By Anna Gilbert-Muhammad and Christine Manuck

The NOFA Tri-State Bulk Order can help you plan ahead for the upcoming growing season and save you money on supplies, while on a community level it can facilitate sharing of different products and opportunities to learn from what other gardeners are doing. The Bulk Order offers a unique opportunity to obtain the potting soil, amendments and tools that gardeners need, and the Bulk Order’s Community Garden program caters to growers who are using a shared garden space by encouraging small individual orders to be combined into one larger order for pick up convenience and a great discount. 

Two young people standing in front of a garden, one holding a yellow squash and a green squash

Two youth leaders from the Tapley Court Garden in Springfield, MA stand with their community garden-grown squash.

Sister Anna Gilbert-Muhammad, NOFA/Mass Equity and Food Access Director, has been leading youth residents at Tapley Court Apartments, in partnership with Springfield’s Home City Housing, in growing food in their urban community garden. She has found that items from last year’s Bulk Order, including cover crop seeds and worm castings, have greatly increased the quality and yield of the vegetables they grew in 2021.

As part of their Youth Garden Summer Intensive program, the youth spent time studying the benefits of cover crops in small garden plots. They planted and compared a few different varieties and cover crop seed mixtures within different plots at the Tapley Court Garden. After one of the harvests, the youth gathered the produce from each plot and compared them. The plot with red clover sown under tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in late August performed well in terms of quality of the produce grown (taste, size and smell), and the amount harvested. The yield differences between the plots were great enough that the youth participants commented on the larger amounts harvested from the plots with the red clover. 

By adding cover crops to their garden plots, the youth increased the health of the soil so essential to growing tasty, healthy produce, and made their vegetables even better than they were without cover crops. As a bonus, the youth discovered that the red clover could double as a wonderful tasting tea that may be good for cleansing kidneys, reducing bone loss, and helping with skin care. The Tapley Garden has worked closely with cover crops over the past two seasons, and has found red clover to be a clear winner for them through the multiple benefits it offers as a cover crop and as a tea.

Sister Anna is an amazing resource for knowledge on gardening and building soil health, particularly within garden plots. Under her guidance, the youth at Tapley Court Garden also trialed worm castings from NOFA Tri-State Bulk Order in their plots. Before the season really began and the soil was soft, the youth leaders layered the soil with compost, worm castings, and some mulch (shredded leaves). (Sister Anna and the other garden leaders didn’t tell the youth that the castings were actually worm poop until they were spread, just to defer the “yuck” factor!) It was easier to begin with worm castings on the bottom layer, and then add other organic matter on top, allowing the castings to break down and integrate into the soil while the shredded leaf mulch created a soil cover.  Given their incredible reputation for improving soil health, the worm castings served as the youth’s introduction to the power of earthworms as “nature’s tillers”. These garden beds created great-tasting produce, and produced a great deal – see the picture below of their squash harvest!

Green and yellow squash in a blue bin

Squash harvest 2021 from the Tapley Court Garden.

The experiences of Sister Anna and the youth at Tapley Court Garden are just a few examples of the benefits that products from the Bulk Order can have for communities and shared garden spaces. Small garden size or limited need shouldn’t be a deterrent to ordering specialized supplies through the Bulk Order. If you are unsure about what amendments or seed products you should purchase and how much you should apply to your space, we can help you figure it out. 

The Bulk Order also offers physical gardening supplies, such as tomato stakes, pruners, and weeding tools. Don’t hesitate to contact the Soil Technical Team at soilhealth@nofamass.org for questions pertaining to soil, amendments, or cover cropping, or reach out to our Bulk Order team at bulkorder@nofamass.org with general product questions. Also, if there’s a product you know you want, but don’t see it in our catalog, let us know and we’ll see if we can get it for you!

Ways for Groups and Communities to Save Money

Individual and community gardeners comprise the majority of NOFA members, and we know that groups, communities, families and community gardens each play valuable roles in supporting growers to work collectively. With the start of the Bulk Order right around the corner (ordering opens January 1), we want to highlight some of our new opportunities for groups and communities to participate and save money.

Group orders are eligible for the following discounts:

  • New community/group discount: 10% discount on the first-time order by a community garden, large family, community, or any group gardening in the same space.
  • NOFA membership discount: member prices are 10% less than non-member prices. Become a member of NOFA/Mass, CT NOFA or NOFA/RI today.
  • Volume discounts: 2% on orders greater than $500, 3% on orders greater than $1,000, and 4% on orders greater than $1500.
  • Soil Test Analysis discount: $10 coupon following a soil test analysis performed by the NOFA/Mass Soil Technical Team.

In an effort to increase access to nutritious food, NOFA is also offering an Equity Discount to communities and families that either live in food deserts, are experiencing food insecurity, or are challenged by the lack of access to healthy food. This is a new opportunity this year that is designed to increase and facilitate gardening opportunities in communities in need, and to help compensate for the current voids or challenges related to food access.

Community gardens, groups, and families are all eligible for an Equity Discount based upon need. NOFA/Mass is also eager to help these communities understand what products they need for their gardens while prioritizing cost effective and environmentally-conscious production practices through our soil testing and analysis services. Contact bulkorder@nofamass.org or call David at 773-598-9277 for more details on receiving an additional discount or added soil health technical services based upon the financial need of your community, family, or community garden.

NOFA/Mass is able to offer these discounts thanks to donations from individuals and groups that would like to offset the food production expenses of communities in need. Anyone interested in contributing to the Equity Discount Fund to offset the Bulk Order purchase expenses for communities in need can do so by contacting bulkorder@nofamass.org or by selecting the “Pay it Forward” option while making their own Bulk Order purchase at nofabulkorder.org.

How to Place an Order Through the NOFA Tri-State Bulk Order

Placing an order for a community garden is simple with our Community and Shared Garden Order Template. The Order Template allows the person placing the order to manage each individual gardener’s requests for ease of distribution later, while consolidating the items purchased by multiple gardeners. Please complete a form at https://forms.gle/23sQYJV2K38J5bkv6 to provide us with your shared garden space information, obtain the Order Template, and receive your 10% Bulk Order discount code.

Plan: Start talking to members of your community or shared garden space now to gather interest in participating in the 2022 Bulk Order as a group. Complete the form and obtain the Order Template to start identifying which items each gardener wants to purchase.

Ordering: Place your order online at www.nofabulkorder.org between January 1-31, 2022. There, you can choose from our designated locations to pick up your purchases in the spring.

Pick Up Locations: 2022 Massachusetts pick up locations are conveniently located in Barre, Belchertown, Dalton, Seekonk, Sherborn, Springfield, and West Wareham. We also offer a Connecticut pickup location in Meriden and a Rhode Island pickup location in Charlestown. 

Pick Up Dates: Saturday, March 12, 2022 (General Items – excludes Tuber and Onion Sets) & Saturday, April 16, 2022 (Tuber and Onion Sets). Pickup dates to be determined for seedlings.

We’re excited to be able to directly assist community gardeners, individuals and groups gardening in shared spaces through the 2022 NOFA Tri-State Bulk Order. We’re especially grateful to be able to assist any qualifying groups interested in the Equity Discount to improve food access within food-challenged communities.

Visit nofabulkorder.org for a preview of our 2022 catalog today.