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There is still time to show your support

There is still time to show your support

Thanks to an outpouring of calls from organic advocates across the state, several of our priority proposed state laws have started the session with great momentum. The results of the January cosponsor drive surprised even the most optimistic advocates and bode well for the possibility of real change toward a regenerative and pollinator-friendly Commonwealth!

We’re seeing the most impressive numbers on our top 3 priority areas (not a coincidence):

soil Science

This is the third edition of this Soil Science Mini Series with Noah Courser-Kellerman of Alprilla Farm in Essex, MA.

A Conversation with Noah Courser-Kellerman: What is Cation Exchange and why it is Relevant?

Interviewer: Julie Rawson, Executive Director, NOFA/Mass

Julie: What are cations/anions? 

soil formation

New England is a weird place to farm. We live in a mostly tree covered landscape of rolling hills, weathered mountains, deep ponds, swamps, rivers, outcroppings of bedrock, and once in a while, some really nice soil. In many areas, soil can change from heavy, wet clay to rocky, sandy soil in a matter of a hundred feet or so. This patchwork effect is increased by the crosshatching of millions of miles of stone walls built by the first European farmers in this area as they tried to eke a living from the rocky ground. It has even been posited that the orneriness of New England’s soil is at least partly responsible for the same trait found in its farmers.

But where did this landscape come from? Why are we blessed with perched water tables, endless crops of “New England Potatoes”- field stones- and house sized boulders seemingly dropped from space in the middle of our woods and fields?

Regional Soil Carbon Community

As many in our NOFA/Mass community know, we have been working hard as an organization to understand, educate about, and assess soil carbon. Part of that effort is an on-farm testing program that uses a set of nine protocols to assess soil carbon sequestration capacity. Tests include aggregate size, prevalence and stability (resistance to weather erosion), reactive carbon (oxidizable carbon), relative compaction, bulk density, respiration and surface biology. The tests are drawn from NRCS field testing protocols, Cornell field testing protocols, private labs and other sources like the Soil Carbon Coalition.

This month I was honored to be invited by Future Harvest CASA (Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture) to present to a group of eastern-regional leaders on soil health assessment / soil carbon measuring. About ten representatives of regional organizations presented their approach to soil health assessment and technical support.

Noah at his tractor

Noah at his tractor

Others continue to be resources for continuing education and feedback. Mark Fulford, a Maine orchardist, farmer and consultant has been important in the evolution of the farm, first as a consultant and then as a friend and mentor. Mark has offered a lot of practical guidance for building soil fertility recipes. He has a healthy skepticism for soil tests, though he thinks they are a good tool.

Noah also utilizes UMass extension and regularly picks the brain of MOFGA’s Organic Crop and Conservation Specialist, Caleb Goossen, who also happens to be a college friend from Hampshire.

At this point in time Noah isn’t reading many books on fertility but is recently intrigued by the book Human Scale by Kirkpatrick Sale. It is an interesting critique of big government and big business and an argument for a decentralized way of governing. He is definitely in the Schumacher School of Thought.

whiteboard

I have been privileged to have seen John Kempf speak for the better part of a day several times over the eight years I’ve worked with NOFA/Mass. The first time was at the 2011 Soil & Nutrition Conference in Northampton Mass, when NOFA/Mass was still co-running that event with the Bionutrient Food Association. I remember sitting in pews in the church, hanging on every word. I remember most clearly from that lecture the idea that crops have the genetic capacity to yield so much more than contemporary farmers imagine or have seen (and have dramatically higher nutrient profiles) because almost all farming systems are essentially degraded ecosystems. The current standards for yield, crop quality, and growth rate are far from optimal and can be dramatically increased if the soil is remineralized, repopulated with diverse, beneficial microorganisms, and if crops have access to certain necessary minerals (in the right form) at critical stages like root development and fruit set.

Doug Wolcik Harvesting

Doug Wolcik, www.gainingground.org

Three state chapters of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) will participate in a three-year study into the soil health impacts of no-till and tillage-reduction strategies. NOFA/Mass will lead the project, working closely with CT NOFA and NOFA-NJ. The three chapters will each work with farmers in their state who are practicing tillage reduction strategies on their organic farms. This project is funded by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant.

Rep. McGovern tours fields at MHOF

Rep. McGovern tours fields at MHOF

Congressman Jim McGovern visited Many Hands Organic Farm on August 22 near the end of his eighth annual Massachusetts farm tour. There he spoke with farm owners Julie Rawson and Jack Kittredge about food security and the importance of producing nutritious food with ecologically sound practices.

The morning rains had cleared as McGovern and his entourage arrived to walk the grounds of the farm in Barre. Rawson and Kittredge, along with representatives from the surrounding community and Central Mass Grown, walked the fields and spoke about what practices they find important. Rawson shared that, for her, farming is a multifaceted passion. She navigates many governmental stumbling blocks, such as state and federal regulations around animal slaughter and food safety, to bring good nutritious food to consumers.

hand tool

Hand tool on newly prepped bed with CC seeds before raking in 2 Sorghum Sudan in mixed cover crop cocktail

As seems to be the norm around Wild Browse, there is a still a lot to do, however, the bulk of the crops are in the ground, which is a big load off of my mind. Of course, there will be regular succession planting and maintenance of vegetables and cover crops as the weeks progress.

The signs of summer are everywhere; the strawberries have started to ripen, robins and orioles have fledged, and the deer flies have arrived! The last few nights have served up a dazzling display of wonderment as the fireflies weave their magic in the early-summer night sky. Having been enchanted by these creatures since childhood, I realized that I didn’t know much about their life cycle and how they might affect the garden. So, the Internet to the rescue! Turns out that unlike the short-lived adult (2 weeks), the larva lives about a year in the soil. The larva is carnivorous and eats soft-bodied insects like worms, slugs, and other insect larvae.

worms in soil

Soil testing is an important tool for anyone growing food, especially if the goal is to produce a nutrient-dense crop. But there is more to soil than its mineral content. NOFA/Mass is currently offering a series of workshops on soil testing and interpretation, which includes a lesson on both lab test interpretation and how to take your own carbon proxy tests. The series begins with Earthworms, Calcium, and Aggregates, Oh My: Soil Testing & Interpretation for Growers on June 16th at the Urban Farming Institute’s Glenway Farm in Dorchester.

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