October 12, 2015
We’re pleased to share this piece from NSAC member organization Tilth Producers of Washington, written by Ariana Taylor-Stanley. It was originally published on Tilth Producers of Washington’s blog and has been reposted with permission.
While Congress was on August recess, Tilth Producers hosted Kyle Kunkler, DC Agriculture Staffer for Congressman Dan Newhouse, for a tour and conversation at Cloudview Ecofarms and Baird Orchards. Cloudview is a small-scale, diversified farm producing mostly vegetables. Baird Orchards is a much larger nearby operation producing organic apples and other tree fruit. Jim Baird, who owns and operates both farms, led the tour, joined by Tilth Producers Policy Coordinator Ariana Taylor-Stanley, Cloudview farm manager Carli Thompson, and Diane Hyndman, Food Service Director for the local Wahluke School District, who regularly purchases food from Cloudview for the schools.
Farm to School in Action
During his time as Director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture prior to his election to Congress, Congressman Newhouse oversaw the introduction of Washington state’s Farm to School Program. He has since expressed support for farm to school work. We have urged his support for the Farm to School Act of 2015, a bill which would increase funding and flexibility for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program.
Jim and Diane met through the type of matchmaking program connecting farms to schools which this bill would help expand. They discussed the benefits that connection has created for them: Jim has gained a market for Cloudview’s produce and feels good about feeding local school children the healthy, organic food he grows. The children also frequently visit the farm, learning about where food comes from and perhaps setting the stage for a future in agriculture. Diane is happy to have a local source for healthy food that tastes good, accompanied by a natural educational opportunity.
However, both the farm and school district face barriers to collaboration. Diane follows many strict protocols when ordering food for the district’s meals, including getting bids from multiple producers, which can make the process too slow for including small-scale farms. Tight budget concerns also mean that the prices Jim receives for the produce he and Carli sell to the district are not competitive with his other markets. The Farm to School Act will help identify and eliminate barriers like these.
An Organic Education
We recently celebrated Congressman Newhouse’s decision to join the House Organic Caucus. Kyle, whose family operates a conventional farm, had lots of questions for Jim about his organic practices and the economics of organic production. Jim showed the group plantings of a mustard biofumigant crop which serves as a cover crop, and also acts to mitigate soil-borne diseases when tilled into the soil. We also observed plantings of flowers which attract beneficial insects, along with a diverse array of strategies for creating windbreaks to help hold the soil in place, including trees, hedgerows, and strawbales.
Part of the group took an impromptu side trip to see Baird Orchards. Jim spoke about the high market price for organic apples which has helped make his decision to transition to organic decades ago worthwhile. While Jim has watched his conventional neighbors lose money on less popular apple varieties, his organic fruit has continued to receive a viable price.
Organic farmers continue to need allies in Congress to make sure organic practices are accounted for in policy and that research on organic practices gets funded. We will continue to work with Congressman Newhouse and Kyle on these priorities.