Oregon: Grass Seed & Christmas Trees - Oregon's #1 & 2 crops - can we do better?

Albert Kaufman

LawnFor years I have been encouraging people to remove their lawns and plant food instead. As the economy continues to sour people are growing more of their own food, but for a long while I've been wondering about Oregon as a whole, and what we grow. After watching Food,Inc., I was again reminded about our State's food production system, or lack thereof. The soil of the Willamette Valley is considered some of the best farming soil in the world - and in it we mostly grow grass seed and Christmas trees. As the article "Bean Man" in the Winter 2009 issue of Edible Portland points out "Today 95% of what's grown in the Willamette Valley is non-edible".

Ellen Jackson writes: "As recently as 50 years ago, the assortment of fruits, vegetables, and grains produced in the valley provided the region with the means to feed itself, an important measure of social and economic stability. The once robust regional food system has floundered in favor of planting profitable non-edible crops like fescue, rye grass seed, and Christmas trees"

Beyond the questions raised by groups like Food Not Lawns about how growing grass leads to pesticide use and pollution of our waterways there's the question of grass and allergies. During the grass cutting season many complain of a constant state of sneezing, headaches and other symptoms, and the experience seems to worsen over the years. This is great news for the makers of anti-allergy medicines, but why are we willing to grow something that people are allergic to?

Food Security. Then there's the question of peak oil. If it's true that we're running out of oil, then it behooves us to start growing more of our food closer to home rather than paying to ship it from far away. In this regard, Jackson writes:

"Changing agricultural philosophies over time has meant a loss of experience and expertise in growing beans, grains, and other valuable food crops in the valley, which is two generations deep in grass seed farmers, many of whom are at least 60 years old. The Bean and Grain project recognizes that reclaiming the region's past agricultural knowledge and reviving previous growing techniques are critical steps to breathing new life into the regional food system. Converting large parcels of grass seed acreage into plots for organic beans, grains, and edible seeds is the next order of business."

I think we should follow the lead of the Bean and Grain project which is the work of farmer Harry MacCormack:

"The Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project is a step by step strategy to rebuild the local food system by increasing the quantity and diversity of food crops that are grown in the valley, evaluating deficiencies in the food system infrastructure, building buyer/seller relationships for locally grown food, incorporating the culture of community into the fabric of the food system, and compiling resources on organic and sustainable agricultural practices specific to this region. As the name of the project implies, central to the task is stimulating the cultivation and local marketing of organically grown beans and grains to provide a foundation for year-round food resources in the valley."

As much as I've appreciated the Oregonian's support for an end to grass-seed field burning during this legislative session, I think the real issue is growing grass-seed in the first place. I look forward to a healthy state-wide discussion of how our rich farmland is used and what makes sense long-term as we take into consideration changing fuel realities, global climate change and the need to strengthen our local food supply.

Oregon's number 2 crop, Christmas trees, is also a crop that has a lot of problems associated with it - pesticide use (local watershed pollution), shipping trees in refrigerated trucks around the country, the carbon sequestration that is lost when the trees are harvested, erosion, the costs to municipalities to discard the trees (landfills...). This is another crop that needs a look at going forward. Considering that the planet is heating up, we might do well to pay Christmas tree farmers to just let the trees grow rather than cut them down as this article in today's Seattle Times suggests for federal forests.

Comments

  • Urban Planning Overlord (unverified)
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    I've been told by farming types in the south Willamette Valley that a lot of the soil isn't very good, and grass seed the best crop for it. I have no idea if this is really true, but it might explain things if it is true.

  • anon (unverified)
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    You forgot about marijuana. It's number one.

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    Maybe that's what Albert means.... WW's cover story this week is on legalization of marijuana.

  • Greg D. (unverified)
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    Hard to see why growing wheat in the Willamette Valley makes sense. Wheat can grow in near drought conditions, whereas the Valley has plenty of moisture to support more exotic crops. My family grows wheat east of the Cascades on thousands of acres. Wheat is edible, but not profitable. The international recession combined with the current cost of fuel and fertilizer has made virtually every commodity crop unprofitable. Only those with niche markets like grass seed, nursery stock, etc. are making any money - although cherry farmers in The Dalles growing for the international export market are doing pretty well this month.

    An interesting fact. As of today, New Seasons Market is selling "wheat berries" (aka wheat) for $1.39 per pound. Also as of today, my family sells wheat at the Portland grain terminal price of 8.8 cents per pound ($5.28 per bushel, a bushel weighs 60 pounds). The point of bringing this up is that those who choose to grow wheat instead of grass or whatever would seem to be basing their decision on something other than economics.

    P.S., if you know anybody that wants to buy 1000 tons of wheat at $1.00 per pound (a $0.39 cents per pound discount off New Seasons price) let me know. I can make you a heck of a deal.

  • jamie (unverified)
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    Great, now we find out that Metro has forced us to live in little houses on little lots at twice the national cost of housing, not to protect food farms, but to protect grass and Christmas tree farms.

    Metro - who do they work for anyway?

  • pupheadsoftware.com (unverified)
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    Yes. Do we have the will? No. Is it dumb? Definitely.

    Oregon isn't different enough from the rest of the US to matter. We will have progressive trends, but, at the end of the day, it's the same old real estate/lumber/breeder cabal that operates everywhere calling the shots. That can't be debated. Name ANYPLACE that is actually progressive, where you have to stop and ask, "is that the official #1 cash crop, or shall we factor in the black market"? That is the level we actually operate on. Maybe it's more illustrative looking at things that Oregon leads the nation exporting, rather than it's top five. You can export a lot more of something than someone else, and have it still not be much compared to grass seed. To whit, Oregon's #1 and #2 differential exports, are hazel nuts and hops. They actually provide much better examples of a viable business model.

    Ultimately, if we were really progressive, we would realize that Oregon's #1 commercially viable option is that you can live sustainably here. If we ever get to taxing carbon on a gram for gram basis, how could businesses in states that have to run the AC constantly possibly compete?

    Nice thoughts, though.

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    Albert, where do you get the stats that grass seed and Christmas trees are our leading agricultural products?

    The Oregon Department of Ag's recent list puts nursery products as first, hay second, grass seed third, and Christmas trees eighth (see the second page of the brochure) among farm commodities (cattle and milk aren't crops, granted, but wheat and potatoes are).

    It's good to think about local food, but I want us to all be using the same set of data in making those decisions. Wine grapes are high on the list, for example.

    And yes, those advocating against limits on field burning argued that the farmers couldn't make money doing other things with it. Take that with a grain of salt, but soil types and water conditions do mean certain crops are profitable.

  • Connor Allen (unverified)
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    I grew up in rural Clackamas County, in the neighborhood of some of this farming. As for any respiratory problems, we could occasionally smell smoke from the field burning to the south, but my asthma actually went away while I lived out there, and I've never had seasonal allergies, though certainly thats anecdotal.

    I'm not sure what you're actually advocating doing in this. Paying people to not cut their trees? I don't know about that. We don't really have the money right now. Trying to convince consumers not to have lawns or buy christmas trees? Alright; if I had a yard I'd want to grow food instead of grass, too. I don't think you're calling for more regulation of what farmers can and cannot grow, but if you were, I'd definitely disagree on this. As one of your quotes acknowledges, these crops are profitable, and in rural Oregon we need all the profitable business we can get. There aren't exactly a lot of jobs right now.

  • Martha Odom (unverified)
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    I have lived in Christmas tree growing country for the past year and seeing the reality is alarming: a "crop" that takes years to grow, generally heavily treated with herbicides & pesticides, is killed, has a (somewhat) useful span of three weeks and then becomes a disposal problem??? And all this on enough acreage to feed a small third world country... Adding to the environmental damage, I watched one operation use a helicopter to haul trees from the back forty to the loading landing

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    I got the figure on grass seed and Xmas trees from this article http://www.foodprintstyle.com/2009/04/bean-man.html and, I've been constantly hearing these figures through time, and will look further into the issue. I guess I question why we grow these crops at all? And vis the jobs question: this keeps coming up - we value jobs no mattter what they are over having a society, a planet that works for our survival and thriving. case in point - we value timber jobs - clear-cutting forests when we need to be growing trees right now to prevent climate change. the "jobs" are more important than anything mantra really needs looking at.

    and yes, I am advocating that we pay people not to cut their trees down. the funds may come from outside the U.S. - ie, if your country is about to be flooded due to sea level changes, or your air has gotten increasingly hard to breath, you may be interested in paying those who can grow trees (Oregon, for instance) to grow as many as possible.

  • Connor Allen (unverified)
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    Albert, I'm probably a bit more with you on the logging and growing trees than this, but we need jobs in order to survive and thrive. Its very hard for rural populations to find alternative means of making a living absent the ability to grow things or extract resources. If we're going for sustainability, then that generally reduces the options to growing things like trees and food and other crops, and they also have to be profitable endeavors or they won't provide sustainable jobs.

    Now, I'm generally a good Democrat, but when a lot of well-meaning progressives start talking about how rural people should live their lives or make a living, its often just unrealistic, and it gets my back up a bit. Now as long as we're not talking about telling people they must do this, or must not do that, I'm probably okay with things like campaigns to get people to grow food instead of lawns or at least discussing trying to bring money in to get people to not cut trees, but people in the country have to make a living, too, and we need to consider that while we are so casually discussing affecting policy that would change the way other people can live their lives, and I'd say would even affect the survival of the rural way of life in Oregon.

  • jeff (unverified)
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    Why not let people make a profit with their land. They grow grass seed and Christmas trees because they are profitable. If they could grow beans and make money, then they would grow beans.

    You have to have people pick the beans, minimum wage laws pretty much guarantee that that won't happen. Strawberries were the best in Willamette Valley, but there was no one to pick them.

  • jamie (unverified)
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    Albert Kaufman: we need to be growing trees right now to prevent climate change. J: I see you have given up and global warming and now hype the dangers of any change in the climate. Hey, the climate has always been changing. There is noting unusual about it recently except the big money boys discovered they could use it to sell carbon credits.

    Albert Kaufman: the "jobs" are more important than anything mantra really needs looking at. J: Why don't you tell us who you pick to be unemployed? Better yet sit down with them and explain to them that their family should starve for some cause that you believe in. And they don't.

    Albert Kaufman: if your country is about to be flooded due to sea level changes, J: You are watching too many sci fi flicks from Al Gore. Here is what a court of law said about Gore's sea level lie: insofar as it suggests that sea level rises of 7 metres might occur in the immediate future, is not in line with the scientific consensus.

    J: The reality is that the rate of sea level rise has slowed recently. And the temperature rise has stopped and by some accounts reversed. The ocean heat content is going down. The fingerprint of AGW in the Troposphere was never found. No one has ever proven that CO2 can cause dangerous warming.

    See SustainableOregon.com for details.

  • shizzle (unverified)
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    Legalization would pull CA out of the financial toilet. Aren't they issuing IOU's now? Nutz.

  • shizzle (unverified)
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    Legalization would pull CA out of the financial toilet. Aren't they issuing IOU's now? Nutz.

  • pacnwjay (unverified)
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    "Today 95% of what's grown in the Willamette Valley is non-edible".

    As someone who lives in rural Willamette Valley, I find this figure baffling. What's the metric? Are you measuring by financial value? By acre of land? By ton of product?

    Since I'm betting you really mean by financial value, don't you think you've answered your own question? Farmers expect to make a profit. When I was young, we started picking strawberries as soon as school was out. Then Logans. Then Marions. During down time, we planted broc and cauliflower. Later on we picked broc, cauli and squash. But if a farmer will make many multiples of profit growing grass seed, why wouldn't they?

    The math is simple. How can farmers of any size in Oregon compete with corporate farming that drives the price of food so low? Would Oregonians want and support locally grown food if they had to pay double for it? Or triple?

    I hate to see acre upon acre of the valley covered in nursery stock. It's horrifying. But I don't begrudge these farmers and land owners from trying to use their land to keep their family afloat.

  • Patrick A (unverified)
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    I think there is already more movement toward this than you may realize. First, that "95% inedible" is, in my humble opinion, total speculative crap. I think that ODA data speaks to that, as does a drive down the valley. Now, WHERE you are in the valley when you drive makes a big difference. Driving down I-5, through some of the lowest, flattest land where the water table is near the surface, really is driving through some pretty poor soil. I use to make ag production loans out of U.S. Bank in Albany, and those farmers had a very hard time paying the bills with fruits and vegetables. Even higher quality grass seed was a challenge. Contrast that with a drive down 99w, for example, and almost everything you see is edible.

    Second observation: anyone been in a Safeway lately? Have a look at the produce section, and the significant marketing investment they are making in identifying local produce to the shopper. First, there's a LOT of it. Second, they're Safeway, they're not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. They think it's more profitable. That's a great outcome, because if shoppers react by buying more locally, Safeway will make more money, and demand more local produce. THAT will displace grass seed, nursery crops, and Christmas trees (well, except for soil types and topography but, as Alton Brown would say, that's another show).

  • Unrepentant Liberal (unverified)
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    Anyone out there with accurate knowledge of horticulture and farming that could comment on the richness or lack thereof in the Willamette Valley soil? I am under the impression that it is not very rich and contains quite a bit of clay that makes it hard to deal with.

    I grew up in Illinois. Now there is some of the greatest soil in the world!

  • Patrick A (unverified)
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    Unrepentant:

    Soil types vary considerably throughout the valley, but the agriculturally productive areas in the flats of the valley are usually made up of flood silts deposited by the Missoula Floods in pre-history. I don't know about the "most fertile in the world" bit, either, but it's really good dirt. That said, some parts, like the east side of Portland where I grew up, are heavy clay areas, and had to work with. If memory serves, this has something to do with Alameda Ridge, which was like a gian gravel bar forming behind Rocky Butte during the floods. Kept the flood silts from depositing in the area.

  • The Libertarian Guy (unverified)
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    Just bought some tomatoes that came from Canada today. Real nice ones.

    Albert I am with you on this, but I think more details are needed regarding subsidies, etc from the gov regarding who is getting what.

  • RodM (unverified)
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    Yes, you can do better Oregon... Be a number ONE. Change the ways.. tax marijuana instead of care givers,and the gray area.. it can be better business than back and behind. Bring medical marijuana to the store front instead of depending on a giver.. for single supply or quality. Pay taxes to Oregon. Oregon is behind California.. slowly but great and beautiful. I want to duplicate CCC.

  • riverat (unverified)
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    "Hey, the climate has always been changing. There is noting (sic) unusual about it..."

    Actually the temperature rise expected over the next 100 years would normally take 1000 or more years in natural climate change especially during the ice ages of the last 2 million years. The rate of change stresses the biosphere forcing it to adjust more quickly than it would normally.

    "Here is what a court of law said about Gore's sea level lie: insofar as it suggests that sea level rises of 7 metres might occur in the immediate future, is not in line with the scientific consensus."

    What Al Gore said was that if the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets collapse it could lead to 7 meters of sea level rise which is true. He didn't specify a time range. I suppose you could ding him for not specifying the time range. It probably takes at least 200 or 300 years for them to collapse to that extent. Current projections are for 1-2 meters of sea level rise by 2100.

  • jamie (unverified)
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    riverat: Actually the temperature rise expected over the next 100 years would normally take 1000 or more years in natural climate change especially during the ice ages of the last 2 million years. The rate of change stresses the biosphere forcing it to adjust more quickly than it would normally. J: you left out one important detail: Who expects this. It is expected by a small group alarmists based ONLY on computer models. Models that have failed time after time to make accurate predictions.

    riverat: What Al Gore said was that if the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets collapse it could lead to 7 meters of sea level rise which is true. He didn't specify a time range. I suppose you could ding him for not specifying the time range. J: “Suppose you could fault him”!! Hell yes his sci fi flick is full of bold statements that tell only one side of the story and failure to mention many details that, if known, would reverse the impression he wants to leave. The classic one is the ice core charts of temperature and CO2. He failed to mention that later research (before his film came out) showed that CO2 lagged temperature by hundreds of years. Thus the charts are totally irrelevant to his argument. He knew this and he still chose to use it to deceive people with it.

  • verasoie (unverified)
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    Anyone know about the presence (or absence) of toxic chemicals in urban soil? Is this why many people use raised beds with soil from Home Depot instead of planting in the ground in their yard?

    Frankly, I'm reluctant to eat anything that grows in my urban neighborhood (NE PDX) because I don't trust that it's not contaminated from being, well, urban.

    Lead from decades of leaded gasoline contaminating everything is a big concern, and that's why I won't eat blackberries growing in the city (especially near busy streets), but before I'd plant anything for food, I'd sure like to know that the soil in the city is clean. There is a reason why I buy my food from people who live far away from industrial areas.

    On another note, I have a lawn, but I don't use pesticides, and I don't even water it, and most of my neighbors are the same way, so let's not pretend that lawns are necessarily anything more than a low-labor way of filling up a yard (and a good playground for young children).

  • verasoie (unverified)
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    Anyone know about the presence (or absence) of toxic chemicals in urban soil? Is this why many people use raised beds with soil from Home Depot instead of planting in the ground in their yard?

    Frankly, I'm reluctant to eat anything that grows in my urban neighborhood (NE PDX) because I don't trust that it's not contaminated from being, well, urban.

    Lead from decades of leaded gasoline contaminating everything is a big concern, and that's why I won't eat blackberries growing in the city (especially near busy streets), but before I'd plant anything for food, I'd sure like to know that the soil in the city is clean. There is a reason why I buy my food from people who live far away from industrial areas.

    On another note, I have a lawn, but I don't use pesticides, and I don't even water it, and most of my neighbors are the same way, so let's not pretend that lawns are necessarily anything more than a low-labor way of filling up a yard (and a good playground for young children).

  • verasoie (unverified)
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    Anyone know about the presence (or absence) of toxic chemicals in urban soil? Is this why many people use raised beds with soil from Home Depot instead of planting in the ground in their yard?

    Frankly, I'm reluctant to eat anything that grows in my urban neighborhood (NE PDX) because I don't trust that it's not contaminated from being, well, urban.

    Lead from decades of leaded gasoline contaminating everything is a big concern, and that's why I won't eat blackberries growing in the city (especially near busy streets), but before I'd plant anything for food, I'd sure like to know that the soil in the city is clean. There is a reason why I buy my food from people who live far away from industrial areas.

    On another note, I have a lawn, but I don't use pesticides, and I don't even water it, and most of my neighbors are the same way, so let's not pretend that lawns are necessarily anything more than a low-labor way of filling up a yard (and a good playground for young children).

  • verasoie (unverified)
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    Anyone know about the presence (or absence) of toxic chemicals in urban soil? Is this why many people use raised beds with soil from Home Depot instead of planting in the ground in their yard?

    Frankly, I'm reluctant to eat anything that grows in my urban neighborhood (NE PDX) because I don't trust that it's not contaminated from being, well, urban.

    Lead from decades of leaded gasoline contaminating everything is a big concern, and that's why I won't eat blackberries growing in the city (especially near busy streets), but before I'd plant anything for food, I'd sure like to know that the soil in the city is clean. There is a reason why I buy my food from people who live far away from industrial areas.

    On another note, I have a lawn, but I don't use pesticides, and I don't even water it, and most of my neighbors are the same way, so let's not pretend that lawns are necessarily anything more than a low-labor way of filling up a yard (and a good playground for young children).

  • verasoie (unverified)
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    Anyone know about the presence (or absence) of toxic chemicals in urban soil? Is this why many people use raised beds with soil from Home Depot instead of planting in the ground in their yard?

    Frankly, I'm reluctant to eat anything that grows in my urban neighborhood (NE PDX) because I don't trust that it's not contaminated from being, well, urban.

    Lead from decades of leaded gasoline contaminating everything is a big concern, and that's why I won't eat blackberries growing in the city (especially near busy streets), but before I'd plant anything for food, I'd sure like to know that the soil in the city is clean. There is a reason why I buy my food from people who live far away from industrial areas.

    On another note, I have a lawn, but I don't use pesticides, and I don't even water it, and most of my neighbors are the same way, so let's not pretend that lawns are necessarily anything more than a low-labor way of filling up a yard (and a good playground for young children).

  • verasoie (unverified)
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    What a crappy posting system! How many times do I have to verify my comment?!

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    verasoie is right in my example also. i don't water my lawn in the summer, letting it just go brown. i fertilize once a year with an organic fertilizer.

    i love to garden and have done so for years. so i feel pretty well positioned to comment: it is simple fantasy to believe that individual homeowners (only homeowners, right Albert, since more density = fewer personal plots of land for individuals to cultivate) can significantly offset their grocery purchases with home gardens.

    gardening is a fun and engaging hobby, but it is labor intensive and expensive. it is not a way to save money.

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    All,

    take it from someone who farms in the Willamette Valley (and does NOT farm grass seed or support field burning.....)

    a significant fraction of the land used to produce grass seed is indeed waterlogged a god part of the year, and is not much good for other crops (but could be used for carbon sequestration purposes). The best use for it, unfortunately, WAS as a tall grass ecosystem used by wild animals for grazing, and Indians for hunting, but that is another story.....

    This does not mean that the grass seed industry is here to stay. China has planted millions of acres of the stuff, and over time you can guess what will happen to our markets for it.

    As for the fellow who keeps arguing that computer models used to predict climate change are worthless, and who repeats the "800 year time lag" canard, I suggest you actually read up on climate science. If we cannot rely on computer models for scientific purposes (admittedly the climate system is complex, but so are lots of other systems) then let's just agree to go back to the slide rule, or better yet, the Bible.

    The 800 year time lag reflected past conditions before human activities began to alter the planet's atmosphere, and is explained by the additional fact that previous rises in greenhouse gases were linked to the earth's proximity to the sun because of its elliptical orbit. Now WE are changing the atmosphere, as the Mauna Loa observatory measurements make abundantly clear. You cannot change the fact that CO2 (and methane, and CFCs, and HFCs, etc etc) are greenhouse gases which, over time, are warming the atmosphere. Hatred for Al Gore does not change the physics and chemistry of atmospheric science. Sorry about that!

  • SwamiSam (unverified)
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    Wow! Albert Kaufman AGAIN puts his absolute ignorance of economics proudly on display for everyone to enjoy.

    Gee, I think that Precision Castparts shouldn't be making parts for industrial machinery .... wouldn't it be more to the benefit of society if they retooled to produce solar panels?

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    paul g. wrote:

    gardening is a fun and engaging hobby, but it is labor intensive and expensive. it is not a way to save money.

    This is true if one can spend time at a good-paying job instead of gardening. Many see food gardening as adaptation to a permanently bad economy [by twentieth century standards]. I think they may be correct.

    Farmers have a hard time making money on many food crops that are now imported, thanks to free trade agreements, from countries with cheap labor and lax environmental protection. Of course, that means more fossil fuel burning in transport. It's all symptomatic of a species engaged in slow-motion suicide.

  • mlw (unverified)
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    Why don't they grow something else? Um, hello? Economics? Quit blaming the farmers. Trust me, if they could make more money growing something else, they would. If you want to encourage them to do so, that's fine, but it takes money we're not currently willing to spend. If you're talking about banning these industries, you're just being ignorant.

    The economics of manpower intensive crops don't work out well here without illegal immigrant labor. Until we solve that problem, please don't blame farmers for choosing to grow legal crops in a legal manner, rather than growing what you view to be better crops in an illegal manner.

  • Joanne Rigutto (unverified)
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    I agree with what others here have said regarding growing grass seed and christmas trees as being both more profitable and less labor intensive than vegetables. Also, with grass seed, you actually have two crops. The seed is the primary crop and the straw is a secondary crop. Oregon blue grass straw makes an excellent forage for horses and ruminants. For the past couple years I've been buying local grass hay, but before that, I fed blue grass straw almost exclussively to my horses in the winter. It's low enough in protein that it can be fed free choice, which is actually healthier for the horse's gut, especially the ceacum (comperable to the rumen in a cow, goat or sheep), keeps the animals occupied which reduces behavioral problems associated with boredome, etc. Considering I was paying upwards of $200/ton for the stuff, that's not bad for leftovers from the actual cash crop.

    I have 6.67 acres in Mulino that I'm currently growing vegetables fruit and culinary herbs on. I also sell hen eggs, emu eggs for eating and hatching as well as emu meat and oil. In the spring I will have goats for slaughter. On our property, we have 2 inches of top soil over hard pan which is similar to concrete in the summer and only slightly softer in the winter.

    In the plant crop areas we've spent the last 17 years building up organic matter and creating a good quality soil to plant crops in. We are constantly expanding the plant cropping areas, but it's a slow process. The plants that thrive on this land are actually grasses, which is what makes it possible to raise goats profitabley.

    Vegetable cropping is incredibly labor intensive compared to grass seed, or even hay production. With grass seed and hay everything can be mechanized from cutting or threshing, seed cleaning, baling, even picking up bales of either grass straw or grass hay.

    With vegetables, herbs and fruits, there is so much more labor involved. Even if you plant using a tractor, much of the crop types still have to be hand picked, weeded, checked for pests, etc., and if you're not going to allow kids to pick, and most of the adults aren't interested in picking, and a lot of the people who had been doing the migrant work, following the crops across the country, county, etc. have gone into better paying easier work like construction, then you're going to be stuck with providing all your own labor.

    Also, when getting into selling foods through large chain stores, you have to take into consideration that you may be required to carry extra liability insurance, and you may be required to implement federal food safety policies are the request of the company that may be at odds with your farming practices. You'll also need to label your produce so that it is Country Of Origin Compliant, unless you're selling your produce in loose bins, the store's going to require this.

    If you're selling direct to the public through farmers markets or a CSA type arangement, things are a lot easier, but you still have some hoops to jump through, and then there's marketing to do, etc. In Molalla, a goat dairy just got it's Grade A certification and licensing to produce cheeses for sale. I can make anything I like and give it away with absolutely no regulatory oversight by the government, but to take money or other compensation, the licensing can be somewhat Byzantine to say the least, and prohibitively expensive.

    These are just some of the things that keep people from farming edible crops.

    I've formed a network to assist farms in connecting with customers and marketing their produce/products called the Mulino CSA Network. The network's geographical range runs from Oregon City to Marquam and from Colton to Woodburn. Farming can be a very difficult vocation, it's difficult dangerous work, one of the most dangerous professions you can do in Oregon, and quite often it's not profitable, because, as is the case with the large berry producers, your choices in buyers can be very limited, meaning that the buyer tells you what you'll get, instead of you setting the price for your crop. Also, many edible crops that are perenials, may take years for the plants to become established, adding to the risk of investment.

    So, with all of that, it's no wonder that nursery stock, christmas trees and grass seed are the top 3 ag industries in Oregon.

  • calmnsense (unverified)
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    Patrick A:

    Which Safeway are you shopping at? Because I can tell you, over here on the coast, they are not making much effort to stock anything local. Just spent over $300 at Seaside Safeway yesterday and they don't carry much of Tillamook Dairy's (no milk, less cheese than the "Lucerne" variety) products and ZERO local produce. Maybe what's happening in the PDX metro area is a PR move that is dictated solely by the likes of the local New Seasons etc. It sure ain't going on everywhere.

  • Joanne Rigutto (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Whether a store carries locally produced produce and other products depends on several factors - popularity of locally produced foods, availablility of locally produced foods, etc. Local is very popular in some areas, so much so that big companies are starting to use it for marketing, although I wouldn't count chips made from potatoes grown in Idaho as a 'local' product.

    Also, for some farms, the farming practices that a company like Safeway, or some of the distributors may require can be, to put it mildly, somewhat draconian and wholey unrealistic. Some farms refuse to sell into those markets for just those reasons. Also, for some farms, the added product liability insurance could be cost prohibitive compared to the return on the produce they sell. Although for products like Tillamook cheese, milk, etc. obviously that's not a problem.

    The Safeway in Molalla has a 'Local' sign in the produce section, but I don't know what Safeway considers local, and I haven't seen any specific produce labeled as local. I'm in Mulino, and a produce stand just opened, I actually sold some of my extra snow peas there the other week. I buy my produce from him. I can ask him where each type of produce he sells came from and he'll tell you if you ask, and the local stuff, he knows the farms it comes from and will tell you that too. He's going to be promoting the produce/fruit by the farm.I'll be selling my extra produce at his stand, and when I take produce down to him, I have my own promotional materials for the farm and my produce will be marketed by my farm name at the produce stand. That's the kind of local marketing I can trust.

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