This year’s tour offers an inside look at a variety of farms, from stalwarts such as Kunze Farm and Bizi Farms to brand new family operations such as Botany Bay Farm and Five Spouts Farm. (For more on Botany Bay Farm, see the Green Life section on page 8.) Doug Stienbarger, WSU Clark County Extension director, said that in the last two to four years, while the number of small farms has been increasing, the amount of acreage each sits on is decreasing, which supports recent anecdotal evidence that there are simply more, smaller farms.
Eric Lambert, Extension Small Acreage Program coordinator, says properties of most sizes are welcome under the small acreage banner. It’s more about “how you intend to use your land,” he said. “If you have ten acres of lawn, it doesn’t really work, [but if you are] growing some food, raising some animals, and having wildlife habitat, it’s a good fit whether it’s 40 acres or two.”
The Harvest Celebration started in 1998 in Clallam County and spread to 13 or 14 counties in the state. While some counties coordinate a farm dinner and other events, Clark County farms are left to decide what they would like to offer. Most host a day’s worth of family friendly activities. This year, as in years past Northwest Organic Farms is hosting a popular garlic and tomato festival, which draws 500 people, and Half Moon Farm will put on a honey festival to celebrate bees and bee products. An apple fest is also in the works.
“We are trying to connect consumers with their food and agriculture products. Most people didn’t grow up on farms. They don’t know where their food comes from,” said Lambert. “Building relationships is one of the key goals of this event.”
A role for land stewardship education
Some of the farms on the Harvest Celebration Tour are part of the Model Properties Program, a collaboration with Clark County Environmental Services. Lambert said “landowners and farmers can show their commitment to land stewardship,” and receive a designation that they are implementing clean water management practices and good land stewardship on their acreage. These practices include guttering to reduce mud, fencing to keep animals from eroding streams, composting manure and covering compost, siting outbuildings to improve efficiency, properly storing chemicals and fuels away from wells and septic systems, keeping vegetation around waterways and wetlands, limiting bare soil areas and trying to keep a weed free pasture.
Lambert does a casual site visit of a property at the request of an owner, and makes recommendations that fit the above criteria. When the property meets the criteria, it receives a placard recognizing the steward’s efforts.
Several farms on this year’s tour are model properties, including Conway Family Farms, Five Sprouts Farm, Storytree Farm and Garden Delights Herb Farm and CSA, with five other properties in the county currently carrying the designation.
Erin Harwood is a farmer and co-owner of Garden Delights, as well as the previous small acreage coordinator.
“I would say it takes a lot of effort [to become a model property] – all of it well worth it!” she said. “Our family has owned our farm property for more than 20 years, and we have continually worked to improve it over time. This included improving our knowledge, experience and also management skills. While all of this sounds challenging, it is definitely feasible to become a model property! I suspect there are a lot of properties out there that would qualify, they just set such high standards for themselves – which is great and exactly why they would qualify.”
WSU Clark County Extension’s flagship course is coming up in September. Living on the Land: Stewardship for Small Acreages is a 12-week course that includes modules on soil management, best water practices, livestock and animal management, and “Turning Dreams into Reality.” This course is open to anyone who has land or is thinking about acquiring it. Lambert says that farmers who attend this class along with an early winter business planning class have a great shot at success on their land.
While the Harvest Celebration is a great opportunity to connect with farmers once a year, there are ways to connect year round, including an online Farm Finder accessible at http://smallfarms.wsu.edu/farms/locate_search.asp.
“A lot of people are demanding more local food, having that connection with your famer and supporting local economy,” said Stienbarger. “We are trying to preserve the agricultural roots that we have in this county.”