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Root Cellars and Root Vegetables

Root vegetables

Root vegetables at Green Fields Coop

Our Thanksgiving table will include  root vegetables like Yukon Gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, beets, parsnips and carrots.

Even the Pilgrims might have had some of these vegetables at the first Thanksgiving. Root vegetables were an important part of the food supply in Europe before canning and freezing were available. Root vegetables were harvested in the fall and stored for winter use without preserving them in some way, like pickling or drying.

When I was a child living on a Vermont farm I remember the bins filled with sand and carrots in the basement. There was also a root cellar dug into a hill beyond the house for potatoes. Added to my aunt’s canning, producing scores of jars of vegetables and fruit, she and my uncle managed to provide their family with a good measure of their family’s diet.

I even kept some carrots and beets in the basement of our Heath house in our early days there. However, a root cellar required more management skills and time than I possessed.  Last year the Heath Agricultural Society held a well attended Cellars and Cave tour, giving visitors from across the valley a look at what is entailed in operating a root cellar. Some cellars were used for vegetables, some for cheese, and some for homemade hard cider.

The cellars varied in complexity from what was essentially a large insulated closet in the garage for storing apples, onions and potatoes, to a more elaborate walled off corner of a basement that included a window and a flexible duct that made it possible to adjust airflow and temperature. Setting up a site with fairly consistent or adjustable chill and humidity is essential for a root cellar.

Those who are planning to try and keep vegetables and fruit like apples through even a part of the winter must begin by choosing vegetable varieties and apples that are most amenable to storage. For example, the McIntosh apple harvest is usually over in October, but the apples will only keep well through December. Other apples like the old New England Baldwin apple and newer varieties like Fuji will keep through the winter. Many of the old winter keepers are now more available than they were in the recent past.    The same is true for vegetables. Kennebec and Katahdin are among the list of good potatoes for storage, as Danvers and Scarlet Keeper are good storage carrots. Most catalogs will tell you which particular varieties will store well into the winter.

Root Cellaring: The Simple No-Processing Way to Store Fruits and Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Buble is a comprehensive book for those who are interested in storing some of their winter harvest. They give information about choosing specific crops, storage requirements, and the many ways of building a root cellar. My copy dates back to 1979, not long before we set up our first bins. Root Cellaring is still available and still a functional tool.

Most of us are happy to have a summer garden, enjoying freshly picked lettuce and tomatoes, as well as green beans, summer squash and peas of many varieties. Others of us will enjoy the challenge and satisfaction of setting up a root cellar, and eating our own root crops or other keepers like cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

I spoke to Dave Jackson at the 100 acre Enterprise Farm in Whately about how he keeps root crops. He says he uses a large walk in cooler. During the good weather the cooler keeps his summer vegetables fresh before they are packed up into CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares. In the winter he uses the cooler for vegetable storage, getting as much value as possible out of the farm’s infrastructure. When I was the Buckland Librarian I bought apples from the Scott Orchard, saw their enormous cooling room and got my first understanding of the way orchardists handle their harvest. Vegetable farmers have the same need.

Jackson agreed that local consumers are looking for more local food over a longer season. He said local farmers have found a variety of ways of keeping root crops available, from the basic old-fashioned root cellar to cooling rooms and solar power. All cold storage options need to keep a consistent cold temperature, usually between 36 to 45 degrees, depending on the crop.

Jackson also gave me a tip, in case I ever take up root cellaring again. He said apples should never be stored with carrots. I knew that apples produce ethylene gas that might cause other fruits to ripen more quickly, but I did not know that the ethylene gas might change the flavor of other fruits – or vegetables. I guess that is why our refrigerator produce drawers are marked to keep fruits and vegetables separate.

Greenfield’s farmer’s market used to be in business from May through October. Happily for us, local farmers have worked to meet our desire for more local food over a longer season. I attended the first Wintermarket in February of 2008. At this year’s second winter farmer’s market  I bought squash, parsnips, beets and carrots  and look forward to the next markets in December, January, February and March!

I see the growth of farmer’s markets, CSA farms, and roadside stands giving us a growing and stronger local food security. That is something to be thankful for.

Between the Rows   November 28, 2015

Intervale Center – Still More Projects

 

Intervale Center Food Hub

Intervale Center Food Hub

My visit with my cousin, Travis Marcotte, at the Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont stunned me with the varied ways an organization could support farmers, the vitality of their conservation effort, the size of a marketing project like a food hub, and the excitement and involvement of a large community.

Last week I described two of the IntervaleCenter’s programs: the Farms Program which allows farmers to lease land and equipment at reasonable rates; and the Success in Farms program which brings expert advice to farmers all across Vermont. The interconnectedness of all things is clear in the goals that run through every Intervale project. Sustainable farms provide a living for farmers, protect land and the environment, and provide healthy local food for the population.

Interconnectedness is the theme of the online Food Hub. Most of us have become familiar with CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farms which allow consumers to buy a share of a farm’s produce at the beginning of the season and then get a weekly pickup all season long. Travis said “there are models of the Food Hub all over the country. At the Intervale consumers order online. “Our food hub consists of 45 farms and food producers who send us their order every week. Volunteers box orders up and deliver them to nearly 50 pickup locations in Burlington. The several colleges in Burlington, and private businesses get direct deliveries, but there are also a number of other delivery sites. The FletcherAllenHospital which participates in the Healthcare without Harm program gets food from the Food Hub for their hospital kitchen and for their employees.”

Travis pointed out that while everyone knows the physician’s Hippocratic oath says “First do no harm,” they don’t know that it also says “I will devise and order for them the best diet, according to my judgment and means.”

The Food Hub building, a renovated barn, includes a huge refrigerated room that holds all the produce and products like cheese, yogurt and meat that require refrigeration delivered by the 45 farm participants, and space for boxing the orders.

Beyond providing a stable market for the farmers, and deliveries of good food for the consumers, the Intervale website states that the Food Hub “provides ongoing technical assistance and support, enabling [farmers] to grow and process more food, diversify production, develop specialty products and push the limits of Vermont’s growing season.”

Intervale Center Conservation Nursery

Intervale Center Conservation Nursery

 The big greenhouse of the Conservation Nursery was empty but dozens of crates filled with hundreds of tree seedlings in growing tubes were ranked in the adjacent open area. I wondered where Intervale got all their plants. I quickly learned that this project begins with collecting seed, making cuttings and growing on about 30 varieties of native trees and shrubs. Thousands of plants go to landowners, farmers, and watershed organizations as well as municipal agencies.

Intervale also hires seasonal planting teams that work full time for six weeks in the spring and fall. These crews go all over Vermont usually planting varieties of willow and dogwood. These rugged native plants are fast growing, tolerate summer droughts, and winter cold. The focus is on riparian restoration, planting along riversides to make the banks stable and capable of capturing sediments and pollutants before they reach the water. Lake Champlain has a high level of pollution that is caused by runoff from the various rivers and waterways. After Irene Intervale gave away 15,000 trees to repair damage done by the storm.

Intervale Gleaning and Food Rescue. This program works to get fresh healthy food to income eligible families. Gleaning is the ancient practice of letting people go into the fields after harvest to take up that portion of the crop that was left. At Intervale volunteers work with local farms to rescue food that would be lost, and sign up Farmer’s Market vendors to donate produce leftover at the end of market day. The Community Farms offers free CSA shares to income eligible families and social service organizations. Several of the farms at Intervale, including the Community Farm, welcome gleaners weekly as the harvest proceeds.

The 350 acres of the IntervaleCenter include biking and hiking paths. Up to a thousand people come to enjoy the Summervale gatherings every Thursday in July and August, for free music, and great local food sold by a variety of vendors. This is community involvement at its most joyous.

Do not think that I have given a full description of IntervaleCenter here. It has a large and far reaching scope. Yet, when I think about what we have in our own area I can count a growing number of small farms; CSA farms; Just Roots Community Farm, lively farmers markets; food pantries that work with farmers, gardeners and the farmers markets; CISA (Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture) that provides support and training for farmers; food producers like Sidehill Yogurt, South River Miso and Warm Colors Apiary, and many more!

Vermont is a rural state, but Burlington is a metropolis. My cousin Travis likes to look a models. He knows different areas will need different models. He has access to a population of 200,000, and we have a fraction of that. Still, we all benefit from knowing about and understanding the workings of many models.

Between the Rows     November 8, 2014

Intervale Center in Burlington Vermont

Cousin Jennie with Travis, Hale and Serein at Intervale Center

Cousin Jennie with Travis, Hale and Serein at Intervale Center

Intervale:   n. Regional. A tract of low-lying land, especially along a river. 

The Intervale  Center in Burlington, Vermont has three goals: to enhance the viability of farming; to promote the sustainable use and stewardship of agricultural lands; and to ensure community engagement in the food system.

Last weekend my husband and I went to Vermont to visit some of my cousins who grew up on a dairy farm in Charlotte. My father also worked on that 300 acre farm with Uncle Wally at different times, and all my other cousins spent part of our summer vacations on the farm. As a child I had a (very) few farm chores, but I have always given credit to The Farm for my ending up in Heath with a flock of chickens.

The Farm of my youth is gone, but my cousins still hold a tract of land, fields and woodland, where family gatherings continue to be held on the stony beach. On this trip we got to spend time with my cousin (once removed) Travis Marcotte whose journey from the University of Vermont and the University of California-Davis where his studies in community, international and economic development led him to several years working in Central America and the Caribbean. About nine years ago he returned to Burlington and the Intervale Center where he is now the Executive Director.

In 1988 Will Raap, founder the Garden Supply Company, with an interested group of citizens began establishing the Intervale Foundation, making and selling compost on what had been wasteland. Now, under the name Intervale Center, it manages 350 acres of land within the Burlington city limits. From establishing the Community Farm, the first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in Vermont to establishing an incubator farm program and a host of other programs the Intervale Center works to protect land and water quality, and find ways to bring good fresh food to everyone.

Cool  and damp at the Intervale Center's greenhouses

Cool and damp at the Intervale Center’s greenhouses

It was wonderful on that very cool day to walk around the Intervale with my cousin Jennie, Travis and his two boys. We took the wooded hiking trail along the  Winooski River where some restoration work is being carried on. We passed joggers and then turned away from the river and out into an open area, a kind of street lined with large hoophouses. Some are owned by Intervale, and some are owned by businesses who lease the land they are built on. This is where the Farms Program begins, and support for farmers becomes infrastructure.

The first farm here was the 50 acre Community Farm founded about 25 years ago. “This is a very traditional CSA,” Travis explained. “Members come here to pick up their shares, but they have an interesting model. The 550 consumers own the cooperative. When they want to expand they borrow money from themselves at a very low rate of interest. After all, they are not interested in making money here, they just want to get the next job done.”

Intervale leases the land to the Community Farm which then has access to all the equipment like tractors, and washing equipment for the produce. “Three hundred people have signed up for Winter Shares. Farmers all over Vermont are working to have a four season year,” Travis said.

Ten other farms lease land from Intervale Center, including the tiny two acre Half Pint Farm. Three of these are incubator farms who lease land for five years. . “Being able to lease land and equipment makes it possible for new farmers to get a start without a heavy outlay of money,” he said. “We also help them with business plans and can provide them with referrals to other services in the state.” In addition new farmers get help and encouragement from mentors at the rooted farms. They are not isolated with their worries or lack of experience.

Ben and his chickens at the Intervale Center

Ben and his chickens at the Intervale Center

We met Ben who is in his second incubator year raising about 1000 chickens for eggs. “Ben came to us with a business plan and a lot of ideas. He needed a place to test them out. Now he can’t keep up with the demand for his eggs, most of which go to the City Market Coop in the center of town,” Travis said.

Ben’s chickens live outdoors on pasture and in shelters three seasons of the year, and in two greenhouses during the winter. Next month he will cull the non-layers and be ready for new pullets in the spring. He told us that he’ll slaughter a few birds for his own use, but will sell the rest back to the producer for a very small amount of money.

Another program is called Success on Farms.  Business plan and consulting services are available to farmers all across Vermont. Farmers need to know about more than growing crops or raising animals. They need to know about efficient production systems, good financial planning, and markets.

We were surprised when Travis explained that a lot of their funding comes from the quasi-state agency, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. “About 25 years ago Vermonters decided they didn’t want to lose this great way of life. They wanted to conserve the beautiful countryside, but they didn’t want it to be an exclusive place. That meant they needed to insure affordable housing.”

When Travis returned from his work in Caribbean nine years ago, he said he had a dream of working part-time in Vermont. He had worked as a cook in a million restaurants he said. He could do that. Instead he saw an ad for a job at Intervale Center and cooking was forgotten.

He took on the job of travelling around Vermont helping farmers with their strategic and financial planning, advice on creating value added products, amd expanding their markets. Success on Farms was his goal.

Next week I’ll talk about other Intervale Center programs. The Food Hub. The Conservation Nursery. Gleaning. Summervale! We have many of these services and opportunities in our own area, but it was absolutely stunning to find them all under one roof.

Between the Rows   November 1, 2014

CSA – Community Supported Agriculture is for You

Winterfare Market February, 2012

For some people the initials CSA are just another of those annoying acronyms that can make our conversations sound like an unintelligible inter-office memo. For some CSA means Community Supported Agriculture which encompasses delicious local food, help for the farmer, and a community of like-minded folk who enjoy fresh food, and enjoy knowing they are supporting farmers and farms, and the very land and environment that surrounds us.

Small farmers never think they are going to get rich doing what they love. They only hope they won’t go broke after a bad season. In the 1980s a new idea came on the scene when the first community supported agriculture farms were first organized. The idea is that people would buy shares in the farm and its harvest at the beginning of the growing year, essentially sharing the risks the farmer would face over the course of the season. Would there be flooding rains? Drought? Would blight kill all the tomatoes? Mother Nature can throw all kinds of disasters at a farmer. CSA members are essentially buying the harvest as crops are planted and becoming a part of a community – a “we’re all in this together” community sharing the risk, the worry and the joys of the farm.

When I first became aware of Community Supported Agriculture some years ago, there were not many CSA farms or people buying shares. The organizational elements were fairly standard. An individual or family would buy a share in the spring, and then as the May and June harvest started coming in they would pick up their weekly boxed or bagged share of greens, beans, radishes and vegetables of every type in season. Because man does not live by carrot alone, many CSAs also included a bouquet of summer flowers.

Now there are many more CSAs in our area. I spoke with Phil Korman, Executive Director of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) who said that in the three counties, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden, in 2009 there were about 4550 farm shares sold, but in 2012 that number had increased to about 7300 farm shares sold. Some of those shares were to people outside the three counties. The expectation is that the number has continued to increase but statistics are only collected every five years. Korman pointed out that those farm shares did not include winter shares which are now available.

In fact, there are now many more kinds of CSA shares that people can buy. In addition to the regular vegetable garden shares, there are shares for meat, fish, eggs, flowers, and grain.

The last few years have seen other changes in CSA distributions. Originally, a shareholder paid up, and then picked up that share weekly at the farm. Nowadays CSA shares can be delivered to various sites including schools, retirement communities, and work sites.CooleyDickinsonHospitalallows staff to pay for their share with a payroll deduction, and the share is delivered to the hospital.  Some people share a share with a neighbor

Hager’s Farm Market and Upinngill Farm sell vouchers. The Hager vouchers are dated for use throughout the season, but they can be used at the Market on Route 2 in Shelburne with the shareholder making his own choices, for produce or pies, eggs or yogurt. Upinngill’s vouchers are not dated. Several can be used at one time. In both cases, at the Hager Farm Market and the Upinngill farmstand, the vouchers provide for a discount, so you are saving money, as well as getting wonderful produce.

There are 15 CSA farms inFranklinCounty, inGreenfield, Montague, Gill, Leyden, Colrain,Sunderland, Ashfield, Whately, and Berndarston. Each CSA farm delivers its share one day a week. All of them are now signing up shareholders for the 2014 season.

Western Massachusettshas been “an incredibly receptive community” to desiring and buying local farm products Korman said. The first local, and now longest running CSA farm is Brookfield Farm inAmherst. The first Winterfare was created inGreenfieldby volunteers just a few years ago. Now farmers plant winter storage crops for the 30 winter farmers markets that are ongoing across the state. CISA was the first non-profit organization in the state and created the Local Hero marketing project.

Currently there are 55 Local Hero restaurants using local produce for a total of about $2 million a year. There are also 240 Local Hero farms. They sold between 2002 and 2007 $4.5 million worth of farm products, but that amount has now doubled to $9 million. Food coops account for $16 million in sales. Right now in the three counties between 10%-15% of our food is fresh local food, but CISA’s goal is to have 25% of our food grown and enjoyed locally.

I was shocked that we are eating so little local food, but Korman gently pointed out that the whole population ofFranklinCountyis only half the population of the city ofSpringfield. I can see that it will be a great day when everyone inSpringfieldgets 25% of their dinners from local farms. I have to keep reminding myself that not everyone lives in our beautiful and fertile valley or near a hilltown farm where fresh food is available for a good part of the year.

It’s finally getting warmer. It’s time to think about fresh salads, grilled vegetables and corn on the cob. It’s time to think about the possibility of joining a Community Supported Agriculture farm.

You can find a full listing and information about local CSA farms on the CISA website. http://www.buylocalfood.org/buy-local/find-local/csa-farm-listing/

Between the Rows  April 5, 2014

Greenfield Winter Fare 2014

Winter Fare veggies

If I am counting correctly this is the 7th Greenfield Annual Winter Fare which will bring truckloads of fresh local vegetables to Greenfield High School on Saturday, February 1.  Enter from Kent Street off Silver Street. Beyond  vegetables there will be preserved products like pickles and syrup, honey and jams. Frozen meat!  And to keep you shopping from 10 am til 1 pm music will be provided by Last Night’s Fun, and soup provided by The Brass Buckle, Hope and Olive, Wagon Wheel and The Cookie Factory will help you keep up your strength.

At 1 pm there will be a Barter Swap. Anyone with extra home made or home grown food can gather for an informal  trading space where you can make your own swapping deals.

There is more to the Winter Fare than the Farmer’s Market. Open Hearth Cooking Classes on Saturdays, Feb. 1 and 8, 10 am – 2:30 pm at Historic Deerfield.  Contact Claire Carlson  ccarlson@historic-deerfield.org.  $55 per person.

Screening of Food For Change and discussion with film maker, Wednesday, Feb 5, 6:30 pm at the Sunderland Public Library. Call 43-665-2642 for more info.

Annual Franklin County Cabin Fever Seed Swap Sunday Feb. 9, 1-4 pm Upstairs at Green Fields Market, www.facebook.com/greefieldsunflowers for more info.

Seed Starting Workshop Sunday, Feb 9, 1 pm at the Ashfield Congregational Church. Sponsored by Share the Warmth. More info: Holly Westcott  westcottha@verizon.net.

Winter Fare is obvioulsy about more  than Fare, this is a Fair atmosphere that brings a community together.

Jessica Van Steensberg – Howdy Neighbor!

 

Jessica Van Steensberg

Last month when I went to visit Shelly Beck at the Greenfield Community Farm I learned that a new Heath neighbor of mine, Jessica Van Steensberg, is the Associate Director. I immediately had to meet her.

I found her at the house on a three acre plot she bought with her husband Jeff Aho and moved into two years ago. Behind the house I saw hens free ranging everywhere, a big hog in a pen and a whole flock of black turkeys that were clearly waiting for Thanksgiving. This is the We Can Farm and it is filled with activity.

Van Steensberg is not new to small scale farming. She grew up on a small farm in Londonderry, N.H. where Jessica grew up with her siblings. “I loved the farm. We raised our own food, veggies, chickens, pigs and sheep. We’d barter the meat.”

When the time came she attended Cazenovia College. “I have been a horse lover all my life so I chose to go to Cazenovia, a small school, because they had an Equine Business degree. I figured even if I never got to do the horses part, I’d still have a business degree.”

Her part-time college job, and then full time position with Blue Seal Feeds took her to farms, but not yet to her own.

“When I became a territory sales manager for Blue Seal I needed to move into my territory which included Connecticut as well as parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Because my two sisters went to Smith I was familiar with Northampton so I moved there. Six months later I moved to Greenfield. where I later began working for the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association as their Director of Operations.

“I worked at NESEA for six years. That was my first non-profit job. I was so happy to be able to walk to work. It was the first town where I really felt at home, and got to know what it’s like to be part of a community.”

Her love of horses took her to volunteer work on the Board of Directors at Opening Gaits Therapeutic Riding Center in Gill. It was through Opening Gaits that she met her husband Jeff Aho in 2008. “Jeff has three children Kieran, now 13, Hjordis, now 11, and Tove, now 9. They spend half their time with us, and half with their mother in Greenfield.”

Jessica Van Steensberg and Jeff Aho

While working for NESEA Jessica met many people who said she should meet Jay Lord, who is well-known in the area as a founder of the Greenfield Center School, and the Northeast Foundation for Children, and more recently, as one of the founders of the Greenfield Community Garden, Just Roots. “I finally met Jay and began my transition from energy efficiency to farming. We thought we’d work well together because we have complimentary skill sets. He is visionary and I’m boots on the ground. Being Associate Director of Just Roots is a part-time job; I also work as office manager for the architect Margo Jones.”

The desire for their own farm was fulfilled when they moved to Heath. Before they even moved into their house they planted their first garden and joined the Heath Agricultural Society which organizes the Heath Fair every year. They have now met half the town and have established their own farm operation with particular focus on raising and selling heritage breeds of animals.

I got to meet the pigs including Rocky, the Hereford boar. “We like supporting heritage and endangered breeds. We are the only place selling purebred Hereford hogs on the Eastern seaboard.” Hereford hogs are ideal for small scale farming because they do not grow too large, are quiet and docile, and the sows are good mothers. The plan is to sell breeding stock, and feeder pigs in the spring.

They raise chickens and at this point they sell eggs ‘casually.” They are also raising 35 Black turkeys, a rare heritage breed. “They are also referred to as Spanish Blacks or Nordic Blacks but since the lines have been crossed, we just refer to them as Black,” Jessica said. “They are suspected to be one of the first breeds developed from wild turkeys and also suspected to be the first breed brought over to Europe.” In fact, these turkey were brought from Mexico in the 1500s, and later returned here with the early colonists.

Jessica holding Sally

All of them, except Sally, are sold and will make their way to Thanksgiving tables in the area. She expects they will raise a larger number next year.

While I have been very aware of the necessity to maintain seed collections to preserve a wide and varied gene pool, I hadn’t given much thought to the necessity for keeping a varied gene pool for farm animals. Through Van Steensberg I was introduced to the Livestock Conservancy (www.livestockconservancy.org). Their mission is “Ensuring the future of agriculture through the genetic conservation and promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry.” They find endangered livestock breeds and work with breeders to increase those populations. Breeding these animals can offer a financial opportunity while supporting valuable conservation work. None of us know what genes will be important in meeting the challenges of the future.

I was too late this year, but next year I plan to put a turkey on the table just like the ones early settlers would have put on their tables at this season of the year.

In the meantime, I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving with wishes that you enjoy a delicious meal of your family favorites.

A is for Apple – A to Z Blogger Challenge

Clarkdale prizewinning apples at the Franklin County Fair

A is for Apple and I found 36 varieties of Apples with names that begin with A right here.  I’ve known about the Arkansas Black and the Arlington Pippin but that was the end of it for me. But there is also the Ambrosia apple, a modern Canadian apple similar to the Golden Pelicious, the American Summer Pearmain Apple, very juicy, the Autumn Gold apple, better than Golden Delicious and obvously, many many more!

I became interested in old apple varieties when I became a regular at my local orchards, Clarkdale in Deerfield and Apex in Shelburne. They have Northern Spy, Gravensteins, Winesaps and many more. I like to buy a bag of ‘pie mix’, several varieties of apple because my applie pie guru, Susan Chadwick, told me the secret of her fabulous pies is different varieties in one pie.

Taste, Memory by David Buchanan

Of course, I am not the only one who is interested in old apples. David Buchanan wrote Taste, Memory about old apples, and other old fruit and vegetable varieties that have been forgotten – almost. Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors and Why They Matter takes us on David’s journey from the Slow Foods Movement to the farms and orchards of Maine where he now lives.

On this journey he met John Bunker in Maine, a man who really knows his apples. He goes hunting for old apples and has written his own book about apple hunting in the orchards of Maine Not Far From the Tree. He is a man of passion with a great sense of humor and great taste buds. I wrote about his visit to Apex Orchard with David Buchanan here

There’s a lot to know about apples like the reason Johnny Appleseed (born not far away in Leominster, Massachusetts, a town also known as the Plastic City) planted apples was because everyone drank cider in those days. And usually not sweet cider. Hard cider! And hard apple cider is another trend in our area. West County Cider in our neighborhood is a great outfit and make wonderful cider including varietals (just like wine) like Baldwin and Redfield, a pink cider made from Redfield apples that have red flesh.

Yes, there is a lot to know about apples. And a blog post is simply not long enough. Think of all the apples that begin with letters besides A.  As part of the A to Z challenge I will be posting everyday this month because although there are only 26 letters in the alphabet, I will be adding/publishing Between the Rows every Sunday so there will be 30 posts in a row.

A big  shout out and thank you to Arlee Bird who  invented A to Z Challenge.

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Bringing Nature Home at the Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium

Dr. Douglas Tallamy

Dr. Douglas Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens, was the keynote speaker at the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Spring Symposium last week. His talk focused on the need for more insects to make our gardens – and the world – healthier and more ecologically balanced. “A mere 1 % [of all insects] interact with humans in negative ways. The other 99 % pollinate plants, return the nutrients tied up in dead plants and animals to the soil, keep populations of insect herbivores in check, aerate and enrich the soil, and as I keep stressing, provide food either directly or indirectly for most other animals,” Tallamy writes in his book and illustrated in his talk.

Bringing Nature Home

 

His enlightening talk covered a lot of ground, but two ideas made a particular impression on me. The first was the idea of the environmental carrying capacity of our local landscape, and ultimately of the whole earth. The term carrying capacity refers to the amount of resources needed to sustain a certain population. It is easy to understand that a given population of insects, or birds or whatever, will decline when the food they require decreases.

So, what happens when, for example, the emerald ash borer, which is a threat inMassachusettsright now, were to kill all the ash trees? Forty-four insect species rely on the ash tree to survive. No ash trees; no more 44 insect species. And that means reduced food for the creatures who depend on those insects so their populations will decline as well. Insects are the very bottom of the food chain and we usually do not consider how important they are to the wildlife that we enjoy. At least, that is true for me.

Tallamy said many people ask him why insects can’t eat some other tree or plant? He explains that over thousands of years plants and insects have evolved together. The insects’ digestive systems have adapted/evolved to digest the particular chemicals in a plant’s foliage. They cannot immediately adapt to a new plant. That is one of the reasons that invasive plants can take over. The food web of insects, birds and wildlife cannot keep the invading plants in check.

The second idea Tallamy put forth is that not all native plants are equal. Some plants support many more species of wildlife than others. This was an eye opener for me. I have been talking about the benefits of native plants for a long time, but this idea never occurred to me. As you might expect, trees are the most productive in having what it takes to support many insects and birds. Trees are big. But even here, some trees are more productive than others. In his book, and on his website, www.bringingnaturehome.net, Tallamy lists the 22 of the best woody plants beginning with oaks that support 534 species, down to the chestnut which supports 125 species. Black cherries, maples and willows are also highly productive.

If we don’t have the room to plant an oak or two, we might be able to fit in a crabapple or some blueberries. We can plant asters, morning glories and lupines in our ornamental gardens. We can not only marvel at and admire the lupine meadows that some people in our area have cultivated, we can thank them for supporting 33 species of wildlife.

Those lupine meadows also remind up that birds and other pollinators need clumps of productive native plants. Their eyesight is not always good so they need big clumps of a useful plant to catch their attention. Tallamy pointed out that 80% of our food crops are pollinated by animals. It is clear that supporting that wildlife is very important in our area where there is a growing number of farms.

Lately I have been talking about the benefits of reducing the size of our lawns. Tallamy said that 92% of landscape-able land is lawn, lawn which is a monoculture that does not support wildlife. He suggested that if we reduced the amount of lawn in theUnited Statesby half we would have 20 million acres that could be put to native trees and other native plants. This would certainly increase the carrying capacity of our neighborhoods and our nation.

Suburban yards can play an enormous part in restoring the health of our ecosystem. A whole neighborhood that includes a substantial number of native trees, shrubs and other plants can make a significant impact.

I am so grateful to the Western Massachusetts Gardeners for bringing us this excellent program that included Ellen Sousa of Spencer and the author of The Green Garden, as well as workshops on making compost, hypertufa containers and bentwood trellises that not only make our gardens healthful and productive, but beautiful as well.

Their Spring Symposium is their big educational effort of the year, and there are two more Symposia coming up on April 6 in Holyokeand April 13 in Lenox. Check their website http://www.wmassmastergardeners.org/ for complete details. However, they hold soil testing events, phone and email hotlines where you can get your questions answered, and lots of question answers right on the website. They even have a speakers bureau that can send a speaker to your club, or class, or other organization. If this is of interest to you send an email to toigraham@charter.net for more information.

Now I am wondering how many of us will find a place to plant an oak. Or a crabapple.

Between  the Rows –  March 23, 2013

Winterfare, Winter Farmer’s Markets, Good Food

Veggies from The Kitchen Garden

I just attended my sixth Winterfare ! got to do my small part, giving a talk about the basics of extending the growing season, but mostly I just enjoyed the crowds, visiting with people I haven’t seen in a while and marveling at all the fresh produce that is available in February in Franklin County. Of course I shopped, too. Carrots, onions, salad greens, apples and salad toppers, a flat of arugula that I can snip over the next month to top my salads.

So how did Winterfare start? When I asked Mary McClintock, the Recorder’s food columnist and Winterfare organizer, she said that for her it started in 2001. “ I attended a talk that Kate Stevens and John Hoffman gave about Gary Paul Nabhan’s book Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Food. That book and that talk changed my life. I started noticing where my food came from. “

That discussion changed McClintock’s view of the produce departments in grocery stores. Then when Juanita Nelson suggested to a group of people that it would be nice to have a Harvest Supper at the end of the year McClintock was prepared and eager to join an organizing committee that created the wonderful and celebratory Annual Free Harvest Supper that fills the street in front of Greenfield Town Hall and the Common..

It takes a lot of volunteers to put on that Dinner, organizers and generous farmers, cooks and even musicians. In addition to serving up a magnificent buffet, this event raises money to provide coupons so that clients of the food pantries can also buy fresh produce at the farmer’s market.

After some time of happy harvest suppers Juanita Nelson made another observation and suggestion. The Harvest Dinner educated people about the delicious benefits of local produce, now how could they find a way to make that produce available in February?

McClintock joined Nelson  in March of 2007 to start writing a series of monthly press releases for the Recorder talking about what gardeners could be doing in their garden to prepare for a winter’s worth of fresh vegetables. That was part of the groundwork for the committee that began planning for the first Winterfare in 2008. McClintock’s wonderful Wednesday food column, with recipes as suggested by Recorder Editor Tim Blagg, grew out of those articles.

“The response to that first Winterfare was mind blowing. It was so crowded. Coyote Farm sold out of their greens in half an hour,” McClintock said. .I’d say the rest is history, but most of the history is almost invisible.

If produce is going to be sold at the Winterfare farmers have to grow it. And they have. “That first Winterfare changed local farming,” McClintock said. “Now farmers plant for Winterfare, and for the winter farmer’s markets that have been created because of Winterfare.”

That statement confused me a little. I thought all the farmer’s markets were Winterfares. Not so. McClintock explained that Winterfare is really an add-on to the winter farmer’s markets. Winterfare organizes workshops, the soup café and the barter fair.

From 2010 on CISA (Community Involved is Sustainable Agriculture) inspired by Greenfield’s Winterfare, organized Winterfare events for winter farmers markets in Northampton and Springfield. The Winterfares have given birth to a host of regular winter farmer’s markets in Amherst, Athol, Northampton, and other towns. Their schedules are on the CISA website www.buylocalfood.org  The next Greenfield Winter Farmer’s Market will be at Greenfield High School on Saturday March 16.  This is a change from the usual first Saturday of the month schedule, so mark your calendars.

This year there was a weeklong calendar of Winterfare events from movies, pot lucks and talks, ending with the Annual Cabin Fever Seed Swap on Saturday, February 9 at Green Fields Market from 1-4 pm and the Conway Local Pot Luck on Sunday, February 10 at 5 pm at the Conway Town Hall. Full information is on the CISA website.

My talk with Mary McClintock touched on the different ways that local farming has changed over the past few years. With a year round market for local produce, farmers have been planning and planting for what is practically a non-stop season. The use of hoop houses has helped with that effort

There have also been ongoing discussions and efforts to increase the infrastructure needed for food storage. One addition to the food system infrastructure is the Community Development  Corporation’s Food Processing Center which makes it possible for farmers to freeze their produce and sell it locally. You can look for this at Green Fields Market.

Many people have been involved with Winterfare over the years. The organizing committee is an ad hoc group. They are not affiliated with any organization although members of the committee may also work for CISA or other groups. New volunteers are always needed for the committee or for the day of Winterfare activities. If you are interested in joining these lively and satisfying efforts Mary McClintock would like to hear from you. You can email her at mmcclinto@yahoo.com or telephone at 413-522-5932.

If we cannot work for Winterfare we can support Local Hero Farms and the restaurants that serve local produce. Eating local provides so many benefits, health, protecting the environment by reducing food being trucked across the continent, protecting our beautiful rural landscape and dining on the most delicious fresh food possible.

Between the Rows  February 9, 2013

Eli Rogosa and the Heritage Wheat Conservancy

CR Lawn and Eli Rogosa

“O beautiful, for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain . . .”

These words, written by Katherine Lee Bates in 1895 capture an image of our country that we still treasure today. However, there are differences between 1895 and 2012. The tall waving wheats that gilded our midwest in 1895 are now only a foot tall, barely shuddering in the breeze..

The early 1940s saw the beginning of the Green Revolution, an agricultural shift that used technological advances and irrigation systems to develop new strains of dwarfed grains. These hybrids were promoted along with the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The laudable goal was increased yield to feed the ever growing hungry populations of the world.

Eli Rogosa, who now lives in Colrain with her partner CR Lawn, the founder of Fedco Seeds in Maine, was hiking in the hills outside Jerusalem about 11 or 12 years ago when she found an interesting grass-like plant that she could not identify. That grass turned out to be an ancient wheat. Rogosa learned that this wheat was no longer grown, that 90 percent of the wheat used in Israel came from the United States.

Rogosa ultimately found her way to the director of the gene bank in Israel and learned that native wheats of the region were on the verge of extinction. She later learned the European Union was in the same position. She believed that the ancient grains were valuable because they evolved to be compatible with the specific climate and soil. She believed this compatibility was important for our food supply now.

In 2007 she wrote a proposal titled Restoring Ancient Wheat that funded a seminar that brought together genebank curators, seed-savers, farmers, chefs and others to see what action could be taken to remedy this situation. She explained “Modern wheat, the most widely cultivated crop on earth, is bred by industrial breeders for uniformity and high yield in favorable environments with little regard to the needs of traditional and organic farmers with low-input field conditions, or markets that value taste, nutrition and local cuisine. Important characteristics, such as extensive root systems for nutrient scavenging, nitrogen-use efficiency, and resistances to local disease complexes tend to be minimized in modern wheats.” Uniform modern hybrid wheat depends on the extensive use of fertilizers, irrigation and pesticides which carry substantial expense. This kind of agriculture is not sustainable.

She worked under a European Union grant for five years, collecting seeds and carrying out field trials to find the best heritage wheats that could be grown today. Most recently she worked under a three year grant from the USDA, again carrying out wheat trials, this time in UMass fields in South Deerfield. A final conference held in the field last summer attracted academics from the University of Vermont, the University of Maine, farmers, bakers and people like me who wanted to know whether the northeast could once again grow a significant measure of its own wheat as they did in the early part of the 20th century.

Last week I visited Rogosa who is now coordinator of the Heritage Wheat Conservancy, a farmers’s cooperative to restore and conserve world landrace grains on the verge of extinction. I walked with her through the patches of various tall wheats, and found I had no real idea of what a wheat plant looked like. Most of us are familiar with beautiful sheaves of wheat, and the seed head, but I never realized that a single wheat seed sent up a group of between 20 and 30 tillers, or stalks of wheat. Each stalk has a seed head which means that a single seed can produce up to 600 seeds!

The difference between a modern wheat and an ancient or heritage wheat like Banatka is that the modern wheat is short, only about a foot tall, and the roots are correspondingly stubby. They also have a higher gluten content.

It is the extensive deep root system of the heritage wheats that make them thrive in organic soils, in dry climates. Rogosa plants her seed by hand, a foot apart. This is much farther apart than standard seeding, but the root systems need the room. Many of the heritage wheat roots emit a weed suppressant, and I could clearly see that certain varieties had few weeds around each plant. These wheats do not need irrigation, an important capability as we deal with more weather extremes.

Rogosa is not a farmer. She does grow wheat for seed that is sold in small amounts through the Heritage Wheat Conservancy’s website www.growseed.org so it is not too surprising that she plants by hand, and takes a little sickle out to harvest by hand, only bringing the fattest seed heads in to be sold.

“I’m very careful when I give people seed. I choose only good plants because I want people to succeed. I often give people seed in exchange for the best of the first crop. And no one has not completed that exchange.,” she said.

I visited on a perfect summer day, sunny and breezy. “I farm for beauty,” she said, and the tall waving wheat, some golden and dry,  some still a soft green that were not quite ripe. She said that when she is harvesting wheat to make flour she cuts it down when it is a little green.

Rogosa has been happy to see the interest in small scale wheat growing by leaps and bounds. Local wheat can be grown sustainably, can add to our food security, and to more delicious food. Unique wheat varieties give farmers a special niche for marketing their crops. Locally, Uppingil Farm sells its own wheatberries, and freshly ground flour, the Wheatberry Bakery and Cafe in Amherst offers a grain CSA, while the Hungry Ghost Bakery in Northampton has its Little Red Hen Project that is encouraging the cultivation of small plots of grain and is working with farmers to grow wheat, rye and spelt for the bakery.

I have ordered a tiny amount of Emmer seed, the mother of wheats,  from Heritage Wheat Conservancy.  This is a winter wheat that I will plant this fall. You will be hearing more about wheat gardening as I progress. ###

Between the Rows  July 21, 2012