Thought of the Week

If you get up every day to watch the sunrise,
you will eventually learn the secret of life
– that no matter what happens, the sun will come up in the morning.

-Valentine Valera

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Strawberry Fields Forever

Early this month, my dad and I took a field trip to the Pajaro Valley during a trip to California.  The area is very rich, agriculturally, with some of the finest, most productive soils in the world.  This region is right on the Monterey Bay on the Central California Coast; it has regular fog, no frost and high precipitation.

The Pajaro Valley in Watsonville, California is a small area; it’s rich river-bottom soils and mild, sunny climate make it an agricultural powerhouse, especially for strawberries.  The earliest commercial cultivation of strawberries in the Pajaro Valley began in the late 1860s.   After the coming of the railroad in the 1870s and the development of extensive irrigation systems for strawberries in the 1890s, Pajaro Valley strawberry production increased dramatically.

Strawberry fields ready for harvest

Strawberry fields ready for harvest.  Harvest in the Pajaro Valley goes from May through October.

Strawberry farming is unlike any other; we saw fields of berries being harvested on the same road as fields being prepared for planting.  While strawberries are a perennial crop, they are usually planted annually when grown commercially.  They are grown on wide, raised beds, so that the berries hang down the edges.  This allows the growing strawberries to have better sunlight, and makes them easier to pick.

Baby strawberry plants are started under black plastic covers, which keeps the soil warm, holds in moisture, and also helps protect the baby plants from insects, and keep weeds to a minimum. Dripline irrigation is used, which places water right on the plant, saves water, and keeps the berries drier, helping to decrease fungus growth.


Strawberry beds, all bedded up.  Workers are spreading the handline. The next step will be adding plastic.


Close up of the plastic; you can see the driplines running under the plastic.  If you look very closely, you can see the little equally-spaced holes into which the baby strawberries will be planted

Baby strawberry plants growing under their warm covers

A big field, all ready to be planted; irrigation is already in place.

The fields in these pictures are owned by Dole Corporation.  While “corporate farms” get a negative media spin, you can see from these photos that their fields are beautifully managed.  Because the farmland in this region is so valuable, the cost per acre to grow each crop is  much higher than with other crops in other regions.  Without strong management systems in place, these fields would quickly be degraded.  The land is very carefully and intensively farmed; it is managed with a very high level of care and consideration for sustaining the natural resources such as water and soil quality.


The Pajaro Valley captures and recycles its water, from drainage and storm systems for use in irrigation.

This type of “vertical farming” is very unique.  It is sophisticated and intensive.  Dole, and other Pajaro Valley strawberry producers, are very efficient not only in their growing of strawberries, but in their harvesting and distributing of them as well.

Strawberry harvest

Strawberry harvest – this is highly skilled stoop labor; the machine handles all of the packaging

Harvesters, working hard to gather the crop

Strawberry pickers, working hard to gather the crop

The workers you see above are highly skilled; their jobs are sought after, they are unionized, and well paid.  At the edge of one field being harvested, we saw all the pickers cars lined up.  There were no junkers at all, but were nice, American made late model family cars, in good shape.


Spiffy porta-johns with hand-washing stations, and stacking chairs for lunch and breaks. Coolers and lunch sacks hanging. This travels from field to field with the pickers.

Large crews of pickers sweep the fields, plucking the juicy red berries and plopping them directly in the plastic tubs you see in the stores.  Machines which handle the packaging runs right ahead of the pickers.  No secondary handling is done, and the berries make it to stores across the nation within a few days of being picked. (Which in itself makes a good argument for washing your produce!)

Fresh-picked strawberries go straight to the store!

Fresh-picked strawberries go straight to the store, and into your shopping basket.

The Pajaro Valley and surrounding areas produce almost 50% of the nation’s strawberries, which is about 1.8 billion pounds of the delicious red berries!  Strawberry harvests across the state employ about 70,000 people, and contribute around $3.4 billion to the California economy.

Shipping boxes waiting to be filled up with strawberries

Shipping boxes waiting to be filled up with strawberries

The next time you buy strawberries in your market, check to see where they were grown.  There’s a very good chance that they come from the Pajaro Valley of Santa Cruz County, California.  Thank you Dole, and other companies, for growing our delicious strawberries for us!

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Onion Harvest, Middleton, Idaho


Sid’s beautiful onion field, ready for harvest.

Western Idaho is big onion country.  Those yellow, white and red onions all y’all enjoy?  Many of them are grown right here in the Treasure Valley!  My contemporary, Sid Freeman is a farmer in Middleton; he was gracious enough to let me come and photograph and video harvest one day last week.


The rolling machine, ready to roll two rows into one row.

These are gorgeous yellow onions, big, round, and of excellent quality.  The first step in harvest – the onions are undercut; a machine comes and slices the roots off under the onion bulb.  Then the onions lay drying.  After that, a specialty machine is used; two rows of onions are rolled into one thick row.  Next they are picked up by the onion harvester, which spits out any loose skins and stems, the onions are dumped by conveyor into big trucks which take them to market.



The rolled onions, loose, ready to be picked up by the harvester.

Sid was trying to beat a big storm which was brewing.  It was a windy, dusty day, perfect for harvest.  He made it.

Next time you slice into a beautiful yellow onion, think of Sid and say a big “Thank you Sid, for growing our onions for us!”

Here is a video of Sid’s onion harvest for your viewing pleasure.

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Thought of the Week

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Farmer Profile – The Whitman Family

This month, we are happy to introduce you to the Whitman family, three generations who farm together in and around Pullman, Washington.  Jon and his wife, Carol, Jon’s son, Mike and his wife Gina, and their son, Joel and his wife Kailub all work together, operating J&M WHITMAN FARMS.


The Whitmans: Back L-R: Brenna, Kaylee, Carlee. Front L-R: Mike, Bina, Kailub, Joel, Carol, Jon

Mike and Gina also have two other children, Kim, who is married to Jim, and they have a daughter, Carlee. Kim works in sales and marketing in veterinary medicine research and development. Jim works for another farmer in the area as a mechanic and operator. Mike and Gina’s youngest child is Whitnie, who is a college senior, majoring in Occupational and Recreational Therapy.

Joel and Kailub have two daughters, Brenna and Kaylee. Kailub is a labor and delivery, and neo-natal intensive care nurse. While some of the family has outside jobs, the family’s main focus is farming and the land.

Jon, Mike and Joel operate as J & M WHITMAN FARMS. The men manage the day-to-day work, records and decisions, their wives are part of the business as well. Jon’s wife Carol, helps in the office and does some of the farm’s computer work. Mike’s wife Gina, helps with accounting and records, (she had worked in accounting for 20 years), and runs for parts. She also cares for their grandchildren.

They are unique, even in a community of 3rd and 4th generation farmers.  If one includes the little Whitmans, they are now 6th generation farmers. Jon’s great uncle, Harry Johnson, came to Moscow, Idaho (8 miles east of Pullman), graduating from University of Idaho in 1903. He began farming shortly thereafter; in fact, the family has a 1914 photo of Harry harvesting, 100 years ago!

Whitman 1914

Uncle Harry Harvesting in 1914

Whitman 2014

J & M Farms Harvesting in 2014

Jon’s father began farming with Uncle Harry in 1937. Jon grew up on the Whitman homeplace, and began farming on his own in 1966. Mike grew up on this farm, and married Gina in 1981. The two of them began farming on their own in 1982. They live in the original farmhouse on Mike’s mother’s family farm near Pullman, which is also 6th generation. Joel, of course, was born and raised on the farm; naturally he helped with all farm chores, especially planting and harvest. He began farming fulltime in 2011. 

Now for the Question and Answer portion of our interview:

Why did you become a farmer?

Jon- I always enjoyed what I did on the farm. Even as a child, I would follow the seed-clover planter. I never wanted to do anything else.

Mike- It’s what my grandpa and my dad did, and it was something that I loved to do.

Joel- I agree, it’s what my dad and grandpa did. I wanted to work with them and be a farmer. My wife Kailub also was raised on a farm near Steptoe, and when it was time to begin a family, we wanted to raise our children in the same way that we were raised on the farm.

Tell us about your operation.

Mike – We farm dryland, approximately 2,000 acres in a 3-year rotation – typically winter wheat, then spring wheat or barley, then garbanzos or peas. We stick with crops which grow best in our micro-climate: soft white winter soft white spring wheat, malting and feed barley, garbanzo beans, dry green peas and grass hay. These are crops which perform year in and year out. (Author’s note: the Whitman’s yields are consistently some of the best in the region).

Joel – Every morning, we get together and make our plan for the day. We are all operators, meaning that we are each cross-trained, and can each do each other’s jobs. Joel does the winter fertilizing, Mike will do the fall seeding. During harvest, we all take turns running the combines and the trucks.

Jon – We try to keep smiling, even when things get tense or the days are long. In the winter, we work together on the budget, and work with FSA (the USDA agency which administers farm programs). We make most decisions together.

Mike – We also have a commercial trucking business, called Whitman Enterprises, which we operate together. We started it about 25 years ago, as a winter business. We haul mostly bulk farm commodity (wheat, peas, seed, etc.), and also flatbed; equipment, containerized cargo, things like that.


Jon, Mike and Joel Whitman

Do you use any sustainable practices? Please tell us about them.

Mike – We minimum till* our soil, we recycle all our farm oil and all plastics and iron. The products that we buy (machinery, chemicals, containers) are more environmentally friendly now than in years past, and we expect them to become even more so in the future.

Jon – Our tractors all have computers, which make them more efficient with fuel economy, wear on the equipment and implements. Also, with new technology, it’s possible to make the guidance system guide the tractor.


The Whitman’s tractors, parked, after preparing the land for fall planting

What are the biggest challenges you face as farmers?

Mike – Environmental issues, weather, world conflict. 95% of what we produce is exported. We’re pretty fortunate in this country to have the abundance and variety of foods that we have.

What are farming’s biggest rewards for you?

Jon – Farming has never been a bore to me, it’s interesting, and every day is different. It’s a great life.

Carol – No matter where we go on our travels, I always want to come home. Now that we’re 6 generations, we have something to pass to our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren!

Gina – Farming – it’s what we do everyday. This is not just a job that we go to in the morning and then come home, it’s our whole lives, and we’re tied to this land.

Joel – I like the feeling of being able to say it’s mine, and the pride of my family working together for so long, since the 1800’s. That’s really something, and I know it’s unusual and special.


The 6th Generation. It looks like they will be ready when it is their turn to farm.

Do you participate in any civic or industry organizations?

Jon, Mike, Joel – Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG), Pea & Lentil Association, Washington State Grange.

Mike & Gina – 4-H Leaders (25 years), Pullman FFA Association.

Gina – President of Whitman County 4-H Council for 15 years.

Mike – Past Executive President of Junior Livestock Show of Spokane, President of Pullman High School Vo-Ed Advisory Committee, Whitman County Fire Commissioner – Fire District 11, Fireman-EMT – Fire District 11, Board Member – 4 Star Supply (farmer co-op).

Joel – Volunteer Fireman for Whitman Co. Fire Dist. 11.

Are there any faming stories you would like to share?

Jon – When Mike was little, maybe 10 or 11 years old he was on the combine with his grandpa. There were no cabs on the combines in those days. Anyway, there was Grandpa Joe dangling his feet on the platform, and there was Mike driving the combine!

Carol – My first year living on the farm, I bought pea seeds to plant in my garden. Jon saw my pea seeds and said, “We have 400 acres of peas!” Ha Ha! That’s a city girl coming onto the farm.

Mike – I can remember Grandpa, Dad, Mom and I were hauling grain to Johnson (grain elevators about 8 miles south of Pullman). Grandpa got tired driving, and Grandma looked over and saw his right hand out the right window. It was me driving the grain truck! Grandpa got an earful from Grandma when we got home.

Joel – When she was a girl, Kailub’s family had a 7-acre U-pick cornfield. They also had a 10 to 12 acre garden when she was a girl, for the family’s food. They sold the extra produce U-pick. Kailub has a sister and 3 brothers, so it kept them all busy all spring and summer long.

Kailub – It was fun growing up on a farm.


Kailub, Brenna, Kaylee and Joel Whitman

Do you have anything to add which you would like our readers to know?

Gina – At times the media portrays agriculture very poorly. Farmers are businessmen, entrepreneurs, and accountants. They make many huge decisions every day, all the time. I feel fortunate that we get to live the lifestyle we do. Even though it is difficult sometimes, it is a really good life; it’s not easy for anybody to work with their family members like we do in farming. It’s unique and special.

Kailub – That’s a blessing of the job – (if you’ve had too much togetherness) you can find something else to do to get away from each other for a while.

Jon: It’s not always that way in every family.  Some families don’t get along, and it (their farm operation) is not successful. We’re together a lot, for both work and play. Even when we’re having fun, we’re talking about farming, and when we’re working we’re planning another camping trip.

Joel – When I was growing up, all through high school, I had friends that picked on the farm kids. Those people now, are envious and interested in what we do! They are the first ones to comment on my facebook photos, and so interested in what I do. In fact, some of those people are now in agri-business. The view toward agriculture has really changed. In the last 10-20 years, there’s more respect for farmers, farming and agriculture.

Kailub – I was raised on a similar type of farm as Joel.  Now that I’m married into his family, it’s interesting to me to see the same type of business, but operated so differently than my family farm.

What are your interests when you’re not farming?

Jon and Carol – square dance, Lions, travel with their trailer, Carol likes to make cards.

Mike and Gina-camping, Gina works out & runs races & marathons.

Joel and Kailub-traveling, camping, being with their kids.

Kim and Jim-camping.

Whitnie – school, camping, family, horses.

A hearty THANK YOU to the Whitman Family, for carrying on the 100 year tradition of farming, and for growing healthy and abundant food for us to eat!

*See Direct Seed-No-Till on the Hot Topics page for more details on Minimum ill.

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Recipes From A Farmer’s Table – Barley!

This is Simply Marvelous – Perfect for Autumn
From Nancy Leis

1 lb. beef stew meat – diced large
1 Cup onion – chopped
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
4 – 14-1/2 oz. cans beef broth
1 – 14-1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes – undrained
1 Cup barley – rinsed
1/2 C. celery – chopped
8 oz. button mushrooms – sliced
4 garlic cloves – minced
1-1/2 tsp. dried oregano or basil
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Salt to taste
* Optional – Add diced potatoes and/or frozen mixed vegetables

In a large pot, heat oil, add meat and onion.  Turn meat to brown all 6 sides.  Add tomato paste, heat through.  Add 1/2 Cup broth.  Scrape up bits, and keep with meat.  Transfer meat to a crockpot, and add remaining broth, plus all other ingredients.  Cook on “low” 8-10 hours, or on “high” 4-5 hours.

From Nancy Leis

1 large onion – chopped
1/2 lb. mushrooms – sliced
5 Tbsp. butter
1 Cup pearl butter
2 Cups beef or chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350*.  Cook onion and mushrooms in butter until onion is wilted, and mushroom juices have cooked off.  Add barley, and brown lightly.  Pour this mixtures into a buttered casserole.  Pour 1 Cup of the stock over the barley, and cover.  Gently bring to a boil.

Bake the casserole, covered, 25-30 minutes.  Add the remaining stock.  Continue cooking, covered for 15 more minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and barley is tender.

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Thought of the Week

“The reality is that no single agricultural technology or farming practice will provide sufficient food for the world in 2050.  Instead, we must advocate for and utilize a range of these technologies in order to maximize yields.”

Mark Rosegrant, Lead Author of an International Food Policy Research Institute report advocating that countries around the globe increase investment in agricultural research and farm-management practices.

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Wolves Kill Oregon Sheep, Injure Protection Dogs

The subject of wolves is a touchy one here in the West, where wolves were re-introduced into the wild almost 20 years ago. The wolves which were re-introduced into the states are Canadian Wolves.  They are not indigenous to these parts; bigger and tougher than than Grey Wolf which is extinct in our region.

As wolf packs have expanded, they are coming in contact more and more with humans and their livestock. There have been several stories recently of wolf attacks on horses, cattle, and even sheep guard dogs.

This is yet another news story where multiple dogs were injured or killed trying to protect their flocks. The debate over wolves is becoming more heated, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out!

The Story:

Wolves killed several sheep and injured flock protection dogs in night attacks in Northeast Oregon, over the course of September 15th and 16th.

A news release from the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife said this was the first time protection dogs have been injured by wolves.  The livestock producer (owner of the sheep and dogs) said that three of the five dogs he had on guard were injured, and a fourth one was missing.  “He was our most aggressive dog; more than likely he is dead, he hasn’t turned up anywhere,” the producer said.

Guard dog on duty

Guard dog on duty Photo source

The producer was grazing about 1,000 sheep in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.  He said the grazing allotment has been active for many years and that he purchased it from the original holder.

The producer said an armed herder was camped on site when the wolves attacked.  He heard noise, but in the darkness was unable to make out what was going on.  He said 10 sheep were killed, including 2 bucks and 8 ewes.

Lambs lost in a wolf attack Photo source

Lambs lost in a wolf attack
Photo source

The producer said the cost of the attack is $18,000 – 20,000 if one considers the loss of future lambs.  The bucks which were killed had the capability of producing hundreds of lambs over the course of their lives.

The producer said that his guard dogs were an Anatolian-Akbash-Pyrenees cross, and were probably no match for a wolf.  The injured dogs will recover physically, but may be mentally beaten down.

“Wolves are just bigger, meaner and smarter,” he said.


Capital Press, September 26, 2014


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Garbanzo Harvest, Palouse Farm

Harvest has just wrapped up in Eastern Washington – wheat, barley, lentils, peas and GARBANZOS!  I visited Todd Strader last week, and he let me take photos of his harvest in action.  We highlighted Todd and his operation in August, 2013  if you’d like to check out his profile on The Farmers page.


Combines Harvesting Garbanzo Beans on Palouse Farm, operated by Todd Strader

Todd’s farm is located near the town of Palouse, Washington.  This farm suffered a severe crop loss due to an untimely hailstorm in late July – right before harvest!  Todd was growing both wheat and garbanzo beans.  Approximately 56% of the wheat was damaged, and 60% of the garbanzos were damaged.  Fortunately, the crop was insured.  But still, it was disheartening to Todd to see his year’s work damaged so quickly and ruthlessly.  The damage was evident when we inspected the plants and beans.


Todd walking down to the grain trucks, which are all lined up to be filled with garbanzos.


Note the different  shapes, colors and shades of the beans. That’s the hail damage.

The garbanzos that were not lost in the hailstorm, many of them, tried to grow again.  Some of them were double shaped, and different colors, rather than the uniform tan of harvest-ready beans.

Even though much of Todd’s crop was lost, his yields were still remarkably high, we were amazed and pleased for him!  In the end, it was a good year.  And… thank goodness for crop insurance.

Here’s a short video for you to enjoy of Todd’s garbanzo harvest, 2014.  You’ll hear the wind blowing.  It’s hard not to admire those combines – they have 40′ headers (the big wide part in the front into which the crop goes), which just eat up the crop.  They cover a lot of ground in a day, and have the capability of harvesting wheat, barley, oats, peas, lentils and garbanzos.

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Thought of the Week

“Those who make their living on the land show, time after time, that with proper land management practices, we protect and enhance the natural resources while producing food and fiber.  We need to continue to develop relationships with those who are unfamiliar with our practices and demonstrate the importance of what we provide to the community, country and world.”

-Joe Pozzi, Sheep and Cattle Rancher

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

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