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Carbon Sequestration

Courtney White 

Courtney White will be the keynote for Landscape Heroes: Carbon, Water and Biodiversity, a daylong event on January 31, 2017, organized in collaboration with NOFA/Mass, the Ecological Landscape Alliance (ELA), Biodiversity for a Livable Climate (BLC), and the Organic Land Care Program of CT NOFA. It will take place at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst in the Campus Center Auditorium. Lunch is included in the registration. 

Masoud Hashemi, UMass Extension Professor, invited NOFA/Mass to send two representatives to participate in a recent meeting of the Northeast Cover Crop Council (NECCC) meeting. The event, held November 16-17 in Beltsville, MD, took place at the USDA National Agriculture Library and was attended by 36 folks representing land grants, extension, NRCS, members of the industry, farmers and non-profit farming organizations. Noah Kellerman, NOFA/Mass board member and farmer at Alprilla Farm in Essex, and I attended this inspiring event.

The timing of the annual international Conference of the Parties (COP) regarding climate change has been less than blessed. COP21 in Paris last year shortly followed the devastating terrorist attack on that city, resulting in very tight security restrictions on movement and participation by the many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that had flocked to Paris for the occasion.

This year, COP22 in Marrakech was scheduled for November 7–18. On day two of that conference shock and confusion were sown by an unexpected result from the United States, the election of Donald Trump as president. His statements that climate change is a hoax and his party’s platform plank that “coal is an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource” had negotiators concerned, although most realized that what one says in a campaign and how one governs are different matters. The coal industry, however, seemed to be taking Trump at his word. Stocks jumped on the morning after the election and word spread that Myron Ebell, self described as the “number one enemy of climate change alarmism,” might lead the EPA and strip it of its regulatory powers.

Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastapol, CA have been called “drought fighters,” and “leading innovators,” in the field of regenerative agriculture. Their agro-ecological growing practices (and the results thereof) have commended as “sustainability on steroids,”’ and “transformative.”

Rapidly growing in renown to near Elliot Coleman levels, the Kaisers have recently attracted national attention from soil scientists, government agencies, agricultural organizations, journalists and the farming community for their unconventional farming practices. Their methods allow them to grow up to seven crops per year per bed, gross $100,000 per acre, raise soil organic matter 400% in six years, achieve Bee Friendly Certification, offer year-round positions to several employees at $15/hour, and use absolutely no sprays, even organic ones.

Phytoremediation: Phytoremediation Canal Cleaning Island of Plants 

On January 31, 2017, come join us for an exciting, all day conference for anyone who is interested in tackling climate change, restoring the land, and building a future of resilient and biodiverse [N1] landscapes. Landscape Heroes: Carbon, Water and Biodiversity is a conference for land managers, farmers, homeowners, researchers, and anyone who is interested in making a difference right in their own backyard.

The story of carbon is complex and yet also incredibly simple. Every living thing is made of carbon. Carbon is in the air and the soil. It is in our oceans and forests. It makes up earthworms, phytoplankton, fungi, plants, and humans, too. For the past several years, we have heard about the imbalances of the carbon cycle and its role in climate change, especially with regard to the impacts of our excessive use of fossil fuels in the last few. But there is another side to the carbon story – a story that includes the dramatic interplay of soil, water and biodiversity. It’s a story you don’t want to miss!

After silage tarps and close up of soil

This article is part of a series that I have been doing on reduced tillage, no tillage, and other methods that focus on the importance of carbon in agricultural soils, particularly with annual vegetable growers. I interviewed Brittany Overshiner, who is our NOFA/Mass Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator, and a now nine-year Beginning Farmer herself, who has had comprehensive experience working on a number of vegetable farms in Eastern Massachusetts.

Elizabeth and Paul Kaiser (Photo by Saxton Holt)

Don’t miss the upcoming NOFA/Mass Winter Conference on January 14th, 2017. Our full program of adult, teen and children’s courses will fill your winter study sessions with energy and enthusiasm.

Speaking of study... what can degrees in nursing, public health, agroforestry, sustainable development and natural resources management get you? Answer: Two expert farmers and one NOFA/Mass Winter Conference keynote speaker - Paul Kaiser.

Paul and his wife Elizabeth own and operate Singing Frogs Farm, where they also raise their two children. This vegetable farm is not just sustainable - it’s also regenerative. Based in Sonoma County, California, it is a living experiment in no-till, ecologically beneficial, and highly profitable farm - producing 5-7 harvest per year.

It is hard to hear the news today without some aspect of climate change and carbon policy being discussed.

For many years “global warming” had been an issue barely on the horizon for most people. But the stronger and stronger weather events we have witnessed over the planet the last few years have given many thoughtful people pause. More and more now believe that without strong concerted action we may be facing climate problems we have never before experienced as a species. It has been hard, however, getting governments to adopt the strong positions on limiting fossil fuel use that most feel would be required to adequately reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the core cause of climate change.

Carbon expert and author, rancher and activist, Courtney White will be joining us this winter from New Mexico for an exciting conference on practical steps one can take to make big impacts to restore soil carbon and be a part of the climate solution. His most recent book, Two Percent Solutions for the Planet: 50 Low-Cost, Low-Tech, Nature-Based Practices for Combatting Hunger, Drought, and Climate Change is full of innovative ideas to heal degraded landscapes. Courtney has also written Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country, which has inspired many with its wealth of innovative solutions, stories, and leaders in this movement – see the review below by Julie Rawson.

The conference will take place at UMass Amherst campus and will feature a wide variety of land care practitioners including land managers, farmers, researchers, and conservationists. They will speak about what is possible for soil carbon and landscape restoration. Speakers also include Eric Toensmeier with his new book The Carbon Farming Solution, Eric Fleisher and the organic land care team at Harvard University, as well as Bruce Fulford, Bryan O'Hara, Paul Wagner and Charles Osborne. This conference is made possible through a collaboration between NOFA/Mass, the Ecological Landscape Alliance (ELA), Biodiversity for a Livable Climate (BLC) and NOFA's Organic Landcare Carbon Program (OLCP).

Healthy monster tomatoes

Healthy monster tomatoes

I write this on September 26, the day after a pretty serious frost on at least half of our farm. Today I want to talk about the use of wood chips in beds as mulch. We had some stunning successes with the method that we devised to plant, do an initial weeding and then mulch with wood chips that were partially decomposed, acquired from our local DPW. We had best ever crops of onions, both long season and spring green onions, lettuce in wood chip mulch, spinach, carrots, parsley, basil, Swiss chard, kale, and tomatoes. Beets, which generally were not as beautiful as I would like them to be, and cucumbers did not fare as well. Winter squash did fairly well. The chips that we used around the cucumbers and winter squash were fresh last fall, and I think that it was a mistake to use them, perhaps because of too much mineral tie up.

In some of our chard and basil beds we sowed crimson clover on top of the chips, which germinated nicely, and seemed to provide great ground cover and a constant fertility drip to the crops. I look forward to how crops grow in these beds next year.

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