Research at Ridgefield farm could benefit Washington agriculture


Research into regenerative agriculture and water conservation has farm owner Debbie Boe and garden manager Rachel Feston abuzz with excitement at Edible Acres Farm in Ridgefield.

The farm’s research has potential to improve agriculture for Clark County farmers and beyond, Feston said.

“Water is starting to be such an issue in Clark County,” Feston said. “I wanted to be able to see what we could grow on Debbie’s property and not stress the well. Then I could give that information to other farmers to help them. All the research here is to help other farmers continue and thrive with the research that’s coming out of here.”

Boe offers plots from Edible Acres Farm to Washington State University (WSU) researchers for their projects.

Boe established Edible Acres using the experimental regenerative agriculture method. Regenerative agriculture avoids tilling the ground, which disturbs the microfauna and fungus within it. The method also frequently layers compost and organic matter on the dirt, which decomposes, feeds the existing ground and creates new topsoil, Boe said.

For Boe, establishing healthy soil through regenerative agriculture was important. After struggling with health issues, she established Edible Acres Farm to grow the most nutritious produce possible. Since plants draw their nutrition from the ground, she believed healthy dirt was key to creating nutritious plants, Boe said. During her research in soil health, she discovered regenerative agriculture and the wealth of research available.

She found resources like the WSU Extension Master Gardener program and classes from life-long farmer Charles Dowding particularly helpful, Boe said.

“It’s all about soil health and doing what will build soil. There are people out there who have been doing it for years and documenting it, and they are building topsoil that’s measurable,” Boe said.

All plots on the farm, even those used by WSU researchers, strictly practice regenerative agriculture. The ground is not tilled unless necessary due to hardpan conditions, where the dirt compacts and makes growing crops impossible, Feston said.

Hardpan conditions forced Feston and Boe to till the greenhouse this year. This fall they will grow daikon radishes, also known as “tiller plants,” which naturally aerate and break up earth, to avoid machine tilling in the future, Feston said.

“After four years, we had to do a minor till so we could get back to no-till gardening [in the greenhouse],” Feston said. “This is going to be interesting for soil research because a lot of people who do no-till don’t deal with this hardpan.”

Multiple projects are occurring simultaneously this year. Current research includes a study on the agricultural and environmental impact of native wildlife such as bats, frogs and other pollinators on the crops. Another water conservation project will involve planting no-water tomato crops this year, Feston said.

Feston and Boe are particularly excited about the no-irrigation tomatoes. The three-year project will use hardy, wild tomato varieties from across the world. The plants will not receive any form of irrigation, and WSU researchers will determine if the method and tomato varieties could be viable for Washington’s agricultural industry, Feston said.

Feston, a WSU researcher and Master Gardener, is conducting her own research on Edible Acres Farm. Currently, her largest project involves aquaponics. Aquaponics uses heated pump-circulated water from a fish tank, which delivers nutrients such as fish waste to the greenhouse plants. Due to rising propane costs, Feston hopes that cold water will be a viable option for reducing the expense of aquaponics.

So far, the project has been a success with some surprising benefits, Feston said. While using warmed water, few native animals dwelled within the greenhouse. A variety of beneficial pollinators and frogs have begun living within the aquaponics system after switching to a cold-water setup.

Without the beneficial frogs, the cold water aquaponics system may have been a failure. The cold, nutrient-rich water caused an algae bloom and the crops began to die. But shortly after, frogs moved in, Feston said.

“One day the algae blooms went away, and the frogs had shown up. They ate the algae,” Feston said.

Those interested in regenerative agriculture are welcome to schedule a free tour at Edible Acres Farm, 4108 NE 199th St., Ridgefield, by visiting or calling 360-798-4488.

Future research from Edible Acres Farm will be available online at Details on Feston’s cold-water aquaponics research are available at