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New growers learn basics at Oregon State farms school

By ERIC MORTENSON
Of the Capital Press

OREGON CITY — He was speaking to a class of beginning beekeepers, but Joe Maresh's advice probably could apply to all the prospective farmers who attended Oregon State University's one-day Small Farms School:

“Take your stings.”

In other words, accept the fact that you will take your lumps in agriculture. But that doesn't deter the people who continue to flock to OSU's popular small farms programs. At least 175 registered for the farm school workshops and demonstrations held last weekend at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City.

Classes offered through the day ranged from horse and sheep handling and emergency veterinary care to pasture management, small engine basics and how to grow blueberries.

Maresh, president of the Portland Metro Beekeepers Association, led about 30 students through the basics of keeping pollinators and collecting honey.

Among his tips: Get into your hives frequently to see what's going on, join a bee club and get one or two good beekeeping books, not a bunch.

“Avoid beekeeping on the Internet,” Maresh advised. "The Internet is not your friend.

“You can ask five different beekeepers a question,” he added, “and get eight different answers.”

Outside at the college's expansive crop plots, Aaron Guffy of East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District talked irrigation basics with two dozen beginning farmers.

In a fast-paced discussion of screens, filters, pump pressure tanks and variable frequency drives, Guffy emphasized the need to focus on getting water from one place to another.

“Before you decide the beginning” of an irrigation system, he said, “decide the end.”

The turnout for farm school was indicative of the continued intense interest, especially in urban areas, about where food comes from and how it's produced, said Garry Stephenson, director of OSU's Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems.

That interest can energize agriculture as legions of baby boomer farmers near retirement age.

“We have a generation of people in their twenties and thirties who are interested in going into farming as a business and as a statement of how they see the world,” Stephenson said. “One of the hopes we have is that they will eventually scale up and become medium-size farms.”

Not all the farm school students were youngsters, however.

John Hergenrather, attending from Hood River, said he's 70 and his wife, Rhea, is 65. They own a garden store and cafe, and recently bought an adjacent 6.5 acres on which they hope to grow food and plants to supply their business.

“We ask ourselves, ‘What are we doing becoming farmers now?’” Hergenrather said with a laugh. “Lord knows.”

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Information from: Capital Press, http://www.capitalpress.com/washington

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