Whidbey Examiner 2/24/14

Whidbey grower starts selling organic seeds

Whidbey Examiner Staff
February 24, 2014 · Updated 2:53 PM

Deep Harvest Farm seeds are on display at Bayview Farm and Garden. /PHOTO COURTESY OF DEEP HARVEST FARM

Gardeners will have a new source for seeds that should thrive in Whidbey’s climate.

Deep Harvest Farm located on South Whidbey Island is offering a selection of organic vegetable seeds at Bayview Farm and Garden located in Langley.

Nathaniel Talbot, owner of Deep Harvest Farm, has been developing organic seeds since he was a student at the farmer training center located at the Greenbank Farm.

He has 20 varieties of vegetable seeds he has available for sale at the south end garden center.

“The vast majority of organic produce aren’t grown from organic seeds,” Talbot said there is a huge undersupply for such seeds and growers will purchase conventional seeds and grow vegetables using organic practices.

Conventional seeds are grown with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Talbot said in an email that because seed crops are exposed to chemicals, they aren’t exposed to the same natural selection pressures as organic crops.

He added that locally developed seeds are more adapted to local growing conditions. As an example, he noted that conditions that would allow for a thriving kale crop on Whidbey Island would be different for kale grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, which produces a significant amount of kale.

Talbot, along with his partner Annie Jesperson, have been farming on the south end for several years. They came to Whidbey more than three years ago when they decided to attend the farmer training center operating at the Greenbank Farm. They said in an interview last summer they went to Greenbank to learn both the business and agriculture aspects of small-scale farming.

Once they finished the program, Talbot and Jesperson started farming on about 3 acres of land on South Whidbey Island and started Deep Harvest Farm.

In addition to the organic seeds, which provide some income during the winter months, they also offer a community supported agriculture program where people buy subscriptions for weekly bags of fresh picked produce. They also sell at the Bayview Farmers Market.

Bayview Farm and Garden is located off Highway 525 at Bayview Corner at 2780 Marshview Ave.

For more information about Deep Harvest Farm, go to http://www.deepharvestfarm.com



Herald Business Journal checks us out…

Hey folks – Our farm was recently featured in the Herald Business Journal regarding a new program through Slow Money NW. check it out: http://www.theheraldbusinessjournal.com/article/20121226/SCBJ02/712199879/0/SCBJ

Beginning farmers get help developing their business

By Debra Smith
HBJ Freelance Writer

Nathaniel Talbot is serious about becoming a farmer.

The 29-year-old relocated from Portland, Ore., to Whidbey Island to take a farming training program at Greenbank Farm. Now he and his partner, Annie Jesperson, have leased an acre on Whidbey Island and are growing and selling fall and winter vegetables directly to 30 customers.

Their biggest challenge isn’t working the land or finding customers. Instead, it’s getting established in a business that is, as Talbot puts it, is “highly capital intensive.” Tractors, land, a greenhouse — the costs to get started are high even for a farmer who wants to start small.

He hopes a new program will help. Talbot was one of the first people to apply for a program aimed at new farmers and ranchers. If he’s accepted, it will help him save money for a big purchase.

The program is a rural agricultural Individual Development Account. It’s being offered jointly by two local nonprofits, Slow Money Northwest and Cascade Harvest Coalition.

Here’s how it works. A farmer or rancher puts away money into a savings account and that money is matched with grant money, up to $2,500 per year for two years. The money can be used to purchase equipment or livestock, or to make a down payment on farmland. 

It’s not a lot of money, but it would help, Talbot said.

“For the vast majority of farms, it’s chump change,” he said. “For someone just starting out working a few acres, a few thousand dollars could buy a greenhouse, a used tractor or a major implement for the tractor — the kind of things we need to get off the ground.”

More than two dozen farmers and ranchers have applied for the program, which begins in January.

IDA programs were first used as a tool to combat poverty in urban settings. Low-income families were rewarded for saving for a new home, education or a new business with matching grants. Washington is one of 10 states to participate in a national effort to adapt this model to rural areas.

It’s one way to help stave off the loss of farmers and farmland in America, said Tim Crosby, director of Slow Money Northwest.

“We need more farmers,” he said. “The best way to keep farmland is to help farmers make money.”

The program is more than some extra cash. Farmers who participate also receive business development training, mentorship and access to other resources, Crosby said.

America — and the Northwest — faces a serious problem with the loss of farmers and farmable land, said Mary Embleton, director of Cascade Harvest Coalition. Her organization is dedicated to reinvigorating the local food system.

Many of the people who work locally in agriculture are nearing retirement. Even if a young person has the knowledge and desire to enter the business, they don’t usually have the money to buy land or expensive equipment, she said.

“It’s a daunting problem,” she said. “Most of the agriculture land is going to change hands in the next few years. If we want to maintain the benefits of local agriculture, we need to make sure people are getting on the land and working it.”

Most young people entering agriculture don’t have the long financial track record necessary to get a loan. The program helps new farmers establish a savings track record that will help them qualify later for traditional lending. 

“It’s just a start,” she said. “It’s not the silver bullet but it’s one more tool in the tool kit.”

This program is geared toward people who are certain they want to make a serious go of farming or ranching, Embleton said. It’s not for folks who are still giving it a try. To qualify, participants must be part of a farm business training program, incubator or internship which includes a minimum level of financial literacy and business development training.

The start- up money for this program is paid for with an $18,000 federal grant. The grant money that goes to farmers comes from donations. The director of Slow Money said they are targeting businesses and organizations with a vested interest in farming. 

For more information, go to www.slowmoneynw.org.

Also, Annie got her picture in the Whidbey Examiner:

JUSTIN BURNETT PHOTOAnnie Jesperson of Deep Harvest Farm in Greenbank sells produce to Coupeville resident Ingrid Sechrist at the last day of 3 Sisters Cattle Company’s fall farmers market.

Annie Jesperson of Deep Harvest Farm in Greenbank sells produce to Coupeville resident Ingrid Sechrist at the last day of 3 Sisters Cattle Company’s fall farmers market.

Our Seed Work at Greenbank



Amid the work training farmers for a life in agriculture is a project that could be a boon to organic farmers on Whidbey Island.

The Greenbank Farm is home to an Agriculture Training Center that teaches farmers how to establish and operate a successful farm.

As part of their studies, several students and teachers are developing varieties of organic seeds catered to thrive on Whidbey Island.

Sebastian Aguilar, training director, said there is a huge need for organic seeds in many varieties and in large quantities.

“In the organic farming, seeds are one of the last frontiers in the industry,” Aguilar said. Often organic farmers are left to use conventional seeds when organic counterparts aren’t available in the marketplace.

Those varieties may not be as resistant to pests or the conditions of an organic farm.

Students are now going through a project that will take years to complete, examining varieties of produce that work on Whidbey and under organic farming conditions. Trainees during the growing season planted varieties of zucchini, cucumbers and other vegetables.

Aguilar highlighted the efforts of Nathanial Talbot in getting the seed program off the ground.

Talbot, a Portland native who was a student at the training center last year and is a current assistant, had become interested in organic seed production as he learned about farming. He hopes to someday lease a farm on Whidbey Island.

He outlined the work necessary to gather the seeds from the crops. The seeds are threshed carefully from the plant to make sure they don’t shatter.He then removes any additional non-seed material before it is stored in a dark, dry, cool place. Aguilar said a dehumidifier is brought in to help combat the damp conditions that are common at the Greenbank Farm.

The Greenbank Farm Agriculture Training Center is rounding up financial support to continue the research, with a $15,000 grant from Sustainable Path in Seattle.

That award will fund workshops that will teach area farmers about such topics as plant breeding for organic seeds and seed saving. Aguilar also mentioned that the center is being considered for a United States Department of Agriculture grant administrated through the state. If awarded, the grant will provide $150,000 in funding.

The grant will help the center develop a regional seed system that will develop a network of “seedspeople” who will share knowledge and experiences, according to information provided by the training center.

The center hopes to share information with the Whidbey Island community.

In addition to the workshops, Aguilar said the data collected will be posted on the center’s website, greenbankfarm.biz.

Next year he hopes to continue the research on a larger scale. Students will also continue talking with local farmers about their needs.

“We’re interesting in finding other growers on the island interested in seed production,” Aguilar said.