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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Urban Growing

The beginning of the 2020 growing season has come with new twists and sudden changes due to COVID-19.  But it has also brought new opportunities for communities to come together around building neighborhoods and creating greater access to healthier food.

Open Pantry Community Services is a social services agency that works in close partnership with the City of Springfield Health Department.  They provide drug recovery services, classes for teen mothers, Emergency Food Pantry, Loaves and Fishes feeding program and supportive housing throughout the state.  It has always been their desire to create a garden to provide comfort, peace and healthier food to the families that live in the surrounding area.

After several weeks of physical distancing and sheltering in place, I started a research project for NOFA/Mass’s partners, Home City Housing.  We wanted to find out which families may be struggling with food insecurity due to not being able to get to the store, or not having enough money to shop. 

Staff from both Home City Housing and Robinson Gardens Apartments (a part of the Springfield Housing Authority) started combing through their family listings to find out who was in need of food, while we at NOFA/Mass began searching to find farmers who accepted SNAP payments and could deliver fresh food to Springfield, MA.

 

Early spring gives rise to planning for gardens: community gardens, backyard gardens, and school gardens are prepping their sites for planting.  In this time of the coronavirus, food insecurity issues have increased in communities across the country.  Community gardens are becoming not just a novelty, but a key source of produce and nutrition.  For communities of color that already have health disparities and few areas to access healthy food, the garden may now be the best place to provide for their households.

NOFA/Mass has an ongoing program with the youth and families of Home City Housing in Springfield, MA to assist with the self determination to grow healthy, nutritious food. Through programming that has been funded by grants and individual donors, Home City Housing and NOFA/Mass have been able to work with 15 youths to develop organic growing practices at their Tapley Street Apartment Complex.  As partners, NOFA/Mass and Home City Housing have worked together to create an interactive learning program for these youth leaders that covers carbon sequestration, no-till gardening, soil fertility and food nutrition/cooking information. 

Home City Housing, Inc, a part of Housing Management Resources, provides low income housing to over 140 families in Springfield, MA.  Two of their developments; Tapley Court Apartments and Twiggs I and II are nestled within the Mason Square Community, an area in Springfield that is made up of several neighborhoods (Old Hill, Upper Hill, Bay-Mcknight and a portion of Maple Six Corners).  This section of the city is mostly Black and Brown and the families of these two housing sites represent the makeup of these neighborhoods.

In 2017, The Tapley Court Apartment Complex, one of the main Home City Housing sites, started a community garden for the families.  Tapley Court is home to 40 families, mostly of low income.  The Old Hill Bay area where it is located has a few small bodegas and a small store, but not a Stop and Shop, Shaw’s or Shoppers for families to purchase groceries.  Instead, the nearest stores are a 20 to 30 minute bus ride to another part of the city.  The families at Tapley Court wanted a place to grow some of their favorite foods and to shorten the drive/bus ride to the supermarket.  With help from the local community garden coordinator (from the Springfield Food Policy Council) and a generous grant from a construction contractor, the Community Garden was started with great fanfare and a large party.

Andrew Laurion

URGE (Urban Resources * Garden Economics) is Andrew’s urban farming and edible landscaping company, offering services in the Springfield area

We are so pleased to announce that we have hired Andrew Laurion, urban farming entrepreneur, for the position of NOFA/Mass Bioremediation Project Coordinator! 

Andrew brings to this position his deep connections with the urban farming community in Springfield, a passion for regenerative urban gardening and small-scale farming, an entrepreneurial spirit (he runs his own urban farming and edible landscaping company called Urban Resources * Garden Economics) and enthusiasm for the cause of creating healthy soil. Through his work at URGE and through his connections with Gardening the Community and NOFA/Mass Food Access programs, Andrew has hosted workshops at gardens across Springfield teaching youth about soil science, building raised beds, composting, and other regenerative agriculture topics. 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the central tenets of no-till organic gardening and farming is to never leave soil bare, especially through the winter. Planting a cover crop at the end of the season is one way to do that, but it can be challenging in the fall to get a good crop started before the cold weather sets in, and challenging again in the spring while you wait for it to size up before planting your main crop.

On my farm, I address these challenges by mostly avoiding seeded cover crops, and instead applying lots of what I call “nature’s cover crop”: leaves, and lots of ‘em. I aim to put about 4” of leaves on all my garden beds beginning as soon as I can get them, usually late October through November.

Worms love leaves and the soil environment that they provide, and the worms do most of the work of breaking them down over time, leaving me with a rich, loose, fertile soil the following spring, still covered with a nice layer of mulch. At planting time I usually rake the leaves on the beds into the paths, allowing the soil to warm quickly, and then add it back by the handful or forkful as the season progresses. Unlike hay mulch, you won’t get stray weed seeds in your leaf mulch, except maybe an acorn or two.

Seed Sovereignty Month

If you had a chance to read the early January Civil Eats article about the updated seed monopoly chart (“The Sobering Details Behind the Latest Seed Monopoly Chart”) then you may be newly concerned about the fact that 60% of our global seed sales are controlled by what was previously 6—and is now 4—large chemical companies.

Those companies include Bayer, ChemChina, BASF and Corteva. If you haven’t yet heard of Corteva, that’s the name of the new agritech company created after Dow and DuPont merged (conveniently allowing DuPont to shed negative associations and bad press after poisoning the water in dozens of communities with PFOS, PFOA, and other fluorinated chemicals used to make nonstick Teflon cookware).

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.

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