Enhancing Processing and Access to Local Food in Idaho

Progress report for WID21-001

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $107,250.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2024
Host Institution Award ID: G282-21-W8618
Grant Recipient: University of Idaho Extension
Region: Western
State: Idaho
State Coordinator:
Carmen Willmore
University of Idaho Extension
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Project Information


Idaho's agriculture industry has a wide diversity of scale and types of production. From the small family farm to mega agriculture corporations the scale and productivity of agriculture production in Idaho is constantly changing. The goal of Idaho's SARE PDP program is to meet the needs of Idaho's agricultural industry to encourage sustainability at all levels. We will continue our support of the University of Idaho’s agricultural education programs, including but not limited to Cultivating Success, Beginning Farmer and Rancher, and other programs directed at improving farmer viability. A portion of the three-year funds will support training opportunities for small to medium-size farmers to increase the distribution and sales of local foods through the organization FARE.  Through a partnership with FARE we strive to increase the access of local food to more consumers in Idaho in addition this increases the viability and profitability of small and medium size food producing businesses in Idaho. In addition, four mini-grant awards were funded to increase knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices across Idaho. These mini-grants meet the goals of SARE through demonstrating ways to increase sustainability in rural communities in Idaho. 

Project Objectives:

The main objective of the three-year program is to increase the outreach of sustainable agriculture practices in Idaho.  We will increase knowledge of using local produce from farmers' market vendors, community gardens, and local food banks. We will continue to increase the capacity of University of Idaho Extension Educators to conduct field demonstrations and perform other necessary programs by offering outreach and travel reimbursements.
We will continue our involvement with the University of Idaho’s small farmer education program, Cultivating Success, and with the team that is working on a USDA Beginning Farmer & Rancher grant entitled “Cultivating Success™ Idaho: Advanced Skill Building for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers through Hands-on, In-depth Production Education” project. A portion of grant funds will be used to support the ongoing development and extension of an online farmers market exchange to communities throughout the state. This is a continuation of the local food system development funded by Western SARE in 2018.  Funds will be used to support professional development opportunities for Extension professionals and others working in sustainable agriculture, including support for outreach and travel to conferences for professional development in the area of sustainable agriculture. We will also use the funds to travel to annual SARE PDP meetings.


The Idaho SARE PDP program has focused on the increase of sustainable agriculture practices throughout Idaho. To achieve this funding was provided to increase knowledge, test new practices, and facilitate hands-on learning. Our goals are to increase awareness of farming practices to promote environmental, economic, and social sustainability of Idaho farmers and ranchers. In addition, increases in knowledge and programming efforts in sustainable agriculture, such as resource conservation, integrated or organic pest management, cover crops, building healthy soils, direct marketing, food systems, and more. 


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Educational approach:

To help farmers and ranchers make better decisions on sustainable agriculture practices a variety of educational approaches were used. To address the need for more education on local food production and distribution a relationship with FARE was established. FARE Idaho advocates for Idaho's independent restaurants, family farms, retailers, food and beverage producers. This organization is doing many of the objectives set out by this three-year grant. So, by partnering with them we are hoping to help increase their ability to meet the goals of processing and access to local food in Idaho. In addition, a series of mini-grant projects were also funded to address sustainable agriculture practices and are discussed in the following sections. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Expansion of Rotational Grazing Demonstration at SOAC

As the topic of agroecology grows in the sustainable farming community, land grant universities have a responsibility to provide information on best management practices to increase the success of operations hoping to incorporate these practices. Through the summer of 2022, SOAC hosted a multi-species rotational grazing demonstration, utilizing sheep and chickens to improve soil health and forage quality. In this demonstration, chickens in a mobile coop were rotated behind a flock for sheep provided by the UI-Sheep Center. The livestock were rotated across our four-acre pasture through ten permanent paddocks that were constructed in the spring of 2022. The rotation was completed on a three-day interval through most of the summer, then moved to a two-day rotation as forage became sparse towards the end of summer. Although it is hard to gauge success on a single season, it was amazing to see the regrowth of forage plants in the paddocks that were allowed to rest for 27 days between grazing. (Photos below) Our hope is to expand our rotational grazing infrastructure to support increased livestock numbers and to allow paddocks additional time to rest between grazing. It is also our hope to attract faculty and student researchers to turn this demonstration into a research project, so that our trials can be documented and widely distributed.


For this project, we plan to construct an additional four paddocks of similar size to our existing paddocks, allowing for livestock to be rotated through fourteen paddocks and allowing forage plants to rest for up to 39 days between grazing.  Also included in this expansion would be installation of a 1 ¼” water line into our sheep barn and through the new paddocks to ensure clean, fresh water access in all paddocks.  To accomplish this paddock expansion (Figure 1), we will need approximately 800’ of 48” welded 2x4 grid fencing for a perimeter fence, as well as approximately 1000’ of 48” graduated field fencing for dividing the paddocks.  (The 2x4 grid fencing for the perimeter is better at keeping chickens inside the perimeter than the graduated fencing, which they discovered they could squeeze through.)  The 1 ¼” water line expansion would require approximately 500’ of tubing and related poly fittings and hose spigots.  The fencing and water line would be constructed by SOAC staff using materials purchased locally.

Outcomes and impacts:

Much of the planned outcomes and impacts for this project have been delayed due to a heavy fall harvest along with an early start to winter in North Idaho.  A record fall harvest of tree fruit in the adjacent orchard delayed our start to the expansion of the rotational grazing paddocks.  After the harvest concluded we began the expansion project and were able to get the paddocks laid out and the fence posts installed before an early start to winter and a foot of snow halted our progress.  However, we were able to show our planned expansion to visiting researchers, along with two small groups of farmers that were able to visit in late fall.  With the completion of the paddocks this spring before livestock arrive on site, we will be prepared for a summer season which will include additional tours and demonstrations. 

Selkirk - Pend Oreille Food Summit

1. Increase understanding of the Selkirk-Pend Oreille food system
2. Increase connections across food system sectors/players
3. Developed new and strengthened collaborations
4. Increased community support for local farms/ranches & local food programs


Held a 1-day Food Summit (conference) at the Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center on Friday, November 4, 2022.  The theme of the Food Summit was “Growing Connections from Farm to Table.”  The morning sessions included a keynote presentation on “Food Systems:  The Power of Connections & Collaborative Work” followed by 15 invited presentations highlighting existing food system collaborations in the areas of production, processing, markets, food access, education and health in the Selkirk-Pend Oreille region.  During the afternoon, participants engaged in facilitated, interactive sessions designed to build knowledge, relationships and skills providing a foundation for increased food-related collaborations.  They day concluded with a reception and resource fair.

Outcomes and impacts:

Participants indicated they increased their knowledge of:

  • Attributes of a healthy food system
  • Power of increasing food system collaborations
  • Ways to support and engage in local and regional food systems
  • Activities happening in within the Selkirk-Pend Oreille food system


Participants indicated they increased the opportunities to network with others and made beneficial connections through the food summit and 95% of participants indicated they would likely attend a future summit.


When asked what stood out or impacted them the most, participants replies included:

The number and diversity of local producers

The impact and importance of collaborations

Collaborations and needs of farmers/food producers to educate their consumers.

The amount of local producers that attended.

Need for more education for the community


20 participants identified specific actions they would take as a result of participating in the food summit.


Participants indicated they would share what they learned at the food summit with 689+ people.


Farmers:Selkirk-Pend Orielle Food Summit

17 farmers indicated they were inspired to adopt one or more of the practices shown

12 farmers indicated they were inspired to increase their operation’s diversifications

17 farmers indicated they were inspired to reduce their use of purchased off farm inputs

18 farmers indicated they were inspired to increase their networking with other producers

14 farmers indicated they were inspired to incorporate value-added into some aspect of their operation

Season Extension Demonstration and Research High Tunnel

The goals of this project would be to have our UI Summer Interns learn about the placement and construction of a high tunnel and to have our target audience (North Idaho Gardeners, Farmers, and Ranchers) implement season extension practices at their market garden operations and in their home gardens. These practices could include earlier planting with protection, better understanding and use of successional planting practices, multiple cropping, the use of floating row covers, and late fall or winter production practices.


North Idaho presents a distinctive opportunity for education and demonstrations regarding season extension techniques due to our unique climate and upper latitude. At the spring 2021 UI-SOAC Advisory Board Meeting, season extension research was identified as the most important research topic for North Idaho producers and home gardeners (Advisory Board Meeting Minutes attached). Several of our board members operate market garden CSAs with year-round production thanks to the infrastructure and skills they have developed regarding season extension. Having a gothic greenhouse at UI-SOAC would allow for many years of courses pertaining to season extension in northern climates and open opportunities for varietal trials and potential breeding trials to identify and create annual vegetable varieties that thrive in a season extension production system in northern climates. Although there are other academic institutions conducting high tunnel education and research, few are researching techniques for northern climates.

Outcomes and impacts:

The intent to have the high tunnel completely constructed over the summer by UI student interns was dashed as supply chain issues pushed back our original shipping date for the greenhouse.  While we were unable to completely construct the high tunnel while the interns were on-site, we were able to complete the groundwork that was necessary for the project.  Interns worked to identify an appropriate location for the high tunnel, based on topography, movement on the farm, and access to necessary utilities.  Once a location was identified, work began to prepare the soil for the anticipated construction and future use.  An organic quackgrass control program, based on work by the University of Maine, was implemented to ensure rhizome pressure would not impact future production.  The soil was also amended with on-site compost.  After the soil had been prepared, work began to install the foundation for the high tunnel frame.  This work included the use of a tractor-driven auger, a gas-powered cement mixer, as well as various hand and power tools.  The UI interns had little previous experience working with these tools but were all confident in their safe operation by the end of the foundation project.  Unfortunately, these were the only supplies that arrived before our interns had to return to campus for the fall semester.  When the complete high tunnel frame arrived (8/19/21) the high tunnel construction was completed by myself & SOAC employees.  After completion, the high tunnel structure was toured by the SOAC Advisory Board, a group of 10 agricultural professionals, educators, and producers.  A discussion followed the tour centered on the quotes of various manufacturers, the shape/size/spacing, customer service, and construction tips.  With the late arrival of the structure, we were unable to utilize the high tunnel for season extension work in the fall of 2021, however, this structure will serve as a long-term asset at UI-SOAC, with plans for early season extension work taking place in spring of 2022.

Assessing Biostimulants for use in Southern Idaho

This project aims to address what effect(s) if any, the addition of locally available biostimulants has on: 1) corn silage yield, 2) plant nutrient use efficiency, and 3) biological soil health parameters.


There has been a recent increase in both the availability and marketing of biostimulant products to local producers, particularly to dairymen, in southern Idaho. These products claim to increase yield and nutrient use efficiency while improving soil health in agricultural fields. If these claims are true, the use of these products would ultimately aid in promoting the overall sustainability of Idaho farms. However, there is a lack of objective data to support these claims, leaving producers uncertain as to if and how these products may benefit their operation. Further, these products contain nutrients, like phosphorus, that may not be accounted for in nutrient recommendations. A plot study was launched in 2020 at the Kimberly Research and Extension Center to assess the effectiveness of locally available biostimulants at increasing plant yield, nutrient use efficiency, and soil health. This proposal would continue that study for one more year. This project will provide valuable information that allows local producers to make more informed decisions about whether and how to incorporate biological products in their operation. In addition, it will provide necessary data to support extension programming and educational efforts around the use of biological amendments for improving soil health in southern Idaho.

Outcomes and impacts:

We conducted a field trial at the Kimberly R&E Center to assess the impact of five biostimulants on corn silage production and soil health. Each product was applied as directed throughout the growing season. When the corn reached tasseling stage, we assessed the soil's physical and biological properties. Corn silage was harvested in September and soil samples were taken shortly thereafter for chemical analyses. There were no differences in silage quality between treatments nor were there differences in soil physical properties, like an infiltration, or soil biological properties, such as microbial biomass or activities. There were also no differences in yield or plant uptake. The study in 2021 was designed to be repeated in 2022 in the same locations to deduce whether these biostimulants have a cumulative effect on soil and crop properties.

Increasing Farmer Education on Vole Trapping and Monitoring Tools

To help farmers, make better decisions about managing voles we propose to investigate and create a video about a variety of techniques used to monitor voles and create a video to share with farmers about these techniques. It is important for farmers to know whether voles are present in their fields to understand whether treatments are necessary and reduce the usage of unneeded rodenticide in years where rodent populations are low.


We plan to test the following vole monitoring techniques and create an educational video about these techniques to share with farmers including 1) Live Trapping Voles, 2) Usage of Camera Traps, 3) Usage of Thermal Imaging (Infrared), 4) NoTox Blocks and 5) Identifying Active Vole Mounds. We plan to purchase traps, build camera traps and use thermal imaging at dawn or dusk to learn more about ways to detect vole density. All of these methods will be compiled and showcased in a video we create.

Outcomes and impacts:

We hope our target audience will think more deeply about the decision to treat Zinc Phosphide and other poisons. If vole numbers are low and the population is not building then treatment may not be helpful and be an unnecessary cost to the farmers. We hope they will consider using alternative monitoring techniques and learn more about ways to gauge vole activities since they are such a reclusive pest.

Small-Acreage Sustainable Crop Production Hands-On Workshops

Increase awareness of farming practices to promote environmental, economic and social sustainability of Idaho farmers and ranchers. Increase knowledge and programming efforts in sustainable agriculture, such as resource conservation, integrated or organic pest management, cover crops, building healthy soils, direct marketing, food systems, and more.


The University of Idaho, Payette County Teaching Farm offers hands-on learning experiences to increase production, management skills, and efficiency for beginning farmers. Located in Fruitland, Idaho this field-based learning lab allows beginning farmers to place new knowledge in its context, allowing for a richer understanding even before new subjects and topics are mastered (Ison 1990; Parr et al. 2007). The hands-on curriculum is developed by a team of Extension Educators, experienced farmers, and from a statewide small farms survey to identify beginning farmer educational needs.

Outcomes and impacts:

For the Summer of 2022, this project will increase hands-on class offerings over four half-day workshops on the following topics:

  • Managing Soil Health for a Bountiful Harvest
    1. Soil testing and nutrient management
    2. Organic amendment options
    3. Cover crops
  • Harvesting and Post-Harvest Best Practices
    1. Best practices for harvest, handling, and storage of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Food Safety on Market Gardens
    1. Evaluate an existing market garden system for safety and efficiency during harvest, washing, packing, and storage
    2. Understand how food safety regulations apply to the market garden operation
Gardener and Farmer Soil Testing Program

This project would support gardeners and farmers by paying for a single soil test and then helping them understand the results and how to implement new practices via two soil class sessions.


Many gardeners and farmers do not understand their soil including nutrients present in the soil, pH, soil texture, and other facets of soil health. Participants were invited (and required) to attend two classes, one on soil health and collecting a soil sample and a second class on interpreting their soil test results and how to amend the soil for best results and long-term health. These were offered as part of the regular Farm and Garden series already planned for 2022. I offered a Zoom recording for anyone who could not attend the regular classes due to schedule conflict.


The soil education component included use of organic fertilizers, manure, cover crops, adding organic matter, sheet mulching and other soil health building techniques. Participants were surveyed at the end of the classes to see which practices they plan to implement and what they have implemented at the end of the Fall 2022 season.

Outcomes and impacts:

The first soils class on soil health and taking a soil test had 26 attendees, plus three who attended on Zoom for a total of 29 participants. The second soils class had 25 attendees plus four who attended on Zoom for a total of 29 participants. Twenty-six (26) participants submitted a soils test.


Since this was a two-part class, the attendees were not queried until the end of the second class. All 29 attendees (100%)  from the second class indicated that they would change their fertilization and/or soil management practices based on the class and the soils test.


I collected data on calcium levels in the soil, tomato variety, water regime and the presence of blossom end-rot. This information is being developed into a UI Extension Fact Sheet.

Educational & Outreach Activities

25 Consultations
11 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
4 Minigrants
2 On-farm demonstrations
2 Online trainings
6 Study circle/focus groups
2 Tours
6 Travel Scholarships
16 Webinars / talks / presentations
7 Workshop field days
10 Other educational activities: Other educational activities were part of a mini-grant conference.

Participation Summary:

17 Extension
10 Researchers
5 Nonprofit
5 Agency
6 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
163 Farmers/ranchers
28 Others

Learning Outcomes

66 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
22 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

23 New working collaborations
20 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
4 Farmers reached through participant's programs

Face of SARE

Face of SARE:

For the face-to-face promotion of Western SARE, the state coordinator reached approximately 100 growers and 50 ag professionals. This was through presentations, attendance at local grower meetings, and phone or online conversations.  Western SARE was also promoted at the various field days and education programs that were a part of the mini-grant and travel grant program. 

100 Farmers received information about SARE grant programs and information resources
50 Ag professionals received information about SARE grant programs and information resources
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.