Monday, July 28, 2008

Water Recycling System Captures Crucial Rainfall in Elsah, IL

Three Rivers Community Farms’ shaded wash station in June 2007, where they trap the wash water and reuse it for irrigation. - Photo courtesy of Three Rivers Community Farm.

In Elsah, IL, Amy Cloud and Segue Lara are working on a project to recycle water at their Three Rivers Community Farm. Their goal was to design and install a wash station that sends produce wash water to a custom built-grey water recycling system as well as capture rain water from the roof of the barn.

Three Rivers Community Farm was established in December 2006, with Cloud and Lara’s lease of 12 acres located just beyond Elsah. Three Rivers is a small, chemical-free vegetable farm, where Cloud and Lara have battled drought conditions throughout the past 5 years, despite a rainier season this year.

My husband and I have been farming in the St. Louis area since 2003 and witnessed three consecutive years of drought in 2004, 2005, and 2006,” said Cloud. “This and the uncertain impacts of climate change have encouraged our interest in water conservation. If this area continues to warm and is prone to periods of drought, we want to make sure we have mechanisms in place to farm as best as possible.”

In 2006, Cloud submitted a proposal for her water recycling project to the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant program, and was selected for funding.

For Cloud's project, water recycled from Three Rivers' wash station and rain water collected from the roof will be used to water the farm's animals, irrigate the “pick-your-own” crops, and long-term, will be used to water Three Rivers’ mid-to-late season greenhouse production.

This grant has given us the opportunity to become better educated about the innovations out there concerning water conservation and waste water recycling,” said Cloud. “We've found that water conservation can be as complicated and high-tech as you would like, or it can be just as effective relying on simple, gravity-fed systems.”

Cloud is attempting to find that middle ground between high tech and low tech.

“We are trying to look far enough in the future and base our cistern purchases on possible growth: as our farm grows, as we grow more produce, then our water needs will increase as well. At the same time we don’t want the cost to get out of hand.”

Cloud experienced a setback in 2007 with her project. The consultant she hired in 2007 to help with the project went out of business. Several months after the fact, she received a basic design from the consultant, but felt it was not worth the money she paid.

But Cloud is not one to throw in the towel.

“Since then, I have been using my own resources and partnering with one faculty member from Principia College to augment and expand the consultant’s design,” said Cloud. “We’ve decided on a plan that will work for our farm.”

Cloud is confident that their project results will benefit other producers who may not have access to streams, ponds, or wells for irrigation and therefore, rely on city water for washing and irrigating.

As water rates increase, it is important to get as many uses from city water as possible. Hence, collecting the hundreds of gallons of water remaining from washing produce and being able to use it again to irrigate or water animals saves money and a very precious resource,” said Cloud. “In addition, to lessen our dependence on city water, being able to capture rainwater is crucial. Our system will be one example of how to do both.”

Read more about Cloud’s project online, or contact the NCR-SARE office for more information.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Kids Get the Skinny on Whole Grains in North Dakota

Photo courtesy of Richland County Extension

In Lidgerwood, North Dakota, the issue childhood obesity is being addressed by a group of people committed to developing acceptance of whole grain products through experiential learning, child-friendly marketing, and colorful packaging. The goals for their project, “Kids Get the Skinny on Whole Grains,” are to create a niche market for their white wheat products for sustainability, profit for family farms, and healthier kids in the region.

Working in an extension office, co-owner of Dakota Family Mill, Adrian Biewer, became aware of the health needs that wholegrain products could address. Developing a better tasting wholegrain product made practical sense. In 2006, the farm families of Dakota Family Mill, Duane and Jean Smith, Bob and Debra Evenson, and Adrian and Anne Biewer, submitted a proposal to the NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher Grant program, and were selected for funding.

They chose the SARE grant program because it was flexible. “It best fit our needs and it also would allow us to meet the need for nutritional education in the communities,” explained Biewer. Community outreach, especially to kids, is an essential component of the project.

“I have always enjoyed the flavor and texture of whole grain,” explained Richland County Extension agent and project participant Colleen Svingen, “But as research continues to reveal the numerous health benefits of whole grains it reinforces the need to teach the health benefits to the public.”

In addition to programming for 35 4-H students at various age levels, “Kids Get The Skinny on Whole Grains” has met with much success with their “Bread in a Bag” program reaching 190 students, and also at each afterschool program in seven elementary schools reaching 130 students with “Pretzel in a Bag.”

The owners of Dakota Family Mill have been pleased with the response to the products, and are hopeful that production costs can be cut.

“People who have tried the products seem to really like them. However, we really wish we could do it cheaper so more would consider buying it. When you line it up with other products at, say, Walmart, - it looks expensive. And, there are no places close to us to custom mill or pack,” said Biewer.

Through this project, the owners of Dakota Family Mill have learned many aspects of the flour business.

“Most companies want huge quantities of product to work with thus either our company did not have that much product or it would be too expensive at this time,” said Biewer. “It has been a learning experience to work with our local grocer. They were very open to offering our product on the shelf and have started providing baked white wheat products from their bakery. We were part of the baking mix refinements for their batches and were asked to evaluate their products. They have been very helpful and will enable us to better meet the needs of future customers.”

The group is confident that people are ready and willing to learn about and embrace the idea of eating more whole grains. They stress that White Wheat Whole Grain Flour can be used in ordinary recipes, and teach that whole grains can be implemented in recipes and food for every meal of the day.

The group hopes to become more experienced at sales strategy, marketing, and develop a larger market area.

Read more about their project online or contact the NCR-SARE office for more information.