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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Livestock

As more and more people discover the importance of healthy soil in relation to healthy plants, pastures and gardens, many are also discovering that manure is one of a farm’s most valuable resources.  Cows, in particular, are extremely efficient converters of mature plant matter into nutrient-rich, highly degradable organic material.  

While the percentage of nutrients found in manure can vary greatly from animal to animal due to differences in diet, cow manure is known to be a good source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, all of which are important minerals for future plant growth.  While synthetic fertilizers may be more concentrated forms of these minerals, manure includes a high percentage of solid matter, which provides vital carbon compounds that build soil structure.  

In celebration of the Massachusetts dairy farmers who dedicate their early mornings to milking, spend the hottest days of the year in the hay field, and slip their mud boots on at midnight to deliver new calves, we’d like to thank them for their tireless efforts. 

If you have cow fever too, and are thinking about improving upon your existing dairy operation, trying your hand at cheesemaking, or are simply curious about what our local dairy farmers are doing to care for the earth while feeding our community, we have some exciting educational opportunities coming up for you. 

If there was a way to nurture natural systems, reverse environmental damage, and increase the health of people and animals around us, wouldn’t you want to support it?  If so, maybe you should start drinking more milk. 

Dairy farmers throughout the Northeast are embracing farming methods that sequester carbon from the atmosphere and draw it into their soils, where it nourishes the diverse microbial life beneath the surface of the earth.  This enhanced microbial network just so happens to be a prime environment for low-maintenance pasture and crops to thrive, which, in turn, offers an opportunity for livestock farmers to use their land to meet the high nutritional needs of dairy cattle. 

Will Rogers, of Rogers Farm in Warren, Massachusetts is following nature’s rules when it comes to managing his land and his herd of dairy cattle.  “We need to watch how nature works and mimic it.  We’re all based on biology, the food we eat needs to be grown by good biology to net a higher nutrient value food.” 

Dairy cows have been dubbed “the heart of the homestead” throughout American history because of their high productivity and ability to provide sustenance for so many other beings on a small farm.  On a diet of grass, hay and perhaps some supplemental grain, a dairy cow can produce enough milk to feed her calf and a small human family, with enough left over to share with pigs, chickens and other omnivores on the farm.  Her calves can be raised for beef or as future dairy cows, and her manure can be recycled into the landscape as fertilizer.  On some traditional New England farms, the cattle shelter was built under the family home to utilize the heat that the cow produced from ruminating to help heat the house in winter.  With so many benefits in one domestic animal, it’s easy to see how dairy cows have become a beloved staple on so many farms. 

The Robinson family of Hardwick has loved their 270 acres in central Massachusetts since before the turn of the 20th century.  Ray Robinson is the fourth-generation farmer to care for Robinson Farm and make it his own.  From a young boy playing and helping in the fields to taking the reins and steering the farm in new directions, Ray was raised to care for this piece of earth and all its living things

Why Do We Graze?

Humans literally evolved to follow other animals around and participate in their environmental systems. There is no wonder we have devoted a huge portion of our society to domesticating animals; we are holding on to the partnership that has historically provided sustenance.  Unfortunately, we are currently working in a system that displaces the true meaning of our relationship with livestock by reducing it to an economic transaction. 

Many livestock farmers know-- and the research is increasingly backing them up-- that animals thrive when they have access to quality pasture and are managed in a manner that stimulates their natural behaviors. Moved regularly through diverse pastures, livestock can transform the landscape.

New Webinar

Inspiring Ideas from Experts in The Field is entering its 4th season.  This year, the education menu for our viewers continues to grow and bring new presenters and exciting topics.  This year NOFA/Mass will focus on pollinators, the connection between healthy food and healthy bodies, and the repair of damaged soils in urban settings.  Here are some of our spring webinar offerings:

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.”

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