New Farmer Parody!

The Peterson Farm Bros just released their latest song parody, this time a medley of different songs, ending with “Let it Grow.” Enjoy!

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The GMO Debate: 5 Things To Stop Arguing

Tamar Haspel, an oyster farmer and a science and food writer from the Cape Cod area, wrote this great little article for The Washington Post. It addresses the increasingly ugly GMO debate, and she describes 5 points used by both sides that should cease to be part of the struggle in order to make discussion of this topic more civil and productive.

Cartoon by Prichett Cartoon

Cartoon by Prichett Cartoon

Her five points? Here is a paraphrase of her article:

1 – GMOs are dangerous to eat: thousands of studies have found no ill effects from eating GMO foods.

2 – Labeling is unnecessary since GMOs are safe: safety isn’t the point of this argument. There are reasonable arguments out there for labeling GMO products, including increased transparency in agriculture.

3 – Only Big Ag benefits from GMOs: Wrong. Everyone benefits from GMO’s: production farmers, agribusiness professionals, and children in Africa.

4 – We’ve been genetically modifying crops for thousands of years: Yes, but cross-breeding and inserting genes are two very different ways of modifying an organism.

5 – GMO supporters are Monsanto shills and opponents are anti-science: Let’s quit with the name calling. The shill part is just ridiculous.

Read the full article on The Washington Post website here.

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Onion Recipes

Our “Onion” section of our Recipes page is looking bare! Here are a couple great recipes starring the onion.

Caramelized Onions

Perfectly caramelized onions sure are a treat, and add delicious flavor to many dishes. True caramelizing takes time and patience, so make sure you have enough of both when getting ready to make caramelized onions. The payoff, though, is enough to make you do a happy dance!

3-4 yellow onions
2T butter or olive oil
1/4C chicken stock, wine, or balsamic vinegar

Slice the onion into thin strips after cutting the ends off and peeling. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat, then add the onions and stir gently to coat them with butter. Stir the onions every 5-10 minutes, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet.

Around 10 minutes, the onions will start to soften. Around 30 minutes, they will be very soft and will be a light caramel color. There will probably be a good layer of browned bits on the bottom of the pan for you to scrape up. Keep those onions cooking, checking and stirring them frequently until they are a good golden color. If you want even more caramelization, keep cooking them until they’re the desired color.

When the onions are cooked to your liking, add the 1/4 cup of liquid to the pan to loosen the delicious browned bits from the bottom, and stir everything into your onions. Add salt to taste.

Onions can be used immediately, or stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Some ideas for using caramelized onions:
stir into mashed potatoes
serve with brie and crackers or toasted bread
on burgers with white cheddar or provolone cheese
on grilled cheese with white cheddar or provolone
in French onion soup

French Onion Soup

1/2 cup unsalted butter
4 onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 fresh thyme sprigs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup red wine, about 1/2 bottle
3 heaping tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 quarts beef broth
1 baguette, sliced
1/2 pound grated Gruyere

Melt the stick of butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and salt and pepper and cook until the onions are very soft and caramelized, about 25 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the wine has evaporated and the onions are dry, about 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Dust the onions with the flour and give them a stir. Turn the heat down to medium low so the flour doesn’t burn, and cook for 10 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Now add the beef broth, bring the soup back to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.When you’re ready to eat, preheat the broiler. Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle the slices with the Gruyere and broil until bubbly and golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Ladle the soup in bowls and float several of the Gruyere croutons on top.

Alternative method: Ladle the soup into bowls, top each with 2 slices of bread and top with cheese. Put the bowls into the oven to toast the bread and melt the cheese.

Read more at:

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Thought of the Week

Before the reward there must be labor.
You plant before you harvest.
You sow in tears before you reap joy.

-Ralph Ransom

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The Farmstead Update

We profiled Jim Lowe, farmer and owner of The Farmstead, a corn maze and pumpkin festival in Boise, Idaho, in October of last year. The hard work and dedication of the Lowe family has resulted in The Farmstead being named to the Top 10 Fall Corn Mazes in the United States by USA Today. Very cool!

This year’s corn maze features a Wizard of Oz theme, in honor of the movie’s 75th anniversary. The maze has received national recognition in the past, appearing in Time Magazine, New Yorker Magazine, and in other news stories online and on TV.  Jim says it’s fun to receive the national attention, but his true goal is to educate the public about agriculture by entertaining them in an agricultural setting.

In addition to the corn maze, The Farmstead offers a petting zoo, hay and pony rides, pig races, cow trains, and farmyard games.  Jim also hosts on-farm school field trips, teaching children about the importance of agriculture.  He also helps kids experience the fun through a program he helped developed where kids can earn passes to The Farmstead can be earned by tracking the food they eat for a week and noting which products were produced on an Idaho farm.

The work that Jim and his family have done to not only promote Idaho agriculture, but to develop The Farmstead into a first-class agricultural attraction is commendable!

If you’re in the Boise area, enjoy some fall fun at The Farmstead!

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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; they 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!

Posted in Ag Production, Education, Farm Products, Farmers, Farmland Preservation, Strawberries, Technology, Water | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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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