Monday, October 31, 2011

CT NOFA's Annual Meeting

Despite snow and ice, some of our (very devoted) members, board members and staff came together at the CT NOFA Annual Meeting at Common Ground High School in New Haven on Saturday.    Our farm tour was cut a bit short by inclement weather:
 Hoods, hats, gloves and jackets were required for the tour in this unseasonal snow.
We watched snow accumulate on the hardy crops still planted in the Common Ground Farm. 
Shannon Raider and Melissa Spear showed us their new out door space (it was especially handy for this situation). 

 Back inside, the Common Ground Cafeteria was warm and full of food that each attendee brought.
 We all ate quite well.
 Our president James Roby (picture coming soon . . .) explained the organization's growth in the past several years and outlined some of CT NOFA's plans for the future.  Our Executive Director Bill Duesing explained the history of Common Ground High School (he helped found the environmental magnet school in the 1990s),  and also discussed CT NOFA's many programs for beginning farmers, experienced farmers, landscapers, home owners, organic consumers, gardeners, students, teachers . . . the list goes on.
 Bill, James and Robert Burns, a member farmer and Connecticut anti-GMO activist introduced the GMO issue, explaining the thrat GMOS pose to farmers, to consumers and to an individual's right to choose what they put in their bodies. Representative Richard Roy braved the storm to talk to the group about his work to get GMOs labelled in Connecticut.  A bill demanding GMO labeling was passed by the Connecticut Environmental Committee of which Rep. Roy is chair, however the bill died in the state senate.

Unfortunately our Member of the Year, Sal Gilbertie of Gilbertie's Herbs in Westport, CT was unable to come because of the weather.  We hope to honor him at another event.  A big thanks to Representative Roy for venturing out in the terrible weather!  If you couldn't make it because of the weather keep an eye out for our other events coming up, we have a workshop coming up in November and hope to have another Annual Meeting type of event during our Winter Conference, scheduled for March 3, 2012.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

Connecticut's First Frost

Snow forecast for October 29!
If you haven't already had one, you probably are in for our first frost here in Connecticut!  The snow predictions are a little surprising, but now is the time to winterize your garden (literally, today is probably your day.)
The Tolland, CT Patch just posted this article "Fall is Time to Split" about how fall is the time to divide your plants.  The article, by Alice Blair, focuses on dividing hosta and heuchera (or coral bells).

There are many techniques to protect the crops you planted in August, September and early October for the coming frost.  Here is a pretty comprehensive list of options:

If you have planted your fall crops: remember back to our "Planning for the Fall and Winter Harvest Workshop" in September. 

If you were thinking about protecting your vegetable garden, now is the time! Shannon demonstrated how to create row covers, using metal or plastic frames and then using plastic or reemay to create a blanket for your plants.  
Our permaculture specialists, Cynthia and Stewart Rabinowitz at the Center for Sustainable Living in Bethlehem showed participants of the Permaculture Workshop all the ways that they insulate their plants from frost and snow through the winter. They used old sliding glass doors to create cold frames and had constructed green houses as well. This picture is of hay bales used to insulate the plants growing in the center of them, and then the plastic you can see to the right will be stretched over the hay bales as the weather gets colder.  

If you have some warm weather plants still in (like tomatoes) you should harvest them now! What to do with all of those warmer weather fall crops? There's always freezing, drying or canning
You can also extend the growing season inside your house! Sign up for our Indoor Flower and Food Gardening workshop to learn about making your living room your winter garden!

Happy First Frost everyone! If you want to see some of these winter planting techniques in action you can come by Common Ground High School at 358 Springside Avenue in New Haven tomorrow around noon.  There will be farm tours from 12:00 - 1:00 pm for CT NOFA's Annual (Celebration) Meeting!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

USDA Backed Grants Funding Organic Research at Universities

Sunbright Organics in Tuskegee, Alabama
On Tuesday the US Department of Agriculture announced that it will be funding 23 grants to help farmers in 18 states grow organic crops.  The new grants total $19 million and are aimed at helping small and mid-size organic farmers meet consumer demand and increase farm income at the same time. 

In Alabama, Auburn University is one of the institutions to receive federal money.  At AU the grant will fund integrated pest management research on cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and collard greens, and will help keep organic farms like Sunbright Organics in Tuskagee in business as a result.  Since green leaf vegetables attract a lot of pests and organic farmers shy away from spraying their crops with chemicals, the grant aims to help find an organic way to control these pests that farms like Sunbright Organics can use.

The USDA's strategic plan has a goal to increase the acreage of organically grown crucifers in a tri-state area of the south, and also increase organic production by 25% by the year 2015.  Learn more here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Rodale Institute's Farming Systems Trial

The Rodale Institute's 30 year study has found conclusive evidence that organic methods imporve the environment and the nutrition of food while conventional agriculture has been destructive. 
According to RI's website: "Organic farming is far superior to conventional systems when it comes to building, maintaining and replenishing the health of the soil. For soil health alone, organic agriculture is more sustainable than conventional. When one also considers yields, economic viability, energy usage, and human health, it’s clear that organic farming is sustainable, while current conventional practices are not.
As we face uncertain and extreme weather patterns, growing scarcity and expense of oil, lack of water, and a growing population, we will require farming systems that can adapt, withstand or even mitigate these problems while producing healthy, nourishing food. After 30 years of side-by-side research in our Farming Systems Trial (FST)®, Rodale Institute has demonstrated that organic farming is better equipped to feed us now and well into the ever changing future"
Graph: Rodale Institute
 The most impressive findings were that:
Organic yields match conventional yields.
Organic outperforms conventional in years of drought.
Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system.
Organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient.
Conventional systems produce 40% more greenhouse gases.
Organic farming systems are more profitable than conventional.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Yale & Hartford


Yale & Hartford, a set on Flickr.

Check out this selection of images from Bill Duesing's recent trip to Yale and Hartford's Main Street Farms on October 21, 2011.

Sign the Petition for More Robust Funding for Organic Agriculture

Tractor Protest in Madison, WI
A new article by the Examiner points to a new budget cutting process that may decrease the potential for organic agricultural funding in the next Farm Bill.  The expedited process aims to speed up the Farm Bill writing process, but since this means that many food policy decisions will be made in a short period of time, organic funding may end up getting left behind as a result.  To avoid this, the Organic Coalition is asking for citizens who care about local, sustainable, organic food to sign a petition for more robust funding for organic agriculture.

Contrary to popular belief, the organic farming industry is not only viable in the current economy, but booming.  Here are some statistics that the Examiner points out:

  • The US organic sector is $29 billion industry, which is even more than the US signed in new weapons orders in 2010, $21.3 billion, according the Congressional Research Service. Those whirled peas bumper stickers must be working.
  • The organic food industry creates jobs as four times the national rate and served by over 14,500 organic family farmers. Forget Wall Street, organic farming is where it’s at. It's an instant stimulus package that tastes good.
  • The current demand for organic food and beverages exceeds domestic production. In order to meet this demand by 2015, the will need 42,000 organic farmers.
If you want to ensure continued access to safe, healthy food, while at the same time helping your local economy, add your name to the petition.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Today is Food Day!

Today, October 24, and every October 24 henceforth, is Food Day.  Food Day seeks to bring together Americans from all walks of life—parents, teachers, and students; health professionals, community organizers, and local officials; chefs, school lunch providers, and eaters of all stripes—to push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.  Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) are the Honorary Co-Chairs for Food Day 2011, and the day is sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the nonprofit watchdog group that has led successful fights for food labeling, better nutrition, and safer food since 1971. Like CSPI, Food Day is people-powered and does not accept funding from government or corporations—though restaurants, supermarkets, and others are certainly encouraged to observe Food Day in their own ways.

But why should people eat healthy sustainable food?  Because real food tastes great and will extend your life. Meals built around vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are delicious and satisfying. But far too many Americans are eating diets composed of salty, overly processed packaged foods clad in cardboard and plastic; high-calorie sugary drinks that pack on pounds and rot teeth, but have no nutritional benefit; and fast-food meals made of white bread, fatty grain-fed factory-farmed meat, French fries, and more soda still. What we eat should be bolstering our health, but it's actually contributing to several hundred thousand premature deaths from heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and cancer each year. What's more, the way our food is produced all too often harmful to farm workers, the environment, and farm animals.

Food Day's goal is nothing less than to transform the American diet—to inspire a broad movement involving people from every corner of our land who want healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.

To read more about Food Day and to participate, check out their website here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Freezing & Drying Workshop and our Canning Workshop

On Saturday, October 15, CT NOFA had two workshops at Common Ground High School! The workshops are meant to teach consumers and farmers about preserving foods to last through the winter and how to use some of the hardier winter crops grown in Connecticut.  The first workshop, held in the morning, was "Freezing and Drying."
 CT NOFA's Office Manager, Deb Legge, was the freezing and drying instructor, along with a CT NOFA Board member and food enthusiast, Janet Heller. Deb is showing her variety of fruit leathers in this photo, made from a variety of fruits includng: apple, pear, rubharb, strawberry and crabapple.  
Some healthy fruit rollup! 
 Deb demonstrating the use of garden sheers to cut fruit leather (she promised to have never used them outside)
We all approved of her work.  For a portion of the workshop we were in Common Ground's kitchen where Deb demonstrated how she prepares fruit for drying and also demonstrated how to blanch kale (you basically submerge kale in boiling water for one minute and then transfer it to ice water so it retains most of its physical properties and its taste, but kills the enzymes that cause it to decompose).

The next workshop "Preserving the Harvest: Canning" was held in the afternoon.  Wyatt Whiteman, who owns a one acre farm in Fairfield and lives in a farmhouse that dates back to 1760, shared a delicious salsa recipe with the participants, who got to work vegetable chopping:

Then Wyatt showed the participants how to mix their chopped vegetables, and transfer them to cans for safe consumption.  Everyone got to bring home a can of salsa for their home! Preparing some foods for canning is more complex while others (like salsa) are a process of cutting and mixing the right ingredients.  There are hundreds of canning sites out there - but this one explains the basics nicely and has an instructional video:

Stay tuned for more ideas on how to eat local even when Connecticut's farms are under frost and snow in the coming months!