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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Zach Zeigler in High Tunnel

Zach Zeigler in High Tunnel

NOFA/Mass is in year two of a three-year grant that we received from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) to focus on high tunnel education in Massachusetts. There are 6 mentor/mentee pairs who work together and we have held a few workshops for the general public on greenhouse growing. Zach Zeigler is paired with Derek Christianson and shares his experience in the program.

Tristram Keefe

This month it was my distinct pleasure to interview Tristram Keefe. First I had to ask him about his name. He said his parents were never very clear about why they named him that, but as he kid he just asked folks to call him Max.

Julie Rawson: How did you get into farming?

Tristram Keefe: I got my start farming with City Growers in 2011. I didn’t have any training in agriculture; I worked as a cook. My work in food led me there. I never really previously thought about it more than for a couple of plants on the porch. What they were doing was a novel concept and pretty cool. I got in touch with them and started volunteering with them on a regular basis. I grew up on Beaumont Street – near Ashmont Station on the Red Line (Dorchester).

Cover crops

Cover crops

I’m just back from another fantastic Winter Conference where it was great seeing so many of you, learning so much and having fun.

I was fortunate to be able to present a well-attended workshop for gardeners on the topic of soil improvement and carbon sequestration. Folks were really enthusiastic about the topic, and many plan on implementing some of these techniques in their own gardens.

1) Young cover crop planted on 18” space at end of onion bed

It’s been a great growing year, so far, and we’ve had an abundant harvest of delicious vegetables. The apple and pear trees are loaded with fruit soon to be enjoyed. Every year our soil becomes richer and healthier, yielding more nutritious and delicious food while removing CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering carbon in our soil. This is a continuous cycle of life creating and sustaining life.

I’ve been preparing a presentation about this biological growing technique (No-till and Cover Crops for us gardeners) for both a NOFA/Mass webinar and a workshop at the Summer Conference. If you are interested and missed these talks, you can view the YouTube video of the whole talk.

In my monthly search for interesting stories amongst our NOFA network, I came upon Elizabeth Daniels. Elizabeth is an urban gardener in Springfield who signed on with NOFA/Mass staff member Anna Gilbert-Muhammad as one of six gardeners who will build their gardening skills with an eye to sharing what they learn with others in their community. I asked Elizabeth how she got into gardening.

Elizabeth Daniels: I grew up with my grandparents. They always had the idea that you can grow it yourself. They grew the collard greens. When I moved to Springfield and I saw people gardening outside, I said: “I need to be a part of that.” I want to go to the yard and get some greens and tomatoes and it tastes so much better.

One of Jeuji’s nutritious wild salads

Julie Rawson has worked with lots of beginning farmers over the years. But this year is her first time being partnered with a permaculture mentee. Jeuji Diamondstone of Worcester, with her urban backyard of Jerusalem artichokes, hazelnut bushes, and dandelions, is developing something quite unique. In the third season of the developing of her permaculture oasis, Jeuji, a NOFA/Mass member and avid learner, sought out some help from the NOFA/Mass beginning farmer mentorship program. Over the winter, we looked far and wide for the right fit for Jeuji, not an easy task. Yet, with 40 years of growing experience and experimenting with "a lot of things on her farm," Julie offered. Jeuji says, "I wasn't sure about it at first because Julie admitted that permaculture wasn't her strong suite, but it has been awesome getting to know Julie and her farm, and any time that I am in a place that is growing things, it is beneficial. I am learning."

Today is the first really warm sunny day we’ve had in weeks. Walking through the garden and orchard I am grateful to hear the buzz of many flying creatures, and no I do NOT mean the black flies, though they too have their role in nature. However, I’m thinking of the many tiny native pollinators who are going about their business of living. And in doing so, they are also helping to make my life more abundant. There are over 4,000 native pollinators in North America and approximately 4,00 here in the Northeast. They are amazing creatures ranging in size from very tiny insects up to butterflies. Of course, hummingbirds, bats, birds and even mammals can also act as pollinators, but I’m focusing on our smaller, winged friends: bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, beetles, and flies.

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.

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.

Maggie Payne, Anna Gilbert-Muhammed and Bettye Frederick

On July 25, community gardeners from Springfield’s Mason Square Library Community Garden and Ibrahim Ali from Gardening the Community attended NOFA/Mass’s cocktail cover cropping workshop at Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre, MA.

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