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Meet Jasmin Callahan, Farm Manager at Holly Hill Farm in Cohasset

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2018 February Issue Newsletter

By Julie Rawson, Education Director

Jasmin Callahan

For this month’s edition of the newsletter I interviewed Jasmin Callahan, the Farm Manager at Holly Hill Farm in Cohasset, MA. Holly Hill is owned by Jean White, a long-time NOFA/Mass member. Jasmin shared with me some of her story.

“This will be my 4th season as head farmer at Holly Hill Farm,” according to Jasmin. “I started volunteering in 2001 and then worked as a seasonal farmer for two years. I took a long time off and did various other things. Then in the Fall of 2014, I was asked to undertake growing for our organic Plant Sale in spring of 2015 and I am still here now.

At college I studied forestry along with environmental studies. I liked biology, plant physiology and worked at a conventional nursery with a garden center – which was an interesting learning experience. At my own home, I have an organic garden and I am working toward being self-sustaining. I have always been obsessed with growing things and originally came to the farm because of my interest. For me, farming provides a world of possibilities and complications, and whenever I am presented with a challenge I love to figure it out.

After I left Holly Hill as a seasonal farmer in the 2003, I started my own business as a professional organizer specializing in working with hoarders. But I was struggling with the feeling of being trapped in their houses and not being in touch with nature. Thus, the return to Holly Hill and farming.”

I called Jasmin in the first place because I had been chatting with Jean about how things are going on their farm. She noted that Jasmin has been trying a lot of no-till methods. Here are some more thoughts from Jasmin.

“The farm is very wet. In the spring all the way up through June the fields are saturated. The tradition had been to till the fields but we couldn’t get an early start. Environmental reasons aside (for going no-till), we could get into the fields earlier if we stopped tilling. We decided that it seemed like a logical direction in which to go. I always hated the idea of tilling and seeing the damage to earthworms and toads as well as knowing about the destruction to microorganisms… It all just made sense.

Perennial and invasive weeds are a continuing problem at Holly Hill. When we got rid of the tiller we still saw a lot of weed pressure, but we are hoping that by not turning the soil we will reduce the problem. Our walkways/wheel rows that aren’t managed well are filled with galinsoga, crab grass, quack grass, and pig weed. We have been using simple corrugated cardboard flats and wood chips to suppress the weeds and grass. This seems to be compatible with organic farming but we were concerned about the chemicals in the glues. We seek wood chips from our local landscaping and tree companies. If we are lucky they drop them off. The wood chips act as a great weed barrier when used with cardboard. It is labor intensive, but lasts for more than one season. When we used no cardboard and just chips, we had to reapply with more wood chips. Our last resort is to wheel hoe or weed whack our walkways.

Regarding walkways we have been experimenting with bed width – the walkways are 12” but extend to 20” in places. The beds are 30” wide but we are leaning more toward 48” in our newer fields. Because of the size of our fields, it is sometimes necessary to drive equipment over the bed and we don’t have a truck or tractor that fits over a 30” bed.”

I asked Jasmin to explain to me 12 months of farming in the no-till system.

“I am still trying to establish a routine. Ideally we start with a winter-kill cover crop of oats and peas in the fall. The following spring seedlings will be transplanted into the winter-killed cover crop residue. If in the fall we know that a bed is going to be direct seeded the next spring, we will cover the bed with leaves or black plastic instead of a cover crop. I am not a big fan of using plastic in the fields, but sometimes it’s necessary. We did not use any plastic this past fall. Typically bed prep for us involves using the broad fork, applying compost and raking to flatten for direct seeding. I am still trying to figure out whether broad forking is working for us. Mid-August to mid-October, we intersow oats and pea cover crop with tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant.

For direct seeding we use the Earthway and the rest of our crops are hand transplanted. We are still experimenting and learning how to deal with weeds. Hand pulling or scuffle hoeing is how we have been managing them. This year we are going to use straw as a mulch in some beds. We also plan on doing more intercropping and continue using some woven landscape fabric in the fields that are further away.

Every year has been different! Our experiment with raised beds was not a good experience. They didn’t enable us to plant in our fields as early as we had hoped because ground water was wicked up into the beds. As the season progressed the beds became narrower due to wind and rain. During dry spells water run off became a problem. In new fields with no-till, we now make flat beds 4’ wide. Where we have had fields with no-till the weeds are more manageable; the system helps mitigate the too wet and then too dry conditions in drought times.”

Jasmin shares her thoughts on a few techniques:

Compost: We are trying to use compost as much as we can, an inch per year. We have purchased compost. And we are in the process of making an aerated static pile. We spread compost on the beds, but do not incorporate.

Crop health: It depends on the crop. I am still trying to learn and figure out how to deal with fields that are too acidic in a no till system.

Foliar feeding or drenching: We use Organic Gem, applying a drench before transplanting, and also foliar feeding. In the past we have harvested seaweed from the ocean and tilled it into our beds, and now we are planning to apply it through our composting operation.

“I have so much to learn and am trying to absorb all that I need to become a better farmer!” shared Jasmin.

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