Tuesday, December 9, 2008

An Introduction to Biodynamic Agriculture at Know Your Vegetables, Monday Dec 15th 6:30 PM

This Monday evening, we'll be having another installment of Know Your Vegetables. I'll be presenting an introduction to Biodynamic Agriculture. Biodynamics is a field of agriculture that has developed from an initial series of lectures, Spiritual Foundations for the Renewal of Agriculture, presented by Rudolf Steiner in the summer of 1924.

In 2006 and 2007 I farmed at Hawthorne Valley Farm in Harlemville, NY. While I focused primarily on the 12 acres we had in vegetable production, the farm also had a dairy herd that played a central role in the life and fertility of the farm. Hawthorne Valley has played a leading role in the development of Biodynamic Agriculture in the eastern United States, alongside: the Pfeiffer Center in Spring Valley, NY and the Josephine Porter Insitute (JPI) for Applied Biodynamics in Virginia.

Biodynamics has a national certifying agent, Demeter USA. I'm not aware of any certified biodynamic operations along the Southcoast though there are a few growers who are using practices associated with Biodynamics.

On a slightly different note, I've been working on a brief resource list for Know Your Vegetables. One site I'm sure to include is ATTRA (the National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service), they are a great resource for gardeners and farmers of all experience levels; they regularly publish information on a wide array of relevant topics. Back in 1999 they published information on Biodynamic Farming & Compost Preparation.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Winter Study for Farmers and Gardeners

Wednesdays, @ 7PM, Jan. 7 - Feb. 4, at Brix Bounty Farm

Join us for a 5-week winter study as we discuss:

Mainline Farming for Century 21:
Lessons in Reams-Method Agronomy

by Dan Skow, D.V.M. & Charles Walters

To RSVP, Please contact Derek at 508-992-1868.

The book is available online at Acres USA and Pike Agri-Lab Supplies.

Cost of the book is $19.00 plus shipping (financial assistance available).

An introduction to Carey Reams is available at International Ag. Labs.

The topics in this book will serve as a nice introduction to some of the ideas Arden Andersen may present at the NOFA Mass 1st Annual Winter Growers Seminar, to be held in Barre, MA from Feb 5-7, 2009.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Healthy School Lunches...a Possibility?

On Thursday November 6th at 6PM (at the Marion Music Hall) I'll be joining a panel discussion in Marion after a showing of the film: "Two Angry Moms" The film is described as, "...a documentary that asks the question: What happens when two “fed-up” moms try to change the school lunch program?" The screening of the film is hosted by the Marion Institute and is free and open to the public. Filmmaker, Amy Kalafa will be a special guest at the event that is sure to invoke great discussion about the quality of school lunches in our nation today.

Imagine the difference if our children consumed lunches that were healthy, well balanced, and prepared with nutrient dense foods. I believe the balanced blood sugar, one likely result, would be a pre-requisite for a conducive learning environment. As today is the first day of school after Halloween I'm reminded of the teachers who will doubtessly teach kids with amped up energy; just one more reason to really appreciate the dedicated work of teachers in our communities. Jon Frank of International Ag. Labs recently hosted a series of 3 teleseminars in advance of the conference, "Call to Arms: Equipping Market Gardeners to Produce Nutrient Dense Foods". I would highly recommend any of the teleseminars for anyone looking for an introduction to "high brix" growing.

Finally, a few weeks back I was in Fall River where I led a soil workshop hosted by Healthy City Fall River on the basics of soil testing. We'll be working over the coming year to help promote the importance of soil testing in urban areas to verify the soil is safe for vegetable production (i.e. it doesn't have excessive heavy metal contamination) and for making smart fertilizer decisions that impact personal and environmental health. It's not too late to invest in the future (next growing season?) by adding necessary amendments to the soil before winter sets in...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Invest in the Soil...

Our current economic downturn continues to reveal deeper trouble in the global economy; many solutions that will help us ease out of the current recession are being discussed at this weekend's Bioneers by the Bay Conference hosted by the city of New Bedford. I'll be joining a panel on Saturday focusing on green jobs: "Green Careers and Creating Eco-Equity in the Green Economy", 1:30 PM at the Whaling Museum in New Bedford.

I believe that investment in human and natural capital will play an integral role in a transition toward an economy built on real wealth (see recent post "50 Million Farmers Needed"). This future economy will be a contrast to the recent global economy that has led us into the current crisis; one built on consumption, debt, and depletion of our natural resources.

Invest in the soil: on the farm, in the backyard, on rooftop gardens; wherever food is or can be grown.

Remineralize and reenergize depleted soils with nutrients needed for optimum plant growth. Don't limit our fertilizers and amendments to Nitrogen, Phospherous, and Potassium (N,P,K); instead we need to emphasize the importance of Calcium as well as Sufur, Magnesium, "minor nutrients" and "trace elements" to provide the full spectrum of nutrients that soil biology demands.To learn more about efforts to grow and promote nutrient dense foods check out the Real Food Campaign's website.
Refocus on building vibrant soil biology that will: make these nutrients available to the roots of our plants, create and maintain a healthy soil structure, prevent the loss of soil organic matter.

Production of nutritious fruits and vegetables that will nourish our bodies. Growing healthy food is real wealth creation that works with nature to build on the natural capital that we must steward for future generations.

Sounds simple, emphasize and focus on one of our most important resources, our soils, right? But a recent article "Drought Resistance is the Goal..." illustrates how our society focuses on technology (genetic engineering and plant breeding) as a solution to current and future agricultural problems. Personally, I feel this narrow focus on technological solution results from a focus on corporate profits; who will profit from healthy soils? Not agribusiness. Healthy soil will build profit for farmers and gardeners, a stable profit for generations to come.

If you haven't read the recent New York Times Magazine article written by Michael Pollan, "Farmer in Chief", I would encourage you to do so. Pollan once again does an admiral job of emphasizing the importance of sustainable agricultural production ("the original solar power") as part of the solution to our energy crisis and problems related to climate change.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Know Your Vegetables, Vol II - Fall Fertilizers and Compost

This Monday, October 20th, at 6:30 we'll be hosting our second installment of "Know Your Vegetables", a free conversation series focusing on topics related to small scale vegetable production.

We'll be discussing fall fertilizers; now is the time to make sure you boost energy levels in the soil to help with the breakdown of crop residue. Fall applications of rock minerals can allow for the biological activity of the soil to begin working to make these nutrients available to next year's crop. The other topic area on the agenda for Monday evening is compost.

Compost is often heralded for supplying humus to the soil, increasing organic matter that plays a critical role in soil health. It can also be a great way to introduce minerals and biological activity into the garden or cropland. We'll examine different composting methods and reasons to consider amending compost piles with additional nutrients, including biodynamic preps.

Interested in community gardens? Read an article printed in this week's Chronicle "A Green Revolution is Brewing at Local Farms, Urban Lots".

This Saturday, October 18th, join us at the Dartmouth YMCA's Fall Family Festival. We'll have farm activities throughout the afternoon, including: a sheep petting area, drop spindle demonstration, a field tour and nature hike, climbing wall, and farm games. The afternoon will begin with the judging of our 1st Annual Pie Contest ($5 to enter your pie, two categories - youth and adult, prizes include 1 week of tuition to Camp Metacomet in 2009 and a 3 month membership to YMCA Southcoast). I'll be presenting a talk at 2:30 PM titled "Growing Healthy Food" - vegetable gardening basics with a focus on fertility. Admission to the event is $10 per family. {The whole day is a fundraising effort for the Dartmouth YMCA Scholarship Fund}

I have been managing the Dartmouth YMCA's Sharing the Harvest farm project for the 2008 season. This year we harvested more than 15,000 lbs. of fresh produce on the community farm plot at the Y. We are currently seeking Farm Project Coordinator for the 2009 season.

And finally, at 4PM next Thursday October 23, I'll be presenting at a workshop in Fall River sponsored by Healthy City Fall River on soil analysis for gardeners at St. Luke's Church, 315 Warren Street in Fall River.

Hope you can join us at one of the workshops, conversations during the upcoming week...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Green Jobs Now, 50 million new farmers needed

Last weekend I attended a Green Jobs Now Day of Action at the New Wave Cafe in New Bedford. The event was part of a larger nationwide event promoted by Green Jobs Now. Van Jones has recently published a book on the topic, "The Green Collar Economy". He'll be presenting at the upcoming Bioneers by the Bay Conference held the last weekend in October in New Bedford.

Recent economic turmoil makes me think about the importance of an economy based on tangible production of goods and investing in human capacity. Riane Eisler discusses much of this at length in her book "The Real Wealth of Nations" and Thomas Friedman has jumped on board with recent article promoting investments in the green economy and education. Perhaps valuing agriculture goods at parity, National Organization for Raw Materials (NORM) has some interesting points to consider, would be a good start for developing more opportunity for new farmers. Richard Heinberg has called for 50 million new farmers in a peak oil period.

Looking for information about farm apprenticeships for next growing season? Check out a list of links in word.doc file: Farming in 2009.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Soil Testing and Cover Crops

Last night we held our first installment of Know Your Vegetables, a monthly conversation series focusing on small scale vegetable production. We covered: soil testing basics and fall cover crops. Brief powerpoint presentations outlining some of the key points are available under the community happenings bar on the right side of the page.

The Eat The View campaign put together by Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardens International is picking up steam with a new google video titled "The Garden of Eatin'"

A reminder, we'll be beginning our 6 week discussion course, Menu for the Future next Tuesday night at 6:30 PM.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Biochar - Creating Habitat for Soil Microorganisms

While at the NOFA Conference this past August, I attended a workshop presented by Doug Clayton and David Yarrow on the potential of Biochar, a stabilized form of carbon, to help with soil health and carbon sequestration. I had listened to David speak on the same topic last year and was curious to learn of new developments. It seems there has been quite an activity surge around the topic, from backyard experiments to university led research. Using biochar (basically charcoal) that has been soaked in a nutrient solution (fish fertilizer which is locally available along the Southcoast??) could help bolster the soil health. Both through creating an environment well suited for microbial growth and development (the nooks and craters of the char have been called a "coral reef" for soil life) and also providing a substance to adsorb nutrients in the soil.
The topic is pretty exciting, I had done a bit of background reading last winter in NY and it struck me as a great item to include in future research development. Perhaps this fall we'll begin to amend a few beds for test purposes next growing season. Anybody on the southcoast interested in learning more and experimenting please contact me.

A brief list of Biochar websites:

Biochar International
Johannes Lehmann, Cornell Professor's Website on Biochar
Biochar Discussion List

Biochar provides one more hope for the goal of building dynamically healthy soils capable of producing nutrient dense produce. The foundation for balancing soils chemically was research completed by the late William Albrecht, a soil scientist at the University of Missouri. A prolific writer, Albrecht often hi-lighted the connection between soil health/fertility and personal health. The Soil and Health Library has a number of articles authored by Albrecht available for free downloading. Albrecht was one of many important voices who have contributed to a historical body of knowledge that I rely upon as a young farmer when considering the necessary steps to building soil health.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Know Your Vegetables - Conversation Series

This fall we will beginning a free conversation series for the local community here on the farm. We'll be meeting monthly to discuss different methods and ideas central to growing healthy food. For more information please download the .doc file located under Community Happenings on the sidebar.

The first meeting will be held on Monday September 15th at 6:30 PM. We'll demonstrate how to take soil tests, learn how to interpret soil test results, and also discuss useful Fall Cover Crops (oats, peas, rye, vetch, clover) and sowing rates and methods. Although the workshops will be free, we ask that folks rsvp to Derek Christianson.

On another note, this past Monday we received quite a downpour on the farm. I was heading into New Bedford, for a meeting to discuss the support of community garden development, when the heaviest rain fell. The flooding in New Bedford has been well documented by The Standard Times. Including the thunderstorm that swept through early Tuesday morning we received just under 5'' of rain in less than 24 hours. That much rain can be a lot to ask for a soil to take in, but by late in the day on Tuesday muddy conditions were all that was left to show of the storms. The storms were easily the most rainfall I've experienced in a short stint while farming. The rain will push us to harvest our current plantings of carrots that will be tempted to split with the heavy addition of soil moisture.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Working to Grow Nutrient Dense Foods

This past weekend, Katie and I had the opportunity to attend the 34th annual Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Summer Conference at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. We attended a wide variety of workshops, caught up with old friends, and enjoyed two great keynote speeches.
On Saturday night we listened to Mark McAfee, a raw milk dairy farmer from California who has been a national advocate for expanding legal raw milk sales throughout the country. Since leaving Hawthorne Valley Farm in New York this past winter we have been enjoying raw milk from a small herd located just down Tucker Road at Paskamansett Farm.

On Friday night Dr. Arden Andersen presented a talk on: Real Medicine, Real Health Begins in the Soil. In his speech, Arden presented results from medical research connecting health benefits to consumption of high-quality food. It was exciting to hear from a voice who has been working to help farmers grow nutrient dense foods for many years. I came across the topic of nutrient density a few years back while reading an article in Acres USA, and have been actively seeking out more information and background on what could potentially become the next food revolution in America.

For a nice introduction to nutrient dense foods I would suggest reading an interview published in Wise Traditions, a quarterly-journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

Growing nutrient dense foods and building a healthy soil that can sustainably produce delicious vegetables is one of our biggest goals at Brix Bounty Farm. In addition, I hope to engage our local community in considering our gardening and agricultural practices and what steps we can take toward increasing nutrient density in our local food supply. To this end, we will be hosting a free conversation series beginning in September titled "Know Your Vegetables." More on this in a upcoming post.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Wealth of Rain

On Wednesday and Thursday we received more than 2 1/2 inches of much needed rain. This was a nice change from the previous 4 weeks which had brought us less than an inch. The rain will help the crops that were showing a bit of stress during the recent spell of summer heat.

Life has been busy on the farm; lots of different tasks competing for attention, including:
- continued harvests of mid-summer crops (Basil, Beans, Beets, Chard, Cucumbers, Fennel, Kale, Lettuce, Summer Squash, and Zucchini)
- cultivation; a fancy word farmers like to use for weeding. As I work these fields for the first time this season I'm getting a better sense of which weed seeds/roots are in abundance in our soil. Purslane seems to be the weed of the hour. After the recent rains, cultivation will be a high priority for the week ahead.
- direct seeding of fall crops including: beets, carrots, spinach, tunips, etc.
- transplanting some of the last transplant of the season: collards, kale, and scallions.

And then there is the ever important time for observation and contemplation. This morning I took the time to take the camera into the fields and take a few photos of late July. The bees (bumble, ground, and honey) were active in the early morning taking in pollen and nectar from a wide variety of crops. Also, we received a heavy dew which provided some inspiration for a few photos. One of the farm names that didn't win was Over-dew Farm - seemed to not quite instill visions of hope and abundance, although it did focus on the importance of doing good work right here, right now.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Enriched by Our Community

The past two days have offered Katie and I a great chance to engage two very different communities that we are a part of. On Friday, we were in Newburgh, New York attending the annual assembly of the Dominican Sisters of Hope. The land that we are renting is owned by the Dominican Sisters of Hope and is still home to 4 Sisters who work in the Greater New Bedford Area. We were invited to attend their annual assembly to become more familiar with their organization, as well as to meet many of the Sisters who live in places other than Dartmouth.

On Saturday we were back home on the farm, harvesting cucumbers and other produce to display at a table at the 3rd Eye Open. We attended the festival and displayed information about local foods, genetically modified foods (GMO's), and 350.org, a campaign working to educate the global community about climate change and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. We passed out free cucumbers (and salt) to many folks who enjoyed the refreshment during the 90 degree heat. We met new neighbors and also listened to some great hip-hop acts. The efforts are a part of our ongoing work to help promote local foods.

We are also active, partially through Katie's work at UMASS Dartmouth's Office of Campus and Community Sustainability, in local conversations about supporting the development of community garden spaces. As fresh produce prices continue to rise in the grocery store, and as we learn about more issues related to food safety (tomatoes and salmonella); I feel the future of healthy eating will be a mix of local farms and gardens. The work that we undertake on Tucker Road will hopefully offer a chance to help provide a resource for the local community as we consider the many methods of sustainable vegetable production.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Grower's Statement

Our mission is to grow the finest quality produce, focusing on flavor, freshness, and nutrition. We’ll use only sustainable farming methods that will enhance the soils natural fertility, and thereby its capacity to produce healthy produce.

We have moved back to southeastern Massachusetts, after farming for 2 seasons at Hawthorne Valley Farm in the Hudson River Valley of New York State. Hawthorne Valley is a diversified farm producing Biodynamic vegetables, milk, yogurt, and other value added products. Before my time in NY, I have farmed on Martha’s Vineyard and in the Boston area. This season as we begin to get the new farm established on Tucker Road, I’ll be managing the Dartmouth YMCA’s Sharing the Harvest Project; a 2-acre community garden that produces vegetables for hunger relief efforts on the Southcoast.

As a vegetable grower, I believe there is a strong relationship between the quality of food and the soil upon which it grows. Over the next few seasons we’ll work to build the soil on Tucker Road, improving its biological activity, chemical balance, and physical structure. This first season we have sown a good portion of our main field with clover, oats, and vetch which will act as cover crops building the soil for the future.

Long term, our focus will be to continue to build the health and quality of the soil, realizing without vibrant soils sustainable agriculture couldn’t exist. In addition to the use of cover crops (or green manures) we’ll be enriching soil fertility using compost, rock minerals, biodynamic preparations (compost teas), and trace mineral fertilizers.

We will not use any “chemical” fungicides, herbicides, or pesticides in the production of our vegetables. Instead we’ll work to create healthy soils, to produce healthy plants that are more resistant to the common ailments and pests affecting crops in the Northeast. We’ll use crop rotation to minimize disease and insect pressure, and also utilize row cover when necessary to prevent insect damage. Cultivation will be done with small scale equipment and with hand tools, instead of chemical pesticides.

We’ll begin monitoring our produce quality using a refractometer, which measures Brix levels. Brix levels reflect the total soluable solid content of a crop and are associated with both sweetness and nutrient density. We believe that our growing methods combined with a short-time between harvest and marketing will allow our crop’s quality and flavor to surpass that of produce typically found in supermarket aisles.

If you have any questions or would like more information about our farm, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Derek Christianson

858 Tucker Road Farm... June 2008 Post

A new farm is springing forth at 858 Tucker Road. We are renting land from the Dominican Sisters of Hope; taking old hay and silage fields and bringing them into the realm of vegetables. As we get the farm off the ground, we'll add sporadic updates to the blog to share the news.

Our main focus for 2008 will be to begin to rebuild the soil fertility after years of continuous corn silage. We'll rely on green manures, compost, rock mineral fertilizers, fish meal and other natural fertilizers to stimulate the biological activity of the soil. We'll also be taking steps to begin to balance the nutrients in the soil, providing the optimum growing conditions for our crops.

This season, we have seeded a good portion of the land into oats, clover, and vetch to start rebuilding the soil. We'll be growing an assortment of vegetables on a small scale and will look to market our crops locally in Dartmouth and New Bedford.

We are still contemplating farm names for the new venture, waiting until we have spent a bit of time on the land before we rush to give it a formal name.

Check back soon for more news on the farm...