• Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Growing Sustainability Methods

Stahlbush Island Farms uses restored harvesters to improve speed and function.

By Mitch Lies for Growing Oregon magazine

With Oregon’s environmentally friendly reputation, it’s not surprising that the state’s farmers are among the nation’s leading practitioners of sustainability. In many cases, sustainability is a central part of Oregon farms’ management plans.

Threemile Canyon Farms

That’s definitely the case at Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman. “My attitude is whatever you create, you utilize to its fullest extent,” says Marty Myers, general manager of the farm.

Threemile, which milks nearly four times more cows than any other Oregon dairy, uses manure from its cows in methane digesters to generate about a third of its power needs. The byproduct left after the manure runs through the digesters is used as a fertilizer to provide nutrients for the farm’s potatoes and organic vegetables, as well as the alfalfa and corn it grows to feed the cows.

The farm also uses potato skins left over after processing as feed for its cows. Wheat is grown as a cover crop, and everything but the kernel is used as cow feed.

The dairy cows are well cared for as the farm employs a stringent animal welfare program that involves third-party audits every three months.

“They have full rein,” Myers says of the auditors. “They aren’t escorted by management. They just show up and go and score the health and body conditions of the animals and the processes we have established.”

The farm also prides itself on good employee relations.

“I’ve got 300 families that are very dependent on what we do here,” Myers says. “They are well paid, make a good living, have health benefits and are obviously in a sustainable business.”

The farm also contributes to the local community by donating meat to Farmers Ending Hunger, a nonprofit organization that supplies food to the Oregon Food Bank, and to Blanchet House, a social services organization.

Stahlbush Island Farms

About 250 miles west of Boardman in Corvallis, Bill and Karla Chambers of Stahlbush Island Farms embrace a similar commitment to the economic and environmental nuances of sustainability.

“Bill and I are both economists,” says Karla Chambers, “and in our minds, good environmental stewardship is also the best economic model. The last thing you would want to do is let any inputs get away from you, or to not fully utilize your waste.”

Stahlbush, which grows and processes fruits and vegetables, invested in a biogas plant in 2009 – the first of its kind in North America – and now generates the power needed to operate its processing plant. The biogas system makes Stahlbush a carbon negative operation, removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than Stahlbush is responsible for creating. That system and its overall approach to food production earned Stahlbush a prestigious national award, Food Engineering’s 2012 Sustainable Plant of the Year.

Woodburn Nursery recycles irrigation water and fertilizer from its greenhouses and fields.

Woodburn Nursery

Just up the road from Stahlbush, Woodburn Nursery and Azaleas has embraced sustainability by recycling irrigation water and fertilizer.

Owner Tom Fessler says it wasn’t so much a desire to be sustainable as a desire to expand that originally drove the farm to embrace water and fertilizer reuse.

“We would not have been able to expand had we not started recycling water,” Fessler says.

Today, the farm in Woodburn recaptures and reuses about 75 percent of its irrigation water, Fessler says, as well as much of the nutrient value in fertilizer applications.

“It was out of necessity that we started recycling water,” Fessler says, “but it does make you feel good to know that you are utilizing the resource to the best of your ability.”

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