The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. NOFA/Mass welcomes everyone who cares about food, where it comes from and how it’s grown

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Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham Massachusetts is a diversified organic vegetable CSA farm run by a small farm team managing 1.3 acres in cultivation (360 50’ beds plus paths) on a 10-acre site, roughly 5 of which is owned and 5 of which is leased. The farm grows food for 204 households through their CSA program and also grows for two wholesale accounts on 1.3 acres of land. 80 of their CSA shares are distributed through community partnerships to provide healthy food for low-income households.

Viability: The farm grosses $100,0000 in sales per acre. The farm employs six full-time growers and one part-time employee.  The farm owners, Jen and Pete Salinetti, earn 80% of their income each year directly from farm sales, with another 20% of earnings from on-farm education programs.

Last month you learned about Abby and Jonathan’s experience starting a first year CSA during a pandemic. This month, we’ll talk about the farming practices that Abby and Jonathan have used to get their farm started with limited time and with soil health and weed management as central goals.   

The Winter Street Farmers came up apprenticing and managing on organic farms just as the contemporary healthy soils movement was rising, benefiting from receiving a training in standard tillage practices while also having access to education about alternative, tillage-reduced systems. “We were really influenced by seeing examples of how much you can actually grow in a small area,” Abby explained, “and we learned a lot between NOFA workshops and reading farming books.” They decided early in their conversations about their own future farm that it would be no-till.  

As more and more people discover the importance of healthy soil in relation to healthy plants, pastures and gardens, many are also discovering that manure is one of a farm’s most valuable resources.  Cows, in particular, are extremely efficient converters of mature plant matter into nutrient-rich, highly degradable organic material.  

While the percentage of nutrients found in manure can vary greatly from animal to animal due to differences in diet, cow manure is known to be a good source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, all of which are important minerals for future plant growth.  While synthetic fertilizers may be more concentrated forms of these minerals, manure includes a high percentage of solid matter, which provides vital carbon compounds that build soil structure.  

If there was a way to nurture natural systems, reverse environmental damage, and increase the health of people and animals around us, wouldn’t you want to support it?  If so, maybe you should start drinking more milk. 

Dairy farmers throughout the Northeast are embracing farming methods that sequester carbon from the atmosphere and draw it into their soils, where it nourishes the diverse microbial life beneath the surface of the earth.  This enhanced microbial network just so happens to be a prime environment for low-maintenance pasture and crops to thrive, which, in turn, offers an opportunity for livestock farmers to use their land to meet the high nutritional needs of dairy cattle. 

Will Rogers, of Rogers Farm in Warren, Massachusetts is following nature’s rules when it comes to managing his land and his herd of dairy cattle.  “We need to watch how nature works and mimic it.  We’re all based on biology, the food we eat needs to be grown by good biology to net a higher nutrient value food.” 

The world has dramatically shifted in the past month. A tiny virus has changed everything. COVID-19 went from being the butt of social media jokes about the CDC overreacting, to causing multiple states to call for “shelter in place” or, as in our state, “stay at home” orders. This time of quarantine has left all of us reeling and feeling isolated in what feels like just moments. And the food system has taken a particularly hard hit. 

Like the way an avalanche begins with a tiny rumble, then overtakes the landscape to leave only what can hunker down and hang on for dear life, this virus has leveled our country's way of selling and buying food down to barren grocery store shelves and a supply chain stretched to its limit.

 

On February 12, 2020, 21 farmers from across Massachusetts drove in to the Statehouse to urge legislators to support the creation of a Massachusetts Healthy Soils Program. Gathering in a briefing room, legislators, staffers, press and supporters of the bill heard comments from farmers.

Representative Schmid and Senator Comerford, lead cosponsors of S.2404, the Healthy Soils Bill, started the briefing. “This is amazing to us, that the interest and fascination with healthy soils has grown so quickly here in the State House, and it’s in large part due to your advocacy,” Rep. Schmid remarked to the those in attendance.

“I want to acknowledge your work to grow and expand the possibility of this bill and the impact of healthy soils on our Commonwealth. It’s a food security issue, it’s a farmer justice issue and now we’re rightly seeing it as a climate issue,” said Senator Comerford, adding “And I want to thank NOFA for really spearheading the organizing around this, the outside push. We want to do right by our Commonwealth, and people like you make us do it.”

Dairy cows have been dubbed “the heart of the homestead” throughout American history because of their high productivity and ability to provide sustenance for so many other beings on a small farm.  On a diet of grass, hay and perhaps some supplemental grain, a dairy cow can produce enough milk to feed her calf and a small human family, with enough left over to share with pigs, chickens and other omnivores on the farm.  Her calves can be raised for beef or as future dairy cows, and her manure can be recycled into the landscape as fertilizer.  On some traditional New England farms, the cattle shelter was built under the family home to utilize the heat that the cow produced from ruminating to help heat the house in winter.  With so many benefits in one domestic animal, it’s easy to see how dairy cows have become a beloved staple on so many farms. 

The Robinson family of Hardwick has loved their 270 acres in central Massachusetts since before the turn of the 20th century.  Ray Robinson is the fourth-generation farmer to care for Robinson Farm and make it his own.  From a young boy playing and helping in the fields to taking the reins and steering the farm in new directions, Ray was raised to care for this piece of earth and all its living things

If you are a farmer, you have probably looked down an endless row of weeding to be done and sighed. Never-ending and daunting tasks pop up all over the farm and garden. As a matter of fact, they pop up in everyone’s life, no matter if you have an apartment in the city or 30 acres in the country. Washing dishes, folding laundry, putting up cans of tomatoes- heck, even long drives can leave us feeling lonely. Now think of the times that you have set out to finish a chore or a drive and had a few good friends along. When you are talking and laughing, sharing stories and knowledge, it can make the time you are elbow deep in the dishwater or at the beginning of a long row of weedy onions fly by. Well, guess what? If you subscribe to the NOFA/Mass Podcast you will have fabulous farmy friends in your headphones whenever you want!

Listening to a podcast is a great way to pass the time when you are working solo, and if you choose to listen to the NOFA/Mass podcast you will get to hang out with some of our favorite people as they chat about all sorts of farmy topics. 

Aerial view of Hopestill Farm showing Christmas tree fields
Photo via www.hopestill.com

For those of us who aspire to make sustainable and regenerative consumption decisions, the holidays are an Olympic-level event! With so many gifts, decorations, and food items to buy in so little time, it can seem overwhelming to think carefully about each purchase.

If your family buys a Christmas tree, you might want to give it just as much thought as your other holiday purchases. According to Beyond Pesticides, “The pesticides that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registers for use on conventionally grown Christmas trees are linked to numerous adverse health effects, including cancer, hormonal disruption, neurotoxicity, organ damage, reproductive/birth defects, asthma, and more.” And less than 1% of the Christmas tree market in the United States is organic, so it can be very hard to find a tree you can be sure was grown without harmful sprays. Also, when you consider that the leading Christmas tree producing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Washington and Michigan, you might start to question the impact of your tree’s ecological and carbon footprint.

chockalog cover

Chockalog Farm is a 36-acre farm in Uxbridge, MA offering vegetables and meat grown in a regenerative, integrated farm system that includes a market garden, high tunnel, food forest, pastures and woods.

How did you get interested in no till?

I don’t really remember! It was about 10 years ago, we would have read a book about it and decided to start out that way—but we read so many books that I am not sure what the first one was. Two early influences on our no-till thinking were Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution and Ruth Stout’s No Work Garden Book, which focused on a permanent mulch system. 

 

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