Melissa Matthewson is a small farms agent with the Oregon State University Extension Service. Based in Central Point, she teaches workshops and helps farmers with everything from identifying pests to marketing products.
Photo by Lynn Ketchum.

Organic certifier Oregon Tilth has agreed to provide funding to Oregon State University’s small farms program so that the university can continue its research and educational efforts for organic farmers.

“This partnership helps to maintain some of the good work that we’ve seen come out of the OSU Extension Service’s small farms program,” said Chris Schreiner, the executive director of the nonprofit Oregon Tilth, which educates the public about sustainable agriculture. “Through this partnership, we can leverage the trust, integrity and rigor that exists at OSU to develop a research and education agenda to help support organic farmers.”

Garry Stephenson, the coordinator of OSU’s small farms program, said that Oregon Tilth brings to the partnership “a deep understanding of organic market trends, the regulatory environment and industry connections.”

With the funds, the small farms program will be able to continue offering its eight-week “Growing Farms” workshop series that teaches new farmers about topics like labor, cash flow, marketing, financing, pest management and liability. The workshops this year are in Albany, Aurora, Central Point, Newport and Redmond.

The funding also will allow OSU to continue its research on cover crops on farms in the Willamette Valley. Small farms extension agent Nick Andrews and OSU soil scientist Dan Sullivan have been looking at how much nitrogen these cover crops supply to the soil and the crop that follows. They’ll use the data to develop an Excel-based downloadable spreadsheet that farmers can use to calculate whether it’s more cost-effective to plant a cover crop or just apply nitrogen.

They’ve been using Mustard Seed Farms in St. Paul as one of the testing grounds.

OSU metro small farm agent Nick Andrews and Sauvie Island Organics field assistant Scott Latham (wearing cap) examine an insect trap containing carrot rust fly on the farm near Portland, Ore.
Photo by Lynn Ketchum, Oregon State University.

“Nick has been a real asset to our farm, coming out here and working on the cover crop trials,” said David Brown, the owner of the certified organic farm. “I was able to reduce my fertilizer costs because he realized I had my nutrient levels too high. So the small farms program is very valuable. If [Oregon] Tilth is supporting that, that’s good.”

A third outcome of the alliance with Oregon Tilth is that OSU faculty will be able to continue organizing an annual educational workshop in Canby for organic farmers, as well as producers who are transitioning to organic farming.

Lastly, the financial support will allow OSU to assess organic farmers’ needs in terms of research and knowledge. Stephenson and his colleagues will gather feedback from farmers through interviews and focus groups every year.

“This is important in terms of guiding OSU’s outreach efforts and its research agenda for organic and sustainable systems,” Stephenson said.

“Hopefully it will translate to more education and research that our farmers can use and apply in the field,” Schreiner said. “One thing we like about OSU’s approach to research is that it’s participatory. They include farmers in the questions and do research on plots on the farms. That grounds the applicability of the research. That’s something we hope can continue and get refined as a result of the partnership.”

The partnership agreement is renewable every year.

“It will go on as long as it works for both organizations,” Stephenson said. “That’s what’s so innovative about it. I can’t think of many times that a nonprofit organization has stepped up to bolster an extension budget on a long-term basis like this.”

More information about OSU’s small farms program is at