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

2016 Winter Conference Workshop

November was a time of fevered distraction for most of us, as we watched an administration change take place in our country that is expected to call into question all current national efforts toward climate mitigation.

We must now refocus. We must redouble our efforts on a personal and community level to reduce carbon emissions, sequester carbon, and support sequestration efforts.

There are many things we can and should all be doing, such as carpooling or taking transportation alternatives, eating lower on the food chain, avoiding industrial meat entirely, air-drying clothes, composting – the list goes on.

But a critically important part of addressing climate change is soil carbon sequestration, or “carbon farming”, which is increasingly attracting the attention and support of organizations in the US and across the world.

Hens on pasture

After many nights of temperatures in the 20s, the tender vegetable plants have been killed, and only the hardy ones like collards and kale are staying green. It’s always poignant to watch the season change. On one hand we'll miss the variety of fresh veggies from the garden, while on the other it is nice to begin to feel a slowing down. Besides, as of November 15th we are still eating tomatoes and peppers that have slowly been ripening in the house. We harvested any green tomatoes that showed a hint of color change, just before the first killing frost. They have stayed spread out in the basement and, as they deepen in color, they are brought upstairs to the south-facing windowsill, where they finish ripening. Of course, the tomato flavor is not quite as good as the ones sun-kissed, fresh from the plant, but they are so much better than those shipped in from far away. Sometime in early December, when these run out, we'll start eating those we've preserved through freezing, dehydrating or canning.

Courtney White 

Courtney White will be the keynote for Landscape Heroes: Carbon, Water and Biodiversity, a daylong event on January 31, 2017, organized in collaboration with NOFA/Mass, the Ecological Landscape Alliance (ELA), Biodiversity for a Livable Climate (BLC), and the Organic Land Care Program of CT NOFA. It will take place at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst in the Campus Center Auditorium. Lunch is included in the registration. 

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.

Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastapol, CA have been called “drought fighters,” and “leading innovators,” in the field of regenerative agriculture. Their agro-ecological growing practices (and the results thereof) have commended as “sustainability on steroids,”’ and “transformative.”

Rapidly growing in renown to near Elliot Coleman levels, the Kaisers have recently attracted national attention from soil scientists, government agencies, agricultural organizations, journalists and the farming community for their unconventional farming practices. Their methods allow them to grow up to seven crops per year per bed, gross $100,000 per acre, raise soil organic matter 400% in six years, achieve Bee Friendly Certification, offer year-round positions to several employees at $15/hour, and use absolutely no sprays, even organic ones.

Phytoremediation: Phytoremediation Canal Cleaning Island of Plants 

On January 31, 2017, come join us for an exciting, all day conference for anyone who is interested in tackling climate change, restoring the land, and building a future of resilient and biodiverse [N1] landscapes. Landscape Heroes: Carbon, Water and Biodiversity is a conference for land managers, farmers, homeowners, researchers, and anyone who is interested in making a difference right in their own backyard.

The story of carbon is complex and yet also incredibly simple. Every living thing is made of carbon. Carbon is in the air and the soil. It is in our oceans and forests. It makes up earthworms, phytoplankton, fungi, plants, and humans, too. For the past several years, we have heard about the imbalances of the carbon cycle and its role in climate change, especially with regard to the impacts of our excessive use of fossil fuels in the last few. But there is another side to the carbon story – a story that includes the dramatic interplay of soil, water and biodiversity. It’s a story you don’t want to miss!

Tomato and pepper trays under south window

Here it is mid October and we are surrounded by beauty and abundance! Two nights ago (October 14) it was predicted we’d have our first killing frost. Pru and I spent the day harvesting and hauling all the tender fruits. The kitchen and basement are overflowing with baskets and crates of ripe and almost ripe tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, tomatillos, and winter and summer squash. Now the task will be to preserve the bounty: the tomatillos and jalapenos plus our previously harvested garlic and onions will become a spicy hot green salsa. As I write this, the delicious, aroma of green tomato, tomatillo and immature butternut squash curry is wafting my way as Pru is simmering it on the wood cook-stove.

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.

Elizabeth and Paul Kaiser (Photo by Saxton Holt)

Don’t miss the upcoming NOFA/Mass Winter Conference on January 14th, 2017. Our full program of adult, teen and children’s courses will fill your winter study sessions with energy and enthusiasm.

Speaking of study... what can degrees in nursing, public health, agroforestry, sustainable development and natural resources management get you? Answer: Two expert farmers and one NOFA/Mass Winter Conference keynote speaker - Paul Kaiser.

Paul and his wife Elizabeth own and operate Singing Frogs Farm, where they also raise their two children. This vegetable farm is not just sustainable - it’s also regenerative. Based in Sonoma County, California, it is a living experiment in no-till, ecologically beneficial, and highly profitable farm - producing 5-7 harvest per year.

At Gray Dog’s Farm in Huntington, MA, Ross Hackerson is exploring a novel question: how can livestock, forage grasses, and nut, fruit, and other useful trees all be integrated together for maximum ecosystem benefit while also producing high-quality food? This integrated system, called silvopasture, is modeled after a savannah ecosystem where large ruminants and predators roam through grasslands dotted with trees. Each element (ruminant, predator, understory grasses, trees) is integral to the functioning of the system as a whole.

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