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!→
By REBECCA EVERETT – Staff Writer – Daily Hampshire Gazette – April 14, 2014
HADLEY — Most farmers will tell you that cooperation is crucial to keeping a farm running like a well-oiled threshing machine.
But at Stone Soup Farm Cooperative in Hadley, cooperation is everything.
Four young farmers formed the worker-owned farm collective last fall and they have been working together to grow greenhouse vegetables and raise chickens since. Susanna Harro, 24, David DiLorenzo, 26, Amanda Barnett, 29, and Jarrett Man, 30, are owners as well as employees at the 81 Rocky Hill Road co-op.
Stone Soup Farm Cooperative is probably the first worker-owned farm co-op in the state, said Lynda Brushett, of the Shelburne Falls-based Cooperative Development Institute, who advises people in the agricultural, fisheries and food industries on starting cooperatives.
“It’s a beautiful model. You need more than one person to run a vegetable farm,” she said.
“We’re sharing the risk and the rewards,” DiLorenzo said while the four talked and munched on spinach leaves in one of their greenhouses Wednesday. “That’s just a good way to live.”
They decided to start the co-op for numerous reasons, including the lure of owning instead of just working on a farm and the dream of forming an equitable business with good friends.
After five years of working and managing area farms, Man bought the Rocky Hill Road farmland and started working it three years ago. He said the communal nature of farming is what drew him to it in the first place, and a co-op reinforces those values. He approached DiLorenzo and Barnett, who are married, and Harro last summer with the co-op idea.
“I thought it would be a more meaningful way of farming, and these are the people I felt best about farming with,” he said. “So I went to them and invited them to come research and implement a co-op together.” The group officially organized as a co-op in November and is selling community supported agriculture, or CSA, shares for the summer.
There have historically been many co-ops in the agricultural industry, mostly those made up of member farms that join forces to better market and sell their products — think Cabot Creamery or the Pioneer Valley Growers Association.
Brushett expects that more and more farmers, especially young ones, will be following the lead of Stone Soup and the few other worker-owned farms in Vermont, California and Quebec.
“Recently, young people that are wanting to farm, wanting to farm with each other, and wanting access to land are looking at the co-op model as a way to do that,” she said. “We’re definitely seeing that trend around our area.”
Brushett is helping them get started. She worked with lead author Faith Gilbert to create a free guide to cooperative farming. It was downloaded over 1,000 times in the first two weeks after it was released Feb. 26 on TheGreenhorns.net, a nonprofit that supports young farmers.
All kinds of co-ops are on the rise now, Brushett said. The Cooperative Development Institute fields several calls per week from people interested in starting market and cafe co-ops, child care co-ops, arts co-ops and others.
She credited the trend to a growing interest in socially responsible business ownership and workers’ urge to be “more than just a cog” in a company.
“It might be a consequence of the big recession,” she said. “People were losing jobs and deciding to be more in control of their lives and wanting to create more democratic businesses.”
And when people have a stake in the business, they often make better workers, Brushett said.
“They’re invested and everyone’s equal. You have colleagues you can trust to close the gate before they leave for the day,” she said.
That’s how it is at the Hadley farm cooperative, DiLorenzo said — and why the four friends chose the name Stone Soup Farm, which Man had used for his previous farm business.
In the folk story “Stone Soup,” a stranger with nothing comes to a town and pretends to make soup from just water and a stone, and convinces residents to contribute vegetables and other ingredients until it is a real soup.
“We’re each bringing a little piece to this,” DiLorenzo said.
Building a co-op
The foursome started working together to build their co-op last summer, while simultaneously working out the formal structure of the co-op. They started an LLC, established an official path to membership for future worker-owners, and made the co-op the owner of equipment.
DiLorenzo said the co-op model and Man sharing his farmland has made it possible for himself, Barnett and Harro to own a farm. “The three of us wouldn’t be owners without this, and it’s allowed us to pool our resources and talent to make this possible,” he said.
They come from different places and backgrounds, but all their stories share a common thread: none of them studied agriculture at college, but started toiling on farms after graduation and fell in love with working the land.
Man, from central Massachusetts, came to the area to attend Hampshire College. He worked on several farms before buying the Rocky Hill Road property and starting his own small farm.
Barnett, from Sharon, said she was always interested in agriculture because her mother grew up on a farm. She met DiLorenzo, a University of Massaschusetts Amherst graduate from New Hampshire, while the two worked at local farms. He apprenticed at the Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland.
Harro, from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., came here to apprentice at the Kitchen Garden. “I didn’t think I’d stick around long,” she said. “I definitely never thought I’d be owning a farm.”
Of course, owning a farm is not all upside. “We’re sharing the benefits of the work and also the stress of owning a business,” Barnett said.
They have divided up management responsibilities and had countless meetings to make decisions collectively. “At all times, you’re trying to strike a balance between the efficiency of one person just making a decision and having a group decision with input from everyone,” DiLorenzo said.
Each person manages a specific part of the farm. Barnett is in charge of the harvest and what gets included in the CSA shares, as well as some aspects of crop production such as irrigation. DiLorenzo does the bookkeeping, office work, and creates daily and weekly plans to make sure production is on track. Harro oversees the greenhouse production and seeding, and Man takes care of the chickens, maintains the equipment and oversees the apprentices.
The four worker-owners, who all live in Hadley, receive equal monthly stipends as pay and if there are any profits at the end of the year, they will get dividends. They declined to say how much their stipends are.
Over the winter and spring, they produced vegetables for 170 CSA shares, plus eggs for people who want them. The cold spring has delayed planting about two weeks, Man said, but they are now plowing the 15 acres that they farm around Hadley and starting plants in their greenhouses in preparation for their summer CSA. They offer CSAs in Hadley, Amherst, Northampton and Boston, but do not have any plans to sell at farmers markets. They aim to sell between 300 and 400 CSA shares for the summer season.
“We go well beyond what’s required to be certified organic,” DiLorenzo said. They try to avoid spraying at all, he said, even organic sprays.
The farm usually has three paid apprentices, Man said, and they make up a big part of the farm’s work force and identity. While they imagine future apprentices could become member-owners as well, Man said the current scale of the farm cannot support more owners now.
“We would have to have more land and sell more shares,” he said. “But we would be happy to have more owners.”
As the spring semester comes to a close, most classes begin to wind down and prepare for finals. For students enrolled in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture’s Farm Enterprise Practicum course, however, this is far from the case.
With a 1 to 6 credit course in which students plan the farming process for a 6 acre organic farm located in South Deerfield, the students enrolled in Farm Enterprise Practicum are just beginning the implementation of their work.
Their first major public activity for the new student farmers is a Special Topics Fair in which students present the results of their research.
During the spring semester course, students partake in the planning process for the farm work that will take place over the summer. Following the summer, students enroll in Stockbridge 498E, the second half of the Farm Enterprise Practicum.
“About half of the class stays in the summer to work on the farm,” said Amanda Brown, the instructor of the Farm Enterprise Practicum.
“Not only are students planning for the crops; they also each take on an area of interest and they create a research project about how they can implement this on the farm,” explained Jason Silverman, assistant manager of the University of Massachusetts Student Farm.
Among the 12 students enrolled in the course, projects covered topics such as seed saving, record keeping and farm planning, organic disease management, animal rotation, flea beetle management and draft horse husbandry.
Chris Raabe, a student enrolled in the Farm Enterprise Practicum, completed his project on the use of biodiesel. After completing research on biodiesel use at Kansas State University, Raabe was inspired to complete further work on the topic at UMass.
Raabe proposed an implementation plan that would convert cooking oil from the dining halls to biodiesel that could be used for tractors on the University farms and other resource-fueling needs across campus, such as the Physical Plant.
“It’s a compelling project with a lot of hoops you have to jump through,” Raabe explained of his implementation plan. “I’m hoping to build a task force working with different departments in order to get this project going.”
On Wednesday, students in the Farm Enterprise Practicum course showcased the projects they had completed and their plans for implementation at the Special Topics Fair, which took place in room 165 in the Campus Center basement.
“This is great because it is sort of like a big kick-off and allows students to talk to the farmers,” Brown explained.
In the fall, the students will work on marketing the crops that are being produced during the summer. In addition, students will share their research on their special topics and implementation in a student handbook that is published each year and given to the next semester’s students to serve as guidance.
“They sort of write their own textbook,” Brown said. “This is our third year doing this.”
Brown hopes to see a large collection of these handbooks for students to use as resources in the future.
The crops produced over the summer are sold through the Campus Supported Agriculture program, where students at the University can pay ahead and receive weekly shares of produce from the Student Farm.
In addition to the farm located in South Deerfield, students will also be working at the Agricultural Learning Center in North Amherst this summer, located just off of the UMass campus.
“Hopefully, this will increase visibility to other students,” said James Silverman, who graduated with a degree in Sustainable Food and Farming from the University and continues to work with the program today.
Members of the UMass Student Farm recognize the benefits of working with this program. Most specifically, Brown noted the business experience and knowledge that students gain from taking these two courses and participating on the farm.
“Each year’s success keeps it going,” Brown explained. “Half the money we make goes towards supplies and production, while half goes towards labor costs. It’s sort of like a non-profit organization.”
“Everything that we do is applicable to real life,” she said.
“This really was the capstone of my education,” added Silverman, who hopes to see a larger awareness of student farming on campus.
Katrina Borofski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SPRINGFIELD — Dairy farms and other agricultural operations across the state warned Friday they could be put out of business by proposed regulations governing how they apply manure to their lands.
“If you impose these regulations, there will be no dairy farms left in the state of Massachusetts,” Tedd White, a West Hawley dairy farmer with 114 Holsteins, told officials at the third and final Department of Agricultural Resources hearing on proposed “plant nutrient application regulations” for manure, fertilizer, compost and other materials on 10 acres or more of agricultural and non-agricultural land.
“We keep our farms going because it’s in our blood, it’s our heritage. We’re trying to hang on. Dairy farmers aren’t billion-dollar corporations. They can’t afford secretaries to handle paperwork.”
That paperwork, White and other farmers said, includes detailed records of tests of soil and manure as well as a “nutrient management plan” to be developed and updated every three years in accordance with “best practices” developed by the University of Massachusetts Extension Service.
White, who said he was “flabbergasted” by the proposal, said he already has a management plan and the regulations would be “extremely onerous.” He said that narrowly restricting manure-spreading on his seven-plus generation farm to meet guidelines set by people in Boston who have never farmed “will run us out of business,” along with the state’s 149 other dairy farms.
Expressing “anger, sadness and disgust,” Gary Gemme, of Harvest Farm in Whately, said, “I can’t believe that my state would throw its farmers under the bus for some leniency from the EPA when those farmers are as tuned to pollution issues as any in the country.”
Gemme said that farmers understand how manure and other soil nutrients have to be applied to react with flexibility in changing weather conditions, specific varieties of vegetables and fields that are “swapped” from one crop to another or even between different farmers, “responding quickly and wisely to opportunities that do pop up.”
He added, “This whole process seems like an absurd joke to me,” especially in a state that uses what he calculated as 180 times more salt on its “acres” of roads than the farmers apply in nutrients.
Deerfield dairy farmer Peter Melnik criticized the ambiguity and impracticality of the proposal, especially since it ignores the kinds of decisions farmers routinely have to make when faced with conditions such as this past winter’s ice and cold temperatures.
“I won’t know until a week or so whether that (180 acres of) alfalfa made it through the winter,” he said. “If that alfalfa died, I may have to take that land and put that into a crop that requires manure. Am I going to have to defend myself when a neighbor says, ‘Why are you spreading on this field’ or someone looks at my manure management plan that says I shouldn’t be spreading there this year? … Making those quick decisions sometimes has to happen within weeks.”
The agriculture department — which developed the regulations in accordance with 2012 state legislation so that communities can cut nitrogen and phosphorous pollution to waterways to maximize federal Environmental Protection Agency credits — was supposed to have a comment period that ended Friday. But hearing officer Lee Corte-Real announced that the comment deadline has been extended for 60 days, following hearings already held in Boston and Lakeville.
While some called for that period to be extended to 90 days to allow time for the department to consult with UMass Extension, the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service and especially farmers themselves, Ashfield crop adviser Tom Carter told the hearing that 90 days is not long enough. He pointed out that the comment period coincides with farmers’ busy growing season. He urged that discussions on the details of the regulations should not even begin until Oct. 1.
“Fertilizer recommendations without yield goals are worthless,” said Carter, who also questioned how UMass Extension or the UMass soil test lab, already hard-pressed financially, would be able to keep up with the increased burden on farmers that these regulations would impose.
Carter called the proposal “totally unrealistic and a tremendous burden … on small and large growers alike. It will make well-meaning businesspeople into criminals.”
Katie Campbell-Nelson, a UMass Extension agent from Greenfield, described how her own research showed that manure management under the proposed regulations would result in more pollutants to water sources, not less.
She said soil sampling methods differ from crop to crop and with other factors, and described how the proposed regulations differ from UMass educational materials. There are also discrepancies with UMass Extension’s recommendations for late-season manure application, she added.
Campbell-Nelson called for the regulations to allow more flexibility in scientific advances, differences in nutrient sources, weather, crop type and other variants.
“Many variables impact nutrient management decisions, and they need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” said Campbell-Nelson.
Rather than increased regulations with stiff penalties, farmers and others urged the department to work on an education plan using the recommendations of UMass Extension.
In its testimony to the state, the 6,000-member Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation criticized the lack of coordination with UMass Extension on developing regulations, as the 2012 legislation prescribed.
“Certainly these regulations are not consistent with UMass published information, educational materials and outreach programs.
The requirements of this draft go well beyond UMass information and in some instances outright conflict with UMass guidelines,” the federation’s written testimony states. “The failure of the Department to work with UMass and ensure consistency with established efforts is the major, and root flaw of these regulations.”
Having had the pleasure of speaking with some of the participants in this year’s Massachusetts Envirothon on the issue of Sustainable Local Agriculture in Massachusetts, I thought this list of blog posts might be useful to the participants.
LOCAL AND SUSTAINABLE FOOD AND FARMING BLOGS by Dr. John Gerber, UMass Professor of Sustainable Food and Farming
WASHINGTON — The farm bill signed by President Obama last month was at first glance the usual boon for soybean growers, catfish farmers and their ilk. But closer examination reveals that the nation’s agriculture policy is increasingly more whole grain than white bread.
Within the bill is a significant shift in the types of farmers who are now benefiting from taxpayer dollars, reflecting a decade of changing eating habits and cultural dispositions among American consumers. Organic farmers, fruit growers and hemp producers all did well in the new bill. An emphasis on locally grown, healthful foods appeals to a broad base of their constituents, members of both major parties said.
“There is nothing hotter than farm to table,” said Representative Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican from a district of vast cherry orchards.
While traditional commodities subsidies were cut by more than 30 percent to $23 billion over 10 years, funding for fruits and vegetables and organic programs increased by more than 50 percent over the same period, to about $3 billion.
Fruit and vegetable farmers, who have been largely shut out of the crop insurance programs that grain and other farmers have enjoyed for decades, now have far greater access. Other programs for those crops were increased by 55 percent from the 2008 bill, which expired last year, and block grants for their marketing programs grew exponentially.
In addition, money to help growers make the transition from conventional to organic farming rose to $57.5 million from $22 million. Money for oversight of the nation’s organic food program nearly doubled to $75 million over five years.
Programs that help food stamp recipients pay for fruits and vegetables — to get healthy food into neighborhoods that have few grocery stores and to get schools to grow their own food — all received large bumps in the bill.
The new attention and government money devoted to healthy foods stem from the growing market power of those segments of the food business, as well as profound shifts in nutrition policy and eating habits across the country.
“This is my fourth farm bill, and it’s the most unique I have ever been involved in,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, the Michigan Democrat who negotiated, prodded, cajoled and finally shepherded the bill through Congress over two and a half years. “Past farm bills pit regions against regions. I said that we were going to support all of agriculture.”
The bill also eased a 75-year-old restriction on growing and researching industrial hemp, paving the way for several states to begin pilot growing programs for this variety of the cannabis plant, which can be refined into oil, wax, rope, cloth, pulp and other products.
At the same time, hunting programs were protected in the farm bill, which attracted the rare approbation of the National Rifle Association. The bill also ties conservation requirements to crop insurance benefits, which many environmental groups praised. “I think this is the new coalition,” Ms. Stabenow said.
While still in the shadows of traditional farming, organics are the fastest-growing sector of the food business. Support for that movement has traditionally come from Democrats in Congress, but the organic farming provisions in the bill had broad support from both parties.
“We kind of overperformed with younger new members of Congress on both sides of the aisle,” said Laura Batcha, the executive director of the Organic Trade Association.
Ms. Batcha pointed to a provision sought by her organization to exempt organic producers from having to pay assessments for certain marketing programs, which received broad backing from both Republicans and Democrats. The support surprised her, she said, but showed the popularity of organic products.
“I think we should let consumers make their own decisions about what kinds of foods they purchase,” said Representative Reid Ribble, Republican of Wisconsin, who is a member of the House Agriculture Committee. “And if there’s a market for organic products, we should support it.”
Over all, healthy food has become more politically popular because of efforts to combat childhood obesity and diabetes and a growing national interest in the farm-to-table movement promoted by the first lady, Michelle Obama, and other national figures.
“The average member of Congress, whether they are urban or suburban, knows that is what their constituents want,” said Ferd Hoefner, the policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Even the most ag-centric member of the Agriculture Committee knows that is what helps sell the bill when it gets to the floor.”
For farmers of fruits and vegetables, oddly referred to in ag-speak as specialty crops, the ability to participate in crop insurance programs, which were expanded as direct payments to farmers were ended, is a major victory.
John King, a co-owner of King Orchards, which specializes in Montmorency cherries in Central Lake, Mich., was previously able to get insurance only for his apples. His cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots and raspberries went uncovered.
In 2012, the combination of a bitterly cold winter and a March heat wave resulted in Mr. King’s greatest losses in the farm’s 34-year history, wiping out all of his stone fruit and a third of his apple crop. “Crop insurance did not even cover half my labor bill for the year,” said Mr. King, who has already signed up for the maximum insurance for 2014.
“Over the years the big-program crops have been able to get what they want while for specialty crops it has been, ‘Tough luck as you freeze,’ ” Mr. King said. “Well, we grow the stuff people eat and want to eat, and we do need some financial cover from this increasingly precarious weather situation.”
On the farm bill, Ms. Stabenow was able to come to an agreement with her Republican counterparts in the Senate as well as the House, where the most conservative members sought large cuts to the food and nutrition program that makes up about 80 percent of the bill.
Ms. Stabenow had to fend off the most conservative House members, who at one point wanted drug testing for food stamp recipients. (Ms. Stabenow told them that she would agree only if every recipient of farm bill dollars was also tested.) But she also had to deal with some liberals who pushed back against any cuts to the food stamp program, including a provision that had allowed some states to inflate residents’ food assistance by counting the costs of utility bills that residents did not actually have.
“I appreciate passionate advocates,” Ms. Stabenow said. “But I believe it helps to be the first one to call out situations where there is not accountability.”
Ms. Stabenow was so persistent, her colleagues, supporters and Senate aides said, that some senators began to fear her approach as she moved purposefully between the Republican and Democratic cloakrooms just off the Senate floor. The clerks there would bet over drinks whether she could get her bill passed.
In general, the bill reflects the diverse agricultural landscape of Ms. Stabenow’s home state, which plays a leading role in movements like community gardens in schools and offers a program that gives food stamp recipients double credit for food and vegetable purchases — a model for the federal farm bill.
“I give her a lot of credit,” Mr. Hoefner said. “She made it clear from the get-go that these items needed to be in the bill.”
A version of this article appears in print on March 9, 2014, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Farm Bill Reflects Shifting American Menu and a Senator’s Persistent Tilling. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe
A recent ranking of the Top Agricultural Universities in the World put the University of Massachusetts at number 10 in the United States (and 11 in the world), according to the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings. UMass was the only ag school in New England to make the top 50 and second behind Cornell for best in the East.
“We were delighted of course,” says Stockbridge School of Agriculture Director, Dr. Wesley Autio, when asked about the “meteoric” jump in ranking.
The rankings are based on reputation among other university faculty and employers, and research productivity. Being placed among the list of “best Ag schools” is an certainly an honor. Autio continued; “of course, we think the nearly 150 year-old University of Massachusetts has always been among the ‘go to’ schools for excellent undergraduate education, but it is nice to get this recognition.”
The University of California at Davis and Cornell are perennially ranked number one and two on this annual list. The research budgets and industry grants of these large institutions far surpass UMass. The rankings indicate that “reputation among other university colleagues in agriculture” put UMass in the top 10.
The Stockbridge School of Agriculture offers 8 Associate of Sciences degrees and 4 Bachelor of Sciences degrees, as well as opportunities for students to work toward graduate degrees in agriculture and related fields. The Sustainable Food and Farming Program, which allows students to concentrate on farming and marketing, agricultural education and public policy has grown from just 5 students in 2003 to 100 today. Other Associate and Bachelor programs focus on all aspects of agricultural science, important in a rapidly changing world.
Here is the ranking of U.S. agriculture and forestry universities in 2014:
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Iowa State University
University of California-Berkeley
Oregon State University
Ohio State University
University of Massachusetts
For the top 50 Agriculture and Forestry Program, see “rankings 2014.”
Autio believes that the international recognition of the Stockbridge School is long overdue and that “programs such as our herbal medicine program, the Student Farm, our draft horse classes, and our Permaculture Initiative for example, have really put us on the map.” Students are encouraged to get involved in real-world applications of their course work. Autio says, “we offer both a solid Bachelor of Sciences degree as well as lots of opportunities to gain practical experience in preparation for exciting and satisfying careers.” He concludes “our alums will certainly tell you that Stockbridge is among the top agricultural programs in the world.”