Category Archives: Work and Internships

Young Family Farmers a Growing Trend

By JAMES HEFLIN – Daily Hampshire Gazette

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

familyfarmMany parents can’t get their kids to eat their vegetables. Mountain View Farm owners Liz Adler and Ben Perrault, on the other hand, have to retrieve their daughter, Ollie Perrault, 8, and son, Nate Perrault, 5, from their fields in Easthampton where the kids can often be found, muddy feet and all, munching away at lettuce, peppers or ground cherries they’ve just plucked.

familyfarm2“They don’t want me to do anything to it,” Adler said. “They want just a pepper or a tomato, just like it is. Sometimes I come outside and say, ‘Get over here! We’re going to eat lunch,’ and I have to remind myself that they’re standing there with raw kale — they’re actually eating lunch already.”

Adler, 36, and Perrault, 35, have been together and involved with farming for about 17 years. They met in eastern Massachusetts and lived in several places as Adler pursued her Continue reading Young Family Farmers a Growing Trend

Bringing a 1953 Farmall Super A Back to Life

By Peter Hanlon – UMass Sustainable Food and Farming Student

I’m a third generation cranberry farmer, 21 years old and I live for growing cranberries. Ever since I was ten I’ve tried to help out on the bog.  Now I can say that I’ve grown my fair share of cranberries. I’m a hard-working man and it shows in what I’ve done over the years.  But my greatest accomplishment was the 53’ Farmall Super A that I brought back to life.

I got this tractor for Christmas in 2010. It was kind of a joke when I got it – a tractor, what kid at 17 wants a tractor for Christmas? It has a sickle bar mower that can easily mow the ditches of a cranberry bog. I went out and tested it, the tractor was running then.

When I finished sanding, cleaning and repainting the Farmall in the spring of 2011, it didn’t run. It didn’t even make a noise. Back then I only knew a few things about engines.  I replaced the wiring harness and the tractor finally turned over and ran. I thought that was the last of my worries, I was quite wrong.


After that day it didn’t run again until the next spring. The engine seized and I had to fight with the transmission to free it again. So 2012 came and went with only a few good moments with the Super A.  Nothing seemed to work and understanding books and old literature wasn’t helping. Then came the winter between fall and spring semester of my freshman year at college, a turning point for the tractor and me.  I dismantled the transmission case and found that the gears were seized. I knew I had to start there.

In the spring the transmission got fluently moving again and the tractor ran again. What a relief it was. All the hard work had finally come down to me fixing the transmission. Or so I thought. When my father and I got it outside to check it over, the newly replaced oil gauge was running at zero, and the engine was hot. No, not hot, extremely hot. The geared driven oil pump wasn’t pumping oil through the engine. It seemed to have been an internal problem that I wasn’t aware of. When I finally dismantled the oil pan I found the cause of my problem to be the gear on the cam shaft that ran the oil pump, it was shattered. I needed a new cam shaft for a 53’ tractor! Where can you find that, EBay of course. With a new cam shaft and oil pump on its way I decided to get a little help with replacing it. A good friend who is a mechanic said he would help. So with three months gone and the parts finally arriving the fall of 2013 my mechanic and I replaced the cam shaft.

With the cam shaft now in place and the tractor actually running strong the time came in the spring of 2014 to finally mow the banks of the bogs. It was going well till I blew the head gasket. It was the third time I ran the tractor with the mower and it over heated in the hot July air. It took a month to get the part, but I did the engine work myself. I tore down the top half of the motor and replaced the blown gasket with a new one. From that day on my hard work paid off.

Ups and downs make life interesting. I hear people say that they want to give up and quit school, and I have thought that a time or two myself.  But I realize that if I gave up on that Super A Farmall, I wouldn’t have grown into the man I am today. Thinking back on the work I did reassures me that anything is possible if you work hard.


More young farmers are needed!

SWOOPE, Va. – The United States needs to recruit new farmers, fast. The average age of the farmer is rising and the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the number of farmers is projected to continue to drop in the coming years.

One answer: the Agriculture Act of 2014 which will pump an extra $20 million a year into USDA beginner farmer and rancher programs.

Another answer may be found at Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia. This pasture-based organic farm, which only sells locally, has gained an international reputation for setting the standard in innovative farming techniques.

A Prized Internship

Third generation farmer Joel Salatin emphasizes following the cycles of nature and rejecting any pesticides, fertilizers, or hormones. Polyface offers apprentice and internship programs which have become a sought-after opportunity for young farmers.

The day CBN News visited, we found the parking lot filled with intern cars from all over the country. Every year, hundreds apply for a few coveted spots.

“I think the pendulum is beginning to swing around now to where young people are beginning to realize that sitting in a Dilbert cubicle, working for ‘the man’ in a Fortune 500 company, doesn’t do it for me,” Salatin said. “I want to touch what I’ve made.”

Salatin turns away hundreds of internship seekers every year. Many have read at least one of his many books on alternative farming, respect his sustainable methods, and envy his thriving farm operation.

Tim Rohrer fled his California desk job to intern for Salatin, who he calls the “Steve Jobs” of agriculture.

“Being here, there have not been many days we’ve worked so far that have not been less than 12 hours a day,” Rohrer told CBN News. “And yet I’m up and ready to go the next day and it’s just ’cause there’s a passion for doing it. I believe in it.”

Part of that passion is driven by a desire to help fix our country’s unhealthy eating problem. At Polyface, interns and apprentices learn the latest in regenerative farming techniques.

“I really am very concerned about health and nutrition and the way we grow foods and the way that affects us,” intern Shalena Campfield said.

For many of the interns, their walk with Christ is also a motivation.

“Faith plays a big role for me,” intern Erick Schlener said. “I see farming as my mission field.”

The ‘American Royalty’

Former Polyface intern Ben Beichler runs a dairy farm a few hours away. He credits his internship with jumpstarting his farming career.

“So much of what we do here on the farm is experiences like knowing what you’re looking for, like knowing what to do if you get into a tight situation,” he told CBN News. “And Polyface gave me real-life experiences {like} where cows get out and things break down.”

Since his internship, Beichler has faced the same challenges that deter many of today’s young farmers: land and capital.

“I like to joke, farming is the American royalty: you’re either born into it or you marry it,” he said. “Or you have a really long struggle.”

For Beichler and many of his peers, it’s been a struggle. Beichler is getting by right now managing a small herd for Old Church Creamery, his in-laws’ business.

A Viable Market

For others, like Jordan Green, working land that others have written off gives them a start. Green, owner and founder of J&L Green Farm, leases several properties in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Green oversees everything from chickens to what’s called “forested pork,” pigs that mainly feast on grass, berries, and nuts.

“I like doing something different every day, and enjoying working outdoors, working with animals,” he said.

The real question: just where is the market for local food heading? Most industry watchers doubt it will become mainstream but see it continuing to grow as a niche market.

“I see sustainable farming becoming more and more plausible and viable,” Green said.

The Farmer’s Life

What will also help is the energy and dedication these young farmers bring to their work and ultimately to Americans’ tables.

“I know it’s what I’m supposed to do so at the end of the day, it’s going to happen,” Schlener said.

“I’m in farming for life,” Beichler said. “There’s no question about that.”

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In a related story, the Associated Press reports a growing trend of young farmers in New England!

Continue reading More young farmers are needed!

The Future of Food Is Sustainable and Locally Sourced

wsjBy Alice Waters  – July 7, 2014 – Wall Street Journal
Ms. Waters is a chef, author and founder of Chez Panisse restaurant and the Edible Schoolyard Project.

Over the past half-century, the fast-food industry, aided by government subsidies, has come to dominate the food marketplace. That development has given us an obesity epidemic and, with the growth of so-called factory farms, has degraded the environment.

More recently, in a reaction against fast food and Big Ag, the sustainable-food movement, with a focus on local food networks and healthy eating, has gained a foothold in restaurants and farms across the country. What began as an underground movement has now gone mainstream.

Looking forward, I believe that ever-growing numbers of Americans—led by passionate chefs, farmers and activists—will choose the latter of these two paths: a sustainable food future. Let me describe how I believe, ideally, that future will look.

Farmers’ Markets

The number of farmers’ markets and young people taking up farming will multiply geometrically. As such, we will see at least one farmers’ market in every town in the country and, in turn, the revitalization of many areas.

At the same time, small mom-and-pop restaurants will enjoy a resurgence. These owners—with little enthusiasm for franchises—will be interested primarily in quality of life and in building a community around their businesses. These restaurants will build relationships directly with farms and will want to increase the quality and variety of their produce. As a result, I expect to see a greater variety of fruits and vegetables becoming available in the market.

Growing demand will push farmers to be innovative, as will climate change. That will mean more greenhouses in the colder parts of the country, growing food in urban areas and choosing crops that can withstand extreme weather.

This movement poses a threat to fast-food businesses and industrial food companies, both of which I predict will continue to shape-shift and co-opt their values for profit. As long as their products continue to be supported by government subsidies, they will be successful. The reality is that the sustainable-food movement’s reach will grow only to a point and ultimately will be limited to those with access, means and education—unless legislators dramatically change food and agriculture policy.

I think that those in government will come back to their senses in the coming years and begin to subsidize farms instead of factories. As access to real food becomes increasingly divided between the haves and the have-nots, food security will become even more of a social-justice issue.

Back to School

I am confident that we will see a growing consensus about the most effective way to transform food in America: building a real, sustainable and free school-lunch program. Decision makers will agree that the most sensible place to reach every child and to have the most lasting impact is with a program of “edible education.” Having worked in that field for more than 20 years via the Edible Schoolyard Project, I know what’s possible: Providing children with delicious meals made from organic ingredients transforms their attitudes about, and behavior toward, food for life.

Beyond the individual nutrition outcome of each child, an institutional food program with principled buying criteria (food that is locally sourced and organic) becomes a subsidy system for real food—a subsidy system that sees schools become the engine for sustainability.

I know that those on both sides of the political aisle finally realize that in food we find the root problem of many of our nation’s ills. I am not sure yet that they realize that food has the solution.

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NOFA Interviews Stockbridge Grad Ben Barkan

By Julie Rawson, NOFA/Mass Executive and Education Director

NOFA April Newsletter

NOFA/Mass in the beginning stages of creating a program to focus efforts on our more suburban members. Initially we will focus on Middlesex County and do some serious and in depth research with our NOFA/Mass members, NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professionals, and activist organizations to get the lay of the land with respect to personal and public organic farming and gardening projects.

With this information we hope to shed light on and educate about best practices regarding organic matter development and carbon sequestration in the soil with food production as the vehicle. We want to highlight innovative gardening practices, progressive public organic land management and enhance the connection between service providers and those interested in organic gardening and land care. Hopefully the inspiring successes of those innovators who are on the ground can be spread across the region to those who are hoping to heighten local organic food production. This article is the first in a series.

Expanding (sub)urban edible gardens

benbarkenIn mid March when spring still seemed very far away, it was nice to speak with Ben Barkan. Ben is exemplary of the surge of young folks who have entered farming and are quickly finding successful niches in the market place. Ben founded his Arlington based business, Home Harvest, in 2008. He and his staff provide services that include design and installation of edible gardens, raised beds, landscaping, stone masonry, chicken coops, and greenhouses.

I am always curious about what kind of personality, or perhaps upbringing, allows a person to strike fearlessly out into the world to do what he or she is passionate about. It really started for Ben when he was 15 and got a summer job with Dennis Busa at Lexington Community Farm (formerly known as Busa Farm).

Here is the story, according to Ben:

benb“I fell in love with the physical labor of farming while working at Busa Farm… Dennis Busa was my mentor and manager while in high school. He was really supportive. I continued to work on Dennis’s farm part time while starting my edible gardening business. I grew up in Arlington and working at Busa Farm was sort of a spontaneous summer job. It was challenging. I had autonomy, and I really enjoyed it. I found out quickly that it would be hard to make a living at farming, and I looked at landscaping as an alternative.” After graduating from high school, Ben worked on over 30 organic farms in Massachusetts, Oregon, California, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Australia. “Inspired by meeting so many awesome people, I decided to start an edible gardening company in Boston,” said Ben.

“While I was traveling in Hawaii, I got a job setting up a vegetable garden. Back home, I got my first client from a connection through Busa Farm. I started the company at 18 and am now 23.”  “Organic farming seems to be an emerging trend and a lot of young people are starting to see farming as a career path. Farming offers a lot of self worth,” observes Ben. “Younger people are starting to realize that we 10358799_10102006873596112_626887403_oneed more small-scale, local, and bio-diverse farms. I am currently learning so much in my last semester at Stockbridge School of Agriculture in the Sustainable Food and Farming program. With the proper ethics, I think farming can be a way to save the planet. The most sustainable option of all however is to grow food for yourself. All of our gardens attempt to mimic nature’s efficiency–biodiversity is an important part of sustainability.”

Knowing that growing in cities often means dealing with lead in soil, I asked Ben about contamination issues. “First we take multiple soil tests and find out where the contamination is the worst,” said Ben. “Reducing the bioavailability of lead is crucial. Liming and adding compost can reduce plants’ ability to uptake lead, and a heavy-duty barrier is necessary sometimes. We can also take tissue samples to confirm that the produce is safe. Too much of the wrong type of compost can have negative impacts. Our compost is primarily made from leaves and grass; it’s well rotted and not too rich. When growing in compost made solely from food crops, you can have too many nutrients, which causes adverse effects. Our compost is a custom mix and with all our gardens, we are relying on microbial activity and mineralization. We are letting the microbes do the work.” Ben does not use foliar nutrition sprays. He feels they are not necessary because plants absorb nutrients most efficiently through their roots. He also believes that micronutrients are rarely deficient in Northeast soils and is concerned that some organic growers use copper sulfate sprays for disease control, which can cause toxic levels of copper to accumulate in the soil. Ben is planning to graduate from The Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass in the spring.

Additionally, he took a 5-week permaculture design course in Oregon. He has attended numerous NOFA events. “I remember when I was at the 2009, 2010, and 2011 NOFA conferences and took workshops on soil chemistry; now I have been studying it in school and appreciate having the base foundation I acquired from NOFA,” says Ben. “I remember hearing Paul Stamets talk about mushrooms and how they can save the world. NOFA was great at introducing me to a lot of topics. Will Allen was another real inspiration.” Ben also hopes to learn more about herbalism.

I asked Ben what is remarkable about him and/or his business model. “Every garden we design and install is different. Harmonizing each garden to suit each landscape makes a lot of sense. I think the one-size fits all approach is not a good idea because each site is different. The design process takes a little longer with our methods, however our resulting gardens are more holistic and take the entire property into consideration. We try to engage our clients with our work. We want to teach them so they can maintain their own gardens. We try to listen to their goals, and we work with a wide variety of materials when building our gardens. Some customers want to maintain their own garden, and some hire us year after year to maintain [their garden]. Often, a few years after the installation, customers are confident enough to plant and tend to their own gardens. Education is a part of sustainability. Knowing how to generate your own fertility and grow your own food is important.”

Our conversation shifted to climate change. Ben shared his thoughts: “I think encouraging more localized and bio-diverse systems will help ameliorate climate change. There will be less carbon in the atmosphere. Tillage is a part of the problem, and we generally don’t till. We are huge fans of sheet mulching and mulching in general which mimics the forest. You can go into Hadley in the spring and see dust particles in the air from all the farmers plowing up their fields. That is carbon and soil I want to keep in the soil by minimizing soil disturbance. Our sheet mulch consists of cardboard, newspaper, compost, wood chips from local arborists, and local leaf mulch, especially for use with perennials. We don’t use peat moss or cocoa fiber. We try to keep all of our materials locally sourced.”

Lastly we discussed how we must move forward to promote more local agriculture in the urban/suburban setting. Said Ben: “Education is going to play a huge role. During World War II, 20 million Americans grew 40% of the nation’s vegetables. We did it before and we can do it again. Growing your own produce is empowering and the positivity is contagious. I think the movement toward local food systems is already happening. It just has to do with showing people what is possible. So much organic and nutrient dense produce can be grown in a relatively small space. A lot of people don’t know where to start. We teach folks how to take soil tests and work with lead contamination and provide a maintenance manual, discussing how to maintain gardens organically and sustainably. Getting this movement to spread is about sharing the knowledge.”

And here are Ben’s closing words: “I get really excited when I see people growing their own food. I think it is one of the most positive things we can do for our environment and for ourselves. There is such immense satisfaction in tending to your plants, watching them thrive and mature, harvesting the bounty and sharing the harvest with friends and family. This is really what humans evolved to do. Reconnecting with where our food comes from is profound and in need.”


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Continue reading NOFA Interviews Stockbridge Grad Ben Barkan

More women in sustainable farming these days!

logoThe following segment is from an article on women in farming featured in Yes Magazine (4/17/14).

What the numbers show

The number of women who were named as the principal operator of an American farm or ranch increased by nearly 30 percent between 2002 and 2007, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture. Women composed about 14 percent of principal farm operators in 2007, and that percentage has held steady since then, according to the preliminary 2012 census released in February. Continue reading More women in sustainable farming these days!

Millenials Suit Up as Next-generation Farmers

With aging farmers retiring, a bumper crop of new workers is stepping up to tend the land and feed their souls.
December 28, 2012
 Millennials Suit Up as Next-Generation Farmers

America’s farmers are, on average, pushing 60, and after years of backbreaking labor, considering retirement. More often than not, their children aren’t taking over the family business.

That puts the future of countless acres of fertile, family-farmed land into question. Farm bureaus across the country are working to ensure the future of that land by helping a younger generation enter the agriculture profession.

Take, for instance, the Maine Farmland Trust, which works with Maine FarmLink to connect would-be young farmers with untended land. To date, the trust has completed 56 “links,” representing 4,987 acres in 12 of Maine’s 16 counties.

“Because the majority of Maine farmers are now of retirement age, getting new farmers onto the land is imperative,” says Maine FarmLink on their site. “Farmers who wish to retire do not have anyone to take over the farm. Likewise, many people who want to farm do not have the family or resources they need to get started.”

FarmLink is just one of many collaborative endeavors connecting next-generation farmers to the land and resources they need in order to help keep U.S. farms viable now and into the future. From farm apprenticeships to leases and full-out land purchases, younger farmers are working with and for agriculture veterans in their twilight years to continue tradition and preserve farming history.

Sometimes these stories are so good, they draw the attention of filmmakers.

When Christine Anthony and Owen Masterson moved to Atlanta from Los Angeles in 2005, they initially had a hard time finding farmers markets where they could buy farm-fresh food. But as they worked their way into the market community, they got to know a number of farmers, and were inspired to create a film called GROW!

The farmers featured in GROW! range in age from 23 to 38. Twelve are Georgia natives, and while most of the others are from the South, a few have migrated from Northern states. Most of the farmers are college educated and hold degrees in such varied subjects as accounting, chemistry, physics, English literature, photography, theology, horticulture, political science, business, history, education, BioSystems Engineering and computer science.

Not all who wander are lost; this is an interested, passionate, educated and very creative group of individuals.

Of the 12 farms, four are managed, two are on traditional family land, two are renting or leasing, three are borrowing land, and one farm is owned in partnership with one of the couple’s parents. All work on their farms full time and are able to make a living by farming.

“The ability to grow food is an art and a skill,” says GROW! filmmaker Owen Masterson. “Eating well is a choice. When you factor mono crop farm subsidies, antibiotic and pesticide overuse, environmental damage and health concerns into the equation, organic is not more expensive or elitist.”

“Sometimes at screenings there are the ‘doubters’ who ask, ‘But can this kind of agriculture feed the planet?’ What’s more important to think about is that these young farmers are feeding their communities by producing better, healthier food using practices that preserve the land without the use of synthetic, petro-chemical based fertilizers and pesticides,” Masterson adds.

Colin McCrate and Brad Halm of the Seattle Urban Farm Company are part of the urban farm movement. The two went in the opposite direction of their Georgia colleagues, moving to Seattle after working on large farms. In addition to recently releasing the book Food Grown Right, In Your Backyard, the two work designing, installing, and maintaining urban-food production systems in the Puget Sound Area.

Halm tells TakePart that he’s known a handful of people who started their first urban garden, fell in love with it, dropped everything and moved to the country to start a new farming career—all in the course of just a few years,

“This is obviously a big decision and usually means walking away from high-paying corporate jobs and changing school systems—in addition to buying flannel shirts and mud boots,” Halm says. “I remember one client in particular who started with a small raspberry patch and a single raised bed. Three years later she was farming four acres with vegetable crops, 150 fruit trees, a couple of sheep and a huge flock of chickens.”

He adds that urban farming is no different than country farming other than the amount of space one has to work with.

“The good news is that, to create a healthy, functioning food system we need a lot more urban farms and a lot of local, small rural farms. As perspectives about the food system continue to change, I hope that more people will have the motivation and opportunity to find their place in sustainable agriculture—wherever that may be,” Halm says of the growing organic farming movement.

For Masterson, shedding a light on these new, younger farmers has been as fulfilling for him as the audiences he is educating.

“Over and over we hear the refrain: Thank you for making this film. At festival screenings and Q+A’s we are happily surprised by the number of people that, after watching GROW!, want to know where they can find young, beginning farmers like those in the film for their unused land. For many it was as if someone turned on a light in a room they didn’t realize was dark.”

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For anyone who wishes to study Sustainable Food and Farming, please consider our UMass Bachelor of Sciences degree or our 15 Credit Certificate Program.


Jobs, Jobs, Jobs in Sustainable Food and Farming

This is the time of year students planning on graduating from our Sustainable Food and Farming major in May are busy looking for employment opportunities.  I’ve posted some general advice on finding good work, including some links to useful jobs sites.

I also post jobs and internships on occasion to my Just Food Now blog page if they are in Western Massachusetts.

To see what some of our recent graduates are up to , check out the “graduates” link above.

Students in the major generally focus on growing good food, farm education, advocacy and public policy. They study topics from permaculture and organic farming to medicinal herbs and community food systems.

Our Sustainable Food and Farming major helps to prepare students for careers with small, organic and community farms, non-profit advocacy and policy agencies, government organizations, and food and farm related educational institutions.  SF&F offers students flexibility in choice of courses and therefore requires a close working relationship with an academic advisor.

For a few thoughts on employment in this area, please see; Yes, but are there jobs?