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

Farming

Greg Disterhoft

Greg will be running a NOFA/Mass education event Growing and Processing Medicinal Herbs on June 25 in Sunderland, MA. In preparation for his workshop, I interviewed Greg back in April to find out a little more about him and his operation. 

The demand for local, organic herbs is rapidly growing with the revival of herbalism and integrated medicine. This workshop will provide an overview of what it takes to grow and manage a successful herbal market garden. Full Kettle Farm’s Greg Disterhoft will walk us through soil, light & water requirements, cool and warm season herbs, annuals vs. perennials, transplanting, harvesting, fertility, and the maintenance of a variety of herbs. Greg will demonstrate how he propagates and cultivates a wide array of herbs (including high value herbs like ashwagandha, astragalus, tulsi, and clary sage).

On Earth Day 11 homes throughout the state hosted more than 170 folks – gathered at homesteads, farms, and gardens to share food and conversation. The purpose of the NOFA/Mass sponsored event was to promote connection around a vision of organic food, community, soil and land health, ecosystem vitality, and building a restorative future.

At 91, Mrs. Anderson still sells her garlic at the Farmers' Market behind Thornes in Northampton. She is also a part of a group of gleaners who clean up farm fields in the Amherst area, ensuring that good food does not go to waste. She cooked up fine Tennessee ribs to bring to the NOFA/Mass Earth Day potluck in Hatfield, held on April 22. When at the table, she struck up a conversation about soil, about the difficulty of assessing one's farm as a whole when there are so many variations from spot to spot and, of course, variations in what each crop needs.

Jen Salinetti farms with her husband Pete in Tyringham, MA in the Berkshires. They have been farming for 16 years together, the four years spent on their almost 5-acre farm. In recent years they have not been using tillage to grow their vegetables. Jen feels that by not disturbing the soil they have a considerable positive impact on carbon sequestration on their land. They have experienced a significant increase in quality and yields which has enabled them to create a viable business on a small amount of land.

“Pete and I started experimenting with no-till 13 years ago, and we are now going into year 11. Our initial experimenting began when we were looking to increase greenhouse production. We started looking into ways to do prep without the tiller. We saw some really great results after the first season. And then we expanded it out to our market garden. Through the process, we were able to set up permanent beds and maximize our earnings and outputs through proper spacing of plants. It was right around when our son Diego was born. We wanted to commit to farming, to be available for family life and to be home.”

(C) Matt Kaminsky 2016

On April 8 in Amherst, Matt Kaminsky, the author of The Wild Apple Forager’s Guide, will be teaching the workshop Fruit Tree Propagation Practicum: Grafting and Top Working along with Bob Fitz, lead orchardist of Small Ones Farm.

Malus domestica, the Latin nomenclature for the common apple, truly is an aptly-named species. From its early colonial days as the primary ingredient in hard cider, the drink of choice for most early New Englanders, to its current place as a centerpiece in autumn’s culinary delights, Malus domestica tells the story of our endless quest for sugar, intoxication, and control. No other fruit has been as shaped by the needs of the people it cohabited with.

OFA 2: Elizabeth Kucinich

Almost every industry and cause has an interest group in Washington D.C. working on its behalf. It would seem that organic farmers are no exception. With groups like National Organic Coalition (NOC), Organic Trade Association (OTA) and National Sustainable Action Coalition (NSAC) actively lobbying in D.C, one would think that the interests of organic farmers would be more than adequately represented. But just recently, a new organization called the Organic Farmers Association (OFA) has been gaining momentum as it gears up to be a uniquely farmer-driven policy player.

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.

Doug Wolcik studied farming in the Sustainable Ag program at UMass with John Gerber. After that he went to Northern California for two seasons and to gain practical experience with the scientific practices that he learned in college. He learned a basic knowledge about farm layout, planting techniques, greenhouse management, cover cropping – but nothing extremely cutting edge. He came back East pretty poor, and with college loans. He had farmed full time for $100/week in CA along with room and board. He then worked for the Department of Conservation and Recreation on the invasive species team searching out the Asian Longhorned Beetle. He saved enough money to be able to take a huge pay cut and get back into farming. He started working with Gaining Ground and is now in his fifth year there.

You may know that NOFA/Mass delivers technical assistance to Beginning Farmers through our Beginning Farmer Mentorship Program. It really helps to be able to pick up the phone and call an experienced farmer when you are in need of some sage advice. You may also know that we have a gardeners' forum to help gardeners exchange growing ideas. In 2014, NOFA/Mass expanded the technical assistance that we give farmers and food handlers, offering consulting for those who need help with their application for organic certification.

It’s become a notorious fact: 40% of all food grown in the Unites States goes to waste. That’s more than 1 in 4 calories going straight into the dumpster. The thought of so much wholesome, delicious food being wasted is already heavy with pathos, but what is truly heart breaking is the amount of work and resources wasted in the process. A full quarter of our country's fresh water is used to grow this wasted food. 350 million barrels of oil are burned in vain. We can estimate that 250 million pounds of pesticides are sprayed on squandered crops. The level of wasted human work this implies is even more staggering: each year, at least 8 billion person-hours are spent planting, tending, and harvesting unconsumed crops.

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