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Urban Growing

Zach Zeigler in High Tunnel

Zach Zeigler in High Tunnel

NOFA/Mass is in year two of a three-year grant that we received from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) to focus on high tunnel education in Massachusetts. There are 6 mentor/mentee pairs who work together and we have held a few workshops for the general public on greenhouse growing. Zach Zeigler is paired with Derek Christianson and shares his experience in the program.

learn with webinar

Happy spring! What better way to celebrate the warmer temperatures, budding flowers and growing vegetables than through learning from our webinar series. The next few webinars will focus on working with BioChar, The Beauty of Cover Crops, and a special webinar on medical proxies for farmers.

 

Guy Steucek

Back in the era of the Salem witch trials most of the residents were farmers and farming was a primary use of the landscape. Today, the only farm in Salem feels almost as if it’s on trial, struggling to gain acceptance as a commercial agricultural operation. Maitland Mountain Farm has been producing agricultural products for about a decade without issue. Now they are in a pickle, navigating the future of small farm viability in Salem as they encounter roadblocks in their need to build a packing house on the property to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act and grow their business.

Tristram Keefe

This month it was my distinct pleasure to interview Tristram Keefe. First I had to ask him about his name. He said his parents were never very clear about why they named him that, but as he kid he just asked folks to call him Max.

Julie Rawson: How did you get into farming?

Tristram Keefe: I got my start farming with City Growers in 2011. I didn’t have any training in agriculture; I worked as a cook. My work in food led me there. I never really previously thought about it more than for a couple of plants on the porch. What they were doing was a novel concept and pretty cool. I got in touch with them and started volunteering with them on a regular basis. I grew up on Beaumont Street – near Ashmont Station on the Red Line (Dorchester).

One of Jeuji’s nutritious wild salads

Julie Rawson has worked with lots of beginning farmers over the years. But this year is her first time being partnered with a permaculture mentee. Jeuji Diamondstone of Worcester, with her urban backyard of Jerusalem artichokes, hazelnut bushes, and dandelions, is developing something quite unique. In the third season of the developing of her permaculture oasis, Jeuji, a NOFA/Mass member and avid learner, sought out some help from the NOFA/Mass beginning farmer mentorship program. Over the winter, we looked far and wide for the right fit for Jeuji, not an easy task. Yet, with 40 years of growing experience and experimenting with "a lot of things on her farm," Julie offered. Jeuji says, "I wasn't sure about it at first because Julie admitted that permaculture wasn't her strong suite, but it has been awesome getting to know Julie and her farm, and any time that I am in a place that is growing things, it is beneficial. I am learning."

On Earth Day 11 homes throughout the state hosted more than 170 folks – gathered at homesteads, farms, and gardens to share food and conversation. The purpose of the NOFA/Mass sponsored event was to promote connection around a vision of organic food, community, soil and land health, ecosystem vitality, and building a restorative future.

At 91, Mrs. Anderson still sells her garlic at the Farmers' Market behind Thornes in Northampton. She is also a part of a group of gleaners who clean up farm fields in the Amherst area, ensuring that good food does not go to waste. She cooked up fine Tennessee ribs to bring to the NOFA/Mass Earth Day potluck in Hatfield, held on April 22. When at the table, she struck up a conversation about soil, about the difficulty of assessing one's farm as a whole when there are so many variations from spot to spot and, of course, variations in what each crop needs.

Green Team staking the tomatoes in test plot #1

Though the word “farming” is in its name, NOFA does more than just work with rural farmers. Much attention is paid to ways more traditional, production farmers can use techniques like cover cropping and mineral amendments to enhance their yields, but there are few resources and little knowledge for using these tools on smaller scale and urban sites.

NOFA/Mass is partnering with The Trustees Boston Community Gardens and Groundwork Somerville on a three-year project to improve the fertility and production of compost-based soils, funded by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). Compost is often free and used-widely by many city growers. Though considered non-toxic and safe for growing in, compost does not provide all that soil needs to produce healthy and sustained crop growth.

Maggie Payne, Anna Gilbert-Muhammed and Bettye Frederick

On July 25, community gardeners from Springfield’s Mason Square Library Community Garden and Ibrahim Ali from Gardening the Community attended NOFA/Mass’s cocktail cover cropping workshop at Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre, MA.

Mineral blend distributed at Gardeners Gathering

Growing food in the city has many advantages. Concrete and buildings create a warm microclimate, allowing a longer season than for rural growers. Pest and disease pressure may also be lower, due to lower populations of wildlife and the absence of monoculture. Irrigation isn’t an issue for most urban gardens, as water access points are numerous. And many cities offer free or low-cost compost. Cities seeking to be greener have, at many junctures, facilitated municipal composting operations and offered the product to community gardens.

NOFA/Mass, Gardening the Community (GTC), and the innovative, statewide anti-hunger agency Project Bread are working together on a collaborative project, focusing on building the agricultural capacity of GTC. GTC, a thriving Springfield-based food justice organization, has for 12 years successfully worked with young people, teaching them job, leadership, and gardening skills, while also growing food to sell at affordable prices to members of the community.

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