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

Soil

After many years spent talking about changing light bulbs and utilizing energy-efficient vehicles, policy makers are finally waking up to the importance of the humble soil microbe in humanity’s efforts to keep the climate from becoming as erratic as a rickety rollercoaster. At this point, many climate action leaders and soil scientists acknowledge that agricultural (mis)management is a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, but until recently, no state or federal agency was willing to tackle this problem head on.

This year that is finally changing. Over this past year, as advocacy groups, scientists, and reporters have become more openly vocal about the importance of healthy soils, politicians in multiple states have heeded the call. First, California passed a law creating the “Healthy Soils Initiative”, which provides $7.5 million for efforts to “protect and restore soil organic matter” along with a host of other services.

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.”

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.

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.

Skiing in a snowy homestead landscape

Finally there has been some substantial snow. I know that for many this is a hardship, what with all of the snow shoveling and commuting to work under hazardous road conditions, but for me it is a blessing. As a homesteader who doesn’t have to worry about driving anywhere until the roads finally get plowed and the conditions are safe, I think of all the positive attributes of these two back-to-back nor’easters.

Here at Wild Browse Farm in Wendell, we received around 30 inches of snow. At the 10:1 standard conversion rate of snow to water that means about 3 inches of much needed rain. Before these storms, the Pioneer Valley and much of Central Mass were still listed in a Severe Drought category. Many of our reservoirs are far below capacity. We use a drilled well for our water supply, so it is difficult to know what our reserves are. The well serves two homes, our gardens and poultry, causing us concern about future shortages and increasing our awareness of our water usage and conservation methods. Hopefully this moisture will help lessen this drought.

Elizabeth and Paul Kaiser were keynoters at 2017 Winter Conference

Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastapol, California, were the keynote speakers for the 30th annual NOFA/Mass Winter Conference. On January 14 at Worcester State University they spoke to 800 farmers, gardeners, soil scientists, extension agents and others involved in New England food systems.

They came with a message – that agriculture has been one of the greatest contributors to climate change in human history, but it is also our best hope for mitigating climate change. The Kaiser’s assert that by adapting their practices to sequester more soil carbon, farmers can simultaneously improve the health of their crops, soil, and finances.

2016 NOFA/Mass Staff and Board at Annual Retreat

2016 NOFA/Mass Staff and Board at Annual Retreat

A new year has begun at NOFA/Mass, and it has started very nicely. 800 folks attended the 30th Annual NOFA/Mass Winter Conference. Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser shared their success with their family-size no-till farm in Sebastopol, CA. There were plenty of good takeaways for anyone who grows vegetables and wants to improve your farm ecosystem. Thanks to the presenters of the other 70 workshops and the 70 or so exhibitors who shared their expertise and wares with participants. And also a hearty thank you to Worcester State University for being such quintessential hosts to us. They make conference arrangements easy!

At the conference we welcomed two new staff members to NOFA/Mass. Marty Dagoberto has accepted the role of Outreach Coordinator. He will replace Sharon Gensler in this role. We sent Sharon off with the NOFA/Mass Person of the Year award for her oh so many years of service to us. She has truly been the face of the organization. Marty most recently worked with MA Right to Know GMOs and many anti-gmo organizations in the state and region in our unsuccessful coalition bid to get a GMO labeling bill passed in Massachusetts. He brings a wealth of contacts, energy and savvy for organizational collaboration to the table. He will also be putting new energy into The Organic Food Guide to make this a more vibrant publication of organic food in our state.

As I write this there is less than a week to the presidential inauguration. Trying to keep optimistic amidst the uncertainty of the future of our country and planet is a challenge. However, the light is returning and it helps keep my spirits up as did seeing so many of you at the recent Winter Conference. The keynote, workshops and conversations all were much-needed rays of hope. As is the prospect of standing strong with thousands of others at the Women’s March for America, in Boston.

Over the years, I’ve often dealt with the dilemma between political action and homestead life. But never has it been so clear that a response to both must come from my heart. I know I must put myself on the line in a loving and compassionate way, to say yes to love and inclusion, leaving no room for the politics of hate and separation.

Summary: For nearly a century soil organic matter (SOM) formation has been depicted primarily as a function of the preservation of biologically stable complex plant compounds. Yet it has been known that soil microbial communities are adept at decomposing such materials, incorporating the released carbon into their microbial biomass. Due to advances in laboratory molecular analytic techniques, the role of microbes in SOM formation has been increasingly recognized. But direct evidence about the degree to which microbes are involved has been lacking. Now, a team of University of New Hampshire scientists has uncovered evidence that microbial pathways are the chief source of the organic matter found in stable soil carbon pools. They suggest that SOM is formed by residues of microbial digestion of carbon from roots and root exudates.

Pages

Subscribe to Soil

 

Become a Member

Donate to NOFA/Mass

Subcribe to the Newsletter