Courtesy of Seattle Tilth
WENATCHEE, Wash. — Steve Cole intends to devote more time to his orchard in the Greenbluff district northeast of Spokane since he recently retired from his day job as a physical therapist.
As owner of the only certified organic tree fruit orchard in Spokane County, Cole says he was inspired to pay more attention to his soil at the state’s annual Tilth Conference at the Wenatchee Convention Center, Nov. 11-13.
Cole was among 450 attendees who listened to keynote speaker Michael Phillips, a New Hampshire apple grower and author of “The Holistic Orchard,” talk about biological resiliency and soil health.
“I probably use a little more of the chemicals allowed in the organic program and he’s trying to find alternatives to that,” Cole said. “His emphasis is on growing the soil to make trees healthy. That’s something I need to focus on myself.”
Phillips talked about using cover crops and other means to strengthen roots and leaves to ward off pests and disease.
Cole, 64, said he’s eager to try that with his 17 varieties of apple trees, pears, apricots, prunes, peaches and cherries on his 5 acres.
About 55 attendees visited Kyle Mathison’s organic orchard south of Wenatchee, Stemilt Growers packing plant in Wenatchee and Gibbs organic orchard near Leavenworth. Later Phillips toured Cole’s orchard and other organic orchards in Kettle Falls, Yakima and Onalaska.
“It’s amazing the fruit that’s out here and how there are challenges on pest and disease but different from what I do,” Phillips said.
“They have a whole different set of insects and disease that we don’t have. So I think he’s a little jealous of us in that we live in an area more conducive to organic growing,” Cole said.
The conference was attended by small growers and researchers, students and agricultural professionals, mostly from Washington but also surrounding states, interested in sustainable agriculture built on ecological principles.
The conference featured 36 vendors and 28 workshops on topics ranging from renewable energy to livestock, organic certification, ecological pest and disease management, policy, economics and marketing.
Washington’s tilth movement began at an ecological agriculture conference in Ellensburg in 1974.
The conference was sponsored by Seattle Tilth which has merged with Tilth Producers of Washington and Cascade Harvest Coalition. The organization’s new name will be announced in January and next fall’s conference will be held in Vancouver.