Enhancing Processing and Access to Local Food in Idaho

Progress report for WID21-001

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $90,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2023
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

Abstract:

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.  As the access to local food may be increasing the knowledge and ability to prepare and cook local food still has room for improvement through education. To address this need in Idaho the SARE program coordinators and collaborators held meetings to determine the educational needs of Idaho producers to meet this need. After a series of meetings, it was determined the best approach was to send an online survey to Idaho producers on how best to address the local food access issue. In year two this survey will be developed and launched. In addition, four mini-grant awards were funded to increase knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices across 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.

Introduction:

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. 

Advisors

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Education

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 series of meetings were held in the spring of 2021. These meetings discussed different educational approaches to meet the needs of Idaho's producers. At the conclusion of these meetings it was determined that the best use of time would be to survey producers and consumers on the best way to meet their local food education needs. Plans for this survey are underway in the spring of 2022. A series of mini-grant projects were also funded to address sustainable agriculture practices and are discussed in the following sections. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Season Extension Demonstration and Research High Tunnel
Objective:

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.

Description:

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
Objective:

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.

Description:

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
Objective:

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.

Description:

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
Objective:

● 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.

Description:

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

Educational & Outreach Activities

10 Consultations
4 Minigrants
3 On-farm demonstrations
3 Online trainings
3 Study circle/focus groups
4 Tours
2 Travel Scholarships
5 Webinars / talks / presentations
6 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

30 Extension
8 NRCS
10 Researchers
20 Nonprofit
10 Agency
10 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
376 Farmers/ranchers
5 Others

Learning Outcomes

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

Project Outcomes

3 Grants received that built upon this project
15 New working collaborations
8 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

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. The state coordinator also hosted an information webinar for farmers, ranchers, and researchers that were interested in applying for Western SARE grants. 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.