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 →
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 aroundVermont 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.”
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.”
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.)
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.
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:
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.”
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. Continue reading →
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.
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
Back in June, we posted about the upcoming NESAWG (Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group) It Takes a Region Conference. And maybe, at that moment, you thought that this year’s theme of “Putting MOVE in the Movement” was so freaking great that you signed up immediately. If so, good for you! But maybe you, like me, were busy planting kale starts, packing for market, coordinating campaigns, or any of the many other June activities that might keep a Greenhorn busy and, planning to sign up later, left the conference page open in a tab on your browser for months. If so, I wanted to gently remind you that It Takes A Region is in THREE WEEKS: Nov. 12-14 in Saratoga Springs, NY. And, phew, it is not too late to register!
This year’s conference will focus on studying social movements of the recent past in relation to our current work in sustainable food systems and food justice. Examples of workshops include sessions on: Addressing Racism in the Food System, Enhancing Food Security in the Northeast, and Food Hubs. The conference is geared towards farmers, nonprofit professionals, activists, and journalists alike, and there is ample discussion time built into the conference schedule.
Next week, in conjunction with its current exhibition Eyes on the Land, the Shelburne Museum in Vermont is holding a Working the Land Symposium. From 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Sunday, October 10, regional scholars will present on the histories, stories, archeology, and symbolism of the working landscapes of New England. These presentations will be followed by a panel discussion by the artists featured in the exhibition.
In our continued enthusiasm for Maine Sail Freight, we are very excited today to bring you a little piece of traditional nautical ear candy. For hair-raising harmonies, visions of rocky beaches, and dreams of salty beards, download and listen to Rolling Home to Old New England.
Every year the Switzer Foundation provides funding for 20 scholars and innovators in terminal graduate programs in New England and California. The scholarship is $15,000 for the course of a year for people doing work on sustainability, agriculture, urban development, and related fields/issues.
Their call of for applications says, “Candidates for the Fellowship should demonstrate outstanding leadership potential, be able to clearly communicate how they will apply their technical or professional expertise to environmental issues, and convey a clarity and sense of purpose about their work. Leadership qualities valued by the Switzer Foundation include a desire to work collaboratively and across disciplines, a commitment to applied environmental work, interest in developing leadership skills and an appreciation of the importance of networks. Candidates for the Switzer Fellowship are chosen not only for their excellence in academic and scientific or technical work, but also on their true dedication to aggressively pursue practical solutions to environmental problems.”
If this sounds like you or anyone your know, check out the application instructions HERE, and look at last year’s grantees HERE.
Making a profit off of real estate investment is no new thing, even when it comes to farmland. Land grabs make the land valuable without valuing the land. There are some investment groups, though, that aim to invest in land sustainably.
One such group is The Entrepreneur Agrarian Fund (EAF), a private equity fund establishing a network of livestock based farm enterprises that provide local grass-fed, natural and organic meats to markets of theNortheast.
Capitalizing on immediate market demand, the EAF utilizes regional production efficiency to create strong investor returns through cash-flow from a consistent supply of premium crops, and on-going improvement to land and soil quality. Thus making investing in the land more attractive to individuals and groups looking to put their money into something they believe in, without sacrificing a favorable return value.
Small Farms Quarterly
As the new farmer editor I invite anyone who is located in the Northeast (Maine-Pennsylvania & points east) to submit an article. These can be focused on beginning farmers you work with, or yourself as a beginning farmer, with a story to tell about an innovation in production, marketing, new varieties, use of technology, etc… These should be timely topics and those with stories others can learn from. You can find more information on writing styles, guidelines and more at: http://smallfarms.cornell.edu/quarterly/writers/#Examples. The deadline for submission is August 2nd through the online submission form located here: online submission form with several pictures. The word length and other details are addressed in the first link. I hope you will consider submitting a piece.
Just a reminder that our next YFN is TOMORROW! All are welcome – don’t let the “Young” part of “Young Farmer Night” keep you away!!
We will be meeting at 6pm at the Anawan Grange, 118 Bay State Rd, Rehoboth, MA. There will be a meet & greet, potluck, and panel discussion featuring folks involved with organizations such as the Farm Bureau, RI Agricultural Partnership, National Young Farmers’ Coalition and the New England Farmers’ Union. Please bring a potluck dish to share and your own plate & fork!
Rides needed from Boston and Berkley, MA
Rides offered from South County (leaving from Richmond, RI) and Providence
Reply to this email and post on the Facebook page if you need a ride or have one to offer!