April 2012
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GLEANINGS: n. 1. That which has been acquired by gleaning. 2. The monthly eNewsletter of CT NOFA. [Glean:v. 1. to gather relevant information or material by patient effort, bit by bit; to find out. 2. to gather grain or other produce (often: left by reapers); to harvest.]



Johan and his wife Barbara at an area farmers market.

We are saddened by the passing of Johan van Achterberg, a long time CT NOFA board member and treasurer. He was awarded a lifetime membership for his service to the organization, which included obtaining the 501c3 non-profit status in 2000. Johan was an organic farmer at his Hidden Meadow Farm in Easton, raising eggs, turkeys and vegetables, especially spinach, for sale. Johan van Achterberg's passing cultivated fond memories in the hearts and minds of other CT NOFA members, past and present. Johan recently passed away, but his legacy will live on through the thoughts of others. Online, he took a moment to describe his story:

It wasn't until the 1990s that "ORGANIC" foods really started to catch on and gain wide acceptance by more than just a small segment of farmers and consumers. When that happened, I joined "Connecticut NOFA," the statewide branch of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. I also became Certified Organic by Connecticut NOFA, and sold Certified Organic vegetables for many years until the USDA took over the certification process.

The following are some anecdotal memories that current and past members have of Johan. As you'll see, he was a big part of a lot of people's lives.

I think that Johan was the only person who ever joined the Board of Directors of CT NOFA without being persuaded, cajoled, or even asked. He just up and volunteered. At the annual meeting one year, when the president presented the slate of Board members for election and ritually asked if there were any other nominations, Johan grumbled, "Well, maybe I just ought to do it," and put his hand in the air. He was on the Board for many years, serving as Treasurer, and straightened out the haphazard record-keeping and finances that had prevailed up to that point.

He told me stories about when he would go to Martha Stewart's estate, bringing a turkey, to be on the show just before Thanksgiving. I never saw Martha Stewart's TV program, but I would love to see Johan and Martha Stewart together. I think it would be priceless. It's probably out there on the Internet somewhere.

He loved gadgets. Inventing them, making them, fixing them. He had read about using a propane flamer to kill Colorado potato beetles, so he built his own, and invited me (the entomologist) out to see how well it worked. The thing was a beast - huge, tractor-mounted. Johan would light it with a sheet of burning newspaper in his hand. And he used leaf mulch to keep the weeds down between the potato rows, so he had to make sure he wouldn't catch the leaves on fire and incinerate everything. But Johan knew what he was doing - as far as I know, he never blew anything up or set fire to anything he didn't intend to burn. It did a pretty good job of controlling his potato beetles at a time when nothing - not even the conventional pesticides - worked against those resistant beetles very well.

-Dr. Kim Stoner, CT Agricultural Experiment Station

What's That Smell?

In the days before true compost spreaders there were manure spreaders. My fledgling organic landscaping company scored a big job in a very 'Gucci' neighborhood in Fairfield County. The soil for the large bluegrass sod lawn needed to be improved, so I recommended ½" of compost to be applied on the surface and raked in. To my surprise we got the job, but we had no idea how to spread that much compost and not lose our shirts. Just then my thoughts turned to Johan. I watched him deftly spread turkey poop all over his garden areas with this large manure spreader attached to the back of an equally large farm tractor. I figured spreading compost can't be that different from poop, so I called Johan to inquire. Always fond of making a buck, Johan jumped at the opportunity I told him he would be working in a very upscale neighborhood and his equipment and his language would have to be clean. He agreed.The big day arrives and so does Johan, riding atop his huge, smoke belching, tractor, hauling the manure spreader behind him. He drove his unregistered, pieced-together, farm tractor and spreader all the way from his farm in Easton, never seeing a cop along the way! Much to my dismay, the tractor and manure spreader was absolutely filthy and reeking the high heavens. When I exclaimed that I asked him to clean the tractor beforehand, he replied (and I quote), "What do you want? It's a shit spreader!" Needless to say, the job was completed but my client still chides me about the big stink incident that happened over 25 years ago. A true story.
-Mike Nadeau, Plantscapes Inc.

Our Executive Director, Bill Duesing, added some thoughts that he had after reading these stories: His automatic chicken house door that closed when it got dark. All the spinach he used to grow. His chicken running around his garden to keep the weeds down. Lots of Turkeys. He had the first whole farm deer fence that I saw.

Whenever Johan is mentioned, a smile always seems to pop onto everyone's face. He will be greatly missed, and always fondly remembered.