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News Release

NRCS-WA assists Urban Ag producer

By Adrian Melendez
NRCS-WA Public Affairs

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. (July 26, 2022) - Since the establishment of the Office of Urban Agriculture under the 2018 Farm Bill, conservationists at USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service have been looking for ways to promote and assist urban agricultural producers around the country.

Supporting these urban agriculture producers not only helps with the overall conservation efforts of NRCS, but also plays a pivotal role in assisting with providing communities access to locally grown and sourced fresh and healthy foods.

One such example of this is the assistance NRCS Washington has provided to Brandon Gerard of Peak of Abundance Farms in Spokane Valley.

The operation consists of Brandon himself farming on approximately a half-acre of land on the 0.96-acre suburban property he bought in 2016.

“I had been slowly funding it (agricultural operation) myself and working multiple jobs to find the infrastructure and get everything built,” he said. “I’m still working jobs in the winter, but eventually I would like to transition towards full time.”

This goal is something NRCS is helping Brandon achieve. He found out about NRCS’ programs through researching and talking to other producers and decided to reach out and see what is available to him and his small operation. He talked with Tiffani Walker at the Spokane Service Center and eventually found out he was eligible to apply for Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) funding in the hopes of building high tunnels and improving his irrigation to make it environmentally efficient.

“I'm not able to apply for any farm subsidies or anything like that through my property taxes, just given my small size, which is a bummer,” he said.

After his contract was approved for funding in 2017, he was able to build a high tunnel and then he was approved for more EQIP funding in 2019 for micro irrigation. This has greatly assisted in protecting his crops from the high winds and fluctuating temperatures while also helping him effectively water his crops.

“It's not uncommon to get 60 mile an hour winds, and then the weather is so unpredictable as well,” Brandon said. “Last year in June we had a stretch of temperatures reaching over 100 degrees and this year it was colder than normal.”

Brandon put some automation in the high tunnel such as shutters and heaters to help regulate the temperature fluctuations, but it has also extended his growing season and improved his output to get more healthy foods to the local community. He works with The Local Inland Northwest Cooperative (LINC Foods) to help get his produce out to where it’s needed locally. The Spokane organization’s goal is to build a regional and sustainable food system by linking up local producers while reducing distance food is transported to the customer and encouraging sustainability while finding markets for food that may otherwise go to waste.  

“I think really what it boils down to is just access and trying to preserve local foods in a way that's accessible to people,” said Brandon.

While the high tunnels and other upgrades and modifications he has made through his EQIP funding have extended his growing season, the real benefit is improving the health and soil of his land.

Brandon said the owner prior to him used the lot to store recreation equipment and had a dirt ramp for off-road vehicles. Improving and reviving the land is an ongoing effort.

“I do minimal tilling and most of it is by hand. But every year I keep pulling up more and more large rocks,” he said.

Tiffani mentioned that the high tunnels have helped Brandon improve the health of the soil quicker due to the added protection against the elements as well as erosion issues that come with high winds and water runoff. Also, Brandon is “a great example on how NRCS’ job is to assist all producers large and small who need assistance in creating a more sustainable operation through proven conservation practices.”

“It doesn't matter how big the acreage is or anything like that,” she said. “We can either find something or at least give you advice on where to go for assistance if we can’t help you.”

“Tiffani was really helpful,” said Brandon. “Everybody I've ever worked with at NRCS has been the nicest people and extremely helpful. This has really been a game changer for me.”

Brandon has done so well with the operation and upkeep with his high tunnel he has been approved for more funding to help him build another tunnel, further improving his conservation practices and production.

“He’s done really well with the upkeep and improvements of the tunnels since his first funding four years ago,” Tiffani said. “So, when we see that he’s taking care of it four years later it makes it easier to get funded again for more improvements.”

Tiffani said she hopes more small grow operations take advantage of NRCS programs through urban agricultural initiatives and people like Brandon are a great example of success and help spread the word locally through their networks.

“Don't be afraid to call (NRCS) and strike up a conversation,” Brandon said. “They have some good advice and can give you some great information even if there's no money right there. You have that connection, that relationship. They're good about getting in touch with you when something comes available, and they want to help you out.”