Cascadian Farm Educates the Young . . .
and the Young at Heart about Organic Agriculture
By Lisa Bell
"Small farms are where agricultural advances are nurtured. New ideas
are conceived every day by the folks who are solving Nature's puzzles."
- Eliot Coleman,
The New Organic Grower
If you want to get up close and personal with organic farming, Cascadian Farm's original Home Farm will give you the chance to get some healthy soil underneath your fingernails. Cascadian Farm, one of the nation's largest organic food companies, is committed not only to organic agriculture but also to education as evinced by its successful apprenticeship program.
The organic farming apprenticeships take place where it all started 26 years ago: at the company's original Home Farm in the majestic foothills of Washington's North Cascade Mountains. The farm still operates under the premise set forth by Cascadian Farm's founder, Gene Kahn - to grow food in a manner that is in harmony with nature and is respectful of the environment. Gene had no experience in farming when he leased a couple of acres of land and a dilapidated farmhouse, but he began the rewarding process of learning to grow organic fruits and vegetables - by trial and error, and without the use of synthetic pesticides. Today the Home Farm devotes 20 acres to the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and the next generation of organic farmers.
In the spirit of the company's founding, the apprenticeships are open to young people, no matter what their formal background or level of experience. Under the tutelage of the Home Farm's managers, Jim and Harlyn Meyer, a dynamic couple who have been practicing organic farming together for 26 years, apprentices learn the ABC's of organic farming in a holistic, hands-on manner.
"You don't need a formal background to participate," said Harlyn Meyer. "We're looking more for enthusiasm, curiosity, commitment and a solid work ethic. It's a great way to find out if you're cut out for the life of an organic farmer. It can be very rigorous and demanding at times, but it's also a way to gain personal insight while participating in the amazing cycle of the farm." Participants are expected to engage in 50 hours a week of farm work. The farm produces organic fruits and vegetables, including the strawberries, blueberries and raspberries that are used to make Cascadian's jams and preserves. The popular roadside stand (updated from a shack to a permanent structure) is bustling from May 31 to Halloween, with locals, regulars, and tourists stopping by to indulge in homemade organic Cas-cadian Farm ice cream or some just-picked blueberries.
Work and learning opportunities include: all aspects of organic production of various food crops; landscaping and beautification projects; use, repair and maintenance of farm tools and equipment; marketing of farm products (through the roadside stand, wholesale, a buying club and mail order); hospitality (there are a lot of visitors to the farm); small construction projects; cooperative living and sharing of chores; and occasional workshops with guest speakers.
The 6-12 month apprenticeships include room and board, a $50 a week stipend and two days a week off to explore and enjoy the beautiful North Cascade Mountains. Participants live on the farm in either the apartment above the barn or in the platform tents nestled in the old growth forest that wraps around the farm.
"We get some people who come to see if this is what they want to be when they grow up,'" said Harlyn, who met her husband Jim through farming 26 years ago. They co-manage all aspects of the farm year-round and live just down the road in a cabin they built. Jim and Harlyn still approach their work with a passion and respect that reflects their own connection to the land. Passing on reverence for the land is not relegated to just the apprentices - their three children were raised on organic farms and still come home from college in the summers. "It's a job they know and enjoy, and the room and board is hard to pass up with the spectacular surroundings and home-grown organic food."
In addition to its apprenticeship program, Cascadian Farm is dedicated to educating the public about organic farming and its benefits. On-farm educational programs including tours, workshops and seminars, are excellent vehicles for the public to see and experience all aspects of organic farming practices, and learn how these practices work in balance with nature. A healthy planet starts at home, and the Home Farm is a wonderful example.
Cascadian Farm, founded in 1972 by Gene Kahn, produces more than 150 organic food items which span seven major food categories: frozen desserts, frozen vegetables, frozen fruit, vegetarian meals and entrees, frozen juices, pickled products and fruit spreads. Its products are sold nationwide in natural foods stores and selected supermarkets, as well as internationally in Europe, Canada, Australia and the Pacific Rim.
Cascadian Farm, Fantastic Foods and Muir Glen are brands of Sedro-Woolley, Washington-based Small Planet Foods, a worldwide leader in the natural foods industry dedicated to providing products that demonstrate the powerful relationship between diet, health, agriculture and the environment.
For more information on this valuable program, please contact Cascadiam Farm's main office at (360) 855-0100, or check out their website at www.cfarm.com
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