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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Consumers who choose to buy organic eggs, poultry, and meat expect organic farmers to raise their animals in the healthiest conditions possible – to provide access to the outdoors, space to move around, and freedom to exhibit their natural behaviors. And farmers and ranchers who choose to follow organic standards expect a level playing field. Right now, that is not the case.

“Most organic livestock and poultry operations already adhere to high standards. But they are being undercut economically because of loopholes in the organic standards that allow a few operations to deny meaningful outdoor access to animals,” says Abby Youngblood, executive director at the National Organic Coalition.

The new Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule will level the playing field and ensure that all poultry and eggs sold as organic meet the high standards that consumers expect. The new rules, which are available today in the federal register, represent more than a decade of work to clarify and improve animal welfare standards in organic. They incorporate input from thousands of stakeholders as well as recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a stakeholder board that advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture. NOSB membership, by law, includes organic farmers, handlers, certifiers, environmental/conservation specialists, consumer representatives, and scientists.

Jake Levin has found art in an arena that most artists wouldn’t dare to go: the process of taking an animal’s life and turning it into a myriad of delicacies that many know and love: bacon, ham, steaks, head cheese, salami. Through his educational workshops, Jake is attempting to revive a craft long-forgotten, and he’s trying to remind us that aside from the culinary experience, meat requires the taking of a life, and is therefore, necessarily a spiritual act.

I recently had a chance to talk to him about his idiosyncratic life as a roving butcher ahead of his hands-on Pig To Prosciutto Intensive, offered on December 10 and 11 in the Berkshires.

New orchard fence with electric rope; note cylinder on tree trunk

Pru and I were thrilled to host a very well-attended NOFA/Mass workshop on fruit here at our homestead, Wild Browse, last weekend. We were floored by the unexpected number of folks, traveling from far and wide, across the state and beyond (Haverhill, Plymouth, Arlington to West Stockbridge, Conn. and points in between) who found their way here to Wendell. Thank you all for attending. We hope that you enjoyed the day as much as we did and that your effort was rewarded.

One of the newest additions to Matt’s herd

Here in New England we are blessed with a plethora of rocky, sloped soils. And though that means that we may never be the grain belt of America, these thin, marginal soils can grow some really great grass. In fact, the high mineral content and heavy rainfalls of our region suggest that grass-fed livestock may be one of the most sustainable agricultural uses of our land. According to New England Food Vision, grass-fed livestock ought to be a cornerstone for a sustainable New England food economy: “Of the 6 million acres of farmland in [New England], some 2 million are suitable only for pasture and orchard and another million are probably best suited for pasture and hay.” These 3 million acres are “an enormous unrealized agricultural resource, a place where New England’s soils and climate can show a real competitive advantage.”

This organic poultry house would be spacious enough under the new rules

This organic poultry house would be spacious enough under the new rules

For those of us who are concerned about the integrity of the organic seal, the National Organic Program’s (NOP) recent announcement that they have issued a proposed rule to define animal welfare standards was a cause for celebration. Should the proposed rule stand as is, gone will be the day of poultry house “porches” and other semblances of outdoor access. Controversial physical alterations such as poultry de-beaking and cattle tail-docking will also be prohibited.

Troy Bishopp and Suzy Konecky demonstrate Cricket Creek’s grazing chart

Troy Bishopp and Suzy Konecky demonstrate Cricket Creek’s grazing chart

On October 5 presenter Troy Bishopp lead a NOFA/Mass workshop at Cricket Creek Farm in Williamstown, MA. Bishopp is a fifth generation farmer in the Oriskany Creek Watershed, a tributary of the Mohawk River in the Hudson Valley of New York. Cricket Creek owner Topher Sabot and farm manager Suzy Konecky have been working with Troy over the past several years, putting into practice much of his advice about how to manage grazing patterns on one’s farm. For those 20 or so of us who were lucky to watch the interplay between Troy and Topher and Suzy, and to also ask our own questions, it was a day full of learning, laughing and reflection.

 Cattle grazing at Cricket Creek Farm

Cattle grazing at Cricket Creek Farm

I first learned of Troy Bishopp’s work from Jack Kittredge, NOFA/Mass Policy Director. He mentioned that he had just come back from a workshop with Troy and was very excited to get out into his pastures to take a look. Not only had Troy talked about his grazing charts, rotation and overall herd management, but he had walked the pastures with participants and demonstrated how to read grasses and manure better.

A transition to organic certification is an important decision for any farmer, regardless of the size and type of farm.  There is no one size fits all recipe for organic farming.  Even within a certain area of food production, or a specific crop, there is no blueprint, but there are some overarching concepts that are relevant regardless of the specifics of each farm.  Ultimately, the decision whether or not to transition to organic production, or certified organic, will largely depend on your unique skills, preferences, resources available to you, relationship with y

Successfully finishing cattle on a forage-only diet requires understanding how to harvest energy from plants. Cover crops are a way to build soil quickly, and harvesting them with ruminants enhances their functionality. Learn how and why. People with some grazing experience will gain most.

On November 3 Ridge Shinn will be presenting a daylong seminar titled Succeeding with Grass-Fed Beef Production at Heifer International in Rutland, MA. For event details and an outline of what will be covered, visit www.nofamass.org/events/succeeding-grass-fed-beef.

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