Stahlbush is a family farm where the owners still live on the farm and come to work every day. Our fruits and vegetables are not organic. They are certified sustainable. The sustainable certification is from the Food Alliance (http://foodalliance.org/). The certification looks at not only what we use in the fields, but also our water conservation practices, soil health, wildlife habitat and employee well-being. We were the first farm ever to be certified sustainable in 1997.
With each growing season, we use conservation tillage to reduce erosion. We also plant cover crops to return nitrogen to the soil and build organic matter. We even apply digestate from our biogas plant to our fields as it acts as an organic fertilizer, naturally increases microbial activity and builds overall soil health.
We continue to improve our irrigation: using weather, soil moisture and evapotranspiration data to track eater use and needs. We have implemented automation systems that allow us to access real-time data that automatically controls and schedules our irrigation based on the needs of each plant. We installed an automated irrigation system in our berry fields that monitors the needs of the plant and gives them the right amount of water at exactly the right time.
We plant native species that attract pollinators like bumblebees. We also plant cover crops in the winter that keep the blue herons on the farm year-round. We have a thriving blue heron rookery (or habitat) on the farm.
We have programs and benefits in place for our employees to ensure job satisfaction and fulfillment. We take safety seriously and offer extensive training. We also offer company potlucks, barbeques, recipe contests and holiday events. Our company store offers all of our products at cost, which keep our employees connected to the final product. We also strive to improve our local community. For instance, we donate one million servings to local food banks every year.
Stahlbush was the first farm in Oregon to use GPS technology and and the first to build a biogas that generates electricity using agricultural by-product in North America. The plant is able to generate enough electricity to power the processing plant. The biogas plant has converted 141,512 tons of agricultural byproduct from 2009 to 2014, and the crop that generated the most electricity is spinach. It generates 1,650 kWh per ton. We capture all the resources produced by our biogas plant. Steam is used for our boilers, hot air is used to dry our pumpkin seeds and hot water is used for sanitation.
We are in the fields every day making the best decisions that we can. Our first priority is to create a healthy environment for our plants, so that they can fight off any pests with their own defenses. For example, we grow cover crops to build organic matter and natural nutrition in our soils. This gives our seeds a boost so they can compete better with pests.
We take pests very seriously. We don’t make our management decisions lightly. Rather, we carefully monitor our crops, counting plants, counting pests, tracking growth stages, and any other information that will help us understand what kind of impact a pest may have. Our first inclination is to ignore a pest. If we can just let things be, and still have a healthy, high quality crop come harvest time, we will. However, sometimes our plants need a little help.
When this happens, we’ll look for non-chemical solutions first. If those don’t work, we have to take next steps to protect the crop. Our agricultural certifications, including organic, do allow the use of chemicals in the production of the crops, and we take any use of inputs very seriously. We only use what is absolutely necessary for the production of a high-quality food product.
Since each season is different and presents unique challenges, we do not follow a specific “recipe”. Instead, we make decisions based on what is actually happening in the fields and what the crop needs at that point in time. Then we take the least action possible to meet the needs. We always look for the lowest-impact product that will do the job. We want to make the safest decisions possible for our Stahlbush family who works with the crops, our environment that supports our crops, and our customers who enjoy the healthy “fruits of our labor”!