I hoped to change the way our remote community provides the food we eat by creating a market supply of local produce year round. I intended to train farmers and gardeners to produce enough food products, organize them into a growers/marketing group and create connections between our food service centers and our food producers. Our local economy would improve if local farmers could expand their operations, diversify their production and create additional employment opportunities while engaging in this diversification.
An enrollment of 50 students in two 20×100 foot greenhouses provided an eager class interested in learning season-extending techniques. Both leased greenhouses were fully planted by October 1, 2007, and were still producing summer crops 30 days after the end of our funding. Their strong interest in greenhouse production has convinced the greenhouse owner to continue the student gardening, and they are now moving into a new lease agreement with the owner in order to use the greenhouses as their community garden. This will increase their skills before they set up their own greenhouses for year-round production.
To teach others within my valley how to grow food in unheated greenhouses year-round, and to have us all provide that food to our local residents while also increasing job opportunities.
I aggressively sought out students using the County Fair and the local paper. I then created 25 2×16 foot garden beds in the two leased greenhouses and assigned them to students. They were provided with a base set of seeds appropriate for planting in the fall season within the greenhouse, shown how to prepare their beds for planting and plant them.
I planted some for the students for direct transplanting and I provided a frost blanket for the protection of their garden beds during the winter’s cold. The students selected additional seeds for starting in the winter and we grew them from seed within our seed starting room. They planted their bed with those starts and grew them during the summer months.
At a monthly formal class meeting, and at times when they were at the greenhouses to care for their garden beds, I showed them many tricks for growing within the greenhouses and taught them basic information about soils, irrigation and plant physiology. We sold their excess produce to our informal customers or at the new storefront in Lostine, an old gas-station store on the highway. This new market has been set up with tables and displays for not only local produce but for other handcrafts and feedstuffs for livestock.
Nine students purchased their own greenhouses/hoop-houses from me for over 355 feet of additional greenhouses now in production within the valley.
I also purchased a 20×20 foot greenhouse, enabling me to expand and diversify my own farming operations on my own deeded land. I was instrumental in the selection and support of three men who have erected and finished the previously mentioned greenhouses, thus supplying additional jobs to the community. After training 50 students in the details of year-round greenhouse production of fresh and local produce, I find that my short-term interests lie in organizing and marketing the food we are now producing.
BENEFITS OR IMPACTS ON AGRICULTURE
Like small communities everywhere, interest and information about the SARE project spread over the valley. I received calls from as far as 100 miles away from landowners who wished to duplicate the greenhouse setup.
I organized the work crew to install and the wholesale purchasing of greenhouse materials to facilitate the addition of over 350 feet of new greenhouse in this county. I helped put the plastic on each of the greenhouses as a free act of support to each student.
IMPACTS ON PRODUCERS
Each student who wished to continue in the production of food in unheated greenhouses year round, has been able to do just that either through purchasing a greenhouse, or continuing with the garden club within the community gardens now located within the teaching greenhouse. Actual income for farm budgets varied by the amount of input each student invested.
Produce products require special skills to manage them at the scale sites. My experience from previous wholesale to retail sites revealed that many storefronts are unable to understand produce management, or are unable to devote the needed time or equipment to manage fresh produce for their customers. After managing produce sales for the past 5 years, I finally located a main street/highway storefront in order to peddle the fresh produce produced by my class and others in the local area. Community reaction has been positive. This market will create the steady stream of reliable fresh product to the general community and to the food service kitchens, I targeted within my original SARE application.
A farmers market recently began to set up at our county courthouse 10 miles away; this triggered the purchase of four greenhouses near the county seat, which were set up on three separate farm sites.
REACTIONS FROM PRODUCERS
One farmer/rancher had a cattle drive lane adjacent to the greenhouse area on the leased farm. During the snow-covered winter, he rode by mornings to feed his cattle. I greeted him at the fence with special treats like strawberries or radishes from the greenhouses. Impressed, he asked to see the greenhouses.
I later included him and his wife in our weekly garden fresh produce delivery service for the remainder of the season. He told many farmers about my project and within three weeks, our delivery went up to 12 client families within 5 miles of our farm.
RECOMMENDATIONS OR NEW HYPOTHESES
It was a great effort to train 50 students. Instead of one class day per subject, I held a series of classes over two Saturdays per month and rotated the month’s class information over three class periods each day to three separate groups of students. That was hard work, but was most effective for teaching one-on-one or in small groups as most instruction included lab-oriented work. I liked the rotational classes during the on-farm instruction as they then went to work on their greenhouse beds after the instructions.
The production of strawberries in the greenhouse should have more focus and experimentation. The poundage price of off-season strawberries is high and restaurants love them.
One improvement would be the production of packaged press releases about the SARE program. This would be effective in attracting students and in supporting the projects. I was often asked to tell people more about SARE than I knew.
I produced media articles and an informative DVD.