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A study conducted in 2017 found that children who play outside and engage with nature will be more motivated to protect the environment as they get older.  Organic gardening benefits many different types of people, from providing affordable nutrition to families, to keeping you fit in retirement, but introducing the younger generations to the joys of organic gardening builds a necessary foundation.  Consider integrating gardening into early education curriculum and see the results roll in.

Implementing Organic Gardening in School

The concepts of gardening and plant growth are best learned if experienced both in and out of the classroom.  Setting up the outdoor garden space is something that can be done with the children. Children can help add soil to garden beds, plant seeds and water them.  Setting up a classroom compost bin will show the decomposition side of nature, and provide your garden with a rich, organic fertilizer. Furthermore, investing in a small garden storage shed provides safe storage  for all gardening equipment which is crucial for keeping play spaces free from potential hazards and protecting tools from the weather.

Growing Together

Children who participate in gardening at their schools tend to score significantly higher in science than children who do not garden. There are so many scientific and mathematical concepts that can be introduced and built upon when you take the class outside to garden. Planting a seed in the soil and watching it grow helps to solidify the previously abstract concepts of how plants work. Children can observe what happens when the plants go too long without water or how blossoms transform into food. Observing the garden will answer questions about what plants need to survive, and encourage questions about what their own bodies need to survive.  Other educational concepts can be brought into the garden as well, including colors, measuring the growth of certain plants and counting.

Broadening Their Horizons

Introducing children to the joys of gardening at a young age will not only help them connect science concepts to real life, but will eliminate any fears about getting dirty.  Despite growing trends of ‘cleanliness’ in parenting, exposure to dirt and germs in childhood can be highly beneficial. Exposure fortifies the immune system and guards against the development of allergies and asthma. Maintaining an organic garden will help parents rest assured that their children will not be exposed to harmful chemicals while at school.  Growing a vegetable garden will encourage children to try new hobbies and foods! Many young children can be wary of trying unfamiliar foods, particularly when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but there is something about growing something with your own two hands that helps children to be a little more adventurous about the foods they are willing to try. Working together as a class to cook meals and prepare snacks with their homegrown organic vegetables and fruits will have them proud to try their handiwork.

Bringing organic gardening into your early childhood curriculum will have you students spouting impressive science vocabulary and trying new and nutritious foods in no time. The time in the sun, with hands in the soil will be a refreshing treat for teachers and children alike.

 

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Photo by Artem Beliaikin @belart84 from Pexels

Organic farming has grown rapidly in recent years, surpassing $45 billion in sales in the US in 2017. The amount of acreage dedicated to organic farming has increased as well, by as much as 20% between 2011 and 2018. Still, the industry faces many barriers to growth. After all, even at 20% more acreage, organic farming still only accounts for a small fraction of farming in the US. One of the biggest factors is the increased time and manpower it takes to manage an organic farm. Solving problems like how to increase crop yields and extend growing seasons, while still maintaining organic methods, will be key to promoting the further spread of organic farming and food production.

New Developments in Farming Greentech

Green technology can help. Already, some of the most successful organic farms are finding natural ways for new greentech to fit into their practices. Alternative energy is an obvious fit and can help provide added power with a minimal environmental footprint. In fact, passive solar energy, in particular, can turn unused or underused space into a source of power.

Space is another major issue. With modern farming methods, crop yields can be increased in a small space — even more so if you’re not concerned about soil degradation, runoff, and the other environmental issues. So one area where new technologies are helping support organic methods is in the development of vertical farming techniques. This technology can be used in conjunction with organic methods and could help bring sustainable farming into urban areas, further reducing the environmental impact of the journey from farm to table. Even drones are being used as a tool to support organic farming methods, by providing a low-energy way to monitor large areas. Since personal attention is so important to managing a sustainable farm, having “eyes in the sky” helps promote sustainability while making it easier to grow over large areas.

Supporting Organic Methods

These are just some of the ways in which greentech is already supporting the growth and success of organic farming. Interestingly, a lot of people assume that organic farming is about eschewing technology entirely, but new tech is being integrated into organic food practices every day. One big area of growth that tends to go overlooked is the role of software and other planning technologies in maintaining an organic farm. As data analysis improves, so does our ability to manage farmland in a sustainable way. Fine-tuning is part and parcel of any organic project, so there’s a natural fit for farm management software in organic growing.

So new technologies, whether explicitly green or not, can be helpful supports for an organic farm, helping to increase crop yields, cut down on grow times, and make organic produce more accessible to everyone. After all, the environmental gains from organic growing are best achieved by spreading the practice. Green technology makes that easier to do, and it’s just one of the reasons why so many organic farmers are tied into cutting-edge environmental science. As we learn more about the environment and proper agricultural management, we might find even more ways for green tech to support sustainable growth, and help organic farming spread into new areas.

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While we know how exciting it is to share and learn about growing vegetables and raising animals, we also know that farming is a business. We have to make time to talk about those aspects of running a farm, too! So, WNC CRAFT hosts two Twilight Talks each year and we focus on a farm business related topic.

At June’s Twilight Talk, we discussed Enterprise Decision-Making, i.e things to consider as you decide how and what you want to produce on your farm. Many thanks to Walter Harrill from Imladris Farm for facilitating and sharing his own farm enterprise journey over the years. And, we are grateful to the Wedge at Foundation for letting us meet in the Cloud Room!

History of Imladris Farm

Imladris Farm is a 6th & 7th generation family farm in Fairview, NC. Walter, Wendy, and their son Andy are the first generation to attempt farming commercially on the land. Much to Walter’s dismay, value-added jams and jellies became the main enterprises for Imladris. They currently grow some blueberries on their land but contract with 4 other local growers for 85-90% of their berry and fruit supply. But, that is not how they started years ago. The farm has gone through several different permutations since driven by conscious enterprise decision making.

Walter made sure to preface that what he is is not saying he “knows the right way” or show that he’s “super successful.” Rather, he is sharing his journey and how they made decisions over time. He is “someone that has screwed up at this several times,” Walter said.

We also defined Enterprise Decisions as any decision (or lack of decision) upon which the future viability of the company may depend, for the purposes of this conversation.

Imladris Farm’s Brief Timeline of “Bad Decisions”
  • 2000 – Attended our first tailgate market. “Worst idea I’ve ever heard.” Sold fresh berries. Quickly sold out. Wendy suggested they make jams & jellies. Walter thought that was a terrible idea. 
  • 2001 – Fresh bread and pickled eggs, cultivated raspberries, and blackberries, goats (later sheep)
  • 2002 – Pasture raised rabbits and shiitake mushrooms
  • 2003 – First commercial account, first buyer agreement
  • 2004 – First grocery store account
  • 2006 – Lost Whole Foods account
  • 2007 – Discontinued mushrooms to expand rabbits
  • 2008 – Regained Whole Foods on our terms
  • 2010 – Discontinued goats and sheep
  • 2015 –  Started ketchup, discontinued raspberries, blackberries
  • 2018 – Discontinued rabbits
  • 2019 – Discontinued ketchup

At the height of their production, they were growing blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, rabbits, eggs, and apples. However, they have significantly paired down after finding it difficult to be the farmer, processor, and marketer all at once. With their current business model, they are able to support other small farmers by handling the processing and marketing aspects.

Goals for Enterprise Decision Making:
  1. Safeguard the economic and psychological sustainability of our operation.
  2. Recognize that economic success depends on risk-taking.
  3. Develop borders within which we can safely take those risks.
  4. Learn to evaluate decisions objectively after a reasonable trial period.

Walter also pointed out that a farmer has two choices, “We can either make sure we only make the right decision all the time, every time, or we can work to develop a system that allows, even encourages mistakes.”

How do we get there?
  1. First and foremost, never “bet the farm”
  2. Be willing to take risks, but scale the risks to protect the enterprise
  3. Either be or find an objective mind
  4. Use any profits from a product prototype to fund expansion
  5. Be willing to walk away from any idea, at any time, with no second thoughts (see #3)
  6. Be willing to try a bad idea, even if it has no chance of success.
  7. Never forget that you are not your customer.
What are our challenges?
  1. How do we set ourselves apart? (Note that quality is never, by itself, enough)
  2. What is the correct level of “out front” for a start-up enterprise?
  3. What trends are oncoming presently?
  4. What trends have peaked or are waning away? Is it worth still pursuing those trends, and if so, how do we do that?

Thanks so much to all the folks that came out and contributed to the discussion. Gathering as a CRAFT group is always a highlight of the month. Looking forward to next time!

Now is the time to join WNC CRAFT for 2019! WNC CRAFT is a year-round farmer training collaborative that offers farmers, farm workers, and aspiring farmers networking and learning opportunities. For more information or to join, click here. Or contact Sera Deva, Farmer Programs Associate (farmer-programs@organicgrowersschool.org).

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The WNC CRAFT farmer network visited Bluebird Farm where Marie and William have been running raising vegetables and livestock for going on ten years. They raise hogs, piglets, laying hens, and beef cattle in addition to managing 3.5 acres of diversified vegetable production. We spent the day learning from their experiences with irrigating vegetables and livestock, and how that has affected their farm planning over the years.

Marie explains their drip tape irrigation setup

After working on several farms across the country, Marie and William considered where they wanted to start their own farm. They ultimately returned to Marie’s hometown of Morganton, NC because they had access to farmland to lease from a family friend that was cheap, had some infrastructure in place, and an ample water source. And, as William put it, irrigation is the cheapest insurance you can have on a farm. Silver Creek borders the farm and has provided reliable irrigation for farmers on the land for decades.

Water management and movement on the farm has been on their minds a lot the last few years. Just last year they recorded 75 inches of rain on the farm but saw drought conditions in their hoop houses. Growing space that is undercover still needs watering even when it’s raining. With changing and erratic weather patterns due to climate change, having a solid system in place for irrigating vegetable and livestock production makes sure they have water where and when they need it on the farm.

Marie stands next to a water reservoir tank used for the pigs.

Creek vs. Well Water for Irrigating

While they’ve had success irrigating from the Silver Creek, it has presented some challenges over the years. Based on how the creek water is running the intake to the pump can easily become clogged with silt, crawdad claws, leaves, and debris. Or, if the intake doesn’t stay submerged, air may get in the system stopping the pump from working. Stopping to fix the pump can be a time-consuming interruption to work day. It’s especially unpleasant once fall and winter hit for the one who draws the shortest straw and has to dip into the cold creek to clear the intake. For Marie and William, the well offers a reliable and clean water source that won’t require as much maintenance day-to-day for irrigating vegetables and livestock.

Newly Installed Well at Bluebird Farm

Getting a Well

However, it was a major investment and took several years to finally secure an AgWRAP cost share through NC Soil & Water. The well had just been finished and hooked up the week of the farm tour, too! The well diggers hit were able to get a 12 gallon per minute water flow at 540 ft. They hit water so far down, that they had to get a larger 3hp pump that is capable of lifting water up 540 ft to the surface.

Twelve gallons/minute refers to how fast the pump can refill the tube. With that flow level, they will be able to irrigate 12 100 ft. beds at a time, and an average of 3 drip lines/bed. Which means that each bed will be irrigated at a rate of 1 gallon/minute. Once they crunched some numbers they know that by watering each bed for 1.5 hrs 4 times a week they will be providing their plants with 1 inch of rain/week. See how they did their calculations here.

Pigs wallowing

Irrigating Livestock:

Pigs drink about 5 gal/day of water, and cows can drink up to 30 gal/day. So it’s safe to say that you need to have a good system for maintaining an ample supply of water that is easily accessible to your livestock and you. If animals are thirsty or too hot they won’t eat, and if they don’t eat they don’t grow, Marie pointed out. For the pigs, they’ve set up a system where they can pump water from the creek (or the well) to a large tank that then uses gravity to supply water to the pigs.

Also, pigs can’t sweat to cool off, so you have to make sure they have enough water for a wallow, in addition to drinking water. To create the wallow, they give them just enough water so that it creates mud and the pigs and spread it on their skin. They have not automated much of their watering system. A mister for the wallow is set up on a timer and will shut off the water after a set amount of time. The pigs drink from large barrels that are moderated automatically by a float valve at the top of the barrel and keep it from overflowing. They still have to double check daily to make sure everything is flowing as it should.

4 lines of drip tape on a vegetable bed

Irrigating Vegetables:

William and Marie know that if they want to be able to pull as many veggies each week as possible, then they can’t rely on rain as the sole water source. Irrigation for their vegetables is a smart investment. Drip irrigation is their most common strategy for irrigation on the farm. They use overhead sprinklers when germinating crops that are direct seeded, like carrots. Because they have loamy soil, that is on the sandy side it is not great at holding moisture. Drip tape allows them to make sure the plants are getting water right where they need it in the bed.

On average, each bed in the field gets 3 lines of drip, if they are under plastic they get 2 lines. Under the hoop houses, each bed gets 4 lines of drip because those crops never get additional rain. They also use the drip tape lines to put liquid fertilizer on all the beds about once a week, aka fertigate. When it’s dry, irrigating vegetables is a full-time job. When Marie dug into a bed and revealed moist soil just a few inches down the fruit of their labors was evident.

William explaining how the well pump works.

When irrigating vegetables and livestock there are a whole host of factors that a farmer must consider. We are grateful to Marie and William for walking us through their process and how they make water management decisions on their farm. Looking forward to next time!

Now is the time to join CRAFT for 2019! WNC CRAFT is a year-round farmer training collaborative that offers farmers, farm workers, and aspiring farmers networking and learning opportunities. For more information or to join, click here. Or contact Sera Deva, Farmer Programs Associate (farmer-programs@organicgrowersschool.org).

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OGS is a historically white-led organization, comprised of mostly white leaders and constituents. We are currently doing racial equity and social justice training, examining how white supremacy culture shows up in our work, and acknowledging the impact of dominant culture on our organization. We recognize that we have made mistakes in the past and will continue to make mistakes; there is a lot of work ahead of us.

Due to this internal work, and requests from CRAFT members, we decided to host a CRAFT twilight talk on “Social Justice and Agriculture.” We hosted the talk at The Wedge Brewery, and we had over 30 CRAFT members in attendance for an engaged conversation! As the discussion progressed, it became clear that we had not set proper ground rules, created baseline language, or defined the topic of Social Justice and Agriculture adequately for the group to have a productive conversation.

While our intentions are to educate and dialogue, we are coming to realize that our impact is different; whenever we attempt to facilitate conversations about racism (even with our ‘learned language’) we make a multitude of mistakes that ultimately lead to more hurt in our community and specifically for our community members of color. We see also that this is not unique to our organization, and is in fact a pattern in many organizations attempting to do social justice work in the nonprofit sector. Our mistakes this time included not defining the topic properly, not setting ground rules, and not properly supporting the farmer facilitator in guiding the discussion so it remained a safe space for all participants.

We at OGS need more relatedness and training to be able to hold, host, and facilitate these conversations in an effective way. As most of us are still in the learning stage regarding these issues, we have been shown by our community that it is too soon for us to be leading these conversations. It’s important to us to be advocates and co-conspirators; however, we, as a historically white organization, have much more unlearning to do before attempting to engage as spokespeople for these injustices.

We’d like to refer folks to the resources in our community who are trained and skilled that we have also found helpful in our own learning, that will enable you to continue to have these tough conversations and examine how social injustice shows up in your personal and farm life. We also encourage you to meet up independently and have these conversations on your farms and in your spheres of influence.

CLASSES/WORKSHOPS

READING

VIDEOS

OTHER RESOURCES

At OGS, we will continue to be committed to the ongoing work of Social Justice and Racial Equity through training, relationship building, partnerships, and program development, to dismantle social injustice in OGS and in the food system for the ultimate goal of food justice for all. Thank you to the CRAFT network for sparking such important internal dialog for us and for your interest in this topic!

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Thatchmore Farm is nestled in the mountains in Leicester, NC, with enough flat land for only one acre of intensive annual vegetable cultivation. Because the rest of the farm is on sloped acreage, the rest of the enterprise is focused on perennial fruits and ornamentals. Heated greenhouses and landscape fabric protect the land dedicated to vegetables. Thatchmore is famous for their early-season tomatoes and season extension practices. We visited Thatchmore for a May CRAFT tour dedicated to Intensive Vegetables & Alternative Energy. Thatchmore has welcomed home daughter Liz as the new Farm Manager. She graciously hosted the tour this year.

Farmer Liz explaining the many uses of the scythe

Alternative Energy

What makes Thatchmore’s operation stand out is their clear dedication to alternative energy models. Wherever you turn, they have an alternative to the traditional fossil-fuel consuming equipment. And, diminishing your dependence on electric is the first step towards energy independence! Passive solar energy is the easiest way to get energy from the sun, and should be something you’re thinking about as you’re designing infrastructure on your farm. It’s often not expensive, and can be increased dramatically by altering basic placement of building elements.

Wood fired furnace

Most of Thatchmore’s alternative energy tools are pretty basic and something you could easily use at home or a farm scale. But, finding an alternative energy solution that works for your land specifically is very important! And the only way to do that is with adequate research into all of your options. Tom suggested Homepower Magazine and Lehman’s as two resources to help you in your research. Solar energy is Thatchmore’s alternative energy of choice, and they use it in every way they can! From Hardy Lejeune solar water collectors to their solar, exhaust-free electric chain saw from Lowes (powered by a marine deep-cycle battery) and woodsplitters (Ramsplitter Log Splitters). With their minimal solar panel setup, they offset about 98% of the energy consumed on the farm.

Intensive Vegetables in the Greenhouse

Thatchmore has two heated greenhouses, one heated by a cord wood furnace (that cost about $1,500) and one by a “Wood Master” Boiler (which heats water that is then pumped through the structure.) The boiler is powered by ‘pellets’ that are purchased off the farm. The boiler was a demonstration project through the WNC energyCAP program.They periodically have weatherization grants available for farmers. This machine cost about $5,500.

Early season tomatoes in the greenhouse

Thatchmore has had difficulty with their heated greenhouses and propagation house (built by Conley Greenhouses) caving in due to snowpack weight. Large round posts through the middle of the structures support the infrastructure, to help take the load off in the dead of winter. Investing in cathedral vs. quonset hut style greenhouses has helped with that issue, as well as reinforcing their greenhouses with additional bracing.

Propagation House

Perennial Crops

As we walked across the farm we saw the variety of crops growing on the hillsides. Although they are too steep to till, they are good for fruit and perennials as long as you can still mow in between your rows. We saw the Hazelnuts, Hardy Kiwi, Goumi Berries, and their stand of Yaupon Hollies. Yaupon, or Ilex vomitoria, is native to the southeast and the only known indigenous caffeinated plant in North America. Because of this, Native American tribes used it as a caffeinated tea. Thatchmore Farm sells it as a dried, value-added product at the market. We also saw their small apple tree orchard, organic Christmas Trees, and mushroom logs. They are expanding their ginger propagation, which they began last year.

Farmer Liz describing Thatchmore’s green washing routine

Thanks to Thatchmore for their continued support for OGS and for hosting CRAFT!

Now is the time to join CRAFT for 2017! WNC CRAFT is a year-round farmer training collaborative that offers farmers, farm workers and aspiring farmers networking and learning opportunities. For more information or to join, click here. Or contact Sera Deva, Farmer Programs Associate (farmer-programs@organicgrowersschool.org).

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Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels

Growing your own organic food is rewarding, environmentally kind, and healthier — organic produce contains between 20% and 40% more antioxidants than conventional fruits and vegetables, NPR reports. And if you’re wondering if organic gardening can be both safe and successful with a dog at home, you’re in luck. Creating a dog-friendly organic garden is totally possible. You just need to take some extra care and plan effective ways to make sure the garden’s safe for your dog as well as your plants.

Safe vegetables to grow

There’s plenty of nutritious, delicious fruits and vegetables you can grow organically, which are also safe for dogs. Spinach provides copper, vitamin E, and B vitamins. It grows best in cold climates and leaves should be ready to cut within six to eight weeks. Carrots can be planted all year round and harvested after a couple of months — they’re a crunchy treat for dogs containing beta-carotene and vitamin A. Dogs also love sweet potato, which is high in iron, vitamin C, and magnesium. Sweet potatoes grow best in organic, nitrogen-rich, warm beds. If you plant the sprouts from existing sweet potatoes, you’ll be able to harvest them in three to five months.

Natural fertilizers and pest control

Synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers are potentially harmful substances to dogs and can cause cancer with prolonged exposure if you often use them when gardening. Organic gardens don’t use these chemicals and are naturally safer for all animals, humans, and the environment. Some environmentally-friendly fertilizers, however, contain animal-derived ingredients like fish byproducts and blood meal — which can cause digestive troubles for dogs if ingested. So, use an organic, plant-based fertilizer instead. Additionally, organic mulch is essential for improving the soil’s fertility. Choose a dog-friendly mulch like root mulch or wood bark, and avoid cocoa bean mulch as it contains theobromine and caffeine, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and elevated heart rate in dogs.

Smart garden design

Using raised garden beds will ensure your organic garden stays separate from your dog. Raised beds also make it simple to achieve a better quality soil, as well as allow for easier weeding — which also reduces the need for pesticides. Alternatively, you can create paths through your garden, so your dog learns to walk on them rather than your garden soil. Mulch, small cedar chips, or pea gravel work well for garden paths. Establishing a low fence is also a good way of protecting your garden — your dog will quickly recognize the area as as off limits.

Your dog will love spending more time with you out in the garden. However, if you need to stay busy tending to the plants, make sure there are special toys to keep your furry friend entertained. In fact, it’s better to play with your dog first and tire him out and then get on with the gardening while he sleeps. With these tips, you’ll be able to grow a thriving organic garden both you and your dog enjoy.

See Jenny’s article on unsafe lawns for cats here:

https://organicgrowersschool.org/is-your-lawn-a-danger-to-your-cat/

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The WNC Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (WNC CRAFT) is a farmer network dedicated to training the next generation of farmers by building community, collective education, networking, and support. There is a place for every level of farmer in CRAFT, whether you are aspiring, apprentice, beginning or experienced. Each year WNC CRAFT hosts an Apprentice & Farm Hand Orientation. It is a way to bring farm apprentices and farm workers together to get to know one another and honor the work they do. It also gives them the chance to hear from beginning farmers about their transition from apprentice to farmer.

Transitioning from Apprentice to Farmer

This year we met at New Roots Market Garden, a low-till, no spray farm in Marshall, NC. Krista Fayette and Stephen Rosenthal launched their farm in 2016. They are starting their third season this year growing for farmers markets, and continuing to host small CSA. They lease their land at Bend of Ivy Retreat Center, a cultivate about an acre of mixed vegetables. Krista & Stephen apprenticed with Goldfinch Gardens in the Spring and Summer of 2015 which kicked off their time in WNC. Since then, they have participated in the OGS Farm Beginnings® Program and as panelists in workshops OGS has held surrounding land access and enterprise development. The apprentices and beginning farmers that participated came up with a list of questions that they wanted answered as we began our farm tour, which are pertinent to all people just beginning their farming journey.

What have you changed since last year?

Farmers are always transitioning in and out of practices and crops, and beginning farmers are never an exception. There’s a lot of settling in that needs to happen! New Roots was lucky to land on a niche crop (baby greens) their first year which they have continued to grow more of each year. Mostly, this year Krista and Stephan are focusing on hiring farm hands. They know that they can grow more food with more hands, but they’ve been conscious not to hire farm help until they had enough money in the budget to pay them well. They’re excited about adding another farm employee to their payroll this year. There was a good discussion regarding how apprentices want to be treated and managed, from the visiting farm hands to the new farmers.

Why low till and no spray?

As apprentices, Krista and Stephen both knew that they would never spray their crops. And, with influence from Goldfinch, low till also came into the mix. Generally it has to do with their connection and understanding of land. They want to grow the healthiest plants so they are naturally resistant to insects. For them, this means building the healthiest soil, which also means less tillage. But doing no till on leased land means a lot of infrastructure development in the beginning. In the long run however, the permanent raised beds mean less bed-scaping and more drainage potential, which is important on their small scale in order to use every bit of land they can. They currently grow in an area of the field that was previously considered not cultivatable due to lack of drainage. But, using no till techniques, the permanent raised beds that are now in this area help hold the water, as well as prevent erosion year after year. Everything is cultivated by hand using cobra heads, scuffle hoes, broadforks, and 4 row seeder. They shape their beds initially using a rotary plow on their BCS.

How do you NOT use plastic?

As beginning farmers with important core ideals including the preservation of resources, New Roots tries to use as little plastic as possible. They never use single use plastic, and rely on things like silage tarps that last many years out in the sun. They use the CRAFT network extensively to find used equipment. And, they always critically examine what it is exactly they are using plastic materials for, and try to come up with solutions to replacing it. But, if you have a big piece of plastic that you’re not sure what to do with, there is a plastic recycling program for agricultural plastics.

How do you stay so happy as a couple who farms together?

Krista and Stephen are both undeniably cheery people, both often found with wide smiles. And, on top of this, they are very open and deliberately kind to both people and plants. It comes through, so they are asked… “How do you do it?!” They both laugh. “We know what we’re each good at,” Krista explains. They’ve almost entirely divvied up responsibilities to play to each of their strengths. Krista is in charge of some things, and Stephen is in charge of others (this even applies to their two employees!) And it helps to have the same goal of a thriving and healthy life, in all aspects, from the farm to the home.

Thanks to Krista & Stephen for hosting us! There’s still time to join WNC CRAFT for the 2019 season! See our schedule and register here!

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Dallas Robinson grew up in eastern NC. As a child, “I thought farmers were pretty cool because they could fix a lot of things, got to be outside and had a lot of animals. I didn’t know any farmers until I was a teen and then it didn’t look as fun.” Dallas is a student in  Farm Beginnings, a year long farmer training. She is now in the mentorship part of the program, mentoring with an experienced farmer and gaining practical hands on skills as she works on her farm plan.

I sat down with Dallas to get a chance to understand more about how she got interested in farming that led her ultimately to OGS.  She recollected for me a time in school when someone came in and gave the students carrot seeds to grow at home. “ I was in 2nd grade. We were told to plant the carrot seeds. I got some mud and a bucket. Something did sprout in the bucket and I was so excited to grow something to eat, checked on my little bucket every day after school. After 2 weeks, someone dumped it out unfortunately… but I remember that feeling.”  

Dallas graduated from Vassar College in NY in 2014 . She never felt quite at home there and after college felt uncertain what her true path and calling were. A friend of hers kept mentioning the Black and Latinx Farmers Immersion program (BIPOC) at Soul Fire Farm near Albany, NY. At first, she didn’t feel like it was for her, but her friend persevered and she applied and attended. Once she arrived, she felt immediately connected. “I never felt something so powerful and real. “ Not only does the program teach practical, hands on farming skills, but the farmers and teachers  center the origin of organic agriculture in indigenous and African traditions. “Bringing that history to light was empowering, reminding all of us, that we didn‘t just get here in a net, we got here intentionally because we could grow food. We created a food system that we still use today.” It was the first time she heard Black, Indigenous and people of color centered as the originators, innovators and guardians of knowledge in organic agriculture and the  local food movement. It was a welcome home to her that solidified her decision and vision to create Harriet Tubman Freedom Farm in Whittakers, NC.

Inspired, she returned home to Edenton, NC and undertook 3 years of farm apprenticeships to learn more about actual growing and farming. During that time, she began to understand that many farms don’t have rigorous and good financial and business systems. When she found out about Farm Beginnings, she decided she should invest the time (and move to Asheville!), in order to give her farm the best chance of success. After taking the winter class sessions, “I feel way more confident and more clear about my goals.”

Harriet Tubman Freedom Farm will be on land procured by her  parents years ago. With some support from a  Reparations project, she will get going in 2020, with a ¼ acre of vegetables, herbs and mushrooms with a focus on farmers market sales. Longer term, she hopes to create an educational farm, sharing  Afro ecology, black heritage, stories and farming skills.

Dallas speaks highly of Farm Beginnings and shares, “You’ll have supportive people who want to do new or radical things along side you in  class, an immediate group you can bounce ideas off, DO IT!!! “

The post Student Profile: Dallas Robinson, Farm Beginnings appeared first on .

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Retirement is something many look forward to, yet somehow it’s been found that 10% of retirees feel bored or even depressed after giving up work. However, a great solution to that is picking up a hobby that helps you engage with the outdoors and work on a fulfilling project that benefits both you and the environment; gardening. From having beautiful flowers to show guests, to home growing delicious food with fantastic health benefits, there’s no excuse to not grow a green thumb and get stuck in.

Good for the environment

Whilst everyone knows gardening is good for our planet, many don’t know why. Firstly, eating your own home-grown produce instead of shipping it halfway across the country reduces your carbon footprint by a huge amount. In addition to this, the more plants that grow, the more carbon dioxide that’s taken in and oxygen given out, helping prevent global warming. It’s not only humans that gardening helps, but also lets a vast array of wildlife thrive in your garden, as it becomes a safe haven of an ecosystem for them to live in.

Keeps your fit and active

Staying active and healthy while in retirement can sometimes sound daunting when, as the costs can seem to be too high when on a budget. However, a study concluded that gardening can definitely improve physical health, as the manual work keeps you moving about while utilizing core strength, balance and mobility. Also, subconsciously you reap the benefits as exposure to the sun gives you plenty of vitamin D and the reduction in stress that it creates improves the immune system’s health as it’s better suited to fighting off disease and viruses. There’s even a theory that it reduces the risk of developing dementia due to the stress reduction and overall health improvements, so why not get the gardening gloves on?

Maintains your mental health

As mentioned previously, gardening is a great way to relax and lower stress levels and improve any mood, the same way exercise would. Gardening in a group or with a community garden or allotment is a fantastic way to reduce loneliness. Many retirees say they struggle to find socialization opportunities, working on a group project to benefit the neighborhood is one of the greatest ways to meet and bond with new people. The satisfaction of growing and cultivating a new landscape while escaping from the trappings of modern life and going back to nature all provide fantastic mental health benefits that would contribute to creating an overall happier life.

Engaging with the great outdoors and working hard to grow your own plants gives so many benefits, not just for you mentally and physically, but also for the environment. It’s your way of doing your part to help the planet, while also aiding yourself, leading to a longer and more fulfilled life. Looking back on your garden and what you’ve grown yourself, then being able to show others is a fantastically rewarding thing to be able to do. Retirement doesn’t have to be dull, lonely or boring, it can be full of peace and fulfillment, so give gardening a go and see what it does for you.

The post Why Gardening Should Be Your New Retirement Hobby appeared first on .

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