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

Vegetables

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.

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.

The NOFA/Mass Annual Winter Conference is less than two weeks away. With over 900 farmers, gardeners, activists and consumers, this day of intensive learning will get you fully inspired for the 2017 season! We have an amazing program planned with over 70 presenters, 60 exhibitors, a delicious and hearty organic lunch, a children’s conference, a raffle and more!

If you haven’t heard already, this year’s keynote speaker and co-presenters of our intensive seminar are Paul & Elizabeth Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol, CA. Together they bring a wealth of techniques and experience with them from their successful no-till operation. Their small farm situated in northern California grosses over $100,000 per acre, pumps out up to seven crops per bed per year, and has achieved a 400% increase in soil organic matter over the six years since they stopped tilling. The Kaisers utilize no sprays (even organic ones) and are certified Bee Friendly. That means they spend more than “98% of their time transplanting and harvesting” says Paul Kaiser.

The Bulk Order will open again on the first of the year for another round of bulk-priced, high-quality farm and garden supplies! As always, you will have one month to place your order (Jan 1 through February 1), with delivery taking placein March (most items) and April (tubers and allium sets).

The Bulk Order is a great way to save money on organically-certifiable farm and garden supplies, access items that may not be readily available in your area, and participate in a community-oriented, collective buying process. By participating in the NOFA Bulk Order, a part of your purchase goes to support the important education and advocacy work of your local NOFA chapter.

Farmer Joel Salatin speaks (Photo by Nicole Crouch Diaz)

Farmer Joel Salatin speaks (Photo by Nicole Crouch Diaz)

For four years NOFA/Mass and BFA co-organized the Soil and Nutrition Conference and in the past two years BFA has organized the conference on their own. I thought that this most recent conference that took place at the Kripalu Institute was the best yet. It was packed with very strong speakers on a number of topics around the basic themes of soil nutrition and human nutrition. Joel Salatin was frosting on the cake with his humorous, upbeat and inspiring libertarianism. You can read more about the conference and eventually download the talks at http://bionutrient.org/soil-and-nutrition-conference.

John Kempf has been a stable member of the teaching team at the S and N’s. I think this was his third appearance. I have been a student of his for at least 6 years and have learned from and put to use so much of his practical knowledge over those years. John is a young Amish man who grew up on a conventional farm in Ohio. Truly a savant, he is still only in his 20’s, yet has received international acclaim for his consulting around biological farming practices, which, conveniently for NOFA-types, are compatible with organic certification standards. When John speaks I am there with notebook in hand because every word is carefully placed to educate and provide context for improved farming practice.

2016 Winter Conference Workshop

November was a time of fevered distraction for most of us, as we watched an administration change take place in our country that is expected to call into question all current national efforts toward climate mitigation.

We must now refocus. We must redouble our efforts on a personal and community level to reduce carbon emissions, sequester carbon, and support sequestration efforts.

There are many things we can and should all be doing, such as carpooling or taking transportation alternatives, eating lower on the food chain, avoiding industrial meat entirely, air-drying clothes, composting – the list goes on.

But a critically important part of addressing climate change is soil carbon sequestration, or “carbon farming”, which is increasingly attracting the attention and support of organizations in the US and across the world.

Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastapol, CA have been called “drought fighters,” and “leading innovators,” in the field of regenerative agriculture. Their agro-ecological growing practices (and the results thereof) have commended as “sustainability on steroids,”’ and “transformative.”

Rapidly growing in renown to near Elliot Coleman levels, the Kaisers have recently attracted national attention from soil scientists, government agencies, agricultural organizations, journalists and the farming community for their unconventional farming practices. Their methods allow them to grow up to seven crops per year per bed, gross $100,000 per acre, raise soil organic matter 400% in six years, achieve Bee Friendly Certification, offer year-round positions to several employees at $15/hour, and use absolutely no sprays, even organic ones.

After silage tarps and close up of soil

This article is part of a series that I have been doing on reduced tillage, no tillage, and other methods that focus on the importance of carbon in agricultural soils, particularly with annual vegetable growers. I interviewed Brittany Overshiner, who is our NOFA/Mass Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator, and a now nine-year Beginning Farmer herself, who has had comprehensive experience working on a number of vegetable farms in Eastern Massachusetts.

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