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Farming

Brix Bounty tomato harvest (Credit: Brix Bounty)

NOFA/Mass is beginning 2018 with a series of webinars that focus on skill building for rural and urban beginning farmers, organic farming as a means to creating a just food system and the power of cover crops to increase soil fertility. 

Chuck and Marie

For this issue of the newsletter I called up Chuck Currie, a farmer who has been at it for over 10 years now, and is the proprietor, with his partner Marie, of Freedom Food Farm in Raynham, MA. I left this interview with a great sense of appreciation for Chuck and all that he works toward as an organic farmer trying to make a positive impact in his little corner of the world.

Freedom Food Farm was started in Rhode Island in 2012 but was moved to Raynham in 2014 when the land they were leasing was about to be turned into condominiums. In Raynham they are still leasing, in this case it is APR land. They have reached out to various land trusts to ask for help in buying the land, but because it is APR the land trusts have not seen it as a priority investment to support his land tenure. Chuck and Marie have been looking to go with the OPAV program – Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value.

pesticide free zone

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that “the government closest to the people serves the people best.” Had he lived into the 21st century, he would assuredly have been appalled by the distance between the American citizen and the policies that directly affect their life and well-being. A few weeks ago, the citizens of Warwick, Massachusetts took one small, but significant step toward collapsing that dangerous distance.

In an effort to protect the townspeople from the increasingly well-known health impacts of glyphosate, a popular herbicide, the citizens of Warwick passed an ordinance that bans glyphosate use on public and private land. The effort was led by Selectman Lawrence “Doc” Pruyne, a retired reporter who’s resided in Warwick for six years.

Derek Christianson

Refining fertility programs; and adjusting mineral based fertility through the seasons. This intensive is seen heavily through the lens of vegetable production. 

Derek Christianson is the owner of and head farmer at Brix Bounty Farm in Dartmouth, MA and is appreciated by many to be one of our farmer leaders in the organic and sustainable farming community. He is one of the few of us who makes the entire family income through farming, supported by his wife Katie and their three young children. We are lucky to have Derek present an all day seminar at the winter conference where farmers and gardeners can do some deep thinking and sharing around fertility management. This event is geared for the intermediate to advanced grower, regardless of size.

Danny Botkin of Laughing Dog Farm

Danny Botkin of Laughing Dog Farm holds up a beautiful blossum

Danny: I will be talking about a series of unconventional tactics – “guerrilla gardening” you could say – which involve breaking some of the cardinal rules, like planting dates, one seed per cell, long, straight rows, homogenous crops. By challenging conventional wisdom on season, propagation, spacing, etc, we can embrace a more opportunistic and improvisational mode of growing which can be surprisingly rewarding, if not altogether linear or planful.

A lifetime of gleaning and dumpster diving taught me to salvage everything and improvise endlessly on my five acre, micro-farm.  Hence, I garden around the calendar by keeping “libraries” of plants alive  – garlic, remnant brassicas, hardy seedlings, etc, to push the seasonal envelope as far as possible. Then I shamelessly transplant into passive, high and low tunnels to harness the margins of the thermometer and calendar. Sometimes it turns out really well...

On October 22, NOFA/Mass will be hosting a seed breeding and sovereignty workshop at Round the Bend Farm in Dartmouth. Bill Braun, seed grower and farmer, is a main organizer of this, and there will be a number of seed breeders at the workshop. Read more about this workshop and learn how to register here

Bill and his partner Dee Levanti, and now their new son Bernard, grow vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit on about five acres at Ivory Silo Farm in Westport, MA, using sustainable practices and with great respect to biological diversity. When I interviewed him for this issue we were both in the throes of July and all that means – lots of heat (though less this year), lots of weeds, lots of pie in the sky dreams of the spring dashed as the reality of all of the challenges of the farm year have set in, but also looking forward to August where a lot of the early work starts to pay off in heavy vegetables, cooler nights and the calm that impending fall brings. We ran into one another again at the Summer Conference and shared a brief moment being chauffeured in the golf cart to Bill’s seed intensive. August was here and all was right with the world.

This is the first in a series of interviews with organic heroes from across the Northeast. Since 1984, Dave Chapman has been growing organic tomatoes at his Vermont-based Long Wind Farm. Until recently, he was content to keep his nose to the grind stone. But then, a few years ago, he started to notice something different about the organic tomatoes at all the grocery stores he visited: they were almost all hydroponically grown, and almost all were coming from just a few large companies. Surely, he thought, this must be an oversight, since hydroponics had been banned since 2010. He started petitioning, digging, and talking to figure out what this was all about. The hornet’s nest that he’s since dug up has become one of the most controversial issues in the organic industry. With deep integrity, Dave has been leading the charge to “keep the soil in organic” through rallies, presentations, and public education.

Forget tomatoes and microgreens. Cannabis is about to enter the Massachusetts marketplace, and according to some estimates it’s poised to become a $1.1 billion industry within just a few years. That would mean cannabis alone would exceed the entire total market value of all Massachusetts agricultural products (which comes in at just shy of $500 million).

NOFA/Mass has started another year of our “Inspiring Ideas from the Field” monthly webinar series. The series started in April and will feature presenters on soil carbon sequestration, biochar, no-till farming, urban gardening techniques such as bio-intensive growing, and other topics from our in-the-field experts. This year we’ve added Food Access topics to bring attention to urban farming and gardening work that is bringing healthy food to communities that struggle with food security issues.

Greg Disterhoft

Greg will be running a NOFA/Mass education event Growing and Processing Medicinal Herbs on June 25 in Sunderland, MA. In preparation for his workshop, I interviewed Greg back in April to find out a little more about him and his operation. 

The demand for local, organic herbs is rapidly growing with the revival of herbalism and integrated medicine. This workshop will provide an overview of what it takes to grow and manage a successful herbal market garden. Full Kettle Farm’s Greg Disterhoft will walk us through soil, light & water requirements, cool and warm season herbs, annuals vs. perennials, transplanting, harvesting, fertility, and the maintenance of a variety of herbs. Greg will demonstrate how he propagates and cultivates a wide array of herbs (including high value herbs like ashwagandha, astragalus, tulsi, and clary sage).

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