Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Organic Land Care: The Way to Go!



By Bill Duesing

Our lives are totally dependent on the air, water and food we get from nature, primarily from the plants, soil and oceans that cover our planet.  Left alone, nature produces greater biodiversity, stores more carbon, creates more structural complexity and moves toward metabolic stability. Taken together, these effects lead to more resilience in the face of environmental disaster and to healthy ecosystems and a stable climate. 

Unfortunately, Americans are largely ignorant of this information. And our hubris means that most people don't think this ignorance matters. Otherwise we would reject the commercially based way of caring for the earth with a default landscape of large chemical lawns and a few shrubs (selected for their static appearance) in our yards and public spaces. This landscape is not in accordance with nature's principles.
A default landscape in Woodbridge, CT
NOFA's Organic Land Care

For more than 25 years CT NOFA has been promoting and educating about organic land care (OLC). Organic land care extends the vision, principles and expertise of organic agriculture to the care of the landscapes where people live, work and play. Its methods can be applied anywhere there is landscaping: small urban lots, suburban yards, estates, schools, commercial properties, parks and farms.

(For a brief history of CT NOFA's work with OLC, see Note 1. The internationally-recognized principles of organic care are cited in Note 2.)

Organic land care works with nature to increase biodiversity and store more carbon while avoiding toxic substances and excess nutrients. This is what nature does if left alone. Increasing biodiversity and taking more carbon out of the atmosphere create healthy environments and a livable climate. Our care of the land can participate in this system and benefit from its energy, or it can fight nature using fertilizers, monocultures and toxins. 

From a global perspective, Earth's most serious environmental problems are the quickly-changing climate, excess nitrogen and the rapid loss of biodiversity (all caused by humans-see Note 3). These problems are directly connected with the way we manage the land under our care.  We can work to correct these problems using organic methods. But most garden centers sell huge amounts of high nitrogen fertilizers and poisonous biodiversity killers such as RoundUp, as well as many combinations of fertilizers and pesticides which create two problems with one product. And they all require fossil fuel to produce, package and distribute which causes more climate disruption.
Earth's vital signs


Lots of nitrogen and biodiversity eliminating chemicals
Biodiversity

Increasing biodiversity is at the heart of organic land care. A diverse soil ecosystem, with billions of organisms in just a spoonful of soil, is able to support plant health and fight off diseases while helping to pull carbon out of the air and store it in soil organic matter.  A diverse plant community, especially of native plants, provides food and habitat for more birds and beneficial insects (as well as bacteria, fungi and other organisms) which can in turn foster pollination and provide pest control and other services. Caterpillars may eat some leaves, but they are important food for birds. Native trees host many kinds of caterpillars to feed more songbirds. Non-native invasive trees, not so much.  There are 337 species of native bees in Connecticut, all with a role to play in the ecosystem and a need for habitat and food.

Storing Carbon
Plants extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They incorporate much of it into their leaves, stems and roots. However, 20 percent or more of that carbon is released through the roots to nourish soil organisms. Some of that carbon may be stored long term in the soil under the right conditions. A greater diversity of plants and an undisturbed soil full of life create these conditions. Lawns, that is chemically tended grass monocultures, don't support those conditions. Raking leaves removes carbon that could and should be added to the soil each year.

Many ways to manage landscapes
Working with nature can be done at a variety of scales and in many ways. The NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care provide preferred, allowed and prohibited practices. They can be used for growing flowers, trees, shrubs, lawns or food.  Organic methods make it easier to grow food and flowers together. Growing food is a preferred practice in the NOFA Standards. Working with nature is also the key to successful organic agriculture. The most successful organic farmers have discovered the importance of native plants and pollinators, perennial crops and hedgerows.

See Dr. Sarah Little's article for even more reasons to use organic methods and a convenient checklist of things to do with your yard. Sarah is the author of NOFA OLC's Introduction to Organic Lawns and Yards.  The second edition has just been published.  Learn more here.

The NOFA Organic Land Care Program provides a number of resources and publications through organiclandcare.net.  For homeowners, there is a searchable database of accredited professionals. For professionals, there are courses, including a first ever courses in Maine this summer and on Long Island this fall. 

Be open to what nature has planned for your land.
After 40 years of being mostly left alone (Note 4), our steep, rocky home lot along the Housatonic River has an incredible diversity of plants which grow naturally here: ginseng, Dutchman's britches, aquilegia, Solomon's seal, false Solomon's seal, many kinds of ferns, a nearly five-foot diameter pine tree, hemlocks, white and red oaks, hickories, black birches, a beech, choke cherries and red cedars as well as dozens of other plants (and some years delicious morel mushrooms) all on just a fraction of an acre. What would grow in your yard if you let nature be?

What does your land produce?
Clean air and water and healthy food come from healthy ecosystems and very few other places.  If everyone on the planet managed their piece of Earth the way you do, would the world be a more beautiful place with clean air, water and food?

Notes
Note 1. In 1990, the CT NOFA board realized that a number of our members were landscapers who joined the organization to learn organic techniques. As a result, organic landscaping was selected as the theme for the winter conference.  The conference was so successful that for the next two years, CT NOFA held an organic landscaping conference in addition to the regular winter conference (focused on farming and gardening).  These landscaping conferences were well attended as interest in organic land care grew. However, at that time, CT NOFA was an all-volunteer organization which certified organic farms and had its hands full promoting organic agriculture. The board handed the effort off to the Ecological Landscape Association (ELA) which was just forming. It was hoped that ELA would carry on the organic tradition.    But by the late 1990s it was clear that ELA wasn't strictly organic, so in 1999 NOFA members in Massachusetts and Connecticut created the NOFA Organic Land Care Program.  First a committee of landscapers, scientists and activists wrote the Standards for Organic Land Care, and then they created a multi-day course to educate land care professionals in the standards and accredit those who completed the course and passed an exam. Visit thispage for more history.  We all owe a debt to the volunteers who created and guided this program.

ELA provides many valuable educational and networking opportunities for professionals, organic and conventional.

Note 2. The principles of organic agriculture are Health, Ecology, Fairness and Care, as stated by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).  (The NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care are part of the IFOAMFamily of Standards.)  In organic land care, these principles are stated this way:

  • Steward the combined health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet.
  • Emulate living ecological systems and cycles and help sustain them.
  • Build equity, respect, justice and stewardship of the shared world. And
  • Act in a precautionary and responsible manner.

Note 3. Scientists around the world have identified three very serious, global environmental problems: climate change, excess nutrients, especially nitrogen, and the rapid loss of biodiversity. These problems are interrelated. 

Climate change is destroying biodiversity of coral reefs (with warming oceans) and western US forests (with invasive insects and fire). Nitrogen fertilizers release greenhouse gases (nitrates and carbon dioxide) from the soil when they are applied, and then as they leach out of the soil, create dead zones (with very low biodiversity) in places such as the Gulf of Mexico. Loss of biodiversity leads to a loss of resilience in the face of climate change.  Loss of biodiversity in the soil (as a result of using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides) leads to less carbon being stored to moderate climate.  Climate change's droughts and deluges, with resulting fires and floods, further reduce biodiversity.

Note 4. Now that I understand the effects of invasive plants, I've been working to remove them, by hand, to encourage the aforementioned native plants. I pull out wineberries and garlic mustard, as well as some of the English Ivy, crown vetch and Forsythia (planted many decades ago) which continues trying to take over.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Organic Land Care Course Addresses Growing Need for Chemical-Free Experts




Four Day Course Trains and Accredits Organic Land Care Professionals (AOLCPs)

NOFA Organic Land Care Accreditation Course 

August 15, 16, 22, & 23, 2016

8:00am - 5:00pm

Early bird registration of $695 ends June 30

Register at organiclandcare.net or call 203-308-2584

NOFA Organic Land Care Program is pleased to announce its first Accreditation Course in Organic Land Care in Maine and offer early bird registration through June 30.

Demand for organic land care professionals is increasing rapidly in Maine due to a growing concern over the hazards of synthetic pesticides and the adoption of ordinances banning or restricting the use of chemical pesticides on town, and sometimes private, land in twenty-seven towns including Ogunquit, Rockland and most recently, South Portland. 

Local professionals joining the roster of notable instructors include David Melevsky of Go Green Landscaping Inc. of Scarborough who will teach “Organic Tick Control” and Paula Kovecses of The Way It Grows in Eastport who will teach "Introduction to Permaculture." Group discounts and payment plans are available. 

For more details including a course curriculum, and to register, contact the Northeast Organic Farming Association (CT NOFA) office at 203-308-2584 or visit www.organiclandcare.net.

Monday, June 13, 2016

How We've Grown!



By Bill Duesing

I stopped into a nearby chain supermarket on the way home from work the other day to do a little shopping.  Just outside the entrance were piles of two kinds of bagged potting soil, both clearly labeled organic.  One even bore the OMRI seal. (This means that the Organic Materials Review Institute has found that the product is suitable for use on an organic farm according to the Federal Standards for organic agriculture.)

Once inside, I saw a big display of seed packets, proclaiming boldly that the seeds are organic and non GMO.  Many of the store's staff wore tee shirts with messages about organic on them. 

Like most of the chain's locations, this store has a separate organic/natural section as well as organic products mixed in with their conventional counterparts-vegetables and fruits, dried fruits and nuts, dairy products and pasta for example. This trend is common all over the country.  In our travels, it is only in the very rural Midwest and Intermountain west that organic products are rare.

Forty-five years after NOFA started promoting local and organic agriculture, it seems like we've won on the organic issue. Consumers get it, even as industrial agriculture and its suppliers and supporters continue their decades long resistance and/or hostility to organic. I know there is a lot more work to do to convert all of our agriculture and food systems to organic practices, but the rate of growth in sales and consumer interest mean that it is inevitable. 

According to US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack:
America's organic industry is booming, creating important opportunities for farmers and ranchers and adding to the vibrancy of rural America. Under the Obama Administration, we've made transformative investments to help the organic sector thrive by making certification more attainable, providing more support for organic operations, and expanding international markets. As consumer demand continues to grow, USDA is here to support producers and help them access the hunger for American-grown organic products...Organic food is one of the fasting growing segments of American agriculture.

The USDA organic program has certified more than 21,900 organic operations to date — nearly a 300 percent increase since 2002. Worldwide, the USDA organic seal has become a leading global standard, with more than 31,000 certified organic operations in more than 120 countries.

According to a recent report from the Organic Trade Association, total organic food sales in this country rose 10.6 percent in 2015 to $39.6 billion. Since 2007, total organic sales have doubled.

Organic fresh fruit and vegetable sales were $13 billion last year, up ten percent from 2014.  That figure also includes estimates of sales from farmers markets, retail stores, community supported agriculture groups, mail order and online sales, as well as direct sales to consumers and exports.  It does not include the value of vegetables produced organically in the increasing number of home, community and school gardens.

Sales of organic apples have grown (12 to 15 percent a year for four or five years) while sales of conventional apples have fallen (1 to 2 percent each year).Consumers understand the value of purchasing organic food. The food market is shifting toward clean ingredients, including organic ones, in response to consumer pressure.

Another survey found that nearly three quarters of the families in this country make an effort to buy organic and that 85 percent of parents said that buying organic was extremely or very important when purchasing baby foods. And, 84 percent said the same about buying foods for their children.


Even though, according to the USDA, there was a 12 percent increase last year in the total number of certified organic farms and processors/handlers in this country, organic production doesn't keep up with the demand. In 2015, there was a 9 percent increase just in certified organic farms alone.  You can search a list of all 31,000 plus certified operations here.


According to Carl Jorgensen, the director of global consumer strategy of wellness at Daymon Worldwide (a brand-building company), “Organic is mainstream now...At the very least, three-fourths of American consumers are purchasers of organic products. That’s not a niche, that’s mainstream.” He was reacting to PepsiCo's launch of organic Gatorade.

As reported in BeverageDaily, Jorgensen said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Coca-Cola launch its own organic version flagship products in the near future in response to PepsiCo’s announcement. He cited a number of other companies, including Campbell’s and General Mills, that are taking steps to "go organic," remove GMOs* and utilize all-natural ingredients - to bring in profits from the “better-for-you” market.

Another OTA survey looked at household income, poverty rates and growth rates in what it calls "organic hotspots." Those are counties in the United States with a high level of organic agricultural activity that have neighboring counties also with high organic activity.  The Penn State agricultural economist who did the study found that in those organic hotspots median household income is over $2,000 greater and the poverty rate is reduced by more than one percent. Being an organic hotspot reduced poverty more than anti-poverty programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and the Women, Infants and Children programs.

The map of organic hotspot counties is not surprising.  They are concentrated in the Northeast, upper Midwest and along the West Coast.  The only hot spot in Connecticut is in southeastern Connecticut, but we are surrounded with hotspot counties on Long Island, in much of Massachusetts and in the Hudson Valley.  The study found that the hot spots are concentrated in states with non-profit organizations that provide both certification and educational programs and services for farmers and those where the state provides certification services.  The NOFA chapters in New York and Vermont provide certification and education as do the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. Baystate Organic Certifiers, formed from the NOFA/Mass certification program, provides certification services in Massachusetts and Connecticut.  In Rhode Island, New Hampshire and New Jersey, the state provides certification. At the time when certification programs were first established prior to the October 2002 effective date of the National Organic Program, CT NOFA was still an all-volunteer organization without the resources to create a USDA accredited certification program. We encouraged the Connecticut Department of Agriculture to become a certifier, but their application was rejected. That was the time when Governor Rowland was trying to get rid of the Department of Agriculture so there weren't the resources needed to fix the application and reapply.

All this presents us with two questions.

1. With greater consumer enthusiasm and more economic success, why hasn't organic grown even faster?  For an answer, look to the playbook of the tobacco, pesticide, lead and fossil fuel industries or read the new book Dark Money by Jane Mayer. Or read this piece about Agroecology, a traditional and mostly organic agricultural system.  The eminent agroecologist Professor Miguel Altieri put it this way:
The issue seems to be political or ideological rather than evidence or science based. No matter what data is presented, governments and donors influenced by big interests marginalize agroecological approaches focusing on quick-fix, external input intensive 'solutions' and proprietary technologies such as transgenic crops and chemical fertilisers. It is time for the international community to recognize that there is no other more viable path to food production in the twenty-first century than agroecology.

2. And, what about the other issues that have been important for NOFA over the last nearly five decades: local production, food justice and climate change?  We're working on all of those through our beginning farmer programs, our work with the Agricultural Justice Project and the new Carbon Farming Initiative. We probably don't have another 45 years to make great progress on these issues.

Clearly, we've got a lot more growing to do.

*Labeling GMOs is another issue where consumers and, increasingly, consumer products companies are getting it.  This essay by long time organic farmer and NOFA member Elizabeth Henderson is important in this context.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Keeping the Bees: A Free Program on June 14


Keeping the Bees
Tuesday June 14th, 2016 
6:00 pm  – 8:00 pm
Scout Hall Youth Center
28 Abbe Road East Windsor, CT

Free Program. No registration required.  Download the flyer

Did you know that honey bees are but one of 326 species of Connecticut bees?
Want to learn about plantings that attract bees?
Learn about the impact of pesticides and the controversy about neonicotinoid insecticides.

Featured Speakers:  
Kimberly A. Stoner, Ph.D., Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station
Joseph Bonelli, UConn Extension Educator will discuss Using Crop Insurance to Manage Farm Risk and provide a Risk Management Program Update


More Info: Connecticut Farm Bureau Association 860-768-1105 

Co-sponsored by the East Windsor Agricultural Commission

This Program is a cooperative effort of Connecticut Farm Bureau Association, UConn Extension, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, and the Risk Management Agency/USDA
This institution is an equal opportunity employer and provider.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Harbor Harvest's "Thrill of the Grill" Event Features CTNOFA Farm and Food Members

The Thrill of the Grill

Saturday, June 11

2:00-5:00 pm

at Harbor Harvest

7 Cove Avenue, Norwalk

$20 per person includes all demos and tastings

Proceeds benefit CT NOFA

Pedego bike at Harbor Harvest
Harbor Harvest is pleased to announce they are now delivering to the immediate East Norwalk community via Pedego's zero-emission electric cargo bicycle.


Explore artisan foods and craft beers from around Connecticut and New York as you meet the makers and enjoy tastings at Harbor Harvest. Then join Harbor Harvest's chefs and butchers at the grills out back where they'll share proper techniques for smoking and grilling their locally sourced, pastured meats and fresh fish as you enjoy more tastings.

Boston Brewing Company will be on hand with their Cicerone (a beer sommelier!) who will provide craft beer pairings for guests. Coney Island Brewery will release their Mermaid Pilsner on draft for the first time in Connecticut at this event.

Enjoy live music by local artist Canyon, recently nominated the "best singer song writer in CT 2016" throughout the event.

Meet these local farmers and artisan food makers as you sample their food:
  • Simpaug Farms, Ridgefield, CT, sustainably grown vegetables
    Simpaug Farms is a 250-acre property in West Suffield, Connecticut. The word Simpaug is an indigenous place name recorded by early settlers in Connecticut. Much of the property is included in the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Farmland Preservation Program. Under this designation the land is required to be used solely for the purpose of agriculture, and is protected from other development.
    Member CTNOFA and signatory to the Farmer's Pledge.
  • B4 & After Farms, Woodbridge, CT: Oui Charcuterie hand crafted salami

    B4 & After Farms is a family run, woman-owned, organic farm in Woodbridge, Connecticut. Heritage breeds of animals and heirloom vegetables are raised and harvested in a humane, sustainable manner that utilizes holistic management practices.In 2007 the farm started as an organic, urban farm in New Haven, Connecticut producing food for the family and friends. It has grown into a 13 acre forest farm that now provides for the community as well. The farm currently offers heritage pork, heritage turkey, eggs and seasonally has foraged foods, vegetables, honey and maple syrup for sell to private, retail and farm to wedding consumers. Member CTNOFA.
  • Walden Hill, CT:  Acorn-finished pork
    Walden Hill is a New England based company striving to to build a better future for the place we call home and the people who live in it. Owners Jen and Tylan are committed to a future of family farming done right. By utilizing acorns, high in healthy omega-3 fats, they keep their pigs happy and healthy. They only raise heritage breed hogs, never use hormones or antibiotics and use humane certified slaughterhouses to ensure they are supporting the best possible livestock industry. The result is exquisite – premium acorn pork that has a rich nuttiness with a deep savory flavor. Whether fresh or dry cured, its unique profile will not disappoint.
  • Jane's Good Food, Westport, CT: Jarred pickles, carrots, beans, and more!
    Jane’s Good Food is all about the flavor. Cool crisp pickles. Warm spiced peaches and smooth vanilla pears. They start with ripe juicy fruits and veggies, fresh from local orchards and farms. Then add only real, honest ingredients like pure vanilla from Madagascar, Saigon cinnamon from Vietnam, and rosemary from Jane’s garden. Nothing you can’t pronounce, and nothing artificial. For some, eating real authentic food like this is a new idea, but not for Jane’s! Take a bite, enjoy the moment, and spark your own memories with the classic authentic flavors of Jane’s.
  • Red Bee Honey, Weston, CT: Red Bee specializes in single nectar source honeys including blueberry blossom, apple blossom, and squash blossom.
    Marina Marchese has authored two books: Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper and The Honey Connoisseur. This entrepreneur is a beekeeper, an author, a honey sommelier, the visionary behind Red Bee ® Artisanal Honey, and founder of the American Honey Tasting Society. Red Bee’s collection of single-origin honeys is sought out by celebrity chefs, Relais & Chateaux restaurants, and fine cheese and artisan food shops all over the country.

Tickets are $20 per person and advance purchases are advised as space is limited. Call 203-939-9289 or email harborharvest7@gmail.com.

Ticket proceeds benefit CTNOFA. Harbor Harvest, 7 Cove Avenue, Norwalk, CT.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Fight Against Artificial Turf in Middletown, CT



By: Thomas Christopher
Middletown, CT

It was a rare success, notes Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health, Inc.: While synthetic turf fields are popping up all over Connecticut, residents of Middletown turned back a proposal by their city to create 9 synthetic turf playing fields.  As such, it’s worth studying how the Middletown activists mounted their campaign.

Alderman’s organization, a non-profit dedicated to protecting human health from environmental harms, has been raising the alarm about the recycling of tires as play surfaces for several years.  As Alderman points out, in some states, used and discarded tires are regulated as a hazardous waste; in Connecticut, they are treated as a “special waste” that, by law, cannot be disposed of in landfills.  That’s just common sense, because as they decompose tires release heavy metals such as lead and zinc, a variety of carcinogens such as carbon black and benzene, and other toxic compounds that are as yet poorly understood.

Yet grind these same tires  up into fine crumbs – enhancing the rate at which they release their toxic contents -- and they can be used as in-fill for the synthetic turf fields on which your children play sports.    Indeed, such fields have in recent years been popping up all over Connecticut, despite the resistance of local environmental groups.
The struggle in Middletown began with a largely uncontroversial parks bond referendum.  This was to be placed before the voters in November on 2015 and was to secure funding for 10 years worth of improvements to recreational spaces, including a new pool, new exercise and walking trails, bike paths, a splash pad-spray park and playground, and a dog park.  But even before the text of the referendum was officially released for public scrutiny in early August, 2015, environmental watchdogs had learned that it would include funds to install nine synthetic turf fields.
These activists were unusually well organized thanks to an environmentally oriented local 501(c)(3) non-profit, the Jonah Center.  In 2011, with a $1,000 grant from the New England Grassroots Environment Fund, it had founded ECoIN – the Environmental Collective Impact Network – to serve as a clearing house for Middletown’s environmental organizations.  Currently, it includes some eleven such groups, ranging from the local garden club to the city of Middletown’s Recycling Commission, and the representatives of each meet once a month to discuss common concerns.  Thanks to members from the city government, EcoIN had an early warning of the proposal to install the synthetic turf fields.  Opposition began immediately, with ECoIN members coordinating so that there would be minimal duplication of efforts and a systematic strategy.
The activists recognized that education would be the key to a successful campaign.  Initially they had to educate themselves and for this they turned to a number of sources, in particular Environment and Human Health, Inc. which has been collecting information about the dangers of synthetic turf fields for a number of years. 
After educating themselves, the ECoIN members began meeting privately with members of the Middletown Common Council to share their concerns with them.   The activists also created fact sheets about synthetic turf targeted at different groups; on a sports night meeting at the local high school, for example, they distributed a fact sheet especially aimed at the parents of student athletes.  Eventually they addressed the general public, sponsoring a booth at an outdoor festival and collecting signatures on a petition requesting that the city eliminate the synthetic turf fields from the referendum.  Three hundred signatures were collected in a single day. representing a number of voters sufficient to sway a local election and proof to the Common Council members that interest in the issue was intense.
Defenders of synthetic turf insist that while the crumb rubber typically used as infill in synthetic turf is contaminated with a variety of toxins, no definitive studies have as yet proven that the resulting risk to children through inhalation, skin contact, and ingestion is at an unacceptable level.  The response of the Middletown activists was to ask parents and the city government if they wanted to make their children the subjects of a toxicology experiment.  In addition, using data taken from synthetic turf industry websites, the activists called into question the economics of the artificial fields, which would cost $850,000 to $1,000,000 each to install, and which would require extensive specialized maintenance and replacement typically after just 10 years of use.
Despite opposition from Middletown sports clubs, this lobbying paid off.  First the Common Council agreed (in a tie vote with the city’s mayor serving as the tie-breaker) to rewrite the referendum and substitute natural turf fields for the synthetic versions.  The environmentalists then rallied to the support of the referendum, which synthetic turf supporters tried to keep off the ballot.  Finally, on election day, the environmentalists handed out fact sheets outside the polling places, persuading voters to support the referendum.   Thanks in part to these efforts, the referendum passed and the city won funding for the parks and public spaces upgrades it was seeking – at a better price, due to the elimination of the costly synthetic turf.
Grassroots activism is a learning process, with practitioners constantly improving and updating strategies and skills.  What brought success in the campaign against synthetic turf will undoubtedly be re-applied to other, future campaigns.