My First Tilth: educational, informative and full of surprises

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth 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 Tuong Vu, an undergraduate of the Organic Agriculture Systems major at Washington State University. About five years ago, I was very involved with my family’s restaurant but was never content with the food inventories we purchased from our main distributors (big, national suppliers). I wanted to look our customers in the eye and be proud to tell them that they are getting local, seasonal, fresh, healthy, and tasty foods. As a result, I motivated myself to go back to school to produce or contribute to the production of high quality food. The College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at WSU has excited me even more by introducing the theme of agricultural sustainability that touches on so many, if not all, aspects of society. Attending the Tilth Conference was a part of the great learning experience I am receiving at WSU; it was educational, informative, and full of surprises. I’d like to share some of my personal experiences through this CSANR Perspectives on Sustainability blog.

It was encouraging to learn that orchard farmers were gaining interest in building soil microbes, especially the fungal community, which I have been exceptionally interested in for the last 3 years. Michael Phillips, the keynote speaker, delivered a great speech sharing his personal discovery and fruitful journey working with orchardists, which seemed to inspire the audience. It just so happened that, over Thanksgiving break, I had a free truckload of wood chips delivered to my home from a local tree service company. I have been using it to mulch my fruit trees and rose beds. Reclaiming valuable local resources is an important aspect of sustainability that I try to uphold, and I’m thrilled to learn the value of wood chip mulch to building the soil microbiome.

I also liked the ‘Cover Crops in Production Agriculture’ session. In this talk I was reassured that with the right equipment cover crops could provide nitrogen as well as other positive soil building contributions to my meager vegetable farm. Brad Bailie (Lenwood Farms), working with Doug Collins (WSU CSANR), has developed a successful cover crop/vegetable system that I think could be easily replicated in many places. He, however, did invest in a heavy duty tractor with 2 (front and rear) power take-offs (PTO) to make his system efficient.

I was disheartened after the ‘It Takes Capital to Farm: How to Finance Your Operation’ session, yet happy that I did attend it and learned about the reality. Though USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) has subsidies providing low financing and excellent terms, there are many hoops that farmers have to jump through.  Additionally, only those who could not acquire a loan from their personal bank would qualify for a low-interest loan from FSA to purchase farmland. It appeared to me that many people attending the session were surprised to learn this. FSA does have many great services, however. I think sustainability in agriculture, which protects the sustainability of our country, requires many young people to get back to farming, which should be supported.

Throughout my time at the Tilth Conference, all participants (myself included) engaged in very meaningful conversations.  Many of us were energized by what we had learned and were eager to bring back our new knowledge to our WSU learning community.   While there are many existing clubs and activities on campus, I am inspired to find a way for those of us who are excited about sustainable agriculture to keep our learning and our momentum going. I am picturing WSU weekend seminars with speakers, discussions, and local food where like-minded people (university faculties, students, local farmers and residents) are invited to come share stories with each other and walk the sustainable walk … together.

Attending Tilth was a great experience for me all the way!