Feeding the Community.
Training Future Farmers: Brad Jaeckel, Farm Manager & WSU’s Eggert Family Organic Farm - Interview by Diana Williams Whitney, PGFC Owner Member The WSU Eggert Family Organic Farm has been in operation for nearly twenty years. What was originally a four-acre location, established in 2003, has evolved into ten acres of certified organic farmland devoted to vegetables, an orchard, covered hoop houses, and a 1000-square-foot greenhouse. The first hands-on, farm field course was offered in 2004, the same year that Brad Jaeckel was hired as Farm Manager. A university affiliated Organic Farm Manager is a unique role in agriculture: part farmer, part educator, part strategic planner, part salesperson and part ambassador. In addition to overseeing day-to-day operations of the farm itself, Brad is responsible for providing hands-on experience for students hoping to complete the prestigious Organic and Sustainable Agriculture undergraduate major. Brad notes that, while he likes developing strategies and experimenting with new varieties and growing techniques, he especially enjoys “getting to work with a new young crew of students each year...I am encouraged by the younger generation that are putting all their knowledge and resources into farming smarter.”
Brad oversees the planting, care, harvest, and marketing of a wide range of produce including potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, summer & winter squash, and numerous leafy greens. In addition to Brad, the farm crew includes a full-time Assistant Manager and 4-6 part-time student employees. The large, heated greenhouse is an addition made possible in 2019 by student fund-raising, the WSU Sustainability Green Fund, and Eggert family support. It allows for year-round, on-site production of organic vegetable starts, organic microgreens, and, in winter, hydroponic lettuce.
Regarding crop selection and sustainability, Brad says, “For me, it is really important to think of the farm as a system. There are so many factors that go into every crop decision: soil, water, light, temperature, accessibility, tools, labor, and market. Everything needs to be considered when making choices about what to grow. I try to focus on growing crops that make sense for our region and site, plus are easily marketed to the local community.” As on a more traditional farm, money raised from the sale of produce is what keeps the farm up and running. Marketing is also a key skill for students to master. Since 2005, the farm has operated an on-site farm stand making fresh produce available directly to the public. "Friday On-Farm Markets" are held weekly from May through October. The WSU Farm has also managed to secure wholesale relationships with WSU Dining Services, the Moscow Food Co-op, and restaurants as far north as Spokane.
All of these marketing outlets were very important to the livelihood of the farm, and then 2020 arrived and with it, the Covid-19 Global Pandemic. WSU dining services were closed. Restaurants closed or had greatly reduced capacity. The Moscow Food Co-op’s kitchen and café closed. Designated as an essential service, the farm was allowed to continue food production operations, but new challenges arrived. For example, safety protocols had to be developed and a university-wide hiring freeze made it difficult to obtain the needed farm labor. They had to quickly “pivot to an online farm store format” which was welcomed by the community. Further, governmental emergency covid-relief funding allowed area food banks to operate at a greater than usual capacity – often procuring fresh produce from the Eggert Family Organic Farm. At this point in our conversation, Brad asked, “Can I just give a ‘shout out’ to Community Action Center, Backyard Harvest, and the Whitman County Council on Aging for the amazing work they have done in keeping people fed.” This type of community awareness, commitment, and involvement with the wider Pullman community was evident throughout our conversation. Now, in his 18th year as Farm Manager, Brad says that the Pullman Good Food Co-Op will only further help the farm program grow and succeed. He’s looking forward to working with and possibly selling to PGFC. “I think it will be great for our community and bring a lot of fun. My wife is excited as well.”