Thor Oechsner: Connecting Farmer to Baker
by Jennifer Lapidus, CFSA’s Infrastructure Research Coordinator
We, here at CFSA, are very excited to be bringing in Thor Oechsner of Oechsner Farms to keynote this year’s Organic Commodity and Livestock Conference, taking place in Rocky Mount on February 15th (with on-farm workshops Feb 14). Thor’s farming operation, located in Newfield, New York, encompasses close to 1,000 mostly leased, certified organic acres (more than twenty fields within a twenty mile radius ranging in size from 8-148 acres). He has a thriving grain and cover crop production with corn for feed and food grade; wheat for milling– both bread and pastry (hard and soft) — and distilling; oats for feed and seed; rye for flour and seed; buckwheat for flour and seed; red clover for soil building and seed; a handful of heritage grains for niche markets; plus grass hay and straw. Thor is also founding partner in both Farmer Ground Flour, LLC, and Wide Awake Bakery, closing the gap between farmer, miller, and baker (and inspiring us down here at Carolina Ground Flour Mill. And yes, Farmer Ground Mill inspired the name Carolina Ground).
I first met Thor on his farm. With funding from Organic Valley, which allowed me to visit farms within the Carolinas, as well as get outside our region to do-on-the-ground research and networking, I landed in Newfield, NY. It was the summer before last and instilled in my memory of that first meeting was that the apprehension I often feel when approaching a farmer on his farm–because I am asking a farmer for his time, and there’s never enough time in the day. My fear was immediately expelled by Thor’s warm welcome. This was once he emerged from under the immense Deutz-Fahr tractor he was repairing. Hands covered in grease, he re-surfaced with a bright smile and an offer to provide a tour of his operation.
We began with his newly acquired (used) Crippen S-54 four screen seed cleaner. The towering machine resembles a legless All Terrain Armored Transport, Star Wars, Circa: the Battle of Hoth. The Crippen was not yet fully set up, and he pointed to his Sidney 123 BE 3-screen cleaner, which is what they were currently using to clean grain and seed at two-tons an hour. The Crippen can clean six tons an hour.
He then guided the way to his grain bins– 11 bins lined up, ranging in size from 1,500 bushel capacity to 13,000. I wanted to know how he managed to acquire such a fleet. He said he bought the first couple bins used and cheap, but the energy and time spent setting them up convinced him of the value of low- interest loans and new bins, and so the other nine bins were purchased through FHA loans.
Next, we were on to the combines– a John Deer 9500 with a 15ft head, and a Gleaner S-3.
Having launched the North Carolina Organic Bread Flour Project with the simple, naive notion that the Carolina farmer and Carolina baker should be doing business together, only to be faced with the towering obstacle of rebuilding infrastructure, Thor’s set-up had me feeling like a kid in a candy store. The answer to my looming question, “How did you get here?” was simple: one step at a time and lots of resourcefulness. And not so simple– the ongoing challenge of working with diverse markets and diverse rotations. And then there’s infrastructural upkeep. Thor worked as farm equipment mechanic out of college, and later ran an Audi/VW repair shop. He also taught diesel mechanics at the local community college until he made enough money to take on farming full-time in 2003. And so he has the skills. And I suspect, most importantly, it all works because he loves to farm and he’s having fun doing it.
An Interview with Michael Phillips, author of The Holistic Orchard and The Apple Grower
Editor’s Note: Michael is making a rare appearance in the Carolinas at this year’s Sustainable Ag. Conference happening Oct. 26-28 in Greenville, SC. There are still a few seats available for a full day workshop on Holistic Orchard Applications taught by Michael! http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/sac/
CFSA: We usually hear the word “holistic” used in connection with alternative health or wellness. What does it mean in the context of growing orchard fruit? For instance, how is “holistic” fruit growing different from “organic” fruit growing?
Michael: Working with nutrition allows body systems the right resources to heal from within. Add the ecosystem component and all sorts of natural advantage can be provided for fruiting plants. Good organic growers have always known this. Yet those intentions of ‘never using chemicals’ doesn’t quite break from the notion of addressing disease pressures solely by toxic means. And thus organically-approved mineral fungicides like sulfur and copper are often used to excess to counter disease. The holistic grower knows that tree immune function and competitive colonization can be reinforced to defeat disease from within. Similar choices on this allopathic/holistic divide speak to how we deal with insect pests. It’s simply so much more fun to choose the healthy route.
CFSA: Most orchardists try to limit their chemical spraying, for both environmental and cost reasons. But in this book you actually promote biological sprays. Can you explain what these “good sprays” are and how they benefit the orchard ecosystem?
Michael: The holistic spray program is totally about deep nutrition and competitive colonization. The spring applications straddle the primary infection period of many diseases and therefore are necessary universally. Dealing with summer rots and sooty blotch is where the fermented herbal teas fit in. Basically, the phytochemical immune response is that much stronger in a robust fruit tree. Couple that with biological reinforcement on the leaf and fruit surface. . . and scab spores and blight bacteria will find “no room at the inn” to establish diseases. I look at this as our part of the stewardship pact with the trees by which we grow healthy fruit despite the vagaries of the season.
CFSA: You mention “community orchards” throughout the book. Could you describe what that means in practical terms of orchard size and marketing? Is it similar to the concept of Community Supported Agriculture? And can you make a profit selling fruit locally?
Michael: I hold to the creed that our culture needs to grow food in all the places that we live to the extent that we can. Growers have too long been daunted by not having the ideal site. . . which seems to suggest that much of our fruit should come from the east side of the Cascade Mountains in Washington and Oregon. What I see is serious home orchardists excited to plant more than the family needs. This in turn leads to selling fruit at market or creating a fruit share component for local CSAs. All such efforts are community orchards. The emphasis is now on tree-ripened fruit grown in a living soil. . . and the taste benefits of that simply can’t be brought in from afar. A community orchard can be anywhere from 20 productive trees to several acres in size to up to 10 acres. Pricing needs to account for all the labor involved but more and more, people are willing to pay this as they understand that nutrient density in our food matters. And that’s why ‘fresh and local’ tastes so extremely good!
CFSA: As a group, do you think insect pests or diseases pose a greater challenge to the person who wants to create a holistic orchard?
Michael: Insects are definitely easier to get a handle on. All sorts of biodiversity in the surrounding ecosystem helps tremendously here. Plus we have some very effective options in our organic tool box to nudge things back to balance. Disease on the other hand starts off as an unseen force of spores and bacteria. Growers are often not quite as far along on their learning curve to grasp that certain things need to be done at very prescribed times in the growing season. And it’s such a long season. . . giving various afflictions more than enough time to gain a foothold. And the weather is always different every year. All this makes dealing with disease the bigger challenge no matter what your approach.
CFSA: There’s a lot of information in your book on “understory” planting of herbs and flowers, like comfrey and sweet cicely. What kinds of benefits do these companion plants provide for fruit trees?
Permaculture people speak about dynamic accumulator and beneficial accumulator plants. The first group includes tap-rooted herbs like comfrey that draw minerals up from the subsoil to replenish the nutrient profile of the topsoil. That’s a boon for tree feeder roots. The second group of flowering plants serves as adult habitat for beneficial insects. Such as the tiny parasitic wasps and syphid flies whose larvae consume foliar pests. Plants like Sweet Cicely and Queen Anne’s Lace are nectary sources for the adults. . . which are thus on hand to find moth larvae and aphids and the like for their own young.
CFSA: So much of the orchard’s “business” seems to take place either underground or up in the tree canopy, often at a microscopic level that we humans can’t even see. How do we begin to change our perception of what’s really happening in our orchard, and how can we turn that knowledge to our advantage?
Michael: I love the electron microscopy shown in Holistic Orchard. The first image shows the cellular surface of a tree leaf. The next zooms in to show the microbe colonization on a single leaf cell. Just imagine being a disease spore landing in the midst of all that competition! We steward this biological scene as growers. Visualize this action again and again as you do orchard tasks, knowing this is how things work as nature intended.
CFSA: How much of what commercial fruit growers do in terms of spraying (whether chemical or organic) is dictated by the perceived demand for “perfect,” blemish-free fruit in the marketplace? Can we ever get beyond this?
The majority of my fruit looks pretty darn perfect too. But my customers also know that a small dimple caused by an insect sting is harmless. That sooty blotch fungus can literally be rubbed off the apple’s skin. That a couple of small scab spots represent an active phytochemical response to disease presence, and thus more antioxidants and other secondary plant metabolites that our bodies in turn utilize to stay healthy. A good third of the sprays being applied in fruit orchards are about upping the ante around appearance. How much better to understand that nutrient density and thus flavor results in part from a fruit tree standing up to environmental stress. Ultimately, that’s the ticket, isn’t it? Getting people to taste how fruit is really meant to taste when picked off healthy trees.
CFSA: Looked at from a holistic perspective, do we need “pest” species in our orchards to ensure a healthy ecosystem?
I use the term ‘balance’ for a reason when talking about insect pests. Biodiversity happens in part because food resources are available for all sorts of species. You may think life would be far better off without the yellowjacket, for instance, but did you know that all summer long these wasps gather moth larvae to feed their young? We’d lose ladybugs if no aphids whatsoever were to be found. I teach that we need to honor all species, including ultimate pests like the plum curculio. Just remember we have integrated strategies to keep the balance in our favor.
Want to learn more? Come to our Sustainable Ag. Conference – http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/sac/ - or become a member and you’ll receive lots more great articles like this one in our quarterly newsletter! http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/join/
Heritage Poultry at East of Edens Farm
by Keia Mastrianni
photos by Lisa Turnage Photography
East of Eden Farms in Huntersville, NC, just fifteen minutes north of Charlotte, is doing its part to support a sustainable, local food system. East of Eden is a heritage poultry farm and, so far, the only farm in that area that is propagating and raising heritage breed chickens.
Owned by husband and wife duo Jonathan and Jan Bostic, two young farmers with a desire to make a difference, East of Eden Farms is forging a new path for local food. Although new to farming, the Bostics are part of a dedicated and experienced network of heritage poultry farmers looking to sustain best practices in breeding and poultry farming.
The Bostics began their journey in 2010 after attending the CFSA Sustainable Agricultural Conference where they met poultry enthusiast and heritage breeder, Jim Adkins, who mentored the young farmers in best practices. Adkins created the International Center for Poultry in 1992 to teach and educate the community about the value of heritage poultry, and he travels the nation teaching workshops and sharing his passion for poultry.
So why should we give a cluck about heritage chickens?
After a visit to East of Eden, I soon learned the importance of heritage breeds and their value to a sustainable food economy. Jon Bostic took me on a tour of his farm and explained the hallmarks of heritage breeds. Currently, East of Eden is home to 2,500 buckeyes, a breed of heritage chicken that observes the following standards set forth by the American Poultry Association:
- Heritage chickens must be from a parent and grandparent stock of breeds prior to the mid-20th century and that genetic line must be traceable.
- Heritage breeds must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating.
- Heritage breeds must have a long, productive, outdoor lifespan. Typically, hens will live five to seven years and roosters can live three to five years.
- Heritage chickens must have a slow growth rate which means that they reach market weight in no less than 14 weeks.
In addition to learning about heritage chickens, Jon shared his knowledge regarding the prevalence of the Cornish Cross, the standard meat chicken of the American food industry.
The Cornish Cross was bred from the Cornish variety breed in the 1940s with the sole purpose of developing a chicken for fast growth and mass consumption. Think of this chicken as the scientifically engineered one.
Unlike heritage poultry breeds, the Cornish Cross does not have a traceable genetic line nor does it sustainably reproduce. Farmers and businesses that want to raise the Cornish Cross must purchase them from corporate hatcheries that own the breeding stock.
Sadly, too, the Cornish Cross does not live a healthy, productive life outdoors. Due to their genetically engineered roots, the Cornish Cross is not meant for life outdoors and is usually susceptible to disease and infection from a natural environment. More than that, these chickens are sped to maturity at a ghastly rate of 37 days while a heritage breed takes approximately 126 days. This results in a painfully short and sedentary life for the Cornish Cross.
Heritage poultry farmers like the Bostics are working hard to produce a more sustainable and diversified food system by maintaining heritage breeds. Through careful selection and adherence to heritage poultry standards, the Bostics are providing a food product that minds the welfare of all, from the chickens that live happy lives on the farm to the human beings that consume them.
East of Eden Farms is breeding more than just heritage chickens, they are creating a sustainable food system supported by nature.
Gather your friends and family and head out Sept. 15-16 from 1-5 p.m. for the 7th annual Eastern Triangle Farm Tour, a self-guided visit of 23 of the region’s most remarkable farms. Urban farming is increasingly taking hold across the States, and two of our four Tour newcomers this year are urban farms: Homegrown City Farm and Raleigh City Farm. These are in addition to the award-winning farm and longtime CFSA members, SEEDS, and the Interfaith Food Shuttle Farm. A bit about each.
Homegrown City Farm is Durham’s newest urban farm, and is a wonderful example of how you can grow a lot in the city. The farm produces veggies, flowers, herbs, and fruit on a borrowed quarter-acre lot. It also distributes vegetables through its Community-supported agriculture (CSA), and offers a fall share that started September 1 and runs through November 30. The CSA is a wonderful, cost-effective opportunity to get pesticide-free produce weekly while supporting a local farm. Ask about it when you visit!
Raleigh’s first urban farm, Raleigh City Farm, rose, literally, from the ashes. With support from the Triangle Land Conservancy, it negotiated with a landowner and the city of Raleigh to convert an empty 1.3-acre plot into a sustainable farm. With the help of an all-volunteer team, the Farm uses raised beds, bamboo trellising, and community-sourced supplies to grow lots of veggies.
SEEDS is an educational garden located northeast of downtown Durham where youth with the Durham Inner-City Gardeners cultivate the market garden and sell its produce at the Durham Farmers Market. It’s grown from a simple garden to the home of a multiuse demonstration garden that includes community gardening plots, an outdoors classroom, a greenhouse, environmental education exhibits, and a display of ornamental and edible plants.
The Interfaith Food Shuttle Farm, a six-acre plot off Tryon Road, was developed in 2009. Today it offers fresh, local, organic food; provides seedlings for its community gardens and Cooking Matters classes; hosts a Young Farmer Training Program; and organizes workshops, training, and educational opportunities on sustainable agriculture farming practices.
Education and awareness is a big part of CFSA’s work. In addition to the farm visits, we‘re excited about the free workshops our farmers will be offering.
- On Saturday at 1:30 p.m., Durham’s Bountiful Backyards will speak about edible landscaping for land regeneration and human nutrition.
- If you are in Raleigh on Saturday, also at 1:30 p.m. at the Interfaith Food Shuttle Farm, popular poultry expert Bob Davis will present a workshop on urban chickens. If you miss him on Saturday, he’ll be at the SEEDS garden on Sunday at 2 p.m.
- On Sunday at 1:30 p.m., garden guru Frank Hyman will teach us about fall veggie crops.
Tickets & Tips
Tickets can be purchased online , in advance at Harmony Farms in Raleigh or any of the Triangle Whole Foods Market. Tickets can also be purchased the days of the Tour at any of the participating farms. Even better, though, if you volunteer for one afternoon, you can visit as many farms as you like for free.
A few tips to ensure you and our farmers have a great tour. Please don’t visit the farms before 1 p.m. or after 5 p.m., and please do not enter private homes. You’ll need to leave Fido at home, as dogs cannot enter the farms. The farms will be selling their products, so bring a cooler to store your perishable purchases!
More information: http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/etft/ or (919) 542-2402 See you at the farms!
To market we shall go … in Winston-Salem
by Marie Maguire
I love farmers markets for several reasons. First, they have a festive feel. Second, they are an opportunity for discovery — of new products and new uses for tried and true products. And, finally, they allow me to support and interact with local growers, for whom I have tremendous admiration and to whom I am forever grateful.
For the lucky folk who live in and around Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Cobblestone Farmers Market – an all-local, producer-only market – is a great place to shop. A program of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, the market operates twice weekly, in two different locations.
On Tuesdays, Cobblestone is open from 10 a.m. to 1p.m. at 3rd and Patterson, across the street from Krankies Coffee. New this year, on Saturdays, you can visit Cobblestone in the historic district of Old Salem from 9 a.m. until noon (corner of West and Salt Streets). The Saturday location is operated in partnership with Old Salem Museums and Gardens.
One very exciting point about the new Saturday location is that it operates in the middle of a food desert, according to Margaret Norfleet Neff, Cobblestone co-manager. In doing so, Cobblestone Farmers Market provides healthy, affordable food choices to those who previously had limited – if any – access to such options.
Shoppers can find vegetables, fruits, meats, cheeses, breads, coffee, plants and much more. There’s even a mobile sharpening service. So drag out those dull knives (and scissors, shears, garden tools …) and have them sharpened while you shop.
You’ll want to bring cash, which is the principle method of payment. Although as of this month, the Old Salem location will have WIC available. Both locations will be open through mid-November.
Visit the Cobblestone Farmers Market Facebook page for more information: www.facebook.com/CobblestoneFarmersMarket.
Lucky Acres Farm on the Upstate Farm Tour
by Diana Vossbrinck, CFSA’s SC and Charlotte Area Regional Coordinator
Editor’s Note: Don’t miss your chance to meet Cleopatra, Cinderella, Sokrates and Joe and Gloria Williams of Lucky Acres Farm on this year’s Upstate Farm tour, June 2-3!
Cleopatra. Cinderella. Sokrates. They make interesting family portraits, covering the walls of the back parlor in Joe and Gloria Williams’ home. Joe points to each picture in turn, naming them with a twinkle in his eye, much like any proud papa. Displayed are the alpacas of Lucky Acres Farm, where these beautiful, gentle creatures are indeed a part of the family.
It was never really planned but Gloria Williams is a firm believer that things turn out the way they are supposed to. In 1994, the Williams were living in the Adirondack mountains. Joe was two years away from retirement when the two took a camping vacation to visit friends in South Carolina. They happened upon a newspaper ad for an “old homestead” property for sale, took one look at the 28 acres in Townville, and immediately pulled out a MasterCard to pay a retainer on the farm.
Two days after Joe’s retirement from the state of New York, the Williams pair packed up the camper, originally purchased for Florida getaways, and made it their South Carolina home during the two years it took to build the farmhouse. Joe and Gloria had both been raised on small farms in the Northeast, so they took naturally to gardening and food preserving, returning to the sustainable lifestyle of their childhoods.
The alpacas were another happy advertising accident, some years later. Country Living magazine invited readers to learn more about a “huggable livestock investment” and Joe and Gloria simply couldn’t resist! It took over a year of research and preparations, but in 2002, the Williams mortgaged the property and opened their farm to five alpacas: three pregnant females, one gelding, and one breeding male. The investment is not negligible. The Williams pay $1,000 to $5,000 for a male, and as much as $22,000 for a female. Fortunately, Sweet Pea, Candy, Tabby, Micah Rock, and Majestic Knight continue to thrive and lead a herd now five times its original size.
Alpacas are members of the camel (camelid) family, indigenous to South America, and prized for their luxurious fleece. It is easy to sense the intelligence and gentle dispositions of the animals from the moment one steps onto the pasture. Gloria gathers the newest member of the herd into her arms. “Cody” is only one week old, all chocolate fluff with a slender neck, long delicate legs, and the large warm brown eyes of his mother, who murmurs softly in concern for her newborn.
The gestation period for alpacas is 11 to 11 ½ months, and Joe and Gloria have their females divided into one group birthing in early spring, and another in early fall, so the offspring (cria) can enjoy their first months of life on Lucky Acres in mild weather. The females are immediately bred again, and the cria are weaned after six months so the mother may carry the new pregnancy to term. At weaning, the cria are pastured with the herd’s gelded males, who lovingly take on the care and protection of the youngsters.
Beyond their pleasing nature and the value of their fleece, Joe and Gloria find that alpacas have been an excellent choice for many reasons. Alpacas eat surprisingly little: a handful of hay, two cups of grain, and a small amount of grass consumed at pasture is enough to satisfy a grown animal. Joe fenced in nine pastures, and comments that while granddaughter Lily’s freckled horse and two guard donkeys will clear a pasture in a couple of days, it would take the entire herd of alpacas an entire month to do the same! Small appetites have afforded Joe the opportunity to supplement farm income with hay production, and to his credit, Joe does all of his farming with a 1942 Ford Ferguson tractor he has painstakingly restored and maintained in mint condition.
Unlike some types of livestock production, the Williams have no odor issues to contend with, and truly, no noticeable smell comes from either the animals or their waste. Given access to the outdoors, alpacas will not soil the barn, and the manure collected from the pasture makes excellent fertilizer for both the hayfields and the vegetable garden. Contented chickens stay close to the herd, keeping parasites at bay.
Joe and Gloria tend to routine healthcare of the alpacas themselves, administering scheduled inoculations and carefully monitoring newborns. The Williams are fortunate to have a nearby veterinarian able to treat alpacas, but can only remember having an illness-related call once or twice over the years. Gloria credits the good health of the herd to several factors, including conditions that are not overcrowded, cleanliness, and minimal travel with the animals. Although Joe and Gloria do enjoy the occasional show for the camaraderie and educational opportunity, they admit they are not competitive in nature, and much prefer to enjoy the herd from the comfort of their own back porch.
The affection Joe and Gloria have for their herd makes fleece production an ideal fit for the Williams. Gloria confides that while she respects and appreciates farmers who produce livestock for meat consumption, it is simply not in her to raise an animal for slaughter. It obviously delights her to know that harvesting fleece is actually beneficial to the alpacas, providing them comfort in the hot months of summer.
Sheering is done once a year in April and includes even the newborns. After “skirting,” or cleaning the raw fleece of dirt and hay, the fleece is then sent to a mill for further cleaning, carding, removal of coarse hairs, and finally—spinning into decadently soft yarn. The Williams take advantage of a premium service offered nearby at the Georgia Mountain Fiber mill, and each bundle of finished yarn is returned marked with the name of the individual alpaca who provided the fleece.
Gloria has found that this service has been key to effective marketing of both the yarn and her hand-knit finished work. Each item is pinned with a tag displaying the name and picture of its source animal, creating a unique connection between farm and sweater. It’s a favorite feature to Gloria’s customers, who will find her wares at the farm store, as well as various local fairs and festivals. Although she values and prefers the interaction of a personal transaction, Gloria considers that maybe, maybe she will try internet marketing sometime in the future.
Meanwhile, Gloria looks to the day she can retire from her job as a medical records specialist and join her husband in full time farming. The chores are a labor of love at Lucky Acres Farm, and the couple enjoy doing them together, even though easily managed by one. Joe and Gloria both speak with great affection and appreciation of their land, their home, their herd. They tell the story of a stray dog called Lucky who became the farm’s namesake, and how three weeks to the day their Lucky was buried, a nearly identical Red Tick Hound found its way to their home and hearts. Joe is certain Lucky is looking after them, but one might also guess that through love and hard work, Joe and Gloria have made their own fortune, and that Lucky Acres is, indeed, exactly where they are supposed to be.
Lucky Acres Farm welcomes visitors and groups by appointment, and is happy to share information and advice with other producers or the simply curious. After seven years of careful breeding and production, Lucky Acres livestock is now available to other caring producers.
> Learn more about Lucky Acres Farm at luckyacresfarm.com.
A Commitment to Farm to School
by Jennifer MacDougall, Healthy Active Communities Senior Program Officer, BCBSNC Foundation
North Carolina is a state known for its agriculture. Apples, strawberries, watermelon, lettuce, sweet potatoes and more-from the mountains to the coast- the quality and variety of produce grown in our state is astounding. Unfortunately, North Carolina is also known as a state with high rates of childhood obesity. A state where one in three children is obese or at risk of becoming obese, and a state where more than 40 percent of children ages 5-10 and more than 80 percent of high school youth do not eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
One place to bridge this issue is in school and in the school cafeteria. So many memories of school take place in the cafeteria and over a tray of food. With over 800,000 lunches served in NC’s public schools every day, what if those meals could highlight North Carolina’s produce? And what if classroom teachers could help strengthen that connection to the food by teaching children about where it is grown, who grows it, and why it’s good to eat? That’s the goal of the North Carolina Farm to School program.
In 1997, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) developed a system for North Carolina schools across the state to receive fresh produce grown by local farmers. By buying produce directly from North Carolina farmers, schools know students are getting locally grown produce and the program has opened an additional market for North Carolina farmers; a win for the entire state.
Through a three-year grant, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation has recently invested in the Farm to School program to increase access to healthy food and promote education to make smart choices. The grant provides funding for five new refrigerated tractor-trailers, increasing the distribution of local fruits and vegetables to 35 additional school systems statewide and increasing the number of participating farmers from 75 to 105. Additionally, the grant supports a three-year Farm to School marketing initiative to teach children about what is being served in their school cafeteria, where it is grown, how to make healthy food choices and the importance of a healthy diet, as well as raise the profile of the Farm to School program among school systems across the state.
All school districts in North Carolina have the ability to be part of the North Carolina Farm to School Program that now includes farm-fresh produce throughout the school year. By making connections between our state’s children and our state’s agriculture, we are growing a healthier future.
To learn more or to get involved, visit www.ncfarmtoschool.com.
Giving thanks for Tuesdays
by new blogger, Marie Maguire
Returning home after work on Tuesdays is sheer pleasure. On Tuesdays, the local organic farmer, Jean-Charles, leaves on my gate the bounty of his labor. For this, I am ever so grateful.
In Switzerland, I joined what is known in the US as a CSA. I participate in agriculture contractuelle de proximité, which, roughly translated, is local contractual agriculture. It works a bit differently from the Wake County CSA I joined several years back (side note: my sincere thanks to Fred Miller of Hilltop Farms http://www.hilltopfarms.org/ for introducing me to the joy of CSA participation). Here, I paid a 100 Swiss francs deposit, and received an email with the farm’s annual production schedule and bank information (you’ll understand why later). I could pre-order what I want to receive each week, or be surprised. I opted for surprise, and I enjoy trying to figure out how to use the produce each week. Jean-Charles also provided me with a recyclable bag (see photo), which I return weekly.
Every Tuesday morning, I leave on my gate the empty bag from the previous week, and Jean-Charles replaces it with a bag chock full of good things to eat. In addition to the week’s produce, there’s also a receipt, and a statement showing my past payments and my deposit. On the statement, there’s space where I can write which vegetables or fruits I would like more of, or which I do not want to receive. If I fill in either of these spaces, I leave the statement in the bag the following Tuesday and Jean-Charles makes a note of it for future deliveries. (I can also email him). As there are no paper checks in Switzerland, each week I transfer the payment from my bank account to Jean-Charles’. If I no longer wish to receive deliveries, I am asked to give a week’s notice. And if I am out of town, I can temporarily suspend deliveries. Another interesting point: I’ve actually never met Jean-Charles and we’ve been doing business for almost a year.
Not only is the process a bit different here, but I have also discovered vegetables that are completely new to me: dandelion leaves, cardoons, Jerusalem artichokes and kohlrabi specifically. It is intriguing that these vegetables that are so unattractive can be so delicious. And in the case of the cardoons, it’s also downright mean. Dave’s Garden http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/913/ is not kidding when it includes this caveat about the cardoon: Plant has spines or sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling. But once you get through those thorns on the outside, the cardoon is a delight to eat. Sadly, the cardoon is available only at Christmas time here.
Tuesday evening is truly a time of gratitude. As I have shared with Jean-Charles, I am so happy he is a part of my life, and so appreciative of his efforts that allow me to have such wonderful produce.
European and American organic standards now considered equal
by Danielle of eatbreatheblog.com
In February, the European Union (EU) and the United States (U.S.) announced that organic products certified in either Europe or the United States may be sold in either region, beginning June 1. According to the USDA, “This partnership between the two largest organic producers in the world will establish a strong foundation from which to promote organic agriculture, benefiting the growing organic industry and supporting jobs and businesses on a global scale.” U.S. Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said, “This partnership will open new markets for American farmers and ranchers, create more opportunities for small businesses and result in good jobs for Americans who package, ship and market organic products.” Clearly, this move will benefit large companies that use worldwide shipping to transport their produce around the globe, but will the change be a boon or bust for small-scale farmers?
Together, the U.S. and EU’s organic market is valued at more than $50 billion and it’s growing. Until now, the standards used to classify a product as organic haven’t been equivalent, so the world’s two largest markets have essentially been off-limits to one another. Previously, those who wanted to trade products on both sides of the Atlantic had to obtain separate certifications for each standard, which meant a double set of fees, inspections and paperwork. Farmers and food producers in both markets will soon benefit from easier access, less bureaucracy and lower costs. Shared standards will improve transparency and enhance consumers’ confidence and recognition of organic food and products.
Organic by definition
Until a few decades ago, the definition of organic wasn’t strictly codified. The notion of organic farming was considered to be more of a philosophical choice espoused by advocates like Rodale, Steiner and Howard and based on the idea that organic production led to healthier food. Starting in the 1970s, farmers and regulatory bodies started taking a closer look at organic production. They quickly realized that, without a system of rules, oversight and certification, anyone could call their products organic, regardless of how they were actually produced. This led to the development of current restrictions that are soon to be lifted. Although the U.S. and the EU shared certain rules, such as prohibitions on pesticides and chemical fertilizers, other regulations differed.
With the restriction on organic goods lifted, government officials predict that U.S. exports will grow by 300 percent by 2015. The change won’t affect sales at farmers’ markets, on-farm stores or community-supported agriculture memberships. The agreement, however, is a game changer. Given that the new standards have the potential to open new markets in Europe, large-scale operations and co-ops capable of shipping overseas will likely notice the biggest difference in their day-to-day operations. Only time will tell what effect this change will have on small-scale farmers both here and overseas. Ideally, as with any major business venture, the new approach to sending and receiving organic goods will noticeably benefit consumers and farmers on both sides of the pond.
by Danielle of eatbreatheblog.com
Editor’s Note: Learn more about farm-scale composting at the CFSA Organic Commodities and Livestock Conference, Jan. 12-13 in Rocky Mount, NC. http://carolinafarmstewards.org/oclc.shtml
Have you long heard about composting but you’ve never really been sure where to start? Maybe you’ve heard about different types of composting, like hot vs. cold methods, but not been sure which process will work best for you. Worry no longer; composting will help you reduce the amount of trash you put out for collection and will help you make use of any excess produce that might come with your grocery delivery. Help save the planet and aid your garden at the same time.
So… why should you compost? Simple. Food waste that lingers in a landfill produces methane, which is better known as a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming and climate change. Other benefits of composting include keeping pollutants out of waterways and eliminating the need to get fertilizer for your garden.
The easiest method of making nutrient-rich material is cold composting. It’s a good approach for small households that don’t create much waste and/or people who want to compost but not invest a great deal of time in the effort. The main drawback of cold composting is that it can take up to a year to produce a usable product. Additionally, this method is not good for composting meat, as heat is needed to kill off foodborne pathogens.
Hot composting can produce ready-to-go compost in just a few months. The method even generates enough heat to cook by or warm up water for showering. The process is a bit more arduous as you will have to occasionally turn the compost pile (easy to do using a compost tumbler) but it works faster and arguably better than cold composting. Get started with “brown” waste like leaves and “green” waste (kitchen scraps) and turn every few weeks to keep things “cooking.”
Leaf composting is perhaps the easiest composting method available. It takes a long time but requires no care. Its final product can be mixed with potting soil to nourish your garden. To compost leaves, shred them with your lawnmower (making sure to attach a bag for collection first) and add them to a hot compost pile that contains organic waste like coffee grounds, grass clippings, raw fruit, and vegetable scraps. You can also shred leaves and contain them inside a wire bin to produce – over a period of about two years – leaf mold, which works as a nice substitute to peat moss.
Vermicomposting is composting using worms. Its process is also faster than cold composting and works well indoors or places where space is tight. You can make your own tub and get started at home with ease. Start with some worms and crumpled newspaper and you’re good to go. (The food scraps come later.)
Many cities, such as Washington, DC, offer a compost pick-up service that enables your household to compost even if space is tight. If you’re not into vermicomposting or you lack the space in your backyard for a compost pile, compost pick-up might be for you.
This is just some basic information for getting started with composting. Learn more at our Organic Commodities and Livestock Conference in January!