Farming by design: SpringRain bring interns into the field [**GALLERY**]

CHIMACUM — Take 26 acres of bottom land along Chimacum Creek.

Add 700 fruit trees, 2,400 blueberry bushes and a healthy dollop of honey bees.

Cut in rows of rich, brown soil and dot with asparagus and garlic.

Cover with 700 free-range chickens.

Stir.

Season with a flock of no-shear sheep and you have John Barrow’s formula for a farm that is viable financially and environmentally.

It’s a recipe for success that Barrow, who has a doctorate in integrated farming systems, is sharing with a new generation.

“The actual mechanics of growing and planting a crop isn’t all that difficult,” Barrow said. “Making money from it certainly is.”

Barrow is the architect, co-owner and primary labor force, not counting the chickens, of SpringRain Farm and Orchard, off Rhody Drive near H.J. Carroll Park.

He’s also the founder of an internship program, FIELD, which stands for Farmer Innovation, Education and Leadership Development.

Both FIELD and farm are in their third season, the program drawing young adults from all over the country who see a future in agriculture.

“The goal is to attract people who want to be agricultural entrepreneurs,” Barrow said. “That could be starting their own farm, running a commercial kitchen, managing a restaurant or buying and selling produce.

“We look at a lot of examples.”

Doctoral degree

Barrow is well-grounded in sustainable farming SEmD he has a doctorate in agroforestry and eco-physiology from the University of Florida.

Agroforestry is an integrated approach to agriculture that combines trees and shrubs with crops and livestock.

Focusing on research in his doctoral work, Barrow has studied shade-grown coffee systems in Costa Rica and cultivated orchard-bean systems in Guatemala.

He’s also volunteered in the Farmer-to-Farmer program in Moldova and Kyrgistan, and helped establish apple and stone-fruit orchards in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

Using numerical modeling, he’s plotted variations of the effect of climate on crops and farm production.

“Eco-physiology is the study of how plants respond to their environment,” Barrow said. “It’s real useful for perennial crops.”

Originally from upstate New York, Barrow also worked with farmers in the Philippines to reduce deforestation and erosion when he was in the Peace Corps 20 years ago.

That’s when he met Roxanne Hudson, his future spouse, also a Peace Corps volunteer.

Hudson is from Bellingham; when the couple returned to the States, they set up a market garden, the first SpringRain, near Mount Vernon.

Unable to afford land in the area, Barrow went back to school, then worked as a consultant and teacher.

Developing better ways to farm always played into his thinking, Barrow said.

“I thought about what we might do that would be sustainable, that would be viable,” he said.

After an extensive search, he and Hudson bought 26 acres spanning Chimacum Creek from the estate of Jesse Covington, who had raised cattle.

Hudson, who has a Ph.D. in education, commutes to Seattle, where she teaches at the University of Washington and works with public schools developing best practices in reading and writing fluency.

The big plan

With the components of the farm designed to feed into each other, Barrow is able to manage the work, plus refine FIELD and other educational components.

“Part of the big plan is to develop the opportunity to have graduate students doing research here,” he said.

For FIELD, which runs March 1 through the end of September, students apply to host farms in the area, committing to at least a three-month stay.

They also commit to a weekly average of 15 hours of labor and 20 hours of study a week, Barrow said.

That includes one day a week of instruction on topics ranging from ovine veterinary care to the care and feeding of seedlings.

“In the morning, they’ll have three to four hours of lectures and demonstrations, then have lunch together,” Barrow said. “In the afternoon they’ll have the opportunity for hands-on application of the topic.”

Interns also attend reflection sessions to share experiences, keep a journal, complete required reading of resource material and develop an independent project, earning continuing education credits through Washington State University.

Barrow teaches orchard pest management, weather and climate effects on crop production, and basic plant physiology.

Other farmers with a niche product teach their speciality — cider-making, cheese-making, etc. — in addition to animal husbandry and other basics.

“If anything, the nine months is too short for it all,” Barrow said.

Niche products

Unlike farmers who specialize in labor-intensive annual vegetables, Barrow focuses on niche products.

He currently sells 160 dozen eggs a week to restaurants, the Food Co-op and the Chimacum Corner Farm Store.

The farm’s 700 free-range chickens also provide pest control, weed control and fertilizer, their portable coops moved around the property as needed.

Barrow is one of only two producers of certified organic lamb in the state.

Other than at lambing season, the flock of Katadhin ewes are relatively easy care — they shed their wool in the spring and grow it back in the fall.

The sheep also multitask.

“They fertilize as they mow,” Barrow said.

Barrow also raises chickens for meat, grows garlic and asparagus, and is doing research on growing winter squash and hothouse tomatoes.

He plans to expand plantings of boysenberries and raspberries on the far side of the creek.

SpringRain has 1,200 feet of Chimacum Creek running through it, surrounded by 4 acres of riparian buffer. Woody debris from the farm provides shelter for the two runs of salmon in the creek.

“We had 40 chum spawning here spawning last summer,” Barrow said.

Interns’ experience

Producing products year-round means that SpringRain is also able to host interns during the winter.

Called WWOOFers — for the name of a referral organization, World-Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming — most are in their 20s, like Casey Hill and Haley McQuilkin.

The couple came from Cleveland in January to work at SpringRain Farm.

For Hill, 26, it was a chance to do something different from paralegal work.

For Tassie Mardikes, an art student from Portland, Ore., farming incorporates everything she is passionate about — the environment, health, the beauty of nature, being outdoors and working with plants and animals.

“I also like the hands-on operation, the variety of farm work and the range of skills of problem-solving on a regular basis,” Mardikes said.

At SpringRain, the interns pitch in on a variety of tasks that Barrow varies to keep things interesting.

They also receive instruction on pruning and other skills, and work on an independent project — Mardikes is raising meat rabbits.

Another intern, Adam Mihalik, has been at SpringRain since October and plans to go home to southwest Missouri to start his own market garden.

Mihalik said he had learned a lot about farming during his stay, including things he can’t put into words.

“It’s more just doing it,” he said.

And for a few people, the experience of living and working on a farm teaches them the most valuable lesson of all.

“They find out that they don’t really want to work in agriculture at all, “ Barrow said.

“It’s a valid insight.”

For more information about SpringRain Farm and the FIELD program, go to www.springrainfarmandorchard.com.

________

Jennifer Jackson is a free-lance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend. She writes a column about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her, phone 360-379-5688, or e-mail jjackson@olypen.com.

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