NOFA-NY Field Notes

NOFA-NY Blog

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A Shared Vision of Sustainable Agriculture in New York

Cecilia Bowerman, NOFA-NY's Membership Coordinator, shares her thoughts about why giving to NOFA-NY is meaningful, powerful, and appropriate to the season.

At this point in the day you’re probably aware that it’s Giving Tuesday, a national day dedicated to philanthropy. This new addition seems positioned to balance the previous days dedicated to consumption: feasting with our families to celebrate all that we are thankful for, and the frenzied holiday shopping the following Friday and Monday.

This blog is a collection of NOFA-NY stories, from those who care about the success of organic and sustainable agriculture in every corner of New York State. I was invited to consider what it is I appreciate about today; why Giving Tuesday (and its social-media trending twin, #givingtuesday) matters. Mainly, for me, it’s that today is a concentrated effort (an effective one it seems) to raise our national consciousness to reflect on the causes we care about. And not just to think of them, but to take action and show our support. I recently returned to New York State, my home state, after an 8 year hiatus. I wanted to come back to live near my family, and I wanted to work for NOFA-NY because I care about where our food comes from. I want to help ensure that more food is produced without the use of harmful chemicals, that there are easy ways to engage with and support local farmers, and that consumers can continue to vote with their purchases.

chickebago

It takes each and every one of us to do this work. You might consider a gift to NOFA-NY this holiday season for any number of reasons. Perhaps it was a valuable learning experience you had at one of our conferences, or out on the farm at a field day this past year. Perhaps it is because you recognize creating policies that support a sustainable food and farm system rely on the strength of our collective voice. Perhaps it is that you simply want to enjoy good, healthy food grown by a nearby farmer.  The point is you are not alone. Today is your day to give a gift to an organization you care about. Whether it’s NOFA-NY, or some other cause you consider worthy, let’s come together this Giving Tuesday to contribute to the greater good. We are glad to be considered a worthy cause by so many of you. And we couldn’t do this work without you. Thank you.

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You can learn more about carrying forward our vision to support a healthy future for us all, or join those who have already made a gift to NOFA-NY this holiday season.

CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION


NOFA-NY is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. Contributions are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law. A copy of the NOFA-NY latest annual report may be obtained, upon request, from the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, 120 Broadway, 3rd Floor, New York New York 10271.
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The Story of Our Conference Food

This is a re-telling of the story of how our conference food program came to be. It is dedicated, in gratitude, to our wonderful conference food donors.  Read on for the tale of the NOFA-NY conference meals, as told by Bethany Wallis (Education Director, Conference Food Coordinator).  If you're inspired to help us meet our menu wishlist, please be in touch!

Amazing food is the underlying pillar of NOFA-NY’s Annual Winter Conference. True, it's not the first thing that might come to mind when you hear "farming conference," but maybe it should be.  Yes, each year a new theme is chosen for our beloved winter conference and our staff works tirelessly to put together education around that theme that informs and represents our organic farming community.  This ever-changing and constantly-evolving conference is a venue for new research to be shared, farming techniques to emerge, friendships to begin, collaborations to blossom, and families to grow.  The constant is evident: this conference exists because everyone in attendance seeks to support the growth, distribution, and enjoyment of delicious, wholesome food grown in a way that supports the environment and the people who toil to bring it to the masses.

[caption id="attachment_408" align="aligncenter" width="676"] While many conferences offer delicious food, the NOFA-NY conference food stands apart because the ingredients provided for all of the meals, breaks, and social gatherings is sourced organically and locally, almost all donated by our farmers and business supporters.


I first came to NOFA-NY as a volunteer to assist in procuring the food for the winter conference many years ago when the conference was still held in Syracuse and boasted an attendance of over 300 farmers.  It was the best way to be introduced to the greater organic community of New York State.  Then and now, the generosity with which people are willing to donate is unbelievable.  Farmers in our midst wholeheartedly want to share the products they know are the healthiest available--making their actions speak for their ideals.  They care deeply that the food they grow and produce can be enjoyed while participating in an event that helps to strengthen the organic community.

child at buffet John-Paul Sliva 007

I am excited to once again be organizing the food donations for this great conference.  Each year, over 1200 attendees walk through the door, ready for 80+ amazing workshops, engaging keynote speakers, and plenty of social activities.  They're hungry, too.  This year we will feed over 7200 meals, provide snacks for more than 900 people on Friday and Sunday and 1300 on Saturday, make sure that the 500 folks who attend our receptions also have munchables while they network.dining hall

That is no small feat with a farmer’s appetite!  The kitchen and service staff at the City Center often stand in the dining room, amazed at the way the crowd (respectfully, patiently) descends upon the trays of roasted vegetables and salad just as much as the heartier foods--we know about balanced and abundant plates!  Curious as to how many potatoes it takes to feed this hungry bunch? 500 pounds! Milk?  Only 125 gallons.  Then there are eggs (600 dozen, so get crackin’) and over $3000 worth of locally baked bread.  Everything is donated from the salt and pepper on the table to the transportation of the donated products from across the state.  The list goes on.

city center kitchen scene 2

buffet line with green veg

It is an intense experience to find all the needed items based on the menu and to confirm all the donations.  For example, if in late November we have 5 of 6 main ingredients to make a roasted pork dish, but we're missing the meat, we have to decide whether to change the menu and use the 5 procurable ingredients in a different way, or to keep looking for organic, local pork.  We are so fortunate that the Saratoga Hilton and Chef Vik are so willing to work with us to make all of these meals possible without compromising our community's values.  From September forward there is almost daily communication to nail down all the bits and pieces.

City Center Kitchen CrewOnce we arrive on site, everything is different than the norm of hotel food management.  The food is not pre-prepared for the kitchen staff, and sometimes comes in very close to meal time.  How quickly can one staff peel butternut squash before it needs to go in the oven?  The kitchen and service staff is involved in listing all the donors and ingredients in the dishes on the buffet line; I'm behind the scenes with key volunteers checking off and labeling deliveries, ensuring that snacks and products are left in their packages so folks associate farms and brands with the delicious food they're eating and reminding kitchen staff to please NOT peel the carrots and to let the artisan cheeses come to the right temperature before serving (do not serve our Board President's famous cheese at refrigerator temperature!).  We are for certain an interesting group!

I would personally like to thank each person in this amazing circle of food for a feast.  Thank you to the farmers, to the transporters, to the preparers, to the servers, and to the educators who keep us coming back every year to learn more, fueled by such delicious food!  I manage the intensity of this job because I am so rewarded to see how we unite in the love of food, in our support of each other, and in our commitment to work today for a better tomorrow for our ever-growing community.

[caption id="attachment_405" align="aligncenter" width="676"]DSC_0054 NOFA-NY Winter Conference Breakfasts are a hearty, healthy affair. Roasted potatoes, organic fruit including citrus from Thorpes Organic Farm citrus grove in Florida, meat, yogurt, granola, and milk!
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A Collection of Farmers' Passions and Projects

This time of year, I have the privilege to read about so many farmers' hopes and dreams, and their thirst for education.  I read these testimonials as part of the NOFA-NY Winter Conference scholarship application decision-making process.  We read each application fully, multiple times with multiple criteria in mind.  We hear from people exploring the idea of farming to seasoned farmers who know how much farmer-to-farmer education means to their farm's success.  In light of the approaching scholarship award deadline (Midnight on 12/1/14), I'd like to share a few quotes that remind me of the passion and projects that farmers share willingly, in hopes of receiving one of our scholarships.

When asked what you hoped to get out of attending the conference, you answers were along these lines:

"I have one season of farming under my belt. Most of what I have learned has been by trial and error. I hope to gain as much knowledge as I can from those with far more experience so I can make this upcoming season a success. I also hope to meet other farmers in my same situation to see what steps they have taken to get to where they are and the steps they plan to take to get them to where they want to be. Being a novice, my book is full of blank pages. I would like to start filling up those pages with useful information. There is so much I want to learn but do not know where to start. I thought this would be a good place!" -2013 applicant

"Being able to exchange ideas about different growing practices with other organic farmers. Specifically looking for a better cover crop rotation for my farm. Want to learn more about the expanded marketing venues available to us for local retail and wholesale sales. Want to learn more about saving our own seed. Want to learn more about how our farm can help new farmers become established." -2014 applicant

It's so interesting to find out what people identify as their short- and long-term goals in the moment they apply for a scholarship--these goals are in flux each year, so this really shows the mindset of a farmer.  These goals range from lifestyle aspirations to technical specifications:

"I would like to expand the farm to six acres and acquire another good market. Eventually I would like to install a commercial kitchen where my sister in law can make prepared meals for value added production. I am planning at least two more acres of fruit trees and small fruit to round out the farm stand. I am very curious about primocane raspberries in combination with movable high tunnels. Eventually, I would like to have a mixed marketing strategy with some direct sales and some wholesale accounts. I see no reason to have a vow of poverty with this life based on the farmers I have been exposed to." -2013 applicant

"In the short term, I will continue to work on farms with vegetable CSAs, continue to gain machinery skills, attend workshops, CRAFTs, conferences, classes, etc. to learn and to meet other farmers. I am also looking for land to lease and potentially buy. On my future land, I will run a vegetable and herb farm that utilizes sustainable and organic agricultural practices while managing the space that is not cultivated for wildlife conservation." -2014 applicant

"I want to raise Certified Organic pastured poultry including ducks, and Certified Organic berry crops. I want to work towards the absolute minimal use of fossil fuel inputs. On-farm composting of poultry manure, bedding and ecologically sound composting of poultry carcasses. I want to bring to the customer a healthy, earth-friendly, superior tasting product at a fair price. I want to maintain the natural aesthetic of my property, while moving towards farming as my full-time passion." -2013 applicant

"[Our farm] is a small family operated fruit and vegetable farm. We sell our products at farmers markets and to farmers market vendors. This year we are leasing land across the road and expanding to offer a CSA harvest share. We are currently Certified Naturally Grown but hope to complete the organic certification process this year or next. We are still only field farming but hope to have infrastructure, such as a high tunnel or greenhouse, in a few years that will facilitate our desire to be year round farmers in upstate New York. We love farming and we love the farming life-growing healthy food for us and for others." -2014 applicantLuke and Cara inspecting window

And while some things show up in almost every application (and are probably on every farmer's mind), I love seeing the interesting combinations when we ask farmers what three topics they are most interested in learning about at the conference.  For the 2014 conference, that elicited these responses:

  • "farm business planning, soil science, compost"

  • "Food Safety, Cover Crops, Sustainable Financial Planning for the Farm"

  • "Small-scale farming, how to address food insecurity, and value-added production"

  • "grains, pigs, and business sense"


No, copying these answers won't guarantee you a scholarship.  But I hope that reading these inspires any potential applicant and ALL our community to evaluate where they are, and where they're going, and how farmer-to-farmer education can play a role in that.  Each attendee at our conference adds to its value, whether an eager learner, a presenter, a trade show participant, or someone involved behind the scenes with NOFA-NY.  You each contribute to the greatness of New York (and Northeast) organic agriculture when you open your ears and minds to information during workshops, when you fill pages of notebook paper with ideas and contact information, and when you bring your energy to the larger group for a few days each year.

YayForFarming_ErinBullock

No matter if you apply for a scholarship, I hope you participate in this year's conference.  Here are a few things to remember:

Apply for a winter conference scholarship by 11:59pm EST on December 1st

You may contribute to our NOFA-NY scholarship funds when you register yourself for the conference!
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Fall For Brussels Sprouts

[caption id="attachment_372" align="alignleft" width="300"]Dave the Dog with this year's harvest Dave the Dog with this year's harvest


According to some, there is only one good way to serve Brussels sprouts – on someone else’s plate.  Dave the Dog disagrees, and will faithfully guard and gratefully eat any you send his way.  I just recently began to understand his perspective.

As a child growing up, Brussels sprouts were in the “no thank you” category in my house – the one dish my mother would allow us to politely decline.   While the overly processed, canned, and severely boiled Brussels sprouts of my youth were hard to stomach, the truth is that Brussels sprouts are a nutritious and versatile vegetable, abundant in both Vitamin C and Vitamin K and containing many antioxidants.

Aside from being good for you, I have discovered that fresh Brussels sprouts are delicious!  Brussels sprouts can be prepared using many different methods and they do not require many ingredients or skillful cooking to bring out their flavor.  If you are still in doubt, here are my two favorite ways to prepare and eat Brussels sprouts.

This first method is an almost sure-fire way to convert even the most reluctant Brussels sprouts eater to a raving fan:  Brussels sprouts braised in cream.  Here is a simple recipe for this amazing dish.  All I can say is that whoever first decided to try simmering Brussels sprouts in cream was a culinary genius.  For very little effort, you end up with a dish that melts in your mouth - and it even smells good when it is cooking!  Some of my favorite on-line reviewer comments of this recipe include “bewitching”, “self righteously easy”, and “makes the toughest man purr like a kitten”.

The second method is the most versatile – roasted Brussels sprouts.  This gloriously simply approach involves just tossing your cleaned and trimmed Brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasting them in a 400 degree oven for 35-40 minutes, until the outside is caramelized with some burnt-looking edges.  (Editor's Note: It's best to try to get your sprouts to be the same size so they will cook evenly--halving or quartering the larger ones to be about the same size as the smallest ones should do the trick.  Depending on the size of your sprouts, or if you've halved/quartered the bigger ones, you may find they are done in only 20 minutes.)  Roasting Brussels sprouts brings out their sweet, nutty goodness and creates a wonderful “tooth” with a tender inside and slightly crispy outside.  There are scores of variations to meet your mood and your taste – try roasting with balsamic vinegar and honey, with garlic and pancetta, with bacon and mustard, and with other root vegetables.  Pretty much your imagination is the only limitation with roasted Brussels sprouts.  Some of my favorite on-line comments about roasted Brussels sprouts include “effortless,” “fell in love,” and “tiny nuggets of joy.”

So next time you see those great stalks of Brussels sprouts at your farmers market or in your CSA box, go with confidence and happiness that you are soon to enjoy this delicious fall treat!  Dave the Dog guarantees it!

More to try:

Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Lemon and Pecorino, Food52 (use any  NY aged hard sheep's milk cheese to locavore-ize it)

Crispy Fried Brussels Sprouts with Honey and Sriracha, Food52 (use NY honey and a local hot sauce)

Oregano Brussels Sprouts, 101 Cookbooks (great photos of prepping the vegetable, if you're not accustomed to it)
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Vote for Food Policy

Tomorrow--November 4th--is election day! This run-down of research tools for policital action comes to us thanks to Education Department Intern, Brittany Mendez:

Researching politics online may seem like a shot in the dark, so we wanted to do some of the work for you. Below are some links that will cut the research process down for you, so you can focus on finding out which representatives value the same things you do. Food policy does trickle down to affect us all on the local level, so let’s use this Election Day as an opportunity to influence it for the better.

greens in sunlight

YOUR CURRENT REPRESENTATIVES:
GovTrack will help you identify who is currently representing your district in the House of Representatives. This is based on your Congressional District, which you can find by inserting your address in the search bar. Follow the links of each of your Representatives’ names. These will provide you with their contact information, websites, and the bills they have supported in the past, as well as their recent legislative activity.

To find out how your current representative has voted on food and agricultural issues, use the Food Policy tool that allows you to enter your zip code and see how current representatives have voted on legislation (represented as a positive or negative vote for food policies, based on that organization's values).

WHO IS RUNNING TO REPRESENT YOU:
Vote Smart is a great way to find out who is currently in the running to represent you, as well as where they stand on some general topics.

OTHER RELEVANT FOOD POLICY LINKS:
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition can keep you informed on what is currently going on in food and farming policy on the federal level.

Environmental Advocates of New York will provide you with a summary of bills that were recently introduced in Legislative Committees or the State Senate and Assembly and how they will impact the environment.

REGISTRATION:
For future reference, if you are not yet registered to vote, this link will bring you to a page where you can find out where to register, based on what county in New York State you live in. The office that corresponds to your county will also be able to tell you where you need to go on election days in the future.
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Enjoying the Harvest from Canandaigua to Mattituck

[caption id="attachment_361" align="alignleft" width="225"]Jazzy photo bombs harvest dinner Jazzy photo-bombs my harvest dinner


One thing I learned this fall is that no one appreciates a good dinner party like a Corgi.   The other thing I learned is that if you invite folks to come to a dinner featuring fresh organic and sustainably grown food from local farmers, they will come!  They will come even if you tell them it is a fundraiser and they will need to make a donation to your cause!

In honor of National Organic Harvest Month, many of us on the staff and Board of NOFA-NY held harvest dinners at our homes across the state as a benefit for NOFA-NY.    I co-hosted my dinner with Sharon Nagle of Firefly Farm at my home in Canandaigua on a beautiful September evening.

My initial plan for a small dinner for 8 grew and ripened like my giant Brandywine tomatoes to a dinner for nearly 30 people.   Fortunately, Mother Nature smiled upon us and provided a late September Saturday where the temperature was 78, the breeze was light and the sky was perfectly blue.  We were able to set up a big tent outside along with folding tables and chairs.  Jazzy the Corgi designated it worthy of photo bombing.

[caption id="attachment_358" align="alignright" width="225"]This Way to Food! This Way to Food!


A meal that took a few hours to eat was months in the making.  The food at the table came from more than 12 different farms from Canandaigua to Mattituck.  The fruits, vegetables, honey, and eggs, poultry meats and wine took months (and in some cases, years) of dedicated farmers’ time and skills to plant, nurture, harvest, age and ferment.  It was my thankful task to simply gather the bounty.  I was also very grateful for Sharon Nagle’s help as a farmer and co-party planner, for the culinary skills of local chef, Evan Schapp of Roots Café, who created an array of side dishes, and for my husband Chris, who manned the smoker that infused extra flavore into locally-raised turkey and Chris's famous ribs.

Dinner started with an array of fresh vegetables and roasted acorn squash hummus from Sharon Nagle’s Fire Fly Farm located in nearby Canandaigua and delectable raw milk cheeses from NOFA-NY board president, Maryrose Livingston and her Northland Sheep Dairy in Marathon.  Both created a buzz with guests, who quickly searched their smart phones to learn that these were foods not typically (if ever) found at grocery stores.

For our main course, Chef Evan Schapp created an array of sides with Sharon’s vegetables, including a velvety potato-leek soup in the French style, a medley of roasted potatoes with foraged white pine needles, and a fermented slaw of baby bok choy.  Alongside was the most amazing corn bread, made with roasted white corn flour from the Iroquois White Corn Project in Farmington and raw honey and certified organic eggs from Browder’s Birds certified organic farm in Mattituck.

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


During the meal we discovered that there is nothing like Hampton tomatoes – and what a treat all the tomatoes were from Board member Phil Barbato’s Biophilia Organic Farm in Jamesport.  We ate beans from the famous Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett,  fresh rosemary from Marion Gardens in East Marion, wheat berries from Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett canned heirloom tomatoes from Sang Lee Farms in Peconic.

[caption id="attachment_357" align="alignleft" width="225"]YUM! YUM!


Browder’s Birds honey also found its way into a signature Finger Lakes Fall dessert – grape pies made with locally raised concord grapes from Naples, NY.  We also had wild apple galettes served with fresh organic cream, along with chocolates and ice cream from Rochester's Hedonist Artisan Ice Cream and Chocolates.

As I explained all about NOFA-NY to my guests, the fragrance, textures, and tastes from so many different farms and regions of our beautiful State wafted around us.  New York State is wooded, grassy, flowery, hilly, flat, rocky, smooth, salty, loamy, sandy, and if there is such a word, “clayey”.   Each of these soils and micro-climates transferred a unique flavor to the food raised upon it.  Some of my guests had never experienced this range of fresh, local organic and sustainably-grown food.   Most had no idea the diversity and flavor available from their neighborhood farmers.

[caption id="attachment_359" align="alignleft" width="225"]Biodynamically grown grapes from Shinn Estate Vineyards Biodynamically grown grapes from Shinn Estate Vineyards


 

The sun set a red cloak over the Bristol Hills, the crescent moon rose up and the stars leapt out.  Somewhere on a distant hill, a small town held a fireworks display.  The food was amazing, fresh, and all local.  The company was wonderful, and we made a number of new friends and some generous donations for NOFA-NY.  Thank you all!

If you, too, would like to donate to NOFA-NY during our Harvest Appeal, please head to our online donations form, or if you have questions, contact Cecilia Bowerman at (585) 271-1979 ext. 512.
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Fungi and Bacteria and Viruses, Oh My!

Maryellen Sheehan, NOFA-NY’s Fruit and Vegetable Coordinator and co-owner of Hartwood Farm in Fenner, NY, shares with us some of her experiences growing organically in 2014, plus invites the organic producer community to learn together on October 21st.

After moving to NY from a high-elevation frost pocket in NH (average 95 days frost-free), I belatedly realized the sole advantage of a super short growing season—frost kills your plants before disease has time to off them!  Switching to farm in the lower Hudson Valley’s vaguely tropical 160 frost-free day season was both amazing (so many new crops to grow!) and educational (twice the warm weather hosts exponentially more insects and disease to kill plants!).

While my inner scientist remains fascinated by finding and identifying all the new plagues offing our plants at Hartwood Farm in Fenner, NY (new this year: Swede midge, bacterial spot, and the undetermined soil funk that melted 3 plantings of lettuce), the market farmer part of me does not enjoy these new discoveries.  The NOFA-NY technical assistance part of me dreads hearing about the challenges faced by some of our members this season, but that part of me is able to take action by planning educational events for growers who, like me, face all sorts of unexpected challenges each year.  At the end of each season, and throughout the winter, we have the opportunity to reflect on the diseases that impacted our community and learn what practices and controls are proving most effective.IMG_5721

We have dedicated researchers and educators committed to helping organic and IPM growers identify their problems and find effective control options.  On Tuesday, October 21st, Cornell’s Chris Smart, Abby Seaman, Meg McGrath, and Sarah Pethybridge will join up to teach organic management for bacterial and fungal pathogens, soil borne disease, and late blight.  It will be a full and informative day with plenty of time to ask questions—we hope to see you there!  There is no other way to get this small-group access to these great (and busy) researchers; at $25 for the full day, including lunch, it’s worth the day off the farm.  Register HERE or read the full workshop description HERE!

Why think about diseases now?  Since organic control options are based on prevention, now is really the best time to plan for potential problems!  In the heat of the summer, most of us won’t have the time to research and shop around frantically for last minute insect and disease controls.  In the mid-winter, a lot of the daily challenges have faded (and some of us even attempt to go on vacation, leaving less time to learn and plan).  During the late winter and spring, growers are busy enough going to conferences and conventions, seeding, planting, and doing a thousand other things, so it can be difficult to think about preventative sprays and staying on top of a disease control program.  It’s easier when you pre-program that into your schedule by planning for it before any of next season’s action.  Variety selection, field layout, and soil amendments all affect your crops as well, and you certainly need to account for all of that before you open those gorgeous seed catalogs in the winter.  Our instructors at both October events are planning to give great information about these strategies, from organically-approved sprays to soil-building for robust plants at our October events.

004For a little teaser about organic disease management concepts, UVM’s Vern Grubinger has a short article that really hits on the key points here: http://www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/factsheets/diseasemanagement.html.  There are often multiple pest, disease and climate-related concerns that confuse and confound farmers.  While a great resource to help learn disease identification is the Vegetable MD website: http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/, I’d still recommend you come to our workshops with any photos, data, or questions about what you experienced this past season.  With many farmers and plant pathologists in one room, we’re bound to learn what’s trending in terms of organic production problems.

Hopefully these resources help you as you get started thinking about next year’s potential crop health challenges, and we hope to see you in Geneva on October 21st!

On October 30th, we’ll tackle many of the same issues, but hone in on some marketing and variety research as well, all related to the diverse and appealing Brassica plant family.
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Fall's Royal Crop: Growing, Selecting and Eating Storage Squash

Erik Fellenz weighs red kuri squashWith names that tend toward the fairy-tale (Cinderella, Moonshine, Black Forest, Hubbard, Carnival) to the exotic (Rouge Vif D'Etampes, Musque de Provence, Kakai, Red Kuri) to the downright confusing (Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, NutterButter, Pink Banana), the thick-skinned storage varieties of the Cucurbitaceae plant family (which also includes summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers, decorative gourds, chayote, and luffa gourds) represent a diverse and flavorful food source for us in the Northeast.  Many of us are accustomed to paying rock-bottom prices for pumpkins and gourds destined only for carving and decoration, and buying canned pumpkin off a grocery store shelf (organic canned pumpkin is available in this day and age, a nice alternative for the non-DIYers among us).  A conventionally-grown or imported pumpkin creates quite a toll on the environment, and builds a perception that all thick-skinned squashes, whether for centerpieces, Jack-o-Lantern carving, or eating, should be a cheap food.  Squash may not be as precious as baby salad greens at the start of the spring, or those heavy 3-lb heirloom tomatoes at summer's peak, but growing flavorful, ripe squash at a small scale, without conventional pesticides and fertilizers, and in our unpredictable climate zone, causes farmers to either take a loss to bring us these colorful fall favorites at our expected price point, or ask a large price for something we've come to expect to be cheap.

While squash indeed grows in our region, and is prized for its nutritious flesh that keeps within a protective shell throughout the winter, our Northeast summers are not ideal for this plant to bear and set fruit.

Challenges and Strategies for Growing Winter Squash:


More days in the field means more potential for pest infestations, disease-producing conditions, weeds taking over, and mammals to munch leaves.

Other crops (including those high-priced greens and tomatoes) can't be grown in a squash field for the whole spring-summer-fall season, an example of an opportunity cost.

Plenty of heat and sun (temperatures in the 80's during the day and 60's at night) are needed for squash to grow well.  With 2014 providing an excellent example, it's clear that our climate doesn’t provide that consistently.  Growers have some management options here, including black plastic, Biotella biodegradable mulch, or dark landscape fabric (all of these help with weed suppression, too), a well-sited field with southern exposure, and starting the plants in a greenhouse or cold frame to have them maturing for more of the hot days of the year.

Squash are susceptible to moisture-borne diseases, namely powdery and downy mildew.  Variety selection and air circulation are key for crops, but no grower is immune to poor weather.  While some growers will provide cucumbers a drier environment in a high tunnel, this is not practical for the area of space and amount of time (again, it's an opportunity cost, this time with expensive infrastructure) the pumpkins and winter squash require.  Disease-tracking reports are available to help growers be aware of the movement of disease via tropical storms.  Yearly crop rotation and proper disposal of infected plants help the chemical-free grower avoid future issues with these diseases.  Organic producers must always be on the preventative side, planning management tactics into their production plans, rather than wait for disease and pest problems that can be killed via non-organic methods.  If you're interested in being such a savvy producer (of more than winter squash), attend the October 21st workshop in Geneva, NY, which will feature a number of experts in organic disease management!

Squashes need lots of soil fertility, so a grower needs to build soil for years prior to a planting of winter squash, and any crop that follows squash should be one that returns nutrients to the soil (like leguminous cover crops), or at least does not require a lot of soil fertility.  This long-term planning, and heavy use of resources outside of the actual growing year for the squash crop, makes the cost of production even higher than most farmers calculate.Joshua Levine (13)

Squash plants are spaced out significantly in the field to allow the roots to soak up nutrition, and the vines spread out to absorb the 3-4 months of sunshine that go into ripening each hefty, colorful, knobbly, lovable fruit.  Weeds can populate the between-vine and between-plant space and cause serious competition.  Cultivation and tillage when the plants are young might be one option for controlling weeds, but hand labor or deciding to not weed are the late-season options for weed control.  Growers use mulch to reduce the areas of the field where weeds can catch sunlight and flourish, and there has been some research into no-till methods of growing squash.  Conventional squash fields can be sprayed with certain herbicides to kill grassy weeds, and organic farmers can't take that option.

Ripe squash fruits are heavy and require lots of labor and proper conditions to move from the field to storage, and from storage to sale.  Fair labor and living wages for farmers and their crew mean that squash harvest is pricey!  Squash must also be "cured" for 7-10 days at 80 to 85 degrees, meaning a grower must hope for late-summer/early fall heat waves or use up high tunnel and greenhouse space for curing.  A good storage facility for long-term storage has temperatures around 50 degrees and 60% relative humidity.  Beyond that, there should be good protection from rodents and the stock should be checked regularly for signs of storage decay, which can spread.

Further resources:



Enjoying and Eating Winter Squash:


pumpkins groupNow that you know the ways that your local farmer is working to bring you these great foods, you're probably in the market for a few good techniques to prepare these squashes.  Some are better for certain applications, and your best bet is to ask a farmer about how watery/dry the flesh is, and how sweet/savory the flavor.

To roast small squash (Delicata, Acorn and Carnival varieties), you can split them stem-to-end, scoop out the flesh, and rub them with just a little fat, salt and seasoning (see below for ideas).  For larger varieties, peel and cut the squash into chunks or slices and massage with the oil and seasoning combination, then bake until tender.  Bake halves on a tray (line with parchment or foil, or just embrace the scrubbing you may need to do later) cut-side down in a 400 degree oven until you can pierce the skin with a fork and find soft flesh underneath.  Make a whole batch of roasted squash, and see all the ways that it can feed you.  Intact but cooked-through and chilled squash pieces even work well in salad, and any amount of cooked flesh can be dumped into simmering broth, then pureed into soup.

The drier fleshed squashes can be sliced very thinly and added to skillet sautees and even stir-fries (make sure they get good browning in a hot pan with oil, and that they cook through).

All squash will steam up nicely, cubed, sliced or chunked.  Keep an eye on it to keep it from disintegrating (use it for soups and better-than-potato mashes if you end up with too-soft pieces).  Pile some cooked beans and salsa atop, dress simply with olive oil, or add to a pasta dish.

A pressure cooker (assuming it's the right size) makes quick work of halves and quarters of squash.  Just 10 minutes atop a steam insert is really all it takes.  Add some strong herbs into the steaming water for a lovely infusion of flavor.

Try these flavor combinations with squash:

  • olive oil, black pepper, garlic paste, and rosemary

  • sesame oil, maple syrup, and miso paste or soy sauce

  • butter, crushed fresh or dry sage, thyme and honey

  • olive or sunflower oil, crushed hot pepper or chile powder, cocoa powder (not cocoa mix), smoked paprika

  • coconut oil and curry powder or garam masala blends of spices

  • "Pumpkin Spice" mixes tend to include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves; they go well with butter

  • finish any of your squash dishes with chopped and toasted nuts or (appropriately) pumpkin seeds or something creamy


Make your own pumpkin puree (via Local Kitchen, the key is straining out lots juice from the cooked flesh, then it will act much like the canned type, but with local flavor!)

Variety guide (Co+Op)

See the ode to winter squash (and all Cucurbitaceae) in Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy.

Tips for cutting the tough and dense raw fruits abound on YouTube: Soften the skin in hot water (Down to Earth Organic & Natural), navigating the butternut shape (Chef Tips), Use the microwave (CHOW)

More fun recipes: Pumpkin Spanikopita (Local Kitchen), Butternut Squash and Kale Beef Stew (Girl Meets Paleo), Red Kuri Creme Fraiche Pie (Co+Op), Roasted Winter Squash Salad (101 Cookbooks)
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Lots of Locavores in the Kitchen

By Tess Gee, Locavore Challenge Intern

Every group of friends has that one thing they all bond over. Maybe it’s a TV show, playing a certain sport, or a favorite band. With my friends, it’s food. Whenever we get together, at one point someone usually asks when the food is either arriving or going to be made. All of us love to cook, and some of us cook for a living, so our meals are never casual and the old saying “too many cooks in the kitchen” takes true form.

Cooking is therapeutic for me; it is similar to watching a seedling grow from start to finish to produce a flower or hearty vegetable. I love the entire process, from buying fresh ingredients to the end result on the kitchen table. And finding a great group of people that have the same ideals feels even better. Making brunch together is one of the best meals I make with my friends. It usually begins with a late, frantic rush to the market on a Saturday or Sunday morning. After we regroup, we all take stock of what we have and start brainstorming our menu. Eggs are always in someone’s bag, along with tons of veggies to add to the beaten eggs for an on-the-fly frittata or crustless quiche. [Editor's suggestion: try this Soft Boiled Egg Breakfast Salad for a new brunch favorite].

eggs

We end up with more fruit than we know what to do with, so a massive fruit salad is ever-present. And someone usually ends up buying some yummy cookies or sweet bread to top it all off. Foraging at the market with a group is beneficial to both sides involved. We get a fresh meal that we can feel good about eating, and our local farming community keeps thriving. It’s a win-win.

Laura Knight (13)Cooking with friends is the highlight of my week. Everyone swaps ideas and techniques, there is laughter, shouting, and side debates about how to cut a mango or the best way to caramelize an onion. Creating a meal from scratch with and for people you care about is one of the most comforting things you can do, and a great way to keep connected to each other. Knowing that we are also involving our community by using fresh ingredients from local farms makes it that much better.

A few more autumn recipes that would feed a crowd:
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Seed Saving Can Save Us All

Last Thursday (9/25/14), our friends at Turtle Tree Seed led a field day of their seed-production farm and seed company based at Camphill Village-Copake.  About 30 individuals contribute to the management of the gardens, the harvesting and processing of mature plants to extract seed, the cleaning and sorting of seed, and the marketing and packaging of the final product.  Many of these individuals are residents of Camphill Village who have developmental disabilities, who have meaningful and fulfilling work thanks to the connection between Biodynamic Agriculture and the Camphill Village philosophy. The growers explained that to grow biodynamic seed, one simply grows the plants biodynamically (and organic seed comes from certified organic farms and plants).  Because of the length of time in the field (seed crops are generally harvested well beyond eating ripeness), any plant grown for seed will face much more disease and pest pressure; this is why organic and biodynamic seed production is so important for environmental health, and why all growers should consider supporting only organic and biodynamic seeds; conventionally-produced seeds have a heavy impact on the environment before they are even planted by a farmer or gardener because pests, disease, weeds and soil fertility can all be managed through chemical methods.  No matter the production philosophy or certification, one needs to isolate plant varieties in time and space if they are a crop that is likely to cross-pollinate (and therefore change the genetics of the seed produced).  Additionally, plants that are grown for seed also need much more room because they will grow much larger.

[caption id="attachment_320" align="aligncenter" width="660"]This is zucchini at a seed-mature stage.  Not exactly eating quality squash any more.  One would scoop out the inner flesh and clean the seeds using water and a scrubbing motion before drying and storing the seeds. This is zucchini at a seed-mature stage. Not exactly eating quality squash any more. One would scoop out the inner flesh and clean the seeds using water and a scrubbing motion before drying and storing the seeds.


The group learned three different seed extraction methods: dry harvest, wet harvest, and fermentation/wet harvest.  Each technique involves taking the plant with fully mature seeds and separating the seeds from the rest of the plant, and cleaning out any immature seeds, making use of seed weight and seed size to help in the separation.  For dry-harvested seeds (where the plant has flowered and created a pod that dries out), one uses significant pressure to crush and break down the pod and plant parts, then winnows with air to separate off lighter-weight plant parts and debris, and finally passes the seed through a set of screens to filter out larger particles and long bits of stem.

[caption id="attachment_319" align="aligncenter" width="660"]Using a fan to winnow lettuce seeds. Using a fan to winnow lettuce seeds. The heavier seeds land in the bin nearer to the fan, and the debris lands in the second.


For wet-harvested seeds (where the plant’s fleshy parts contain the mature seed), one has to open the fruit and remove the flesh and seeds.  In the case of cucumbers and tomatoes, the seeds are left to ferment for several days to break down a protective membrane around the seeds.  The seed saver uses a water winnowing technique for wet-harvested seeds.  Seeds and flesh are placed in a jar or bowl, and water runs on top.  Then water is poured off, and with it goes the non-useable part of the mixture, which floats to the top, and the heavy, mature seeds stay at the bottom.  After water winnowing, the seeds are spread on paper to dry.

[caption id="attachment_315" align="aligncenter" width="660" class=" "]Purple tomatillos after blending. This mixture will be filtered and water-winnowed. Purple tomatillos after blending. This mixture will be filtered and water-winnowed.


[caption id="attachment_316" align="aligncenter" width="660"]Watermelon seeds are extracted by eating and spitting!  This variety is called Cream of Saskatchewan.  Watermelon seeds are extracted by eating and spitting! This variety is called Cream of Saskatchewan.


We learned how variety selection works in root crops, which take two seasons to set seed.  At Turtle Tree, the growers harvest mature (eating-stage) onions, carrots, etc. and sort them based on the varieties’ written descriptions.  The 25% that most exemplify healthy, true-to-type specimens will be grown for seed that becomes the future seed stock on the farm.  This helps ensure a purity in the variety for the long-term.  The middle 50% of the crop will be replanted in the second season, and its seed will become what is harvested for sale through the Turtle Tree Seed Company.  This is still a high-quality and true-to-type seed!  The bottom 25% of the crop (they do not exemplify the variety characteristics as well as the top 75%) is used as food in the community dining hall.  To account for differences in growing conditions, plants are harvested in very small batches and compared within their batch (then added to the graded piles).  That way, the grower can control for the fact that poor soil in that few feet of the garden bed impacted the shape and size of the carrots, for example.

carrot grading buckets poor good select carrot grading 2

While not every one of us will become seed farmers, it's important to support the work of the companies who are preserving the range of plants and subtly-different varieties.  It takes more land and plenty of extra vigilance on the part of the grower, especially if the plants are being grown organically!  Here are a few other seed companies we know and love (and who have taught us about seed farming in the past):

seed grower to do list

Further Resources:
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Discovering Joy, Community, and a Healthier Self through Local Food

Sondra Gjersoe is one of the friendly voices you may hear when you dial our general office line.  She's the Administrative Assistant for NOFA-NY, and when she's not answering general inquiries, she coordinates Sponsorship and Advertising opportunities, the Locavore Challenge, the Farmers Pledge program, the Neighborhood Farm Share program and so much more!  Here's her tale of becoming a Locavore.

About a decade ago, I had a bit of a revelation. I had reached an all-time low, the end of a long term relationship, dissatisfaction in my job, a loss of self-identity and self-worth. I would go to work, come home, shut myself off from the world and sit in front of the computer fiddling around until I was so tired I'd pass out. My sedentary lifestyle took its toll on me physically; I reached my heaviest weight ever, and began to have heart palpitations at work when I was moving quickly. This was different from the Sondra I knew I could be.  I come from a long line of mariners (ask me how to pronounce "Gjersoe" the proper way).  My Scandinavian heritage and childhood upbringing instilled in me a great love for the sea, a frolicsome friend full of joy, laughter and mirth… I go there when I’m happy and my spirit longs to be wild and free.  At that dark time in my life, just like other periods of struggle or quiet reflection, I was longing to feel grounded, longing to be reminded of the roots I had forged in my community and longing to share in the creation of new growth.  I knew I had to be willing--nay, eager--to put forth the effort to make positive changes to improve my health, and the pathway seemed to involve connecting to the earth and growing anew.

I eased into it, did some research on nutrition and started changing my diet, incorporating fresh organic foods rich in vitamins and nutrients that boosted my mental health. I began to visit local farmer’s markets and discovered a rich tapestry of life, a community coming together.

[caption id="attachment_309" align="aligncenter" width="300" class=" "]So much inspiration can come from a box of vibrantly colored "lunchbox" peppers. So much inspiration can come from a box of vibrantly colored "lunchbox" peppers.


I would often strike up conversations with the farmers, learning more about their lives, their passion for farming. There was a sense of coming together and sharing and I found myself filled with inspiration. I started doing things that brought me joy again; cooking new dishes, sewing, yoga, and I bought myself a bike and started cycling.

SondraCycling

The weight flew off, my muscles strengthened, and the feel-good endorphins kicked in.  I was living again, laughing, appreciating the abundance around me. I realized that though the source of the change started within me, I fueled that power to change with healthy, delicious food rooted in a community both vibrant and welcoming.

Stir FrySharing recipes and ideas was important at the start of my locavore journey.  My wok became my best friend as I began to eat more healthy, so I thought I'd link you to a garlic chicken stir-fry recipe.  That said, I don't worry too much over recipes--technique is more important than what can look like lengthy ingredient lists.  [Editor's note: if you want more recipes and technique guidance, Serious Eats will walk you through all the ways to maximize flavor while you choose which local and organic produce and meats to use as the star players].  I prefer to play "mad scientist" with what's available and seeing what I come up with.  It's part of the fun of taking ownership over my healthy lifestyle.
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When Buttercups are Bad: Co-Pasturing Field Day at Wild Geese Farm

Nancy Apolito, our Finance & HR Manager, sends in this report about her recent adventure in Western New York, staffing a field day in Rushford, NY at Wild Geese Farm.  The field day's theme was "Maintaining Pasture Systems to Meet Your Farm Goals."

Lynn and Shawn Bliven pasture feed a herd of cattle, 5 horses, and 25 sheep in addition to housing a dozen chickens.  Lynn Bliven led the field day with a walk through four of the pastures to demonstrate the results of co-pasturing livestock.  Aaron Santangelo from Cornell Cooperative Extension--Allegany & Cattaraugus County provided valuable information regarding pasture plants that are harmful to livestock and the way that these plants propagate.  Farmers who know about the full lifecycle of these invasive can strategically manage their herds on pasture to avoid problems and sometimes alleviate the weed pressure using the animals' inherent capabilities.

[caption id="attachment_293" align="alignleft" width="225"]Bull Thistle Canadian Thistle


[caption id="attachment_294" align="alignleft" width="225"] Bull Thistle


Canadian Thistle and Bull Thistle grow and spread differently.  Bull Thistle needs two years to produce seed--it's less aggressive when its life cycle is disturbed yearly by turning the soil, but it's a problem in pastures since they are not tilled.  Canadian Thistle has underground growth that makes it problematic even in tilled fields.  I found out that even common plants, like buttercup, can be very dangerous to a herd.  Grazing behavior (as in, what to eat) should be taught to animals--they won't know what is poisonous by instinct.  Older animals in the herd or flock can set the right example, and farmers should be careful to watch what the young animals are eating.  Lynn shared that she lost 15 sheep due to their grazing on a plant in the nightshade family.  Even wild rose can cause problems for the smaller animals.

The highlight of the afternoon for me was seeing the sheep and the cattle pasturing in separate areas. Lynn spoke of the differences in the pastures after the different herds have been grazing.  I was amazed at the difference (I don't live on a farm, remember!) between the vegetation in the pastures, which was impacted by the physical size and shape of the different species.  One great way to deter invasive plant species is to allow cattle in to trample the plants down.  The sheep on pasture clip the field down farther than the cows want to and this maximizes the value of each pasture.



The pastures at Wild Geese farm have taken 17 years to reach this point.  Co-pasturing takes organization and each species requires different enclosures and management; Lynn also discussed some common problems with grass fed herds, weaning calves, and establishing healthy environments for many types of animals on a farm.  However, going this route has helped make the pastures more productive and the farm more profitable.

Lynn shared aerial maps and grids that help the farm plan out pasture schedules.  They've also used this tool to carry out a slight re-grading of the landscape and some drainage improvement projects.  This allows for animals to have access to high-quality pasture areas and a water source at all times.  Healthier animals will make for higher-quality meat and better returns for the farm!  My day was rounded out by two Red-Tailed Hawk and one Osprey sighting over the gorgeous landscape.

Further Resources:
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Farmer Voices: Peace & Carrots Farm's Past, Present and Future

By Tess Gee, Locavore Challenge Intern

At Peace and Carrots Farm in Chester, NY, partners Laura Nywening and Jason Uhler exemplify hard work and sustainability in farming. With a growing CSA of 60 members and a burgeoning calendar of farm events, Peace and Carrots is laying a path of successful development for their future.

Laura Nywening wasn’t always planning to be a farmer, but is glad she decided to veer in this direction after graduating from Westfield State University in Massachusetts with a B.A. in History Education. She got a job working for the National Park Service in Virginia post-college, and quickly realized that she wanted to include nature and the outdoors as part of her life’s work. Luckily, Laura comes from three generations of farmers before her, and the transition to farming seemed natural. She grew up on the same land she works now, and her family runs a dairy farm close by. Her partner Jason grew up in the area where his family always had a large kitchen garden. After working a few retail jobs, he realized he would rather be working outside and giving back to the land. He began working at Keith’s Farm in Westtown, NY where he met Laura and eventually partnered up with her to start Peace and Carrots.

So far, Laura and Jason work on the farm together with the help of one part-time employee. A typical harvest day begins at 7 a.m. as they pick crops and start prepping to deliver their produce to Groundwork Hudson Valley out of Yonkers, which bought 30 of their CSA shares this year. There is usually a lot of weeding to be done, as they use hoes instead of machinery. They also pride themselves on preserving their soil as much as possible by not over-tilling the land.

Peace and Carrots Farm currently has a growing variety of crops available to their CSA members and the public. They do not grow sweet corn due to the overwhelming amount of GMO corn fields in the area surrounding the farm. The farm yields leafy greens such as kale and chard, garlic, cabbage, tomatoes, squash and much more throughout the spring, summer and fall. Peace and Carrots CSA members are mostly made up of families or thirty-something’s, and Laura says interacting with members is her favorite aspect of the job. She can put names to faces and has a great level of appreciation for each member. While the CSA shares seem to be the most rewarding part of the job, it does require focus, organization and close attention to detail.

Peaceand Carrots“The easiest part of my job is getting to interact with customers. We have the greatest members, and everybody is so happy with what we have to offer. The hardest part is a combination of planning out the shares for each week and implementing that plan. It is so much out of your control sometimes,” said Laura.

So what is in store for the future of Peace and Carrots? Growth. They are currently raising chickens, but are looking into getting more livestock for the farm in years to come. Laura would also like to boost attendance at farm events. So far she has organized potlucks, a beekeeping workshop, a canning class, and even a photography workshop over the summer. Peace and Carrots is holding their own Harvest Festival on October 18th which will include games, hot cider, live music and hay rides. Laura hopes to gain more ideas for different events to hold at the farm for the near future.

Laura and Jason display physical and mental dedication, stay informed about growing practices and sustainability, and commit to showing a deep respect for the land they work on. They understand that organic farming is important because the land provides us with everything. At Peace and Carrots Farm, the golden rule applies to people as well as the earth.

“I love the land. If I want the land to continue to provide for me I have to treat it well,” says Laura.

Further Reading:
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How a Reformed Tomato Hater Preserves Tomato Bliss

[caption id="attachment_272" align="alignleft" width="225"]BIG Brandywine!  BIG Brandywine!


When I was young I hated tomatoes.  You know the kind I am talking about.  They were packed three to a plastic tray and wrapped in cellophane.  They were pale red on the outside and almost transparent on the inside, and they were hard.  So hard if you threw one at your brother it wouldn’t break open.  It would hurt.

I remember vividly the first time I tasted a real tomato, picked fresh and sun-warmed directly off the sprawling vine that my neighbor was tending among her flowers.  It was a revelation!  A hefty classic beefsteak that, when sliced, was larger than the bread I used to make my sandwich.  It was bright red throughout, juicy and sweet and slightly acidic.  I was hooked.

From cherries to beefsteaks and from red to yellow, purple, orange, and even black, the tastes and varieties of tomatoes available at our local farm stands, farmers markets, and CSAs are astounding and delicious!  As I look at my own garden this year, I am grateful for the farmers and seed savers who have brought back my favorite heirloom varieties that seemed long gone when I was a child.  Who knew tomatoes would become one of my favorite foods?

But here is the problem.  If you are a tomato lover like me, you may have also planted many more tomatoes than you could ever eat.  Even during a harsh growing year like this one and with the late blight finally hitting my plantings, I still have more tomatoes ripening than I can reasonably consume before they go bad.  I can’t stand the thought of wasting a single tomato.  However, the thought of standing over a hot stove, canning or putting up a sauce is well, uninspiring to me!

So here is my solution – slow roasting and freezing

Take any variety and amount of tomatoes you have on hand.  Slice them in halves or quarters if need be, cherries can stay whole.   Put them in a pan, drizzle with good olive oil, add some minced garlic to taste, along with a good grind of sea salt and fresh pepper.    I wait and add herbs later.  Pop the pan in a 300 degree oven for about 2-3 hours, until you see the tomatoes caramelize.  Remove them and when they come to room temperature, pack into the container of your choice and freeze!

Some cold and blustery Friday night in February, when you are settling in for the weekend and in no mood to go out, take this out of the freezer.  It is delicious served with hot fresh pasta, or you can chop it up more finely and use it as a topping on any kind of toasted bread – it makes a great bruschetta or pizza depending on the herbs and other toppings you choose.   Now you can enjoy your fresh local tomatoes all year!

[caption id="attachment_268" align="alignright" width="225"]Roasted Tomatoes with EVOO and Garlic Roasted Tomatoes with EVOO and Garlic
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Wednesday Worksheet #3: Analyzing your Locavore-ability

A throwback to last year's Locavore Challenge Worksheets
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How My Locavore Breakfast Measures Changes in the Local Food System

I eat oatmeal almost every day, with fruit and yogurt.  Eating my breakfast on the second day of Locavore month, I had a moment of realization.  This was locally grown food, and it was not the struggle to source my oatmeal that it was on September 2nd, 2013 (and 2012 or 2011).    In years past, September meant an alternative porridge made from New York cornmeal or buckwheat groats; or cold pre-cooked wheat berries, barley or Freekeh bathed in yogurt and fruit (very cooling during a September heat wave).  Great as those breakfasts could be, I did always miss oats in September; it seemed a weird thing to give up in the spirit of going as local-foods as possible, because I knew oats were and are indeed grown in New York (I was always on the hunt for rolled NY oats in bulk, grabbing them when I could).  It's not as though I was pining for the mangoes and bananas I ate when I lived in the tropics...So, what's changed that's made my breakfast more easy to source locally?  It's not really about a shift in the amount of oats planted in New York (maybe a little shift, but not that much).  Rather, I can pinpoint two important factors, which affect every locavore in some way.

[caption id="attachment_260" align="aligncenter" width="676"]Nectarines thanks to K & S Bischoping Farm in Williamson, NY; Oats grown at Gianforte Farm in Cazenovia, NY; Yogurt cultured in my apartment in Rochester, NY, from cows raised and grazed in East Meredith, NY and bottled by First Light Creamery Nectarines thanks to K & S Bischoping Farm in Williamson, NY; Oats grown at Gianforte Farm in Cazenovia, NY; Yogurt cultured in my apartment in Rochester, NY, from cows raised and grazed in East Meredith, NY and bottled by First Light Creamery

Factor 1.  Value-Added Production.  This is a broad group of processes and actions that turn today's harvest into tomorrow's shelved products.  It could be as simple as labeling and packaging a ready-to-go food, or as complex as a certified commercial scale processing of fruits into jams or milk into aged cheese.  Value-added production allows for farmers to offer more than a raw, fresh product; from the locavore's perspective, value-added processing done by small-scale producers and artisans allows for eaters to have locally grown versions of the foods and products they regularly eat: from syrup to pancake mix, jam to bread, a lot of foods fall into the value-added product category.  These processes allow for products to be sold in a greater range of venues, from farm stands to grocery stores.  Because of value-added processing (specifically, farmers being able to roll the oats, and a local bakery packaging them for sale) I'm able to reliably find bags of organic, New York-grown oats in at least one supermarket in Rochester, NY as well as at several farmers' markets.  My brain is happy because I'm able to reconcile my love of oats with my desire to support local organic farms; my mouth and belly definitely notice a difference in the sweet, fresh flavor of the oats.  This is not a food I just eat during locavore month (which would be something hard to source reliably or economically throughout the year).  This breakfast absolutely has a superior flavor and is now just as convenient for me to source as any alternative.

RFIT_ABCS of preserving2Behind the increased visibility and availability of many foods made with local ingredients, there is a bigger story.  Farmers choose to add value to a raw product, anticipating being able to sell it differently (at a different price, scale, venue or time of year).  Consumers pay a different price for that same amount of good produced at the farm, hence the term value-added, but it's not necessarily easy for a small-scale producer or food artisan to make investments in the technology and marketing effort to get that product made (or simply packaged according to the end sellers' requirements) and sold.  Last week, the USDA released its list of Value-Added Producer Grants for 2014.  I had not paid much attention to this grant in the past, but this year it really hit me because many of the farms I work with (and that NOFA-NY works with) were on the list of recipients.  The USDA funded investments for Ashlee Kleinhammer (North Country Creamery) to quickly label her yogurt containers (a major labor-saver); for hops processing for McCollum orchards (again, ensuring quality and labor efficiency) and to support marketing and processing support for many growers who want to produce and sell hard cider from their New York fruit.  This grant will boost producers across the US so they can sell more than a raw product, and put that product into markets that normally could not or would not accept a raw product.  Even without a grant, producers seek ways to add value to their raw products, giving those farmers sales opportunities beyond the growing/producing season, sometimes beyond the farmstand, and sometimes beyond a one-on-one relationship with a customer (which happens to be Factor 2 below).  They are able to use beautiful, descriptive labels to tell the story of their farm from shelves of an independent cheese shop or natural food store and reach customers who are quick to gravitate to a highly flavorful, thoughtfully crafted food or ingredient to include in their meals.

Factor 2. Direct Marketing.  Direct marketing and distribution opportunities bring farmers and their customers in direct contact, without many of the traditional buyers, brokers and sellers involved in large-scale movement of food from farm to tables.  Examples of direct marketing are Community-Supported Agriculture, farm stands (wherein the products sold at the stand are the farmer's own), and farmers' markets.  The direct marketing option often (not always) allows for the local eater to get to know farmers, to tell them what they're looking for, to hear what's going on at the farm, and put a face and a story behind the food on the table at home.  Extremely important to both producer and consumer, direct marketing ensures that the most possible money is going to the farmers because the food hasn't been bought and re-sold by a number of middlemen.

garlic_DavidTuran_AtTheMarketThis direct from farm to consumer marketing works for farmers at a certain scale, but isn't the only way that farmers choose to make their living (in other words, don't read this as a directive to never buy local products sold outside of direct marketing channels).  While value-added can open up opportunities for farmers to reach consumers indirectly, direct marketing benefits farmers and consumers to similar heights; case in point: the fruit and yogurt on my oatmeal.  In my own fortunate situation of living in Finger Lakes/Western New York, there is never a week I'm without local fruit.  True, about half the year it's apples and whatever fruits I froze or dried from the summer (I admit to eating out-of-location bananas and mangoes during the winter).  I am buying those apples from farmers during the winter, thanks to recently-established winter producers' markets; I could go on for hours debating my favorite summer fruits, so ripe and tender because having traveled only a short distance from farm to the market, and I'm pretty sure the farmers near me used to think I was feeding a family of four on the amount I would purchase (nope, just me).  The milk that I turn into yogurt is available at farmers' markets, too, though I have pre-paid the farmers who own the pasteurization and bottling facility (again, value-added products) for a weekly half gallon of cream-top grassfed milk along the lines of a vegetable Community Supported Agriculture share.  In short, I invest up front and hope for all to go as planned, but understand that product loss might happen and I'm not getting a refund in exchange for the fact that the farmer continues to farm.  I'm putting my grocery money directly to the farmers in these instances, receiving satisfaction and major flavor rewards.  This is not a challenge for me in the sense that I have to make myself do this.  It happens year-round, thanks to the people who recruit producers to sell directly to consumers.  Have you thanked your farmers' market manager lately?  Put that on your to-do list (I just did).

Direct buying is an alternative grocery shopping option.  For example, I could buy yogurt under the label of Ithaca Milk Company, Maple Hill Creamery, Evans Farmhouse Creamery (also recipients of a Value-Added Producer Grant), or several other creameries that stock the shelves at stores in Rochester.  I'm fortunate that these brands were created, turning hormone-free, often grassfed milk into yogurt which I can reliably find and providing dairy farmers a way to transform their raw product for slightly longer shelf life and higher value.  Yet, I love to get my half gallon of creamy Jersey Cow milk from First Light Farm & Creamery (I'm one of the customers who "asked for it for years" thanks to regularly seeing the farmers at weekly markets) and devote part of it to yogurt and part of it to some other delicious cause (lately, that has been sherbet and ice cream).  Since I'm not allowed to keep a cow in Rochester, I'm glad that direct marketing (and in a pinch, local grocery stores partnering with farms) provides multiple chances for me to secure a half gallon of top-quality organic milk.

Farmers' markets have rapidly increased in number, and many have increased in size/diversity of products, over the past few years.  Grants and incentives now make it possible for farmers to accept EBT (SNAP, WIC and other benefits programs) in New York, meaning that those beneficiaries can get to know farmers and flavorful foods.  CSA is an increasingly popular way for farmers to distribute their produce, with a rise in participation of local organizations and partnerships that help bridge the price for lower-income consumers.  Farmers receive their asking price, and customers enjoy quality, seasonal foods.

Yes, this whole blog entry started in a revelation that came to me over sleepy bowl of post-long-weekend breakfast porridge.  A lot has changed since my first official locavore challenge (though I'd been a local eater for years prior, my first challenge caused me to examine what more I could be doing as a locavore).  Locavores, what's changed for you since you first discovered local eating?  Was it yesterday, last week, or last year?  Let's all take our moments this month stop and enjoy the positive trends in our local food culture, and get out there and keep supporting the diverse and growing options for local food enjoyment!

Further reading:

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Being a Locavore, because I Can't NOT be a Locavore

Our Locavore Challenge starts tomorrow, September 1st!  We invited our Locavore Challenge intern, Tess, to write a post about what that word, "locavore," meant to her.  Here's her great response.

When I was asked what being a “locavore” meant to me, the first thing that came to mind was spending summer vacations at home with my mom and little sister. My mom was prepping us to be locavores without us even being aware with her close attention to (or what we thought was an obsession, at the time) what foods were in season during the summer months and beyond. Strawberries, cantaloupe and black cherries were always a part of our breakfast and mid-morning snack breaks between playing in our infamous dirt pile. Corn on the cob was a staple of our nightly dinners around the picnic table in our backyard. Eating asparagus past June was a no-no (which was fine with me, as I hadn’t developed a taste for it yet). To this day, my mom almost never buys produce out of season due to her old adage of it “just not tasting right”.fresh rasberries

Now that I am older and a little bit wiser when it comes to shopping for produce, I totally understand why my mom was so adamant about only buying produce in season. There is something about picking a strawberry fresh off the vine in the beginning of the summer that just doesn’t compare to buying them from the grocery store in the off season, after it has probably traveled thousands of miles from its original patch. Besides the great taste, the other big motivation for me to embrace my inner locavore is knowing that I am supporting local farmers and my community in more ways than one. I grew up in the country, and the thought of giving a boost to my local economy and reducing pollution in any way I can is comforting. It just makes more sense to me – we live in a world where big corporations seem to cast a looming shadow over local farms and small communities, so each time I buy something fresh from a farmer in my hometown; it really does make me feel better about myself and my community. How could it not? I realize that at this point in my life, I can’t really imagine shopping or cooking any other way when it comes to my produce.

[caption id="attachment_248" align="aligncenter" width="660"]Can you guess what month this photo was taken?  Hint: everything was harvested at the same time, in Rochester, NY. Can you guess what month this photo was taken? Hint: everything was harvested at the same time, in Rochester, NY.


That’s why I’m excited to see how many other people get motivated to go locavore during NOFA-NY’s Locavore Challenge in September. I’m glad I got to grow up with a locavore of my own. Thanks mom!
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When Worlds Colllide: Your Health and (Mis) Use of Antibiotics in Livestock

[caption id="attachment_245" align="alignleft" width="225"]Pastured dairy cow raised antibiotic-free Pastured dairy cow raised antibiotic-free


As many of you know, in May of this year I transcended a 30+ year career in health care to join the organic and sustainable food and farming movement as Executive Director of NOFA-NY.  During my decades in health care, misuse and overuse of antibiotics was a major public health issue, an area of significant focus and concern for those of us who saw firsthand how overuse and improper use of antibiotics to treat human illness was having a horrible and unintended consequence on our health.  New breeds of antibiotic resistant and sometimes deadly “super bugs”  such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) were becoming prevalent in hospitals and spreading in the wider community.   It is horrible to watch someone contract an antibiotic-resistant illness suffer such health consequences.  More than 2 million people in the United States suffer from antibiotic-resistant diseases every year, and more than 20,000 die from them annually.  The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have taken this seriously and for years have included consumer and provider education regarding antibiotic use on their website.   The problem is not small, and despite the best efforts of many health care professionals, public health officials, and consumers, it continues to grow.

When I started my job with NOFA-NY, I thought I was leaving behind the public health impacts of antibiotics.  I avoid antibiotics when possible and use them responsibly when required.  I eat mainly vegetarian, and when I do eat meat or dairy I ensure that it's at least antibiotic free, if not certified organic (which means no antibiotics have been used).  Krys Cail’s article in the Fall 2014 Issue of NOFA-NYs  New York Organic News surprised even me, a veteran of the healthcare industry and a self-proclaimed responsible eater!  I was shocked to learn that the use of antibiotics in livestock (even that which I choose not to eat) is potentially affecting my health and your health, too.   A whopping  80% of antibiotic drugs, by weight, are used in the livestock industry!  The driving force behind this high use of antibiotics in conventional agriculture is the practice of feeding livestock low doses of antibiotics routinely in order to prevent illness in crowded living conditions and to promote growth.  In her article titled, “Foolish Practice,” Krys Cail, an agricultural development consultant and active member of NOFA-NY’s policy committee, describes the current issues and impacts of antibiotics in conventional agriculture and the health consequences this can have for all of us – even those of us who are vegetarians or who eat organic, antibiotic-free meat and dairy whenever possible.

Not one to take this lightly, I went to the health care providers' “bible” – back to the CDC website.  There I found a strong alarm:
Antibiotics must be used judiciously in humans and animals because both uses contribute to the emergence, persistence, and spread of resistant bacteria. Resistant bacteria in food-producing animals are of particular concern. Food animals serve as a reservoir of resistant pathogens and resistance mechanisms that can directly or indirectly result in antibiotic resistant infections in humans.”

“Scientists around the world have provided strong evidence that antibiotic use in food-producing animals can have a negative impact on public health.”

In fact, a 2013 study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine found conclusive evidence that a person’s risk of contracting MRSA is significantly higher if he or she lives near a conventional hog farm or near a field fertilized with manure from a conventional hog farm.  This is just one of many examples of how the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock impacts public health.

100_0399We know that all farmers, both conventional and those who practice organic and sustainable methods, want to produce healthy, good food.  Many conventional farmers who feed antibiotics routinely to their animals would prefer to stop doing so.  However, until the practice is banned, market competition acts as enough pressure to force these farmers to feed antibiotics routinely to prevent illness and encourage animal growth in line with their peers' production.  This is not about hurting or blaming farmers.   It is not about appropriate use of antibiotics to treat illness.  It is about preventing mis-use and overuse of antibiotics in animals as well as people for the health and well-being of both.   If you would like to take action on this issue, you can check out Food & Water Watch’s campaign.

 
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Surprising Sweet Corn - Fresh Today, Frozen Tomorrow!

[caption id="attachment_219" align="alignleft" width="225"]Corn from Maple Slope Farm August 2014 Fresh Corn from Maple Slope Farm


Sweet Corn!  We hope for it to be knee high by the 4th of July, but it's now tall and tasseled and ripe for the picking and enjoying, be it steamed, grilled, roasted or raw.  There is no bad way to eat fresh picked sweet corn.   There is no such thing as too much sweet corn.  There is only sadness when sweet corn season ends.  Well, I have found a way to enjoy the late summer taste of sweet corn all year round, and you can too.

Fresh sweet corn is very easy to freeze, and this is the time of year when I buy in bulk to assure my winter supply.  Just shuck the corn, remove the silk, and scrape the kernels off the cob using a sharp knife.  Put the kernels (along with any "milk")  into the freezer container of your choice - I like to use 1 quart sized freezer bags, and I put the kernels from 2 ears in each bag.  Then just pop the containers into the freezer, and you are done!  When the dark winter hits, you can use the frozen corn in any recipe that calls for corn - and it almost as good as fresh summer corn when simply steamed and served with some butter, salt and pepper.  It is like summer in a bowl for sure!

One of my favorite and most surprising recipes for fresh or frozen sweet corn is Sweet Corn and Herbes De Provence Risotto, a recipe from chef Cat Cora that I found on the Food Network website.  There is something very soothing about the process of making risotto, even for a marginal cook such as myself.   Anyone can stir a pot, after all!  It can be made using either the chicken broth as in the recipe, or you can use vegetable stock or even plain water if you prefer.  It requires a handful of ingredients that are easy to keep on hand (or substitute with local versions--a dry NY white wine, a hard sheep's milk cheese from one of our awesome farmers) and is delicious with either fresh or frozen corn.  This dish is particularly wonderful with a side of a lightly steamed, bitter greens like Swiss chard, spinach, or beet greens, which really compliment the sweet "pop" of the corn and the flowery notes of the Herbes de Provence.  Leftovers also freeze well!

For many more tips and ideas for freezing your produce, see our earlier post on this very topic.

 

 
 

 

 
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Don't (just) let your children grow up to be farmers.

It took me about a week to sit down to read the heavily-circulated New York Times Opinion piece by a Long Island farmer named Bren Smith, entitled "Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers."  I read many social media reactions and thought about what that title could possibly mean.  Farmers and farm supporters were not across-the-board siding with or against the opinions in the piece, so I was glad when someone handed me an actual paper copy of the piece.  I could mark it up, and read it undistracted by the many tasks of my job as Chief of Letting Children Be Farmers (also known as Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator).  I had been occupied each day of the week planning educational opportunities so more farmers would learn to be strong business owners, and contacting leaders of the current new farmer community with information they'd requested to further strengthen their skills as meat, vegetable, medicinal herb and dairy farmers.  I was not sure what I'd end up writing, but I wanted to highlight a few points of the article from my perspective of working nearly 4 years on this singular goal of getting more people to be on the path towards farming success (as they define it).  I'm leaving it a little raw and unedited, so forgive the stream of consciousness.  This is merely a blog post, after all, not a letter to the editor (many have been written in the past week).

First, that title.  Oh, that title.  As a lover of words and debate, I love the title.  It sparks interest, engages the reader to read more, and is subject to interpretation.  I actually agree with one interpretation.  I say, of course we shouldn't let children grow up to be farmers.  We don't merely let a child become a doctor, a lawyer, an electrician, an astronaut or a senator.  We nurture them.  Thus, we should HELP our children LEARN to be farmers if we want to eat.  A farmer who came from a family of farmers did so through an intention by the family.  If I (and many of my colleagues in the farm-education world) had my way, each family would spend a decade training the next generation in farm business management and allow the next generation time to explore farming practices away from the family farm.  We call this "Farm Succession Planning" and there are organizations and training programs for farmers on this topic.  Transfer of assets can happen over the course of a year, or through a signed legal document, but it's generally agreed that there is indeed work to be done to keep family farms going, and that work is in transfer of management.  So, family farmers, don't just let your children take over your established farm.  Teach them, guide them, encourage them to reach their potential as your farm's next great leader and business owner.  Allow them to have major setbacks, absorb their costs of learning, and incubate them before the risk is entirely theirs.  The older generation can retire, and the younger can run the farm with a solid grounding in the history of the farm's management and decision-making process, but with a new perspective for modern marketing and methods as well.

Farming is a career choice, and a viable one.  It is no accident. The majority of the aspiring and beginning farmers I work with are not family farmers.  They want to farm, and have chosen it.  I believe we can call our farmers as trained and professional as anyone else with a prefix or a suffix.  Shouldn't we call them Farmer ____ as we'd call a priest Rev. _____?  Or, shouldn't they sign their names, Mr. _____, Farmer as we'd call someone Mr. _______, Esq?

Many come to farm after other careers, or after an education in a different field. and so they come to it intentionally, planning to farm for some reason.  More often than not, I hear that my generation (I'm 29, college-educated and a returned Peace Corps Volunteer) wants work that allows them to add value to the world around them.  They want to improve a situation for others and live simply but healthily, and see farming (as well as craftsmenship and culinary trades) as a means to those goals.  Who are we to stop this group?  I'll mention that we can't be stopped, so why not join in supporting us?  Some will farm for a long time and see success in those goals.  To help, we (meaning the world of farmers, family members, supporters, politicians and advocates) must not let them slide into farm business ownership or management casually, without acknowledgment, without helping them find an education in production, business, marketing and self-care.  We must give them the chance to dabble and experience farming by providing healthy, safe, respected and affordable options for practical and academic education.  There are excellent farms that teach their motivated employees more than just the daily tasks that must be accomplished; these training farms provide an immersive experience so that aspiring farmers learn to make decisions about production, purchases, marketing and labor management.  There are "incubator farms" sprouting up that allow new farmers the opportunity to test their production and marketing skills in a somewhat risk-protected environment; equipment may be shared, land is available, and the farmer can make sales, invest in smaller purchases that can be taken with them, and grow their earnings before moving to independent farm ownership.  There are countless farmers who educate new farmers over the phone, through online forums, through consultation services and through mentorship programs.  This is the right way for our community of farmers to grow.  No mentor is about to give an unrealistic perspective on the realities of farming.  They have told me, time and time again, they don't want the next generation to repeat mistakes.  They want farming to continue into the future.

[caption id="attachment_222" align="alignleft" width="660"]Farmer mentorship in the field. Farmer mentorship in the field.


We need more farms who don't let "children" (which I use to mean "aspiring farmers" to reflect on the article's title) grow up to become farmers.  We need more farms who enable children to learn to farm.  There can be more of these farms if we embrace the concept of training farmers in a professional manner.  Many of these "children" will decide farming is not their passion, as it is a hard and unpredictable life.  Given the right opportunity to test their interest, aspiring farmers can self-sort into the producers-for-life and the farm-supporters-for-life.  Increasingly, there are farm training programs which a family can encourage their high school senior to seek out and apply for.  The Sustainable Agriculture Education Association compiles a list of degree and non-degree programs that teach production and business, often rounding that degree out with an education in food justice or rural development issues and economics.  When the author of last week's article talks about organizations and supporters, who better to grease those wheels and get farmers' ideas moving than those who have tried out farming or who have studied it in a focused way?  I'll count myself in that group.  I hold a B.S. in Plant Sciences from Cornell University (I focused heavily on sustainable agriculture and rural development issues), I have farmed and may farm again one day.   For now I'm involved in helping many many aspiring and new farmers get the education they need.  I refuse to let them grow up to become farmers.  I will fight so that anyone who might become a successful life-long farmer knows exactly their career pathway to that end, and that they are neither discouraged by their community nor underprepared for the challenges ahead.

We must not look the other way, lest aspiring farmers be fooled into thinking that farming is not a serious career and a serious decision.  Worse yet, if organizations do not intervene, our promising aspiring farmers and children may fail to find the right education or support program (government or otherwise) to catalyze their success.  To this end, I was confused by Farmer Smith's words that farmers must start organizations to get what they want, and that their stories must be told.  Farmers must make use of organizations and support and tell them how more they can help.  These organizations are eligible for grants for which farmers are not eligible, in many cases.  They can do the work that can't be done by farmers who want to be in the fields, producing food and selling it and enjoying the lifestyle they have knowingly, willingly, eagerly entered.  There are organizations, from the National Young Farmers' Coalition to The Greenhorns to Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) to the one I work for, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) that are there to help farmers find their community, to organize, and to come out a step ahead.  National Young Farmers' Coalition runs an excellent blog, called Bootstrap, which follows several young farmers per year on their journey.  Those are real stories.  The Greenhorns is involved in everything from storytelling to compiling best practices into fresh, readable and useful literature on topics such as cooperative farming models to land access success stories.  These organizations regularly and reliably connect with farmers to enact policy change.  NOFA-NY also lobbies and supports policy that affects farmers.  Based on members' positions, we take on a few policy initiatives each year, inviting all in our community to participate in political action on legislation that affects small-scale organic and sustainable farmers.  Moreover, we organize on-the-ground education and networking opportunities for farmers on topics ranging from organic fruit pest control to scaling up equipment to meet the farm's ultimate vision for size and sales.  Research organizations like SARE provide grants for farmers to try innovative practices and guide research with university personnel, and share their findings with their community.  This research often has a bottom-line-assessment component, asking questions such as whether a certain labor-intensive practice impacts volume of production enough to change the farm's profit/loss numbers for the better.

[caption id="attachment_223" align="alignleft" width="660"]Farmers teaching each other, in community, about business practices. Farmers teaching each other, in community, about business practices.


Reflecting back on the whole article (as I've mostly just reflected on the title and a few points that really struck me), I see that the abrasive title doesn't exactly match the content of the piece.  It catches the attention, but when I read on, Farmer Smith and I certainly agree that more must be done to help farmers find success, especially when it comes to sales, marketing and policy.  I think the title of the article might be better with a few more words.  "Don't Just Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers: Find a Way to Help Them!"

Further Reading (Farmer Blogs):

Jenna of Cold Antler Farm reacts to "Don't Let..."

Letters to the Editor in response to "Don't Let..."
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