In 1996 Ricky Baruch and Deb Habib got the biggest Christmas present they might ever receive. On December 28 they officially became the owners of a piece of rocky land in Orange. They were about to plant their own farm.
I first met Baruch and Habib in early May of 2009 when I visited Seeds of Solidarity farm. Even though they had been farming for 13 years the land still looked rough and rocky. However, they had built six greenhouses for a variety of greens that they sold, planted a field of garlic, and built a house. It was the field of garlic that especially amazed me. Garlic shoots were coming up through rotting cardboard and hay mulch.
Baruch and Habib have always been concerned about the environment and determined to live as lightly on the land as possible. Farming with cardboard is their answer. They do not plow or use other machinery to prepare the poor soil on their land. They get lots of large pieces of cardboard from a local furniture store, then cover the cardboard with six inches of rich compost from Diemand Farm. Garlic cloves are planted and covered with mulch hay in October. Spring brings the beginnings of healthy growth.
Cardboard was the beginning of their no-till farming. I had understood no-till farming to mean leaving the crop residues on a harvested field over the winter. In the spring that field would not be plowed. Seeds would be planted right in the soil covered with decaying plants. On my recent visit to Seeds of Solidarity Farm I stopped to admire sprouting garlic in the mulched field. But there were also field sections of what seemed to be a cover crop, another section was covered with a huge tarpaulin, and still another section was covered with mulch hay. I did not understand what I was looking at. I was about to get a lesson in no-till farming.
“There are three techniques for no-till gardening. There is the cardboard technique, the tarps technique, and the cover crop technique. They all build organic matter, promote beneficial soil microbes and mycorrhizal fungi, reduce weeds, and conserve water and labor,” Baruch said. He went on to explain that one way he handled his cover crop was to ‘crimp’ the plants with a rake. This means he will kill the plants at the root. The plants just lie down and then he plants through the cover crop into the soil using a dibble, a little wooden tool for garlic seed planting.
He also explained that the large tarp covering a part of the field is a ‘silage tarp’ the name for a really heavy duty tarp that covers the cover crop or weeds. The tarp creates a warm moist environment that kills weeds in three or four weeks giving the farmer a clean planting bed. This technique is also called occultation because it makes use of the dark environment. While the tarp is killing weeds, the warmth it creates is making it possible for worms and other organisms to break down that organic matter.
Baruch explained that these no-till techniques cut down on cultivating chores. “This way we are working with nature, not fighting it. We have to think about what we are doing, and why we are doing it. This way we have a closer relationship with the earth, and that is what I want.”
Habib pointed out that what they want to do is make good food available to everyone whether they have land or containers. “The only tools Ricky has could pretty much fit in a five gallon bucket. Plus his wheelbarrow and shovel, of course,”
As the three of us walked down the hill to the greenhouses filled with salad greens we passed different shrines. These have been built by the Seeds of Leadership (SOL) program for teens, or interns, or others. Many colorfully painted signs quote great people of the past. The intention is always to teach and inspire,” Habib said.
Seeds of Solidarity Farm has become much more than a farm. They created the Seeds of Solidarity non-profit. Habib is the one who writes the grants to fund farm-to-school programs as well as other projects. The two of them work with Greenfield Community College and teach a one credit course in gardening at the Franklin County Jail several times a year. The amount of their community work is amazing. Happily they have just written an inspiring and delightful book, Making Love While Farming: Field Guide to a Life of Passion and Purpose which you can order on-line through Levellers Press(https://www.levellerspress.com/product/making-love-while-farming/) or you can buy a hard copy. Wonderful stories and photographs.
On Saturday May 25 you can also visit Seeds for Solidarity Farm for a free tour from 10-11:30 am, and bring a lunch if you wish. In the afternoon there is a No-Till for Life Workshop. Ricky will teach regenerative, soil building techniques for low maintenance, highly productive gardens. “Treating the soil as sacred results in nourishing food, mitigates impacts of climate change, and inspires a deeper relationship with that which sustains life.” $35-$50 sliding scale fee. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to register.
A final note: Baruch and Habib are among the founders of the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival which will be held on September 28 and 29 this year.
Between the Rows May 18, 2019
MAY 25, 2019 is also the day of the Greenfield Garden Club Extravaganza Plant Sale at the John Zon Community Center on Pleasant Street in Greenfield from 8:30 am – 12:30 pm. Plants Large and Small for every garden.