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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New free monthly phone/web workshop series: “Inspiring Ideas from Experts in the Field”

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2016 February Issue Newsletter

By Brittany Sidway Overshiner

Greens grown in mid-January in unheated greenhouse at Clay Bottom Farm

The Education Department of NOFA/Mass strives to serve a wide variety of farmers with a diversity of experience and farming situations. The greatest challenge is not always what topics to present on: sometimes it’s where to locate them. Farmers on the South Shore will have a hard time getting to a workshop in the Berkshires and vice-versa. Being a statewide organization, NOFA/Mass Board and Staff have become adept at remote communication. Conference calls make it easy for a group scattered throughout the state to meet and work together. These methods for communication might be one solution to the challenge of serving farmers, regardless of their location. 

Our new online workshop series, “Inspiring Ideas from Experts in the Field,” attempts to make quality education easily accessible to all. On the last Tuesday of every month anyone can call or go online to join a one-hour workshop focused on farm management issues. Remote learning will never surpass the value of on-farm, in-person workshops, but our online series removes the added burdens of travel time and cost, increasing the likelihood of participation from beginning and experienced farmers alike.

“It's really easy for farmers to get so caught up in their farm that they fail to see the big picture, or realize that the things that they are struggling with are things that lots of other folks have struggled with,” said Tevis Robertson-Goldberg, of Crabapple Farm in Chesterfield, MA our February 26 “Inspiring Ideas” presenter. Our workshops will be structured as 30-minute presentations followed by a 30-minute question and answer session with the instructor. This will give individuals a chance to delve deeper into the issues relevant to their specific situations.

On January 26th we piloted our online workshop series with presenter, Missy Bahret of Old Friends Farm in Amherst, MA. Missy explained how setting a holistic goal for herself and her farm helped to increase both her profitability and quality of life. Setting goals for your farm that include the well-being of farmers increases the likelihood that you will make decisions that move you towards your goal.

Although managing a farm requires incredible dedication and an eagerness to commit to work that can be physically, mentally and emotionally challenging, it should not be the expectation that a farmer must sacrifice their well-being in order for their business to thrive. The best examples of stable and prospering small farm businesses have embraced a model that includes quality of life for the farmers and staff as an equal priority to productivity and soil fertility. 

Later this year we will hear from other successful farmers who are teaching the management strategies they use to increase their effectiveness as business owners and farmers. On May 26 we will hear from Ben Hartman, owner of Claybottom Farm and author of “The Lean Farm”. 

“By leaning up and focusing our production we were able to turn a hobby into a full-time job where we are earning a comfortable salary. Also, our work is more fun - there’s less chaos, we’re working a lot less, and we can easily get into a flow where we are focused and not distracted. Our work is fairly predictable and orderly,” Ben said. 

Curtis Stone, who presents the June 30 workshop, has created a profitable urban farming business in Kewlona, BC. His book, “The Urban Farmer” explains how focusing on profitable crops and efficient farming systems can make even small leased plots of urban land viable for farming. Our goal for these workshops is that any farmer, regardless of their scale or the crops that they grow can benefit from listening to each presenter.

Other workshops will be more specific, focusing on crop management, soil fertility, tillage practices and other topics relating directly to production. On February 25, our presenter, Tevis Robertson-Goldberg, is presenting on “Integrating Beef Cattle into a Vegetable Operation.” Tevis and his wife, Rachel, run a fully diversified farm growing vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds and raising lamb, pork and beef. His workshop will focus on the beef operation. “Our cattle utilize land not suited for cropping, and provide the fertility that feeds our vegetable production. Managed grazing builds soil, while vegetable cropping tends to deplete it. The combination on our farm helps us keep our whole farm soil system in balance, without having to rely on mined fertilizer imported from elsewhere. Meat also gives us a product to sell at farmers’ markets year round, which nicely balances the seasonality of vegetable production.”

During the workshop, Tevis will explain in detail how he uses his cattle to increase the fertility and profitability on his farm, and include tips for balancing animal care and management with the daily management tasks of a diversified vegetable operation. Even if you don’t have the land base or desire to add cattle to your farm, learning more about management strategies for a fully diversified farm will be beneficial.

We will record all workshops for future viewing whenever possible. To prepare for the series we ran a “practice workshop” for NOFA/Mass Board and Staff, led by Laura Davis, our Organic Certification Coordinator and Farmer at Long Life Farm in Hopkinton, MA. You can view her workshop “Organic Certification Demystified” in our archives.

It is our sincere hope that everyone will take advantage of this opportunity and expose themselves to new ideas, exploring the possibilities to improve their farm systems. “You have to realize that farming is a trade profession - more like carpentry or plumbing than Wall Street fund management. It’s blue collar. You take your showers after work not before. Like any other professional trade, there is a lot to learn. In fact, I think it takes as long to be successful as a farmer as it does to become a doctor - about eight years,” said Ben Hartman.

Affordability is a key part of the accessibility of our workshops. We are able to offer the workshops free of charge because of sponsorship from Lancaster Agriculture, private donations, and a partnership with New Entry Sustainable Farming Project and the Tufts Friedman School of Nutritional Science and Policy, who provide access to the WebEx software used to host the workshops.

To view the full schedule, call in number and webinar access codes, see our website: Inspiring Ideas From Experts in the Field.

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