By Peg Keenleyside
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives, it is the one most adaptable to change.”
– Charles Darwin
The Point Roberts Homegrown Food Co-op held its annual potluck get together for members and friends recently, and it was a great chance to get a tour of the growing areas at the field on Benson Road and find out how this remarkable local community organization is coming along.
Roaming through the tomato greenhouse and the raised beds bursting with fresh lettuces, I had the opportunity to talk to a few co-op members and hear how the volunteer organization has been looking for new ways – and new members – to stay vital.
“One of our aims,” said member Annelle Norman who is working on marketing for the co-op, “is to revive the really successful CSA program the co-op had going.” CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and it’s been the way many small farms – especially organic farms –have been able to stay in the black.
Local community families buy a CSA harvest box share at the beginning of the season and that “seed money” guides farmers in the planning of what and how much to grow for the season and budget for labor costs.
As anyone who’s tried small-scale farming can tell you, labor costs are the hardest budget item for small farms to meet. Organic farming is especially labor-intensive due to not using chemicals to prevent weed growth and fertilize crops. Traditionally, organic and sustainable farming relies on good old-fashioned weeding and compost distribution to build the soil’s nutrients.
And so, despite a consistent and supportive local membership, (members planted over 15,000 seedlings in March this year!), what the co-op is short on is volunteer labor hours to sustain the CSA program.
“We’d welcome anyone who wants to come by and put in a few hours weeding!”, said Norman, who has been working the co-op’s farm store on Benson Road that’s open Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings in the summer.
Stepping up to help meet one of the challenges the Point Roberts Homegrown Co-op is facing are two new members. Michael Wynkoop and PJ Minter, two engineers who have connected through the co-op this year and have created a small test hydroponics project for the co-op’s tomato crop production.
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions. The roots of the plant sit on a bed of gravel or perlite and draw up the mineral nutrients they need from the solution that cycles through the planter pot.
“PJ and I both think that hydroponics is the farming [model] of the future,” Michael Wynkoop says. “The amount of labor needed is a fraction of traditional methods of growing.”
Minter concurs with Wynkoop that a lot of the labor variables associated with traditional farming technologies, from weeding, to pest infestation control, to the time it takes to create compost and amend beds and fields, are reasons why hydroponic technology is such a great model for small-scale farms.
For many farmers who are passionate about cultivating an agricultural industry that doesn’t rely on chemicals, it’s all about adapting, and hydroponic technology is one method that’s getting lots of attention.
And it makes long-term dollar sense. In 2016, on-farm sales generated $626.4 million in agricultural revenues in Washington state.
In the tomato-growing experiment at the co-op, Wynkoop and Minter are using the same seed stock for plants in traditional raised beds as in the hydroponic pots. When it’s harvest time, they’re inviting everyone on the Point to come by for a taste test to compare the results.
Check out the co-op’s Facebook page to see all the latest produce available at the farm right now and when the tomato crop will be ready to taste. The farm stand is open Friday evenings, 5:30-7 p.m. and Saturday mornings 10 a.m.-noon.
Membership in the Point Roberts Homegrown Co-op is $100 per year and gets you lots of good-eating benefits.