NOFA-NY Blog

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What's New at NOFA-NY

Here at NOFA-NY, we are always looking for new ways to serve our members, as well as to bring farmer and consumer together. That’s why we have an exciting new membership benefit: an online events calendar

 We often get requests from our members to publicize events for their farms and organizations. Well, now we can! By simply e-mailing event details to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., members will know that their event will be viewable to nofany.org’s large readership. 

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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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Bread, from Wheat Field to Millstone to Our Bellies

Group behind wheat and weeds3
Last Wednesday, we had a farmer-education event* all about growing grains that are good enough quality for milling into flour for human food.  This is the holy grail of grain-growing, and an important topic for newer grain growers.  Elizabeth Dyck from OGRIN (an excellent, thorough teacher) joined farmer Ashley Loehr at her Sparrowbush Farm on a clear, sunny day in Hudson, NY.  Our own Robert Perry, Grain and Field Crops Coordinator, joined in the processing discussion, showing the components of our mobile grain processing unit that small-scale growers can use.  (The unit is currently parked in the Hudson Valley to support the network of small-scale grain growers involved in our Value-Added Grains Project).

Over 25 farmers (and a few bakers and extension agents) attended to learn about the impacts on quality that various factors can have.  We learned about wheat and grain varieties, crop management, weather, disease as they relate to the milling quality.  For instance, a weedy field means that grains are harder to harvest and mill because the weeds clog the equipment, or weed seeds "contaminate" the pure grain.  Planting dates, weather, cover-cropping practices and mechanical tillage all impact weed pressure--so, a farmer can be doing plenty of the right things and still find themselves with a weedy wheat field.

Grains are scored for quality by a processing facility, but a grower will have a sense of the grain's final destination (human food/milling, distilling, animal feed) based on:

  • The amount of weed pressure observed in the field: weeds can be separated out, but through extra processing and care;

    [caption id="attachment_91" align="aligncenter" width="676"]Red Fife weeds and clover Though farmer Ashley has done everything right, the ragweed and lambsquarters have outcompeted her underseeded cover crop of clover.

  • The weather: warm, moist weather during grain flowering can lead to diseases like Wheat Scab (Fusarium graminaearum) which at a certain level causes the grain to be considered unfit for human consumption.

  • The weather, again: humidity and wet weather leads to other diseases which reduce a crop's eventual development into full, heavy grains.  So the amount that the farmer harvests and sells is less than they'd anticipate in a disease-free situation.

    [caption id="attachment_96" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Elizabeth Dyck with discolored and smutty Red Fife wheat Elizabeth Dyck shows a Red Fife wheat stalk with a few disease issues (note the discolored leaves and black grains)


    Harvest and post-harvest conditions:  Even out of the field, a farmer needs to ensure that the grain stay (or become) dry to at most 12% moisture.  There are machines and methods for this, and it's so important!  A perfect crop can be ruined for human consumption if left too moist during storage.


[caption id="attachment_104" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Ashley Loehr in wheat Ashley Loehr, who farms a lot of vegetables and is making use of her land to grow these amazing grains, too!


So, a grain farmer takes those things into consideration.  An organic grain farmer can't rely on the arsenal of chemicals that a non-organic farmer would use for weed pressure and disease control, so their best practices include crop rotation, using very clean (weed-free, disease-free) seed from reputable sources, and a lot of good timing for everything from planting (to let the crops establish during the right time of year) to harvest (when the grain is ripe and the weather is dry).

A harvested batch of grain has its berries separated from the stalks, and then sent to be processed.   Grains are tested for:

  • Moisture content: for storage quality and as a preliminary measurement of quality

    [caption id="attachment_103" align="alignleft" width="225"]Frederick wheat Frederick wheat: a lower-protein variety that makes a great "all-purpose" flour.

  • Test weight: a high weight-to-volume ratio indicates high quality and full grain development

  • Protein content: while not the only factor a baker needs to know, protein content largely dictates what type of flour--pastry, all-purpose, "bread"--a flour is considered.  Milled grains are often blended for a consistent protein content under a brand or label)

  • "Falling weight": important measurement of how much pre-sprouting activity has happened (and therefore how much enzymatic activity has happened prior to processing).  Too much enzyme activity means that the grain will create a sticky dough, or in the case of malted grains, won't germinate at a good rate to create the desired result.

  • Vomitoxin: amount of a particular contaminant; vomitoxin causes sickness, so the threshold for it is very low; disease and storage conditions affect this level.  NOTE: no grain is sold for human consumption if it exceeds the threshold; it may be re-purposed for animal feed or distilling.


Then we ate bread and had a discussion about the benefit of direct marketing.  For a small-scale grower, the ability to add value to the grain by milling it, working with a baker and offering bread to customers, or another arrangement, means that the effort is financially rewarded.  That's why small-scale processing infrastructure is so key--growers need to be able to test and mill their grain locally and control what happens to their grain.  From the perspective of a baker, locally farmed grains offer the chance to elevate the flavor of baked goods, and developing a relationship with grain farmers might even result in custom-grown varieties.  Antoine Guerlain was the day's resident baker (he bakes loaves with local wheat for Camphill Community--Copake) and he did an excellent job advocating for working with grains and flours because of their interesting "personalities."  He had baked a variety of loaves, using a consistent formula (except for the 100% rye breads) to showcase the qualities that can be coaxed from different grains.  There were even differences between two strains of ancient wheat--Arapaho and Banatka.

Banatka wheat bread2Arapaho wheat bread1Spontaneous levain2Roggenvollkornbrot3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources:

Wheat Quality Indicators Fact Sheet by Elizabeth Dyck

Equipment Sources in the Northeast

The Wheat Flour Book

Bread Baking Classes at Wide Awake Bakery (Trumansburg, NY): Instructors provide a day of instruction, focusing on understanding the variability and interesting qualities of local, freshly-ground grains

*Our in-field farmer education events are called Field Days.  Check out all the NOFA-NY Field Days listings
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