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Fresh Growth

Author: Western SARE

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Fresh Growth: Approaches to a More Sustainable Future from Western Ag Practitioners introduces you to farmers and ranchers from around the western United States who are finding innovative sustainable practices that enrich the natural resources we all care about. These successful multi-generational operations experiment with new ideas and are making it pay. Listen in as they tell their story and provide advice for young or beginning farmers.Western SARE, funded by USDA NIFA, provides grants and education to advance innovations in sustainable agriculture. Intro music credit: Organic Energy by Kensington Studios used under license from Shutterstock.
11 Episodes
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Chris Sayer is a successful fifth generation farmer in Ventura County. He grows citrus and avocados, and experiments with other specialty crops such as figs, persimmons, apples, and apricots. Chris returned to the family farm in 2001 and has become passionate about soil health and regenerative agriculture.   “I inherited well-maintained but old trees. So I’ve had to look down the road, replace trees, and get set up for the next 30-40 years.” He discusses his ever evolving soil health and IPM practices as he continues to adapt to climate change and drought and to improve the land. Since the trees will last 30-40 years, he wants to give them the best soil possible, using 20 different species of cover crops over the past 15 years. Chris has seen organic matter greatly increase. Petty Ranch uses beneficial insects to manage pests and reduce chemical inputs. Lastly, Chris focuses on water efficiency, which has allowed him to continue farming successfully during times of drought. It’s important to Chris to work with nature and find a balance. “We should always be looking at impacts on the farm and keep them as minimal as possible, and localized to farm, with maximized benefits.”Photo by Chris Sayer
In this episode, Emily Cornell and Sarah Bangert discuss prescriptive grazing effects on rangeland.  Emily is a cow-calf rancher with Sol Ranch and Cornell Ranch in Northeastern New Mexico. She markets grass fed beef and also manages an apprenticeship program for beginning ranchers. She talks about the importance of soil health, especially in an area with limited water, as well as impacts on processing and marketing due to COVID-19.  About soil health, Emily says, ““Paying attention to soil health is the most important thing a rancher can do,” especially in such a brittle environment with limited water and low decomposition. Sarah runs a prescriptive grazing business with goats. She talks about her work with Emily and one other rancher on a SARE project studying the effects on the landscape with targeted grazing. Listen in as Emily and Sarah talk about the importance of thinking about how nature does things, and still produce a profit every year.Learn more at westernsare.org 
Today’s guest is Taylor Larson, who along with his two brothers and parents, operates My Brothers’ Farm in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. First generation farmers, they raise bison, pigs, and hazelnuts on the land on which they were raised. Taylor describes creating effective frameworks to determine a vision of regenerative agriculture with multiple partners and the importance of returning to the frameworks for decision-making. "We looking at what we are bringing into this world through our operations," says Taylor. "And it has grown beyond my wildest dreams."You’ll also hear why Taylor views the partnerships between farmers and researchers as crucial to moving sustainable agriculture forward. Taylor has Western SARE farmer-rancher grant to study the potential for shake and catch harvesting in hazelnut production. 
Western SARE completed our first season of Fresh Growth. Thank you for listening! As we are working toward Season 2, we are sharing some special podcasts. These podcasts were created as a senior project in Montana State University's Sustainable Food & Bioenergy Systems class.In this podcast, Jill Falcon Mackin, doctoral candidate at Montana State University, discusses Food Sovereignty for indigenous people. From the Turtle Mountain Band of the Ojibwe Tribe, she focuses on Native American food systems and land management practices.Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.In this podcast, you will learn about the importance of access to land to hunt and harvest traditional foods, the challenges with food processing, key policy needs, and how the idea of food sovereignty connects with the Ojibwe worldview. Jill discusses the significance of "taking control of our health and our land." She also mentions work with the Blackfeet Tribe Agriculture Resource Management Plan, a project Western SARE has been proud to support.
Western SARE completed our first season of Fresh Growth. Thank you for listening! As we are working toward Season 2, we are sharing some special podcasts. These podcasts were created as a senior project in Montana State University's Sustainable Food & Bioenergy Systems class. In this episode, student Nathaniel Bowman talks with Rocky Creek Farm's co-founder Matt Rothschiller about small scale vegetable production, integrating animals, successful marketing, and the importance of diversifying production.Learn more about Western SARE: westernsare.org
Aaron and Hansel Kern are owners along with Sue and Rebecca Kern, of Kern Family Farm. The multi-generational farm is located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. In this episode,you’ll hear about their passion for community and conservation; trials with no-till and cover cropping; and the transition to the next generation. The farm is certified organic and they use regenerative farming practices. The Kerns are dedicated to re-cultivating connections between the people and the land in which their food and lives depend upon. They are focused on education, working with apprentices and WWOOFers. The Kerns also operate a grocery store to help provide healthy food to their local community.Roles are changing on this multi-generational farm. Aaron talks about his knowing about wanting to be a farmer from a very early age, and Hansel discusses his "gently relinquishing management to Aaron."The Kerns are big believers in cover cropping; working for 20 years toward getting their organic matter up. Hansel gives credit to the next generation for moving away from mechanical spader, going no-till, and having their organic matter grew even more.Aaron Kern is participating in a Western SARE funded project, Effects of Occultation on Weed Pressure, Labor Costs,  Product Quality, and Yield in Sustainable Vegetable Production in Northern California.Note: this podcast was recorded prior to the impacts on agriculture due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a follow up, Aaron told us that the farm has gone through changes and stresses. However, the community is really supporting local foods with a renewed interest. Their farm store sales have greatly increased, off-setting the loss of restaurant and farmers market sales. People are reaching out to them for advise on starting gardens and even buying plants from them out of their newfound interest in growing their own food. The interns that live on farm are constantly expressing gratitude to be sheltered in place on a farm in nature. The challenge is keeping everyone, especially those in the high-risk category, safe and healthy. Learn more about Western SARE: westernsare.org
Jessica Gigot and her family own Harmony Fields located in the Skagit Valley, Washington. They make artisan farmstead sheep cheese and also grow organic herbs. Their mission is to produce nutritious, high-quality food using organic and ecological farming techniques.  In this fifth episode, recorded prior to the impacts of COVID-19, Jessica shares important lessons that seem even more critical today. She discusses Harmony Field’s relationships with a local wholesale food hub, the creation of a cheese CSA, and other efforts toward a resilient regional food system. You’ll hear how food hubs promote efficiencies for both the farmer and the consumer and the importance for small farms to have different marketing outlets. “Farming is humbling, invigorating, and a very creative process,” says Jessica.As she and her family continue to learn important lessons about animal health, soil health, and crop management, they are striving for self-sufficiency through a closed loop system. Jessica also discusses her SARE-funded on-farm research and demonstration project looking at how sheep grazing impacts soil and potato crops. You can read more about her project's results on the SARE website.
In our fourth episode, you'll hear from Kurt Myllymaki, manager and VP of Helmak and owner of Myllymaki Farm. Kurt is a third generation farmer in Stanford Montana. The farms grow a variety of crops, mainly winter wheat. He and his wife operate a cow-calf operation on land leased from the family farm operation. The family farm has been in operation since the 1930s and Kurt has been an integral part of the operation for over 15 years.  Kurt and his family have found success - both in improving their soils and in profitability - by greatly increasing the diversity of crops grown; adding cover crops; and changing livestock practices.The farm originally grew wheat and barley. Now canola, oats, chickpeas, flax, and yellow pea have been added, as well as 10-12 cover crops. Kurt also changed his calving season and grazing practices over the years. You'll hear from Kurt about the importance of intellectual curiosity - the importance of using this curiosity to "keep working to get better and researching on what you can improve upon."Learn more at westernsare.org(photo credit: Stacie Clary)
In our third episode, you’ll listen to the folks at Vilicus Farms, a first-generation organic, dryland crop farm located in Havre, Montana. Anna Jones-Crabtree, Doug Crabtree, and Paul Neubauer discuss honestly their successes and challenges as they built the operation from scratch as young farmers and in the face of climate variability. They hold a vision of bringing in new farmers who see agriculture as a solution. They talk about how, in 10 years, the farm grew from 1,280 acres to 7,400 acres and how they are cultivating a conservation-based ethic for sustainable food production, training beginning farmers, and forging different relationships with buyers so that the risk and reward across the supply chain is more equitably shared with farmers. Climate variability is playing a larger role than anticipated: “We underestimated the impact of climate change on production.” This has influenced Anna and Doug wanting to help get more young people involved. They have a concern that there are not enough people in ag to begin with and yet ag can be a solution. So they want to see more young people get involved. So they started their apprenticeship program and share their experience and skills. “We are committed to building a farm that is, as much as possible, is a self-sustaining organism, that has minimal reliance on external inputs,” which is important during the time of climate change.  They strive to share the risk between the buyer and seller. They grow under contract and strive for multi-year contracts. Vilicus Farms sells acres, not by volume and try to negotiate a floor and include a ceiling so there is safety for both buyer and seller. “We try to make it about relationships, not just financial transactions.”(photo by Vilicus Farms)Learn more at westernsare.org/   
Greg Giguiere, Matchbook Wines in Yolo County California, discusses farming 2,000 acres of grapes and olives on this multi-generational farm while at the same time preserving wetlands and other natural habitat for wildlife. Greg describes working with IPM methods including using owl boxes and his participation in research on owls as control for rodents. He gives specific examples of sustainable practices the vineyard uses such as cover crops, double drip systems, and compost. You’ll hear about his ideas for more holistic approaches and saving energy and water as the vineyard moves into the future, how he learns from previous generations, and how he tests his ideas – all while striving for the best quality wines. According to Greg, “A big part of farming is being connected to the land. So a lot of what we do goes to that. I’ve very interested in reducing chemical inputs into our system and moving away from a monoculture and having more biodiversity.” Talking about the barn owl project in partnership with UC Davis and Sacramento State University students, and partly funded by Western SARE, Greg has stated, “My family’s been growing wine grapes here since the 1970s, and controlling rodents is a big part of our integrated pest management program. We have 40 owl boxes on the farm.” Matchbook Wines is moving toward a holistic approach, looking at different products that build up the soils. They look at soil samples and tissue samples, while also looking at wine quality block by block.  “It’s a process of leaning and realizing that there have to be some challenges and some failures.” He stresses the importance of having clear, long term goals to move toward.(photo by Steve Elliott, Western IPM Center/Western SARE)Learn more at westernsare.org/.
Brendon Rockey, co-owner of Rockey Farms in San Luis Valley of Colorado, tells us how the multi-generational family farm has experimented and implemented one new farming practice after another, steadily increasing their sustainability, profitability, soil health and crop quality. The family originally identified a desire to eliminate toxic chemicals; and then realized with their poor soil health and the lack of diversity, they didn’t have a system to reduce the chemicals. They made changes one at a time and now they raise a healthy crop with a focus of bringing life back into the system. “I think a lot of times we get stuck in this dynamic that we always think that we have to grow more crops in order to make more money,” he says. “We decided to do a higher quality crop and really became more efficient with our inputs. The way we're farming now, we feel like we've really eliminated a lot of expenses of growing the crops. Every time we spend the money now the focus is on investing in the soil.”You'll hear about the steps Brendon and his family have taken toward bringing life to the soil, which grows a good crop, and in turn create healthier human beings. They are focused on communities -- microbe, insect, people. “For a while, we were stuck in this real linear mindset that whenever we had a problem we’d go out and try to kill the problem off,” he says. “Adding living components to our farm are now controlling those insect populations. We’re growing a crop to feed other people, so it’s all about life. It was really confusing to me that with all this life, we were trying to solve our problems with death.”“So instead, now we want this dynamic living system that functions properly and in the end we end up with a good crop. And it’s helping create healthier human beings as well. It’s all about this positive life.”Learn more at westernsare.org/Photo Credit: Rockey Farms
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