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Archive | Farm Management

Taking on Food Justice with Soul Fire Farm’s Leah Penniman

Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm

Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm

As a creative educator, regenerative farmer, writer and activist, Leah Penniman is an exceptional leader for food justice. She is best known for her work at Soul Fire Farm, which she and husband Jonah Vitale-Wolff started as an organic family farm committed to “the dismantling of oppressive structures that misguide our food system.”

Soul Fire Farm is entering its ninth year of growing healthy food for the couple’s former urban neighbors in Albany and Troy, New York. Since coming to the land over a decade ago, they have transformed a patch of marginal mountain ground into rich topsoil, faithfully provisioned a sliding-scale CSA whose members often lack access to fresh produce and created a vibrant, welcoming community of learning and admirable influence.

Nurtured by her childhood connection with the natural world, Penniman got hooked on agriculture as a teenager at a summer job with the Boston-based Food Project and has never looked back. Before graduating from college, she worked at the Farm School, co-managed Many Hands Organic Farm and co-founded the YouthGROW urban farming program. Until this year, she has been a full-time environmental science and biology teacher for which she received a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching.

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Farmer Health: Preventing Pain

The animals that should be treated with the greatest care on most farms aren’t getting the attention they need, and farmer health should be a priority. Farmers start out young and strong, but as they age they are more likely than other groups to suffer from joint problems, painful backs and bad knees and hips.

farmer health may be improved through yoga

Young farmers practice yoga at Dripping Springs Farm, located near Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Everyone already knows that farming is one of the most dangerous ways to make a living. Safety around large animals and heavy equipment is a life and death matter, but few farmers consider the long-term health effects of day-to-day lifting, kneeling, stooping, twisting, shoveling and weeding — the activities that define the workload of most organic market farmers.

The result? Approximately one-third of farmers and ranchers are limited by arthritis, according to the USDA AgrAbility Project.

Surveys of farmers in the United States and other countries show that as farmers age they not only suffer musculoskeletal problems, but their aching, damaged joints make them more prone to serious accidents.

The flip side is that the physical demands of farming can be a good thing. Young farmers can grow into old, healthy farmers. Back pain can be avoided, arthritis can be prevented or delayed, and daily aches and pains can be tolerated without developing into major joint or muscle disorders. But it won’t happen by chance.

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Be Counted: 2017 Census of Agriculture

The United States Department of Agriculture has started sending out the 2017 Census of Agriculture. Sadly, in a world filled with scams attempting to gain your personal information for nefarious reasons and a lack of confidence in the government, the agricultural census is often met with distrust.

Conducted once every five years, the census aims to get a complete and accurate picture of American agriculture. The resulting data are used by farmers, ranchers, trade associations, researchers, policymakers, and many others to help make decisions in community planning, farm assistance programs, technology development, farm advocacy, agribusiness setup, rural development, and more.

Naturally, most homesteaders, farmers and ranchers have an independent streak. We crave the independence that this lifestyle lends us, and we desire to hold onto it with all our might — especially since it seems to be under attack from numerous directions lately. Despite what may at first seem an invasion of privacy, the census is nothing new to producers and provides a means of opportunity for those involved with agriculture.

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Wild Farm Alliance Supports Connections Between Farmer, Ecosystems & Community

Wild Farm Alliance reports that 37 percent of the Earth’s land is dedicated to agriculture, making farmland a top priority for Earth regeneration and wildlife conservation. While they assist farmers, they also connect with them for the purpose of learning from them. And that’s valuable to farmers, because we have to be careful that non-farming certifiers and agricultural advisors do not become too distant from farming itself. Often farmers are the ones on the forefront of continual discovery and innovation by being constantly engaged in their operations.

Hedgerows benefit pollinators

Photo courtesy of Wild Farm Alliance. Hedgerows can provide a multitude of benefits including pollinator, beneficial insect and wildlife habitat, dust and wind protection and increased diversity.

Each time we plant borders for beneficial insects or erect homes for raptors as rodent control, we’re offering something to wild nature in exchange for it being our ally as we nurture domesticated crops. Sometimes, as with Nettles Farm on Lummi Island in Washington State, nature’s bounty makes its way into the farm’s offerings.

Nettles Farm is surrounded by the sea and natural woodlands. Wild rose petals, wild plums and even edible seaweeds find their way into the foods of the chefs they supply at the famous Willows Inn.

Meanwhile, more and more information is surfacing on the huge potential agriculture has toward climate and natural resource restoration. But both farmers and wild nature are vulnerable, and like any good partnership, the union can truly sustain itself when each partner receives ongoing symbiotic support from the other. This article focuses on how eco-farmers are affected by growing desires and expectations to support ecosystems while earning a living at the same time, along with how I’ve seen an organization called Wild Farm Alliance assist them.

Even if it initially appears a future farm and wild nature partnership would be symbiotic eventually, the transition time to reach that state needs to be financially and labor-wise feasible. Farms can’t support nature if they go out of business in their attempts to do so and sell out to development or corporate agriculture. And because consumer demand fuels the farm with its financial support and policy voting, consumer understanding of the process farms must go through to reach and maintain higher states of sustainable regeneration is also intrinsic to the partnership. Continue Reading →

Order vs. Wildness: The Land Management Question

A member of the Virginia Monarch Butterfly Society called me: “Do you know where we can plant a pallet of milkweed seed?”

I didn’t even know Virginia had such an organization. Beyond that, I wondered where in the world they procured a pallet of milkweed seed. As I talked with the lady on the phone, I suppressed my laughter realizing that a couple of hours before I had had a totally frustrating in-the-field meeting with the landlords of one of the farms we rented.

By Joel Salatin

The landlords were more than a little dismayed at the weeds we had created with our mob grazing management. In September, right when the monarch butterfly larvae needed them, those weeds included a healthy contingent of seed-pod-bursting milkweeds. The monarchs were euphoric. The landlords weren’t. This 90-acre pasture farm had been continuously grazed for years before we rented it. The sparse grass never exceeded a couple of inches in height; clover was virtually nonexistent; thistles dominated the plant profile.

In three years, by using mob grazing and aggressive hand tools we vanquished the thistles, but a plethora of edible and often delectable weeds (like milkweed) thrived. Indeed, that afternoon at our pasture-based summit, Daniel (my son) and I exulted in the biomass volume we had stimulated. Fall panicum, milkweed, redtop, clover and some goldenrod offered color and variety to the orchard grass and dominant fescue sward. The landlords, however, did not share our euphoria. As we stood in armpit-high biomass, arguably more than had been on the farm for decades, all the landlords could utter was a contemptible and emphatic: “Look at all these weeds.” I was incredulous. Outdoor and wildlife lovers, the landlords could not make the connection between this diversified, voluminous biomass and the overall health of their pasture farm. We could scarcely walk through the biomass jungle, replete with spiders, field mice and a host of creepy-crawly insects.

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Corn Mazes as Profit Generators

“If you build it, they will come.” Several years ago, these words seemingly fell upon the ears of John Kondilis-Hashem, an ambitious young farmer whose skills have graced Bella Organic Farm since 2008. With an eye for business prosperity and a hand for organic cropping, Kondilis-Hashem keenly studied the methods through which neighboring farms were boosting profits and sales. Upon assessing the local competition, he soon realized that his Oregon-based operation was lacking one critical ingredient.

The corn maze at Sweetfields Farm in Florida is designed, cut and maintained by the owners to keep costs down.

“(Conventional) farms were all offering corn mazes — an attraction for drawing in crowds to their businesses,” he said. “We realized we were one of the only farms in the Portland area not doing one.”

But once the owners of Bella Organic built it — amid the steamy summer of 2010 — the premonition soon rang true. Today, visitors come in droves from the greater Portland region and beyond to lose themselves in the farm’s green-cropped labyrinths, a fun fall diversion from football and leaf-raking.

Although farms typically charge between $10 and $20 per visitor for a two-to three-hour meander through the pathways, the maze itself has not been the primary moneymaker in the case of many organic and sustainable farms.

“We make a little bit of money from the admission prices, but not a great deal,” said Kondilis-Hashem. “Rather, the purpose of the corn maze is to simply lure people to the farm. And boy has it ever. Once we get folks to come out, they end up spending an entire day here and purchasing many of the other things that we offer. We run the maze in conjunction with our pumpkin patch — and that’s where we really clean up. I’ve seen people come here and end up carting out six or seven pumpkins at a time. But the corn maze is what reels them in.”

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