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Carbon Sequestration

One of the newest additions to Matt’s herd

Here in New England we are blessed with a plethora of rocky, sloped soils. And though that means that we may never be the grain belt of America, these thin, marginal soils can grow some really great grass. In fact, the high mineral content and heavy rainfalls of our region suggest that grass-fed livestock may be one of the most sustainable agricultural uses of our land. According to New England Food Vision, grass-fed livestock ought to be a cornerstone for a sustainable New England food economy: “Of the 6 million acres of farmland in [New England], some 2 million are suitable only for pasture and orchard and another million are probably best suited for pasture and hay.” These 3 million acres are “an enormous unrealized agricultural resource, a place where New England’s soils and climate can show a real competitive advantage.”

Lee spreading compost

This month’s interview takes us to Lee Reich. Lee lives in New Paltz, PA and is well known to NOFA members for his years of presentations at NOFA conferences in the region. He is the author of several books, including Grow Fruit Naturally, The Pruning Book, Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, Weedless Gardening, A Northeast Gardener’s Year and Landscaping With Fruit. Lee has had a large-scale garden for 30 years, and his annual vegetable production includes a 2000-square-foot garden and a 400-square-foot greenhouse.

Carbon digest

When I was researching information for last summer’s NOFA white paper on soil carbon, one of my pet peeves was the arcane nature of many of the scientific papers I was reading. Many seemed purposely obtuse, and almost all were protected behind some sort of pay-wall that only those working for universities or well-heeled institutions (or with connections in same) were able to access. 

Fungus mold hyphae on bark-based potting mix

Adequate levels of functional organic matter and a robust soil digestive system are sorely lacking in most all agricultural soils. This lack of humic substances and biology significantly reduces a soil’s water holding capacity and the ability to release nutrients, all of which leads to large losses in crop quality and yield.

Cabbages the size of basketballs at Heifer Farm

I met Elizabeth Joseph, or “Liz Jo” as we fondly refer to her, soon after she showed up on the scene in 2009 at Heifer Farm (then Overlook Farm) in Rutland. In NOFA/Mass there was a lot of talk and education around nutrient density in those days, and she and I found ourselves at the same workshops and conferences. She started at Heifer in 2009 as a volunteer and in 2010 she was hired as the Garden Coordinator.

Garlic harvest

This article is part of a monthly series where I am interviewing farmers on their no-till practices. Energized by our work at NOFA/Mass to sequester carbon into soil as quickly and effectively as we can, I have chosen to interview annual vegetable producing farmers around the Northeast, because no-till with succession production is not easy, nor are there many models.

Dan Pratt is an old NOFA friend from Hadley of a few decades. I was delighted to hear that he is applying for an Organic Farming Research Foundation grant to further develop his no-till system using compost and biochar on Astarte Farm that he once owned, but now has sold and where he remains as farm manager. Of course he will go ahead with it anyway, whether or not he gets some grant help.

Comfrey on field edges to keep out perennial weeds. Photo by Brian Caldwell

This month’s interview is with Jay Armour, co-owner (with wife Polly) of Four Winds Farm, an organically certified no till farm in the Hudson Valley in next-door New York State.

I asked Jay why he started to farm using no till a lot earlier than most organic farmers, who are now just coming around to it. Here’s what he has to say:

Basically, we started doing no till 20 years ago because Lee Reich said we would have fewer weeds. I was crazy with weeds and the ground was getting harder as the season would go on. It was like night and day to make the switch. We never went back to tilling. We started seeing other benefits happening that we weren’t really counting on. As we learned about carbon sequestration we realized it is a good thing for the earth. We get soil tests done because our inspectors like to see fairly regular tests. One thing that we have seen over the years was the organic matter going up. It was around 2.5%

Wood chips on Food Project’s Beverly farm

As part of our carbon restoration work, we are featuring practitioners who are trying innovative practices that build soil structure, growing capacity and quality, while carefully protecting and building underground carbon storage. We are collecting a sharable body of knowledge of practices that are effective at lowering atmospheric carbon dioxide while raising high quality organic food.

Chard in clover-based cover end of season October

The catalogue and order form for the Tri-State NOFA Bulk Order (serving MA, RI and CT) will be published January 1st 2016 here. You will have one month to place your order, and your order will be ready for pickup on Saturday, March 12 at the pickup site nearest you. Check out this map of the Tri-State pickup locations.

Dark soil profile

Dark soil profile

I had the pleasure recently of doing a phone interview with Casey Townsend to discuss the success of his first year using “no-till” at Natick Community Organic Farm (NCOF). Here below are his words.

I went to The Soil and Nutrition Conference in February. It was an overview of some of the work Bryan O’Hara has done at his farm. As he was talking about his compost, I realized that this might be a great option for the compost we make. I realized we could benefit if we were to use some of Bryan’s methods. We just filled all of our compost bins with a compost of manure, wood chips and leaves, a recipe with a C:N ratio of 30:1. Our newest mixture is 10 parts leaves, six parts wood chips, one part turkey manure – measured in tractor bucket loads. We turn it once and it comes out chunky.

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