College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

International Research & Agricultural Development

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Global Leadership 497 Students Experience Farm Labor

Posted by Levi McGarry | October 15, 2015

Chores are a fact of life for farmers across the globe—whether tending to livestock, irrigating crops, or fetching household needs, farm chores are laborious yet essential for farm operations. On Saturday, September 26th, students from WSU’s UNIV 497: Global Leadership visited the Paluthe Farm Project in order to experience subsistence farming practices first-hand.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 40% of the world’s jobs involve producing or processing food. However, the majority of these jobs are held by self-employed subsistence farmers in developing countries—those farming simply to survive. The United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) states that there are 2.5 billion people living or working on over 500 million smallholder farms in the world, providing up to 80% of the food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Much of the labor on these smallholder farms is done manually or with small-scale technologies designed to increase farm efficiency.

The Paluthe Farm Project, which focuses on global smallholder farming and which houses several appropriate-scale technologies from developing countries, was a perfect location for hosting this interactive program. The four-hour immersive experience focused on harvesting and processing alternative cereal grains for household use, and was broken down into three basic sections.

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WSU Students with water buckets walking down the PFP driveway. In some African villages, the nearest water source can be 4 miles away.

Water: In this awareness building exercise, we introduced the students to the most essential and basic of farm tasks—collecting water. Surveys from 45 developing countries show that women & children are the primary water collectors in 76% of households, and WorldVision estimates that, worldwide, women and children spend 152 million hours each day on this task alone. Water sources can also be up to four miles away from some African villages.

Using advice from our own Dr. Tom Byers, we demonstrated how water is typically transported on one’s head, and then helped everyone balance their own water-buckets so as to not cause any spinal stress. The students carried 2 gallons (16 lbs.) of water, about half of the daily consumption of a Malawian farm family, for a quarter-mile walk down the PFP driveway. Once the walk was completed, the class experienced how to hand irrigate a vegetable garden: first by drawing 5 gallons of water up from an artesian well and carrying buckets up to the garden, and then by using our KickStart Moneymaker Treadle Pump to pump the same amount of water to the garden using irrigation piping. Management practices that save water and labor are a major platform for sustainable intensification, and can have an outsized impact on crop yields.

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Harvesting millet by hand during a beautiful Palouse afternoon.

UNIV 497 Students, Post-Harvest

The Global Leadership 497 class poses with their post-harvest millet.

Harvest: Millets are a group of small-seeded grasses that have been cultivated for over 10,000 years in parts of east Asia. 97% of millet production occurs in developing countries as cereal crops or livestock fodder.Proso millet, the variety grown at the PFP this summer, has the lowest water requirement of any grain crop and has a short growing season. It is extensively cultivated in India, Russia, and the Middle East. After a brief safety training, students used hand scythes to harvest millet from the PFP’s research test plots. They helped clear and bundle a 600 sq. ft. (30×30’) plot of millet, and we returned the bundles to the barn to dry.

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Calibrating the grinding plates on the grain mill.

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Cooking millet porridge using the PFP’s Rocket Stove.

Processing: The students circulated between four different processing activities: 1) threshing and winnowing dried millet stalks using an Amish foot-powered thresher and a wind-powered winnowing method to separate the grain from the chaff; 2) grinding the winnowed grain with a hand powered grain mill; 3) using a hand-powered oil expresser to turn peanuts into peanut-oil; 4) collecting data on boiling water with a Rocket Stove (a small brick-and-mortar stove used to reduce fuel usage and smoke output). We ended the day by cooking a small amount of the millet flour into a porridge on the Rocket Stove.

Small-scale mechanization such as the Amish Thresher, the hand-powered grain mill, and the oil expresser can dramatically increase product yield and work efficiency, making laborious work shorter. Home improvements like the Rocket Stove can dramatically improve family health and safety, compared to traditional three-stone models. Appropriate-scale mechanization can impact multiple steps of the agricultural process, and can have an outsized impact on smallholder farms around the world.

Learn more about the Paluthe Farm Project here.

Hugelkultur Bed Construction

Posted by Levi McGarry | June 24, 2015

Hugelkultur (HOO-gul-culture) is an ancient form of raised bed gardening. Roughly translated from German into “hill culture”, this practice is perfect for wooded areas where branches and logs are abundant. It is a gardening style that utilizes the sponge-like nature of logs and branches to created fertile and almost entirely self-sustaining beds on which a plethora of different plants can thrive.

Our first Hugelkultur mound at the PFP serves two very important purposes. First, it puts to use many of the stumps and branches that we’ve cleaned up around the property, and second, it provided a relatively inexpensive (labor not included) way to reshape a hillside next to one of our garden spaces. Here’s how we did it:

 1: With help from the amazing Reece Vissia (one of our summer volunteers), we began by digging down approximately 6 inches in our selected area.

Hugelkultur #1

2: Then we layered in some large stumps, followed by slightly smaller branches

Hugelkultur #2

3: Next we soaked the branches and stumps…

Hugelkultur #3

4: …and back-filled with a mixture of manure and soil

Hugelkultur #4.1   Hugelkultur #4.2

5: Finally, thanks to the lovely Niki Lee and Kim Castelin, we topped it off with topsoil and some plants (moss phlox and Idaho fescue)!

Hugelkultur #5

Well, there you have it! A not-so-new way to reuse waste and create interest in your garden.

If you are interested in learning more about Hugelkultur, we found that this site: had a great in-depth introduction to the practice and its many benefits.

Collaborating w/ School of Design+Construction

Posted by Levi McGarry | May 24, 2015

Throughout the 2015 Spring Semester, the Paluthe Farm Project was extremely fortunate to host two studio design classes from WSU’s School of Design + Construction. Instructor Steve Austin and his students from Landscape Architecture 263 focused on creating an integrated master plan for the six acres around the farm, while Professor Bashir Kazimee and his Architecture 203 class used the farm site as inspiration for a grand educational center focusing on sustainable practices.  Below are the process and results of those two collaborations.

Landscape Architecture 263

LA 263 students planting trees

LA 263 students planting trees

In the fall, we were placed in contact with Steve Austin, who was excited about the prospect of his students designing a rough master plan for our site layout, with special consideration given to sustainable agriculture and permaculture design. The students in Dr. Austin’s class treated us as clients and along with a description of our site and project, we gave them a long laundry list of things we would like to include in our design. This included but was not limited to: an orchard, space for livestock, bee hives and habitats, equipment right-of-way, and cooking demonstration space.

At the end of March, the class came out to the PFP for a potluck and camp-out. They used the time to get familiar with the land and met the people most connected with it. We swapped stories around the campfire until, around midnight, we were drove indoors by a classic Palouse thunderstorm that soaked everyone and sent tents rolling across the yard. The following morning brought very strong winds with it, but we managed to plant a few trees (a future much needed addition to our wind break) before they packed up and left.

Mid-Term Design Review w. Students in Landscape Architecture 263

Mid-Term Design Review w. Students in Landscape Architecture 263

The end of the semester resulted in an incredibly inclusive and imaginative design for our six acre site, incorporating agricultural practices and techniques that can be found in small-holding farms around the world. The students also kept an eye towards the future, and included plan for technologies that are emerging from urban gardening and net-neutral energies.

Architecture 203

Steve was kind enough to share the Paluthe Farm Project’s vision with his colleagues, and we were fortunate to invite Professor Bashir Kazimee and his Architecture 203 class out for a site tour. The students surveyed the topography and were presented with our vision of the PFP as an inclusive learning site featuring a diverse array of agricultural techniques. Additionally, the Arch. 203 students were challenged to integrate the farm’s vision into one 13,000 sq.ft. building, which would serve as visitor’s center, learning annex, and internship dormitories.

Professor Kazimee presents the PFP topographic model during the Arch. 203 Review

Professor Kazimee presents the PFP topographic model during the Arch. 203 Review

Their individual designs would also speak towards the concept of the PFP as a demonstrable model of sustainability and world agriculture.

The Architecture 203 students presented their designs both at a mid-term review as well as a final review, revising and tweaking their creative visions throughout. The final designs were critiqued by a panel of faculty from the School of Design + Construction, and staffers from the International Research & Agricultural Development office provided enthusiastic responses to the class’s grand design plans.


Below are just a few of the several building models fabricated by the Arch. 203 students:

Constructing Rocket Stoves w/ the Intl. Development Club @ PFP

Posted by Levi McGarry | February 22, 2015
Mio & Miyuki applying mortar to the stove bricks

Mio & Miyuki applying mortar to the stove bricks

In February the PFP organized a work day with WSU’s International Development Club and had five of the student members come out to the farm to build a Rocket Stove.

Annalise finishing mortar on the Rocket Stove

Annalise finishing mortar on the Rocket Stove

This was a way to engage students and to showcase some of the work that IRAD does in developing countries. Construction of the Rocket Stoves is being introduced in small villages in Malawi by IRAD partners as an alternative to the three stone fire. It greatly reduces the fuel needed to cook basic meals and also reduces the amount of smoke produced by the fire and subsequently inhaled by the people cooking.After reading over the plans, the students mixed mortar and then constructed a 15 brick stove complete with potholder. The finished and now working product is on display at the PFP now!

A big thanks to Hailey, Mio, Miuki, Annalise, and Veronika from the IDC for their hard work! 

For more information about the International Development Club at WSU, visit their club website.

Assembling Winter Cold Frames for Garden Plants

Posted by Levi McGarry | February 10, 2015
Niki Lee working on cold frame

Niki Lee working on cold frame

With the impending growing season on her mind, Niki Lee, our trusty master volunteer, proposed constructing cold frames in February 2015.

Putting the final touches on the cold frame

Putting the final touches on the cold frame

A great way to extend the growing season, cold frames play the critical role of easing the transition from the grow lights to the great outdoors. They help plants become cold-hardy while decreasing the failure rate.

We made ours entirely out of reclaimed materials of around the property: an old storm window made the top and the sides were constructed of old remnants. Thanks to this project, we now have beautiful brussels sprouts, squash, tomatoes, and cabbage thriving in our garden.


Designing & Assembling a Backyard Chicken Tractor

Posted by Levi McGarry |

A growing trend in backyard animal husbandry is the implementation of a Chicken Tractor. A small, moveable coop, the Chicken Tractor provides chickens with protection from the elements while giving them access to anywhere in the garden. The Chicken’s ability to eat bugs, paired with their scratching and, yes, even pooping, is a great benefit to any landscape, and can be especially beneficial to vegetable garden spaces.

We designed a sample Chicken Tractor using low cost and low weight products such as hardware cloth, pex pipe, and zip ties to create a general structure. We hope to get some residents and test their effects on our garden spaces soon. Here’s a closer look into our process:

Chicken Tractor Base & Plans

The base frame and our design plans

Attaching the PEX piping for internal structure

Attaching the PEX piping for internal structure

Niki Lee using reclaimed tin sheeting as the roof

Niki Lee using reclaimed tin sheeting as the roof

The finished product!

The finished product!


This was our first start to finish construction project out at the PFP and what a learning process it is to build from plans you drew up! This type of trial and error exploration and implementation is what the Paluthe Farm Project is all about, and we hope to have many more unique projects like this one to show off in the future.

Farm Site Cleanup with the IDC

Posted by Levi McGarry | November 18, 2014

IDC Clean-UpOne of the project’s primary goals is to engage students and faculty in the process of setting up and realizing the vision of a demonstration farm focusing on international agriculture. IDC BonfireSince the very beginning, we’ve been working with students from WSU’s International Development Club, hoping to involve them at the Farm. Last weekend, we were able to host 6 of them at the PFP for an informal work party. Our main tasks focusing on removing more of the farm detritus, and our work group successfully hauled away over 2 tons of material off of the property– bed springs, chicken wire, old motorcycle parts, and stubborn posts, nothing stood in our way. We finished off the work day with a bonfire—thanks again to the IDC students for their incredible help!

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