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

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If there was a way to nurture natural systems, reverse environmental damage, and increase the health of people and animals around us, wouldn’t you want to support it?  If so, maybe you should start drinking more milk. 

Dairy farmers throughout the Northeast are embracing farming methods that sequester carbon from the atmosphere and draw it into their soils, where it nourishes the diverse microbial life beneath the surface of the earth.  This enhanced microbial network just so happens to be a prime environment for low-maintenance pasture and crops to thrive, which, in turn, offers an opportunity for livestock farmers to use their land to meet the high nutritional needs of dairy cattle. 

Will Rogers, of Rogers Farm in Warren, Massachusetts is following nature’s rules when it comes to managing his land and his herd of dairy cattle.  “We need to watch how nature works and mimic it.  We’re all based on biology, the food we eat needs to be grown by good biology to net a higher nutrient value food.” 

The world has dramatically shifted in the past month. A tiny virus has changed everything. COVID-19 went from being the butt of social media jokes about the CDC overreacting, to causing multiple states to call for “shelter in place” or, as in our state, “stay at home” orders. This time of quarantine has left all of us reeling and feeling isolated in what feels like just moments. And the food system has taken a particularly hard hit. 

Like the way an avalanche begins with a tiny rumble, then overtakes the landscape to leave only what can hunker down and hang on for dear life, this virus has leveled our country's way of selling and buying food down to barren grocery store shelves and a supply chain stretched to its limit.

 

On February 12, 2020, 21 farmers from across Massachusetts drove in to the Statehouse to urge legislators to support the creation of a Massachusetts Healthy Soils Program. Gathering in a briefing room, legislators, staffers, press and supporters of the bill heard comments from farmers.

Representative Schmid and Senator Comerford, lead cosponsors of S.2404, the Healthy Soils Bill, started the briefing. “This is amazing to us, that the interest and fascination with healthy soils has grown so quickly here in the State House, and it’s in large part due to your advocacy,” Rep. Schmid remarked to the those in attendance.

“I want to acknowledge your work to grow and expand the possibility of this bill and the impact of healthy soils on our Commonwealth. It’s a food security issue, it’s a farmer justice issue and now we’re rightly seeing it as a climate issue,” said Senator Comerford, adding “And I want to thank NOFA for really spearheading the organizing around this, the outside push. We want to do right by our Commonwealth, and people like you make us do it.”

Dairy cows have been dubbed “the heart of the homestead” throughout American history because of their high productivity and ability to provide sustenance for so many other beings on a small farm.  On a diet of grass, hay and perhaps some supplemental grain, a dairy cow can produce enough milk to feed her calf and a small human family, with enough left over to share with pigs, chickens and other omnivores on the farm.  Her calves can be raised for beef or as future dairy cows, and her manure can be recycled into the landscape as fertilizer.  On some traditional New England farms, the cattle shelter was built under the family home to utilize the heat that the cow produced from ruminating to help heat the house in winter.  With so many benefits in one domestic animal, it’s easy to see how dairy cows have become a beloved staple on so many farms. 

The Robinson family of Hardwick has loved their 270 acres in central Massachusetts since before the turn of the 20th century.  Ray Robinson is the fourth-generation farmer to care for Robinson Farm and make it his own.  From a young boy playing and helping in the fields to taking the reins and steering the farm in new directions, Ray was raised to care for this piece of earth and all its living things

If you are a farmer, you have probably looked down an endless row of weeding to be done and sighed. Never-ending and daunting tasks pop up all over the farm and garden. As a matter of fact, they pop up in everyone’s life, no matter if you have an apartment in the city or 30 acres in the country. Washing dishes, folding laundry, putting up cans of tomatoes- heck, even long drives can leave us feeling lonely. Now think of the times that you have set out to finish a chore or a drive and had a few good friends along. When you are talking and laughing, sharing stories and knowledge, it can make the time you are elbow deep in the dishwater or at the beginning of a long row of weedy onions fly by. Well, guess what? If you subscribe to the NOFA/Mass Podcast you will have fabulous farmy friends in your headphones whenever you want!

Listening to a podcast is a great way to pass the time when you are working solo, and if you choose to listen to the NOFA/Mass podcast you will get to hang out with some of our favorite people as they chat about all sorts of farmy topics. 

Aerial view of Hopestill Farm showing Christmas tree fields
Photo via www.hopestill.com

For those of us who aspire to make sustainable and regenerative consumption decisions, the holidays are an Olympic-level event! With so many gifts, decorations, and food items to buy in so little time, it can seem overwhelming to think carefully about each purchase.

If your family buys a Christmas tree, you might want to give it just as much thought as your other holiday purchases. According to Beyond Pesticides, “The pesticides that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registers for use on conventionally grown Christmas trees are linked to numerous adverse health effects, including cancer, hormonal disruption, neurotoxicity, organ damage, reproductive/birth defects, asthma, and more.” And less than 1% of the Christmas tree market in the United States is organic, so it can be very hard to find a tree you can be sure was grown without harmful sprays. Also, when you consider that the leading Christmas tree producing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Washington and Michigan, you might start to question the impact of your tree’s ecological and carbon footprint.

chockalog cover

Chockalog Farm is a 36-acre farm in Uxbridge, MA offering vegetables and meat grown in a regenerative, integrated farm system that includes a market garden, high tunnel, food forest, pastures and woods.

How did you get interested in no till?

I don’t really remember! It was about 10 years ago, we would have read a book about it and decided to start out that way—but we read so many books that I am not sure what the first one was. Two early influences on our no-till thinking were Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution and Ruth Stout’s No Work Garden Book, which focused on a permanent mulch system. 

 

Soil Science

In the previous installment, we delved into what nitrogen is, why plants need it and how plants, bacteria and humans get it. Today we will delve into how it moves through our farms and interacts with global systems. The concept of a biogeochemical cycle is useful in thinking about how elements behave on a micro and global scale. As can be seen in the roots of the word, a biogeochemical cycle involves biological, from organism to ecosystem, and abiotic systems such as the atmosphere. It makes sense, on a planet whose continents appear green from photosynthetic organisms from space, that life is a driving force inextricable from chemical and geological processes. Humans, of course, need to come to terms with this reality. We cannot live on the planet without changing the planet, and the kind of planet we will have to live on will be the direct result of our actions. Other examples of biogeochemical cycles are those for water, carbon and sulfur.

soil Science

This is the third edition of this Soil Science Mini Series with Noah Courser-Kellerman of Alprilla Farm in Essex, MA.

A Conversation with Noah Courser-Kellerman: What is Cation Exchange and why it is Relevant?

Interviewer: Julie Rawson, Executive Director, NOFA/Mass

Julie: What are cations/anions? 

soil formation

New England is a weird place to farm. We live in a mostly tree covered landscape of rolling hills, weathered mountains, deep ponds, swamps, rivers, outcroppings of bedrock, and once in a while, some really nice soil. In many areas, soil can change from heavy, wet clay to rocky, sandy soil in a matter of a hundred feet or so. This patchwork effect is increased by the crosshatching of millions of miles of stone walls built by the first European farmers in this area as they tried to eke a living from the rocky ground. It has even been posited that the orneriness of New England’s soil is at least partly responsible for the same trait found in its farmers.

But where did this landscape come from? Why are we blessed with perched water tables, endless crops of “New England Potatoes”- field stones- and house sized boulders seemingly dropped from space in the middle of our woods and fields?

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