NOFA-NY Field Notes


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Four Innovative Farmers Launch Friday Morning Conference Intensive

unnamed-3See how the power of community and individual ingenuity can be fused to make great tools for the farm and homestead. Kicking off the Gardening and Homesteading track at the upcoming Winter Conference, January 22-24, 2016 in Saratoga Springs is FarmHack, featuring four growers' perspectives.

Beginning at 9:00 am at this First Friday intensive, you’ll hear from Michael Cohen, a backyard grain grower discussing how he has repurposed and modified commonly available tools and devices to process his backyard grain.


Daniel Grover will discuss horse-powered market gardening equipment, updating the old and modifying new.

Erik Fellenz, certified organic market farmer with welder & shop experience will share time-saving tools he has built for the pack shed and field.

unnamed-2Andy Fellenz, NOFA’s Organic Fruit and Vegetable Coordinator and farmer with son Erik, will discuss a Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) Farmer Grant project to build a high tunnel boom sprayer.  Chris Callahan—an Ag Engineer from the University of Vermont and FarmHack aficionado—will moderate and tie together the different strands.

Bring your questions and thoughts, and be prepared for a morning filled with new ideas and sharing!

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Homeopathy and Nutrient Management Featured in Winter Conference Dairy and Grazing Track

grazing cows

NOFA-NY’s Annual Winter Conference will be held this January 22-24th 2016 at the Hilton in Saratoga Springs, NY, and has great things to share in the Dairy and Grazing Track!  We have an awesome lineup this year on topics ranging from pastured rabbits to pastured turkeys, developing pasture-watering systems that can handle the extreme weather conditions of New York, and managing nutrients in your pastures featuring Organic Valley Agronomist Mark Kopecky.  Each workshop during the Saturday and Sunday program is 75-minutes in length and spaced throughout the day to allow you to learn about multiple topics in the area of grazing.

NOFA-NY is fortunate to be able to feature within the Dairy and Grazing Track a day-long intensive workshop on Taking Your Homeopathic Skills to the Next Level.  We are excited to have expert veterinarians Susan Beal of Laughing Oak Farm and Mary Ellen Finger of Horseman Trail Farm lead this workshop focused on improving overall livestock health and providing remedies using alternative treatments.  The day will be interactive and will include a discussion about the dynamics of disease, obstacles that impact vital health and treatment response patterns, and a look at case studies.  There will be hands-on work with both the repertory (dictionary of symptoms) and materia medica (dictionary of medicines).  Participants will receive materials with their registration for this intensive course.

Register now by visiting our website to be sure you don’t miss out.  If you have questions or would like additional information, please feel free to call our office at 585-271-1979 ext. 1.  Thanks, and we look forward to seeing you at the conference!

Homeopathy books 2
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The Positives of Grass-Based Animal Agriculture on Carbon Sequestration


NOFA-NY is excited to share with you a guest blog post from expert organic farmer, Nathan Weaver.  Nathan and his wife  Kristine and family are Amish members of Organic Valley/ CROPP Cooperative and live in Canastota, NY.  Nathan is always willing to share his knowledge with other farmers and has often presented and participated on farmer discussion panels for NOFA-NY.  We thank Nathan for sharing his insights into raising dairy cows on grass and carbon sequestration.

Farmers, in our activities, share responsibility for the release of too much carbon into the Earth’s atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels in the air have risen beyond 390 parts per million.   This level is over 40 p.p.m. greater than what is thought to be safe and sustainable for life on earth.  Most of science agrees that this is altering our climates’ weather patterns in negative ways. Long existing eco-systems are threatened and we are losing species in both the plant and animal kingdom.

Agriculture has understandably been blamed as a major contributor to the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.  The use of energy intensive equipment, methane belching ruminants, synthetic fertilizers, degradation of soils and soil organic matter and the long distance between where food is produced and where it is consumed have all been cited as major causes of our environmental troubles - much of modern agriculture as we know it.  I am pleased to be part of a cooperative (Organic Valley/ CROPP Cooperative) which is conscious of this. This has led us to being proactive in reducing our carbon footprint.  We have initiated some first steps by working with the farms within our care and realize that the conversation is just starting and there are many more solutions to be discovered.

A bright spot in agriculture is grass-based farming that relies on the benefits of grazing – optimal nutrition, animals harvesting their own feed and depositing their own manure and enjoying increased benefits to soil, animal and human health through the products produced by animals on grass.  The Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania has been doing a Farm Systems Trial since 1981 which conducted side by side research on organic and conventional agricultural management practices.  What they have found is that organically managed soils can accumulate about 1,000 pounds of carbon per acre foot of soil each year.  This reveals an incredible opportunity to positively impact carbon sequestration through an emphasis on organic management.

cow 1

Jack Kittredge took this idea further in an article in the Summer 2014 issue of the Natural Farmer called Conversion, Quantities, Calculations and Indulgences: A Primer.  He pointed out that if we as farmers can focus on increasing the organic matter in our soils it has an impressive impact on carbon sequestration.  For every 1% increase in organic matter there is the capacity to store over 18 tons of carbon per acre.  I’m part of a group of farms who produce 100% grassfed milk.  Our combined 2000 acres, with an average of 6% organic matter allows us to offset  the carbon emissions of 6,617 Americans or 608,171 Zambians for 1 year.  In comparison, farms who feed higher levels of grain average 3% organic matter in their soils.  If soils worldwide increased their organic matter by 1% we could sequester almost ¾ of the carbon needed to bring us back to the 350 p.p.m  needed for a healthy existence.

My faith as a Christian leads me to ask should we not humble ourselves and get back to some of the basics of nature as God created it for solutions to our problems?   “Speak to the earth and it shall teach thee.” (Job 12:8)  Farming systems that work in harmony with nature are a bright spot in how we can produce food that is not only nutritious and healthful, but also take us a step in the right direction in reducing the atmospheric carbon problem.

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Organic Management of Diamondback Moth and Similar Insects

fresh cabbage

The diamondback moth is one of several species of moths and butterflies whose larvae feed on cabbage and related crucifers in New York. Plans to test a genetically engineered diamondback moth at the NY Agriculture Experiment Station in Geneva NY have been in the news recently. The genetically engineered diamondback moth was developed in England by Oxitec.

Researchers are studying if the introduction of the genetically engineered diamondback moths into fields where diamondback moths are naturally present is a way to reduce crop damage due to diamondback moth larvae. Caged trials of genetically engineered diamondback are being done and open field trials have been proposed. The proposed trials, especially the open field trials are controversial. There are many questions regarding the risks associated with releasing genetically engineered insects into the environment. Many people believe more needs to be learned about the potential impacts of releasing the genetically engineered moths before open field trials are conducted.

Organic growers – both small and commercial scale - have many tools in the toolbox to control these insects and limit the damage caused by the insect. In fact, organic and IPM methods when properly timed and used appropriately will do an excellent job in managing diamondback moth.

The most effective organic control methods rely on exclusion, like insect netting or row cover, or timely and regular treatment to ensure that populations do not increase. An IPM approach where sprays or other applications of materials are made once a threshold population level is observed is often effective. At low population levels, naturally occurring insects and parasitoids may be sufficient to control diamondback moth populations. Heavy rainfall has been observed to reduce larva and even well timed use of sprinklers simulating a heavy rainfall can reduce larval populations.

Where the crop is in its growth cycle also needs to be considered as the risk of significant crop damage changes as the crop grows. So, while it may make sense to treat a young crop if diamondback moth larvae are found in 10% of the crop or a certain number are found on a sticky trap placed in the field, later in the season, the threshold might be 30% or more before taking action.

Several varieties of parasitic wasps and flies have also been found to be effective. In addition, several OMRI approved materials have been found to work well if spraying is needed. Entrust and Dipel DF are both effective against diamondback moth and other larvae which could be present on the affected crop. These materials are also very specific and affect larvae feeding on the crop, but do not kill the beneficial insects which feed on the larvae. Pyganic is also labeled for diamondback larvae, imported cabbageworms and several other larvae which may feed on cabbage and related crops, but is a broad spectrum insecticide and will also kill many of the beneficials feeding upon the larvae.

Diamondback moth is not the only insect whose larvae feed on cabbage and related crucifers. In NY, cabbage loopers, imported cabbageworms and cabbage moths also have similar life cycles and feeding preferences. Organic control methods for these pests are similar. The life cycle for these pests is short, with several generations occurring each season. Several species may be present at any time in the field and with early prevention and monitoring, they can be successfully controlled using organic methods.
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Fall's Royal Crop: Growing, Selecting and Eating Storage Squash

A great and timely story from last year!
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Top 3 Veggies for Eat Some, Freeze Some

Overflowing Harvest Basket!

Overflowing Harvest Basket!

Wow my garden is overflowing!  The early season rain and late season heat have combined to produce a jungle out there!  As much as I love fresh vegetables in season, there is no way I can eat my way through this situation.  My friends, family, and co-workers are starting to dread my appearance with my "big bag of whatever was ripe that morning".   While I revel in how easy it is to eat and share fresh amazing produce now, come winter the limited availability of locally raised, fresh organic produce makes me sad. So this is my survival tactic – eat now, freeze some for later. These are my top 3 veggies for this strategy:

#3.  Sweet Corn. It can be a challenge to find organic and sustainably grown sweet corn, and when I find it I buy a bunch. Who can argue against fresh picked corn, lightly steamed and served with creamy butter and sea salt, or soaked in the husk and grilled until the kernels caramelize into a nutty sweetness? That said, corn is pretty filling and I can only eat so much at once. So, while one group of ears is cooking, the other group is getting sliced off the cob, popped into freezer bags, and stacked into the freezer. I find that freezing the kernels from two ears of corn per bag provides the nearly perfect portion for winter chowders, sweet corn risotto, corn fritters, and anything else “corn”. The amazing thing is that this method seems to perfectly preserve that fresh corn “pop” and wonderful flavor.

#2.  Peppers. Peppers to me are as much of a stable as carrots, onions, and celery. I love fresh picked sweet peppers raw in my salads, dipped in hummus, or just to nibble on through the day. Peppers always seem to ripen in bulk, way more than I could ever eat before they spoil. So I eat some now, and the simply wash, chop, and freeze the rest. Although frozen peppers lose their fresh crunchy texture, they keep that summertime flavor and work perfectly in soups, stews, chili, and any other recipe that calls for peppers. One of my favorites is to use the frozen peppers in Chicken Cacciatore with a chicken from one of my local farmers.

#1 Tomatoes. Ok, I admit it, I am a tomato addict and can do an entire story just on this one fruit. I can eat tomatoes – so long as they are fresh and local - every single day and not tire of them. Even so, the prolific nature of my many tomato plants outpaces even my appetite, so while I enjoy fresh tomatoes raw in any way you can think of in season, I take a few extras and dice them and put them in the freezer. Like peppers, they will lose a little in texture, but the amazing fresh tomato taste remains and is awesome in the winter when mixed with pasta or used in any of a variety of soups and stews and sauces. My favorite winter soup is tomato, white bean, and rosemary. Even as I enjoy the slice of that Brandywine on a sandwich, I am thinking of that soup in my future as I put the remaining in the freezer.

So eat now, and eat later!  Enjoy being a locavore all year!

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Recipe for a Rainy Day and a Giant Bulb of Fennel....

The Giant Fennel Bulb 

With the weather promising cold and rain today, last night I made a run down to my garden to see what might be primed for picking.  While rummaging through an overgrown patch of swiss chard, there I found this amazing bulb of fennel.  By amazing I mean nearly the size of my head.

Fennel is a wonderful, aromatic plant that is a member of the carrot family.  In ancient times it was revered by the Greeks and Romans both for its culinary as well as medicinal properties.   All parts of fennel are edible, the fronds are also lovely and you can even freeze it if you don't mind the loss of texture.  Young fennel bulbs are tender and delicious raw in salads and pair wonderfully with many Italian dishes.  But I had no idea what to do with this giant bulb.  It's roots were so impressive that it took  two hands and a lot of strength for me to pull it out - fennel is actually a perennial so it grows to survive and thrive no matter what the weather.   I could not imagine eating this giant raw.  After spending some time googling around ideas, I finally came up with my own inspiration:  fennel simmered until tender with olive oil, garlic and sweet red onions, then finished with fresh picked cherry tomatoes and swiss chard.  Served over pasta and topped with fresh parmesan....wonderful!  Here are the top things I learned in this process.

    1. Cleaning fennel takes some attention.  Dirt gets into all of the crevices of the bulb.  To get the grit out, I found that washing the bulb, slicing it thin, and then running the slices through my salad spinner worked great to get it all clean.  Remember to remove the core!
    2. Fennel and swiss chard are an AMAZING combination.  The sweet, aromatic anise flavor of the fennel pairs wonderfully with the bitter greens of the swiss chard.
    3. While any fresh tomato may do, I used whole cherry tomatoes.  The effect was lovely.  Intense tomato flavor, a little "pop".  My personal favorite for this recipe are my home-grown organic gardener's sweetheart tomatoes (thank you Fruition Seeds!).
    4. You don't need a recipe.  Just put it together any way and in any combination that works for you.  My main advice is to layer the flavors and the cooking, starting with meat (Italian sausage or diced pancetta work great in this recipe) and longer cooking aromatics first (the fennel, onion, and garlic) and layering in the other ingredients based on their cooking time, with tender greens like swiss chard at the very end.
    5. This tastes amazing over your favorite pasta, rice, or grains!

      The end result:  Fennel, Tomato and Swiss Chard Sauce
      The end result: Fennel, Tomato and Swiss Chard Sauce

To find sources of swiss chard, tomatoes, and fennel near you, check out our on-line directory.  Enjoy a cool rainy day of locavore cooking and eating!

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Pasturing Alternative Forages at Cobblestone Valley Farm

Pasture walk at Cobblestone Valley FarmPasture walk at Cobblestone Valley FarmPasturing Alternative Forages was held on Wednesday August 19th, 2015 at Cobblestone Valley Farm in Preble, NY. Paul and Maureen Knapp hosted the field day and Organic Valley sponsored the event, providing lunch for the group.  We were fortunate to have the rain hold off for the day and to have a very large tent to escape the heat of August.

It is always a pleasure to visit Paul and Maureen Knapp’s farm nestled in the valley of Cortland County.  Paul and Maureen have been long-time NOFA-NY members and have been certified organic since 2000.  They manage a diverse farm business growing poultry, hogs and strawberries as well as managing a dairy herd of 50 milkers.  Their farm has a rich history with its beginnings as part of the cabbage industry growing for a sauerkraut processing facility next door to the farm, which has since become an equipment company.  Paul and Maureen are excellent farmers who are able to adapt to changing dynamics within their farm.  They maintain a beautiful farm and are a fine example of progressive organic dairy farmers. Uniquely, Paul’s experience growing cabbage has helped him to understand and manage growing brassicas for alternative forages.

grazed turnips
The event began with a round of introductions of presenters and attendees which included a variety of folks from bovine to sheep farmers, new farm owners and seed sales representatives.  Paul spoke about how he began planting alternative forages to help mitigate the summer slump in pasture rotation. Paul now utilizes his alternative pastures including kale, turnip, radish and Sorghum Sudan grass to maintain production and components during the entire grazing season. Paul has also used buckwheat, triticale & peas as alternate forages in the past. We walked out and viewed the different test plots of brassicas to compare how they grew and how the animals grazed them.  Paul chose to graze his animals for 2 hours on an every other day basis to allow the forages time for regrowth and to not overwhelm the cows ration.  Paul balances the alternative forages with perennial pasture consisting mostly of orchard grass and white clover with some red clover.

Paul Knapp discusses alternative forages to the group

Once we viewed the most recently grazed plots and plots with regrowth, we ventured back to our shady tent for a great lunch provided by Organic Valley.  After everyone’s belly was full we headed back out to view the sorghum sudan grass pasture. Many of the attending farmers shared their experiences pasturing alternative forages, what has worked for them and the results they have seen. There was a discussion on how BMR Sorghum thrives in hot weather and the brassicas thrive during the cooler weather.  By being able to rotate during the season they can be used to mitigate the risk of low pasture yields with varying weather at different times of the summer.  Paul stated how field days like this are great for building a farmers tool box; everyone can take home a few things that will help them in their operation down the road. Following an interesting discussion we had the pleasure to see a dry run of the Soil Health Trailer that Fay Benson and his team brought to the event.  The National Grazinglands Coalition’s Soil Health Trailer is equipped to measure and demonstrate vital physical, chemical, and biological components of soil health. When in full working mode workshop participants use penetrometers to measure soil compaction, and see a demonstration of the Active Carbon test that measures how much food the soil contains for the biological organisms that support soil health.

We are grateful to Fay for bringing the trailer and talking about what it is capable of, to Paul for sharing his years of experience and to Tim Darbishire for sharing his knowledge on forage options, seeding & maintaining a stand and rotations.  We are very pleased with the program and thankful to Organic Valley CROPP Cooperative for their support.

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Find out How Your Representative Voted on HR 1599: The Dark Act on GMO Labeling, And More

dark act

On July 23 the House of Representatives passed The so-called “DARK” (“Denying Americans the Right to Know”) Act, or HR 1599 (official name: “the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015”) –– the bill that would preempt state and local authority to label and regulate genetically engineered (GE) foods –. This bill would prohibit mandatory GE labeling (federal and state) and would continue to allow use of the term “natural” on foods containing GE organisms.

But the DARK Act is not law yet, and it is time for everyone to get active to make sure that it never is.

Remember your government class in high school? The next step for this bill is the Senate, and then, if passed in the Senate with any different provisions, will have to go to a House/Senate Conference Committee, and back again to both houses. Finally, the President must sign the bill.

All those steps are opportunities for grassroots action to take hold. Your voice is needed now! Sign petitions, send letters, and remember that your elected officials work for you! Hold them accountable.

The DARK Act could undo over 130 existing statutes, regulations and ordinances in 43 states at the state and municipal level – including New York, where a NY GMO Labeling bill is still working its way through the State Legislature – as well as Vermont’s first-ever state labeling bill due to go into effect in July 2016. It would replace mandatory labeling with “voluntary” labeling, which has actually been in place at FDA for the past 14 years – during which time NO companies have used this volunteer labeling system.

While poll after poll shows that 90% of Americans want GE foods labeled, the vote in the House once again highlighted the power and money of big food and big Ag in Congress. Food/Grocery, chemical and seed companies not only contribute to the campaign war chests of both sides of the aisle, they have a very effective PR campaign that mis-characterizes GMO Label advocates as anti-science, and falsely claims that labeling will cause food prices to rise.   So the vote in the House wasn’t unexpected.

But Thanks to the Work of NOFA-NY members (and all New Yorkers) acting on several NOFA and national alerts, the New York congressional delegation responded favorably – see the vote tally below.  Of 27 New York State congress members, 19 voted NO to the DARK Act!   Keep it up New York!

Your Congress member didn’t vote the right way? Continue to write and call them, and tell them why you want to see GE Labeling. And watch for news from NOFA-NY for continued information about this bill and about the New York State Labeling Bill’s progress.

Keep up the fight! – Watch for NOFA-NY Alerts for the right time to tell your state Senate and Assembly Members as well as your federal Senators, Congressman, and the President that you want Labeling of GE Foods. 


Who’s YOUR Congressperson? Look It Up

District No. Representative Vote on HR 1599

[A YES vote = A vote against GMO Labeling]
1 Lee Zeldin No
2 Peter T. King Yes
3 Steve Israel didn't vote
4 Kathleen Rice No
5 Gregory Meeks No
6 Grace Meng No
7 Nydia Velázquez No
8 Hakeem Jeffries No
9 Yvette Clarke No
10 Jerrold Nadler No
11 Daniel M. Donovan, Jr. Yes
12 Carolyn Maloney No
13 Charles Rangel No
14 Joseph Crowley No
15 José E. Serrano No
16 Eliot Engel No
17 Nita Lowey No
18 Sean Patrick Maloney No
19 Chris Gibson No
20 Paul D. Tonko No
21 Elise Stefanik Yes
22 Richard L. Hanna Yes
23 Tom Reed Yes
24 John Katko Yes
25 Louise Slaughter No
26 Brian Higgins No
27 Chris Collins Yes


Because corn and soybeans are the most widely planted genetically modified crops in the US, it’s not surprising that you’d find GMO corn in tortilla chips or GMO soy in some meat substitutes. But those genetically engineered ingredients also pop up in places you might not expect. Some spices and seasoning mixes contain GMO corn and soy. And soft-drink ingredients that might be derived from genetically modified corn include not only corn syrup but also the artificial sweetener aspartame, glucose, citric acid, and colorings such as beta-carotene and riboflavin. [Consumer Reports March 2015].

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A Walk on the Wild Side

[caption id="attachment_593" align="alignleft" width="225"]Happy Sheep! Happy Sheep!

As the heat rose up on Saturday, July 18, more than 13 current and aspiring farmers traversed from across the state – from areas as far away as Binghamton and Scottsville – to join Don Wild at Wild Acres Family Farm in Great Valley NY (near Salamanca) to learn how to make better use of forages through small scale intensive pasture management.  tatiana Stanton from Cornell University also joined to discuss the on-farm study looking at the effect of tannins given off from grazing birdsfoot trefoil on parasitic worm populations in sheep. Rod Porter, from Kings AgriSeeds and a NOFA-NY Farmer, was available with information about various pasture seed mixes and types. I felt very lucky to be the NOFA-NY staff for this event.

Wild Acres Family Farm is a small diversified farm specializing in small ruminant management, multispecies grazing and vegetable production. Beautiful and lush flower gardens created a dramatic first impression as we walked towards the back of the farmstead to set up for the event. Under the welcome shade from a stand of trees, we heard the gentle clucking of Don’s laying hens and the soft baaaing of his ewes and lambs. In a small pasture nearby, a flock of meat chickens were busy enjoying their life on pasture, and next door to them was a small herd of miniature horses. In this idyllic valley setting our lesson began.

[caption id="attachment_590" align="alignleft" width="225"]Farmers of all ages attended the day Farmers of all ages attended the day

As we walked around the farm, Don surprised us all by showing that his core farm is only 1.5 acres. He has used that land to the maximum, and also bartered for use of some neighboring lands, showing the value of community to the farm and its neighbors. Through rotational grazing and effective monitoring and management of his pastures, Don demonstrated how he optimizes health in his sheep flock, reducing pest pressures while producing a highly nutritious forage diet.  He showed examples of expanding grazing capacity through incorporating small grains such as forage oats, as well as summer annuals and alternative forages, such as field peas, into an effective pasture plan.  tatiana shared her research on the use of birdsfoot trefoil and the seeding rates being tested on Don’s flock of lambs. Don discussed options for fence posts and permanent as well as temporary fencing options to make the best use of small spaces and rotating fields. As we walked we could see the pattern of re-growth on the pastures one, two, and three weeks out from its last grazing. Some key tips from Don:

    • Test your soil: test your soil before you seed – not all land, even when amended with materials such as lime, will be suitable for all types of forage.

    • Expect changes: your pasture composition will change through the year as well as from year to year depending on the weather and other factors, so pastures need to be monitored regularly.

    • Diversify: mixtures tend to do better than single cultivars when planting pastures. Different forages compliment each other and thrive at different times depending on the weather and changes in soil composition across a field.

    • Water: having a good watering system in place assures consistent pasture forage throughout a season. Don shared his easy and affordable solutions to watering pastures.

    • Have the right tools: fence tighteners, a digital volt meter, and a grazing stick are three basic and very valuable tools for managing fencing and monitoring pastures.  

      [caption id="attachment_591" align="alignright" width="225"]Field peas ready for grazing Field peas ready for grazing

At the end of the session we enjoyed refreshments under the shade of the trees along with some great question and answers from Don and tatiana. Many thanks to Don and family for hosting this event, and for tatiana for coming to share the latest research with us.
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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

[caption id="attachment_574" align="alignleft" width="300"]Lexington Community Garden.  Photo courtesy of Paul Minor Lexington Community Garden. Photo courtesy of Paul Minor

One of the beautiful things about food and farming is that inspiration and gratitude are constant companions, unfettered by any definition of "on the clock".

Last week during my summer vacation  I took the opportunity to visit with my good friend Judy Bennett and some of the urban gardens managed by the Rochester International Academy Interact Club, which is sponsored by the Rochester Northwest Rotary.  This is a unique 50 member club, comprised of refugees from many countries such as Congo, Eritrea, Nepal, Somalia, Thailand, Vietnam and Yemen. Students in the club worked in partnership with Foodlink and the Rochester City School District, and with a grant from Wegmans Food Markets, Inc and donations from Johnny's Seeds to raise almost 5,000 vegetable plants this year in the greenhouse attached to the former Jefferson High School. The seedlings have been distributed to the Foodlink sponsored community gardens throughout the greater Rochester area, providing healthy, affordable produce to emergency food programs and a source of meaningful connection to the earth and their food for many refugees.

Judy took me on a visit to two of the gardens, the first behind the Calvary St Andrews Presbyterian Church off Averill Avenuein Rochester’s Southwedge neighborhood.  This church runs an emergency mobile food pantry, with donated food augmented by an array of fresh vegetables in season that are grown in the Foodlink-sponsored Alison Clarke Community Garden – an oasis of 18 beds of fresh produce growing behind the church.  The mobile pantry had just run that morning, and an abundance of swiss chard, kale, and collard greens had been picked and distributed.  We discussed the challenges of composting in city gardens and checked out the progress of an impressive plot of summer squashes and cucumbers.

[caption id="attachment_572" align="alignright" width="225"]Swiss Chard at the Alison Clarke Community Garden Swiss Chard at the Alison Clarke Community Garden

From there we drove to the Foodlink sponsored gardens on Lexington Avenue.  Every time I visit a farm or garden I am inspired by the creative genius of farmers and gardeners, and this was no exception.  These community gardens are largely managed by Nepalize refugees. There on a vacant city lot, old walk-in coolers had been transformed into raised beds.   Instead of using conventional stakes and trellises to support the plants, tree branches were stuck in and around each raised bed, creating an amazing effect of a forest in the middle of the garden!  Around each bed the twisting limbs were green with slender tendrils of peas, pole beans, and cucumbers and carrying the weighty branches of tomatoes and their promise of ripe fruit to come.

Thank you Judy for this wonderful visit and for letting me see collaboration and inspiration in action, bringing healthy food to so many.
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Bright Blue Skies with Fresh Snap Peas and Mint

[caption id="attachment_564" align="alignleft" width="225"]Snap pea with blue skies Snap pea with blue skies

Ahh, sweet sunshine!  A rare sighting this spring and early summer.  Perhaps the only two things thriving in my garden at the moment are snap peas and mint.  Ok, my lettuces and fennel and a scary amount of slugs are thriving too, but that is a story for another blog!

This is the time of year when I am heavy into foraging for my food from my garden, meadows, and woods.  This is not because I am a remarkably creative person, it is because I am really tired of making shopping lists, driving to the store, and well, shopping.

With the last of the asparagus picked and eaten, we are onto the next wave of garden bounty – peas – and in particular my favorite snap peas.  Peas are among the oldest cultivated vegetables, and there is evidence of cultivated peas in ancient Egyptian tombs!  There are more than 1000 varieties of peas in existence today.  Snap peas are unique in that their pods are edible as well as the sweet peas inside, and for those of us who are too impatient for a lot of shelling (although I do love shelled peas as well), snap peas are a great alternative as you can eat them pods and all.  When looking to enjoy snap peas, there are only 3 basic rules:

  • Buy fresh – if you don’t have a ready supply of peas bursting in your garden, you can find fresh snap peas at farmers markets, roadside stands and in your CSA basket this time of year – to find a farmer selling snap peas near you, check our on-line directory.  Just look for firm, glossy pods that are filled almost to bursting.

  • Keep them cold – in snap peas, the sugar converts to starch the way it does in corn, and keeping them cold helps slow down that process and will preserve their crispy texture and powerful nutrients.  Snap peas are a great source of vitamin C and K as well as folate, iron and protein.

  • Eat them soon – while most of the commercially grown pea crop is now sold canned, frozen and even dried, most people agree that snap peas are best fresh.  Fresh snap peas are best eaten within 3 days of picking.

[caption id="attachment_565" align="alignright" width="225"]Fresh mint Fresh mint

What are some great ways to eat fresh snap peas? This is where the mint comes in.  There is nothing as lovely as snap peas with fresh mint.   Other wonderful accompaniments include lemon, garlic or green onions.  Snap peas can be cooked almost any way you can imagine – steamed, sautéed, fried, roasted.  The key is that however you cook them, fast is best as it retains the wonderful crisp texture of the pods.  For those who love preserving, snap peas can be pickled much like green beans.  For me, nothing beats eating fresh snap peas, straight from the garden, raw.

In addition to eating the snap peas, you can also enjoy the blossoms and leafy plant tips or pea shoots.  Just remember that ornamental “sweet peas” are NOT edible.  Another boon to planting snap peas is that like all legumes, peas are great for soil conditioning and are a tasty and wonderful addition to your garden crop rotation.  Enjoy this wonderful early summer treat!
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New York State’s own GMO Labeling Bill is Gaining Ground

Liz at April 28 GMO rallyAs the NYS legislature ends its session, it is clear that although we didn’t win this year and despite interruptions in the legislative process from corruption scandals, the GMO Labeling bill did better this year than last.  The bill to label GMOs in NYS, A 617-S 485, was a top priority for NOFA-NY policy action this year, and we were active participants in the NYS GMO Labeling Coalition, along with Food and Water Watch, GMOFree NY, Hunger Action, Consumers Union, NYPIRG, Natural Resources Defense Council, Catskill Mountaineer, Fire Dog Lake, Good Boy Organics, Green Party of New York, the Brooklyn Food Coalition and the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.  All our groups worked well together in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect.

We started out the legislative session of 2015 with a lobby day in Albany in late January, the day after our annual Winter Conference and participated in the organization and execution of a second rally and lobby day in April, which brought out more than 300 people from across the state. There were also dozens of smaller actions in critical districts and a big noise from the March against Monsanto, May 23. The coalition collected 43,000 signatures on petitions to the legislature in support of the bill.

By June, the Coalition was sure that there were enough Assembly members and Senators signed on to the bill to pass it in both houses if the leadership could only be persuaded to take it to the floor for a vote. The bill advanced through the Consumer Protection committees in both houses, then as far as Rules in the Senate and Codes in the Assembly. Our guess is that behind the scenes, legislators were saying “let’s not have to go on record for or against that one.”

As Stacie Orell, staffer for GMOFreeNY, noted:

“Nonetheless, onward we march. We will continue to work hard during the so-called "off season" to spread public awareness about GMOs and labeling, educate legislators on the issue and combat the misinformation spread by the incredibly well-funded oppo$ition campaign, and ramp up for next year's fight. It's only a matter of time before we join the rest of the world and get the right to know, it's just gonna take longer than we'd like!”

It’s worthy to note that bills in all other states that have moved through legislatures have also taken years, and Vermont’s successful bill took 3-4 years to win.  NOFA-NY will be back at it in the next session, and asking more of all NOFA members to convince their state legislators.  Thanks for your hard work this year!
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In the Field With the Iroquois White Corn Project

[caption id="attachment_360" align="alignleft" width="225"]Iroquois White Corn Iroquois White Corn

On June 11th, the day after a rare tornado touched down just a few miles away, about a dozen farmers participated in a unique field day to learn about the history of Iroquois White Corn (IWC) and efforts to restore this staple of the Haudenosaunee people's diet at the Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, New York.  Peter Jemison (Knowledge Keeper and Heron Clan member of the Seneca Nation of Indians) and manager of the Ganondagan State Historic Site, along with Kim Morf (Mohawk), manager of the Iroquois White Corn Project led this event along with NOFA-NY staff Paul Loomis and Sondra Gjersoe.   After a brief introduction Peter lead the group down a trail to the field where the corn is planted.  The fields were still very well saturated from the rains that occurred the night before.

Peter gave the history of the corn and its importance to the Haudenosaunee people.  The heirloom seed they are using dates back to at least 1,400 years ago.  Iroquois White Corn (IWC)  was a staple food of the Haudenosaunee, supporting a Ganondagan town of up 4,500 people in the 17th century.  Over a trade disagreement the French destroyed 500,000 bushels of corn, forcing the Haudenosaunee from their lands.

[caption id="attachment_520" align="alignright" width="169"]Dried white corn (00000003) Impressive ears of dried corn!

The IWC has deep symbolic meaning for the Haudenosaunee people and it is a healthy non GMO, low glycemic, gluten free food that has been consumed by the Haudenosaunee people for thousands of years.  Revitalizing the white corn production revitalizes tradition and health for the community.  The finished dried ears of corn are impressive, with kernels twice the size of today’s corn.

Peter explained although they use some more modern implements, the deep culture and traditions still remain. Three ceremonies must occur before the corn is planted, thunder, sun, and rain.  Peter went over the traditional Three Sisters planting of corn, beans, and squash. The stalks of the white corn are very robust, easily supporting a crop of pole beans, which also feed the earth nitrogen.  The squash subdue the weeds and act as a living mulch, keeping the ground moist for the corn and beans. The spiny nature of the squash leaves also act as a deterrent to deer trying to nibble on the corn. All the seeds used on the project are open pollinated heirloom seeds.

We opened up a discussion for the different types of cover crops, and the purpose of each one. Clover and legumes for nitrogen fixing, buck wheat for weed suppression, tillage radishes for deep soil aeration. The group discussed possible cover/forage crops to keep the deer from off the corn. Deer eating the corn has been somewhat of a trying issue. The group discussed many ways to possibly alleviate the issue through electric fencing, and hunting, nuisance permits, dog hair, dogs, etc.  Many of the attendees were very helpful with many great suggestions.

The group then made its way back to the farmhouse where we were able to try this wonderful corn in a cold salad and in cookies with the roasted corn flour. The group sat in the kitchen as Kim began to move into the processing portion of day. Like the plantings, many of the deep rooted traditions are very important part of the processing. Kim explained the importance of bringing a "good mind" and that people are not to process the corn with negative energy for that will be passed on to who consumes it.

The corn is dried on the stalks, then husked and braided for long term storage. The hulls of the corn kernel are indigestible, so each kernel must be removed from the hull. Kim went over the several methods including using wood ash and pickling lime.  Within the dining area lies a large roasting machine which they use in the making in their roasted corn flour.  Conversations continued as Kim answered many questions from the interested attendees.

There is a great energy surrounding the IWC project and the people involved in the project. It is amazing project for a very healthy, traditional food.  IWC can be found in many local grocery and specialty stores, at area farmer's markets and even on-line!
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News Update on Genetically Engineered Diamondback Moth Trials

In response to our letter and emails last week, Cornell's vice president of University Relations informed us that Cornell has restricted the trials of genetically engineered (GE) diamondback moths at Cornell University’s Agricultural Research Station in Geneva to contained trials this summer.  We are pleased with this news, however we remain concerned about the lack of transparency and public information and that the focus of the trials is on evaluating efficacy, rather than evaluating safety.

We continue to request full disclosure of information to allow public scrutiny and debate as well as a more complete description of the enclosures they are planning to use to contain the moths.  In addition, we have asked for a copy of Cornell’s proposals in relation to improving the evaluation of biosafety prior to any open release, and specifically regarding the following:

  • Toxicity testing of the GE moths in relation to impacts of consumption by humans or animals;

  • Testing of the strain for undesirable properties such as pesticide resistance;

  • Laboratory studies of potential impacts of tetracycline in relation to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the insects’ guts and the inadvertent survival of GE females (for all strains proposed for release);

  • Monitoring of potential dispersal routes from proposed open sites, including wind dispersal to nearby farms (raising the risk of contamination, including of organic crops), and the potential for overwintering and encountering tetracycline contamination (e.g. in slurry) which could lead to inadvertent increases in survival of the offspring;

  • Modeling of other biosafety issues, including potential impacts of releases on other species (including the potential for increases in other types of pest in response to population suppression of the moths).

We continue to work with our colleagues at Food and Water Watch, the Center For Food Safety, the Friends of the Earth, and GeneWatch UK on this issue.  Thank you for your support.
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What's the Beef?

[caption id="attachment_513" align="alignleft" width="300"]Beefers in grass fed Nirvana!  Thank you Fred Griffen of High Lonesome Farm! Beefers in grass fed Nirvana! Thank you Fred Griffen of High Lonesome Farm in Cincinnatus, NY (Cortland County)

The minute people hear that I work for NOFA-NY, I start getting a lot of questions about food and farming. One of the most common questions I get is about beef - is grass fed beef and certified organic beef the same thing? To find the answer, I talked with Lisa Engelbert, a certification program administrator for NOFA-NY Certified Organic LLC—and also an experienced farmer at Englebert Certified Organic Farm.

Lisa explained that it’s important to remember that Certified Grass Fed and Certified Organic are two separate certification programs, although there is some overlap in their standards.  In fact, beef may be certified grass fed, certified organic, or both!

What does “Grass Fed” mean?  

To qualify as “grass-fed”, beef cattle must be raised and finished on a diet of 100% grass and grass-based feed over the animal’s lifetime, except for mother’s milk prior to weaning. All grain feed is prohibited, as is the use of antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones.  However, grass-fed cattle may be raised on pastures and hay fields where chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides have been applied. Forages—specifically alfalfa—may be genetically modified. Currently, the American Grass-fed Association maintains standards for larger producers, while the USDA Grass-Fed Program has standards for farms processing up to 50 animals per year. Verification under these programs is still evolving, and is not yet as stringent as procedures for certified organic beef.

What does “Certified Organic” mean?

To qualify as certified organic, the beef must come from animals that meet the USDA National Organic Program standards. Certified organic beef must be free of hormones and antibiotics, and come from cattle that are raised on certified organic land. They must be fed only organically grown grass, hay or grain.  Among other requirements, certified organic grass, hay or grain may not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). They must also feed on managed pasture for the entire grazing season, and may not be confined 100 percent of the time in a barn or feedlot. Daily outdoor access is required during the non-grazing season. To qualify as organic beef, a calf must be managed organically from the last third of the mother cow’s pregnancy.  Certified organic beef may also be fed organic grain and is not required to be on a 100% grass and forage diet.

An organic beef farmer must meet rigid requirements for farm management and record keeping, and annual farm inspections are required. The verification process enforces strong standards established by the USDA National Organic Program, with financial penalties for farmers using fraudulent practices to market “certified organic” beef.

What if I want both 100% grass fed AND certified organic?

Certified organic, grass-fed beef will be labeled as both “certified organic” and “grass-fed,” having met the standards for both programs. Starting this year, NOFA-NY Certified Organic LLC is offering grass-fed certification to its certified organic beef and dairy farmers.

Remember, buy locally and know your farmer!

When you buy locally and know your farmer, you can ask the farmer how their beef is raised. In many cases you can arrange a visit to see the farm in operation.  Knowing your farmer, where your meat comes from and how it’s raised, are an important part of making the right choice for you and your family. And when you buy from a local farmer, you’re supporting an important contributor to your local economy!  To find a farmer near you, check out the NOFA-NY Food and Farm Guide.
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Top 5 Ways to Enjoy Spring Asparagus

[caption id="attachment_494" align="alignleft" width="225"]May Asparagus My first purple asparagus of 2015 finally makes its appearance!

After months of foraging in my freezer for last year's veggies, I made the joyful discovery of the first asparagus of the season making its way skyward.  What could be better than a perennial vegetable that has the good sense to ripen in Spring!  Simple, elegant, versatile asparagus!  Now I will be eating asparagus until it stops producing big thick spears and is ready to go to flower.

Asparagus does well with salty, savory, and fresh flavors.  If you have garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper on hand you can prepare asparagus in a variety of delicious ways.  Asparagus also pairs well with flavors of lemon and vinegar, and is great with chives (for a little bite), lemon balm (taste the sunshine), dill (a fresh lift), and tarragon (a little zip and depth).  It tastes great with eggs and egg based sauces.  You can blanch it and wrap it in prosciutto, steam it and sprinkle it with balsamic vinegar and sesame seeds. Cook it in a soup.  Put it in risotto.   It is even delicious pickled (and eaten during the dregs of winter on your favorite antipasto platter).  Fancy or simple, there are innumerable combinations and ways to enjoy asparagus.  Here are my top 5 favorites when it is at its peak freshness:

5.  Oven roasted - spread with a little olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper - roast in your oven at 425 degrees until it reaches the level of caramelization you love - usually around 10 minutes.

4.  Grilled - prepare the same as oven roasted, but toss on the grill and let it get just a bit charred to bring out a smoky sweetness.

3.  Sautéed - use olive oil or butter, toss in some minced garlic, be liberal with your salt and pepper, and drizzle with lemon juice when done.  Just a few minutes can bring out a bright green color and lovely crisp/tender meatiness to the spears.

2.  Simply steamed - just needs water!  Using some kind of steamer basket keeps the spears above the water and lets the steam do its work.  The length of time to steam asparagus varies with the thickness of the spears and your personal taste.  I tend to prefer my asparagus crisp, so I keep my steaming to 5 minutes or less.  But some folks prefer asparagus that has been steamed closer to 10 minutes.  Toss with your favorite toppings (see above for options) and serve.  Steaming makes asparagus very tender.

1. Raw  -   freshly snapped out of the garden and directly from hand to mouth, just-picked asparagus is so flavorful even the most stubborn asparagus hater can be transformed.   Children who visit my farm in springtime beg for this special treat.

If you don't have your own asparagus patch, you can buy the freshest local, organic asparagus directly from area farmers at nearby farmers markets, farm stands, or you may even  get a bunch in your CSA box.  To find a farmer near you, you can check out the NOFA-NY Food and Farm Guide.

Enjoy Spring!
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Top 5 Signs That Spring is Coming!

Here are the top 5 signs that Spring is starting to overcome the unending Winter on my place:

#5:  Although it was 15 degrees this morning and it snowed last night, the sun is so fierce it melted the snow off my road before noon, no plowing needed!  Dave the Dog approves!clear road

#4:  There is evidence that mud season is coming!  I see my footprint!  Get ready with the mops!Mud Season

#3:  If it has fur, it's shedding.  A LOT!  I saw some birds collecting this stuff the other day, and I anticipate some white German Shepherd Dog hair nests are in the making!Shedding

#2:  I was able to open the barn door easily, all the way, and with one hand!  The first time in months that this did not require some combination of shoveling snow, chopping ice, and two-handed yanking and pulling with all my might to get a 2-foot opening for me to squeeze through.Barn Door

#1:  There are NOFA-NY event signs popping up across the State - it's Field Day Season!  I hosted my first field day this year on March 9th at Lakestone Family Farm in Shortsville, NY.  One field day down, 25 more to come!NOFA-NY Field Day Season

Do you have a favorite photo of a sign of Spring?  Share it with us by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your photo and a caption and we will post our favorites to our Facebook page!
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Summer in My Freezer

Biofillia Farm VeggiesGroundhog Day!  If any groundhog is daring to look, he is probably doubting that spring is right around the corner or even six weeks away.   The wind is howling outside and blankets of snow are sweeping over my fields, house, and barns.  My windows are shuttered and all the draft dodgers are stuffed in my door ways.  It seems like a long time since I have experienced sunlight on my face.  It’s time for some summer.

So I go and open my freezer, and there, in the light of the incandescent bulb, is summer.  Bags of golden sweet corn, red peppers, and all kinds of tomatoes.  Cubes of pesto and herbs.  Batches of blueberries and raspberries and strawberries, their lovely vibrant blues and reds sparkling back at me.   Too bad Mr. Winter – I am freeing summer from the freezer and sending it to my plate for dinner tonight!

Now don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy my share of root crops in the winter.  Beets, carrots, celery root, potatoes.  It’s all very nice.  But right around February is when I crave my summer back, and so to the freezer I go.

What’s for dinner tonight?  Maybe its sweet corn risotto with Herbs de Provence, the frozen kernels perfectly preserving the delectable pop and sweetness of August.    Maybe it’s summer pasta –  the most perfect, thin spaghetti made with locally grown organic grains, cooked al dente and finished off with those fresh frozen tomatoes and some of that pesto.  Maybe I’d like a taste of July – some of those berries served over yogurt or ice cream or maybe in some pancakes.   No matter what I choose, it brings back that day that it was harvested, perfectly ripe and warm from the summer sun. fresh rasberries

I used to think that eating local and organic food year round would be too hard or too expensive.  This year I finally cracked the code to make it easy and economical for me to eat local organic year round.  So many farmer’s markets are now operating all winter – and from my friendly neighborhood farmers I still get local organic eggs, root crops, and greens that are growing even now in high tunnels.  And thanks to squirreling away and freezing spring and summer bounty, I can enjoy the taste of summer just when I need it most!  Hello summer!  Time to eat!
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How Many Root Veggies Does It Take To Make A Mermaid?

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