NOFA-NY Field Notes

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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. 

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES – NEW YORK DELEGATION VOTE ON HR 1599: “THE DARK ACT”,  July 23, 2015

Who’s YOUR Congressperson? Look It Up https://www.opencongress.org/people/zipcodelookup

























































































































































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














DID YOU KNOW?

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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2015: The Year to Label GMO Food in NY!

Time to Label GMOs in New York State!

By Elizabeth Henderson

2015 will be the year to label GMO foods in NYS! Area organic farmers, NOFA and our allies in the NY Label GMOs coalition are determined to pass legislation in the coming session, and you can help.

This is why we care so strongly:  First of all, food made from GMO ingredients is not labeled:  you do not have a choice about whether you want to participate in this massive experiment in novel kinds of food proteins some of which seem to cause allergies. 70 - 80% of the conventionally grown processed foods sold in grocery stores today have at least some GMO ingredient. GMO varieties are not tested independently for safety. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy not to require testing before approval for commercial sale was set against the advice of its own scientists.  There are memos dating to 1991 in which FDA scientists warn of potential health risks.  The FDA official who made the decision not to test each new genetically engineered variety was a former employee of Monsanto. The safety testing is done by the companies that sell the seeds.

[caption id="attachment_452" align="alignright" width="300"]Stacey Grabski-Early Morning-Daily Life Let's know the practices used on the fields where our food is grown!


Then there is the issue of contamination. The vast majority of GMO varieties are “Round-Up Ready,” that means, treated with the herbicide glyphosate plus supposedly inert additives that are added to make it more effective.  In 2010, there were 365 million acres in 29 countries planted with GMOs, with Round-Up Ready corn and soybeans making up the largest area.  During the first few years of these crops back in the 90’s, farmers were able to grow them with less herbicide than used previously.  Then the predictable came to pass - the weeds became more and more resistant so farmers poured on more herbicide until by now, there is Round-up in the waters of most states, in the air, in the soil and in the bloodstreams of new born infants.  While independent studies of the safety of GMO foods are scarce, there have been many studies of Round-Up that show it attacks the beneficial organisms in the human digestive system, causing serious health problems – increased birth defects, neurological developmental problems in children, kidney failures, respiratory problems and allergies. Studies also show that Round-Up is a powerful soil biocide, resulting in the increase of microbial plant pathogens, some of which form mycotoxins that can be very poisonous to humans and livestock.

One of the selling points of Round-Up is that it breaks down quickly and that is why you can purchase it off the shelf in garden and hardware stores.  That is accurate.  But what Monsanto does not mention is that Round-Up breaks down into AMPA, which lasts for a couple of decades and is more toxic than glyphosate.  To make things worse, to kill off the weeds that have become resistant to Round-Up, manufacturers are pushing new varieties that farmers can douse with both Round-Up and other herbicides like 2, 4 D, – and USDA is allowing this.

If you want to avoid eating GMOs, eating organically grown foods is the surest way. The National Organic Program that sets the standards for organic production in the US excludes the deliberate use of any GMO seed or materials.  Of course, this does not prevent contamination of organic crops, especially as the huge acreage in GMO crops continues to expand.  The responsibility and cost falls on certified organic farmers to show that they have taken measures to avoid contamination.

You are also safe eating vegetables and fruits from NY farms. Local vegetable and fruit farmers do not have to worry about GMO contamination from drift yet.  So far, the only GMO vegetables on the market are summer squash and a couple varieties of supersweet corn.  This is not to say that all summer squash and sweet corn you encounter uses GMO technology, so do ask your farmer (politely) about their varieties.  But be forewarned, any non-organic processed foods that contain corn or soybeans or any of their many derivatives are likely to be GMO.

Corporate money drowned out attempts at GMO labeling in California, Colorado and most recently in Oregon where the labeling law lost by only 800 votes. In Vermont, the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association is already suing the state to prevent the implementation of the labeling law that passed last year and is not to go into effect until 2016.

On the national scene there are two competing measures.  Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) is making a name for himself with H.R. 4432, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014 dubbed the “DARK Act – Deny Americans the Right to Know” by the Organic Consumers Association. If adopted, it would preempt states from passing GMO labeling laws, nullify the GMO labeling laws already passed by Maine, Vermont and Connecticut, and make FDA’s current voluntary labeling system the law of the land. By contrast, the Boxer-deFazio bill, the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, would require the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.

While a mandatory federal labeling law is the goal, pushing for state laws is the way to build up enough public pressure to pass it. Public opinion polls regularly show that more than 90% of Americans support GMO labeling. The corporations that bring us GMO foods have had two decades to label them voluntarily.  Had they done so with pride early on, the public might be less suspicious.

Assemblywoman Rosenthal and Senator Lavalle will be resubmitting the same labeling bill as in 2014 that will require that all genetically engineered food offered for retail sale in New York be labeled as such.  The bills will get new numbers when the legislative session begins in January. We all have the right to know what is in our food and the right to make informed choices about what we choose to eat. So let’s make this happen!  Please urge your state assembly reps and senators to sign on as sponsors! Plan to join the Label GMO Lobby Day, January 26, 2015 in Albany.  For the latest information on the campaign, go to www.GMOFreeNY.net!
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Grain coming into Focus: Long-standing New York traditional foods get their spotlight at last!

The OREI Value-Added Grains Project is a multi-year collaboration between NOFA-NY, Cornell University, Greenmarket, GrowNYC, OGRIN and others to grow the potential of primarily ancient and heritage cereal grains in New York and the Northeast.  Robert Perry, NOFA-NY's Grain and Field Crop Coordinator, and June Russell, Manager of Farm Inspections
& Strategic Development for Greenmarket/GrowNYC, share their thoughts about grains and the upcoming Grain Expo happening during the NOFA-NY Winter Conference.

Robert says,

"Who ever heard of spelt, einkorn, emmer, or farro until recent years? This, to many, was like another new food group being grown.  However, I grew up enjoying whole grain flours living near the New Hope water-powered flour mill. Leland Weed had resurrected the old mill and overshot water wheel and spent a lifetime providing bagged whole grain flours that my mother would bake into homemade bread and rolls every week. The mill was open for tours and photo opportunities and was famous for their Buckwheat pancake mixes. My Dad had a dairy farm and did custom harvesting of small grains with his various combines. Eventually we had three combines that my brothers and I operated as well. Riding on the old AC all crop bagging combine, sliding down the chute, and playing in the oat bin was all part of growing up. The coop was close by and everyone worked as a community to support the Grange and the GLF cooperative along with various milk coops. So when legendary music of the late 60's came along (“Traffic” and Steve Winwood’s “John Barleycorn Must Die”; Jethro Tull with “Same Old Man Workin at the Mill”)l I was already hooked on grains. Over the years various flour mills and bakeries have indulged in stone mills, whole grain bakeries, and legends have lived on, made with a labor of love, by farmers, millers, and bakers. After a silent yet persistent journey by this passionate community the grain movement has once again come into the local regional spotlight.Spelt berries

So when the idea of a Grain Expo came about for the NOFA-NY Winter Conference, coupled with selection of grain farmers
Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens as our Farmers of the Year, it was my privilege to combine this into a celebration of the legends, the present, and the future of the incredible Northeast Value-Added Grains community."

Same old man workin' at the mill
Mill turns around of its own free will
Hand in the hopper and the other in a sack
Ladies step forward and the gents fall back.

June responds and reflects,

"I am afraid my first encounter with a mill or anything having to do with the production of grain was much less pastoral then Robert’s and most surely involved a rickety building with a lovely river view that either had been renovated into a Ye Olde Tavern of some sort or sold Christmas ornaments and fudge to tourists. Mills were relics of the past and flour was probably made by Keebler elves, as I saw it. Even as someone who had worked as a professional cook for 15 years, I had no idea how grain grew or flour was produced.

Early on in the quest to find flour for Greenmarket bakers, I saw Jack Lazor give a workshop on growing grain in Vermont at a NOFA-VT conference. Jack told the story of being a back-to-the-lander in the 1970s and how he grew wheat to make his own bread, but when he went to sell his crop he found that even the local Vermont co-op was buying grains and flour from the Midwest for half the price and he was laughed out the door. He said it was only now, decades later, that he was finally seeing interest in the market for his grain and he quipped, “I think we’re making progress”. (Editor's note: Jack and his wife Anne will be presenting twice, and participating in a panel at the Grains Expo at the Conference)

This was circa 2007--a full thirty years or more after Jack and many of our elders were planting those first seeds. And it was true the market was finally catching up to the wisdom of farmers like Jack.  By 2008 the local foods movement kicked into full gear along with an explosion of artisanal food businesses guided by passionate and innovative entrepreneurs who embraced working with local ingredients with gusto.  We met essential allies and co-creators who were and are making incredible products for us to eat and drink from bread to beer, pasta to gin all using local grains …and supporting our farmers. By 2010, when Greenmarket implemented its 15% rule, the market was primed, the customer was ready and a few dozen farmers were willing to take the risk and begin the steep learning curve of growing, handling and marketing local grains.
Roggenvollkornbrot1The momentum is real, from Pennsylvania to the Finger Lakes, The Hudson Valley to Maine, mills have been built, or put back into production; malt houses and distilleries have come on line; and support for re-regionalizing our food system is coming from all directions including the state of New York, which has given us the farm brewery and farm distillery legislation that is helping to drive grain production and much needed research and development of infrastructure.

It has been an incredible time to be a part of this work; rewarding and profound in ways I never could have anticipated. Back in the early 90’s while working for Greenpeace, a good friend and mentor said to me, “there should be a still in every county”. I think he was getting at a message about sustainability on a fundamental level, about feeding the soil, the animals and our selves in ways that align with our values, bringing full circle the agriculture, the market and the food culture in a way that just might have a shot at sustaining us in the long run.

Now as another malting facility opens, another bakery incorporates local flour into production and another small batch distillery using local grains wins an award for excellence, I know what that mentor meant. And although I am pretty sure he would love the taste of the bourbons that our craft distillers are producing, he would be especially proud of what this community has accomplished, and the hope for the future that it signifies.

You can join in the fun and education on Friday January 23rd. 2015.  In the morning, there's a Value-Added grain intensive with Klaas and Mary-Howell, followed by lunch with various grain-focused vendors, and a grain forum with legendary farmers, millers, bakers, brewers, distillers, researchers and you. Beyond the expo, there will be a total of 7 workshops for grain and field crop farmers, a homesteaders' session on earthen oven cooking projects (Saturday afternoon), Klaas and Mary-Howell's keynote address on Saturday afternoon, and an abundance of tasty treats made with New York's grains.

Pre-registration ends on Friday, January 16th (walk-in registration starts at 7:00pm on Thursday, January 22nd).  Registration for Friday of the conference allows you entrance to the grain expo, plus all workshops and activities.  See www.nofanyconference.org for all the information!

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The "Depths" of Planning Farmers' Soil Education

Fruit and Vegetable Coordinator, Maryellen Sheehan, tells us how she approached the planning of soil-themed workshops for this year's conference.  For more information and to register for the conference, which will be held January 23rd-25th in Saratoga Springs, NY, head to www.nofanyconference.org.

Tillage radish in soil

Farmers, especially organic farmers, recognize soil's fundamental importance to agriculture, and go to great lengths to preserve soil health.  However, in my time with NOFA-NY, and when talking with growers, I know it's also true that we recognize how challenging it can be to manage soils for both solid production (which keeps our doors open as farm businesses) and for increased fertility.  We know that increased fertility gives back to the future farmers using our land, makes our plants healthier, and arguably does all other sorts of good things like trap carbon, enhance nutrient levels in food, and more.  On my farm in Central New York, we’ve struggled with this delicate balancing act of farm commercial viability and building better soils on our operation these past two years. Near-constant rain left soil saturated for weeks (and months) at a time, repeatedly forcing the decision: do we prepare beds in too wet of ground, potentially damaging future soil structure, or do we risk missing major plantings and falling short for those CSA customers who have entrusted us with their money? For all farms, challenging decisions like these are what we strive to inoculate our operations against by building the well-functioning soil and farm systems that remove the necessity of facing these difficult questions.

It’s been really exciting for me to have the opportunity to plan this series of soil workshops for intermediate and advanced fruit and vegetable growers, since there are so many great presenters joining us. It’s also been more than a little daunting since we organic farmers can get quite passionate in our approaches to soil building and managing for better fertility! From farmer input and suggestions, two main themes arose that I strove to include in this soil series.

The first emergent concept was that of ample farmer-to-farmer discussion time to learn how expert growers are working on soil fertility.  You all wanted to hear how growers in similar situations or different regions are addressing some of the same questions facing your operations.


We actually kick off the day *before* the conference this year with a pre-conference on-farm field day on Thursday, January 22nd! Paul and Sandy Arnold graciously offered to host farmers at their Pleasant Valley Farm and set the context of thinking about soil and fertility management in the wider picture of whole farm systems and operations. The Arnolds grow winter greens using organic methods in unheated high tunnels, harvesting for weekly local markets. This field day will start with an indoor discussion and lunch (bring your own or pre-order a home cooked meal) while the greenhouses warm up. We will then tour all aspects of the farm’s production areas, including the greens in their three 34x144’ automated high tunnels, while learning how the Arnolds manage seeding dates, variety selection, winter protection, soil nutrition and amendments, and harvest techniques.  (If you're planning to attend this field day, registration is separate from conference registration, and you must register in advance due to space constraints of being in the greenhouses!)

100_0847Two Saturday and Sunday sessions continue this theme of looking deeply at one farm for a soil and fertility management case study. Jean-Paul Courtens and Jody Bolluyt will join us to describe how they manage their soil health on Roxbury Farm’s 90 acres of vegetable production with an emphasis of addressing soil health management for vegetable farmers in the context of a diversified farm, emphasizing crop rotation, the use of green manures, and nutrient cycling and budgeting. (There also will be some ties-ins to how biodynamics influences parts of their management strategy!). Paul and Sandy Arnold will be back to wrap up the series on Sunday by examining how they grow profitable crops in high tunnels through good soil management. They will focus on the details of the soil management techniques that are used at Pleasant Valley Farm to grow high value crops throughout the winter in their French Intensive system of greens production, including soil tests, amendments, tillage, bed prep and biologicals.

The capstone workshop for our farmer to farmer sessions occurs as a half day intensive Friday for vegetable growers. We are lucky to have Vern Grubinger, UVM vegetable and berry specialist and Northeast SARE coordinator, joining us to present and facilitate a discussion on soil health practices for vegetable growers. Vern will start us out by discussing and showing some of the many techniques northeastern growers are using to measure and manage soil nutrients, maintain or build soil organic matter, reduce tillage, address compaction, and integrate cover crops and rotations. Then, we’ll transition to the farmer-to-farmer component of the day where as a group we will identify the key questions facing the growers in the room, and then address those questions with a facilitated discussion where participants can share what they have learned or have been trying on their farms. There will also be time to connect with other growers and continue conversations in the social hours and evenings, including a facilitated discussion group Saturday evening on organic no-till farming!

The second theme was the potential applications of biodynamic and permaculture practices in organic farming systems.


IMG_5533For fruit growers, we are thrilled to have Hugh Williams of the Hudson Valley’s Threshold Farm joining us for a Friday intensive on “Ecological Soil Management Strategies for Perennial Crops.” Hugh has farmed biodynamically since 1972, and for the past 21 years with his family at Threshold Farm, growing biodynamic and organic commercial vegetables, small grains, cattle, and orchards on their 45 acres, while maintaining 90% of the ground in permanent cover. This session will focus on some of the biodynamic and permaculture farming practices that can cross genres to help guide effective strategies to improve understory management for fruit, perennial, and annual crop farmers. At Threshold Farm, Hugh and his family were able to utilize the grasses of their farm’s worn-down pastures as an engine to drive fertility across the farm, while making a living off the farm from day one. This workshop will cover above and below ground soil and biological interactions, long term perennial crop management, keyline plowing, integrating perennial and annual cropping, and a range of other biodynamic and permaculture practices.IMG_5613

While these workshops are aimed at intermediate to advanced growers, everyone is welcome. Some great resources to study up in advance of the conference include the SARE books (available at www.sare.org) Building Soils for Better Crops, Crop Rotation on Organic Farms, and Managing Cover Crops Profitably, as well as Organic Soil Fertility and Weed Management (available at Chelsea Green).


grazing cows

Finally, in addition to these great soil workshops specifically focused for intermediate and advanced fruit and vegetable growers, there are also *more* great soil workshops aimed at dairy farmers (we have a half day Friday intensive for on “Building Soils with Recycled Nutrients”) and beginner farmers (a half day Friday intensive on Evaluating Soils and Land to Plan a Successful Farm.) There are also two sessions for grain and field crop farmers that may also appeal to other growers, including one on “Sustainable Soil Management for Field Crops” and another with our keynote speaker Wes Jackson and his Land Institute colleague Tim Crews on “Soil Organic Matter: Understanding the Holy Grail of Organic Agriculture!” We (and your soils) hope that you can join us!
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