the irresistible fleet of bicycles


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a market for mutton “would change everything”

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by Sophie Mendelson

My grandfather likes to tell a story about a family gathering during my early childhood. It’s somebody’s birthday, and my extended family is gathered around a long table in the dim mid-afternoon light of a Baltimore tavern. The waitress comes to the table to take our orders. The adults ask for straightforward fare: hamburgers, club sandwiches, caesar salads. Then the waitress turns to four-year-old me and asks what I’d like. “And you, in your piping voice, say: the rack of lamb, please!” He chortles. “That waitress could hardly believe her ears!”

Growing up, I thought people ate beef because they couldn’t find any lamb. Why else, I figured, would someone choose a boring steak over the heat-crisped exterior, rosy interior—tender and juicy and with a flavor actually particular—of a lamb chop?

My parents weren’t from Greece or Lebanon or anywhere else known for its affinity for sheep meat, but somehow they had discovered lamb, and so we ate lamb. We ordered it at restaurants. We served it to guests. It wasn’t a mundane meal for us, still a treat, but not an unusual one.

As it turns out, this is not the typical American relationship with lamb. Continue reading


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ice detained migrant farmer activists: thousands responded.

Though those who live farther away from the muddy melting snow of Southern New England, may not have caught wind of the migrant rights struggle that has been playing out between farms and courthouses around the region, it’s worth everyone’s attention.

Since the ICE arrest and detention of farmworkers and Migrant Justice leaders Jose Enrique “Kike” Balcazar Sanchez and Zully Palacios Rodriguez on March 16, hundreds of people have gathered around Vermont and in Boston to demand the young activists release. Migrant Justice is a Vermont-based organization that organizes three regional migrant worker communities to advocate for human rights and economic justice. Especially considering some of the anecdotes in this excellent piece by LatinoUSA.org on their case, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which immigration officials are not intentionally targeting human rights leaders for deportation.

Both are in their early twenties, neither with any prior arrests, and they were on their way home from the Migrant Justice center when they were stopped. Balcazar, as LatinoUSA reports, “is an active community organizer in Vermont, and served on Vermont attorney general T.J. Donovan’s Immigrant Task Force, which was created in January as a response to President Trump’s immigration executive orders.”

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the future of farming in new england

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After a year that put large swaths of New England in prolonged severe to extreme drought, reporter Kori Feener devoted episode two of her new podcast series to ask: what is the future of farming in New England in an increasingly erratic climate? Feener speaks to our  a small farmer, the head of environmental studies at Brandies University, and our own Severine. The experts agree, the challenges are daunting but hardly insurmountable. Realistic and yet incredibly hopeful, this is great listening for long days of seeding in the greenhouse.

To that point, the new series, Under Reported, is sleek, smart, and incredibly engaging. Based out of Boston, Feener goes beneath the headlines to give voice to the personal narratives of today’s news cycle and draw attention to what the mainstream media often ignores. “Through in-depth interviews, and audio storytelling Under Reported connects with those on the front lines of change in America.”

We also highly recommend episode one, on Standing Rock, Sovereignty, and Erasure.


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experts say 2017 might be crawling with ticks

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Because of our dogged propensity to spend pretty much all of our time outside, our proximity to livestock, and our unparalleled love of tromping through the woods in the Spring, agrarian-minded folk need to be especially vigilant for ticks. And so, farmers in the Northeast will shudder to listen to this piece on NPR, suggesting that due to a mice infestation of 2016, 2017 may be crawling with the Lyme Disease-carrying deer tick. (Worth noting here that regardless of where you live, the piece is well-worth listening to for its insight into how human activities have led to the proliferation of deer ticks.)

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/518219485/518743106

When I got Lyme Disease myself several years ago, I made it a bit of a mission to learn everything I could about ixodes scapular, commonalty known as the deer tick. Among the most useful of information that I unearthed was this information on the life cycle of a tick: ticks are most likely to feed on humans during their nymph stage, which occurs May-July (though, where I live, this seems to happen earlier and earlier every year; we were finding nymphs on us in the unseasonably warm April of 2016). They don’t feed again until they become adults in the mid-to-late Fall– making October the second peak in tick season in New England. If there’s a time to be vigilant, even to stay out of the woods, it’d be in May or October.

All of this is to say, now is a good time to prepare for the first peak of the Spring, and the good news for farmers is that one of the best things to do to reduce your local tick population may be to get a flock of fowl. Flower and veggie farmers will be relieved to hear that planting herbs as common as garlic, thyme, yarrow, and basil can keep ticks out of your fields and garden. Other tips that I’ve read and liked? Take a shower as soon as you come inside for the day, nuke your clothes in the dryer for 10 minutes when you take them off, carry a lint roller to collect ticks off your clothing while you’re outside.

My favorite method, though, involves keeping the pests off of your in the first place. DIY tick repellants contain essential oils that mask your smell and repell the ticks. These oils include rose geranium, sweet grass, eucalyptus, peppermint, and– what I’ve personally had the most success with– cedar wood. And though my partner swears that he’s seen ticks literally jump off parts of his body upon which he’s applied clove oil, I haven’t yet found any evidence to back up this claim. Here’s a great recipe, but there are plenty more available with a quick google search.


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the seed we need: there’s not enough

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Outside right now, in central Massachusetts, it’s 5 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s a thin crust of fresh snow on the ground, and the trees are brown and bare. But in the flood of seed catalogues that have been flowing into the farmhouse mailbox over the past few months, it’s summer. Peas are fat in the pod, the lettuce is in full flush, and eggplants hang heavy, shiny, and purple. All the grass is green. There are flowers everywhere.

It’s into this imagination land of color and warmth that we’ve been burrowing throughout the coldest season as we attempt to tease out a concrete organic crop plan from this fantasy of perfect bounty. But as with any fantasy, there are limitations to this one’s ability to deliver on it’s promise: our land is not perfect land, our soils are not perfect soils, we are not perfect growers, and the weather, inevitably, will not behave perfectly for our purposes.

Even more than the obvious disparities, however, these catalogues are limited in that they bely the true nature of their industry. Abundance, diversity, and choice: this is what we hope to achieve in the crop plan for this farm’s organic vegetable CSA, and that is what the seed catalogues are selling us. But the reality of the seed industry is not that. The reality of the seed industry is this:

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Consolidation is the name of the game when it comes to seed, and nothing suppresses abundant diversity and choice like the concentration of research funding and intellectual property rights into the hands of just a few. Despite the existence of a select number of seed companies that cater to the needs of small-scale, diversified, and/or organic farmers, and despite the considerable (and still growing) market for organic seed, the actual supply of attainable organic genetics is quite small. And without sufficient organic seed, the hardiness of organic agriculture starts to look—well, considerably less hardy.

According to the Organic Seed Alliance’s 2016 report, most organic farmers still rely on conventional seed because they can’t find organic versions of the varieties they need […] The result for farmers is not simply compromised principles and reliance on regulatory exemptions, but a reservoir of organic germplasm whose quality, in addition to scale, is inadequate to their needs.

The reasoning here is partly ideological, partly regulatory, and partly (the biggest part) due to the nature of seed, explains Tyson Neukirch, former head grower at the Farm School. Growing with organic seed means supporting the growth of the organic seed industry—an act of solidarity as well as self-interest. Increased demand ought to lead to increased supply of organic seed, and increased supply enables organic farmers to better comply with organic certifiers who are becoming more stringent with their requirement that organic-certified farmers use organic seed unless, as the USDA National Organic Program puts it, “an equivalent organically produced variety is not commercially available.”

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greenhorns feature: resilient farming in a changing new england

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by Bonnie Rubrecht

Concord, Massachusetts might be known primarily for its ties to the Revolutionary War, but today it’s a thriving and affluent Boston suburb of a population of nearly 20,000. In the midst of historic mansions and some of the most valuable property outside of Boston, Hutchins Farm has been cultivating 65 acres of organic fruit and vegetables since the early 1970s. Greenhorns had the opportunity to talk to Liza Bemis, the great-great granddaughter of Charles Hutchins, who originally purchased the land that became Hutchins Farm in 1895 for his New England dairy. Liza didn’t envision herself working on the farm she grew up on, but after six years working in an office, she was ready for a change.

“The bigger question,” Liza explained, “is how do we deal with more severe weather events? Whether it’s plant breeding, cover cropping to keep the soil in place … just this past year we had a tornado [in Concord]. What does that mean for us?”

When Liza returned to Hutchins, she began helping out with farmer’s markets and now manages all of the farm’s sales, overseeing select wholesale accounts with local restaurants, dealing with their accounting and managing their farm stand on Monument Street. Family-owned for five generations, Hutchins was originally a dairy called Punkatasset Farm. “But in our grandparents’ era, dairy in New England was dying,” Liza explained. “More than half of the land was sold off, leaving just the original homestead—about 65 acres.” The remaining land was leased out to other farmers, or used for growing hay.

Despite his parents prodding to go into a different career, Liza’s father, Gordon Bemis, was smitten with farming.
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farm classes online this winter

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Winter is a great time for farmers to rest, slow down the pace, and build new skills for the coming growing season. The Cornell Small Farms Program is pleased to announce the winter roster of online courses available through its Northeast Beginning Farmer Project. These courses help farmers learn from the latest research-based education.

Since 2006, the program has offered high quality, collaborative learning environments online and each year educates hundreds of beginning and established farmers through these courses.

http://www.nebeginningfarmers.org/online-courses/

Are there courses for me? From aspiring to experienced farmers, there is a course for nearly everyone. There’s a handy chart on our course homepage to direct you to the right courses for your experience level.

What are the courses like? All of our courses consist of weekly real-time webinars followed by homework, readings, and discussions on your own time in an online setting. If you aren’t able to attend the live webinars, they are always recorded for later viewing.

Qualify for a 0% interest loan! Participants who complete all requirements of one or more online courses are eligible to be endorsed for a 0% interest loan of up to $10,000 through Kiva Zip.

Each course is $200, but up to 4 people from the same farm may participate without paying extra. See the course description page for more on the course learning objectives, instructors, and outline

http://www.nebeginningfarmers.org/online-courses/