Growing a Community of Farmers

woman with vegetables in bin

A small farmer in southern Oregon, Kahty Chen Milstead, moved from Los Angeles to the Rogue Valley, where she found a community of small, ecologically minded farmers with roots in the back-to-the-land movement in the 1970s. Milstead engaged with OSU Extension faculty Melissa Matthewson and Maud Powell in several small farms programs and eventually started her own microgreens business called Salad Days. Her highly nutritious greens and edible flowers serve a local food bank, the Salvation Army, an Ashland restaurant, and a local online marketplace. But the business also meets Milstead's goals of water and soil conservation, plus her personal need for aesthetic beauty in her product and the dry forest she loves.

OSU anthropologist, Garry Stephenson, sees the Growing Farms program as critical to developing the next generation of commercial farmers as the average age of farmers climbs to 57 and beyond. “We’re looking at perhaps the largest land transfer in the history of the county,” he said. “Growing Farms is growing replacement farmers by helping them integrate farm and family resources with the business and financial aspects of farming.”

Small farms faculty help this emerging community with workshops on balancing farm and family, learning to safely use and maintain a tractor, tackling on-farm welding and carpentry to keep essential equipment in use, and pruning fruit and nut trees. The Small Farms program has formed a partnership with organic certifier Oregon Tilth to support instruction and technical assistance on cover crops and organic agriculture research.

Powell taught a series of six classes on small-scale grain production. The classes looked at grains from every angle: pricing, marketing, varietal selection, soil preparation, integration into farm systems, harvesting and threshing, and grains for animal feed and homestead-scale operation. "Our hope is that we will form a working group of people who will form an equipment-sharing cooperative for small-scale grain production," Powell said.

Bend farmers Jim and Debbie Fields, who received OSU Extension Association Cooperator awards in 2010, do on-farm tours for OSU Extension's Growing Farms program in central Oregon. In addition to teaching tips for production in their challenging climate, Jim also tries to help participants understand the decision to farm. This type of farming has many valuable rewards, but “you'll never have the energy and desire if money is your only concern," Fields said.