Category Archives: Local Food

Raising Hens in the Backyard – A Workshop

Please join us for our annual

Backyard Hens Workshop

Saturday, March 31, 2012

10:00am to noon

David Tepfer and Katie McDermott will share their experience raising hens.  Learn about getting started, housing, feed and health care, chicken biology and anatomy, harvesting eggs, protection from predators, and more.


This workshop is designed for beginners!   Please join us if you are interested in raising a few hens (for the eggs!).

Workshop Fee =  $10/family (bring the kids)

The workshop will run from 10:00am to noon at Simple Gifts Farm & NACF

 in North Amherst

1089 North Pleasant St. (map)

For information contact John M. Gerber at (413)549-6949 or

Co-Sponsored by:

Food Hub Proposal – Your Thoughts are Needed!

On December 1st, 2011, Brian Downes, Jennifer Christian, and Tabbitha Greenough gave a presentation at the Greenfield Community College (GCC) downtown center on creating a town food hub as part of their work for the Introduction to Food Systems Course.  The very next day, an article about starting the Greenfield Food Hub was published in the Greenfield town Recorder.  The article was written by Kyle Bostrom, a Greenfield farmer and member of the town agricultural commission.

Please view the recording by the GCC students and read the article by Kyle Bostrom.   Then join us in a dialogue  about the Greenfield Food Hub (even if you don’t live in Greenfield, Massachusetts) by responding in the comments box below to these two questions – or just add your own thoughts:

1) Are you aware of other Food Hub examples in the U.S. or around the World?  Please share them here and let us know if there is anything that can be added or changed to make the Greenfield Food Hub most effective.

2)  Please share your knowledge of:

a. Laws, accreditations, compliances, etc. required to make the parts of the Greenfield Food Hub a reality

b. Infrastructure:
– Design Firms
– Contractors
– Transportation businesses for farm products
c. Equipment needed to make parts of the Food Hub function and where to get it
d. Sources of funding

As you give feedback on each of these questions, please identify yourself and describe your expertise or interest in the Greenfield Food Hub.

A Few Creative Ideas for Local Food Markets

 Signage matters!   Here are a few

Creative label
Simple Sign
Attention getting


Remember Value Added Products!

Home made cookies
Pet Treats

Mobile Carts Are a Low Cost Way to Get Started

A pickle cart
"Free Range" Coffee!

To make a farmers market more friendly

Invite dogs but make the rules clear
Free Water on a hot day

Vote for democracy and community – buy local food

Those of us living in Western Massachusetts are privileged to have lots of farmers markets and CSA’s offering excellent quality, locally-grown fresh food at a very reasonable price.   Many people buy from local farmers (who are also our neighbors) because the food is so good.  But that’s not the only reason I walk my dog to North Amherst on Saturday mornings.

At a time when our global food system is threatened and corporate political power is out of control, many of us choose to buy local as an act of protest.  We “vote for democracy and community” with our dollars by not supporting a global food system whenever possible.

I was thinking about this while walking Riley down to the North Amherst Farmers Market on Saturday morning.  It was a lovely day, but I was troubled by the political theater around a “manufactured” debt crisis.  I had sent a few emails to congress, but was feeling helpless.   Economic recession… debt crisis… corporate influence on government and control of the food system… it all seemed connected.

The global food system favors large, financially efficient businesses which exploit people, undermine democracy, erode community and degrade natural resources in order to maximize profits for shareholders.  When economic power is concentrated in the hands of a few multi-national corporations, it not only results in the erosion of environmental quality and social justice –  but creates a political situation that undermines democracy.  And I help create this situation every time I buy food that is offered by the global food system.

So Riley and I went for a walk…

As we arrived at the farmers market, Joe Swartz (the manager of Swartz Family Farm, which is right around the corner) had a warm welcome for Riley, who he knows by name (he then said hello to me).  We love the salad greens offered by Sarah and Joe Swartz, who grow entirely without pesticides.

At J & J Farms we said hello to Laura and bought some sweet corn (that was grown within a mile of the market) and then a few homemade dog biscuits from Leigh’s Mixing Bowl of Haydenville.  Leigh, who stopped to play with Riley, learned to bake from her grandmother Irene (I don’t know if Grandma is responsible for the dog biscuit recipe, but Riley surely appreciated the biscuits and the attention).

My wife Phyl (who stopped by while running errands) bought some local maple syrup from Parkers Sugar House, which is just over the New Hampshire line, for our son and daughter-in-law who we will visit this month in Colorado (we try to give locally produced gifts, whenever possible).  And finally I had a nice conversation with my friend Mary Hager (who also is the best web designer I know) about how to cook a goat!

I came home a little less depressed and well stocked with local foodMaybe I’ll see you at the market next Saturday!  We can talk about the debt crisis, how to cook sweet corn and maybe even about how to raise your own hens!

Check out a few of my pictures from the market.  And if you can’t make it to North Amherst on Saturday morning, don’t forget the Wednesday afternoon market at Kendrick Park or the Downtown Market on Saturday.

Lots of good food –  and maybe a touch of democracy and community!


For more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.  And go here for more of my blog posts.

Amherst, MA passes zoning bylaw to allow backyard hens!

On May 25, 2011 the Amherst Town Meeting overwhelmingly endorsed a citizen’s petition article which makes it easier to raise hens in town legally!

The new bylaw was designed to achieve three objectives:

1.   To protect the health, safety and care of the animals
2.   To protect neighbors from noise, odors and nuisance
3.   To reduce the bureaucratic and financial barrier to raising hens legally

 A small group of residents has been working on this bylaw change for almost a year.  By the time the article came up for a vote it was supported by:

  • The Select Board
  • The Planning Board
  • The Board of Health
  • The Agricultural Commission
  • The Health Director
  • The Animal Welfare Officer
  • And over 200 Amherst residents who signed a petition in favor of the article
Me and one of my hens

Here is the story…..

Raising egg-laying hens is a safe, healthy and educational family activity.  Hens are quieter, cleaner and easier to care for than dogs.  


A major barrier for many Amherst residents to raising hens was our town zoning rules which required many residents to go through a burdensome and expensive permitting process

 A Citizens Petition Article was proposed to Town Meeting to allow safe and responsible raising of hens and meat rabbits in all non-commercial zoning districts while putting the responsibility for protecting the rights of neighbors and the health of the animals in the hands of the Health Director and the Animal Welfare Officer, rather than the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The proposal was to eliminate zoning restrictions against hens and rabbits and allow up to 12 animals by right.  Sites where animals are to be raised will be licensed by the Health Department for a minimal fee, homeowners will receive educational materials on the safe care for animals, and sites may be inspected annually by the Animal Welfare Officer.   The new zoning bylaw is described here.   In addition, changes were made in the Animal Welfare Bylaw to protect the animals and the neighbors.  Relevant sections of the new Animal Welfare Bylaw are posted here.

Many other cities and towns are working on this as well.  Here are a few sample “chicken laws.”   And here is a blog post describing the political process in more detail and sharing some suggestions on how to be successful…

….get involved – it is possible to change the law!

Can we grow more food in Amherst, MA?

On March 31, 2011, the Amherst Conservation and Agricultural Commissions sponsored a public event in Town Hall to discuss opportunities to raise more food in town.  The first speaker, Mr. David Ziomek, Director of Conservation and Development, presented an overview of land conservation and opportunities for farming on public land.

This was followed by a presentation by Dr. Brian Donahue, Professor of Environmental History, who outlined opportunities to grow more food in New England.  According to Brian Donahue, New England could grow:

  • Almost all of our vegetables
  • Half of our fruit
  • All of our  dairy products
  • Most of our beef and lamb
  • Most of our pastured pork, poultry and eggs

See the following for details:

For more ideas on how to make this happen, see Just Food Now in Amherst.

“Just Food Now” in Amherst, Massachusetts

Many of us living in the Pioneer Valley are aware that the modern industrial food system is distress.  In this post, I offer some ideas for local solutions we might consider to…

“just grow food – and – grow food justly.”


I believe that public bodies such as Town Government and the colleges and universities need to take more responsibility for helping to build a more robust local food system.  Some things we might consider are:

  1. tax incentives for small, integrated farms committed to selling within their own community,
  2. public investment to support infrastructure (such as packing, cooling, and distribution facilities),
  3. changes in zoning regulations to support the “homegrown food revolution”and
  4. education programs encouraging family, neighborhood, community self-sufficiency, and local farming.

We must begin to build more resilience into a food system that is dominated by global corporations, vulnerable to collapse (in the industrial world), and already in collapse in many developing countries (as evidenced by recent unrest). 

It is time to take action!

Lots of people are interested in talking about creative solutions.  We are planning a public event on March 31, 2011, right here in Amherst – please join us!

In preparation for this event, I’ve outlined a few things we might consider:

  1. If you live in an apartment, growing a few vegetables or herbs in window boxes or on the patio.  And of course walk or bike to one of our farm stands or farmers markets to buy local food whenever possible.
  2. If you live in a suburban neighborhood, tear up that lawn and just grow food now!
  3. If you are in a less dense part of town, grow a large garden with fruit trees.  And don’t forget to consider hens, chickens and rabbits for meat, perhaps a milking goat, and bees!
  4. If you live on a farm, consider growing more food crops (for people).  Much of the farmland in New England is used to produce hay (some for cows, but much for riding horses).  Is this the best use of farm land?
  5. If you are responsible for a public building, consider growing food on the rooftop.  This not only produces food but makes heating and cooling the building less expensive.  Or look to re-configure parking lots and other open areas with raised beds such as the organiponicos in Cuba.

And no matter where you live, think about ways we can make food farming a more attractive lifestyle.  Farmers (especially those who don’t own land) struggle with the economics of a food system that keeps prices artificially low through public subsidies and failing to pay for externalities.  If we want more local food, we need to help these farms compete more effectively within the global food system.

The Feed Northampton report, for example, proposes a public investment in food hubs that might provide communal food processing, packaging, cold storage and redistribution.  It might also include a slaughter facility, a community kitchen for processing vegetables, a maple sugar boiler, a cider press,  and a flour mill.

We all need to begin by imagining possibilities and then getting to work.  There are plenty of examples of ways in which you can get involved in creating a sustainable food system.  Think about:

1. Slow Food

2. Fair Trade

3. Bioregionalism

3. Public commitment to human right to a nutritious diet

4. Public commitment to insure food producers earn a living wage

5. Zoning laws that allow urban and suburban families to raise their own food (including animals) – a right to survival law

6. Decent wages and training for farm labor

7. Education for young farm managers

8. Research into appropriate technologies

9. Programs to bring local food into the workplace

10.  And of course, grow our own!

Lets dream together about the world we want to create….. and then lets get to work!

You can begin by joining us on;

Thursday, March 31 at 7:00pm-9:30pm

Amherst Town Hall

for a presentation sponsored by the Amherst Agricultural Commission and Conservation Commission on….

Growing More Food in Amherst: Public Responsibilities and Opportunities

…featuring Dr. Brian Donahue speaking on “the future of food farming in New England” followed by a public discussion.

For information, call John Gerber at 413-549-6949 or see:

I hope to see you there!

Amherst Citizens Petition to Allow Hens

We have filed a Citizens Petition article for Spring 2011 Town Meeting which would make it easier to raise backyard hens in Amherst.

We need your support!

We believe the keeping of backyard animals, particularly hens, is an appropriately-scaled, practical and symbolic form of environmental, fiscal, and community sustainability.  As part of the local food movement, cities and towns across the nation are enacting “hen friendly” legislation to help residents move toward personal, neighborhood and community self-sufficiency.  This proposed change in the town bylaw will allow Amherst to join this national movement.

Key Elements of the Proposal

  • A “by right” approach to a small number of animals.
  • Boundary setbacks to protect neighbor’s interests
  • Site registration (similar to the simplicity of a dog license)
  • Animal care guided by published “best practices” regulations
  • Complaint initiated enforcement by the Animal Welfare Officer

For the full text of the language; Bylaw Proposal

Naturally, there are some voices in town who oppose this citizens petition.  Some of those concerns have been expressed by the Planning Board Zoning Subcommittee.  To hear those concerns, please check out this 6 minute video.

If you agree or disagree with these concerns, please send your thoughts to the Planning Board Zoning Subcommittee at this email address:

And if you are willing to sign our e-petition in support, please go here:

I am a resident of Amherst and support this citizens petition

For more information on this issue;

Lets Raise Hens!

Finally, if you want to be kept informed of the progress of this citizens petition article, or when Planning Board meetings will be held, please let me know at:

Innovative Local Farms & Markets

Nice article in the local newspaper about the many small farms in the Pioneer Valley of  Western Massachusetts that are experimenting with innovations.  Check it out here.

According to the article, Joe Swartz decided to launch an online ordering system four years ago for the greens, root crops and farm products produced by his family’s farm in Amherst – and other local farms. In late May, Swartz organized a year-round farmers market that features products from 15 local farms.

The North Amherst Farmers Market operates in the parking lot of Watroba’s Market on Sunderland Road every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. In the winter, Swartz said, it will move inside a building at Swartz Family Farm on Meadow Street.

“This just seemed like the way to evolve,” he said. “There’s a big demand from the public and we have such great farms. Our biggest challenge is to find ways to let people know what we’re doing. Right now, we’re a best-kept secret.”

Learn more about the North Amherst Farmers Market on Facebook here.

Backyard Henhouses are Clean

The salmonella outbreak has been tracked back to bad management and overcrowded conditions in the egg factories in the Midwest.  Not really a big surprise, huh?  The nation seems to be waking up to the fact that industrial agriculture can produce cheap food, or it can produce safe food with oversight….. but it can’t produce cheap and safe food.  We need to pay for good quality, safe food.   But my experience suggest that backyard hens can produce cheap and safe eggs!

Today’s NY Times reviews the situation.  Check it out!