Organizing for Soil Health: A Project of the Northeast Organic Farming Association
This White Paper is a report on the regional “Organizing for Soil Health” project supported by Farm Aid and Clif Bar and carried out by the seven-state Chapters of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) in 2019 – 2020. Based on two years of project engagement with regional organic and conventional farmers thru conference workshops, educational events, field days, roundtable discussions, and a final survey, this paper presents a timely grassroots-up perspective for policymakers on what farmers need to support climate mitigation practices.
Faced with the existential threat of the Climate Emergency, as government entities try to craft policies that will make real reductions in the generation of greenhouse gases, it is time to listen to the voices of family farmers. Practitioners who are dedicated to soil health can guide policymakers to the most effective mechanisms to incentivize and sustain the shifts in agricultural practices that can mitigate climate change through soil carbon sequestration and other ecosystem services.
At long last, science has been catching up with farmers, validating as climate-friendly numerous longtime organic, sustainable and indigenous agriculture practices that maintain and increase soil carbon levels including cover cropping, crop rotations, composting, rotational grazing, promoting biodiversity, minimizing soil disturbance, proven techniques that foster soil health. Farmers value these practices that build farmland resilience to the increasing climate change effects of drought, flooding, wind, heat, freezing, and other weather extremes. It is to the national and worldwide good to provide public support and compensation to farmers to help bear the costs of these additional farming practices.
Regrettably, some of the current federal legislative and policy initiatives are focusing instead on privately run carbon market approaches where businesses can offset their continuing negative environmental impacts by purchasing carbon credits. Most of these carbon market schemes, structured to attract larger-scale farmers who agree to modify their agricultural practices, offer payments based on measuring the annual increases of soil carbon sequestered from the atmosphere. Because accurate soil carbon measurement is still an unrealized scientific goal, this approach is problematic with the potential for businesses to greenwash their touted net-zero reduction effects. Meanwhile, their polluting externalities continue unabated, often severely impacting the communities of color living near their industrial sites. Further, the proffered current carbon market schemes only reward new adaptors, leaving tried and true soil health practitioners to finance their own beneficial practices.
Instead of carbon markets and carbon banks, NOFA urges Congress to improve and increase funding to existing USDA conservation programs including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) that support and reward all farmers who are performing and/or transitioning to bona fide soil carbon sequestration practices that provide further eco-system services such as enhancing water quality and reducing erosion. NOFA supports the Agricultural Resilience Act in the House and the Climate Stewardship Act in the Senate, 2021 grassroots-up legislation that will speed adoption of soil health and other practices that contribute to mitigating climate change.
The Natural Farmer (TNF) “covers news of the organic movement nationally and internationally, as well as featuring stories about farmers from New England, New York, and New Jersey. Each issue contains a 16 to 24 page pull out supplement on a particular crop or topic. The paper also contains how-to-do-it articles suitable for gardeners and homesteaders.” For years, our NOFA membership has included a subscription to this quarterly newspaper.
The most recent issue of TNF, Winter 2020-2021, features a pullout section titled “Special Supplement on Who Owns Science?”. This section includes articles regarding the agrochemical industry, genetically modified crops, new research methods, and data on testing for nutrients in fruits and vegetables; all of which you might expect to find within the pages of TNF. In addition to these, there are a few articles in this section with censorship and vaccine-related content. These articles do not directly address connections to organic farming or food, or perspectives of farmers, gardeners, landcare or food professionals. With this in mind, the NOFA Interstate Council released a statement (see below) in response to this latest publication.
No doubt growers, eaters, and readers have all been impacted by COVID-19, and there are likely more challenges ahead. For us at CT NOFA, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of our commitment to supporting and advocating for the essential work of our community of organic growers, producers, and stewards. We are proud to work with you all, and we are inspired to see how so many of you have responded to this crisis over the past year.
Steve Munno, CT NOFA Board President
A Message from the NOFA Interstate Council Regarding the Latest Issue of The Natural Farmer:
Greetings during this holiday season, and happy Winter Solstice!
Many of you will have already received the Winter 2020-2021 issue of The Natural Farmer; for those who have not, it should soon arrive in your mailboxes. After discussion, we, the members of the NOFA Interstate Council, are writing to the NOFA membership to provide some context and response regarding the content of Section B, titled “Special Supplement on Who Owns Science?”.
As background, The Interstate Council provides coordination between the chapters and acts as an umbrella organization for projects of collective interest to NOFA chapters. In addition, it is the publisher of The Natural Farmer. The longtime editor of TNF, Jack Kittredge, has given much effort and many years of service to the NOFA community, and this Winter issue is his last as he has been planning to retire. We wish him well in his retirement and thank him for 32 years of service as editor for the paper.
Our concerns about the supplement are that the vaccine-related content does not provide enough context or a sufficiently broad spectrum of viewpoints to inform our readership on what is clearly a topic of immediate and national concern. That some of the information derives from sources that stand against some of our most deeply held values is additionally problematic.
Independent of whether the topic of vaccines even belongs in our farming-centered publication (a decision made for this issue, as for every previous one, independently by the editor), we feel that the only responsible way to have included such a topic would be to include vigorous comments from voices in mainstream public health to offer an alternative point of view. We deeply regret that was not done.
Going forward, we will develop a more thorough process for editorial review which will advise and support the incoming editor. Interviews for the new editor are happening now, and we will keep our community informed of this process.
Thank you for your understanding. Please stay safe.
The NOFA Interstate Council
MA, RI, NJ, NH, NY, VT, CT
The Virtual Tour of Massaro Community Farm is now available on CT NOFA’s YouTube Channel.
Here’s the LINK
The 1 hour video includes visits to Assawaga Farm and Sub Edge Farm, also participating as No-Till Research Farm Sites across Connecticut.
There is also a Rain Simulator presentation by Emily Cole, Climate and Agriculture Program Manager at American Farmland Trust. To view Emily’s entire presentation here’s the LINK
This event was funded by an NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant exploring best practices for tillage reduction on organic farms, managed in partnership between CT NOFA, NOFA/Mass, and NOFA-NJ.”
We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Stephanie Berluti, one of two farmers in our 2020 Journey Person program at her farm, South Haven Farm, in Orange, CT.
Stephanie officially started South Haven Farm in early 2020 where she grows crops including kale, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, collards, swiss chard, and flowers on a ½ acre of land using organic methods. She will also be starting microgreens for the fall and winter. While she is not yet USDA certified, Stephanie knows this is the direction she wants to take and is using her knowledge of organic practices from her farming experience while she begins the process of organic certification.
Stephanie spent the last 6 years traveling around the country and learning to grow in different climates and soil types culminating with the CT NOFA Journey Person program and the beginning of South Haven Farm.
“Having the opportunity to be a part of CT NOFA’s journeyperson program has given me a leg up in my first year of running my own operation, both financially and mentally. I was able to use my stipend to expand my cultivation tool kit by purchasing a garden tiller and a high-quality wheel hoe. The stipend allowed me to higher quality tools at a greater cost that will last ions longer than the cheaper version that I would probably hate and replace within my first few years”.
She began her farming career as an apprentice at Serenbe Farms outside of Atlanta, GA, then spent a season farming by the beach on Martha’s Vineyard at North Tabor Farm. Stephanie then honed her market garden farming skills at Steadfast Farm in Phoenix, AZ as their assistant farm manager. Finally, in 2018, Stephanie returned to Connecticut where she is currently the NY/CT gardener for Green City Growers (based in Boston) where she manages the 30 Rock Chef’s Garden for the Rainbow Room in NYC. However, due to COVID all of those sites were placed on hold this year.
These diverse farming experiences were invaluable in starting her own farm operation. “I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to begin a project like this without the knowledge I gained from those farms”. It wasn’t only knowledge of growing practices that were valuable for Stephanie, but also business practices and consumer engagement. “I learned a lot from the different ways these farms marketed and sold their products. In Atlanta, since I worked on a farm located in an Agri-hood (planned community based around a farm) we focused more on direct to consumer sales and building personal relationships with families in the community through educational programs and events. At Steadfast Farm in Arizona, I was able to engage more with the local culinary scene around the Phoenix Valley and learn how to balance the needs of each sales sector. Learning how different farms around the country sold and marketed their products has been really helpful with my own business plan here in Connecticut”.
In her first year of operation, Stephanie is using this time to learn and experiment. “One of the biggest challenges for me this year was self-management. Being a one-woman operation with other professional commitments outside of the farm was definitely a learning curve. Prioritizing administrative tasks vs boots-on-the-ground farm work can be pretty difficult. I still have a way to go in learning how to balance the fieldwork with the office work, forcing myself to catch up on necessary paperwork even though there are beds that need to be weeded. ”
One element that proved to be particularly challenging this year was the weather. As the climate continues to change and become more and more unpredictable, farmers find themselves having to adapt to more severe weather events. “For me, this was a huge wake-up call in how I have to adapt my growing practices. During the storm a few weeks ago, I lost what was the beginning of my greenhouse and the ongoing drought has really forced me to think about my water use and how I am going to irrigate my crops for the future. I am already thinking about ways I can be more resilient on my farm in the face of climate change. I don’t think there is a single farmer that is unaffected by this issue and, as a community, we really need to come up with aggressive adaptation strategies”.
While learning what works and doesn’t’ work on her farm, Stephanie also had to balance the challenges of starting a new farm during the backdrop of a global pandemic. “Trying to start a farm during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented its own set of unique challenges to what I knew was already going to be a difficult endeavor, mainly having to reset my entire business plan to account for the disappearance of my potential wholesale customers and shift to direct to consumer sales. I wasn’t planning on opening an onsite store until year 2 as my original focus was on wholesale. I was lucky to have had some director to consumer sales to build off of”.
As farmers know all too well during these times – balancing the demand for fresh, local produce, and the importance of keeping your farm safe and healthy is no easy task and has given this industry a lot of uncertainty. Farmer-to-farmer mentorship is a central part of the Journey Person program model. Stephanie has been working with her mentor Yoko Takemura at Assawaga Farm throughout the growing season. Especially this year, when the pandemic limited face-to-face interactions, having a friend on the phone who has a similar scale and scope of farming operation can be invaluable.
“Speaking with my mentor, Yoko of Assawaga Farm, and discussing how they were changing up their marketing techniques in response to COVID gave me the confidence to step out of my comfort zone and approach new venues for sales. Knowing that I could text/call my mentor with questions added a nice sense of security and comfort during such an uncertain time”.
Despite these challenges during the first year of operation, Stephanie has enjoyed the process and is looking forward to the opportunities in the coming years. She has recently built a barn where she plans on hosting small to mid-sized events once it is safe to do so. “I think it is important to have other areas of cash flow on the farm when this pandemic is over. I’m very lucky to have the resources and support to put up this structure that can be used for not only cold storage for my crops but also to host events. I want this farm to serve my community with both nutritious foods and as a gathering place”.
Our spring native wildflower sale was such a success that we’ve partnered with Planters’ Choice Nursery again for a bigger and better fall sale! These aren’t just any native wildflowers, they’re from CT NOFA’s Ecotype Project, which means that they have a genetic heritage native to Connecticut and can’t be found anywhere else. When you purchase and install these plants, you are reintroducing biodiversity into our landscapes and therefore supporting the ecosystem services that sustain us. There’s nothing more fulfilling.
Fall 2020 Sale Details
These plants are available by preorder only- order online then pick up on Saturday, September 12.
Plants come as plugs approximately 2.5″ wide x 5″ deep and must be ordered in groups of 4 per species.
Cost per plant: $2.50 with $1 going directly to support WHS Organic Garden’s programs and initiatives.
ORDERS ARE DUE BY Wednesday, September 2 at 11:59 pm
Pick up will be Saturday, September 12 between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm at The Hickories Farm (136 Lounsbury Rd, Ridgefield, CT 06877). All pickup procedures will be strictly aligned with Connecticut’s COVID-19 safety guidelines and restrictions.
We take payment in the form of Cash or Check:
Checks must be made out to WHS ACTIVITY FUND
In the note on the bottom of the check please write “Plant Plugs”
Orders can be dropped off at the main entrance of Wilton High School with Kim Ely or mailed to Jim Hunter / Wilton High School 395 Danbury Road, Wilton, CT. 06897
Order by September 17th
-while supplies last-
Curbside pickup or delivery on September 26th and 27th!
To help homeowners plant ‘Native Plants’ in our local area we are happy to provide the tools listed below. We hope you are inspired!
Garden planting plans, kits, and plants for a variety of sun and soil conditions.
Delivery to your home is optional, a suggested donation of $20 is requested to cover costs.
50% of your purchase is tax-deductible and a tax receipt is provided.
Please note: The plants are native, locally grown at Planter’s Choice in Newtown. They are native to our region and have been carefully selected to attract our local pollinators and wildlife.
Instructions to process your purchase:
Open an empty shopping cart; keep one shopping cart open and add to it as you navigate our site and find plants you’d like to buy!
Enter all items you’d like to purchase.
Be sure to include a ticket for either curbside pickup or delivery.
Curbside pickup on September 25th or 26th at Earthplace, 10 Woodside Lane, Westport, CT.
Directions and a map will be provided in the lower right corner of your page during checkout.
Delivery to your home on September 25th or 26th suggested donation $20.
A four-hour delivery window will be provided for your delivery.
Follow the “Purchase” button at the bottom of the shopping cart when all items have been entered. The next page “Review your order” will open on your screen, please review your order in this screen to ensure that plants and quantities are correct. Quantities can be edited in this location prior to processing your payment.
Your order total is summarized in the lower right hand of the “Review your order” page. If everything is correct click on “Continue to Your Info”.
Follow the instructions in your confirmation email and receipt.
Those picking up will need to follow the link provided to Signup Genius and choose one available curbside pickup between 10 AM and 3:30 PM on September 26th & 27th. Pickup will be at Earthplace, 10 Woodside Lane, Westport, CT. Only one pickup time is needed per customer.
Those choosing delivery will need to follow the link provided to Signup Genius Delivery and provide the necessary delivery details. You will be provided with a four-hour delivery window via email the week of September 26th. Deliveries will be made between 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM.
Please Note: A separate email will be sent for each item chosen (each ticket item purchased).
50% of your purchase price will be a tax-deductible gift to the Aspetuck Land Trust.
Delivery donations are fully tax-deductible. A tax receipt will be provided.
Thanks to the hard work of those advocating for agriculture, the EIDL loan program is now accepting applications from farmers.
Phone: (203) 408-6819