Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Alm Hill Gardens

The second stop on our field trip was to Alm Hill Gardens, part of Growing Washington.

This was a very different stop compared to Eldridge Dairy Farm because there were no animals! Alm Hill Gardens grows vegetables - and basically, if you can grow it in this climate, they try.

It was getting dark at this time - so the pictures aren't so great, but we walked around the "home garden" (there are a few other plots of land that aren't directly connected to the one we stopped by) and saw the greenhouses and fields. This time of year the only thing growing outside were leeks! Leeks are a hardy winter vegetable that can withstand wet, cold weather and even frost.

We got to go into one of the greenhouses - and what a nice time that was! We were outside shivering from the cold, and once inside a greenhouse I could have sworn I was back in Costa Rica. You can really control the temperature and humidity of a greenhouse, they are mini-climates. 

You can see how my camera lens fogged up inside the greenhouse!

The green house we ventured into was for tulips, which are sold mostly at Pike Place Market in Seattle. These are all the tulips that were picked and ready to go to market tomorrow. (Tulips are my favorite flower, if you were curious, since they traditionally bloom right around my birthday.)

Alm Hill Gardens had some trouble with their crops this past year because of herbicide-tainted manure that was spread on their fields. You can read the story in detail here, but if you recall from my last post, dairy farmers have to take care of a lot of waste, and one way to do so is to give it to organic farms who use it to increase the fertility of their soil. However, USDA organic standards do not require the manure to come from organic dairies, and there, chemicals may be used. 

That's where it got ugly - the cows consumed grass that was treated with aminopyralid - a broadleaf herbicide. What happened was that the herbicide did not break down as it traveled through the digestive systems of the cows, and was applied in full force to the fields of organic farms, which, therefore, kills many plans such as tomatoes and peppers. Those vegetables, along with raspberries, are the big money makers for the farm as well. 

Fortunately, because Alm Hill Gardens is part of a larger cooperative - Growing Washington - their offerings for the CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, could be varied and supplemented by other farmers in the area so that shareholders would still receive a variety of fresh and local fruits and vegetables. However, it has definitely made them rethink whose manure they accept, and questions to ask. Alm Hill Gardens actually relinquished their organic certification, though they haven't changed their farming practices, and this is why:

“This decision of protest is made with high hopes that both the manufacturers of potent, persistent, widely disseminated herbicides and the agencies tasked with regulating and permitting their use can work together to protect the welfare of the general public and also the welfare of farmers who are experiencing incredible losses that WSDA- [Washington State Department of Agriculture] administered soil and tissue tests trace back to these persistent herbicides.”

Once again - there is so much to think about with organic farming, and as a farmer you must really be meticulous and really stand up for yourself, because clearly the regulating agencies aren't doing enough.