It’s been a great season for the Headwaters Farm Incubator Program; one that has seen both the farm and its farmers grow by leaps and bounds.
This year there were eight farm businesses operating at Headwaters Farm. These businesses range from small scale medicinal herb operations to multi-acre vegetable production for restaurant sales. The diversity being produced onsite is evident in the range of markets where these products are sold. For example, several incubator farms practice Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)—subscription farming directly to the consumer—some of which are even forging a new approach to this model by providing bulk ‘canning shares’ of complementary preservable crops, like dill, pickling cucumbers, and garlic. Still Other farmers go with more traditional routes like selling at farmers markets or to local retail outlets.
One of the reasons that overall farm sales are higher this year is that the quality of produce this season is much better. This increased quality can be attributed to two factors: the incubator farmers themselves gaining more skill, and improved growing conditions and facilities at Headwaters Farm. From a skill development standpoint, this season program participants worked with OSU Extension to learn about nutrient management and how to use soil sample data to meet crop nutrient needs without over-fertilizing or using synthetic inputs. This information sets the stage for healthy, robust plants that could resist pest pressure and produce larger volumes of quality crops. Also, with more farmers at Headwaters there have been greater opportunities to exchange useful information! Good ideas and practices move quickly within this small community and have resulted in better overall yields, efficiency, and peer support.
Incubator farmers were also able to take a big step forward this year because the conditions at the farm have become very conducive to new farmer development. With another year removed from the site’s nursery crop legacy, the soils in active fields are healthier and heartier for vegetable and fruit production. The use of cover crops has been the primary tool to spur the revival of the silty loam—adding organic matter, fixing atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, increasing the biotic activity, improving drainage, reducing erosion, suppressing weeds, improving pollinator habitat, and holding soil moisture! Other practices like using the tractor to break the hardpan have also had a noticeable positive impact.
Onsite amenities, including a new irrigation system, a greenhouse for plant propagation, better access and storage, a larger wash station, and an array of tractor implements, have also played a role in incubator farmers’ success. This range of infrastructure and equipment improvements can be thought of as a developing toolbox that each farm draws from. The variety of resources available has helped support a variety of incubator farms and also helped each participant customize their production to best fit their business model.
The Headwaters Incubator Program is just getting rolling. Next year will see the existing farms returning for another great season with the addition of several new farm businesses. Conservation agriculture techniques and technologies will continue to be used to improve growing conditions, while additional resources will become available, including the expansion of program assets to constituents outside of the incubator program. Now, with just a couple years under its belt, for a program rooted in good earth, the sky is the limit!