Sefra Alexandra, from CT NOFA’s Ecotype Project, taught the basics of seed exploration/seed hunting with the February kids camp at Wakeman Town Farm. After discovering seeds in our everyday foods, the group went on a walk through the pollinator garden, discussing the importance of native plants to bugs and how to save/ clean/ broadcast seed in the wild.
Take a good look at the living biology of soil under a microscope is a key skill in building soil carbon and healthy plants.
NOFA has teamed up with the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments, (River COG) to offer an in-depth course in soil health. In particular, the course teachers farmers about the ways in which vermicompost can enhance soil health and be critical player in a no-till growing system.
From experienced growers like Craig Floyd of Coogan Farms to new farmers, this course draws a diverse and engaged group of practitioners together to learn soil health – the basic building block of any organic farming system.
The NOFA Bulk Order was one of the very first programs of NOFA, the parent organization of all of the NOFA State Chapters. It began in 1971 with a bulk order of rock phosphate for organic growers. Today, many state chapters run their own bulk orders, and NOFA/Mass organizes the Tri-State Order on behalf of CT NOFA, NOFA-RI and NOFA/Mass. Our Executive Director, Julie Rawson, has been hosting a bulk order pickup site at her farm since 1984!
Connecticut’s Bulk Order Pickup for 2020:
Meriden, CT: High Hill Orchard, 86 Fleming Rd, Meriden, CT
Coordinator: Deb Legge, 203-676-0742, firstname.lastname@example.org || Saturday (3/14) 8am – 12pm and Saturday (4/11) 8am – 10am
The Ecotype Project visited the NYC Greenbelt Native Plant Nursery this week in Staten Island. This special nursery is also home to the Midatlantic Regional Seed Bank, an extraordinary collection of the seed of native plants growing from Virginia to New York. Nothing like this exists in the Northeast… yet…
These folks are the true heroes of the seed sovereignty movement – with dirt under their fingernails to prove it. Sefra Alexandra, CT NOFA’s Ecotype Project technical consultant, had a notebook full of questions answered and we left armed with knowledge and, perhaps most important, inspiration.
While currently we at The Ecotype Project are focused on developing a pipeline of plants that gird our agrarian ecosystem, our visit reminded us that the plants needed to restore habitat at scale on coastal ecosystems, for example, may prove equally vital. Seagrass to brace our coastal dunes for storm surges. The baby ferns (photo below) will provide erosion control to areas of damp shade damaged in forest. Farmers working to scale up local ecotype production for habitat restoration: a story we can all be proud of.
An update from NOFA’s technical consultant and “embedded” reporter, Monique Bosch
During this ‘dormant’ time of year, it’s refreshing to see cold season crops flourishing in high tunnels across the state. Some of the healthiest food we’ve seen this winter have been in high tunnels that are practicing ‘no-till.’ Let’s take a tour together above, and below ground, to see what’s living.
First stop; The Hickories in Ridgefield CT.
Farm manager Jaci Slattery gives us a look inside her high tunnel, where delicious chard, spinach, and romaine are growing well.
This high tunnel has been no-till since it was built, about 5 years ago. Broad-fork and surface rake have been the only tools used. Keeping plants growing year-round ensures the biology thrives. The space goes through several iterations through the year; propagation house in spring, followed by salad mix, summer tomatoes then winter crops. This particular high tunnel is on a slope. Jaci has found that keeping roots of plants such as tomatoes in the ground to decay helps stop erosion during heavy rains. This past year Jaci added two new inputs; beneficial nematodes, to help with flea beetles, and compost tea. We found one of the nematodes when viewing a soil sample under the microscope:
Jaci spoke about some of the challenges of no-till: “Weed control is the biggest challenge. We manage it with frequent surface tillage and some hand-weeding. This coming Spring, when tables are above the beds holding seedling trays, we are considering a cover crop below. We think buckwheat might be a good choice, with little regrowth and excellent residue after cutting to act as mulch.”
Next stop; Massaro Community Farm in Woodbridge CT.
Farm Manager Steve Munno and Executive Director Caty Poole gave us a tour of their high tunnels, producing delicious winter crops with no-till methods.
We took a soil sample from the high tunnel growing a cover crop of peas/vetch/oats. It had been mowed the day before. The plan is to open the high tunnel doors as outdoor temperatures drop, resulting in a ‘winter kill’ that will speed up decomposition. The ground should be ready for sowing in early March.
Like butter, the soil lifted without a fuss, releasing a luxurious forest smell
Under the microscope the sample proved to be just as rich, with aggregates full of bacteria, a nice balance of fungi and plenty of flagellates consuming the bacteria:
Growing food year-round in the high tunnel is an optimal environment for no-till. Under these controlled conditions leaving the soil undisturbed has several advantages:
- promotes a healthy soil food web
- fewer pests, due to the healthy micro-ecosystem in and above the soil
- reduces weed populations:
- bacteria/fungi balance is maintained
- less exposure of dormant seeds
Andrew Mefferd has traveled around the world to connect with farmers and researchers about no-till farming and soil conservation. In his book he talks about growing no-till in high tunnels: “We can grow nutrient-dense foods, reduce and eliminate inputs and consequent negative outputs, and pull carbon out of the atmosphere while reinvigorating the hydrological cycle that has been so disrupted by thousands of years of over tilling, overgrazing, deforestation, and soil compaction.”
For many farmers ‘no-till’ sounds like a daunting experiment. John Kempf, founder of Advancing Eco Agriculture (https://www.advancingecoag.com/john), doesn’t think it has to be an ‘all or nothing’ approach: “We need to change the conversation. Instead of ’tillage’, we might consider ‘soil particle management’. Finding ways to nurture the soil and the microbes who inhabit it will produce resilient plants, healthier food and as a result, benefit us all.
Join us for a fall field day focused on no-till and cover crop methods, to include a presentation by Julie Fine of Johnny Selected Seeds as well as field demonstrations of no-till equipment, and a farm tour of Sub Edge Farm. We’ll also analyze soil samples with Monique Bosch and Justin Hawrysh of Wiggle Room. Lunch is provided, followed by networking and a USDA NRCS rainwater simulator demo.
Rodger has been farming in Connecticut for 14 years. Along with his wife, Isabelle, he operates Sub Edge Farm, a diversified 300-acre certified organic farm growing fruits, flowers vegetables, culinary herbs as well as pasture raised meats and eggs. The farm has a CSA program and a farm-shop open most days of the week.
The goal at Sub Edge is to always strive for improved soil health; they are experimenting now with a no-till drill and roller crimper they hope to use for growing squash and tomatoes this year.
This award is for a recipient who has demonstrated the advancement of organic living on our earth with a project, innovation, action or lifestyle that supports the continuation of the life work of Bill Duesing – for all to live on this earth in a society in harmony with nature. The accomplishment must contribute to the advancement of organic living in Connecticut in a demonstrable way and be a current or recent accomplishment that reflects Bill’s devotion to organic living and his wish that this critically important work be continued by his friends and colleagues. Award recipients can be one of the following:
• Organic farmer/farm (example: added new revenue sources to secure the farm’s future; expanded availability of organic food in the community)
• Organic land care professional /business (example: transitioned from conventional to organic land care)
• Organic advocate (example: spearheaded a change in their local school system, or worked to promote organic legislation)
• Organization (example: farmers market became 100% organic; the advancement of farmworkers’ rights; created organic-based social media group)
• Educator (example: developed new ways to add organic food and agriculture to school curriculum)
• Mentor (example: developed process for passing along organic knowledge and skills to new farmers or land care professionals)
Award recipient(s) will be recognized during the Keynote Session at CT NOFA’s 2020 Winter Conference on Saturday, March 7th at Wesleyan University in Middletown.
CT NOFA’s 38th annual conference will be held on March 7th, 2020 at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. This new location will allow easier access to this event for people from all over our state as well as guests from Massachusetts and Rhode Island and New York. Our keynote speaker is Niaz Dorry of the National Farm Family Coalition and the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance who will be bringing her innovative perspective on movement-building to her keynote speech. To round out this wonderful day we are requesting proposals for workshop sessions, each will be 1.5 hours in length. CT NOFA is looking for inventive, inclusive, and diverse topics, as always.
We welcome all submissions for workshops that capture CT NOFA’s mission of fostering the organic movement in Connecticut. This year our conference priorities are:
- Climate Change, and Resilience, and Conservation Agriculture
- Regional Economics and New Farming Economies
- Land Access
- Beginning Farmers
- Equity, Ag Justice, and Food
- Emerging Markets (ie; kelp, hemp, cannabis)
The deadline for workshop submissions is January 15th. Applications will be subject to review and presenters will be notified of their acceptance by January 24th.
At the Summer Conference workshop on Fermenting Social Justice Values in the NOFA Culture, the guidelines that the NOFA Domestic Fair Trade sub-committee holds were reviewed and it was agreed upon that information about dismantling racism in farming be included with our RFP. This gives our presenters the chance to consider these ideas when they design their presentation. Please see ‘Dismantling Racism and Integrating Race and Equity for NOFA Presenters at Conferences‘ document.
Please follow this link to our online workshop submission form.
We look forward to seeing you at OrganiConn 2020!
From NOFA’s technical consultant and “embedded” reporter, Monique Bosch
Under the Microscope at Assawaga Farm
We visited Assawaga Farm in late September to take a peak at how microbes are handling the ‘no-till’ environment up there. For the past 2
years Yoko and Alex have worked tirelessly on their 2 acre intensive farm to ‘push the envelope’ on no-till farming techniques. They are growing a wide assortment of vegetables, incorporating no-till with succession planting, cover crops and holistic farming practices to grow the healthiest food possible.
We took a look at their soil under the microscope and discovered excellent microbial life and soil structure. Below is a movie showing microscopy from one of their beds, growing a cover crop of field peas and oats in a bed that has not been tilled for the past 2 years…
Notice the amount of aggregates, large dark bundles of bacteria, resulting in excellent soil structure.
Yoko and Alex both felt that the microscopy gave them a much better understanding of what is going on inside their soil. They now have a
new set of eyes for soil, and have a greater appreciation for the life therein. Yoko explained how this will change the way they farm: “This will certainly make us think harder about how to treat the microbes, like keeping the soil covered at all times and have as much growing through the year as possible. We’re going to interplant around our main crops, to add diversity and cover as much soil as possible with living plants.”
No-till allows the soil to establish communities of fungal networks, aggregates of bacteria, and a constant stream of nutrient cycling between
plants and microbes. Alex talked about some of the challenges they face with no-till:
“We have a paperpot transplanter that does a great job planting seedlings. When we have residue of, tomatoes and peppers it’s difficult to get the planter through there. It’s much easier to have a newly tilled bed, but the rewards of leaving the roots to slowly decompose and add organic matter and food for the microbes gives us a much healthier next crop, so its worth the extra effort.”
We took another look at soil that was probably the least disturbed over the past two years, the garden bed growing ginger. Amazing how many fungal hyphae have developed in that short amount of time. See this for yourself below:
Fungal hyphae dominate this sample, and fungal dominant soil is preferred by ginger so it’s a perfect pairing of “right crop, right soil biology”.
Alex and Yoko shared with me a photo of one their success stories that came from no-till farming. These basil plants were planted at the same time. The right bed had been bare for about a year, the left bed had residue of celery with basil interplanted between the harvested crop:
The takeaway from our visit to Assawaga is that no-till is working in ways that the microscope can show:
- better soil structure
- more diverse life in the soil
- balance of fungi to bacteria
Our deepest thanks and appreciation for innovations in organic agriculture go to our partners at Assawaga Farm, as we at NOFA continue to explore ways to grow the healthiest food possible.