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

Growing Organically Since 1982

Beginning Farmers

Green Team staking the tomatoes in test plot #1

Though the word “farming” is in its name, NOFA does more than just work with rural farmers. Much attention is paid to ways more traditional, production farmers can use techniques like cover cropping and mineral amendments to enhance their yields, but there are few resources and little knowledge for using these tools on smaller scale and urban sites.

NOFA/Mass is partnering with The Trustees Boston Community Gardens and Groundwork Somerville on a three-year project to improve the fertility and production of compost-based soils, funded by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). Compost is often free and used-widely by many city growers. Though considered non-toxic and safe for growing in, compost does not provide all that soil needs to produce healthy and sustained crop growth.

High tunnels directly contribute to the local economy and food supply by improving the square foot productivity of agricultural land during the regular growing season, and by extending production into the late fall, winter and spring. Fresh greens, like spinach, mustards, lettuce, kale and chard produced in winter provide a high value complement to storage crops sold through increasingly popular winter farmers’ markets and winter CSA programs. Grafted greenhouse tomatoes can produce exceptionally high yields of blemish free fruit. With proper management, high tunnels increase farm viability by increasing the profitability of farms both in square footage and annual output.

In 2009 the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched a program to subsidize the cost of purchasing and constructing high tunnels for farmers, in order to assess their viability. Many Massachusetts farms have received this funding and built high tunnels, or they have purchased them on their own. Many farmers build simple structures with recycled materials and affordable supplies.

Overwintered onions

All too often, I’ll visit a farm in late fall or winter to find their high tunnels without any crops growing. Many growers don’t have the time, energy, or experience to get a crop in after their main summer crop has bit the dust. But high tunnels are simply too valuable to be unproductive for a full season or two. With good crop planning and preparation, you can grow an incredible diversity of vegetables throughout the winter and early spring.

If you want to learn more tips and tricks to enhance your farm’s year-round high tunnel production, join us for an advanced seminar at Stonehill College on February 6 on organic high tunnel production featuring expert farmers Michael Kilpatrick and Andrew Mefferd. Learn more here.

2 Grafted plants

This article,originally published here in its entirety in Growing For Market magazine, offers some gleanings that farmer and researcher Andrew Mefferd has collected in his years of working with hoophouses both on his farm and across the continent. His new book on high tunnels, The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower's Handbook, will be published in February 2017. Andrew will also be co-presenting with Michael Kilpatrick, a seasoned organic farmer and consultant, at our upcoming High Tunnel intensive on Monday, February 6 at Stonehill College in North Easton, MA.

Many hoophouses are put up by growers who are more familiar with open field growing and may not employ the full range of management strategies available to make the most of protected cropping space. In this two-part series of articles, I will talk about four techniques that I think could be used profitably in an unheated hoophouse.

Dennis Donoghue and Maggie Mehaffey, 2016 Mentor and Mentee

Entering into a mentorship is not as simple as signing up for a class. A mentorship puts incredible responsibility on the mentee, requiring the articulation of specific goals and creation of a clear plan to use the skills and expertise of your mentor to achieve those goals. Working with someone whose experience in an area you are trying to develop can be one of the most efficient ways to gain proficiency. Not only can they share information, but they can also share their own experiences, and help you streamline your efforts.

Mentoring is also an excellent networking opportunity. Like any business, farming is made easier when you have a strong community of support. Farmers are traditionally very open and sharing professionals, willing to work with others and divulge valuable information. By creating a strong relationship with a farmer mentor, you have the opportunity to tap into their network of farmer peers and service providers who can also help you achieve your goals.

According to the USDA’s 2012 agricultural census, farming is in need of new blood. The average age of the American farmer was 58 years and rising, with fewer people entering the field. The hurdles faced by beginning farmers are great, and at NOFA/Mass we aim to provide support and affordable educational opportunities for beginning farmers, to ease their transition into the profession.

The NOFA Summer Conference this past month was a great success. Many beginning farmers came out to attend workshops and farm tours, meet up with friends and enjoy two very inspirational keynote speeches.

Attending conferences like ours is one of the many ways beginning farmers can build their knowledge base and skill-set, helping them further along a career path that, unlike most other careers, is not clearly laid out.

If you want to be an electrician, a doctor or a teacher, there are very well defined ways to go about obtaining the certifications and experience needed to work in those professions. One can feel confident that after completing those requirements they have the skills needed to archive success in their field.

Photo by beauconsidine, available under a Creative Commons license.

With the Summer Solstice having just passed and the growing season in full swing, it’s pretty likely most beginning farmers out there haven’t had a moment to think about their education. For most, winter is the time of year to attend workshops and conferences, read books and go to gatherings. If you don’t yet manage your own farm, you are probably working tirelessly on someone else’s farm. That work experience is one of the greatest educational benefits you can give yourself as a beginning farmer, but just think about how a little more information and a new perspective could enhance your work experience. Or at least give you something different to think about as you hoe, harvest and hand-weed, inch-by-inch across the fields.

Renee Toll-DuBois

Renee Toll-Dubois lost her job in the recession, after a decade of experience in environmental education and years of growing food organically at home. She realized she was on the start of a new path, and out of several interests and options, farming came out on top. Living in the Lowell area, Renee signed up for the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project’s Farm Business Planning Course.

Jess Bloomer

In 2009, after working as a volunteer and intern on farms in Colorado, Jess Bloomer began her urban farming career as the Lead Garden Educator at the Edible Schoolyard program in New Orleans, LA. Last season she was hired as the Program Manager for Groundwork Somerville, a non-profit that “strives to bring about the sustained regeneration, improvement and management of the physical environment through the development of community-based partnerships which empower people, businesses and organizations to promote environmental, economic and social well-being.”

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