Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Low-Impact Forestry – Forestry as if the Future Mattered
Growing Kiwiberries in New England: An Online Guide for Regional Producers
Organic Weed Control Video Series Launched
Grain by Grain – A Quest to Revive Ancient Wheat, Rural Jobs, and Healthy Food
Dancing with Bees, A Journey Back to Nature
Making Love While Farming: Field Guide to a Life of Passion & Purpose
Grocery Story: The Promise of Food Co-ops in the Age of Grocery Giants

 

Resources

Low-Impact Forestry – Forestry as if the Future Mattered
Mitch Lansky, Editor
2002, Maine Environmental Policy Institute
This entire book was uploaded to the Maine Environmental Policy Institute website recently and is available there as a free download.

Growing Kiwiberries in New England: An Online Guide for Regional Producers
By William Hastings and Iago Hale, 2019
This resource from the N.H. Agricultural Experiment Station includes a statewide market assessment, a detailed production manual and an enterprise analysis for regional growers. Researchers say kiwiberry has great potential, citing consumer interest, the Northeast's established valuation of local produce and direct-market horticultural crops, and the extremely low level of regional production.

Organic Weed Control Video Series Launched
Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) has a new video series on organic weed control in field-crop production. In the 12-minute first video, several PFI farmers share their knowledge about early-season tillage, seedbed preparation and timing of planting. Additional episodes will explore crop rotations; early-season, light-tillage implements such as rotary hoes, tine weeders and harrows; row crop cultivators and more.


Grain by Grain – A Quest to Revive Ancient Wheat, Rural Jobs, and Healthy Food
 

Grain by Grain – A Quest to Revive Ancient Wheat, Rural Jobs, and Healthy Food
By Bob Quinn and Liz Carlisle
Island Press, 2019
288 pages, hardcover, $28

In this highly readable book, the authors follow Quinn’s evolution to organic farmer and entrepreneur, from his time growing up on the family’s Big Sandy, Montana, conventional wheat farm, to his Ph.D. work at the University of California Davis, to his move back to the family farm around the same time that he was hearing about people who were allegedly gluten-intolerant. He wondered, “if we’ve been eating wheat for ten thousand years, why has it suddenly started giving us trouble?”

The answer appears to be what Quinn calls “value subtracted” (versus value-added) wheat: wheat in which much of the value has been stripped away through industrial breeding, production and processing. Wheat with “no bran, no germ, no soil health, often no net profit to the farmer.” In contrast, Quinn favors “a fuller notion of value that puts the long-term well-being of people, communities, and land before the short-term goal of solely maximizing profit and efficiencies.”

Quinn experimented on his farm with organic and conventional wheat cultivation and found that the organic fields produced nearly identical yield and protein content as the conventional – and the chemical field was weedier.

“My father was astounded,” says Quinn. “He’d spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on fertilizer and herbicide – only to find out that he could have accomplished the same thing by strategically growing alfalfa at the right time in his crop rotation and planting his wheat seeds closer together.”

Quinn transitioned the entire farm to organic – at a loss of crop subsidy payments because the diverse rotation crops needed for organic practices weren’t subsidized. His records showed that the $24,000 to $26,000 per year in subsidies he had been receiving were about the same as his agricultural chemical bill had been. “The government subsidy was paying our chemical bill!” he says. “No wonder nobody bothered to think about how to reduce it. The whole sorry system was propped up at the taxpayer’s expense … American taxpayers … were subsidizing multinational chemical corporations.”

He writes about increasing his production of the ancient wheat variety Kamut, from the few seeds given to him at a county fair when he was in high school, to multiplying the seeds, growing the crop, engaging others to join him in Kamut production, and marketing the crop. Customers who thought they were wheat- or gluten-intolerant told Quinn they were enjoying Kamut products without problems.

So Quinn joined researchers studying the effects of consuming modern versus ancient wheat on rats and humans. In those studies, ancient grains reduced oxidative stress, inflammation, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and insulin and blood glucose levels. Regarding genes that stimulate inflammation, Quinn reports, “From what we’ve seen so far, modern wheat turns those genes on. Ancient wheat suppresses them.” He suggests that an inflammatory index be developed for foods.

This “green economy cowboy,” as Carlisle calls him, says that once he transitioned to organic, farming was much more fun. Also, he was able to rebuild his rural community, partly through Kamut, but also by understanding the value of organic farming for creating jobs, promoting health and sustaining the environment. He built several local businesses through cooperation rather than competition. Interestingly, companies that buy Kamut do not get a volume discount. “The price of the grain should reflect its value, plain and simple,” say the authors.

Quinn rails against companies that have commercialized genetically engineered seed, including the “frighteningly aggressive” Monsanto, which “moves to stamp out any value in the food system that doesn’t flow through its own intellectual property.” He, on the other hand, measures the success of his business “by the degree to which it’s added economic, ecological, and nutritional value all along the supply chain.” Hundreds of independent owner-operators now farm Kamut on thousands of certified-organic acres, and over 3,500 artisans make it into various foods.  

The authors provide interesting data on the carbon footprint of local versus organic foods and conclude, “if you want to eat sustainably, it makes sense to pay more attention to how your food is grown rather than just where it’s grown.”

“Grain by Grain” is about much more than Kamut. It covers the value of wind farms; the quandary of growing safflower for fuel versus feed – and how Quinn resolved that issue; growing dryland vegetables without irrigation; and the potential for Painted Mountain corn to meet human needs under adverse growing conditions.

The final chapter of this inspirational book cites Rick Schnieders, former head of food distributor Sysco, who believes we are seeing the end of the era of “fast, convenient, and cheap,” and who says the new watchword is “trust.”

– Jean English, MOFGA


Dancing with Bees, A Journey Back to Nature
 

Dancing with Bees, A Journey Back to Nature
By Brigit Strawbridge Howard
Chelsea Green Publishing, 2019
304 pages, hardbound, $24.95

Brigit Strawbridge Howard was shocked to discover that she knew more about the French Revolution that she did about her native trees, wildflowers, birds and bees. She was, she realized, disconnected from nature. And while she knew bees were important pollinators, she had no idea of the important role they would play in her life.

Beginning her book with a nod to the link between humans and honeybees, Howard then embraces a wider pollinator diversity. In 19 chapters she shares her delight and joy in discovering the native bees inhabiting the gardens and fields of the United Kingdom. She begins in the spring, as bumblebee queens emerge from their long winter sleep. This is when fertilized queens – buff-tailed bumble bees, tree bumble bees, ivy bumble bees and more – establish new colonies.

Newly-emerged queens require nectar- and pollen-rich flowering plants to feed upon, but the changing climate can create confusion when flowering plants and pollinator emergence are out of sync. On top of that, nature provides its own challenges: predators and parasite that prey on bumblebee colonies.

While honeybees and bumblebees are social, most native bees are solitary. They may nest in aggregations, but each female builds and provisions her own nest, dying before the next generation emerges. Most solitary bees can’t carry as much pollen as their bumblebee cousins, so they need to make more trips to flowers to gather pollen. More pollen-collecting trips translate into more flowers getting pollinated. Which is why, Howard writes, “… a single Red Mason bee (Osmia bicornis) can be around one hundred times more efficient than a single honey bee.” If you raise apples, you want those mason bees.

Tucked between her bee observations, Howard shares other musings, such as an explanation of taxonomy – the system of naming bees and other living things. “It’s no more intimidating than organizing the cupboards in your kitchen.” Later she wonders whether plants can hear and respond to the sounds of bees buzzing. Then she’s off on an expedition to the islands of the Outer Hebrides (off the west coast of Scotland) in search of the great yellow bumblebee, whose population has been reduced by 80 percent due to intensive farming. Along with bees, Howard celebrates the lives of hoverflies, potter wasps, birds and other bee-watching gardeners who share her passion for the native pollinators.

Howard also weaves in memories of her family and life, creating a memoir accompanied by the soundscape of the insects in her garden. And she does it all in a conversational way, weaving in colloquialisms such as “gather the gubbins” – which is a lot more fun to say than “get your stuff together.” She shows us how to look more closely at landscapes that may appear, at first glance, to be barren but are filled with small flowers. She reminds us that we are not the only inhabitants on this planet. Mostly, she reminds us to notice.

The text is accompanied by black-and-white illustrations. Back matter includes a selected bibliography, a list of organizations and websites and an index.

– Sue Smith-Heavenrich, Candor, N.Y.


Making Love While Farming
 

Making Love While Farming: Field Guide to a Life of Passion & Purpose
By Ricky Baruch and Deb Habib
Levellers Press, Amherst, Mass., 2019
292 pages, paperback, $22.50

Ricky Baruch and Deb Habib originally met at New Alchemy Institute. Several years later, after Baruch had apprenticed at New Alchemy, farmed in New York for several years and gained carpentry skills, and after Habib had completed a master’s degree, they met again, married and took an intense honeymoon – an eight-month Pilgrimage for Peace and Life through 12 countries, from Poland to the Czech Republic to Turkey, the Middle East, Vietnam and elsewhere to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold and nuclear wars, and to search for solidarity with farmers throughout the world.

Along the way they started collecting seeds for their future Seeds of Solidarity farm, which grew after they found relatively inexpensive land in economically depressed Orange, Mass., and carved out a patchwork of plots from the rough, barren ground. They started with no power, no pond for irrigation, no buildings and no markets. They smothered weeds with cardboard and mulch hay, and nourished beds with manure and cover crops. They started growing salad greens, then put up a hoophouse, and then four more greenhouses. They started a gardening program for local teens and for 10 years hosted apprentices.

In their book they relate the joys and trials of building their cottage, then an energy-efficient, solar-electric home with composting toilet, a studio, outbuildings, farm, farm stand and greenhouses … all while raising their son, Levi. New farmers can take heart: This didn’t all happen at once, they say. But given Baruch and Habib’s joint commitment to peace and community prosperity and to their family, they ultimately had a full-time farm and a nonprofit education center that mentored farmers and educators. They also started the North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival – a cultural and financial asset to their community – and they installed numerous school gardens, gardens for low-income families and guerilla gardens.

After 10 years of hosting apprentices, they settled on a one-person (Baruch) operation without apprentices (but with some weekly volunteers) using no-till and no machinery, selling only at their own farm stand and weekly to a food co-op. They spend weekends on activities other than farming.
    
This is a practical and inspirational guide for those starting or thinking of farming. Like the Nearings, Baruch and Habib offer a model of farming and community engagement, developed over time and based on a few income streams, that worked for them. Each chapter ends with ideas for exploring, maintaining and nourishing your own vision of yourself, your family and lifestyle, your farm and community. The book ends with a few recipes based on their farm-grown produce.

– Jean English


Grocery Story: The Promise of Food Co-ops in the Age of Grocery Giants
 

Grocery Story: The Promise of Food Co-ops in the Age of Grocery Giants
By Jon Steinman
New Society Publishers, 2019
280 pages, paperback, $19.99

As anyone who has taken even a cursory look at the system we rely on to feed ourselves can attest, our food system is on borrowed time. One problem is that our food supply has fallen into the hands of a dwindling number of large corporations that often control many stages of the production, marketing and retailing of food. Beholden to their shareholders, these corporations focus primarily on short-term profits over long-term sustainability. Besides exacerbating the climate crisis, depleting aquifers, polluting waterways and eroding soils, corporate consolidation and vertical integration in the industrial food system also drive up food prices and lower the share of our food dollar that goes to farmers and farming communities. Meanwhile, the nutritive quality of the food being sold in our supermarkets is dwindling, as is access by low-income communities.

The solution is simple: Shop at your local food co-op. Not a member? Then join. No co-op nearby? Gather some friends and start one.

Maybe it’s not quite that simple, but after reading Jon Steinman’s thoroughly researched and passionately written “Grocery Story,” the logic of cooperatives and their role in helping build robust local food systems across North America becomes crystal clear. Co-ops are democracy in action at a human scale. They are beholden not to corporate investors but to their owner/members, providing them with the grocery choices they desire and a shopping experience they can feel good about. Citing numerous statistics, Steinman notes that co-ops put more money in the hands of farmers with a focus on supporting environmentally friendly, organic practices. They also keep up to twice as much revenue circulating in the local economy as conventional chains, provide better jobs and working conditions, and donate more than three times as much to community causes.

Even though Steinman does an excellent job of laying out the history of how a handful of corporate giants have come to control the retail food market, often through nefarious means, he implores us to focus our efforts on building resilient community food systems with the cooperative model as a framework. The Portland Food Co-op in Maine is cited as a prime example of how a small group of committed people could raise over $1 million to open an alternative to an out-of-state chain that monopolized the local natural foods market. As a long-time member/owner of the Fare Share Co-op in Norway, one of Maine’s only surviving rural co-ops, I can’t imagine life without it. It has served me for 20 years as the place where I buy nearly all my groceries, mostly from local producers, and where I sold my produce when I was a market farmer. It is the core of my community here, and that is worth far more than the few extra dollars I might pay for my monthly food bill over the local Walmart.

As the global food system buckles under the weight of corporate greed and environmental degradation, food co-operatives will form the backbone of a resilient and enduring, locally based food economy that restores dignity and equity to farming and eating, but only if we support them now.

– Scott Vlaun, Center for an Ecology-Based Economy, Norway, Maine

Top