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Helen Atthowe – Woodleaf Farms – Richland

After 40 years of being an organic farmer, I am learning new things.

We semi-retired and moved to this area to expand and continue practicing and researching ecological-organic farming commercially. We want to see how far we can push the ecological window—by how much we can limit off-farm inputs and have a farm that more and more closely mimics natural ecological systems. I’m excited about where we’ve gotten to at this point in our 6th year here in Richland. I lost my husband in a farming accident a year and a half ago, so it was ‘us’ that began this farm and I still use ‘us’ because he is still so much a part of this place.

I think the most exciting thing is that we’re getting a lot of attention now! Suddenly, everyone is excited about no-till and minimal soil disturbance methods and trying to limit all farm inputs. We grow all our own fertilizer and we try not to use anything such as mined minerals, or things that we have to import from someone else’s land to make our soil more fertile. We are doing regenerative agriculture with one major difference: except for wild animals there are no animals on this farm. This is an entirely stock-free, veganic farm. We only use plant-based fertilizer. There is no manure or manure-based compost, no fish meal, blood meal, or bone meal. I knew that we would have no problem with our orchard production since we had been doing that in California for over 30 years. But I wondered if we would really get away with only plant-based fertilizer on annual crops like grains, beans, and vegetables. We are starting to get extremely wonderful yields of large bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, and onions. After 40 years of being an organic farmer, I am learning new things; that I can break some soil science rules that I learned in graduate school and that our soil building methods also create habitat for beneficial organisms that control pests and diseases. We can do regenerative, ecological farming and build soil and habitat without animals, and still have wonderful soil health. There are so many natural enemies for biological control that we do not even have to use certified organic pest management inputs.