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Education

This area might be better titled education of this farmer. For my route to becoming a farmer was a long, convoluted, circuitous one. In some sense I’ve always been an out of doors person – someone for whom nature was always and will always be a teacher. And from a very young age I have been a gardener. Just before my graduate school days, I became a bit radicalized about other cultures and the environment – believing that we should all be good stewards of the earth and share it wisely.

And so over the decades, I learned, contemplated and observed. Other than the places I have visited, the biggest impact on my thinking has been reading  – I love books! Below is a very partial listing of the books on other small farms that I have read over the years. Soon to follow will be a more comprehensive reading list by categories – soils, nutrient density, composting, biodynamics, forgaging, permaculture, and so on.

BOOKS

Books on Small Farms or Farming: Apologies for the lack of full citations – but you should be able to google these or get most from your library. Many thanks to my local library, the wonderful library ladies and it’s online services – what an incredible resource in this small town!

  • Terry Silber, A Small Farm in Maine, Doubleday, 1988.
  • Henry Beston, Northern Farm: A Glorious Year on a Maine Small Farm, G K Hall & Co, 1948.
  • Stanley Joseph & Lynn Karlin, Maine Farm: A Year of Country Life, Random House, 1991.
  • Louis Bromfield, Malabar Farm & Out of the Earth, Harper & Bros, 1955.
  • Tom Dunlap, Morning Glory Farm: The family that Feeds an Island
  • Kristin Kimball, The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love
  • Edwin Way Teale, A Naturalist Buys An Old Farm
  • Gene Logsdon, Contrary Farmer’s Invitation to Gardening & All Flesh is Grass
  • Edie Clark, The View from Mary’s Farm
  • Steve Wick, Heaven and Earth, The Farmer’s of the North Fork, St Martin’s Press, 1996
  • David Mas Masumoto, Epitaph for a Peach, HarperSan Francisco, 1995
  • Mark Lapping, A Long Deep Furrow: Three Centuries of Farming in New England, University Press of New England, 1982
  • Mark Kramer, Three Farms: Making Milk, Meat and Money from the American Soil, Atlantic, Little Brown Books, 1980
  • Helen and Scott Nearing, The Good Life
  • Thomas Jefferson, Farm Book, edited by Edwin Morris Betts
  • Masanobu Fukuoka, The Road Back to Nature: Regaining Paradise Lost, Japan  Publications, 1987/ Also: One Straw Revolution
  • Jim Minnick, The Blueberry Years: A Memoir of Farm and Family
  • Ben Hewitt, The Town that Food Saved: ow One Community Found Vitality in Local Food

LAND USE PLANNING at Agraria Farm

Having a bit of a background in land use planning, I began my tenure on this land with a rough plan for land use. After committing to purchase the property, I did a little research on local issues: zoning regulations, local ordinances, Town politics, soil types, and topography maps. It was a brief introduction – and only through the passage of time would I come to know my property and local culture well. But for the first few years I used this rough plan to guide my thinking on how to use the land – planting layouts for fruit, vegetable and flower beds, circulation patterns, water, compost, and future needs.

Clearly my intent was to farm – but in the first few years, I moved at a snail’s pace – making small changes on a scale that was doable for me. Having ‘gardened’ most of my life, I wanted my work here to be enduring and sustainable. Having spent time talking with local farmers and working on local agricultural issues, I formulated a set of ‘operating principles’ that were important to me:

  • being a good steward of my land – always being mindful of the natural resources, ‘genius loci’, carrying capacity, surrounding community – and infusing this ethic into all my decisions
  • preserving  this place for future generations – hopefully as a small, viable farm operation
  • not accruing debt to build the farm – I did not want to scale up farm operations through debt – whether it was for a good tractor or good labor – I have witnessed how this can go wrong.
  • tracking appropriate, efficient energy use and consumption
  • not using cheap labor- that is being able to pay a livable wage and benefits if I were to employ people here. Thus far I have managed only occasional seasonal help at a rate above minimum wage.
  • committing to lifelong learning, sharing  and  leveraging this knowledge
The tagline ” farming in nature’s image” sums it up well. With a large dose of humility, I aspire to this ideal because it so clearly encapsulates notions that all living beings must embrace: growth, change & resilience. Wes Jackson has used this phrase a lot to describe a potential for a new agriculture that uses nature as a standard to sustain the regenerative capacity of the biosphere. Healthy ecosystems, enlightened communities and vibrant economies are all central to this vision.

prime ag soils

 

An incredibly helpful tool along this journey was working with my local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office in West Wareham. This partnership has enabled me to create extremely useful maps and access other information critical to sound land stewardship. Having encountered a seriously difficult issue – flooded soils – over a period of several years, NRCS helped determine the cause and develop a solution. There are a goodly number of funding opportunities – cost sharing and others  – also administered through NRCS.

Most recently, I pursued organic certification for the farm and had a great experience with my certifier, Baystate Organic Certifiers. When I created the required “organic system plan” in the application, it made me realize that it is not enough to hold to organic principles, that to put them into practice requires discipline. So I began this journey and surprisingly came away feeling more prepared than I had expected. Credit is due to Baystate – their administration and inspection staff – took the time to explain the regulations and help improve my knowledge and practice.
Spending several decades in the environmental arena, made me an early follower of the organic promise. I was fortunate enough to encounter many of the leading advocates of this radical, alternative agriculture. After all it was USDA’s former Secretary Butz’s adage of “get big or get out” that was the norm, shaping conventional agriculture during my childhood. This mentality and the excesses of WWII stockpiles with a burgeoning new chemical industry, meant use of all types of ‘modern’ chemicals. In the mid-1990’s during the public comment period for the proposed organic rule, I was one of many who was vocal about adhering to precepts of organic philosophy and practices. Now I feel blessed to be ‘on the land’ walking the talk.

COURSES, CLASSES & TRAINING

After finishing my undergraduate work, I spent several years in the horticulture and botanical worlds and then pursued a 3 1/2 year master’s degree in landscape architecture/ land use planning. I worked with a wonderful land use planning firm for a few years before entering the nonprofit and philanthropic arenas.

I don’t remember a time when I was pursuing some form of knowledge about the natural world. Always feeling deficient in what I need to know – it has become a compulsion! Many have asked where to learn ow to farm or acquire skills. And like everyone else, I have a distinct array of learning techniques – from doing to pondering. So for many, it’s just  get out there and do.

Since purchasing the farm, I have taken several great courses pertinent to gardening, farm business planning and natural resource protection:

  • Master Gardener Certificate,  University of Rhode Island
  • Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions, Fundamentals Certificate + advanced coursework
  • NxLevel “Tilling the Soil”, Instructor Certificate
One of the most wonderful experiences I have had has been more recent. Holistic Management International, HMI, (www.holisticmanagement.org) offered a “Beginner Women Farmer” which I completed in 2009. What an amazing experience! The incredibly comprehensive and  ecologically based curriculum is hands-on and practical. But most important, it was an opportunity to work, learn, and meet other women farmers. So the networking and relationships were priceless. This was offered through a joint partnership between HMI based in New Mexico and Communities Involved in Sustaining Agriculture or CISA (www.buylocalfood.org) from western Massachusetts.
Another informal training experience I highly recommend is all of the on farm meetings offered through a variety of sources. Northeast Organic Farming Association, NOFA Mass is one of the best – check out the list of ongoing offerings at various farms: www.nofamass.org – look under twilight grower education series.

 

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