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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Julie Rawson

The gifts of nature are all around us, and in the springtime they are constantly reappearing. Right now I am spending a lot of time with dandelions. Probably you knew already that dandelions are good for you. But did you know all the names it has accumulated over the millennia? Witch Gowan, Devil's Milk Plant, Lion's Teeth, Golden Suns, Clocks and Watches, Piss a Bed, Stink Davie, Heart Fever Grass, Dog Posy, Blowball, Peasant's Clock, Cankerwort, Crow-parsnip, Irish Daisy, Doon-Head-Clock, Fortune Teller, One O'clocks, Swinesnout, Wet-a-bed, Shit-a-bed, Bum-pie, Burning Fire, Clocks, Combs & Hairpins, Conquer More, Devil's Milk Pail, Fairy Clocks, Farmer's Clocks, Horse Gowan, Lay-a-bed, Male, Mess-a-bed, Pishamoolag, Pissimire, Pittle Bed, Priest's Crown, Schoolboy's Clocks, Shepherd's Clock, Stink Davine, Tell-time, Time Flower, Time Teller, Twelve O'clock, Wishes, Wet-weed, White Endive, Wild Endive (to name but a few!) The wide variety of charming and not so charming names for Dandelion portray many of the folkloric beliefs associated with it as well as reflecting its properties as a strong diuretic.

 

 

Julie Rawson’s memories of her Milledgeville, Illinois, childhood include pulling weeds in the garden with her mother, canning and preserving vegetables for the winter, and slipping in a pile of pig manure and getting covered in the mess from head to toe; “but it never really grossed me out,” Julie elaborates.  “My brother and sister and I spent hours in the summer down in the creek in the mud. I’ve always loved the tactility of the earth.”

Undaunted by a tumble into pig manure— that is unsurprising to those of us who know Julie, a woman who has built a non-profit organization and a diversified farm that includes fruiting trees and shrubs, several acres of vegetables, forest-raised pigs, pastured cows, laying hens, broilers and turkeys—a place where the movement of nutrients from gut to soil to plants to mouth are managed and directed and mediated by fencing, time, season, plant growth, and community of creatures – but the system is seen as living and whole and in concert, and not segmented.

We at NOFA/Mass are so fortunate to have had the strong leadership of Julie Rawson for 36 years.  How does one run an amazing farm, produce nutritious organic food, train new farmers, and also run a 1200-member non-profit organization that continues to thrive and innovate after all these years?  She continues to amaze all of us who know and love her.

With a goal of $100,000 the NOFA/Mass Healthy Future Fund is the biggest fundraiser that our organization has ever taken on. It is coming at a time when the world is in turmoil, but planning and seeing the future enables all of us to think about the bright future that we can have.

 

cannabis plant

Cannabis (Photo courtesy via Kirill Ignatyev Creative Commons License)

With all the publicity about the new law making the growing and distribution of adult-use cannabis possible in our state, who isn’t thinking about cannabis (formerly known by its Prohibition term, marijuana)? In December, NOFA/Mass held a very popular workshop at Hampshire College for folks who were interested in learning the legalities around growing this crop. It sold out and we promised to hold more of these events, bolstered by the Board’s spring 2017 decision that this was a topic we wanted to educate about.

Larry Najuch of Namac Farm

Larry Najuch of Namac Farm

Larry is one of six growers who will be participating in the Soil Technical Assistance grant that we received from the MA Department of Agricultural Resources. These six growers will work closely with Laura Davis and Caro Roszell on soil education through soil mineralization and carbon proxy testing and analysis. His path has taken him through both growing and supermarket produce management. He shares the insights and help he received from NOFA and his plans for his newly cleared farm for the long and short term.

Organic Chickens

My husband Jack and I decided to get our farm certified in 1987. That was the second year that NOFA/Mass was performing certifications for folks in our state. And NOFA/Mass kept that up until 2002 when the Feds took over the word organic and NOFA/Mass spun off what is now called Baystate Organic Certifiers. Baystate and NOFA/Mass now have a convivial and arms length relationship. Our farm is still certified.

If you have been in touch with the organic news these days, the topic of certification is a very hot one. In October 2017 the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) decided to allow the certification of hydroponic operations, after a lot of pressure from the big hydroponic operators and despite a mighty effort by Dave Chapman, Davey Miskell and the “Keep the Soil in Organic” people. Around the same time, a very progressive animal welfare and outdoor access proposal that had been in the works for the National Organic Program (NOP) was close to passing, but was dropped by the new administration, listening to the corporate organic processors who didn’t want the higher egg and other input prices that would result. We are now living with a National Organic Program that allows animals to be raised with no significant outdoor access, among other things.

Jasmin Callahan

Jasmin Callahan

For this month’s edition of the newsletter I interviewed Jasmin Callahan, the Farm Manager at Holly Hill Farm in Cohasset, MA. Holly Hill is owned by Jean White, a long-time NOFA/Mass member. Jasmin shared with me some of her story.

“This will be my 4th season as head farmer at Holly Hill Farm,” according to Jasmin. “I started volunteering in 2001 and then worked as a seasonal farmer for two years. I took a long time off and did various other things. Then in the Fall of 2014, I was asked to undertake growing for our organic Plant Sale in spring of 2015 and I am still here now.

Chuck and Marie

For this issue of the newsletter I called up Chuck Currie, a farmer who has been at it for over 10 years now, and is the proprietor, with his partner Marie, of Freedom Food Farm in Raynham, MA. I left this interview with a great sense of appreciation for Chuck and all that he works toward as an organic farmer trying to make a positive impact in his little corner of the world.

Freedom Food Farm was started in Rhode Island in 2012 but was moved to Raynham in 2014 when the land they were leasing was about to be turned into condominiums. In Raynham they are still leasing, in this case it is APR land. They have reached out to various land trusts to ask for help in buying the land, but because it is APR the land trusts have not seen it as a priority investment to support his land tenure. Chuck and Marie have been looking to go with the OPAV program – Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value.

On October 22, NOFA/Mass will be hosting a seed breeding and sovereignty workshop at Round the Bend Farm in Dartmouth. Bill Braun, seed grower and farmer, is a main organizer of this, and there will be a number of seed breeders at the workshop. Read more about this workshop and learn how to register here

Bill and his partner Dee Levanti, and now their new son Bernard, grow vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit on about five acres at Ivory Silo Farm in Westport, MA, using sustainable practices and with great respect to biological diversity. When I interviewed him for this issue we were both in the throes of July and all that means – lots of heat (though less this year), lots of weeds, lots of pie in the sky dreams of the spring dashed as the reality of all of the challenges of the farm year have set in, but also looking forward to August where a lot of the early work starts to pay off in heavy vegetables, cooler nights and the calm that impending fall brings. We ran into one another again at the Summer Conference and shared a brief moment being chauffeured in the golf cart to Bill’s seed intensive. August was here and all was right with the world.

Farmer Joel Salatin speaks (Photo by Nicole Crouch Diaz)

Farmer Joel Salatin speaks (Photo by Nicole Crouch Diaz)

For four years NOFA/Mass and BFA co-organized the Soil and Nutrition Conference and in the past two years BFA has organized the conference on their own. I thought that this most recent conference that took place at the Kripalu Institute was the best yet. It was packed with very strong speakers on a number of topics around the basic themes of soil nutrition and human nutrition. Joel Salatin was frosting on the cake with his humorous, upbeat and inspiring libertarianism. You can read more about the conference and eventually download the talks at http://bionutrient.org/soil-and-nutrition-conference.

John Kempf has been a stable member of the teaching team at the S and N’s. I think this was his third appearance. I have been a student of his for at least 6 years and have learned from and put to use so much of his practical knowledge over those years. John is a young Amish man who grew up on a conventional farm in Ohio. Truly a savant, he is still only in his 20’s, yet has received international acclaim for his consulting around biological farming practices, which, conveniently for NOFA-types, are compatible with organic certification standards. When John speaks I am there with notebook in hand because every word is carefully placed to educate and provide context for improved farming practice.

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