New Farmers Focus on Sustainability with Help from USDA

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Cameron Green and Eric Wittenbach bought their 8.5 acre farm in Okanogan, Washington eight years ago, with the intention to make it as sustainable as possible. However, as beginning small-scale famers, they knew they would need some help.

Their work with a local forestland owner led them to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), where they began working with a conservation planner to develop a strategy for growing organic crops on their land now, and return it to a native, natural system in the future.

Green and Wittenbach received Environmental Quality Incentives Program funding from NRCS to install a seasonal high tunnel, which is helping them improve plant and soil quality, reduce nutrient and pesticide use, and reduce energy use by providing consumers with a local source of fresh produce.

They use the tunnel to extend the growing season for small organic row crops, including garlic, onions, basil, kale, chard, tomatoes and many others. Green says, “As small farmers, we could’ve never afforded to get something like this. It was huge to have NRCS help us.”

Green and Wittenbach have also learned about keeping their soil healthy and functioning. In addition to row crops within their high tunnel, they plant hearty, weather-resistant vegetables in the bare ground. During the off season, they use cover crops such as oats and rye to protect their soil from erosion, supply organic nutrients, and increase nitrogen levels.

Green and Wittenbach want to keep their land as regenerative as possible by introducing more permaculture components, edible native plants that will take less care, and more perennials so they don’t have to worry about tilling the soil at all.

Learn more about USDA assistance for new farmers.

Learn about the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and how NRCS can help you install conservation practices on your land, including information on seasonal high tunnels and conservation assistance.

Contact your local USDA service center or learn how to Get Started with NRCS online.