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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Happy Hemp

Hemp History Week (June 3-9) celebrates agricultural hemp with nationwide education, advocacy and grassroots events. This year, NOFA/Mass is celebrating this especially exciting 10th annual Hemp History Week.

This year is special because the 2018 Farm Bill, passed in December, included the legislation S. 2667, The Hemp Farming Act. With its passage, hemp production was officially legalized in the United States. So this year’s Hemp History Week is the first in this new landscape of federally-legal agricultural hemp! The Act defined hemp as cannabis sativa containing no more than 0.3% teatrahydrocannabinol (THC) by dry weight and redefined hemp from a Controlled Substance to an agricultural commodity, removing it from the jurisdiction of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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.

Baby Chicks

The baby chicks arrived today- May 16. We got the call from the post office at 8:30am and shortly there after they were installed in their new home. We’d already prepared their coop having cleaned it and added fresh pine shavings, repaired the back door to their newly mowed run and turned on their mother hen surrogate heater. After cuddling and welcoming each one, we dipped their beaks in fresh water and then mash and set them free. Oh, the excitement of a large space after the confinement in a small cardboard box! We’ll keep them in the coop a couple of days, depending on the weather, before opening the run where they’ll get to experience sunshine, wind, and pasture.

It’s always exciting to watch the spring unfold and compare it to previous years. We’ve been lamenting the cold wet spring and totally rejoicing in the few sunny days we’ve had. It makes it hard to follow my planting schedule. Our soil is holding its own in regard to the rain/moisture levels. The rich crumb and aggregate is like a sponge absorbing & holding water preventing erosion. However, the sponge (and all of us) could use a bit more sunshine & warmth!

Nitrogen is one of the most important elements in agriculture, a kind of chemical Jekyll and Hyde, an element of twists and turns and contradictions. It is usually the most limiting nutrient for plant growth in soils, and yet is one of the most abundant elements in the atmosphere. Nothing is more responsible for the problems and successes of industrial agriculture than Nitrogen. How to responsibly manage Nitrogen is a topic that causes many organic farmers to become philosophical, opinionated and at times self-righteous. Friendly arguments on the subject have been known to become as heated as an unturned pile of manure and straw. And with good reason!

What other substance has such a profound impact on the health of our soil, the nutrition of our food, our financial bottom line, purity of our groundwater, the formation of dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond, use of fossil fuels, climate change, global inequality and corporate colonialism? In short, the way we understand and use Nitrogen is important not just to the success of this year’s crop but also to our farms’ relationship to the broader environment. Regenerative agriculture hinges on the responsible management of Nitrogen.

New NOFA/Mass educational event just added- Growing Hemp in Massachusetts

April 6, 2019 - 9:45am to 4pm
American Legion Dudley-Gendron Post
156 Boston Rd
Sutton, MA

Baystate Organic Certifiers has recently announced online that they “will start accepting hemp crop and handling applications immediately”.  In an interview with Don Franczyk, Executive Director of Baystate Organic Certifiers, he mentioned that for farmers with current Organic Certification and MDAR licensing, adding hemp to your list of crops is just as easy as any other crop.  

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? 

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.

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