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Seed Sovereignty Month

If you had a chance to read the early January Civil Eats article about the updated seed monopoly chart (“The Sobering Details Behind the Latest Seed Monopoly Chart”) then you may be newly concerned about the fact that 60% of our global seed sales are controlled by what was previously 6—and is now 4—large chemical companies.

Those companies include Bayer, ChemChina, BASF and Corteva. If you haven’t yet heard of Corteva, that’s the name of the new agritech company created after Dow and DuPont merged (conveniently allowing DuPont to shed negative associations and bad press after poisoning the water in dozens of communities with PFOS, PFOA, and other fluorinated chemicals used to make nonstick Teflon cookware).

Seeds

For the backyard gardener, a seed catalog can be an exciting resource full of opportunities that cast visions of gorgeous rare plants thriving in your garden and previously undiscovered vegetables that astound your taste buds. But where did these unique seeds come from and why does it matter?

There are different terminologies that are thrown around and each one carries with it an understanding of how plants reproduce and ultimately the way that they are controlled.

Regional Soil Carbon Community

As many in our NOFA/Mass community know, we have been working hard as an organization to understand, educate about, and assess soil carbon. Part of that effort is an on-farm testing program that uses a set of nine protocols to assess soil carbon sequestration capacity. Tests include aggregate size, prevalence and stability (resistance to weather erosion), reactive carbon (oxidizable carbon), relative compaction, bulk density, respiration and surface biology. The tests are drawn from NRCS field testing protocols, Cornell field testing protocols, private labs and other sources like the Soil Carbon Coalition.

This month I was honored to be invited by Future Harvest CASA (Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture) to present to a group of eastern-regional leaders on soil health assessment / soil carbon measuring. About ten representatives of regional organizations presented their approach to soil health assessment and technical support.

Noah at his tractor

Noah at his tractor

Others continue to be resources for continuing education and feedback. Mark Fulford, a Maine orchardist, farmer and consultant has been important in the evolution of the farm, first as a consultant and then as a friend and mentor. Mark has offered a lot of practical guidance for building soil fertility recipes. He has a healthy skepticism for soil tests, though he thinks they are a good tool.

Noah also utilizes UMass extension and regularly picks the brain of MOFGA’s Organic Crop and Conservation Specialist, Caleb Goossen, who also happens to be a college friend from Hampshire.

At this point in time Noah isn’t reading many books on fertility but is recently intrigued by the book Human Scale by Kirkpatrick Sale. It is an interesting critique of big government and big business and an argument for a decentralized way of governing. He is definitely in the Schumacher School of Thought.

whiteboard

I have been privileged to have seen John Kempf speak for the better part of a day several times over the eight years I’ve worked with NOFA/Mass. The first time was at the 2011 Soil & Nutrition Conference in Northampton Mass, when NOFA/Mass was still co-running that event with the Bionutrient Food Association. I remember sitting in pews in the church, hanging on every word. I remember most clearly from that lecture the idea that crops have the genetic capacity to yield so much more than contemporary farmers imagine or have seen (and have dramatically higher nutrient profiles) because almost all farming systems are essentially degraded ecosystems. The current standards for yield, crop quality, and growth rate are far from optimal and can be dramatically increased if the soil is remineralized, repopulated with diverse, beneficial microorganisms, and if crops have access to certain necessary minerals (in the right form) at critical stages like root development and fruit set.

Heart Bowl

First of all, I want to thank all of you who have been so supportive during my recent health challenge; thanks for the good energy, thoughts, prayers, meals, cards and concern. I’ve heard from other NOFA staff that some of you have been asking about my status, so here’s a brief rundown.

I had a very successful mitral valve repair performed through open-heart surgery on December 4th. Because they were dealing with a genetic abnormality that caused the prolapse and there were no other problems with my veins/arteries, it went really well. Then I spent 4 ½ days in hospital and have been home for a week and a half. I’m slowly and steadily making progress building up stamina by walking and doing gentle exercises. Not being able to lift over 7-10 pounds has been a challenge. Pru has been an amazing “nurse” as well as being “Homesteader Extraordinaire” by doing EVERYTHING while I sit back and watch (not an easy thing for me to do). I also want to thank my amazing Wendell community who has pitched in to help with meals, Sharon-sitting and encouragement.

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.

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