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Julie Rawson

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.

Masoud Hashemi, UMass Extension Professor, invited NOFA/Mass to send two representatives to participate in a recent meeting of the Northeast Cover Crop Council (NECCC) meeting. The event, held November 16-17 in Beltsville, MD, took place at the USDA National Agriculture Library and was attended by 36 folks representing land grants, extension, NRCS, members of the industry, farmers and non-profit farming organizations. Noah Kellerman, NOFA/Mass board member and farmer at Alprilla Farm in Essex, and I attended this inspiring event.

After silage tarps and close up of soil

This article is part of a series that I have been doing on reduced tillage, no tillage, and other methods that focus on the importance of carbon in agricultural soils, particularly with annual vegetable growers. I interviewed Brittany Overshiner, who is our NOFA/Mass Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator, and a now nine-year Beginning Farmer herself, who has had comprehensive experience working on a number of vegetable farms in Eastern Massachusetts.

Healthy monster tomatoes

Healthy monster tomatoes

I write this on September 26, the day after a pretty serious frost on at least half of our farm. Today I want to talk about the use of wood chips in beds as mulch. We had some stunning successes with the method that we devised to plant, do an initial weeding and then mulch with wood chips that were partially decomposed, acquired from our local DPW. We had best ever crops of onions, both long season and spring green onions, lettuce in wood chip mulch, spinach, carrots, parsley, basil, Swiss chard, kale, and tomatoes. Beets, which generally were not as beautiful as I would like them to be, and cucumbers did not fare as well. Winter squash did fairly well. The chips that we used around the cucumbers and winter squash were fresh last fall, and I think that it was a mistake to use them, perhaps because of too much mineral tie up.

In some of our chard and basil beds we sowed crimson clover on top of the chips, which germinated nicely, and seemed to provide great ground cover and a constant fertility drip to the crops. I look forward to how crops grow in these beds next year.

Harvest of Copra Onions - August 24

Over the past several months I’ve been profiling no-till farmers. I thought that for this issue I would write up where we are in our progress on the topic at Many Hands Organic Farm. We are a family farm in Barre, MA in the middle of what would like to be woods. 14 acres of our rocks, trees and swamp are open and mostly tillable. (Interestingly, I guess I need to change that reference to no-tillable.) We are certified organic and have been since 1987. Here I’ll describe each aspect of our no-till system to give you a sense of our practices and philosophies.

Ricky showing off one of his dibble tools

Ricky Baruc is the head farmer at Seeds of Solidarity Farm in Orange, MA where he lives with his wife Deb Habib and son Levi. Jack and I have known Ricky, and Deb before him, since the 80s. We are lucky to live only about ½ hour away from them. Here is a nice overview of the farm taken from their website:

Seeds of Solidarity Farm was initiated in 1996, on land in the middle of the forest that had not been cultivated for many years, and the original inhabitants of the region being the Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and Pequoit people. A conservation restriction on our 30 acres ensures the land will always be used for agriculture, education, and wildlife habitat. With nature as teacher, the land has been transformed into fertile fields and hosts five solar hoophouses brimming with our signature greens, fruit and perennial crops, garlic and sacred, traditional crops such as Hopi blue and Narraganset flour corn. The tapestry of our site includes energy efficient and off the grid home, office, and farm outbuildings, including Solidarity Handworks, a solar powered farmstand, and celebration art and words of inspiration along the paths.

Lee spreading compost

This month’s interview takes us to Lee Reich. Lee lives in New Paltz, PA and is well known to NOFA members for his years of presentations at NOFA conferences in the region. He is the author of several books, including Grow Fruit Naturally, The Pruning Book, Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, Weedless Gardening, A Northeast Gardener’s Year and Landscaping With Fruit. Lee has had a large-scale garden for 30 years, and his annual vegetable production includes a 2000-square-foot garden and a 400-square-foot greenhouse.

Cabbages the size of basketballs at Heifer Farm

I met Elizabeth Joseph, or “Liz Jo” as we fondly refer to her, soon after she showed up on the scene in 2009 at Heifer Farm (then Overlook Farm) in Rutland. In NOFA/Mass there was a lot of talk and education around nutrient density in those days, and she and I found ourselves at the same workshops and conferences. She started at Heifer in 2009 as a volunteer and in 2010 she was hired as the Garden Coordinator.

Garlic harvest

This article is part of a monthly series where I am interviewing farmers on their no-till practices. Energized by our work at NOFA/Mass to sequester carbon into soil as quickly and effectively as we can, I have chosen to interview annual vegetable producing farmers around the Northeast, because no-till with succession production is not easy, nor are there many models.

Dan Pratt is an old NOFA friend from Hadley of a few decades. I was delighted to hear that he is applying for an Organic Farming Research Foundation grant to further develop his no-till system using compost and biochar on Astarte Farm that he once owned, but now has sold and where he remains as farm manager. Of course he will go ahead with it anyway, whether or not he gets some grant help.

Comfrey on field edges to keep out perennial weeds. Photo by Brian Caldwell

This month’s interview is with Jay Armour, co-owner (with wife Polly) of Four Winds Farm, an organically certified no till farm in the Hudson Valley in next-door New York State.

I asked Jay why he started to farm using no till a lot earlier than most organic farmers, who are now just coming around to it. Here’s what he has to say:

Basically, we started doing no till 20 years ago because Lee Reich said we would have fewer weeds. I was crazy with weeds and the ground was getting harder as the season would go on. It was like night and day to make the switch. We never went back to tilling. We started seeing other benefits happening that we weren’t really counting on. As we learned about carbon sequestration we realized it is a good thing for the earth. We get soil tests done because our inspectors like to see fairly regular tests. One thing that we have seen over the years was the organic matter going up. It was around 2.5%

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