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News!!!

Posted 2/23/2016 11:57am by Christy and Chris Kantlehner.

Hello White Barn Farm Supporters!

We have exciting news for the future of the farm! Our close friend, Brittany Overshiner, who happens to be one of the most competent farmers in the region, is going to join us in a novel collaboration effort.

FOLLOW THE LINK FOR THE SHORT VERSION:

Warning: I have a notoriously rambling writing style - for those of you with less than 10 minutes to spend reading my version - check out the beautifully succinct press release that Brittany penned instead. Just follow the link below.

Innovative Farm Collaboration

   Brittany packing CSA shares at WBF in 2010     Brittany doing flowers in 2010

     Brittany actually worked with us briefly in the fall of 2010, just as she was getting Medway Community Farm started and meeting her future husband, Kevin Overshiner. She introduced him to the world of farming and he went on to work with another great farmer of eastern Mass, Chris Yoder, who supplies the fabulous sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips at our fall farmstand in the barn. Kevin went on to help grow Medway Community Farm with Brittany and is the current Farm Manager there.

    Brittany has a passion for preserving farmland and growing great food without exploitation (of people or the environment). Her dedication has lead her to do such things as live in “the cougar” (a trailer from Kevin’s mom that they parked at the farm) while the house on-site was ever so gradually remodeled by tri-county students. She slept on the floor in the greenhouse next to the woodstove, the sole source of heat for her tender spring seedlings, in order to stoke the fire every few hours in the middle of the night. She can harvest faster than anyone I’ve ever seen, is a crop planning whiz, and has an inspiring love for a properly cultivated farm. Watching her work in the fields or on the tractor, her joy is tangible. We share so many values and the desire to constantly improve our farming practices, building soil and growing better crops. When we heard she was leaving Medway, we (and many others in the eastern Mass farm network) jumped at the chance to find a way to work with her!

      Meanwhile, Chris and I found ourselves moved by a presenter at the New England Fruit and Veg. Conference this December. Jean-Martin Fortier, author of The Market Gardener and farmer of a 1.5 acre plot in Quebec that grosses $100,000 a year, offers some truly promising techniques for transitioning to a no-till system.

     Perhaps most interesting is the use of occultation, covering the soil with heavy black tarps to create a stale seedbed. Stale seedbedding is any technique that encourages germination of weed seeds in the soil and then kills them so you are left with a weed-free bed to plant your crops into. Other methods include flaming – going over weed seedlings with a propane torch, solarization – covering the soil with clear plastic, or shallow mechanical cultivation. This allows you to plant without churning up the soil (like with a rototiller) and the benefits of this are two-fold (at least): dormant weed seeds deeper than their ideal germination zone are not brought to the surface to sprout and the soil biology and associated soil structure is not disturbed. Rototilling sure makes a great looking bed, but the fluffiness quickly compacts, even after a single rainfall. If soil aggregates are allowed to persist, held together by soil fungi or the product of earthworms, soil air space is preserved and colonies of beneficial microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi, can colonize crop roots to benefit from plant root exudates and in turn make soil nutrients available to the crops.

    There is endless complexity and mystery to all of this process, but the health of soil and crops in minimal till systems is very clear. There are theories and perhaps even science supporting the idea that healthier plants with complete proteins and all of their micronutrient and mineral needs met are resistant to pest pressure. I liken it to humans taking vitamins to support immunity. Insect pests are one of the biggest challenges to growing organically and since we are not willing to spray poisons on our food, this alternative - growing extremely healthy crops by maintaining a vibrant soil biology and structure - is very appealing.

          

 

     How does this relate to Brittany? Well, many of the most promising no-till techniques are very labor intensive. After seeing JM talk, I began to wonder how a 5 acre farm with an established tractor-based and conventional tillage system could model the systems outlined in JM’s book. My first idea was - we can fit 2 of these intensive plots on our farm if we had another farm couple helping us. I asked Brittany if she was interested and, to my surprise, she agreed to brainstorm with us. Almost simultaneously, another opportunity arose for Brittany - a 10 acre piece of farmland in Holliston, MA, including an orchard of 100 apple trees. It is owned by an elderly gentleman, “Mr. Nick” who is very interested in seeing the land farmed. One of the strongest driving forces behind the desire of Kevin and Brittany to live the farming life is to preserve productive farmland - especially in a region so densely populated and in which open land is under a very real threat of development. It is an opportunity they do not want to turn down.

    Ideas of a cooperative enterprise started to form. The Holliston plot, named Upswing Farm, will be a kind of sister farm to White Barn Farm. Brittany will manage that field and grow the crops that take up lots of space and can be grown in long, single rows (manageable with the Farmall Cub cultivation tractor she owns). This will free up space and provide meaningful crop rotation at White Barn Farm. She will be at White Barn Farm at least three times a week managing the CSA, all direct seeding, and assisting in seedling production, cut flowers (yes - we are bringing them back!), and many more aspects of managing the farm. By pooling all of our complementary farming and management skills, we hope that in addition to completing the tasks that are urgent, we can work on the projects that are important to the future of both pieces of farmland. We can also pool our physical resources - greenhouses and other infrastructure, tractors and implements, all sorts of random tools and equipment.

christy and meg transplanting     chris adjusting the cultivators

     Even our existing markets will be maintained and enhanced by the collaboration. We plan to keep the Roadside Stand and Boxed CSA program at White Barn Farm and also provide for a Spring, Summer and Fall CSA program with pickup at the Upswing site, and maintain Brittany’s presence at the Saturday Ashland Farmer’s Market. The Roadside Stand at White Barn is going to open one additional day - on Sundays from 10am to 2pm.

    We are hoping that one of the greatest benefits of this collaboration will be the opportunity for us to experiment with some of these minimal tillage techniques. At this ambitious stage, sitting by the wood stove and dreaming, we are even planning to conduct somewhat scientific research comparing minimal till, medium till, and conventional tillage practices. Our goal is to optimize our farming practices for soil and crop health given our larger plot and existing tractor-based system. Very Exciting! Just the burst of energy White Barn Farm needed! Chris and I are so enthused about this collaboration and the ensuing possibilites.

Community support at the outset of this project is crucial for its future! Your payment in advance, through one of our CSA programs, helps us purchase the many tools and supplies we need to get this season off on the right foot. We would also be so grateful if you would spread the word to anyone who may be interested in supporting our collaboration at either site. If you know anyone in the Holliston/Ashland area - let them know about this new opportunity! 

Thank you so much for reading! As I like to say, we literally could not do this without you!

Save the Date: White Barn Farm's Plant Sale: May 21 & 22

How to get involved:

 

Contact Information:White Barn Farm

whitebarnfarm.org

458 South St

Wrentham, MA 02093
774-210-0359
info@whitebarnfarm.org

Upswing Farm
Upswingfarm.com
28 South St
Ashland, MA 01721
857-383-7020
farmer@upswingfarm.com