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

Beginning permaculturist and experienced farmer experiment, learn together

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2017 July Issue Newsletter

By Kristin Brennan

One of Jeuji’s nutritious wild salads

Julie Rawson has worked with lots of beginning farmers over the years. But this year is her first time being partnered with a permaculture mentee. Jeuji Diamondstone of Worcester, with her urban backyard of Jerusalem artichokes, hazelnut bushes, and dandelions, is developing something quite unique. In the third season of the developing of her permaculture oasis, Jeuji, a NOFA/Mass member and avid learner, sought out some help from the NOFA/Mass beginning farmer mentorship program. Over the winter, we looked far and wide for the right fit for Jeuji, not an easy task. Yet, with 40 years of growing experience and experimenting with "a lot of things on her farm," Julie offered. Jeuji says, "I wasn't sure about it at first because Julie admitted that permaculture wasn't her strong suite, but it has been awesome getting to know Julie and her farm, and any time that I am in a place that is growing things, it is beneficial. I am learning."

The mentorship began with a site visit to Jeuji's home. They talked raised beds, irrigation systems, integrating annual agricultural systems, and wild foods. Then Jeuji trekked out to Barre, MA to Many Hands Organic Farm to work with Julie for a day. A recent phone call to Julie delved into different strategies for thinning peaches. Julie says, "I've never been a highly formalized or structured mentor because I like to go with the flow of the beginning farmers needs." They are scheduled to meet by phone every three weeks throughout the season, and Jeuji is planning another visit to Many Hands Organic Farm because the hands-on, in-person training was so helpful.

In the next few weeks, other than weeding, Jeuji is focusing on building her plant identification skills. She is currently taking an online plant identification course. This spring, a Western Mass permaculture group member visited her and skillfully identified the variety of native and wild plants in her garden. With the bounty of these wild greens, she's been making flavorful and nutritious salads.

Building and supporting the next generation of farmers is central to the NOFA/Mass mission and is intertwined into all of our programming: workshops, conferences, webinars, mentorships, our printed materials, the apprentice directory, and our soil technical assistance. This year our beginning farmer mentorship program has a special program for those developing their skills in high tunnel growing. From its inception, NOFA/Mass has been a community of seasoned farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, and those aspiring to be so. This is what makes our community so rich. And, time and time again, our experienced farmers have shared with us how much they've learned when they commit to becoming formal mentors to new farmers. Thanks to our beginning farmer supporters who make these efforts robust: Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, UNFI, Simply Organic 1% Fund, and the Walsh Foundation. 

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