Dig Deeper


Farm Photo Friday: August 15, 2014

Every Friday we share some snaps from our 333-acres in Kutztown, PA. Our photographers? The staff members who keep this farm chugging along. Enjoy a sneak peek at what’s going on here at Rodale Institute!

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Bloom Alert: August 13, 2014

white dahlia chicken200Don’t want the summer to end?

Visit the Rodale Institute this Friday and Saturday for our Preserving in Style Organic Plant Sale. We will have cut flowers and loads of gorgeous ornamentals and edibles for sale.  This week, the dahlias are starting to bloom and we have a range of colors and varieties available, but they are being attacked by a common garden pest – the Japanese Beetle. Other pests that attack these bodacious blooms are slugs, aphids, deer and powdery mildew.

Also, the organic ELDERBERRIES are ripe and ready to pick at $5 per pound!! Elderberries are an excellent source of antioxidants and they can lower cholesterol, improve vision and heart health, and boost the immune system. They have been used as a holistic remedy for centuries in North America, Europe, Western Asia and North Africa.

elderberry bunch200Not only will you be able to preserve the style of summer, but the flavor, too!

Register for our Preserve the Harvest workshop this Saturday from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. to find out everything you need to know about preserving the summer’s bounty. Participants will receive a 10% discount at the Preserving in Style Organic Plant Sale.

Rodale Institute is THE place for pick-your-own ORGANIC flowers! Our Bloom Alerts will keep in the loop so you know when to come out to the farm for fresh organic flowers. Check back to see what is bursting forth each week.

For more information on the who, what, when, and where of pick-your-own flowers at the farm, contact our Garden Store.

Regulating Pest Controls

KM 093_200By Kelsey McKee, OMRI Review Program and Quality Director

Clearly, a commitment to organic practices means that growers will generally use pest control products as a last resort, but organic farmers are permitted to use some potent materials in order to address severe pest issues. Although most pest control products allowed for organic production are naturally derived, these materials can be quite toxic – especially when used in excess. There are written requirements that are part of the organic standards, and these constraints are not always obvious to organic consumers, or to gardeners who do not work with a certifier. The organic standards include an important clause that limits the circumstances under which pest control products may be used.

Under section 205.206(e) of the USDA organic standards, farmers are required to use preventative, mechanical, physical, and other pest, weed and disease management practices before applying any pest control products. Organic certifiers are responsible for verifying that this section 205.206(e) is followed.

OMRI plays a central role in this process, representing a better choice for organic growers and home gardeners, while also listing products that are not intended for use on a daily basis. Communicating this complexity is a daily challenge. Organic farmers and gardeners are looking for a simple yes/no, you can or cannot use this product, clearly stated on the label. But the answer is more complex. The fact that a product is OMRI Listed® does not mean that farmers are using it all the time. It means that it can be used as part of an organically managed system that also incorporates preventative and cultural pest management practices.

PeggyNew_400

Adding to the complexity, the organic standards for materials are specific to certain uses, meaning that a material may be allowed for some uses but not for others. OMRI policies require one compliant use on the product label, but other uses may also be included. Unfortunately, this can lead to confusion as it is sometimes difficult to discern which uses are allowed on organic farms. That’s why OMRI includes important additional information about OMRI Listed products on its website and through the OMRI Products List©. Website visitors at OMRI.org can search or download the OMRI Products List© for free, and each entry includes a full description of when and how the product is allowed under the organic standards, including section 205.206(e). For products that are not OMRI Listed®, the “Materials” search provides the same information for generic ingredients. Other organizations that list inputs also have clarifying information available through their websites.

It would certainly be easier if organic growers could simply use OMRI Listed products when they have a problem, but all certified operators know that they must check with their certifier first. This practice protects organic consumers and farm ecosystems from inadvertent use of potent materials, ensuring that organic products live up to their name. OMRI listing is intended to make it easier for organic producers to make decisions about materials, but the seal on the package does not always tell the whole story. More information is available for those who care to look!

Your 2 Cents Grant Recipient: Nicole Spinelli

red rangers200Nicole is a beginning farmer who recently purchased a small organic farm in rural Wisconsin.  After working for ten years in the conservation field helping farmers, she is now looking forward to beginning farming on her own.  Your 2 Cents helped her established a pastured poultry operation by providing funding for her to invest in the necessary supplies to start her operation.

Tell me a little bit about your farm.

It’s an eleven-acre organic farm in Wisconsin, in the southwest corner of the state. I haven’t pursued becoming certified organic as of yet, because my gross income isn’t high enough yet. There’s some exception when you make under $5,000, you can still use word “organic” without getting certified. I’m following all of the organic rules, but haven’t gone through that expense. My main crops are pastured chickens and seed garlic, and I’m starting to establish raspberries and blueberries.

The breed of bird we’re raising is really neat – Red Ranger broilers. Traditionally, most people that raise meat birds raise white Cornish crosses, which are not the best on pastures because they’re not good grazers. They like to sit in front of a feed trough and eat, because that’s what they’re bred for – to grow fast. I was interested in a growing heritage breed that strives in a pasture. It’s fun to see how well they’re doing and see them foraging and eating clover and grass. They’re active and they like to move around and that’s been fun to see because it’s something different from what a lot of people are doing. We’re now getting ready for our second batch of birds, a dark Cornish breed from England that also does really well on pasture and was one of the original breeds that the Cornish cross was bred from. They’re another slower growing breed.

Did you come from a farming family or did you get into later in life?

I did not. I grew up on Long Island, New York in the suburbs, but my job out of college was working with farmers. I’ve always been interested in the environment and over the course of my career, I wanted to know where my food was coming from and developed interest in farming myself. On Long Island I couldn’t really have my own farm so I found an apprenticeship on an organic vegetable farm. I started searching for places with affordable farmland, and that brought me to Wisconsin. There’s a pretty strong local food movement here, so it’s been a good fit. I rented for a while, then found this land last September with my fiancé, Roy. The land was certifiable organic when we brought it so there were no prohibited substances sprayed on it, which was super exciting.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced starting your own farm? And how did you overcome them?

Access to farmland. Finding farmland that’s affordable, good quality, and has good neighbors is hard. Being organic, the crops that are grown on neighboring farms are a concern to me because I might possibly have to form a buffer between myself and those farms. It was also tough to find the right size. There were larger tracts for sale that obviously cost more money and give more room to expand, but since we wanted to keep our startup cost low, it was hard to find the perfect small tract of land that had good soil and was certifiable as organic.

What has been the most rewarding part of purchasing your own farm?

The daily satisfaction of seeing progress happen and projects get accomplished. If you compare it to renting land, you’re making all these improvements but you don’t own land. You’re benefitting someone else’s land and soil in the long term and adding micronutrients through compost, but it’s even more been rewarding knowing that I’m improving my own land for the long term. I plan on being here for a while, so I’ll get to see the results of investments I make in the soil and the land.

Why did you choose to make your farm organic?

It’s just something I strongly believe in and has been a part of my lifestyle for the last ten years. I’m not interested in spraying chemicals that no one really knows effects of and I think being organic is just healthier all around for myself, my family, my community and environment.

What are the biggest issues facing farmers today?

The weather and climate change. It’s hard to plan daily activities when you don’t know what your environment is going to bring. So figuring out the timing of planting and cultivation and seeding is challenging, and so is dealing with the crop loss that is sometimes a result of it.

An issue with raising birds on pasture is insects. We get really bad gnats during a certain time of year in Wisconsin, and they’re these little things that buzz around your head and like to bite you. People around here have a big problem, because they can actually end up killing your flock by suffocating them. They swarm around and get in their nostrils and I was worried because they’ve been especially bad this year. I didn’t know how it would affect the birds, but since Red Rangers are a breed that’s especially active, they’ve been able to shake them off and keep them at bay, whereas other people this year have actually lost some of their birds.

What do you think is the most hopeful or exciting thing happening in the organic food and farming community right now?

The interest from consumers is really exciting. The demand for organic and local foods is growing and I’m seeing an increase in local community famers’ markets. People are interested in where their food comes from. They want to meet their farmer and know who they are. Things like that are what changes the food system.

What made you apply for the Your 2 Cents grant and how do you see it helping your business?

I’m still in my startup period, so I thought maybe I could apply and it would help me make it through while I’m getting started. It was a total shot in the dark and I was super excited to get approved. It really helped me to put the right infrastructure in place for the chickens. We live in a pretty rural area with lots of open space and lots of wildlife, which means a lot of predators. Everything loves to eat our chickens, but the grant allowed us to put up proper fencing and establish a robust chicken protection system. We can keep our birds safe and happy and allow them access to pasture every day. Having that little bit of extra money let us experiment with designs for the mobile chicken coop or chicken tractor and see what worked best.

What is one tool you couldn’t live without?

I would have to say my wheel hoe or hand hoe. I use the hand hoe all the time for weeding since I can use it to weed almost anything, so it’s pretty handy. We even used it to plant potatoes!

 

Your 2 Cents Grant Recipients: Alejandro & Jesse of Adelante Mujeres

200Adelante Mujeres is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that creates educational, social and  economic opportunity for the low-income Latino population of Washington County, Oregon. Since 2005, their agriculture program, Adelante Agricultura, has trained aspiring Latino farmers in small-scale organic farming practices. Adelante Agricultura aims to expand the capacity and success rate of Latino farmers and prove that organic farming can be a viable and rewarding career.

Tell me a little bit the Sustainable Agriculture Program.

The sustainable Agriculture Program of Adelante Mujeres provides aspiring Latino immigrant farmers with the training and skills necessary to grow vegetables so that they can eat healthy and to successfully market their products. It started 10 years ago and since then we are providing trainings to Spanish speaking people about how to grow vegetables using sustainable techniques.

We have an annual 12-week farming course, in which we cover several themes like: soil building, cover crops, pest, weed and disease management, water conservation, compost, etc. participants who attend 80% of the course become members and are invited to several workshops and other events related to agriculture. This year, we were lucky to get a grant from Rodale to start our internship project (CAMPO) which allows one of the program’s participants to get hands-on experience in a local farm.

Jesse: CAMPO, is a project that’s kind of an extension of our farming training program. We’ve offered the classes for ten years now, but now we’re offering the opportunity for a hardworking and interested student to get experience on a farm. Our intern, Álvaro, works on the farm now as an intern and is learning practical skills now that he’s completed the farming class. He’s been coming out and learning all of the skills that are concordant with what we’re undertaking out there based on the needs for seasons. He started in the greenhouse with transplant planting, direct seeding, maintenance work and weeding, and now he’s using agricultural fabric to cover crops and lying plastic on the ground for warmth – all techniques he hadn’t used in the past. This is the first year that we’re offering the internship, so Álvaro is our first student, but we hope to expand it in the future. For this year, he’s the pilot.

Álvaro is also farming on his own simultaneously, so as soon as he learns something, he goes home and applies it to his own farm. He can decide which knowledge to use and add in different ideas of his own. It’s a constant discussion and it’s valuable for him to be able to compare different ways of doing things. Through our agriculture program, we operate a distributor who buys from Latino farmers who are members of the program and sells to restaurants in the area. That makes it even more rewarding, I think, for our intern to be able to learn farming skills and sell produce at the same time. That way he’s not just getting the skills to grow things, but to sell them to people who are really excited to eat them.

Why did you choose to offer a farming program?

3_300Alejandro: At the end of 2004, one of the members of the former steering committee of the Forest Grove Farmers’ Market came to us and offered us the opportunity to restart the Market. Because most of the Adelante Mujeres participants’ husbands have agricultural background, we saw on this a really good opportunity to involve them in the community doing something they enjoy. When we communicate this idea to them they expressed their desire to participate but they needed training about how to grow vegetables here in Oregon and also how to grow them without chemicals. That is how we started the Agriculture program to teach farming techniques to grow food for selling at the market. Also, nutrition is one of Adelante Mujeres’ priorities so teaching people how to grow their own food is a way to improve their health. Since 2005 we started teaching classes about how to grow vegetables using sustainable techniques, and now we have a whole program that: provides technical assistance to Latinos who own small farming businesses, buys part of their products through Adelante Mujeres Distributor, and gives access to land through community gardens.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced starting the program? And how did you overcome them?

Alejandro: at the beginning, the hardest part was finding a place for the participants of the class to practice what they were learning. We’re in a city, so it was a little difficult to find a space suitable for farming. Since the participants were eager to start using the farming techniques, we started looking for a space to farm. It was through a partnership with other organizations that we found the right place. We started with less than half of an acre, but it was enough; in it, our first participants stared practicing the organic techniques that we were teaching them.

What has been the most rewarding part of starting the program?

Alejandro: There are many! One of the most rewarding parts is when I go to the participants farms or to the community gardens and see people there growing vegetables, especially the beginners who have never planted anything but now are doing really well and feel proud of doing it. On the business side, seeing them selling quality food at Farmers’ markets, restaurants or to our distributor is really satisfying. We can see the difference we have made in the lives of people. For example, there are two farmers who started with us in 2005 and are now independent. They don’t have other jobs because they live out of their farm business now. That’s really rewarding to see.

Why organic?

Alejandro: I am from Guatemala and worked on a farm, but it was a conventional one. In 1999, I took a class about ecology and I learned about the damage we were doing to ourselves and the environment. After that, I stopped farming until I moved to the US. Here I started a garden at my house. Then I started working at Adelante Mujeres. One of the core values of this organization is to love and respect the earth, so the Sustainable Agriculture Program was one way of living this value because by growing food without chemicals we don’t harming it.

2_300Also, we need to eat healthy. As you know, there are many studies that show us the damage that chemicals are doing to our bodies so we don’t want to keep doing that. Adelante Mujeres is focused on well-being so we are teaching our participants that what we eat is really important to keep us healthy, and one way of having access to healthy food is growing it ourselves and knowing the right way to grow it is key. We know the damage that chemicals are doing to the environment, too. We know that waters are contaminated and the air is polluted because of conventional agriculture, and we don’t want to keep doing that. Also, more and more people are aware of their eating habits and want to eat healthy. This is an opportunity for our famers to reach that market with organic produce. I think a lot of people are buying from our farmers because they know they are using organic methods. I have taught a class in the adult education program here at Adelante Mujeres and I’ve seen the change in the women. Some of them had never eaten vegetables, but they’ve changed their diets. I take them to the garden and I start eating vegetables there and they say “Do you eat that!?” after a while, they’re eating those same things. It seems really small change, but in the long term, it makes a difference because they’re changing the habits of their whole families.

In the internship program, part of what we do on the farm with Álvaro is cook lunch every day with only things from the farm. Because of that, he’s become really interested in cooking. He has mentioned several times that his family hadn’t eaten many vegetables in the past, but he’s getting better at convincing them to eat vegetables with him now that he knows how to prepare them and cook them for everyone. So it’s not just the farming experience, it’s those other positive personal effects as well. – Jesse.

Alejandro: This is really surprising to me because one of the questions we asked in the interview for this position was: do you cook? Álvaro clearly sad he didn’t cook and that he didn’t like to cook either. So this is proof that having a participant in the farm is a life changing experience.

What are the biggest issues facing farmers today?

Alejandro: Locally, access to land. After our participants graduate from the agricultural class, they are faced with the difficulty of finding a place to farm. There are several farm owners who want to lease or share their land with them, but in organic farming, that doesn’t make sense. You have to build the soil and that can take years. In one year, you can’t really do anything valuable, so people get discouraged. Also, the advancement of GMOs is threatening small organic farmers. I’ve heard famers talk about that and it’s scary.

Jesse: One of the major challenges in the past was that it takes a whole lot of hands-on experience to learn how to be a successful organic farmer. People who want to get into it can get a decent amount, but to be able to have a whole season to practice helps persuade someone to not only farm or garden as a hobby, but to consider taking it as part-time income or a career. It takes a lot of hands-on experience to make someone want to go ahead and make it a full-time career.

What do you think is the most hopeful or exciting thing happening in the organic food and farming community right now?

1_300Jesse: It’s exciting to see more and more people show up to take the class. This year, it was hard to choose just one intern. During the application and interview process, we interviewed four people and after meeting them, we knew they all could’ve been great choices. There’s so much momentum moving in this direction and people are taking interest in our program and wanting to continue. They really want to take organic farming and do something serious and professional with it.

Alejandro: We are in a time when people are realizing that organic is the only real option if you want to have healthy food and to improve your well-being. At the beginning, the agricultural classes were taken most of all for people with limited education or no education, but now we have participants who have college degrees. Participants have expressed so much interest now because they know how much damage is being done by conventional farming. When I do farm visits, I can see the changes people have experienced. Our intern is always telling us how much he is learning and how he is really convinced that what he is doing is the right thing to do.

What made you apply for the Your 2 Cents grant and how do you see it helping your business?

Alejandro: After the classes, people gain a lot of knowledge, but they need hands-on experience and practice. In 2008, we knew we wanted to do something like this. The idea was to give the participants of our program the opportunity to learn and put into practice what they learned on a real farm. We have a community garden, but I think that’s different from being an employee on a farm. Now, our intern is getting some money for his work and that’s a really necessary thing. They need money to survive and also they are enthusiastic of learning valuable farming skills so, the opportunity to get some money while improving their skills is just the best thing.

What is one tool you couldn’t live without?

Alejandro: Money – money to have the possibility of expanding and giving participants the opportunity to get hands-on experience and maybe even find a space of our own where they can do that.

Jesse: The participants themselves. The most important thing is having momentum in the right direction and if we continue that momentum and offer this project to more people and have them participate on farms and as interns, we could continue to grow the program with the demand. We could even specify it based on the interests of farmers and farms.

 

Farm Photo Friday: August 8, 2014

Every Friday we share some snaps from our 333-acres in Kutztown, PA. Our photographers? The staff members who keep this farm chugging along. Enjoy a sneak peek at what’s going on here at Rodale Institute!

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Your 2 Cents Grant Recipient: Sarah of Diggin’ Roots

Tell me a little bit about Diggin’ Roots.

We purchased our land in August 2012 after looking for a property for close to 5 years. At that point it was just my husband and I, and a year and a half ago our son was born. It’s about 60 acres and south of Portland, we bought it because we both wanted to pursue our dreams of farming. We’d been farming for a couple of years on a small urban lot and we were looking forward to getting out of the city. It took a lot of cleanup since it had been a family farm decades ago but no one had lived here for years. So in those first few days after we moved onto the farm, we planted garlic, and then one of our first projects to tackle was to take the 35 tillable acres we had and turn 32 of them into organic pasture. It’s been a crazy process, but it was conventionally managed for years and the whole system was just so out of balance. After we had the first year under our belt, we could feel a little more confident, but we’re careful with the soils. They’re good soils but they’re sensitive, so we have to be really careful about cultivation; we’re trying to add as much organic matter as we can through cover crop and compost.

Did you come from a farming family or did you get into later in life?

Not at all. I grew up in the San Francisco bay area and my husband grew up near Lake Tahoe. We met at UC Davis, where my love of food put me in touch with agriculture. I just fell in love with it and the potential lifestyle of being a farmer. Conner likes to say that while we were there, I studied agriculture and he studied me. After that, we decided we wanted to try it and worked at a couple of farms and both of us have been active in agriculture in and around Portland. The only reason we were able to look for property is because my dad helped us buy it. He’s a part-owner in the property, which is just amazing. We are so grateful for that support.

Tell me more about your path from knowing you wanted to farm to actually owning your own farm.

I studied farming at school and worked at an organic farm on campus, and Conner and I had gardened. I also spent some time abroad on an organic farm in Costa Rica. After graduating, we thought we should really give it a try somewhere. We took management positions at a bed and breakfast in Washington that wanted to start a farm. We did that for a season and it was really challenging. The owner didn’t know much about farming and was pretty unrealistic. He bankrolled the whole thing and we got to learn a lot just by making mistakes and learning things the hard way. That was a really great experience and in some ways it started it all. We spent that time working with someone who didn’t know much about farming and it made us realize that we really could do it on our own.

We lived in Portland for five years, both doing a number of jobs with local nonprofits, and all the while we were looking for land. We eventually found it and are so happy that we did. Farming for us is a lot more than a 9-5 job. It’s a lifestyle and it’s about being out in a rural community away from the city. We can just walk outside and be in touch with our natural rythms and our food.

I think both of us look at farming a lot like a creative endeavor. I really believe that it is. Farms are crafted with so many personal touches. Every decision about how your systems are designed and operated is unique: what management systems you use, what you chosose to grow, and how you grow it. Once you know the technical design, everything else is really a personal creation. Conner and I were really interested in creating something together and investing in it and living a life around it.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced starting your own farm? And how did you overcome them?

A few years ago, I would’ve probably said acquiring land. Its not that there wasn’t land out there, it’s that it was difficult to find good land that was relatively affordable. That was a challenge, but I can’t complain too much because we’ve been incredibly lucky with getting loans and help from family. We’ve been given very fair and generous terms and we’ve heard from older farmers that they’d rather go into debt from the start like we did and set up systems rather than spend money later. We put a lot up front, but I hope that it will pay off.

One of the other things we’re constantly struggling with and probably will be for rest of our lives is that there is always more to do. Fifty acres will take many years to grow into and that’s overwhelming at times. A lot of the land was overgrown when we first moved here. There is a lot of work we need to do that isn’t related to production and won’t make money, but it’s important for us to spend time on. We want to make sure we’re taking care of pastures we’ve established, fixing buildings, installing irrigation, and doing all of these other incredibly big projects. It’s easy to see how much more work there is to do, but we have to step back and look at what we’ve already accomplished.

What has been the most rewarding part of purchasing your own farm?

Harvesting food and sharing it with the community and our family and friends is by-far one of the best parts. It’s so wonderful to be able to share food with people. Our CSA members come to farm with kids and they know vegetables that most adults in this country probably couldn’t identify, which is awesome. The other part is just being able to appreciate this land and what it’s capable of and being able to steward it. It’s a real privilege that we feel very fortunate to be able to have. Also, things like rebuilding soil and clearing invasives. It feels really good to be able to do things like that because even though we don’t necessarily see changes overnight, we know those are things we’re chipping away at and improving.

Why organic?

I studied organic agriculture in school and was brought up with values for the environment and nature, so conventional agriculture was never something I wanted to do. One of the most pivotal experiences I had was reading a book called Hope’s Edge (by Frances Moore Lappe). At the time, I was majoring in community development and my dad gave me the book. That was the first time I heard about Monsanto and patenting seeds and the challenges of the global food system and the distribution of food and genetic engineering – everything that’s wrong with our food system. That really struck a chord with me and I really saw a problem with it. I’ve always appreciated food and cooking and the book and its message resonated with me and turned me towards agriculture.

What are the biggest issues facing farmers today?

There are so many, but finances are always a struggle for farmers. We work really, really hard  and yet it can be challenging to be financially sustainable. Another one of the biggest issues for farmers in our country is the increasing average age of farmers and how many new farmers we need. Conner and I have been so fortunate with the support we’ve received, but hundreds of other young farmers have passion and experience but not access to a farm for one reason or another. That’s something that we really need to figure out as a country or we’re going to be in trouble.

For organic famers, we need a lot more support, and that can come in a number of different ways. There’s a great need for more research and data collection about organic farms so we can increase our production and management and systems as much, if not more so, than all of the conventional farms out there that have tons of reseach dollars to support their strategies. But there are a lot of farmers who are opting not to get certified because they don’t see it as valuable, and while I completely respect that, it really impacts the numbers of the organic movement. People who use organic practices but aren’t certified aren’t counted. So when it comes to research, I’m not sure we’re really getting enough to support the farms we have out there.

Given the research that has been done, though, organic is doing incredibly well. If we got half as many research dollars as conventional farming does, I think organic would exceed everyone’s expectations for yield and productivity. I’m not sure how we go about getting that, but we need to. The current agriculture of the United States is just not sustainable, but organic is a step in the right direction.

What do you think is the most hopeful or exciting thing happening in the organic food and farming community right now?

I feel like there’s just so much passion behind it. A handful of famers are in it for the money, but most of us are in it for bigger reasons. In some way or another, we see it as a form of advocacy and action and a soution to some of the problems that are facing us today. When you are approaching something from a place of positivity and hope, it’s just an amazing force for bringing people together and forming a farming community around it. It’s such a neat movement and I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of it.

What made you apply for the Your 2 Cents grant and how do you see it helping your business?

I saw the announcement about the organic seed fund in your e-newsletter and Conner and I are really commited to using organic seed. We’ve been involved with and aware of the Organic Seed Alliance and feel passionately about the interaction of our farm and what supports us. Organic seed is certainly a part of that. It’s more expensive, so the grant was very helpful in helping us purchase it without going into debt. It really helped us prioritize buying from our local organic seed operation this year. There’s a lot to be said for regionally bred varieties, but these small companies have to charge more than than the bigger organic seed suppliers. We now have awesome varieties growing this year and it’s been great to support a smaller organic company. We’ve planted three kinds of cauliflower and three kinds of broccoli and it’s been great to compare those and see what works best on our farm.

Toledo’s Water Crisis Starts with the Soil

220px-Runoff_of_soil_&_fertilizerBy Coach Mark Smallwood
Follow Coach’s blogs posts at Maria’s Farm Country Kitchen and EcoWatch

Lake Erie was poisoned by chemical agriculture. Naturally, the headlines are making people nervous about water supplies – and rightly so. However, what is not making the headlines is that this problem with our water actually starts with the soil.

Widespread use of synthetic fertilizers caused the chemical run-off into Lake Erie, cutting off the supply of drinking water to over 400,000 residents. The ban on drinking public water has been lifted – for now.

Toledo’s problem could soon become an issue for the vast majority of Americans whose lives depend on public drinking water, however, if agriculture in the U.S continues to use synthetic chemicals. Clean drinking water will become scarce if chemical farming practices continue to leach excess nitrogen and phosphorous into the water.

Rodale Institute is one of the only organizations in the U.S. that conducts independent research on agricultural practices. As early as the 1940’s, Rodale Institute founder J.I. Rodale noted that “Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People.” Current circumstances might have inspired him to also acknowledge that “Healthy Soil = Healthy Water = Healthy People.”

Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial has over 30 years of research, comparing organic and conventional agriculture – including impact on water systems. The results clearly demonstrate the destructive impact that agricultural chemicals have on soil health and water.

Through growing organic and conventional, side by side, our trials showed that water volumes in soil were 15 to 20% higher in the organic systems than the conventional. In organic farming systems, healthy soil absorbs rain, recharging the groundwater supply and leaving the soil in the field – where it belongs. On farms where the soil microbiology has been poisoned with synthetic chemicals, the soil cannot hold the rainwater and so the result is chemical run-off and soil erosion, sending the agricultural pollutants running off the surface – into Lake Erie, for example – taking the contaminated soil with it.

Algae blooms like those in Lake Erie reveal nature’s balancing act. For anyone in Toledo who dared to drink the water during the ban, they could expect vomiting and illness. Lake Erie is essentially responding in the same way to the agricultural run-off.

Chemicals on most farms are most easily moved throughout our ecosystem by water, and when the water picks these toxins up, they spread easily. The algal blooms in Lake Erie are just one recent example of how this can happen. We’ll need to work faster to help farmers transition to regenerative organic farming practices to preserve the purity of our water – for we will not last long without it.

We must focus on the health of the soil, as it is inseparable from the health of our water supply. Quite simply, everything is connected; water, soil, air, animal life, human health, and of course our food. We can correct many of the problems by transitioning global agricultural activity to regenerative organic practices, ensuring that clean water, and all our other life-giving resources, will remain healthy and accessible to all.

Your 2 Cents Grant Recipient: Shannon of Broadfork Farm

Broadfork Farm is a small-scale organic farm started in March 2011. Owners Bryan Dyck and Shannon Jones are young farmers who both work full-time on the farm, year-round on a 15 acre farm they purchased in November 2011 (prior to this, growing on leased land). During the 2013 season, their farm moved from being in-transition to a fully certified organic farm (by Ecocert Canada). They grow mixed vegetables, herbs, cut flowers, some fruit, transplants, and have started to expand their vegetable seed production in order to have access to more organic seed and to select seed that works well in organic systems. A small flock of laying hens is raised as well as honeybees. Broadfork Farm is also a certified Bee Friendly Farm.

Tell me a little bit about Broadfork Farm.

Broadfork is a small-scale organic farm. We primarily make a living from vegetables, but we also grow and sell fruit, seed crops, cut flowers and herbs.

Did you come from a farming family or did you get into later in life?

The first time I worked on a farm I was 21, but I already knew I wanted to be at a farmer. Of course, at that point, I didn’t really know what that meant! I was drawn to farming because I studied nutrition and I started to think a lot about the things that were healthy for people; things like fresh food, clean air and water, sunshine, physical exercise. They were all a part of my own lifestyle and I wanted to be able to go beyond making myself healthy and contribute an element of health to others.

After realizing that I wanted to farm, I spent a number of years focused on building production skills. Eventully, as I realized all of the things besides production that farming entails, I knew I needed to gain more knowledge when it came to marketing and business. Apprenticing meant I was able to learn a lot skills from the farmers I worked with, especially financial management skills. Then, right before Bryan and I started our own farm, we took a farm business management course and learned the kinds of things we needed to direct-market our small-scale farm.

Tell me more about your path from knowing you wanted to farm to actually owning your own farm.

I apprenticed and volunteered and interned first and then moved into positions with more responsibility such as a farm manager and field manager. My partner, Bryan, spent his first year apprenticing, his second year co-managing a CSA, and his third year on an incubator farm where he ran a CSA on another farmer’s land. He learned infrastructure and managing and, after that, we started our farm. We started on leased land our first year and then bought a farm of our own.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced starting your own farm? And how did you overcome them?

Even though we were trying to run a business in that first year, we were still learning all of the things small businesses require, and that was challenging. Also, we had to learn how to work together. We had to figure out how to balance our different working and management styles, and I would say we’re still learning how to do that.

In the beginning, we were converting land we purchased from a hay field to a vegetable farm, and that was also pretty difficult. Neither of us had any expeience working on a farm in its first year. Converting was especially challenging since we also needed to make a living that first year. We didn’t have a huge amount of savings and neither of us had other jobs. We really struggled with wanting to create something that was going to be long-term, but also something that would provide us money in the short-term.

We also spent a lot of time trying to figure out appropriate investments on tools, equipment and infrastructure. At this stage in our lives, we don’t really have a huge amount to work with, so we’re still trying to be as smart and strategic with our money as possible.

What has been the most rewarding part of owning your own farm?

One really big reward has been the sense of rootedness that we feel in our community. We get a strong sense that the customers we have now will be long-term customers. I know Bryan and I both grew pretty attached to the customers we had while leasing land and while working on other farms, but we no longer get to see those people. Now, the people we see on a weekly basis and at the farmers’ market are people we will hopefully be seeing for a long time – possibly the rest of our lives. That feeling is really good.

It’s also really rewarding to know that we can take a long-term approach to everything we do. It was hard to put a lot of money into the soil when we only had a one-year lease. We didn’t feel like we could really build infrastructure.

I’m also looking forward to being able to observe the land through the years. This is a property we’re going to learn more and more about every year, and kind of peel off its layers and get a deeper connection to the land. That excites and inspires me.

Why organic?

Before I was an organic farmer I was an organic consumer. I’ve been pretty passionate about the environment from a young age, and I grew to be more passionate about human and environmental health in general as I grew older. I have been devoted to eating organic food for a long time, so when I decided I wanted to be a farmer, it was always clear that I would be an organic farmer. I’d never grow food that I wouldn’t want to eat.

What are the biggest issues facing farmers today?

I feel pretty strongly about issues related to young and new farmers. When we were first looking for a place to buy, it was really hard to find land that was affordable. Farmers would tell us they would like to sell their land to us at a cheaper price, but that it’s their retirement fund. When farmers invest in their land, that land takes on a huge value of its own. If they can sell it to someone for more money, that’s what they’re going to do. That makes sense, but it really makes it diffiult to get into farming.

How people perceive the value of food, especially compared to the value of other services, is a big issue. For example, a massage might cost $100 per hour and people are willing to pay that. But the amount of produce that we have to grow to make $100 takes much more than an hour (or two hours or three hours) of work. I understand food access issues are huge. And when people talk about food access, they mean cost. But why is it people are willing to settle for low-quality food instead of cutting in other areas? High-quality food should be more important than things like cable TV or cell phones. Food shouldn’t be the place where people either choose to or are forced to make cuts.

What do you think is the most hopeful or exciting thing happening in the organic food and farming community right now?

So many new farmers are really interested in growing organic. That gives me a lot of hope for the future. Also, people in general are starting to care about what they’re putting into their bodies and their children’s bodies. They’re doing research on their own and getting a better idea of what food production today looks like. They’re trying to understand what goes on at farms, and that is really beautiful. I think people are starting to get excited about preparing food again and making things from scratch. People being excited about fresh and healthy and even unusual foods, and experimenting in the kitchen is inspiring to me. The passion that organic farmers and organic customers have is really incredible. That leaves me hopeful about the rest of my farming career.

What made you apply for the Your 2 Cents grant and how do you see it helping your business?

Organic seeds are just becoming a big thing for us. We want to consider the background of the seed we’re using and the management techniques that were used to grow it. That all affects how it will do on our farm, so it’s important to us that they are grown using organic practices. It can be difficult to choose organic seeds, though, especially with certain crop varieties, because of price and availability. Organic seeds are not nearly as easy to get as non-organic, but we really think that supporting the organic seed industry is the best way to help it grow. Because of that, we really wanted to purchase only organic, but higher seed costs mean a higher overall bill. The seed grant was really timely for us, because it allowed us to do something for the organic seed industry and for our own farm that we didn’t know was possible when looking at our expenses and the money we had coming in.

What is one tool you couldn’t live without?

My partner, Bryan! I don’t know if he’s exactly a tool, but I couldn’t do any of this without him. I’d also have to say pen and paper, because of the amount of writing and planning I do. I’ve learned that a lot of farming is really about managing. I could live without a lot of tools and make do, but I’d be lost if I couldn’t use those management skills to keep the farm running.

Recipes: Peppers

Chiles Rellenos
Adapted from : From Asparagus to Zucchini, edited by Fairshare CSA Coalition

Cut this recipe in half for a nice side dish! My kids love this!

Whole or halved hot or semi-hot chiles (Hungarian wax, Anaheim, Poblano, jalepenos, etc)
Enough to cover bottom of a 7-by13-inch pan
1 lb Monterey Jack cheese, cut into thin strips
5 large eggs
¼ cup flour
1 ¼ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ lb grated cheddar cheese
½ teaspoon paprika

Seed the chiles. Slip strips of Monterey Jack cheese inside chiles (or sprinkle shredded cheese on top). Beat eggs and gradually add flour, milk, and salt. Arrange chiles in well-greased pan. Sprinkle on the cheddar. Pour on egg mixture. Sprinkle on the paprika. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees, 45 minutes. Makes 6-8 Servings.

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Stuffed Peppers
Adapted from : From Asparagus to Zucchini, edited by Fairshare CSA Coalition

A little oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, chopped
3 cups raw brown rice
6 cups water, chicken or vegetable broth, or tomato juice
½ teaspoon allspice
½ cup almonds, chopped
1 cup chopped tomatoes
¾ lb cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
9 large peppers, tops cut off, seeds removed

Heat oil in large skillet; add and sauté garlic and onions. Add rice and brown about 5 minutes. Add desired liquid and allspice. Cover and cook until rice is done, about 40 minutes. Toast almonds in dry skillet or hot oven several minutes, tossing often. Stir in tomatoes, cheese, almonds, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook peppers in boiling water 2 minutes. Drain and stuff peppers with rice mixture. Bake at 350 degrees, 30 minutes. Makes 9 servings.