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OSU, Oregon Tilth team up to teach organics

Organic nonprofit will help teach workshops on running small farms


For the Capital Press

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Oregon Tilth has expanded its outreach by partnering with Oregon State University's small farms program.

The organic certification agency donated funds this spring equal to a half-time OSU extension position to support organic farms.

"We like this partnership because it shows people that we do more than organic certification and it strengthens the growth of organic farms," Chris Schreiner, executive director of Oregon Tilth, said.

Oregon is one of the top five states in the nation for organic production, according to USDA's national statistics, both in the number and value of organic farms.

Garry Stephenson, coordinator of OSU's small farms program, said, "Oregon Tilth has a deep understanding of organic market trends, the regulatory environment and industry concerns."

The funding will support three ongoing projects and a new initiative. The established "Growing Farms" workshop will receive some of the funds. This eight-week course is aimed at teaching new and beginning farmers about production and business management.

This year the workshops were held in Albany, Aurora, Central Point, Newport and Redmond. They are typically offered in the early spring, beginning in March or April.

Nick Andrews, small farms extension agent at Aurora, said interest in the class has been high since it was first offered two years ago. Enrollment averages around 30 people. The majority of the class participants have 20 acres or less, which is consistent with the overall percentage for the state where 63 percent of the farms are less than 50 acres.

Funding will also support research, led by Andrews and OSU soil scientist Dan Sullivan, on cover crops. One of their test sites is an organic farm in St. Paul, Mustard Seed Farms.

Sullivan and Andrews are studying how much nitrogen cover crops supply to the soil. They're also developing an online Cover Crop Calculator so farmers can determine the costs of applying nitrogen versus planting a cover crop.

The third education project is an annual January workshop for organic and transitioning farmers held in Canby through the North Willamette Horticultural Society and organized by OSU faculty.

Lastly, the funds will help to develop a needs assessment survey for organic farmers that will inform and guide future research and education, said Schreiner. The small farms team will gather information from farmers through interviews and focus groups every year to assess ongoing needs.

Schreiner said that through Oregon Tilth's certification program, they have access to hundreds of organic farms and cropping systems across the state.

"By tapping into this network of stakeholders and performing periodic assessments, we can identify key objectives of a research and education agenda. And we can use the data as leverage as OSU goes out and seeks additional funds."

The partnership was set up on a yearly basis with the intent of continuing the relationship as long as it works for both.

"It's innovative," said Stephenson. "I can't think of many times that a nonprofit has stepped up to bolster our budget like this."


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