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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Soil

You may know that NOFA/Mass delivers technical assistance to Beginning Farmers through our Beginning Farmer Mentorship Program. It really helps to be able to pick up the phone and call an experienced farmer when you are in need of some sage advice. You may also know that we have a gardeners' forum to help gardeners exchange growing ideas. In 2014, NOFA/Mass expanded the technical assistance that we give farmers and food handlers, offering consulting for those who need help with their application for organic certification.

Skiing in a snowy homestead landscape

Finally there has been some substantial snow. I know that for many this is a hardship, what with all of the snow shoveling and commuting to work under hazardous road conditions, but for me it is a blessing. As a homesteader who doesn’t have to worry about driving anywhere until the roads finally get plowed and the conditions are safe, I think of all the positive attributes of these two back-to-back nor’easters.

Here at Wild Browse Farm in Wendell, we received around 30 inches of snow. At the 10:1 standard conversion rate of snow to water that means about 3 inches of much needed rain. Before these storms, the Pioneer Valley and much of Central Mass were still listed in a Severe Drought category. Many of our reservoirs are far below capacity. We use a drilled well for our water supply, so it is difficult to know what our reserves are. The well serves two homes, our gardens and poultry, causing us concern about future shortages and increasing our awareness of our water usage and conservation methods. Hopefully this moisture will help lessen this drought.

Elizabeth and Paul Kaiser were keynoters at 2017 Winter Conference

Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastapol, California, were the keynote speakers for the 30th annual NOFA/Mass Winter Conference. On January 14 at Worcester State University they spoke to 800 farmers, gardeners, soil scientists, extension agents and others involved in New England food systems.

They came with a message – that agriculture has been one of the greatest contributors to climate change in human history, but it is also our best hope for mitigating climate change. The Kaiser’s assert that by adapting their practices to sequester more soil carbon, farmers can simultaneously improve the health of their crops, soil, and finances.

2016 NOFA/Mass Staff and Board at Annual Retreat

2016 NOFA/Mass Staff and Board at Annual Retreat

A new year has begun at NOFA/Mass, and it has started very nicely. 800 folks attended the 30th Annual NOFA/Mass Winter Conference. Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser shared their success with their family-size no-till farm in Sebastopol, CA. There were plenty of good takeaways for anyone who grows vegetables and wants to improve your farm ecosystem. Thanks to the presenters of the other 70 workshops and the 70 or so exhibitors who shared their expertise and wares with participants. And also a hearty thank you to Worcester State University for being such quintessential hosts to us. They make conference arrangements easy!

At the conference we welcomed two new staff members to NOFA/Mass. Marty Dagoberto has accepted the role of Outreach Coordinator. He will replace Sharon Gensler in this role. We sent Sharon off with the NOFA/Mass Person of the Year award for her oh so many years of service to us. She has truly been the face of the organization. Marty most recently worked with MA Right to Know GMOs and many anti-gmo organizations in the state and region in our unsuccessful coalition bid to get a GMO labeling bill passed in Massachusetts. He brings a wealth of contacts, energy and savvy for organizational collaboration to the table. He will also be putting new energy into The Organic Food Guide to make this a more vibrant publication of organic food in our state.

As I write this there is less than a week to the presidential inauguration. Trying to keep optimistic amidst the uncertainty of the future of our country and planet is a challenge. However, the light is returning and it helps keep my spirits up as did seeing so many of you at the recent Winter Conference. The keynote, workshops and conversations all were much-needed rays of hope. As is the prospect of standing strong with thousands of others at the Women’s March for America, in Boston.

Over the years, I’ve often dealt with the dilemma between political action and homestead life. But never has it been so clear that a response to both must come from my heart. I know I must put myself on the line in a loving and compassionate way, to say yes to love and inclusion, leaving no room for the politics of hate and separation.

Summary: For nearly a century soil organic matter (SOM) formation has been depicted primarily as a function of the preservation of biologically stable complex plant compounds. Yet it has been known that soil microbial communities are adept at decomposing such materials, incorporating the released carbon into their microbial biomass. Due to advances in laboratory molecular analytic techniques, the role of microbes in SOM formation has been increasingly recognized. But direct evidence about the degree to which microbes are involved has been lacking. Now, a team of University of New Hampshire scientists has uncovered evidence that microbial pathways are the chief source of the organic matter found in stable soil carbon pools. They suggest that SOM is formed by residues of microbial digestion of carbon from roots and root exudates.

The NOFA/Mass Annual Winter Conference is less than two weeks away. With over 900 farmers, gardeners, activists and consumers, this day of intensive learning will get you fully inspired for the 2017 season! We have an amazing program planned with over 70 presenters, 60 exhibitors, a delicious and hearty organic lunch, a children’s conference, a raffle and more!

If you haven’t heard already, this year’s keynote speaker and co-presenters of our intensive seminar are Paul & Elizabeth Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol, CA. Together they bring a wealth of techniques and experience with them from their successful no-till operation. Their small farm situated in northern California grosses over $100,000 per acre, pumps out up to seven crops per bed per year, and has achieved a 400% increase in soil organic matter over the six years since they stopped tilling. The Kaisers utilize no sprays (even organic ones) and are certified Bee Friendly. That means they spend more than “98% of their time transplanting and harvesting” says Paul Kaiser.

Join us at NOFA/Mass along with the Ecological Landscape Alliance, Biodiversity for a Livable Climate, and the CT NOFA Organic Land Care Program (OLC) for a day-long carbon conference on January 31 at UMass Amherst. The event offers practical tips and applications for how you can be part of the climate solution. Whether you are a gardening enthusiast, farmer, conservation/restoration specialist, or landscape professional, there are important choices and positive changes that you can make.

Whether you work to reduce compaction using biology, actively build soil carbon, increase soil biodiversity and resilience above and below ground, or heal degraded landscapes, you will walk away with practical tips to apply to your own setting.

Winter seems to be settling in to stay. Fourteen degrees last night and a minus four tonight. Hopefully this year we will have a “solid” winter without the summer-like swings we’ve had the past few years. Thankfully, we have about five inches of snow on the ground, which will offer a small amount of protection to the soil and the few vegetables still hibernating in the garden. It will help buffer the deep cold and any temperature swings that occur. Luckily, I remembered that there were daffodils still to be planted and got them into the ground in the nick of time. I had thinned a patch of self-naturalizing daffodils and had passed on many of them but had saved some to replant here at home. They are going to be a glorious display come spring.

The seed catalogs have started to arrive which is always an emotional boost at this dark time of year. It’s time to begin planning for the coming growing season, ordering seeds and getting my NOFA Bulk Order order in on time (ed note: get yours in by Jan 31).

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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