WINTER CONFERENCE URBAN FARMING: Mushroom Cultivation Methods

Mushroom cultivation for food and medicine is a progressive and 10455698_779104102146445_223868833291702764_nexciting portion of the agricultural system. They can be an interesting niche and make for some added diversification in the ever-changing landscape of modern farming.

For the urban farmer with limited space, mushroom cultivation can be a profitable endeavor. From edible to medicinal, mushrooms can be cultivated in a number of ways and marketed from fresh to added-value products.

From 8 -9:15 am on Saturday’s Urban Farming Track, join Olga Tzogas from Rochester NY’s Smugtown Mushrooms and learn direct methods of mushroom cultivation. web-SMUGTOWN-master

Learn how to set up a fruiting room, lab, and the appropriate mediums for a growing substrate. Olga will review the benefits and challenges of indoor cultivation and how immersing yourself within the community not only lends itself to direct sales, but helps strengthen community ties. In her words, “cultures around cultivation.”

imgresMore and more studies are proving the positive symbiosis between mushrooms and human health. Many of these fungi have been cultured and administered for millennia. Olga will demonstrate how Smugtown Mushrooms not only provides Rochester chefs with high-demand fresh mushrooms, she will also examine the potential of growing for medicinal markets.

Whether considering fungi for profit or to enjoy cultivation for personal use, this presentation will certainly lead you in right direction.

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Pasturing Alternative Forages at Cobblestone Valley Farm

Pasture walk at Cobblestone Valley Farm

Pasture walk at Cobblestone Valley Farm

Pasturing Alternative Forages was held on Wednesday August 19th, 2015 at Cobblestone Valley Farm in Preble, NY. Paul and Maureen Knapp hosted the field day and Organic Valley sponsored the event, providing lunch for the group.  We were fortunate to have the rain hold off for the day and to have a very large tent to escape the heat of August.

It is always a pleasure to visit Paul and Maureen Knapp’s farm nestled in the valley of Cortland County.  Paul and Maureen have been long-time NOFA-NY members and have been certified organic since 2000.  They manage a diverse farm business growing poultry, hogs and strawberries as well as managing a dairy herd of 50 milkers.  Their farm has a rich history with its beginnings as part of the cabbage industry growing for a sauerkraut processing facility next door to the farm, which has since become an equipment company.  Paul and Maureen are excellent farmers who are able to adapt to changing dynamics within their farm.  They maintain a beautiful farm and are a fine example of progressive organic dairy farmers. Uniquely, Paul’s experience growing cabbage has helped him to understand and manage growing brassicas for alternative forages.

grazed turnips

grazed turnips

The event began with a round of introductions of presenters and attendees which included a variety of folks from bovine to sheep farmers, new farm owners and seed sales representatives.  Paul spoke about how he began planting alternative forages to help mitigate the summer slump in pasture rotation. Paul now utilizes his alternative pastures including kale, turnip, radish and Sorghum Sudan grass to maintain production and components during the entire grazing season. Paul has also used buckwheat, triticale & peas as alternate forages in the past. We walked out and viewed the different test plots of brassicas to compare how they grew and how the animals grazed them.  Paul chose to graze his animals for 2 hours on an every other day basis to allow the forages time for regrowth and to not overwhelm the cows ration.  Paul balances the alternative forages with perennial pasture consisting mostly of orchard grass and white clover with some red clover.

Paul Knapp discusses alternative forages to the group

Paul Knapp discusses alternative forages to the group

Once we viewed the most recently grazed plots and plots with regrowth, we ventured back to our shady tent for a great lunch provided by Organic Valley.  After everyone’s belly was full we headed back out to view the sorghum sudan grass pasture. Many of the attending farmers shared their experiences pasturing alternative forages, what has worked for them and the results they have seen. There was a discussion on how BMR Sorghum thrives in hot weather and the brassicas thrive during the cooler weather.  By being able to rotate during the season they can be used to mitigate the risk of low pasture yields with varying weather at different times of the summer.  Paul stated how field days like this are great for building a farmers tool box; everyone can take home a few things that will help them in their operation down the road. Following an interesting discussion we had the pleasure to see a dry run of the Soil Health Trailer that Fay Benson and his team brought to the event.  The National Grazinglands Coalition’s Soil Health Trailer is equipped to measure and demonstrate vital physical, chemical, and biological components of soil health. When in full working mode workshop participants use penetrometers to measure soil compaction, and see a demonstration of the Active Carbon test that measures how much food the soil contains for the biological organisms that support soil health.

We are grateful to Fay for bringing the trailer and talking about what it is capable of, to Paul for sharing his years of experience and to Tim Darbishire for sharing his knowledge on forage options, seeding & maintaining a stand and rotations.  We are very pleased with the program and thankful to Organic Valley CROPP Cooperative for their support.

A Shared Vision of Sustainable Agriculture in New York

Cecilia Bowerman, NOFA-NY’s Membership Coordinator, shares her thoughts about why giving to NOFA-NY is meaningful, powerful, and appropriate to the season.

At this point in the day you’re probably aware that it’s Giving Tuesday, a national day dedicated to philanthropy. This new addition seems positioned to balance the previous days dedicated to consumption: feasting with our families to celebrate all that we are thankful for, and the frenzied holiday shopping the following Friday and Monday.

This blog is a collection of NOFA-NY stories, from those who care about the success of organic and sustainable agriculture in every corner of New York State. I was invited to consider what it is I appreciate about today; why Giving Tuesday (and its social-media trending twin, #givingtuesday) matters. Mainly, for me, it’s that today is a concentrated effort (an effective one it seems) to raise our national consciousness to reflect on the causes we care about. And not just to think of them, but to take action and show our support. I recently returned to New York State, my home state, after an 8 year hiatus. I wanted to come back to live near my family, and I wanted to work for NOFA-NY because I care about where our food comes from. I want to help ensure that more food is produced without the use of harmful chemicals, that there are easy ways to engage with and support local farmers, and that consumers can continue to vote with their purchases.

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It takes each and every one of us to do this work. You might consider a gift to NOFA-NY this holiday season for any number of reasons. Perhaps it was a valuable learning experience you had at one of our conferences, or out on the farm at a field day this past year. Perhaps it is because you recognize creating policies that support a sustainable food and farm system rely on the strength of our collective voice. Perhaps it is that you simply want to enjoy good, healthy food grown by a nearby farmer.  The point is you are not alone. Today is your day to give a gift to an organization you care about. Whether it’s NOFA-NY, or some other cause you consider worthy, let’s come together this Giving Tuesday to contribute to the greater good. We are glad to be considered a worthy cause by so many of you. And we couldn’t do this work without you. Thank you.

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You can learn more about carrying forward our vision to support a healthy future for us all, or join those who have already made a gift to NOFA-NY this holiday season.

CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION

NOFA-NY is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. Contributions are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law. A copy of the NOFA-NY latest annual report may be obtained, upon request, from the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, 120 Broadway, 3rd Floor, New York New York 10271.

Fungi and Bacteria and Viruses, Oh My!

Maryellen Sheehan, NOFA-NY’s Fruit and Vegetable Coordinator and co-owner of Hartwood Farm in Fenner, NY, shares with us some of her experiences growing organically in 2014, plus invites the organic producer community to learn together on October 21st.

After moving to NY from a high-elevation frost pocket in NH (average 95 days frost-free), I belatedly realized the sole advantage of a super short growing season—frost kills your plants before disease has time to off them!  Switching to farm in the lower Hudson Valley’s vaguely tropical 160 frost-free day season was both amazing (so many new crops to grow!) and educational (twice the warm weather hosts exponentially more insects and disease to kill plants!).

While my inner scientist remains fascinated by finding and identifying all the new plagues offing our plants at Hartwood Farm in Fenner, NY (new this year: Swede midge, bacterial spot, and the undetermined soil funk that melted 3 plantings of lettuce), the market farmer part of me does not enjoy these new discoveries.  The NOFA-NY technical assistance part of me dreads hearing about the challenges faced by some of our members this season, but that part of me is able to take action by planning educational events for growers who, like me, face all sorts of unexpected challenges each year.  At the end of each season, and throughout the winter, we have the opportunity to reflect on the diseases that impacted our community and learn what practices and controls are proving most effective.IMG_5721

We have dedicated researchers and educators committed to helping organic and IPM growers identify their problems and find effective control options.  On Tuesday, October 21st, Cornell’s Chris Smart, Abby Seaman, Meg McGrath, and Sarah Pethybridge will join up to teach organic management for bacterial and fungal pathogens, soil borne disease, and late blight.  It will be a full and informative day with plenty of time to ask questions—we hope to see you there!  There is no other way to get this small-group access to these great (and busy) researchers; at $25 for the full day, including lunch, it’s worth the day off the farm.  Register HERE or read the full workshop description HERE!

Why think about diseases now?  Since organic control options are based on prevention, now is really the best time to plan for potential problems!  In the heat of the summer, most of us won’t have the time to research and shop around frantically for last minute insect and disease controls.  In the mid-winter, a lot of the daily challenges have faded (and some of us even attempt to go on vacation, leaving less time to learn and plan).  During the late winter and spring, growers are busy enough going to conferences and conventions, seeding, planting, and doing a thousand other things, so it can be difficult to think about preventative sprays and staying on top of a disease control program.  It’s easier when you pre-program that into your schedule by planning for it before any of next season’s action.  Variety selection, field layout, and soil amendments all affect your crops as well, and you certainly need to account for all of that before you open those gorgeous seed catalogs in the winter.  Our instructors at both October events are planning to give great information about these strategies, from organically-approved sprays to soil-building for robust plants at our October events.

004For a little teaser about organic disease management concepts, UVM’s Vern Grubinger has a short article that really hits on the key points here: http://www.uvm.edu/vtvegandberry/factsheets/diseasemanagement.html.  There are often multiple pest, disease and climate-related concerns that confuse and confound farmers.  While a great resource to help learn disease identification is the Vegetable MD website: http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/, I’d still recommend you come to our workshops with any photos, data, or questions about what you experienced this past season.  With many farmers and plant pathologists in one room, we’re bound to learn what’s trending in terms of organic production problems.

Hopefully these resources help you as you get started thinking about next year’s potential crop health challenges, and we hope to see you in Geneva on October 21st!

On October 30th, we’ll tackle many of the same issues, but hone in on some marketing and variety research as well, all related to the diverse and appealing Brassica plant family.

When Worlds Colllide: Your Health and (Mis) Use of Antibiotics in Livestock

Pastured dairy cow raised antibiotic-free

Pastured dairy cow raised antibiotic-free

As many of you know, in May of this year I transcended a 30+ year career in health care to join the organic and sustainable food and farming movement as Executive Director of NOFA-NY.  During my decades in health care, misuse and overuse of antibiotics was a major public health issue, an area of significant focus and concern for those of us who saw firsthand how overuse and improper use of antibiotics to treat human illness was having a horrible and unintended consequence on our health.  New breeds of antibiotic resistant and sometimes deadly “super bugs”  such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) were becoming prevalent in hospitals and spreading in the wider community.   It is horrible to watch someone contract an antibiotic-resistant illness suffer such health consequences.  More than 2 million people in the United States suffer from antibiotic-resistant diseases every year, and more than 20,000 die from them annually.  The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have taken this seriously and for years have included consumer and provider education regarding antibiotic use on their website.   The problem is not small, and despite the best efforts of many health care professionals, public health officials, and consumers, it continues to grow.

When I started my job with NOFA-NY, I thought I was leaving behind the public health impacts of antibiotics.  I avoid antibiotics when possible and use them responsibly when required.  I eat mainly vegetarian, and when I do eat meat or dairy I ensure that it’s at least antibiotic free, if not certified organic (which means no antibiotics have been used).  Krys Cail’s article in the Fall 2014 Issue of NOFA-NYs  New York Organic News surprised even me, a veteran of the healthcare industry and a self-proclaimed responsible eater!  I was shocked to learn that the use of antibiotics in livestock (even that which I choose not to eat) is potentially affecting my health and your health, too.   A whopping  80% of antibiotic drugs, by weight, are used in the livestock industry!  The driving force behind this high use of antibiotics in conventional agriculture is the practice of feeding livestock low doses of antibiotics routinely in order to prevent illness in crowded living conditions and to promote growth.  In her article titled, “Foolish Practice,” Krys Cail, an agricultural development consultant and active member of NOFA-NY’s policy committee, describes the current issues and impacts of antibiotics in conventional agriculture and the health consequences this can have for all of us – even those of us who are vegetarians or who eat organic, antibiotic-free meat and dairy whenever possible.

Not one to take this lightly, I went to the health care providers’ “bible” – back to the CDC website.  There I found a strong alarm:

Antibiotics must be used judiciously in humans and animals because both uses contribute to the emergence, persistence, and spread of resistant bacteria. Resistant bacteria in food-producing animals are of particular concern. Food animals serve as a reservoir of resistant pathogens and resistance mechanisms that can directly or indirectly result in antibiotic resistant infections in humans.”

“Scientists around the world have provided strong evidence that antibiotic use in food-producing animals can have a negative impact on public health.”

In fact, a 2013 study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine found conclusive evidence that a person’s risk of contracting MRSA is significantly higher if he or she lives near a conventional hog farm or near a field fertilized with manure from a conventional hog farm.  This is just one of many examples of how the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock impacts public health.

100_0399We know that all farmers, both conventional and those who practice organic and sustainable methods, want to produce healthy, good food.  Many conventional farmers who feed antibiotics routinely to their animals would prefer to stop doing so.  However, until the practice is banned, market competition acts as enough pressure to force these farmers to feed antibiotics routinely to prevent illness and encourage animal growth in line with their peers’ production.  This is not about hurting or blaming farmers.   It is not about appropriate use of antibiotics to treat illness.  It is about preventing mis-use and overuse of antibiotics in animals as well as people for the health and well-being of both.   If you would like to take action on this issue, you can check out Food & Water Watch’s campaign.

 

A Chef, a Famer and a Child Transform a Field at Katchkie Farm and the Sylvia Center

Flowering Bok Choy at Katchkie Farm

Flowering Bok Choy at Katchkie Farm

Inspiring was the first word that entered my mind as I drove into Katchkie Farm in Kinderhook, NY.  What had been a tangled mess of scrub brush, weeds, and rocks just 7 years ago had been transformed to a vibrant, year round organic farm certified by NOFA-NY Certified Organic LLC.  As I pulled in the drive and stepped out to meet my guide, Julie Cerny, my eyes quickly feasted on the rows of vegetables and flowers, brimming greenhouse, and the bordering woodland preserve.  Julie explained to me that the transformation was made possible by the imagination of chef Liz Neumark, owner of the catering company Great Performances, the vision of farm manager Bob Walker, and the lively energy of children and young adults participating in the on-site Sylvia Center.

Katchkie Farm is dedicated to building connections between food professionals, families, and healthy delicious local food. Katchkie prides itself in holistic stewardship of the land and its bounty, celebrating local flavors, and through its partnership with the Sylvia Center, inspiring children to eat well.

Katchkie supplies Great Performances with fresh produce for special events, as well as farmer’s markets and Great Performance’s cafes.  This focus on farm to restaurant meant a few pleasant surprises for me. I was treated to the taste of my first summer tomato from the high tunnel, a sample of an unbelievably sweet strawberry from a field – and perhaps my favorite, a nibble of a flower from a bok choy that had been let go specifically for the purpose of providing edible flowers for salads.  They are a lovely yellow and taste like a brassica.  Katchkie also supplies an 800 member CSA.

Katchkie Farm also hosts the Sylvia Center, which is a non-profit organization that works with over 1000 youth and their families each year.  Through its garden-to-table program, the Sylvia Center inspires young people to discover good nutrition on the farm and in the kitchen.  Julie toured me around the rainbow shaped garden, where children and young adults are able to taste fresh food right out of the garden and learn to plant, tend, harvest and cook food for their own fresh meals.  A popular spot is the amazing wood-fired pizza oven, designed in the French style and impressively stationed in the nearby gazebo overlooking a pond and meadows.  I had to stop and admire the flowering bee garden that made up part of the rainbow.

Pizza oven at the Sylvia Center

Pizza oven at the Sylvia Center

At the end of my visit, Julie helpfully gave me a copy of a calendar with tips on eating locally grown food year round.  For more information about Katchkie Farm and the Sylvia Center, you can check out their website at http://www.katchkiefarm.com.

On the Trail at Once Again Nut Butter

 

The best cookies, and gluten free!

The best cookies, and gluten free!

My nose knew I had arrived at my destination well before my eyes.  As I came through the four corners in the charming village of Nunda, NY, the gently sweet aroma of lightly roasted nuts wafted through my car.  Just ahead was the Once Again Nut Butter production facility and I was excited to visit the home of my favorite crunchy peanut butter.  I was soon to learn that Once Again Nut Butter is about more than peanuts!

Once Again Nut Butter’s motto is “We Spread Integrity”.  I wasn’t too sure what that meant until I toured the facility and talked with Gael Orr, Communications Manager. It soon became to clear to me that when you purchase a jar of Once Again, you partner in a mission to make the world a better place – from the ground up!

Once Again was founded in 1976 by Jeremy Thaler and Constance Potter. A friend mentioned to them the idea of purchasing a small, used coffee roaster and trying to roast bulk nuts.  Production began in an 800 square foot space in their basement and the rest is history!  Today Once Again is located in a 27,000 square foot state of the art food production facility.  From its humble beginnings, Once Again has grown to become a national market leader in production of organic and natural nut butters and boasts food safety and quality management practices that have earned it Safe Quality Foods (SQF) 2000 Level 3 Certification – the highest Safe Quality Foods Qualification that can be attained.

Touring the pristine production areas I could see what makes these nut and seed butters among the best in the world.  Nuts were toasted fresh and immediately ground into the appropriate nut butter and packaged.   And everyone was smiling – the organization is 100% employee owned and democratically managed, and was among the first Certified Fair Labor Practice organizations in the country.

Gael explained to me that Once Again sees itself as being a mission-oriented company that also makes great tasting nut butters!   This means that Once Again is involved in helping make the world a better place – from helping the local Rotary to addressing issues of poverty by paying fair prices for commodities and starting farm co-ops in developing economies.   As a healthy food pioneer, Once Again helped develop the organic peanut growing standards for the United States and they are currently supporting regional beekeepers from family farms and assisting United States organic sunflower growers with crop development.

Before I left, I decided to ask Gael for advice on a problem I was facing – it was all employee staff meeting at NOFA-NY this week, and the theme of the pot-luck was “gluten-free”.  Since being told of the goal of gluten free, of course all I could think of was food laden with gluten!  Gael gave me a recipe booklet of gluten free treats made with Once Again products, and a handy pack of nut butters to try.  The Once again Cashew Butter is a staff favorite and we learned it is great on apples.  I actually baked the gluten free Trail Mix Cookie recipe from the Once Again Nut Butter recipe book as my dish to pass.  Those cookies were so good there was not a crumb left!

Thank you Gael for the tour and to everyone at Once Again Nut Butter!  For more information about Once Again Nut Butter including the Trail Mix Cookie recipe, you can check out their website at http://www.OnceAgainNutButter.com.