U of I brings organic agricultural center to Sandpoint

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

A host of new programs are coming to Sandpoint following the University of Idaho’s new property for an organic agricultural center.

Thanks to the acquisition of the 48-acre Sandpoint Orchard from Dennis Pence and his family, the University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences will establish its first agricultural center to focus on organic farming and organic-certified production systems. Given the regional interest in local farming and organic products, it should be a good fit into the local agricultural culture.

“We are excited about conducting agricultural research and providing new learning opportunities at the Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center,” said Michael Parrella, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences dean, in a press release. “The center will expand our ability to conduct community-focused programs and offer new ways to enhance undergraduate and graduate education.”

According to the University of Idaho, some of the research to take place on the property will focus on how to “increase beneficial insects and pollinators, crop rotation systems, pest management and uses of native plants with an emphasis on organic methods. Soil-related projects could emphasize what constitutes healthy soil with a focus on use of cover crops, nutrient availability and uptake and water-use efficiency.” It will offer education in sustainable agriculture, and public programs will include “biological control, pollinators, soil health, native plant landscaping, horticulture, organic food processing and marketing, food safety and nutrition.” Hands-on internships will also be available at the facility.

“The center will focus on organic agriculture,” Parrella said in a press release, “but both conventional and organic agriculture share many common themes such as soil health and sustainability. Strategies that work for organic production often translate to conventional farming methods.”

Located on Boyer Avenue in the northwestern corner of Sandpoint, the orchard grows 68 types of apples, most of them heirloom varieties that originated a century ago or more, as well as cherries, plums, pears and berries. It also includes an office building and meeting center, residences for visiting researchers, dormitory, shop and cider house. The orchard is among a select few in the state to receive USDA organic certification from the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

The University of Idaho has long had its eyes on the property. In 2007, Pence donated 18 acres of adjacent land to the university.

“I am extremely pleased with the interest and enthusiasm for expanding the university’s educational activities in regards to organic and sustainable agriculture shown by Dean Parrella and the faculty and staff of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences,” Pence said. “The creation of the Sandpoint Organic Agriculture Center places the university among an elite group of U.S. institutions of higher learning, and the center will be an immensely useful asset for education, research and public outreach in the years to come.”

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