imports already have into our
country,” he said.
Randy Suess, a former U.S.
Wheat Associates chairman,
said Japan may be allowed to
protect several commodities,
including wheat and barley,
under the pact. Japan doesn’t
grow much wheat and heavily
subsidizes its wheat and barley
farmers, he said.
“It’s not that big of a deal,
but it seems like if we’re really
Trans-Pacific Partnership at a glance:
An agreement has been reached between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries
on an ambitious trade pact meant to cut tarrifs and standardize trade rules.
For more information, go to:
TPP partners
TPP: A trade agreement to eliminate
tariffs on food and agricultural products,
industrial goods and textiles.
Partners: The U.S., Australia, Brunei Darussalam,
Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand,
Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
U.S. entry into the TPP: November 2009
U.S. goals: • Elimination of tariffs. • Commer-
cially-meaningful market access for U.S. products
exported to TPP countries. • Provisions to address
long-standing non-tariff barriers. • Rules to eliminate
unwarranted technical barriers to trade. • Ensure
that sanitary and phytosanitary measures are
developed and implemented in a transparent,
Source: Capital Press research
science-based manner.
Matthew Weaver and Alan Kenaga/Capital Press
going to have a true free-trade
type policy, everything would
have to be on the table, and I
guess that isn’t going to be the
case,” he said.
Suess said the agreement is
designed to level the playing
field for U.S. farmers. Some of
the countries in the agreement
are already good trading part-
ners, and others, such as Viet-
nam, are emerging markets for
the United States, he said.
“As far as wheat and barley
goes, I think we’re going to be
happy with this,” Suess said.
Suess hopes other coun-
tries, including China and In-
donesia, will eventually join
Suess expects TPP to be a
significant topic in the presi-
dential campaigns.
The deal still must be ap-
proved by Congress. President
Barack Obama must wait 90
days before signing it, and
Congress will then begin de-
bate on it.
Ag groups, however, aren’t
unanimous in their support for
the deal.
Bill Bullard, CEO of
R-CALF USA in Billings,
Mont., said his organization
will encourage Congress to re-
ject the deal.
“We are very disappointed
that what we have is but yet
another trade deficit-generat-
ing free trade agreement that
will only cause more harm to
our U.S. cattle and sheep in-
dustries,” Bullard said.
Bullard said trade agree-
ments give developing coun-
tries a forum to force the Unit-
ed States to relax its health and
safety standards. He wants to
see the United States work to
increase health and safety stan-
dards in other countries before
allowing them access to the
U.S. market.
“(TPP) will result in the
further relaxation of our health
and safety standards and the
further erosion of our ability to
maintain the highest health and
safety standard in the world,”
Bullard said. “Currency valua-
tions have far more impacts on
trade than tariff compromises
or reductions.”
Blankenship pointed to
the success of securing trade
promotion authority — called
fast-track authority — for the
Oback administration in June,
allowing the TPP negotiations
to continue. Congress won’t be
able to modify the agreement,
only vote for or against it.
Democrats opposed the
authority for Obama, while
supportive agriculture groups
wanted to see it approved.
“That was a heavy lift, and
we accomplished that, so let’s
be optimistic that if the trade
agreement in its final version is
as positive as what many had
hoped, we can push adoption
of the agreement across the
finish line,” he said.
The TPP nations account
for up to 42 percent of all U.S.
agricultural exports, totaling
$633 billion, U.S. Agriculture
Secretary Tom Vilsack said in
a statement.
‘Going to meetings didn’t keep my sheep from being slaughtered and my dog from being torn up’
WOLVES from Page 1
wolf advisory group since it
was created in 2013. The dual
roles are thrusting him into the
spotlight, again.
He didn’t attend last week’s
WAG meeting in Ellensburg
because the organization he
represents, the Cattle Produc-
ers of Washington, quit the
group. CPoW said WAG had
become a forum for theoret-
ical discussions that excused
WDFW from managing prob-
lem wolves.
“It’s a worthless group
from the cattlemen’s stand-
point,” said Stevens County
Cattlemen’s Association Pres-
ident Justin Hedrick, who was
the Cattle Producers alternate
member. “We’re worse off
than three years ago when the
group started.”
Dashiell was one of three
people who signed CPoW’s
resignation letter.
“It was pretty hard for me
to give a convincing argument
(the group) was doing any
good,” Dashiell said. “Going
to meetings didn’t keep my
sheep from being slaughtered
and my dog from being torn
hasn’t ruled out staying on the
panel and representing him-
self. He remains listed as a
member. WDFW has ramped
up its investment in using the
WAG to mediate conflicts over
wolf management.
“I guess the value to par-
ticipate is so you are informed
on what they’re up to. As far
as solving the problem, I don’t
know if it will or not,” Dashiell
said. “Maybe things are turn-
ing in the right direction, may-
be. It’s hard to say. … I guess
it’s a work in progress. I don’t
have a whole bunch of time to
work this thing out.”
CPoW withdrew less than
two weeks after Dashiell tenta-
tively agreed at a WAG meet-
ing in early September to work
with conservation groups on
a 2016 grazing plan. Dashiell
said reaction from colleagues
about the potential collabora-
tion wasn’t “too bad.”
“Everyone who talked to
me said they understood the
position on the deal, but I did
hear some rumbling that en-
vironmentalists were going to
make my grazing plan, and
they were going to call all
the shots,” Dashiell said. “We
didn’t give up lethal control.
We didn’t give up anything.”
cautious, too, about supporting
a plan that would risk depre-
dations on livestock, followed
by pressure to lethally remove
“It took some soul-search-
ing on the spot,” said Tim
Coleman, director of the
Kettle Range Conservation
Group. “The whole idea of
killing wolves before they’re
recovered is very difficult and
almost unacceptable.”
Dashiell said he’s lost con-
fidence in non-lethal wolf de-
terrence, though he’s still open
to working with environmen-
talists, especially if they want
to endure camping out with the
sheep. But he’s not sure what
he’ll do next year.
He estimates he lost 300
sheep to wolves in 2014.
WDFW shot one wolf, but
the Huckleberry pack remains
largely whole and has split into
two groups. Wolves mauled
one of Dashiell’s sheep dogs
this summer. Dashiell said
the dog has healed and hangs
around the house.
“He’s way more friendly
and sociable than he ever was,”
Dashiell said. “I don’t know if
he’ll work again.”
To avoid further losses to
sheep, Dashiell kept his flock
this summer in Eltopia in
south-central Washington and
spent more than $10,000 a
month on hay. The sheep were
safe, but ended the summer
underweight, he said.
“They like green grass,
brush and shade in the sum-
mertime,” he said. “It just
didn’t work. It kept the sheep
alive, but there’s no money to
be made.
“They’re going to have to
go someplace because we’re
not going to do that again,”
Dashiell said. “Any place in the
mountains, there’s wolves, so I
don’t know where you go.”
If he brings the flock back
to northeast Washington and
depredations occur, “I’ll be ac-
cused of just doing it so lethal
control will kick in,” Dashiell
said. “I want to stay in the
sheep business, but don’t
know if I can or not.”