A need for wider understanding of agriculture and recent sustainability-driven innovations as southwest Idaho's population grows prompted the Ada Soil and Water Conservation District to develop a new curriculum and year-round series of events.
“Our goal is to educate people about natural resource conservation practices, show niche markets for farmers that are growing because of population growth, and urban farming techniques,” district manager Josie Erksine said.
The Conservation, Innovation and Urban Farming program’s curriculum, workshops and tours also aim to “help create a path to farmland preservation in the Treasure Valley through valuing farmland and its products.”
She said the curriculum addresses topics such as cover cropping, pollinator habitat, no-till farming, integrating animals into farming operations and preserving pasture through techniques such as short-term, intense “mob” grazing.
The material also covers urban growth for farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture programs and opportunities for on-site sales of secondary products like flowers and packaged consumables.
Many of the workshops and tours focus on farms or ranches “finding success in some of these innovative or conservation-based practices,” Erskine said.
The approximately 40 events a year, each announced about a month in advance, will be hands-on and include producers, consumers and agricultural and resource agency staff among constituents, she said.
Castores Ranch, on Squaw Creek in Owyhee County, is slated to host an event from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mountain on May 25 to focus on natural, chemical-free efforts to restore land damaged by fire a few years ago.
On June 1, Cunningham Pastured Meats, between Marsing, Idaho, and Jordan Valley, Ore., plans to showcase mob grazing and year-round pasture-management.
Some tours are expected to emphasize innovations in water delivery, like micro sprinklers and the latest drip-irrigation techniques, Erskine said.
In the Sunnyslope area west of Caldwell, Erskine owns the Vine and Branch Ranch winery and cidery as well as the Peaceful Belly organic produce farm. She recently hosted an event centered on cooking with greens.
In February, the College of Idaho hosted a day of workshops on small-scale agriculture called Harvest and Hearth, to be held annually.
She hopes tours and workshops encourage some attendees to consider producing food on smaller sites as the greater Boise area keeps growing.
“The idea with some of this information is that we are proactive in the way we approach it,” Erskine said, “that we realize growth is coming and areas of agriculture in the Treasure Valley will change. But agriculture doesn’t have to disappear.”
In the district’s new curriculum and event series, “the idea of emphasizing the importance of agriculture and working lands to the Treasure Valley as a whole is a big part,” she said.
Funding sources include district operating money and an approximately $30,000 National Association of Conservation Districts grant. Some tours and workshops will be free, and others may require fees around $10 to $15, Erskine said. Some classes may require a fee of around $20.
The idea for the project developed starting about three years ago, after the district could not find land at the right location and price for an innovation-themed farm, she said.
“We changed our focus from finding land to creating education,” Erskine said.