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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Health and Nutrition

Winter’s chill is just around the corner which naturally means our community of farmers and gardeners are about to go into hibernation to review the season’s notes and process the past year’s successes and failures in order to greet Springtime with renewed energy and enthusiasm. Maybe that means lots and lots of reading, or many group conversations or maybe it means a whole season’s worth of contemplation and reflection.

Whatever your style of winter study is, we hope the NOFA/Mass Winter Conference is part of your curriculum. This year’s conference will be held on Saturday January 11, 2020 on the campus of Worcester State University. It is our 33rd annual Winter Conference.  Save the date, mark your calendar to register early and make plans to bring your inquisitive nature, wisdom and joyfulness to celebrate your community of earthy, progressive, soil loving, like-minded friends and neighbors. Everyone is welcome and we hope the program suits your needs.

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.

An Interview with Ana Maria Moise

Come to Ana Maria’s workshop on Thursday, June 13, 2019 in Springfield, MA.  I read this book and found it very thorough. It helped me really understand for the first time the role of all of the parts of our digestive system, from mouth to anus, and how what food we eat has a direct impact on our gut flora and its function.

JR: What sparked your interest in the human gut microbiome in the first place?

AMM: My background in medical anthropology led me to investigate the role of diet and lifestyle in preventing chronic disease. As I studied indigenous groups and learned about their relatively low rates of chronic illnesses like diabetes, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, I learned that traditional diets offer protective benefits against these conditions. From there, I soon discovered that there are key differences between our Western gut microbiomes compared to traditional populations. Knowing that diet is the most influential factor on the gut microbiome, I started to explore the connection between nutrition, microbes, and our health. 

HIP

On March 21, 2019 NOFA/Mass will be supporting the coalition efforts of the MA Food System Collaborative by participating in a “Lobby Day” at the Mass State House, “as we come together as farmers, SNAP recipients, and advocates to talk to legislators and staffers about the HIP program, and urge them to include $8.5 million for the program in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget.”

 

Jen Salinetti farms with her husband Pete in Tyringham, MA in the Berkshires. They have been farming for 16 years together, the four years spent on their almost 5-acre farm. In recent years they have not been using tillage to grow their vegetables. Jen feels that by not disturbing the soil they have a considerable positive impact on carbon sequestration on their land. They have experienced a significant increase in quality and yields which has enabled them to create a viable business on a small amount of land.

“Pete and I started experimenting with no-till 13 years ago, and we are now going into year 11. Our initial experimenting began when we were looking to increase greenhouse production. We started looking into ways to do prep without the tiller. We saw some really great results after the first season. And then we expanded it out to our market garden. Through the process, we were able to set up permanent beds and maximize our earnings and outputs through proper spacing of plants. It was right around when our son Diego was born. We wanted to commit to farming, to be available for family life and to be home.”

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.

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.

The Arctic Apple, which has been genetically engineered not to brown. (Courtesy Okanagan Specialty Fruits)

We’ve compiled this list of stories to help keep you up to date on issues impacting food and farming.

This week, after months of delay, a team of expert scientists is meeting to review whether glyphosate, the active ingredient in common weedkillers like Roundup, can be categorized as a carcinogen. This is a tall task for this scientific advisory panel, as they’re being asked to decide whether the most economically successful pesticide in human history will continue its overwhelming dominance in our agricultural systems.

Glyphosate’s rise to dominance began in the 1990’s with the introduction of the first transgenic crops. The Roundup-Ready gene is what initially gave glyphosate a leg up in the market, and its popularity has continued to grow for the past 20 years. We now use approximately 280 million pounds of glyphosate every year in the U.S., about seven times more than we were using just twenty years ago.

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