Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook Counties, the tri-counties of Central Oregon, have become increasingly diverse from the newly transplanted citizens to the crops we grow. The Tri-counties have attracted people from many different backgrounds that are searching for a quality of life that is associated with rural living; raising crops, produce and/or livestock. The USDA Agriculture Census has shown that the Tri-County area has increased the number of farms with less than fifty acres by 428 operations from 1997 to 2002. Also on the rise are the small farms that generate income of less than $10,000 annually. In Deschutes County alone, 1338 farms fall into this category; 474 farms and 221 farms for Crook and Jefferson counties respectively also fall into this category. For many of these small farms income from the property is not the only source of revenue and is not depended upon for the livelihood of the family.
This increase in small farms, particularly the noncommercial small acreages goes hand in hand with the number of people with little or no experience managing rural properties. The result is often damage to the natural resources of the property and a lower property value. Degraded natural resources often lead to invasion of weeds, soil erosion, and a decrease in diversity of forage species and inhibition or cessation of forage production. Over the past few years there has been an increasing need for education and awareness of not only basic production practices but for the opportunities for diversification of commodities produced on these small acreages and the advantages of finding a niche market.
This past spring, the Oregon State University Extension Service held a one day program to address these needs. Living on a Few Acres offered over 30 classes that addressed topics from weed management, irrigation, poultry, small fruits and grapes, just to name a few. Attendee’s owned an average of 9 acres and lived in the Tri-county area from 6 months to 29 years. Many of the participants produce common crops for the region and owned livestock. The common thread between all attendees was a desire to improve management skills and research alternative production practices.
Programs similar to this are held throughout the state by OSU Extension Service. Extension personal are committed to creating a strong community and making agriculture a lasting enterprise. It provides valuable resources for education and outreach for property owners. Experts are available to answer questions about forestry, crops, irrigation, rangeland, livestock, gardening and many more. Phone calls and personal visits are always welcome.