Monday, February 8, 2016

Featured CT NOFA Business Members ~ February 2016

Walter Stewart's Market is an independent, family-owned grocery store in New Canaan that goes the extra mile to source local, artisan and sustainable food for the growing number of consumers who want to eat this way. CT Grown fruits and vegetables are featured year round along with Millstone Farm eggs, Arethusa Farm milk and cream, and a delicious selection of farmstead cheeses.

Artisan and specialty foods from local, Non-GMO and organic producers, some quite small, make shopping at Walter Stewart's particularly exciting and rewarding. Whole G bread from New Haven makes a delicious, German-style bread from whole and organic grains; Lulu's Southern Pies from Greenwich are as small batch as they come; and Nutty Bunny ice cream from Westport makes organic, Non-GMO, gluten-free and dairy-free frozen desserts just perfect for vegans and those suffering from food allergies. Walter Stewart's carries Shearwater Coffee Roasters' line of organic and Fair Trade, local-roasted coffees, Maury's Hive Tea, and direct trade, Non-GMO hot chocolate from Cisse Trading.
 
Walter Stewart's Market
229 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT 06840
(203) 966-4848

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Gilbertie's is a family-owned business started in 1922 that is now the largest grower of USDA Certified Organic herb plants on the East Coast. All of the ingredients for your perfect garden can be found here - from a wide selection of annuals and perennials, to extensive landscape products, to their renowned USDA Certified Organic herbs and vegetables. Each of their plants is grown in a custom made, certified organic soil blend that has taken them four years to perfect, ensuring the highest amount of essential oil and taste in each herb and green.
Visit their garden center in Westport to shop for all your organic gardening needs and be sure to budget time to enjoy the formal display gardens and themed greenhouses, and peruse the gift shop where you can purchase Sal Gilbertie's gardening books to further your knowledge. Check their online schedule for free lectures and classes on the importance of growing organically to preserve our world and to be healthier. For the last five years, Gilbertie's has hosted the Winter Westport Farmers Market in one of their greenhouses. The market is held each Saturday from 10-2 through March 12.
What Martha has to say about Sal's 5th book, "Small-Plot, High-Yield Gardening":
"Whether you have a real garden or just a window box, I can think of no better guide to creating a sustainable herb and vegetable garden than Sal Gilbertie. For more than 30 years I have turned to Sal for healthy, productive plants. With this useful and informative book, he can help you, too, cultivate your garden." - Martha Stewart, Celebrity Author, Chef & Lifestyle Guru

Gilbertie's Herb Gardens
7 Sylvan Lane
Westport CT 06880
Call (203) 227-4175 or email GilbertiesHerbs@msn.com
 

McLoughlin Landscapes LLC is a family owned and operated business based in Stamford that has provided homeowners and businesses in Fairfield and Westchester counties with professional landscaping services since 1975. Founder Jim McLoughlin built his business from a one man operation into a highly successful landscape design, build and maintenance company that currently employs fifteen skilled and dedicated landscape technicians.
Managing Partner and Lead Designer James McLoughlin has been with the company for close to twenty years and is a NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLCP). Certified by the New York Botanical Garden as a Landscape Designer, James has also completed the New York Botanical Garden's Gardening Program and continues to utilize the wealth of knowledge that the Botanical Garden provides by regularly attending classes and seminars on landscape design and theory. James holds both an Arborist and a Turf and Ornamental Supervisory license from the State of Connecticut.

McLoughlin Landscapes LLC
281 Silver Hill Lane
Stamford, CT 06905
Email jimmcland@gmail.com or call 203 324 5550

Monday, February 1, 2016

34th Annual Winter Conference ~ Connecticut’s Largest Organic Food and Farming Conference



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Connecticut’s Largest Organic Food and Farming Conference Returns for 34th Year
Organic community to unite for a weekend of education, inspiration and celebration

Derby, CT, Feb. 1, 2016 – The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (CT NOFA) is pleased to invite the public to its 34th Annual Winter Conference on March 12 and 13 at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in Danbury. Guests will discover new ways to strengthen Connecticut’s local food system and help combat climate change using practices rooted in organic farming and land care. Keynote  speaker Travis Marcotte, Executive Director of the Intervale Center in Vermont, will inspire and energize guests about building community food systems as the conference kicks off.
 
Saturday programming features more than 60 workshops taught by industry experts about organic gardening, land care, homesteading, farming and do-it-yourself foods including kombucha, ginger beer, wine, and fermented vegetables.  Gardeners will learn how to graft fruit trees, grow roses organically, and cultivate mushrooms while land care professionals further their expertise in soil biology, creating landscape designs for feathery friends, and using beneficial insects for pest management. 

Jack Kittredge, longtime NOFA Massachusetts leader and author of The Natural Farmer newspaper, will lead a soil carbon restoration workshop designed to teach farmers techniques for returning carbon to the soil and restoring soil health. Farmers can explore climate change adaptation strategies with Kip Kolesinskas, Conservation Scientist at American Farmland Trust, and learn a practical approach to cover crops with Dr. Elizabeth Dyck, a plant scientist and founder of the Organic Growers' Research and Information-Sharing Network (OGRIN)

We are very excited to present two days of outstanding programming for our diverse and growing membership and community of supporters” says CT NOFA Executive Director Jeff Cordulack “and look forward to sharing inspiring news about the power of regenerative ‘carbon farming’ to absorb carbon from the air and help reverse climate change. Our organic mission has never been more relevant than it is today.”

Guests may purchase lunch tickets for $15 and enjoy their choice of delicious and locally-sourced dishes prepared by generous lunch sponsors including Barcelona, The Whelk, Kawa Ni, Sugar & Olives, Mill Street Bar & Table, Wave Hill Breads, New Morning Market, Plan B and Sodexo. A complimentary tasting of locally-roasted, organic coffee is being sponsored by Shearwater Coffee Roasters and at lunchtime, organic teas are being sponsored by local tea producer Harney and Sons.

Saturday admission includes access to workshops and more than 60 organic food and farm exhibitors. Sunday features a choice of intensive workshops for farmers and serious backyard gardeners, including programs for beginning farmers who want to improve their crop planning and business skills. 

Register online at ctnofa.org for CT NOFA’s 34th Annual Winter Conference for the organic food and farming community held on Saturday, March 12 from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, and Sunday, March 13 from 9:00-3:30 pm at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. Saturday admission is $60 for non-members and $50 for members; Sunday admission is $50 for non-members and $35 for members; combined Saturday and Sunday admission is $110 for non-members and $85 for members.

Thank you to our generous sponsors for their support.




CT NOFA's 34th Annual Winter Conference is being brought to you in cooperation with Western Connecticut State University and its Jane Goodall Center for Excellence in Environmental Studies.  



 This Program is a cooperative effort of CT NOFA, UConn Extension, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, and the Risk Management Agency/USDA.
 

  



About CT NOFA
The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut, Inc. (CT NOFA) is the first and leading grassroots association advocating for organic food, farming, gardening and land care in Connecticut. We connect people in the local-sustainable food and land care movements with organic resources and cutting-edge educational opportunities. Our organization’s emphasis is on training organic farmers, gardeners and land care professionals on the latest sustainable practices; promoting organic products and practices to consumers; and bringing attention to critical state and federal policy issues affecting our international food system and global environment. CT NOFA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded in 1982 and one of the seven State Chapters of the Northeast Organic Farming Association.

Media Inquiries:
Contact:
Analiese Paik
Communications Director
203-520-3451

Jeff Cordulack
Executive Director
CT NOFA
126 Derby Avenue, Derby, CT 06418
(203) 613-8813

END
###

Friday, January 29, 2016

Eggs

by Bill Duesing
 

"Uncle Sam expects you to keep hens and raise chickens" is the headline on a USDA advertisement from 1918.

Beneath the headline is a drawing which includes a girl feeding a small flock of hens while the rooster looks on and a boy building a little shelter, all in an outside area enclosed by a fence. In the background is a simple chicken house which looks like a small country cottage.

Read the words on the ad!

Key points:
Two hens per person is a good ratio for fresh eggs.
Chickens will fit into most backyards.
Cost and time needed are minimal.
Food wastes can provide much of the food.
Children can care for chickens.


Eggs and Chickens

On the Old Solar Farm, we kept chickens for eggs and meat for forty years.  Sometimes we had just two hens.  For a while, we had nearly 100 and wholesaled eggs.  It is always nice to have a supply of fresh eggs.

Eggs are one of the most valuable and versatile of home grown foods, except for vegans and those allergic to them. Think fried, scrambled or poached for breakfast, hard boiled for a salad at lunch, made into a vegetable filled omelet or quiche for dinner and as custard for dessert. Eggs are full of protein, valuable fats and other nutrients.

Eggs are especially nutritious if the hens spend time outdoors where they get fresh air and sunshine and can forage on green plants, insects and worms.  Overripe or damaged garden vegetables and even many weeds are great chicken food, too.   Hens love those baseball bat sized zucchinis and cucumbers which ameliorates the guilt involved with letting those vegetables get too big!

One of at least six places within a mile
of our farm where we can buy fresh, local eggs.
We don't have chickens now so we are free to travel more, but thankfully over the past few years many of our neighbors have started raising chickens.  There are more than a half dozen homes within a mile of our farm with a self-serve cooler offering fresh local eggs by their mailboxes. Some use organic feed.  Others have a movable house and electric net fencing so it is obvious that the hens are pastured.


A chicken house on wheels and a portable pen so the chickens have access to pasture. Eggs from these hens have a beautiful deep orange yolks.
One indication of how far the organic movement has come is the current availability of organic feed.  When I first started with chickens, I had to go to a grain milling company in lower Manhattan to get organic feed by the ton. It was the grain and flour they couldn't sell to humans.  Now most feed stores carry it in bags and NOFA member farms in New York and Vermont produce it.

So we've come full circle!!  I'm sure many people in our rural town of Oxford kept chickens in 1918, because that made sense or because the USDA encouraged it.

What happened in between?

Several of Mr. Barry's chicken houses. 
They've been without chickens for several decades.
When I moved to our Oxford farm in 1972, Mr. Barry, a retired New York Times reporter, was raising chickens about a mile away.  He had three or four chicken houses set apart in a field, each big enough for 100 or more hens.  The houses faced south with lots of windows to let sun and air in and doors to let chickens out.  He sold eggs to corner stores in the nearby Lower Naugatuck Valley.


Not long after, another chicken business started up.  This involved a large metal building that held 50,000 hens firmly inside. Each day a dump truck carried away a load of manure the color and consistency of very wet concrete and a big box truck carried away the eggs.  After a decade, the business closed and the building was demolished.

Industrial egg production
facility in Eastern Connecticut
housing millions of caged layers.
By the 1980s, the majority of eggs produced in Connecticut came from a single large producer in eastern Connecticut with millions of caged layers. I got to take a group of high school students who were studying food and energy to visit this farm. Although there were a number of farmers at that time still raising eggs as Mr. Barry did, (and some still do) this industrialized egg operation was what our UConn collaborator wanted the kids to visit.

You have probably seen pictures of this kind of factory farm.  Rows and rows of small cages, stacked three or four high, each cage containing several hens. The system is designed so that eggs roll down onto conveyor belts for collection at one end of the long, narrow barn and manure drops to the space underneath the chickens.  University of Connecticut experts spent decades trying to solve the fly problem from all that manure that was trucked to area farms.

The chicken house we visited was dimly lit, very dusty and smelled of ammonia.  The students didn't want to be in there very long.   We also got to see the attached, highly automated egg processing facility and learned about some of the different uses for eggs.

However, the last I heard, the eggs from this farm now travel down I-95 to New Jersey for cleaning, sorting and packaging, before being shipped back to Connecticut so consumers here can buy these well-traveled eggs.  I suspect they are also sold in a number of other states.

At the time of our visit, this facility was locally owned by a farmer with a lot of connections to UConn.  A few years ago, I learned that that egg farm was owned by Moark (for Missouri and Arkansas), which is a part of the Land and Lake Coop.  I just read that this facility was recently bought by Sanderson Farms, one of the country's largest egg producers, a part of Cal-Maine company.

This same farm is one of the few facilities in Connecticut that qualifies as a CAFO, or confined animal feeding operation. I suspect that the actual buildings have been changed and upgraded over the years, but it remains a very large, indoor caged layer facility.  The hens eat genetically modified corn and soybeans, much of it from halfway across the country. They are moved in when they are about five months old and ready to lay.  After laying fewer than 200 eggs, they will become a soup ingredient. You can read a defense of their caged layer system provided to the Connecticut legislature in 2009 here.  It was still Kofkoff egg farm then.

This recent report details the progress we've made in getting chickens out of cages thanks to consumer pressure. Keep it up!

Key points:
Industrial farms are capital intensive and controlled by distant
large corporations.
Hens don't see the sun, breathe fresh air, or eat grass or bugs.
Lots of transportation is involved for chickens, eggs and feed.
Based on a linear industrial model rather than a cyclical, ecological model.

Three approaches

At least three approaches to agriculture and feeding ourselves are illustrated by the examples above.  The USDA's plan in 1918 involves lots of people, educates children, reduces food waste and builds fertile soil. (When we had chickens in stationary pens, I'd keep the ground covered with leaves that I collected in the fall. The chickens' scratching broke up the leaves, mixing them with their manure to create a wonderful compost.) Chickens got to do their natural chicken activities in the sunlight and fresh air.

A larger scale, commercial operation such as Mr. Barry's can have many of the same benefits. (A friend in Vermont raises about 600 chickens on the food waste from a local school.) The chickens get fresh air and sunlight, eat a variety of foods and are close to eaters. Both home production and human scale farms fit into an ecological approach to food and our relationship with the earth.

However, note the many changes with the industrial model:  no more fresh air and sunlight for the chickens.  Most of the feed is from far away. Whether the grains are from Connecticut or the Midwest, this feed is inexpensive because the government supports its production with our tax dollars, farmers are not paid fairly and fossil fuels are plentiful and cheap. Unfortunately the environmental damage done by industrial scale grain growing is not paid for. Food wastes become a big problem.

I'd love to hear about the growing egg economy in your area.

Resources for raising chickens, organically.

CT NOFA provides some local sources for chicks and equipment.
NOFA Interstate Council published Humane and HealthyPoultry Production.
For a good overview of the varieties of chickens and chicken equipment check out this company's catalog or web site.



Protection from predators is one of the most critical issues for backyard chickens. Lots of animals like to eat chickens. Earlier this month my son took this photo in his Simsbury backyard. He said: "I was thinking about chickens this weekend and realized that my worst losses always came when they were under a tree. Red tails, ravens, and coopers."


Monday, December 28, 2015

Progress and a Different Paradigm for the New Year

by Bill Duesing

We've made good progress in the past year having our voices heard on the food and farming issues we care about: healthy food for everyone, support for beginning farmers, GMO labeling, food justice, fair wages for workers throughout the food system, excess nutrient pollution and climate change. We have also made progress in animal care issues. Some restaurant and food chains are planning to eliminate routine use of antibiotics for animals and gestation crates for sows.  Sellers of unhealthy foods and beverages are struggling; organic farmers have trouble keeping up with demand.  As consumers and activists, we are feeling our power to change the paradigm. And, of course, this is all good.   However, the news of the climate, environmental and/or social chaos in so many parts of the world shows that we are very far from the path to achieving a livable future for our children and grandchildren.

Taking a longer view can keep us focused on what is important. A paradigm is a model or a way of thinking. Unless we respect and use a cyclical, biological paradigm, as opposed to a linear industrial paradigm, we don't have a chance for a sustainable and fulfilling future.



For many years, the image above has provided me with a useful tool for explaining the kind of problems caused by and changes needed in the currently dominant, industrial paradigm.

The Industrial Paradigm

The industrial model is especially damaging in combination with an economic system focused on continual growth.  There are often distant and tenuous connections between the human and physical inputs needed to create a product or service, the consumer or user, and the land, water and air where the products and pollutants ultimately end up. Because of this, the external costs of this system, (the tax, environmental and human costs of production, transportation and disposal), are hidden from consumers. This results in lots of environmental and human health damage that the consumer doesn't see or directly pay for.

A biological paradigm, in contrast, provides essential connections between the inputs and outputs. This model provides greater transparency and encourages more localization and cycling of resources. This is good for communities but not so good for global corporations.

We can begin to understand the differences between these two paradigms using an agricultural example:  how we get nitrogen out of the air and into the soil to nourish plants.  All nitrogen comes from the atmosphere which is nearly 80 percent nitrogen.  Nitrogen in the air can be converted (or fixed) into a form plants can use by either industrial or biological systems.

In the current industrial model, developed intensively over the past two hundred years, nitrogen-bearing substances come from far away: in the 19th century from mineral deposits in Peru and Chile.  Since the early 20th century, nitrogen fertilizer has been produced through the Haber-Bosch industrial process that now begins with fracking the earth for natural gas which is then used to make hydrogen.  That hydrogen is combined (under great pressure and high temperature) with atmospheric nitrogen to make ammonia. Then that material is converted to another form, packaged and shipped to its point of use on a farm, garden or lawn. From there, some of the nitrogen is taken up by plants but much of it is moved by water either into the ground, where it makes well water dangerous to drink, or into streams, rivers and eventually into estuaries.  Higher nitrogen content makes it much more difficult to process river water for drinking. (See Des Moines' water supply problems.) It also encourages eutrophication of estuaries by encouraging the growth of algae.

In contrast, a biological approach involves using cover crops (e.g. clover, hairy vetch, alfalfa and field peas) to capture nitrogen from the air with the help of bacteria living on their roots. Other more local sources of biologically-fixed nitrogen include rotating leguminous crops (such as peas and beans) through the growing area, rotating animals through crop land and applying compost from local manures and other organic wastes.  All of these methods can provide the necessary nitrogen, especially if harsh and toxic chemicals and most tillage are avoided.

NOFA

Much of NOFA's work since its founding has been informed by the development and understanding of the benefits of the biological paradigm developed over the past century.

In 1971, a group of organic agriculture and healthy food pioneers came together in Vermont to start the Natural Organic Farmers Association.  That organization is now the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) with chapters in seven states and almost 6,000 members, including farmers, gardeners, homesteaders, landscapers, scientists and educators. 

The autumn of 1971 was a time of domestic turmoil over race, the Vietnam War and the environment.  However, these (mostly young) people were concerned with two things: how to grow food without toxic chemicals and with getting healthy food to those who needed it. One of NOFA's first projects was trucking organic vegetables from New England farms to day care centers, women's shelters and food coops in New York City.  (Note 1). A year or so later, the focus changed to more local markets as the need for good food was discovered closer to home.

This occurred less than a decade after Rachel Carson's Silent Spring documented the damages that pesticides were doing to human and environmental health. At that time, unless you were connected with the chemical or the agricultural establishment, it was natural to be concerned about spreading toxic pesticides on our food.  Hence the interest in organic farming. It is very instructive to read the Wikipedia entry for Silent Spring.  The dynamics of environmental issues haven't changed much. Corporations which profit from the industrial paradigm by polluting the environment and damaging human health use bought science, scientism and shady, despicable tactics to discredit the honest messenger. They also use their ill-gotten gains to buy cooperation from their friends in government. Cigarettes, pesticides, GMOs, flame retardants, fossil fuels, hedge funds, lead in paint and fuel, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and synthetic fertilizers are just some of the areas where this pattern has played out since Silent Spring.

Aside from the turbulent times and the environmental issues, many of these enthusiastic young people who founded NOFA were inspired by books from earlier in the 20th Century including:

1.  Soil Scientist FH King's Farmers of Forty Centuries (1911) which describes his visits to Korea, China and Japan in 1909 to learn how those countries managed to feed themselves for over 4,000 years from small land areas. (Spoiler alert: Intensive cultivation, multi cropping, cover cropping, composting all organic wastes and human labor were the keys to their success.)

2. Sir Albert Howard's An Agricultural Testament (1940) describes his work in India beginning in 1905.  He was sent there to teach farmers proper British agriculture (fertilizers, pesticides and the whole industrial approach). Instead, he learned from the Indian farmers about making and using compost. From observing the health of villagers and their soils, he learned that "the health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible."

3. Louis Bromfield's Pleasant Valley (1945) and Malabar Farm (1948) describe what happens to the dust bowl ruined Ohio farms he bought in 1930s as a result of using cover crops, compost (inspired by Sir Albert Howard) rotational grazing and sustainable forestry. Springs that had dried up started running again as soil health improved and natural water cycles functioned again.

4. Edward S. Hyams' Soil and Civilization (1952) connected the dots between the way a society cared for its soil and its long term success or failure.

The Biological Paradigm

The early 1970s were full of reasons to move toward the biological paradigm. The first Earth Day was held in 1970. In 1971, Barry Commoner's The Closing Circle, Nature, Man and Technology was published.  It increased interest in ecology and inspired many of us with Commoner's Four Rules of Ecology:

1. Everything is connected to everything else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.

2. Everything must go somewhere. There is no "waste" in nature and there is no "away."

3. Nature knows best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is, says Commoner, "likely to be detrimental to that system."

4. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Exploitation of nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.

In 1972, we first saw a photograph of the whole earth from space.  So, it was hard to be content with a linear industrial paradigm after that.

Fast Forward                        

Now well into the 21st century, with the new challenges from climate change, we can see the advantages of using the biological paradigm.  It turns out that organic methods of soil and fertility management are among the best strategies for both mitigating and adapting to climate change.  Careful organic practices can return carbon to the soil while also resisting the increased droughts and downpours a changing climate brings.  Industrial nitrogen fertilizer not only releases nitrous oxide (a very powerful greenhouse gas) when it is applied, it also encourages the decomposition of organic matter, impoverishing the soil ecosystem and driving further climate change.

Keeping these different paradigms in mind should help us create a more just, sustainable and resilient food system. They will help us see the differences, for example, between systems which consume electricity to provide light and run pumps indoors to grow leafy greens and those that use sunlight, soil and compost to grow food nearly everywhere.

In the new year, we need to continue to use our buying power as well as our actions (i.e., gardening, cooking, supporting farmers markets, joining CSAs, talking to legislators) to effect the changes we want to see in the future. 


Note 1. Organic certification didn't exist at that time but organic growing methods were based on the books listed in this essay and the publications of J I Rodale.  Rodale was inspired by Sir Albert Howard's writings to start an experimental organic farm in 1940 and Organic Farming and Gardening magazine in 1942.  His How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic Method was published in 1961 and provided important guidance to early organic growers.  Organic certification began in the 1980s with NOFA chapters and other organizations developing state standards.  CT NOFA certified farms from 1989 until the USDA took control of "organic" in 2002.