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(C) Matt Kaminsky 2016

On April 8 in Amherst, Matt Kaminsky, the author of The Wild Apple Forager’s Guide, will be teaching the workshop Fruit Tree Propagation Practicum: Grafting and Top Working along with Bob Fitz, lead orchardist of Small Ones Farm.

Malus domestica, the Latin nomenclature for the common apple, truly is an aptly-named species. From its early colonial days as the primary ingredient in hard cider, the drink of choice for most early New Englanders, to its current place as a centerpiece in autumn’s culinary delights, Malus domestica tells the story of our endless quest for sugar, intoxication, and control. No other fruit has been as shaped by the needs of the people it cohabited with.

OFA 2: Elizabeth Kucinich

Almost every industry and cause has an interest group in Washington D.C. working on its behalf. It would seem that organic farmers are no exception. With groups like National Organic Coalition (NOC), Organic Trade Association (OTA) and National Sustainable Action Coalition (NSAC) actively lobbying in D.C, one would think that the interests of organic farmers would be more than adequately represented. But just recently, a new organization called the Organic Farmers Association (OFA) has been gaining momentum as it gears up to be a uniquely farmer-driven policy player.

Green Team staking the tomatoes in test plot #1

Though the word “farming” is in its name, NOFA does more than just work with rural farmers. Much attention is paid to ways more traditional, production farmers can use techniques like cover cropping and mineral amendments to enhance their yields, but there are few resources and little knowledge for using these tools on smaller scale and urban sites.

NOFA/Mass is partnering with The Trustees Boston Community Gardens and Groundwork Somerville on a three-year project to improve the fertility and production of compost-based soils, funded by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). Compost is often free and used-widely by many city growers. Though considered non-toxic and safe for growing in, compost does not provide all that soil needs to produce healthy and sustained crop growth.

High tunnels directly contribute to the local economy and food supply by improving the square foot productivity of agricultural land during the regular growing season, and by extending production into the late fall, winter and spring. Fresh greens, like spinach, mustards, lettuce, kale and chard produced in winter provide a high value complement to storage crops sold through increasingly popular winter farmers’ markets and winter CSA programs. Grafted greenhouse tomatoes can produce exceptionally high yields of blemish free fruit. With proper management, high tunnels increase farm viability by increasing the profitability of farms both in square footage and annual output.

In 2009 the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched a program to subsidize the cost of purchasing and constructing high tunnels for farmers, in order to assess their viability. Many Massachusetts farms have received this funding and built high tunnels, or they have purchased them on their own. Many farmers build simple structures with recycled materials and affordable supplies.

Doug Wolcik studied farming in the Sustainable Ag program at UMass with John Gerber. After that he went to Northern California for two seasons and to gain practical experience with the scientific practices that he learned in college. He learned a basic knowledge about farm layout, planting techniques, greenhouse management, cover cropping – but nothing extremely cutting edge. He came back East pretty poor, and with college loans. He had farmed full time for $100/week in CA along with room and board. He then worked for the Department of Conservation and Recreation on the invasive species team searching out the Asian Longhorned Beetle. He saved enough money to be able to take a huge pay cut and get back into farming. He started working with Gaining Ground and is now in his fifth year there.

You may know that NOFA/Mass delivers technical assistance to Beginning Farmers through our Beginning Farmer Mentorship Program. It really helps to be able to pick up the phone and call an experienced farmer when you are in need of some sage advice. You may also know that we have a gardeners' forum to help gardeners exchange growing ideas. In 2014, NOFA/Mass expanded the technical assistance that we give farmers and food handlers, offering consulting for those who need help with their application for organic certification.

It’s become a notorious fact: 40% of all food grown in the Unites States goes to waste. That’s more than 1 in 4 calories going straight into the dumpster. The thought of so much wholesome, delicious food being wasted is already heavy with pathos, but what is truly heart breaking is the amount of work and resources wasted in the process. A full quarter of our country's fresh water is used to grow this wasted food. 350 million barrels of oil are burned in vain. We can estimate that 250 million pounds of pesticides are sprayed on squandered crops. The level of wasted human work this implies is even more staggering: each year, at least 8 billion person-hours are spent planting, tending, and harvesting unconsumed crops.

Overwintered onions

All too often, I’ll visit a farm in late fall or winter to find their high tunnels without any crops growing. Many growers don’t have the time, energy, or experience to get a crop in after their main summer crop has bit the dust. But high tunnels are simply too valuable to be unproductive for a full season or two. With good crop planning and preparation, you can grow an incredible diversity of vegetables throughout the winter and early spring.

If you want to learn more tips and tricks to enhance your farm’s year-round high tunnel production, join us for an advanced seminar at Stonehill College on February 6 on organic high tunnel production featuring expert farmers Michael Kilpatrick and Andrew Mefferd. Learn more here.

Elizabeth and Paul Kaiser were keynoters at 2017 Winter Conference

Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastapol, California, were the keynote speakers for the 30th annual NOFA/Mass Winter Conference. On January 14 at Worcester State University they spoke to 800 farmers, gardeners, soil scientists, extension agents and others involved in New England food systems.

They came with a message – that agriculture has been one of the greatest contributors to climate change in human history, but it is also our best hope for mitigating climate change. The Kaiser’s assert that by adapting their practices to sequester more soil carbon, farmers can simultaneously improve the health of their crops, soil, and finances.

All across the northeast each NOFA state chapter hosts its own winter conference. There may or may not be snow on the ground depending on where you’re from, but you can bet that farmers and gardeners across the region are welcoming 2017 with the educational opportunities these conferences offer. Some are one, others two days, some are even three days; all provide the learning that is so critical for those with more or less growing/advocating/consuming experience. And after each conference, attendees trek home to nestle back into their winter routine, brains buzzing with newfound knowledge and inspiration.

Conferences are kind of like caffeine: you arrive sleepy but full of anticipation, and you walk away truly jazzed. Relationships are made, ideas are hatched, and on the drive home you can’t stop thinking about all the places you could grow mushrooms. And it’s not just the attendees that leave feeling this way. Internally, our conference staff surf that conference energy wave all the way to August. Because most NOFA staff work remotely, those high-fives and intense ideation conversations carry us through the next seven months, at which point we caffeinate ourselves with the real stuff and do it all over again. So, with our own NOFA/Mass 2017 Winter Conference now in the books, we take a second to catch our breath, get a good night’s sleep, and refocus on planning the next must-attend weekend: the 43rd annual NOFA Summer Conference, August 11-13.

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