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Nonprofit educates new organic farmers

'We really want to become a focal point for on-farm education'


Capital Press

CHENEY, Wash. -- Organizers hope to get their new organic teaching farm in operation soon.

Located in Cheney, Wash, the Pine Meadow Farm Center is designed as a nonprofit organic teaching farm. The 32-acre property includes row crops, a goat pasture, a raspberry patch, orchard development, a 10-acre hay field, a 7-acre wood lot and irrigated and dryland fields.

The center originated under the People for Environmental Action and Children's Health -- PEACH -- and a new nonprofit, Pine Meadow Farm Center, has taken over operation, said Chrys Ostrander, farm manager and acting executive director. Some 30 volunteers are involved.

The center offers programs for all sizes of farms and levels of experience of farmers, Ostrander said.

"There are new techniques that come out that may reduce their costs, amount of work and new varieties for vegetables and fruits," said advisory board member Pat Munts, small farms and acreage coordinator for Washington State University Extension and Spokane Conservation District. "If you stop learning as a farmer, you might as well get out of the business."

The center will provide networking opportunities for beginning farmers "to learn those hands-on skills and farm wisdoms that only come from working in the fields," Munts said.

The center hopes to develop two- and three-year on-farm internships for people pursuing a career in agriculture. Two-year students will emerge ready to find employment on a farm, while three-year students will spend their final year working to go into business for themselves.

"We'd help them identify actual farms to farm on," Ostrander said, noting the graduate would develop business plans geared specifically for that location.

The center would house apprentices on the site, and there are plans to construct additional buildings to expand the program. Ostrander would like to "push the envelope" on dryland farming of vegetables and grains to augment future poultry programs and focus on high yields with reduced water use.

Ostrander would also like to build a multiuse facility.

"We really want to become a focal point for on-farm education," he said.

Beginning next year, the farm will provide agriculture students hands-on experience. Ostrander said the center is applying for membership to the regional Cultivating Success program through WSU and the University of Idaho.

The center will seek donations and grants, Ostrander said, estimating it costs at least $1,000 per month as the farm starts up.

A community-supported agriculture program will relaunch in 2013. Produce from the farm will be sold at Spokane farmers' markets.


Pine Meadow Farm: www.pinemeadowfarm.org


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