Innovation sparks excitement and engagement
February 9, 2015
By Kyle Brown
This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend Tilth Producers of WA annual conference. We will be posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.
My name is Kyle and I’m currently studying organic agriculture systems at WSU. Recently I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Washington Tilth Producers Conference in Vancouver, WA. Let me tell you, it was well worth the time spent. The conference provided plenty of ideas and information and I left with a reassurance that organic agriculture is thriving and here to stay. Hopefully I can share a little of the excitement with you!
Being an agriculture student at WSU Pullman, you can probably guess I’ve learned plenty about wheat in my academic adventures. To me, wheat has become an over emphasized and even boring topic that instigates immediate yawning when brought up. That is, until I found out about the groundbreaking endeavors taking place in Western Washington at the WSU Mt. Vernon location. Dr. Stephen Jones and his staff are actively involved in breeding new varieties of wheat specifically for organic systems and analyzing the different flavors and characteristics these varieties impart upon the end product. The lab includes extruding and baking equipment and is committed to formulating whole wheat products from as few inputs as possible (i.e., 100% organic whole wheat, water, and salt). Products range from bread to pasta, pizza dough, and pastries. Dr. Jones described these new wheat varieties and the palette of different colors they exhibit; all beautiful and unique in their own right, having amazing complexity in flavor that likely would have never seen the light of day in a conventional system. They are discovering things bakers swore were not possible, including achieving a beautiful flaky and delicious 100% whole wheat croissant. This is just another testament to some of the cutting edge research that is currently happening behind the scenes in organic agriculture.
In order to continue the organic and small farm movement, opportunities need to be provided for prospective future farmers to be trained. Rogue Farm Corps based out of Oregon is providing a conduit to make this possible. They recognize the importance of passing invaluable farming practices on to future generations, citing that 60% of current farmers lack a succession plan. Rogue strives to make this accessible to all who are interested by providing about an 8 month course for a mere $1500. For some, this kind of hands-on, informal education is far more desirable and practical than further education through a higher education institution, whether it is due to the time commitment and or cost. It is unconventional ideas like this that continue to foster a stronger base for organic agriculture and allow its roots to spread and anchor down across the US. And it is ideas like this that energized and empowered the participants at Tilth to continue reaching out and encouraging each other.
The 2014 Washington Tilth Producers Conference provided ample opportunity to learn, network, and enjoy the fruits of previous and current labors in the organic movement here in Washington State and abroad. Personally, my favorite aspect of the conference was the plethora of symposia and workshops held. They not only relayed useful information, but also allowed for Q&A time. I left feeling empowered and energized about sustainable agriculture and am excited to keep learning! Anyone who is able to make the effort and attend the 2015 Washington Tilth Producers Conference in Spokane, WA next fall won’t be disappointed!