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Adventures at the Manure Expo

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to London, Ohio with fellow intern Nicole to attend the North American Manure Expo. As we were approaching the end of our internships, it was a great time to get out of the office and connect with farmers and extension associates out-of-state.

Upon arriving at the expo, the first thing we did was venture to the equipment. Nicole and I are not from farming homes so we were wowed by the large tractors with tires taller than us! We were amazed by the size and power of the equipment. We spend a lot of time talking about spreading manure and different management practices, but it was neat to actually see the equipment that carries out these practices.

We then hopped on the bus to participate in the beef tour. One stop along the way was an organic beef farm. They have slats upon which they feed their cows, which was interesting to learn about as none of the farms I have seen in NY use slats. Slats are “flooring” under the pens which is constructed of slightly separated boards so manure can fall through the cracks and be collected underneath the pens.

After spending some time cooling off in the shade and hydrating, we hopped around to different sessions. One that really peaked my interest was a session promoting a new product that separates manure into clean water, solid pellets and a liquid byproduct. The latter two can be used as nutrient sources for growing crops while the water can be used to clean parlors, or even for animal consumption! The session was trying to sell the system to the farmers that were there, but it sparked my attention as systems such as these could make farms more sustainable if cost-effective. Finding the most efficient ways to use our resources and recycle nutrients is key in today’s agricultural systems so it was interesting to think about this systems’ potential in farms in NY.

We later ran into fellow Cornellian Jordi whose family has a dairy farm nearby. I went to tour the farm later that night. Jordi’s parents came to the US in 2002 from the Netherlands and have since built the farm from the bottom up and now manage a herd of 2000 Holsteins. Their farm operates with very low inputs and use their manure as direct fertilizer on fields after collecting sand to reuse for bedding. It was a really neat experience to actually experience the farm that Jordi has spent so much time telling us about!

Overall, I had a super fun time at the expo, and learned a lot through the sessions and even through visiting Jordi’s farm! It was a great way to start to bring my internship to a close as I could bring together what I learned this summer and see its applications. I had a really great summer in the NMSP and am excited to continue my work on the project this fall!

Week 6-Final Musings


Recap: I learned a lot from the different leaders on the farm and from doing different jobs with the M-team.

Transplanting-putting plants in the ground and driving the tractor

Installing overhead irrigation-in a greenhouse

Irrigation-laying down pipes in outdoor fields

Hand seeding-seeding butternut into the ground(direct seeding) and seeding into trays for the greenhouse.

Trellising- keeping tomato plants upright and healthy

Weeding- melons and squash with 20 other people from Rodrigo’s crew, (a lot of acres.)

Soil sample- taking samples from all the green houses to see if the plants needed fertilizer.

Harvesting– berries and lettuce


CSA- assembly line

I also learned a lot working with different people and different tasks, but there were common goals:

-Do the job well- when I harvested lettuce, Sally said for people doing lettuce for the  first time, don’t worry about speed, focus on quality, speed will come later.

-Adapt to be efficient- There were many jobs that required different skills, we were always looking to see how we could do the job better and use less resources-like time.

-keep a good attitude- the people who worked the most hours had the best sense of humor and I think that made the time go faster, but it also made people want to work better too.

My thoughts on the Mission Statement GTF prides itself in it’s quality and diversity of produce. But during one Monday Meeting, the topic of conflict came up. Sally said that it is better to say something than to be whining or gossip to someone else about your troubles. Someone brought up the point that they felt undervalued and that people perceived their work as not adding value to the crop. (cultivation) -the victim argued that they were and the point is to be efficient and make the farm money. Sally then said- I get that we need to make money, but I think our top priority should be respecting one another and what they do. I care about how we treat each other. Everyone nodded in agreement.

During my time at GTF I saw that the people working there did care for one another and the farm was more about a sense of community than just food. I feel honored to have been a part of that community.

Week 5- Machinery

Machinery (tractors and such)

So I mentioned earlier that GTF has 16 tractors (!)  John Deere, Kubota, Allis Chamlers, Landini, Farm All, Ford- and quite a few more. I drove three while I was there! I used a model G Allis Chalmers to transport irrigation pipes, a Ford for transplanting with the high speed transplanter and the Landini for the lay-down transplanter.

Model G modified to carry pipes

Model G modified to carry pipes

Transplant: GTF has two main transplanter, a “high speed” transplanter and a lay-down transplanter. One might wonder why use the lay down transplanter if there is a faster one, well the leaves of some plants are too big to fit in the cups of the high speed transplanter, I wish it were different though. The lay-down is as the names suggests, the people lay down on boards behind a spinning spiked wheel. The wheel has a spike every six inches, so we would plant every other hole or every fourth hole opened on the spacing of the particular plant, Brussel sprouts, (2 ft) to swiss chard (1 ft. ) The high-speed has a spinning carousel that we would fill up and it would rotate and drop the plant into a shoot that would plant it in the ground. On the lay-down we would have to use trowels to make the holes big enough to put the plant in and then cover it up so the root ball wasn’t exposed. Thank goodness a lot of the other vegetables fit with the high speed. Another complication with transplanting on the tractor side was driving in a straight line. It was a combination of following a previous tire track and sighting the middle of the front of the tractor with a line left by field prep.


Lay down transplanter   


High speed transplanter

Field prep: Rodrigo (in charge of the field crew) uses a rotary harrow (rotarrow) to decompact the bed and have it ready for transplanting.

Cultivation: to keep the young plants healthy, there is a lot of cultivation and hand weeding going on. GTF has two people who just cultivate fields. They use a mix of spider gangs, danish s hooks (for bigger weeds) and basket weeders (for just emerged seeds). GTF also uses a flame thrower after planting carrots. Carrots take a while to emerge and are really slow, weeds take advantage of this. Flaming after planting carrots will kill a lot of the weeds.

Manure and Compost

GTF uses a lot of compost on their fields, as well as leaf mulch for root crops like onions and shallots. They have 10 or so ~400 ft wind rows of compost that Josh will turn. All the leaves and suckers from tomato trellising will end up in a compost pile, as well as food scraps, rabbit manure from up the road, horse stall bedding, and all the leaves that are raked up in the fall from the area. Rabbit manure is Josh’s favorite because it has a lot nitrogen. The finished product is beautiful, black, and fluffy compost.

Equipment used to rotate compost piles

Equipment used to rotate compost piles


My thoughts: I got to drive tractors! Rachel who is in charge of the M team had to do other jobs so they put me in to steer the transplanting.


(I took this photo while we were stopped)

whats in: Tomatoes!

Week 4-Monday Meetings


Seeding Schedule


The Monday meeting board

One more of the many things that GTF does is a CSA. They farm and sell produce all year round, but in the winter they have less to sell and an influx of cash from the CSA helps them in the spring. They have an efficient assembly line with an expandable rack with wheels that the boxes can roll down and each person puts one thing in. Then they are put on pallets according to the location where they will be picked up.


CSA packaging line

My thoughts: Our jobs are varying a little bit, with transplanting and harvesting boysenberries before markets, but it is nice to have a routine and to know what is expected of us. It also helps to know that we are working towards one goal and the farm is also working towards that goal of producing quality produce.

What’s in: blackberries!

Multiple Trials-

Though the farm ultimately has to make money to keep going and support the employees and community, they are open to trying new varieties. GTF has a good relationship with seed companies and extension at OSU. GTF plants a lot of trials for OSU but also for themselves.

While I was there we planted super sweet corn varieties for OSU. Some didn’t even have names yet.

GTF also tried out 6 different root stocks for each tomato variety to see which combination did the best.

Monday Management Meetings (what needs to get done for the week)

One of my favorite things to witness was the Monday Meetings. Each person in charge of an aspect of the farm came to the meeting with a list of things that needed to get done that week. What vehicles needed to be repaired or what materials they needed to buy (like twine for stringing tomatoes.)

Joelene is in chards of seeds and plants and gives a list of what needs to be seeded or transplanted.

Rodrigo says what is going to be harvested. Joey says all the fields and crops he is going to cultivate. Josh, who does compost doesn’t add anything, he just keeps up turning the compost (still very important). The soil fertility checks are done by John Yeo and he says what kind of tests he is going to run and for what plants. Chris who works in the office brings printed sheets of the week’s forecast. Overseeing this all are John and Sally. John will provide wisdom and Sally resolves tension.

I really like the meetings because they set the priorities of what needs to be done each week and who does what.

Week 3- Markets!

Week 3

Just some numbers
markets: 8
tractors: 16
acres: 60
employees: 130 (height of the season)
farm rigs: 16
box trucks 10
greenhouses: 33


GTF (as people refer to the farm) has a lot of different ways they sell their produce. They sell to 8 different markets, have over 100 CSA members, wholesale to restaurants and local grocery stores, they have a farm stand, and they also have a restaurant. People travel from all over Oregon (and probably surrounding states too) to eat there. It is ranked 2 out of 12 restaurants in the Philomath area by trip advisor.  ( And for good reason.

The restaurant makes their own pasta and bread and uses local ingredients. The menu is based around what is available on the farm. They had a special salad with strawberries when they were in. (It was delicious). The restaurant is a good way for people to come visit their stand, and a good way to use excess vegetables.


The Saturday markets I’ve worked have been the most informative. They really focus on their display and have a couple rules they go by.

  1. Displays must look bountiful. when setting up, they use rustic boxes and baskets in asymmetrical arrangements and overflow them with vegetables. During the market this means constant resupply. no customer wants to by the last piece of garlic.
  2. Keep ready customers away from displays. GTF sets up a separate section for check out. This way customers who already have what they are going to buy don’t block access for other customer still gathering produce. It also creates a nice flow and prevents congestions. Also a visible line can draw more curious customers in.
  3. Know your food. At all the markets I’ve been to have a sampling area. Someone prepares some of the vegetables on display, usually odd ones that people might know about, like chickory or tatsoi. If customers have questions about preparations, the people working there should be able to give a recipe.
  4. Head math and keep the line moving, except when you don’t want it to. John Eveland promotes employees adding up customers’ totals in their heads to be efficient. It can also keep a busy line moving. But if the line isn’t long, he suggests making as much small talk as possible to keep the customers there to give the illusion of lines, to draw more customers in.


beautiful, bountiful, and overflowing

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My Thoughts,

Time is flying by, I’ve enjoyed working with some great people and can’t believe it is already half over. Working with GTF has made me even more excited to work on my farm.  It has also made me grateful for our smaller size. GTF provides a lot of food for the community, but it is so big and hard to keep track of everything.

what’s in: peas

Week 2- The “M” Team


Bird’s nest found while tomato trellising

Week 2


I’ve been doing some work with the M-team and asked what the “M” stood for. Rachel, who is the leader in our two person team said people like to call it “mighty”, but she then admitted it means miscellaneous. We’ve had the special project of keeping all the Tomato houses up to date with trellising and snapping off suckers so the plant can focus it energy on the fruit. Regular tomatoes have one leader or one main stem, and any other stems that usually shoot from between the stem and branch, we take off. Cherry tomatoes have two leaders and we take off any other suckers. Then we wrap the twine around the stems, tight enough to hold it up and prevent bending, but not too tight the we snap it off. We work on that unit lunch and then we usually swap over to transplanting.

We use a high-speed transplanter (more on that to come-Machines), though the name might suggest something fast, the tractor crawls while the people sitting in the back are struggling to keep up with filling cups with ready to plant plants.

When we are not transplanting or trellising, we are helping irrigate. The summer months are extremely dry and irrigation is something that happens everyday in at least some field. Back home we hope for enough rains to never irrigate, but sometimes we will have to occasionally.      


high speed transplanter



Tractor modified to carry irrigation pipes


Over the first week I got a feel for how many farm truck their are. There are at least ten different trucks, while that might seem like a lot, there still seems to be a shortage when you really need a flatbed truck to transport transplants to field 8D10. And I’ve categorized them into two groups: ones I can and can’t drive. Most fall into the latter category because they are manual.

Soo… Rachel has been giving me lessons, I have successfully shifted to second gear and back down, but thats about it. It is a skill I feel I need and hope I come back to New Hampshire a proficient driver.



Working on a farm, one might expect good food and good farming to go hand in hand, on GTF it might even go one step farther. Everyday at 10:00 there is snack. Usually consisting of pastries or egg burritos, it is worth looking forward to during the weekends. Lunch is served Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 1:00. It is an even bigger production and the highlight of the day. 

My Thoughts

It has been a great first two weeks. I’m still adjusting and starting to feel more confident about my work. I’m learning a lot about organization and prioritization and still have a ways to go (so those sections will be later).

what’s in: tomatoes

Week 1- Meeting the Farm

Gathering Together Farm has been a certified organic farm since 1987. They farm over 50 acres and in the height of the season they have around 120 people working in the fields, restaurant and market. The farm is owned by John Eveland and Sally Brewer but management is divided up over various groups like cultivation, harvest, planting, restaurant, and fertility.

I am interning on their farm for six weeks, I’m looking to learn about their organic practices and how they organize their priorities. There are probably at least ten different things that can be done on a farm at any given time, but how do you decide what needs to be done? How do you partition labor and organize crops, I hope to have a better idea.

Week 1

Meeting the Farm

I’m always a little nervous to start new things. Everyone was telling me that my bosses John and Sally are the nicest people ever so naturally I was skeptical. They certainly seemed nice when I talked to them over the phone, but I didn’t know what to expect, I had from 2:30 am driving to the airport to landing across the country and another hour drive to Gather Together Farm to speculate. 

But of course Sally said that I and my mom’s friend(who lives in the area and who drove me) could have lunch in their restaurant and when we stepped into the place, the waitress was excited to meet me and I met the person I was staying with, who instantly gave me the key and invited me to eat dinner with them. John and Sally showed up, they were trying to figure out what to do with an extra 18 flats of strawberries that an order didn’t want anymore. But they introduced themselves, gave me hugs, and we sat down to the most delicious lunch. 

After lunch my mom’s friend and I hopped into one of their farm cars and got a tour of the various fields.


The Mercedes Tour


Rows of Lettuce



Over the years John and Sally have incorporated surrounding fields into their production, its a lot to keep track of, so every field has a name. This helps organize where lettuce is going to be transplanted or what fields needs to be cultivated.


All the fields with their labels

My Thoughts

Its a lot to take in, the farm is twice the size of mine back home, with over a hundred employees, (compared to our 20). There are so many more because they have a restaurant and they hire people just to do markets. The markets over fifty miles away and the truck hauling the produce can carry two people at most and the Portland market needs 8!. I’m looking forward to seeing how it is all managed.

what’s in: Strawberries!

Sorghum Breeding

Performing a pollination.

Performing a pollination.

One last project that I have taken part in these final two weeks of my internship is another experiment that is taking place in cooperation with the sorghum breeding program at A&M. This project is mostly being led by Blake and Dr. Rooney who is the sorghum breeder here at A&M. The project consists of using ESM which stands for Ethyl methanesulfonate which is a mutagen that allows for genetic mutations to occur at faster rates. The object of this project is to eventually create a line of herbicide resistant sorghum that can later be sent to market. The two herbicides which we are selecting for resistance are Laudis and Prowl. There are two plots, each with 1000 different genetic lines of sorghum and a crossing block where the males and females will be crossed to their respective counterparts. The offspring of this generation will then be grown out and seed will be collected from them to send to a winter nursery in Puerto Rico where further research is going to be performed in coordination with A&M.

Sorghum Pollination Block

Sorghum Pollination Block

The purpose of having an herbicide resistant sorghum is to be able to have a crop that will not be damaged when the herbicide is sprayed on it. By creating a resistant line, farmers will be able to spray the two herbicides to control for weeds and will not have to worry about hurting their sorghum crop.

When working on this experiment, I learned how to look for male sterile sorghum plants and I was introduced to the principles of scouting for signs of resistance. These resistant/tolerant characteristics include yellowing of the plants or changes in morphology such as twisting and or curling of the leaves. One of the most important things that I acknowledged when working with genetics is the importance of organization. It can be very easy to get mixed up or confused, but organization prevents errors. Additionally, it is important to double and triple check your work, because a single mistake can damage years and years of work and data. This field is particularly tedious and demands much discipline, but it is also one of the areas that is central to the evolution of agricultural technology. Year after year at field days and conferences, farmers are constantly asking about new lines of crops being developed, and this is because it is so important to keep evolving in sight of environmental change and pest pressures.

After working for the weed science lab at A&M after these ten summer weeks, I have realized that there are so many sectors in agriculture that need research. The ultimate goal being to facilitate the lives of farmers who are feeding our country and the world. Through the cooperation of farmers and scientists, we can farm our lands in an environmentally sound manner, so that generations after ours can follow in our steps and farm the lands that we once farmed.

Summer: Seed Predation Of Carabids Opens

In March I was delighted to be hired by Matt Ryan’s Sustainable Cropping Systems Laboratory as a research assistant full time for the summer. Work is made to be so much easier when you’re not only surrounded by very smart and honest people but also have the opportunity to be challenged to understand the complexity of your discipline in greater depth. This happens to be just the experience I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying this summer.

As the summer has progressed I’ve been working more and more with one member of the SCS Lab in particular, the great Connor Youngerman. Connor has three experiments ongoing at the moment. In June my two fellow RAs and I helped begin one of them, S.P.O.C. SPOC is an experiment that was designed earlier this year to test the seed preference of two of the most common local predators in this region of New York State, Harpalus pensylvanicus and Gryllus pensylvanicus.

Seed predation is an interesting subject from the perspective of the SCS lab. Researchers often consider these bugs beneficial because they eat weed seeds that would otherwise compete with agronomic crops for sunlight and water. What those researchers can sometimes overlook, however, is the fact that many of those species that they consider weeds can also be used as cover crops. Cover crops are seeded purposefully and are meant to provide a variety of different ecosystem services for a variety of different reasons. The appeal of cover crops is that their use can provide a way to stimulate ecological health while reducing input (in terms of cost) and maintaining yield consistently over time. By understanding the preference of these insect predators on different plant species within this cover-crop context, one can understand how to direct the use of such covers more efficiently.


For the past couple of months we have been testing 13 different species of weeds and/or cover crops, depending on whom you ask. They include: cereal rye, winter barley, velvet leaf, ragweed, radish, white mustard, crimson clover, red clover, triticale, pearl millet, giant foxtail, hairy vetch, and annual ryegrass.

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You can see in these few snapshots some of the protocol upkeep that’s involved with the experiment. About 80 pitfall traps have been ‘installed’ in the field surrounding the Leland Processing Center, where most of the Lab’s experiments are maintained. Every day each trap is inspected and insects of interest are collected and taken back to Leland. Up to this point neither of the species of interest has been found in any significant quantity. We’ve been testing another common seed predator in the area, Pterostichus melanarius. Connor has said that he expects us to begin find more Harpalus in the coming weeks. We usually find anywhere from 15-50 beetles a day. Once beetles are collected they need to be starved for a certain fixed amount of time to control for their desire to eat. They spend four days in the walk-in cooler, in containers like those shown above, along with a wet paper towel as a source of moisture. Once four days passes they are taken out and placed in a petri dish along with 26 seeds of one species of plant and a moist cotton ball. These trials are termed ‘no choice’ because the bug has no choice of what they can eat. For five days at 24-hour intervals after the bugs are placed in their dishes, we record how many seeds each insect has eaten.

Ohio Manure Expo

The sunset on our way down to the Manure Expo.

The sunset on our way down to the Manure Expo.

The bison!

The bison!

Cows on slats for manure management.

Cows on slats for manure management.

Last week saw a couple really exciting days. I got to go to the Manure Expo in London Ohio with a fellow intern, Sarah Hetrick. I’ve always wanted to travel for work! On the way down, we made the- what should have been 8 ½ hour trip to London Ohio- in 10 hours. Our bladders refused to cooperate. At least we caught a pretty sunset from the road!

The next morning, we left our hotel bright and early to make the 8 AM check-in at the Expo. At 8:30 we boarded yellow cheese busses for the Beef  tour! The first stop was the Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park where we met a small herd of bison that were in charge of keeping the grass at the park neatly trimmed. Here there was talk about grazing management and the difference between cool season and warm season pastures. I realized that I made the big mistake of forgetting to pack a hat and sun screen. Ohio was hot, humid and very sunny. (And our bus did not have air conditioning…)

The next stop was a farm owned by a grower named Ron Hastings. This was the stop where I learned the most. Ron has a beef cattle operation with about 350 head. There were some cows kept on pasture and some kept in the barn which has open slats for the floor. The open slats were not wide enough for the cow’s hooves to get stuck but just enough so that manure could fall through when the animals moved around. Under the slats was a 12-foot-deep capture area where the manure was mixed and then pumped out; to be used as fertilizer or sold. The barn did not smell worse than a barn which clears out its manure and there were almost no flies or bugs (Ron didn’t use any fly control.) Ron explained that the natural ventilation of the structure was enough to manage pests and smell.

Ron’s crop production was also fascinating to hear about. His land has been in a no-till, four-year corn-soy-hay-wheat rotation for the past eighteen years! He also incorporates cover crops every season and keeps as much plant residue as possible.

The Expo's tradeshow held on the grounds of the Molly Caren Ag Center featured very large and scary looking equipment.

The Expo’s tradeshow held on the grounds of the Molly Caren Ag Center featured very large and some pretty scary looking equipment.

I decided that I will write a fact sheet with Quirine during the fall semester about cover crops and being able to attend the tour of Ron’s farm, hearing about the practices he uses, was helpful to me. I hope to reach out to Ron if I come across any challenges during the writing process!

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