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Growing Organically Since 1982

Seasoned urban grower shares advice with beginning farmer

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

By Brittany Sidway Overshiner

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.”

Jess loves her job, but farming in Somerville is very different from farming in New Orleans.

“You’d never be growing carrots and basil at the same time down there,” she said recently during an online mentorship program meet-up. “There are pretty much two seasons, summer and winter. And winter is when you grow all the things we grow in spring and fall here in Massachusetts.”

A new climate meant a new crop plan, and Jess wanted advice from a seasoned grower in the area to learn about planting dates, timing and succession planting to improve her production in 2016. She also desperately wanted help creating a pest management plan, as 2015 brought with it incredible pest pressures in the Groundwork Somerville gardens.

Jess applied for the Mentorship Program and we were able to pair her with Danielle Andrews, who is the Dudley Farm Manager for The Food Project. Danielle has extensive experience as an urban grower for a non-profit and was eager to participate in a formal mentorship program.

Just two months into their mentorship, Danielle has already visited the Groundwork Somerville site, shared her crop plans with Jess and given feedback on Jess’s crop plans.

“Danielle has had great insights around crop planning. Her many years growing in the urban Boston environment has helped me translate basic guidelines available from the Massachusetts almanac around crop timing into a more thorough and nuanced plan for my specific site. This includes planning successions for various crops as well.”

The strong similarity between the two farms they manage, in terms of mission, structure and location has allowed Danielle to share some insight into managing the many demands of a non-profit urban farm. According to Danielle, some of these demands include, “the experience of our young people, opportunities for our immediate neighborhood to be involved in leading and helping to direct some of our work, the needs and desires of volunteers from the Greater Boston area, mission-related food donations and a fairly aggressive income goal.”

“We try to balance many things. It’s hard to maintain the level of quality that we strive for when balancing so many needs and interests,” she explained.

But that is exactly what Jess and Danielle are trying to do. Danielle is grateful for the formality of the NOFA/Mass mentorships, because it has helped create structure, and given Jess the opportunity to create clear goals. Because of this she is able to fully take advantage of Danielle’s time, knowledge and insight, which is very fulfilling for Danielle. An added bonus, Danielle feels like she will get something out if it too. “I feel like Jess and I have been able to come up with communication systems that feel manageable and will keep us coming back together to check in on how things are going this season. It’s been great to get out to her location and see what is happening on "the other side of the river," and I’m sure I will also be picking up ideas from Jess over the course of the season!”

Groundwork Somerville is participating in the MDAR Specialty Crops Grant. Through the grant, NOFA/Mass will help implement and learn about the use of mineral amendments and cover cropping in compost based soils to improve fertility. The mentorship is helping Jess be better prepared to participate in the grant.

“This mentorship dovetails really nicely with the soils Specialty Crops Grant. When I sat down with Danielle she provided some initial thoughts about our soil analysis that we can bring to the conversation with our technical assistant for that grant. Also, it's always really nice to learn about several people's approach to building their soil. In my work in New Orleans, we always added several soil amendments (including blood, bone meal, and alfalfa, as well as compost) to our beds whenever we turned over the crops. Danielle only adds compost at the beginning of the season. I'm looking forward to working with our technical assistant through NOFA to find out his recommendations for building our soil,” Jess said.

Jess is really enjoying farming in Massachusetts – including winter, which, according to Jess, provides “a real respite, and time to reflect and plan. Summer sort of fills that niche in New Orleans, but it felt even more obvious here that everything takes a moment (even if it's surprisingly short!) to rest over the winter. Also, the farming community in MA is unbelievable. I was so amazed to encounter Emasscraft and other farming groups that are really working to support each other and build a strong and vibrant community.”



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