To the House Interim Committee On Water,
I am writing to you today to ask that you please review, redefine, and reconfigure irrigation and water laws, rules, and regulations in Oregon.
My name is Megan Kellner-Rode and I co-own and farm Boundless Farmstead with my husband David Kellner-Rode (along with David's mother Abby). We tend our 20 acre property in Alfalfa (just east of Bend); 10 acres in mixed vegetables and cover crops, 5 acres in pasture, 1 acre orchard, and about 4 acres mixed outbuildings. We have been with Central Oregon Irrigation District (COID) since 2017 and have about 17 acres of water rights.
At Boundless Farmstead, we seed, plant, tend, and grow enough produce:
Water is critical to our lives; critical to growing food for our community, to employing ourselves and others, and to being good stewards of this land.
We would consider ourselves environmentalists as much as we would agriculturalists. We know that the drought conditions are dire and that there is a wide spectrum of opinions and viewpoints when it comes to what proper allocation of water looks like. I appreciate you taking the time to read this email and consider our perspective.
Last year was challenging for all agricultural growers in Central Oregon; some districts losing water as early as late July, some being on very low allotment, and everyone having to make strategic decisions about water use. I think that every year we should all be using water as wisely as possible, but this feels so important and prominent in our current (and building) drought crisis. I believe that water should be prioritized for environmental/wildlife purposes, clean drinking water, and food/farms above all else. These are our basic necessities as humans, and yet we forget. We are so willing to sell out our basic necessities for manufactured ones that we make our lands unliveable. We are greedy, we are ignorant, and we think we can buy our way to health and happiness.
Last year, our farm was given 50-60% of our typical allotment of water for almost the entire season. Last year, we worked in sweltering heat all of July. Last year, we had to make decisions about what plants suffered and what plants were given the water they needed. We were lucky in getting 60% of our allotment compared to our farmer kin in other irrigation districts who dried up large parcels, paid large sums for hay and feed (that they typically grow), sold off livestock, and fallowed farmable land.
This year, we are already having to truck water in to fill our irrigation ponds to water our greenhouses and plant starts because we did not have enough water to fill our ponds this winter. This year, I received word that one of our farmer friends who typically grows 20+ acres of potatoes, winter squash, and onions, will not have enough water to grow any vegetables at all. This year, we are looking at water situations more dire than last.
To me, it seems there is enough water for wildlife, for clean drinking water, and for farms growing/raising/producing food and animal feed, we just need to redefine who gets water, what “beneficial use” is, and how much each patron is receiving.
I have attached a map that was sent to us by COID that states we need to prove we are using our water rights “beneficially” in the areas marked with red hash marks and the yellow “x” marks (in the greenhouses). When I called and explained we grow row crops, the COID employee understood, but the way the aerial photos are taken, they need us to prove it regardless. This is as simple as having the Ditch Rider come look or taking a photo and sending it in.
I am ok with having to take these extra steps to continue receiving water. I would actually be willing to do a lot more in order to continue receiving water and to prove we are using it wisely. What I find an issue in is the way beneficial use is monitored and defined. There is a property that neighbors us, owned by a person who lives out of state. They hired people to park an RV on the property for three months and water a field that mostly consisted of mullein and noxious weeds so that it looked “green.” These people watered every day, and to my knowledge, the owner has not been questioned about their beneficial use.
We have people in our area who flood irrigate 20+ acres for two horses, folks who irrigate 40 acre lawns (not cutting hay or growing any crops), folks who pay people to irrigate weeds and junipers. We also have neighbors who make their living off of the land raising cattle and hay, practicing good pasture management techniques, and cover cropping. And when you fly overhead and take an aerial shot, all of these properties are “green” and “compliant.”
I do not think all land is managed equally and I think it is time we start to redefine who gets to use water and who does not, and to redefine what is “beneficial use” and what is not. One of my ideas is to create a tiered system; in years where water is scarce, patrons who are growing food or feed are in the top tier and receive water first, those with hobby farms second (farms that are not feeding themselves or others), those with lawns or recreational properties like golf courses last. This way, we are ensuring that food security remains the top priority in our area.
Last year, our farm received emails weekly from Oregon government agencies offering drought relief assistance (see Farm and Ranch Drought Resources Page from the State of Oregon), USDA drought relief (USDA Offers Disaster Assistance to Oregon Farmers and Livestock Producers Impacted by Wildfires and Drought), tips and tricks on how to use water more wisely (Saving water on the farm or ranch resource), etc. The burden of the lack of water for agriculture was and is glaringly obvious.
Our local irrigation districts cut water from every single district; the most severe being a week on week off flow, followed by a complete shut off at the end of July (Arnold Irrigation District), and the least severe being a 60% flow for the entirety of the season to COID.
Oregon has seen severe droughts in the last couple of years, and before the 2020 drought declarations every five years for the last nearly 30 years (See Governor's drought declaration )
The Oregon Water Resource Board (OWRB) states in their 100 Year Water Vision 4 goals, including
This 2017 Deschutes County Census of Agriculture shows there being nearly 1,500 farms in the county. I know for a fact that our farm is among the top five largest vegetable producing farms in Deschutes County and maybe the highest or second highest producing in the COID at only five acres in vegetable production and five acres in cover crop production. The number 1,500 does not paint an accurate picture of actual food and animal feed producing farms. As you can see by the Section “Farms by Value of Sales,” only 6% are making over $50,000 and 3% over $100,000; 46% of farms are making under $2,500 and I would assume the majority of those are receiving Farm Deferral taxes rates as well as irrigation water. This seems like a potential loss of revenue and loss of resources.
According to the Deschutes Basin Board of Control (DBBC) which comprises eight Central Oregon irrigation districts, they convey water to over 7,600 farms and ranches. According to the 2017 Agricultural Census (referenced above), Crook, Deschutes, and Jefferson counties have a total of 2,501 farms. What additional 5,000 “farms and ranches'' does the DBBC serve? Why is the water being allocated to so many non-descript patrons/properties?
As a side note, the fact that Exclusive Farm Use (EFU) laws allow for Golf Courses is appalling and leads an elitist agenda in a time when EFU/Farmland is so difficult to purchase for farmers, and when water is such a scarce resource. In Deschutes County, there was recently a moratorium on Cannabis grow operations with one of the top concerns being irrigation and groundwater use, and negative affect on people’s lives. I believe a similar argument can be made for the heavy resource use and the heavy chemical (fertilizer, herbicide, etc) use of golf courses. I believe that creating a moratorium on golf course creation could save irrigation water immediately.
I also believe there is some poor/inconsistent/uncompromising management happening within the irrigation districts. As an example, I have asked multiple times since 2017 if the COID board could consider changing their board meeting times to a time that working people could attend or could consider running for a board position. Currently, the meetings are held on Tuesdays from 9am to 11am. Most commercial growers in the COID district are harvesting for farmers markets and wholesale customers, running farm crews, etc during those hours. The current COID board consists of all white males in or nearing retirement age, and is not a good representation for everyone in the district. I finally received a response that essentially said (in brief) that the meetings have been at the same time for 100 years and they are not willing to change them. This statement, to me, feels like the perfect example of why we are in the water predicament we are in. The irrigation system is being run by 100 year old ideas, regulations, and rules with an unwillingness to change to modern issues or circumstances. In the 1920s, we were approaching 2 billion people. In the 2020s, we are approaching 8 billion.
Another example of mismanagement- every five years irrigation patrons are required to prove beneficial use. After five years, if the water is not being used properly, it is “taken away.” I have been told through the grapevine that water is not often actually taken away from properties that are not using water correctly, because all water that is taken from the property is also taken away from that irrigation district and becomes property of the state again.
Recently in Central Oregon, COID, Deschutes River Conservancy, and North Unit Irrigation District (NUID) entered into sort of a grassroots pilot program called the Deschutes Water Bank. This program allows COID patrons to voluntarily lease water to patrons in NUID, and be paid to do so. This is a great program and incentive. The only problem is, the information was shared once with COID patrons, then was difficult to find after that. There is no information on the COID website (that I could find) and eventually I was able to scroll through weeks and weeks of posts on their Facebook social media page to find a brief mention. I wish these sorts of programs took a higher priority and were more accessible.
Irrigation laws, rules, and regulations can be so daunting and so confusing to its patrons that people who may be willing to lease water back in-stream or to other farmers are often discouraged or dissuaded to act. Example- A farmer friend in Central Oregon shares an irrigation lateral line and a complex irrigation schedule with a few neighboring properties. Essentially they get from 2am one day of the week until 10pm the next day of the week. They all rely on each other to uphold their schedule and not to interrupt another’s schedule. This farmer told me that one of the neighbors was considering leasing a few acres of water back to the river, but was dissuaded by the other neighbors because it would make their water schedule change and they would have to reconfigure the agreement.
The “use it or lose it” regulation also creates fear in the patrons, and often causes them to water land that is not productive and not beneficial. I believe many patrons would be more willing to give up water/lease partial allotment back during drought years if they knew the rules and regulations better and felt better supported by the irrigation district.
Every year, I organize and execute an event called Central Oregon Fill Your Pantry. This is a bulk buying farmers market that happens in mid-November to encourage Central Oregonians to stock up on local meats, grains, vegetables, fruits, etc for the winter. This event is all about food security and food sovereignty. Last year, during the one-day event, Central Oregon farmers and ranchers collectively made over $120,000 and sold literal tons and tons of food to the community. Just our farm, Boundless Farmstead, sold over 7,000 pounds of food valuing over $16,000. This year, I have already heard that one of our largest producers will not be growing vegetables this year due to water shortages, and a number of others are looking for lands to expand grazing, ways to collaborate and grow different crops, or switching to just value-added crops because their water will be turned off in August. It is frightening and so gut wrenching to think that in its seventh year we may have to cancel.
Why does the responsibility of proper water use fall on the backs of agriculturalists/farmers/ranchers? Why do the repercussions of improper water use affect farmers, wildlife, and ecosystems predominantly (at this moment)? If water is truly owned by the public in Oregon, then why when so many members of the public speak up and against the improper use of water, does it not hold merit?
I am writing to you today out of desperation, out of panic, and from the heaviest heart. But, I am also writing to you out of hope. Hope that if the State can make some changes to water laws and regulations, and fast, that we may only have to endure one more season of desperation and panic and pain.
I am available to share my experiences, share my potential solutions, brainstorm ideas, and listen to your feedback anytime.
Thank you for your time,
Want to write in? Here's who to contact?
House Interim Committee on Water
Chair- Ken Helm firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice Chair- Mark Owens Rep.MarkOwens@oregonlegislature.gov
Vice Chair- Jeff Reardon Rep.JeffReardon@oregonlegislature.gov
Member- Vikki Breese-Iverson (lives in Prineville) email@example.com
Member- Lisa Reynolds Rep.LisaReynolds@oregonlegislature.gov
Member- Anna Scharf Rep.AnnaScharf@oregonlegislature.gov
Member- Marty Wilde Rep.MartyWilde@oregonlegislature.gov
Jeff Merkley (D)- firstname.lastname@example.org
Ron Wyden (D)- Home | U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon (senate.gov) no email, must use form
Oregon Water Resource Department
The only email I could find was to the Executive Assistant Nirvana.Cook@oregon.gov or you can use the form embedded in the website
Chair- Meg Reeves
Kathy Kihara (lives in Bend)
Deschutes County Commissioners (or look up for your county!)
Chair- Patti Adair Patti.Adair@deschutes.org
Vice Chair- Tony Debone Tony.DeBone@deschutes.org
Phil Chang Phil.Chang@deschutes.org
Use this website to look up all of your legislators!
First of all, accepting SNAP/EBT on your farm is not challenging, it is just a bit time consuming and tedious. But never fear! There are a lot of really amazing resources.
Just a few definitions to help get you started:
Accepting EBT on Farm
I would definitely start here: The CSA Farmer's Nationwide Guide to Accepting SNAP/EBT Payments by Zenger Farm. It is invaluable in this process and I recommend reading through the whole document thoroughly! I also recommend printing the document and having it next to you while filling out the SNAP application. This resource was written in 2013, but the information regarding applying with FNS is still relevant and extremely helpful. I would follow this part of the guide to a T (predominantly the info starting on page 15).
To accept SNAP benefits through EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) you will first need to:
Using a mobile reader to accept SNAP through EBT is not mandatory. You can use the paper voucher system and mail in the vouchers for a check. I decided it made more sense to be able to run SNAP cards (like a credit card) for our farm, rather than mailing in vouchers (and potentially discovering a customer has insufficient funds).
The caveat of using the mobile reader (which connects to your phone like a square reader) is that the reader is not free and neither is the service. So, you can either choose to pay for this service, or you can apply for grant funding. There are two options for applying for grant funding for this service. Here is a snippet of an email I received from Amanda Cross of the Oregon Farmers Market Association describing those options:
There are two programs out there right now to provide free EBT equipment to farmers markets and direct marketing farmers:
Next Steps and what I decided to do
After researching both options, I decided to go with MarketLink. I decided to go with MarketLink because I had heard it was more time efficient to go through the third party than through the government organization. I also did not need an additional smart device and planned to use my phone. After recently revisiting the Market Link v Oregon DHS info sheet, I believe the DHS program has become more robust, and might be more worth looking into. When I applied at the beginning of the year, there were more benefits of going through MarketLink. I would suggest calling both organizations to see which might fit your needs better.
The MarketLink application requires a bit of going back and forth between documents, emails, and government websites. First, you apply to see if you are eligible for the grant (this process takes very little time). If so, you will receive confirmation and a Market Link ID number via email. Once you have that, you will need to wait to continue applying for the mobile reader/app until you have your FNS Approval Number (meaning until the government approves your application for SNAP). Once you have that number, you can continue the process with MarketLink. For this part of the process, you will need to provide your Federal ID number again (business license) and the bank account information you want to use in order for the organization to pay you.
This is where it gets confusing. There are four different companies you will receive correspondence from in regards to the mobile reader/app. Here is the breakdown:
Once you get past all the applications and actually get the app and reader, it is actually very easy to use and our payments always come through. Also, the folks at Novo Dia Group have been very responsive.
Double Up Food Bucks for your CSA (NOT at farmer’s markets)
If you are a vegetable farmer and have a CSA, you can apply to work with PNW CSA Coalition (previously PACSAC) to help your customers receive up to a $200 Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) grant towards the cost of their CSA. You do not have to be able to take CSA to work with this organization, so skip all that headache above if you only want to use SNAP for your CSA.
I just received an email from Holly at PACSAC today. Here is a copy of that email:
We have DUFB funding through 2023, and are already working on our plan for after that.
Small caveat -- you need to join our org and we need to do the SNAP processing for your members. The reason why is that DUFB is tied to SNAP: a member can't get more DUFB than they pay in SNAP, so if, for example, a member can only pay a portion of their monthly fee because they have run out of benefits, they will only get part of their DUFB allocation, and we keep a running database on how much DUFB is left.
I'm attaching last year's documentation so you can get a feeling for what it entails. We haven't done 2021 yet but it will be nearly identical. Registration to join PACSAC will be out next week so join our listserv here to get notification.
FAQs: SNAP and DUFB
Get set up to process SNAP (this is a checklist on having PACSAC process your SNAP/DUFB members)
This looks like a wonderful opportunity, and they are very excited to work with folks all over the state. The fees for this service are:
The way the relationship works between your farm, PACSAC, and your customer is (from PACSAC website):
Other CSA accessibility ideas and resources
Here are some additional resources to consider when thinking about food accessibility and your CSA/Market presence.
Ok, that's all I have for now folks. If you have any questions, send them my way and I will try to help you out!
The Importance of Eating Locally
By Megan French, written June 2018
“When we told our youth that farming was a lowly aim compared with becoming teachers, doctors, or lawyers, what were we thinking? We need teachers for just a few of life’s decades. If we are lucky, we’ll see a doctor only a few times a year, and a lawyer even less. But we need farmers every single day of our lives, beginning to end. No exceptions.” -Barbara Kingsolver
The disconnect between food and farmer, food and environment, and food and well-being disrupts our relationship with the natural world and impedes our opportunities for growth.
Food is always at our fingertips, and access to food so convenient that we often forget the means to the end. We see the food as an obstacle before the end of a recipe, as a vehicle for body energy, and as a catalyst of social interaction, but do we see food as its components? As the parts that make up a single ingredient? Do we see the synthetics, the engineering, and the fossil fuels? Or alternatively, the soil, the sunshine, and the farmers who toiled over it?
If we begin to think of food as the parts that create it and the system from whence it comes, then we can begin to reconnect the broken links between well-being, environment, and farmers. By eating locally, we can witness and interact with the system first hand. We can see the humus of the soil, rich with mycelium and life, or the dry and dusty particles, stagnant with toxins and chemicals. We can talk to our farmer, hear her practices, her successes, and her failures. We can observe the health and abundance of the birds and the insects and the livestock.
There are four basic necessities in life: water, food, shelter, and air. We are keenly aware when most of these necessities are faulty. We are wary of unsafe and unclean water, we can feel our throats burn in times of forest fire smoke, and we feel solace when we come indoors from a cold afternoon out. But the impacts of unhealthy foods are not immediate and do not trigger us immediately.
The only true way to know our food is to know the land and the people who grow it. To grow our own food or to support a local sustainable farmer, eliminates the guesswork at the grocery store, the reading of convoluted nutrition facts, and brings certainty in a life of misleadings and advertisements. This process also allows us to reconnect with one the the things most important to our lives that we have taken for granted.
Eating locally can revitalize our community and our bodies. It can rehabilitate our impact on the soil, the water, and the air. It can teach us to reconnect with what sustains us.
Megan French, written April 2018
Before you feel hunger, a farmer gazes over her fragile forest of vegetable starts, each the size of the thread flaring from her tattered jeans. Each delicate tendril, a testament of patience and care. Each having been hand sewn into hand sifted soil, and placed in the perfect dark, warm, and humid conditions, waiting until peering eyes detect the first cotyledons. These first leaves prompt a great migration from darkness to the light; to propagation space with lots of room and plenty of sunrays. This wisp of a plant then takes these great rays to manufacture strength from chlorophyll, improve vigor, and become the tasty nutritious calories so essential to our bodies.
This meek and tender greenery is our food security for the next long cold winter. We have yet to emerge fully from this cold spring, yet a farmer must think of the next cold.
Before you feel hunger, there is a farmer planning. The first seeds in the ground will be the last to be consumed; storage onions, celeriac, cabbages, and leeks. These crops are slow growing, packing nutrients, storability, and hardiness into every cell, to nourish us all winter long.
The first seeds are started in February (January if one is crazy or tenacious), transplanted into the soil in April, and tended until harvest in September or October. When the plants are either consumed or safely stored until the next April, if luck holds and the rodents do not.
The first couple months are filled with anxiety and eagerness. The sanguine thoughts to grow, and to grow more than the previous year, are stifled by frozen dew and fifteen degree mornings, 40 mph wind gusts that rip holes in new greenhouse plastic, and waiting for water to flow in the canals. Plant starts will inevitably freeze, flea beetles will eat holes in the arugula, and hailstones will impale freshly planted greens. But, to be a farmer is to be an eternal optimist.
The farmer must purchase seeds, amendments, infrastructure and fuel, and make a guess at how hungry you will be. If the farmer is smart, she will look at records from the years past, ask markets and grocers for information, and make an educated guess of how much she can grow. If the farmer is lucky, you will tell her how hungry you will be and how much you will consume. If the farmer is fortunate, you will support her all year long.
Before you make your shopping list, a farmer is making her seed purchasing list. Before you plan your weekly menu, your farmer is planning her yearly harvest. The time it takes from germination to consumption can be months to years.
When the simplicity of a stop at the grocery store is broken down, the complexity of the food system is bewildering, lengthy, and elaborate: seeds, soil, labor, water, shelter, transportation, marketing, and storage. All of this adding up to the mere cents paid per pound at the grocery store.
The next time you visit a grocery store, a co-op, a farmers market stand, I invite you to think of each piece of food’s story, history, and journey. Before you feel hunger, support your farmer.
Recently, I was asked to write an article for the High Desert Food & Farm Alliance's annual directory. They asked me to describe a day farming in the high desert. I tried to encompass the experience of multiple farms and their farmers.
This video describes more about the directory and my piece is below.
By Megan French
This land of dusty hooves and yipping coyotes, of soaring Red Tails and darting marmots. This land where the sun is intense or fleeting, where the clouds are invisible or rumble full of thunder, where the breeze gently soothes or fiercely fights, where the nights are always cold. This land where fields are a palate swept brilliantly with wildflowers or scorched black with wildfire. This land is where we steward and where we call home.
Our fingers are cracked from arid sand, our hair bleached from the desert sun, and our cheeks blush from the endless wind. We know the value of a well-used handkerchief and a well-loved dog. We know the absolute sweetness of the air after the rain soaks the sage leaves and the sun warms the Ponderosa bark, like the delicate scent of an incense burning in the adjacent room. We know the harm of a single seed of cheatgrass or an unwatched step near warming rocks. And above all, we know so deeply the importance of observation. Because to be observant, in this land, is to be resilient.
Everyday we walk our fields, both looking for life, and for death. We notice the sand lilies have bloomed, and deem it spring; or the rabbitbrush bloomed and deem it autumn. We check our plants for the frost damage they almost certainly have sustained. We take note of their vigor, plunge our hands into the earth to check their roots, check the moisture, check for pests. We wish we could spend more time observing, but the time for a long day’s work started about an hour before dawn. The hens are fed (our favorites are told a story), the chicks are checked for warmth, and the whole time our sweet farm dog shadows and pays no mind at all to frantic squawking birds.
Second cup of coffee and we remember a restless night’s sleep; born from the bright moon heading towards full again, the impending frost, and the long to-do list. But, no matter, because the frogs croaked a midnight orchestral melody and the owls added a back-up ensemble, eventually lulling us to sleep.
The farmer is the carpenter, the electrician, the mechanic, the grower, the vet, the cook, and the poet. The farmer’s day never ends, only changes from one number on the calendar to the next. But, this is no job; there are no chores except that of calling family every weekend, there is no clock except that of a hungry belly, and there is no boss except weather and bugs and soil. There is only purpose.
To steward this land, one must be resilient. But, resilience comes in many forms. To be resilient is to be chilled to the bone all day standing in front of a broken tractor or a hurt animal feeling powerless, but forging forward toward a solution. To be resilient is to be fixing fence in the dark, wanting nothing more than a kiss goodnight and a warm bed, but knowing that will come again soon. To be resilient is to grow food with care; to seed, plant, weed, water, weed, water, and harvest, and to hope to the moon that those customers show up to that rainy market. To be resilient is to know that strength lies in the quality of community, the greatness of love, and the humility of head, to continue to observe, learn, and steward.