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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HIP

On March 21, 2019 NOFA/Mass will be supporting the coalition efforts of the MA Food System Collaborative by participating in a “Lobby Day” at the Mass State House, “as we come together as farmers, SNAP recipients, and advocates to talk to legislators and staffers about the HIP program, and urge them to include $8.5 million for the program in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget.”

 

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).

Seeds

For the backyard gardener, a seed catalog can be an exciting resource full of opportunities that cast visions of gorgeous rare plants thriving in your garden and previously undiscovered vegetables that astound your taste buds. But where did these unique seeds come from and why does it matter?

There are different terminologies that are thrown around and each one carries with it an understanding of how plants reproduce and ultimately the way that they are controlled.

Larry Najuch of Namac Farm

Larry Najuch of Namac Farm

Larry is one of six growers who will be participating in the Soil Technical Assistance grant that we received from the MA Department of Agricultural Resources. These six growers will work closely with Laura Davis and Caro Roszell on soil education through soil mineralization and carbon proxy testing and analysis. His path has taken him through both growing and supermarket produce management. He shares the insights and help he received from NOFA and his plans for his newly cleared farm for the long and short term.

On October 22, NOFA/Mass will be hosting a seed breeding and sovereignty workshop at Round the Bend Farm in Dartmouth. Bill Braun, seed grower and farmer, is a main organizer of this, and there will be a number of seed breeders at the workshop. Read more about this workshop and learn how to register here

Bill and his partner Dee Levanti, and now their new son Bernard, grow vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit on about five acres at Ivory Silo Farm in Westport, MA, using sustainable practices and with great respect to biological diversity. When I interviewed him for this issue we were both in the throes of July and all that means – lots of heat (though less this year), lots of weeds, lots of pie in the sky dreams of the spring dashed as the reality of all of the challenges of the farm year have set in, but also looking forward to August where a lot of the early work starts to pay off in heavy vegetables, cooler nights and the calm that impending fall brings. We ran into one another again at the Summer Conference and shared a brief moment being chauffeured in the golf cart to Bill’s seed intensive. August was here and all was right with the world.

1) Young cover crop planted on 18” space at end of onion bed

It’s been a great growing year, so far, and we’ve had an abundant harvest of delicious vegetables. The apple and pear trees are loaded with fruit soon to be enjoyed. Every year our soil becomes richer and healthier, yielding more nutritious and delicious food while removing CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering carbon in our soil. This is a continuous cycle of life creating and sustaining life.

I’ve been preparing a presentation about this biological growing technique (No-till and Cover Crops for us gardeners) for both a NOFA/Mass webinar and a workshop at the Summer Conference. If you are interested and missed these talks, you can view the YouTube video of the whole talk.

Jen Salinetti farms with her husband Pete in Tyringham, MA in the Berkshires. They have been farming for 16 years together, the four years spent on their almost 5-acre farm. In recent years they have not been using tillage to grow their vegetables. Jen feels that by not disturbing the soil they have a considerable positive impact on carbon sequestration on their land. They have experienced a significant increase in quality and yields which has enabled them to create a viable business on a small amount of land.

“Pete and I started experimenting with no-till 13 years ago, and we are now going into year 11. Our initial experimenting began when we were looking to increase greenhouse production. We started looking into ways to do prep without the tiller. We saw some really great results after the first season. And then we expanded it out to our market garden. Through the process, we were able to set up permanent beds and maximize our earnings and outputs through proper spacing of plants. It was right around when our son Diego was born. We wanted to commit to farming, to be available for family life and to be home.”

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.

High tunnels directly contribute to the local economy and food supply by improving the square foot productivity of agricultural land during the regular growing season, and by extending production into the late fall, winter and spring. Fresh greens, like spinach, mustards, lettuce, kale and chard produced in winter provide a high value complement to storage crops sold through increasingly popular winter farmers’ markets and winter CSA programs. Grafted greenhouse tomatoes can produce exceptionally high yields of blemish free fruit. With proper management, high tunnels increase farm viability by increasing the profitability of farms both in square footage and annual output.

In 2009 the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched a program to subsidize the cost of purchasing and constructing high tunnels for farmers, in order to assess their viability. Many Massachusetts farms have received this funding and built high tunnels, or they have purchased them on their own. Many farmers build simple structures with recycled materials and affordable supplies.

Doug Wolcik studied farming in the Sustainable Ag program at UMass with John Gerber. After that he went to Northern California for two seasons and to gain practical experience with the scientific practices that he learned in college. He learned a basic knowledge about farm layout, planting techniques, greenhouse management, cover cropping – but nothing extremely cutting edge. He came back East pretty poor, and with college loans. He had farmed full time for $100/week in CA along with room and board. He then worked for the Department of Conservation and Recreation on the invasive species team searching out the Asian Longhorned Beetle. He saved enough money to be able to take a huge pay cut and get back into farming. He started working with Gaining Ground and is now in his fifth year there.

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