Quarter 1, Winter Newsletter Articles

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February 5th, 2020 —The Agriculture & Natural Resource Center of Excellence attended an immersive small-scale Regenerative Farmscape Design Workshop at the Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education as part of the annual 2020 PASA Pre-Conference events. The PASA (Pennsylvanian Association for Sustainable Agriculture) Conference united farmers, food system professionals, educators, advocates, homesteaders, and others who are passionate about building a sustainable and resilient food system through regenerative and organic farming practices.

Located in the heart of Pennsylvania’s robust agricultural region, the 184-acre Horn Farm Center (HFC) was established in 2004 as a nonprofit committed to restoring the ecological health of both the fields and semi-wild spaces on the farm while providing healthy food to surrounding communities. The HFC emphasizes systems thinking in a highly integrated agricultural ecosystem by promoting the tenants of regenerative agriculture for small-scale, regenerative farming and permaculture-based production.

Since 2009, the HFC has been part of the incubator farm project,  providing classes and workshops year-round on gardening/farming, cooking, ecological design, foraging, and wilderness skills. Incubator farms are a fairly new model in addressing the barriers to beginning farmers, including access to land, capital, and credit, and opportunities to learn and develop skills in farm business planning.

Mirrored in this model, the HFC is cultivating a community of agroecological minded next-generation farmers empowered to produce food that is sustainable, nutritious, and culturally-appropriate through their mission to provide workshops and classes to new farmers.

Today, designing a regenerative farmscape design has never been so relevant. Farmers are tasked with a daunting feat to produce more with less land and fewer inputs while combating the emerging effects of climate change on the farm. Intensified flooding and drought events, coupled with shifting precipitation cycles have stressed soil and water conservation efforts nation-wide.

Regenerative agriculture offers a potential solution. This farmer-led, science-driven movement offers a shining beacon in these uncertain times.

One of the first steps in developing a long-term regenerative farm plan is designing a regenerative farmscape design for your farm’s operations. At the root of our immersive Regenerative Farmscape Design Workshop at HFC were the tenants of the scales of landscape permanence —aiming to discover agricultural suitability based on the relative ease of alteration. The referred “ease” of alteration is constructed using the scale, climate, landform, water, vegetation and wildlife, access/circulation, infrastructure, and zones of use of a farm’s operation. This approach promotes the integration of nature-inspired solutions to address sustainability challenges on the farm.

In Pennsylvania, the farmscape designs generally encompass a smaller scale of production in contrast to Washington, where these designs would primarily need to fit into the context of large-scale production. This is a reminder of the contrasting scales and types of agricultural production across the US.

Here are some examples…

The photograph below is an artificial beaver dam in a small stream running through the HFC, these artificial beaver dams have the potential to improve topsoil retention while providing beneficial habitat for enhancing ecological stream diversity and improving water quality. This is a multifunctional ecological design that offers numerous benefits and can be implemented across various agroecosystems.

Photo Credit: Ceana Pacheco at the Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education

The photograph below is a riparian buffer zone on a conservation easement in Washington. Buffer zones between agricultural fields adjacent to riparian zones reduce soil erosion, flooding, and improve water quality. This is a prime example of a multifunctional ecological design within an agroecosystem at a larger scale.

Photo Credit: Spokane Conservation District Commodity Buffer Program

The contrasting landscapes in Pennsylvania and Washington illustrate the importance of the regenerative farming toolbox as management principles and practices that can be taken whole or in parts. Every farm has a unique history with strengths and vulnerabilities, knowing the context of your farm is key to successfully implementing or augmenting practices within the regenerative farming toolbox.

Both ecological farmscape designs embody a different approach to regenerative agriculture and permaculture design; however, both designs achieve a common goal to connect the invisible links between the fields and semi-wild spaces. Whether it’s a buffer zone between fields and riparian zones or an artificial beaver dam in incision streams, the goal is all the same: caring for the land for generations to come.

Dealing with climate change will require action on many fronts in addressing the global issues of the 21st century. Regenerative agriculture offers a potential vision for agriculture that is resilient while helping relieve the effects of climate change in its multifarious forms. Farmers have a critical role to play by integrating farming practices that improve soil health and increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil through the medium of regenerative farming to combat the looming effects of climate change from Pennsylvania to Washington and beyond. The secret weapon in the fight against climate change isn’t so secret, it’s right below our feet —soil is the solution.

Written by Ceana Pacheco

Whatever career pathway you’re interested in pursuing — whether transferring to a university, training for a career or getting the basics — Washington state community and technical colleges have classes, programs, majors, and transfer opportunities focused on agriculture and natural resource industries integral to supporting Washington state’s economic vitality.

Big dreams, big hopes, and big success is Big Bend Community Colleges’ motto. Strategically situated in Washington’s agricultural heartland, Big Bend Community College offers several agricultural programs for students interested in agricultural technology and management designed to provide graduates with the knowledge and skills needed to independently operate or support local, regional and national agricultural industries.

Take a look at some of these programs below!

Big Bend Agricultural Programs

A female alkali bee visits alfalfa flowers for pollen and nectar. Credit: Jim Cane

The reciprocal relationship between alfalfa seed production and alkali bees is responsible for producing a quarter of the country’s alfalfa seed —right here in Washington state!

Native ground-nesting alkali bees (Normia melanderi) have persisted and proliferated in the Walla Walla Valley due to active stewardship by alfalfa growers for over 40 years. While there are more than 4,000  wild bee species in the United States, alkali bees have established a novel relationship with alfalfa seed production in a niche habitat unique to the Walla Walla Valley.

Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, where the topography is characterized predominately by deep, well-drained silt loam soil bearing salty surfaces, is prime habitat for alkali bee colonies to thrive under actively managed conditions.

The soil profiles in the Walla Walla Valley are so well suited for alkali bees, that it’s one of the largest native managed populations of alkali bees in the world, and subsequently, is home to one of a few regions where growers farm both alkali bees and alfalfa. This is a testament to Washington’s reputation as a pioneering and innovative leader in agriculture.

Alkali bees and alfalfa seed production are a true Washingtonian partnership. To learn more about alkali bees and alfalfa seed production in Washington tune into our “Coffee with ANR Episode 2 – the One with Annie B and Bees”, where we discuss topics ranging from bee physiology to pesticide use on the farm with alfalfa producer (and ANR Advisory Board member) Annie Byerley.

Listen here to Episode 2: The One with Annie B and the Bees 

Written By Ceana Pacheco

When starting college, one of the biggest concerns a student may have is usually around funding. So, if given the opportunity, scholarships are a must.

Walla Walla Community College’s STEM scholarship is for those students looking to complete a degree in one of the following areas: Watershed Management/Natural Resources, Engineering, Energy Systems Technology, or Agriculture: Plant and Soil Science. Each award winner will receive up to $3,600 per academic year. With the average cost of tuition (including fees) estimated at $4,700, you are looking at covering over 75% of your Associate’s Degree. The money is equally divided between Fall, Winter, and Spring quarter, with the agreement that you maintain a minimum GPA of 2.8. This scholarship will only be given to one more cohort, beginning in Fall of 2020 and graduating in June of 2022, which means only one more chance at this amazing opportunity!

I first heard about this scholarship through a radio advertisement, shortly before the deadline. Approximately one week after sending in my application, I was informed that I had been awarded the scholarship. I chose the Plant and Soil Science pathway while pursuing a second degree in Agribusiness, beginning in the Fall of 2018. Studying agriculture was an easy choice for me, but I had no idea what to expect. Since my first day attending WWCC, every professor I have worked with has made me feel like they truly care and want every student to succeed after graduating —whether this is giving you the tools to discover internships or helping you network.

STEM scholars are encouraged to attend periodic meetings throughout the year to check in on how you are doing in your classes, as well as celebrating your achievements. I have been given opportunities to listen in on a variety of guest speakers to help broaden my knowledge of all of the different types of jobs available in my area of study. Listening to actual people and their personal experiences is much more beneficial when you compare it to researching on the internet. Another bonus of this scholarship is the ability to figure out what you want to do in life, within a realistic budget. If you are thinking about pursuing a STEM degree at Walla Walla Community College, I cannot recommend this scholarship opportunity enough!

Thanks to the National Science Foundation, you will have the opportunity to study a degree that interests you while lessening your financial burden. If not for the benefits specific to the scholarship, then to enjoy the small class sizes, friendly community, and hands-on learning that Walla Walla Community College has to offer.

After completing my associates in June, I plan on continuing my education here at WWCC in hopes of earning a Bachelors of Appled Science in Agricultural Systems. This is a broad degree that will benefit me in whatever I choose to pursue in the agriculture industry and beyond.

Written by Quinn Yates