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Yearly Archives: 2011

Message from the Managing Editor

I am writing this note just days after Hurricane Irene caused disastrous flooding to many areas in our readership.  We at the Cornell Small Farms Program send our deepest sympathy to the hundreds of farmers and homesteaders that lost crops, livestock, buildings, roads and precious topsoil.  As I look back upon the 2011 issues of Small Farm Quarterly, a reoccurring theme this year has been the many ways in which farming builds community.  I hope in the aftermath of the severe weather, your farming neighbors and customers come together as friends to begin restoring what was lost.

I hope Small Farm Quarterly serves as a reminder that you are part of a vibrant community of creative, hardworking, spirited individuals.   I wanted to share a story about an email I received recently from a farmer in Kenya named Odhiambo Ngesa. He found the Fall 2010 article “Harvesting Water is a Breeze” in an online search. The farmer featured in that article – Jonathan Barter – had made friends with Odhiambo in Kenya during a visit a decade ago, and the article re-aquainted the two old friends.  Odhiambo wrote “Thank you for helping me get hold of my long lost friend. I am personally involved in farm management practices and benefit greatly from your magazine”.  So, we are spread far and wide, but still live in the same small ‘community’.

As always, we love to hear from you.  Drop us a line anytime!

Best wishes,


Fall Online Courses for Beginning Farmers Open for Registration!
This Fall, we’ll be offering 7 online courses – including 4 new topics – to help you continue your farming education. As always, our courses are taught by experienced Cooperative Extension educators, farmers, and other specialists. Courses are typically 6 weeks long, cost $175, and include both real-time meetings (online webinars) and on-your-own time reading and activities. We do not offer any academic credit, but those who successfully complete a course will receive a certificate and are also eligible for Farm Service Agency (FSA) borrower training credit, which can improve eligibility to receive a low-interest FSA loan.  Courses fill up fast so check our calendar for details, times, dates and availability.  More info at

Let the Sun Shine In: Farms Show Off Renewable Energy   
This past September, over 100 attendees gathered at farms around New York to get plugged in to the possibilities of renewable energy at four small farms around New York. Tim and Jean McCumber at Dorpers Sheep Farm taught a do-it-yourself solar electric and solar thermal workshop.  Jay and Polly Armour at Four Winds Farm described their professionally installed PV electric system and share other techniques to reduce fossil fuel use.   Jan and Ron Bever, shared info on how to live off the grid on a maple sugar farm. And Dani Baker and David Belding at Cross Island Farms led a tour of their brand new 10KW wind turbine and a 7KW solar array.  To see videos from the field days or to locate other energy resources, visit

By Lisa Fields

Bill and Joanne Casey of Apulia Station, NY own a 60 cow organic, grass based dairy farm. Management intensive grazing is essential to feeding the herd. Pastures, which are both grazed and mechanically harvested as baleage, only receive manure deposited by the cows. The Caseys also compost manure and spread it in the fall on hay ground. In 2009, the Caseys joined the three year Whole Farm Nutrient Analysis project (WFA), a Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP) initiative. A WFA goal for the 11 participating farms was to identify opportunities for improved nutrient inputs or allocations to benefit the environment and farm profitability. Casey explained why he participated. “I thought it would be a good learning opportunity to gain a better handle on my management’s impact on the soil resources. I spread compost in the fall to avoid manure residue in baleage, but haven’t applied any other nutrients for 15 years. I hoped to learn about the effect over time.”

Group discussions facilitated data interpretation at Casey Dairy. Photo by Quirine Ketterings

Patty Ristow, NMSP Extension Associate, outlined the WFA process. “Each farmer assembled a team of people. Initially, farmer concerns were identified and goals were set. After data analysis got underway, we held meetings to discuss the results and their application to the farmer’s concerns. We then developed an action plan to address those issues.”  Casey identified a herd health concern. “I had a few fresh cows three years ago that didn’t respond to normal milk fever treatments.  Pumping the cows with phosphorus got them up and going but I wasn’t fully aware of the cause. I questioned the risk of repeated problems and hoped the farm data would reveal answers to the team.  Compounding the problem is that we’re unable to separate dry cows from the milking herd so a dry cow ration isn’t an option”. The Casey’s team included Ristow, John Conway, Cornell PRO-Dairy Extension Associate and Janice Degni, Cornell South Central NY Dairy Team Field Crop Specialist.

Ristow explained, “The first team step was gathering relevant data to analyze the farm’s nutrient use efficiency.  The next step was running the data through diagnostic tools generally used in stand-alone fashion. The tools applied on the Casey farm were five years of Nutrient Mass Balance (NMB) data, past and current soil tests, and manure and forage analyses. The integrated results provided a comprehensive view (of the nutrient status) of the farm.”

The NMB approach calculates  the annual net nutrients (N, P and K) that remain on a farm by subtracting nutrients exported from those imported, providing a picture of nutrient trends across the entire operation. Soil test reports in conjunction with manure and forage analyses provide a more field specific view of these trends. Degni compiled the Casey’s NMB and noted, “This went smoothly as the Caseys’ had excellent records. The NMB showed that compared to other NYS farms, potassium remaining on the farm was relatively high, phosphorus was moderately low and nitrogen was well-balanced.”

Degni explained how the data fit together. “The NMB trend of high K balances along with moderate to high K forage analyses, high K manure nutrient ratios and somewhat high K soils were very useful in identifying potential dry cow issues.” Conway remarked, “Having everyone at the table facilitated data interpretation. Bill faces the same challenge as non-organic dairies in trying to provide some low K forage. The data are a point of awareness. If dry cow issues persist, Bill knows to consider their K intake from the forages.” Casey noted, “The team discussions about potassium levels have proven useful, as I’m finding the cows rejecting high quality, very high K forages. I’m more keenly aware of how forage quality affects animal performance and the cows’ view of the feed”.

The diagnostic tools led the discussions from problem identification to solutions. Ristow explained, “The soil results were displayed graphically and, together with farm maps, clearly showed where nutrients were ultimately ending up.  The soil tests also indicated mostly optimum-range phosphorus, with many fields at the low end of optimum. Along with the NMB trend, this illustrated that phosphorus could drop too low in certain fields. This identified the opportunity to adjust P and K levels on individual fields by changing manure distribution.”

Casey added evidence to the nutrient imbalance discussion, “Back when the cow health problems occurred, I had to purchase some forage that was organic-by-neglect. I believe low nutrient levels, especially P rather than high K, caused the problems. The severe milk fevers were resolved by returning to homegrown forages. In addition, I decreased milk fever occurrence by reducing the cows’ dry period to 45 days.


The P and K data changed Casey’s manure application management as well. He commented, “Before this program, I hadn’t sat down and analyzed my farm’s soil test data.  I was spreading to obtain maximum yields with manure N. When I learned how high the potassium levels were in some fields, I changed where the manure compost gets spread. As an organic farm, I’ve maximized on-farm resources to avoid purchased inputs. By continuing to track soil tests I can determine if the changes I’m making in manure allocations address phosphorus needs or whether I might have to purchase phosphorus.  Where the WFA program really provided insight was getting specific about nutrient allocation. Now I have the knowledge to plan manure applications and improve the forage allocation to the cows.”

The Casey’s  team summarized their WFA experience. Degni stated, “It was very worthwhile as we’re all learning. I view it as part of a process in developing effective tools to help farms be more efficient and profitable.” Conway agreed,” It was really interesting to see how the diagnostic tools can fit together to provide useful information.” Casey noted the project’s impacts. “Farming in an environmentally sound manner is very important to me. Participation in the WFA project helped with my nutrient efficiency goals. It also had a positive impact on profitability by helping me increase forage quality, palatability and yields.”

Lisa Fields is an independant consultant in Agronomy and Farm Management and resides in Worcester, NY. She may be reached at

By Elizabeth Lamb

The first things that come to mind when starting a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farming operation probably relate more to the what, where, when, and who of growing crops than to planning your website and writing newsletters.  But the C in CSA does stand for community and getting and keeping members is essential to your success.

Communicating with Your CSA

There are several broad-based resources on starting a Community Supported Agriculture enterprise that have basics on reaching your customer base.

Rodale Institute – Starting a CSA (some links are dated and you may have to search a bit)

Robyn Van En Center – a national resource center for CSAs

USDA CSA Resources for Farmers


A newsletter that is sent to existing members is probably the easiest place to start.  Create a list-serve and e-mail members a weekly list of what is available.  You can even print out a few copies for pickup with the produce for those members that prefer hardcopy.  Add recipes for the ingredients in the share, particularly if they are somewhat unusual.  You could even title it “What do I do with this?” and avoid your own set of emails with that question from members.

Risk is part of being in a CSA and a newsletter gives you the opportunity to explain that risk to your members.  One of Full Plate Farm Collectives’ recent newsletters said “Nature throws something different our way every season, and one of the most important traits of a good farmer is a constantly learning, self-educating and experimenting mind.  We’re in safe hands with these guys!” (Katie Church,  Then it becomes easier to break it to the members that no, there aren’t any tomatoes, yet.

If you have a little more time, you can include announcements of special events or volunteer activities on the farm.  You can also include community events that might appeal to your members, such as Field-to-Fork type events or crop mobs.  And don’t forget to include some out-of-season emails to remind members that farming is a year ‘round occupation and to get them salivating for harvest – and signing up for next year!

Of course, finding the time to write something weekly in the thick of the season can be daunting.  Perhaps you have a member who would be happy to write up and send out your newsletter – and might even have the time to get creative!  But a newsletter is meant to be a brief reminder to your members so save some of that creativity for the next level . . . .

Creating Websites and Blogs

Local Harvest: – post your business, location, and product in this great national website. Has free and low cost options for individual websites for farmers, very good reputation and well known!

The Eat Well Guide: is a consumer oriented website where you can create a page with photos and link to your website, too.

Farmer Faces (Small Farms Central): – a low cost webpage great for CSA’s or markets that work as co-ops. Features a central page for your business with individual farmer ‘pages’ to highlight individual sellers.

Word Press: free blogs for individuals or businesses, with low-cost options for upgrades and more design capacity. Easy to learn with many helpful online tutorials.

Constant Contact: – to manage their emails to customers, social media, and newsletters. They have great templates and helpful videos that will have you creating beautiful, custom emails with links and pictures in no time. Low cost, fee based service (Their website might overwhelm you but play around in it – perhaps start with the Email templates under Email Marketing)


A website is a resource for your members, but also a way of attracting new members.

We are lucky in Tompkins County to have a CSA fair where potential members can meet growers and gather information before deciding which CSA is the best match.  If you don’t have that option, your website might be your primary tool for attracting new members.  Most of us have used search engines to find what’s available in an area, from ice cream stores to Farmers’ Markets.  Try googling CSA and your area to see what you find.  Websites don’t have to be fancy to be effective and it is getting easier and easier to create your own website (see the Resource Spotlight for some suggestions).  You can also create a page on a national website. From the Ithaca area, High Point Farms, LLC, has a page on and Kestrel Perch Berry CSA has a page on

You can find lists of questions to ask before joining a CSA at websites like, and  Answering some of those questions in a clearly marked spot on your website will help make a perfect match of CSA and member.  Other suggestions can come from lists of advantages and disadvantages of CSA’s to members or even “tips for Potential Members” (

As long as your website is up to date on information that might change (are you still accepting members?), it doesn’t have to change constantly.  However, a new picture or two or a recipe featuring a current share item help keep it interesting.

Be creative and have fun!  The WE Cooperative and Catalan Family Farm website has a haiku contest for their members (!


The blog from Little Flower Farm in Michigan combines wonderful story telling on the daily activities of family farming with pragmatic information on CSA shares and pickup details.

A blog, or weblog, is a series of regular entries, or posts, with commentary or descriptions of events and graphics, photographs or video (  They may be interactive, with the potential for readers to leave comments.  A blog does require more time, as the expectation is that new blog posts will be available fairly frequently.  The blog from Little Flower Farm in Michigan is a good example.  It combines wonderful story telling on the daily activities of family farming with pragmatic information on CSA shares and pickup information ( .

Blogs may be incorporated into websites, or be tied to social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter.  In fact all your methods of communication can be linked together.  Pete’s Greens Good Eats CSA has information and discussion items on the farm Facebook page ( which links to the website where you can find their blog!  Mano Farm has a Twitter feed for announcements, new photos and other items of interest to members (!/manofarm).  Check Michelle Podolec’s article on social media in this edition of Small Farm Quarterly for more information.

So, start simple and see what works best for you and for your members.  As you gather information and images and experience, you will continue to build the community in your Community Supported Agriculture enterprise!

Elizabeth Lamb is a Senior Extension Associate with the NYS Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.  She may be contacted at 607 254-8800 or

By Michelle Podolec

Farmer and entrepreneur Gordon Sacks of 9 Miles East Farm in Northumberland, NY, has found success with an integrated social media outreach strategy that involves a website, Facebook, Twitter, Constant Contact email newsletters

You’ve heard all the hype: supposedly everyone is using social media these days.  But as a small farmer, how can social media help you and your business? Creating an online presence using the free or low-cost online software applications provided by social media sites can help drive new customers to your business. This can be a wonderful low-cost way to advertise your business and expand your market.

Online social media tools liked Twitter and Facebook allow users to keep in contact with lists of friends and connections, and send these contacts short updates.  Social media sites are accessed through the internet.  If you happen to have a smart phone or other internet connected mobile phone, these social media sites have downloadable ‘apps’ that place a shortcut to your profile on your device and make accessing your profile quick and easy.  These applications can be used to enhance conversations between you and your customers, and can drive more views to your websites and blogs by allowing instant updates to online content.

Tips to make your social media a success:

• Start slow. Commit to one or two postings of new content each week, and see what kind of a response you get from your customers. Not every social media application will suit you and your business; don’t be afraid to bail out if after a decent trial period, you are unsatisfied with customer response.
• Begin small. Social media relies on personal connections between individuals to be a success. Limit your early connections to good friends and customers who you know have an interest in your farm and activities, and grow a larger audience as you become more comfortable.
• Separate business and personal life online. Sites like Facebook offer different features in personal and business pages. Use a dedicated business profile for your social media and keep your topics on farm work, products, staff, and news about your farm and neighbors. General farm family news and updates can be fun to share occasionally, but keeping work and play separate helps you maintain a professional business image and ensures personal privacy.
• Pick a topic. Create a list of topics, activities or concerns that come up during your farm year, and use these to help guide your social media outreach. Think seasonally – summertime is great for conversations on crops, insect pests, hot weather, and grazing, while wintertime is more appropriate for conversations on seed selection, books you are reading, conference reviews, and cold weather animal care.
• Keep it short, interesting, and fun. Gordon Sacks gave us the following great advice… “People don’t have time to read an opus on the woes of your wet spring and how it delayed planting, or the problems you’re having with flea beetles. I’m not suggesting you romanticize what is clearly a very challenging business, but focus on what will be of interest to your audience.”
• Have conversations. Ask questions of your friends and followers, and leave comments on other people’s posts. This is a great opportunity to get feedback and talk about new ideas with your customers and friends. Share links to resources and articles that interest you and relate to your farm business.
• Use pictures. People are more likely to click, comment, and linger on your profile if you share photographs of you and your farm. Be cautious when using hosted sites, and make sure you read the Terms of Use completely for each hosting site, notes Ontario County extension specialist Jim Ochterski. “Anything shared that goes undeleted is open for Facebook’s use. Be judicious: Facebook content gets passed along in directions you would not expect, and Facebook has the right to use anything you post, even if it is not consistent with your intent. Make sure that everything you share is truly meant to be public and openly sharable everywhere.”
• Promote your social media presence. Now that you are comfortable with your social media activities, share your profile information on brochures, your website, and at your business.
• Be consistent with updates. Friends and clients can’t have a conversation with you if you don’t post updates to your social media. Assign yourself a regular and frequent dates or times to devote to creating your posts, and your friends and clients will learn when to watch for new information coming from you. People quickly lose interest in your site if content is old – keep it fresh!

Farmer and entrepreneur Gordon Sacks of 9 Miles East Farm in Northumberland, NY, has found success with an integrated social media outreach strategy that involves a website, Facebook, Twitter, Constant Contact email newsletters, and even a LinkedIn resume. Every week during the growing season, Gordon and his crew harvest what’s in peak season and cook hearty, full-flavored meals that put the focus on high-quality ingredients.  His clientele subscribe to weekly meals just like a vegetable share in a CSA.  Gordon says, “We communicate with our customers and community to help them understand what we can do to make their lives easier. E-mail and social Web sites like Facebook are great tools for telling our story, but even better than that, they allow customers to share their appreciation for our farm with their friends.”

As a farmer and business owner, think of social media as an opportunity to have brief, casual online interactions with your clients as you go about your daily tasks.  Many customers enjoy learning more about your daily activities on the farm, crop conditions, sneak peeks into CSA shares for the week, and where they can find you selling your product.  These conversations keep customers connected to your business and remind them to look for YOU at the market.

Social media not only keeps your customers connected…it goes beyond that and creates community. Gordon says, “We use e-mail and Facebook to invite people inside [our farm] and build a community that cares about local food. We think that there is a social value to the farm that extends beyond the meals we deliver and the vegetables we grow. Anything that fosters community helps to build that bond and include people in this fundamental aspect of life: growing and preparing food. It sounds basic, but it still means something to know and trust your farmer.”

Most online social media applications are free, and the most popular (and a great place to start) are Facebook and Twitter.  Think of Facebook as a public square where groups of people chat and share information, and Twitter as the town crier shouting out headlines and hot topics.  Other interesting options for small farmers include YouTube (post videos of your farm activities), and Foursquare (share your location as you travel about to markets and stores).

How can you use social media to make your business a success?  Take advice from other experienced farmers. Gordon Sacks shares the following from his experiences with social media:  “Make it interesting and fun for people. Share your expertise in a small specific way, with concrete detail…  Social media is an intimidating term, but it’s really pretty easy to use simple tools to reach out and share your enthusiasm for farming. Make the time every week and get your message out there. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”

Once you have explored the basics of social media and have developed a familiarity with the applications, you may find you want more information about your followers and help managing your new activities online.  Management sites like Hoot Suite help you schedule and organize your posts to social networks, and can assist you by automatically sending scheduled updates while you are away on vacation or facing a busy harvest season.  Online analytical tools like Google Analytics can help you assess what topics excite your customers and what times of day your profile receives the most visits.  You’ll know you’ve really made it in the social media network when your Klout networking score rises, and shows your online reputation to be growing grows in leaps and bounds.

The internet offers small farmers many ways to access their customers in free or low-cost ways.  Give social media a try and see if it fits into your plans for advertising and marketing your business!

Social Media References

Facebook A must-visit site for young folks, and rapidly growing in popularity with baby-boomers, this is the best place to start if you’re considering online social media. Easy to learn with pages available for personal or business use. Share status updates, pictures, web links, GPS locations, and more. Free basic services for business use.

Twitter Participate in fun, fast paced conversations with your ‘followers’ using this short message service. Best for those who like to share news clippings, snapshots, and stay on top of the hottest topics. A great site for networking with other farms and agricultural organizations. Free

YouTube The best site for amateur videographers! Post videos of your farm and market activities, link your profile with other friends and businesses. Access thousands of people looking for fun, interesting, thought-provoking videos. Free

Foursquare This mobile web application links your GPS enabled phone or device with Facebook and Twitter and enables you to share your real time travels via postings with linked map locations. Great for those who sell at multiple markets, make CSA deliveries, and sell their products at local restaurants. Free

Hoot Suite Management of your social media campaigns is easier when you can schedule updates ahead of time. See all your social networking profiles in one place, and create updates in advance for weeks when you know you will be too busy to update regularly. Free basic services.

Klout Klout uses an algorithm to measure your overall online influence. This interesting site categorizes how you communicate with your contacts and helps you develop a better understanding of the true reach of your reputation. Free basic services.

Google Analytics This analytics tool help you gain insights into your website traffic and marketing effectiveness. Free basic services.

Michelle Podolec is the co-coordinator of the Northeast Beginning Farmer Project.  She may be reached at (607) 255-9911 or

To learn more about 9 Miles East Farm, visit

By Nancy Glazier

The practice of Silvopasturing is causing quite a buzz these days. It was a fairly new concept to me until a year and a half ago, a concept that brings together forestry management and grazing management into one single system of sustainable woodland grazing. It can diversify income by tapping into products of trees, tree products, forage, and livestock. Trees can be introduced to the pasture or pasture introduced to the trees. Management is the key to reduce the likelihood of soil compaction, debarking of trees, and trampling and browsing of regeneration.

Cows silvopasturing. Photo by Brett Chedzoy.

But in the modern world of invasive plants, high land ownership costs, and other challenges to healthy and sustainable woodlands, it is worth taking another look at livestock grazing as an acceptable and valuable tool for the management of some woodlots. The purposeful and managed grazing of livestock in the woods, known as silvopasturing, differs from woodlot grazing of the past in that the frequency and intensity of the grazing is controlled to achieve the desired objectives. New fencing systems, a better understanding of animal behavior and the evolution of “management intensive grazing” have enabled us to gain the necessary level of control over livestock to achieve positive impacts from woodland grazing.

Silvopasturing isn’t for every woodland owner or every woodlot as it requires a commitment to caring for animals and enclosing portions of the woods with a secure fence to keep your animals in and predators out. Wooded areas on poor growing sites, rough terrain, or with difficult access would obviously have fewer advantages for successful silvopasturing than the converse. But the most important key for success is skilled management of the system. This requires considerable knowledge of both silviculture and grazing. If grazing and silviculture are the “artful application of science”, then combining the two systems in certainly a fine art! But this shouldn’t discourage the novice from exploring the potential of silvopasturing on their property, even though results are likely to improve with increased skill and experience.

Cornell Cooperative Extension is looking to assist in providing an educational opportunity to learn more about the art of silvopasturing. The 2-day conference will be November 7 and 8, 2011 at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, 16 North Franklin Street, Watkins Glen, Schuyler County. The goals of the conference are to broaden a collective understanding of silvopasturing and its applications in the Northeastern US across multiple professions and stakeholders, identify opportunities and challenges to its implementation, and develop networks for collaborative research, learning and promotion of silvopasturing activities. It is open to the public, with land use and conservation professionals, foresters, graziers, woodland owners and members of the academic community are especially encouraged to attend.

The multistate list of presenters represents areas of in the East where the practice is in place. Highlights, though not all the speakers include John Hopkins, Consulting Forester from Bloomsburg, PA will discuss restoration and revitalization of an Appalachian farm. Charles Feldrake with USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Appalachian Farming Systems Research Centerin Beaver, West Virginia, will talk about their applied research there. Mike Jacobson with Penn State University will cover great opportunities and challenges in the Northeast. Three of our speakers are coming from University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry. Dusty Walters, Larry Godsey, and Gene Garrett will at length focus on silvopasture design, implementation and impacts. Doug Wallace is the NRCS Lead Agroforester at the USDA National Agroforestry Center in Lincoln, Nebraska will provide an overview of current resources and assistance available for practitioners and researchers. Brett Chedzoy, CCE, is a forester and practitioner of the silvopasturing. He and his wife, Maria, will host the field tour/discussion portion and conclusion of the conference. We will see first-hand their system in place.This is by no means a complete overview of the conference!

Every attempt is being made to keep the cost of the conference as reasonable as possible with support coming from National Agroforestry Center, Upper Susquehanna Coalition, Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources, as well as others in the works. An agenda and registration for the event can be foundonline at A block of rooms are reserved at the hotel; contact them on the web at or 607-535-6116.

For more information on the event, contact Brett at 607-742-3657 or

Nancy Glazier is Small Farms Support Specialist for the Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Team of Cornell Cooperative Extension/PRO-DAIRY. You can reach her at585-315-7746 or

By Martha Herbert Izzi

We are pleased to introduce the community supported fisheries model in this edition and to feature two of the producers and one distributor who are creating the roadmap for direct consumer access to fresh, healthy fish from local waters. In subsequent issues we will feature more ‘boat to fork’ stories. They are inspiring examples of innovation in a time of desperation that have the potential of turning the small-scale fishing industry around.

The Community Supported Agriculture model (CSA) – where the farmer provides fresh produce weekly to members who have bought shares at the beginning of the season – is now one of the most popular means of marketing for the small grower.  The model has been adopted by farmers coast to coast and continues to find its way into new kitchens as more people realize the value of locally grown produce and the growers who provide it.

Cod freshly caught and on its way to Cape Ann's CSF customers. Photo by Steve Tousignant

So, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the diminishing small-scale fishing industry has started looking to the CSA model as a means of survival.  Small-scale fishermen have struggled to compete for years with the behemoth industrial scale factory fleets operating in global markets.  Today, there is hope for those small, mostly day-boat owners who have been rapidly disappearing.  Thanks to an innovation that began in North Carolina and then spread to Port Clyde, Maine in 2007, the National Atlantic Marine Alliance estimates that there are approximately twenty other sites in the U.S. and Canada where Community Supported Fisheries (CSF) are operating, and the list is growing.

Cape Ann Fresh Catch CSF

Cape Ann Fresh Catch out of Gloucester, Massachusetts began in 2009 and is now the largest Community Supported Fishery, according to Operations Manager Steve Tousignant.  The CSF purchases approximately 100,000 pounds of fish a year.  It operates under the administrative and purchasing arm of the Gloucester Fishermans’ Wives, a non-profit organization, who took action when they saw the cultural and social erosion of their venerable centuries-old fishing community.  It is a spiraling problem that has spread rapidly in many coastal areas.

Essentially the Cape Ann model begins in Gloucester where the fish is landed and purchased by Ocean Crest Seafood, the region’s official dealer.  Tousignant says, “They get the freshest fish that comes in from a core group of about three dozen, mostly day-boats”. The daily catch is then transferred to Turner Fisheries who process and package the fish, and within hours, the fish are loaded on to Cape Ann’s refrigerated truck and taken to the scheduled delivery sites for member pick-up.   Cape Ann runs on a five day delivery cycle and provides 700 summer members with their fish.

Tousignant says, “We pay the boats a higher price than they would receive at auction, on average about 50% more.”  Fishermen are encouraged to diversify their catch according to the conditions of the ecosystem, which promotes sustainability.  Cape Ann handles about seven to eight kinds of fish from the Gulf of Maine; haddock, cod, pollack, ocean perch, also known as red fish, monkfish and flat fish such as yellow tail.

The Cape Ann metric which makes the business ‘economically viable’ requires forty subscribers for bi-weekly deliveries of at least two pounds of fish and an additional eighty members for weekly drop-offs.

Meredith Lubking, Social Enterprise and Local Foods Initiative Manager for Community Servings, in Jamaica Plain, a part of Boston, is heavily involved with Cape Ann.  She organizes one of the nineteen subscriber pick-up sites.  This week she is distributing pollack for Cape Ann and at the same time, she is handling the extensive produce that is delivered by CSA farmers from outlying communities for their members, some of which overlap as Cape Ann subscribers.  She calls Cape Ann, “absolutely consistent and reliable.”  She says that perhaps “three of four times a year the boats can’t go out because of weather and they will call and cancel ahead of time”.  She smiles thinking of the emails she gets from subscribers asking for the “name of the boat the fish came in on.

Meredith distributes the fish which has come off the day-boat within the previous 24 hours, from 3-6 p.m. on Tuesdays at her site. If the subscriber does not arrive, that order is donated by Cape Ann to Community Servings which distributes 750 meals a day to the critically ill, their families and/or caregivers within a hundred mile radius.

Kathy Cahill, Cape Ann Subscriber getting pollack from Meredith Lubking Photo by Martha Izzi.

Steve Tousignant says that one week in early August, (a time when many people vacation) for example, twenty five pounds of their fish were donated to one of three food pantries.

Cape Ann operates on a twelve week share-purchasing schedule.  In addition to the various white fish, they also offer Gulf of Maine shrimp and mussels.   Beginning with the winter cycle, Cape Ann will offer a Saturday pickup once a month at the Pawtucket RI farmers’ market at which subscribers will be able to receive five pounds of peeled, uncooked Maine shrimp, which will be vacuum sealed and frozen in one pound bags.  During the five-month subscription period, they will get 20 pounds of shrimp, and each share will be priced at $150.

When questioned about Cape Ann’s growth plan, Tousignant responded, “We’d love to bring fresh seafood to as many places as we can.  We are in preliminary conversations with the western part of the state.  But we are interested in controlled growth.  Undoubtedly we can create more jobs, and strengthen the local economy”.

Cape Cod CSF

Cape Cod CSF member, Susan Dimm picks up her weekly fish share from CSF coordinator Meri Ratzel and weir fisherman Ernie Eldredge. Catch of the day; squid and scup. Photo by Shareen Davis.

Meri Rapzel is one of four proprietors involved in Cape Cod CSF, which differs from  Cape Ann in that it’s a for-profit model. She is a self-described “food activist” who once worked for Marine Fisheries.  She comes from a CSA market garden background, on a farm in New Hampshire.  “I am now working with the fishermen and local food groups trying to bring everyone together”.

Meri speaks of Shannon Eldredge and her daughter who come from a historic fishing family in Chatham, one of the few remaining trap or weirs fisheries.  Weir fishing is best described as a “whole empoundment set up on Nantucket Sound so that fish will swim right into nets and will continue to swim.  When weir poles come down and nets are removed, those fish are back out.”  She is referring to fish, such as scup, mackerel, butterfish, and squid.   Fishermen take a dory into the actual empoundment.  They take what they need, within the quota regulated by the state.   The fishermen have dedicated a portion of the catch to the CSF.

The fourth proprieter is Linda Kelley of George’s Fish Market.   She is the person “who lands all the fish” because she is a dealer and the fish are regulated through a dealer. Mary says, “The fishermen get a better price, usually $1.00 over the auction price. Linda is landing 100 pounds a week.”

In contrast to other CSF models, Meri says, “we have one location on the state harbor dock in Chatham.  We are trying to preserve ‘community fishing’ which has existed on Cape Cod for hundreds of years.  Ours is a large education piece for CSF subscribers.  With a smaller subscriber number we are teaching people how to process the whole fish (we do not offer fillets) with information, videos, and demonstrations.”  An example that Meri uses is squid which “can be cooked for 60 seconds in a hot pan or thrown into Portuguese stew for two hours.   We are teaching people about species, how to handle them in the kitchen and different options for cooking.”

For summer season share holders who often don’t understand that fish is “terribly seasonal” says Meri, Cape Cod CSF is offering White hake, pollock, haddock and some cod.

This is Cape Cod’s second year as a CSF and the first year of three season shares.  “We are picking up four members a week through word of mouth,” says Meri.  In terms of cost, Cape Cod provides only whole fish for $150 per five- week cycle.  There are two other available options.   A subscriber can select two lobsters and a half pound of scallops.  That combination is a $150 for five weeks.  Another option is a five-week combination of fin fish and scallops for $175.

Meri signs off, saying “We are trying to be fish mongers reacquainting people with their food.”

In conclusion, it is not surprising that community supported fisheries are new to so many of us given the relatively short time they have been in existence.  Under the CSF umbrella the emphasis is on community, forming community and informing community.  Most of us know precious little about fish and the people who go out year-round and face the climate and oceanic challenges to do what they love and to bring us fish that many of us love.   To see people picking up their weekly catch along with their fruits and vegetables from other local CSA farmers at the Community Servings distribution center was a celebratory occasion.  The sights, sounds and smells together with the smiles made this experience a ‘ten.’

By Ron Mac Lean

My Dad used to tell about working on his aunt and uncle’s farm in the summer.  Doing some rapid math, that may have been in the early 1930’s.  He didn’t tell many farm stories but a brief one that stands out involved working during haying season.  He emphasized the extremely hard work — the heat, the sweat, the breathing, the hay mow — all to impress upon me his good work ethics.  Dad’s farm story always ended with Aunt Minnie preparing and bringing out to the field or barn a very refreshing drink called switchel.

When asked what switchel was, my father said he really didn’t know exactly but thought it had vinegar, water and honey in it.  For years I thought it was an Aunt Minnie and Uncle Charley thing.  However, over the last seventy-some years I have heard other references to switchel and I discovered some people called it haymakers punchOthers have referred to it as switzel, swizzle, ginger-water, and switchy.

Recipe for Switchel (or Haymaker Punch)

1 Cup Cider Vinegar
1 Cup Molasses
1 Tbls Fresh Ginger (grated)
1 Quart Water

Stir all ingredients together and serve on ice. Serves 4 to 6 people. If you have time, prepare 4 to 8 hours in advance, as it helps to mellow the ginger.

One summer as a teenager, I helped a farmer family friend with his haying when he was short of manpower.  My father was absolutely right, it was hard work.  In the early 1950’s, hay was baled and left on the field to be lifted and stacked onto the hay wagon for the trip back to the barn.  After the baler dropped the bale, one of us would carry it with a hay hook and lift that heavy concentration of hay to the wagon, where one or two others would lift and stack them. The longer the day grew, the heavier the bales got.   “Hay dust” was created every step of the way which made breathing difficult.  A hay bale elevator moved the bales from the wagon to the hay mow door.  The worst job of all was to be in the hay mow stacking bales where the heat and hay dust intensified.  The chaff would stick to a sweating body and the air circulation was almost non-existent.  All we got to quench our thirst was cold spring water.  No switchel for us.

An elderly farm couple hoists hay into the wagon in Schenectady County, New York, 1943. Photo courtesy Library of Congress Archive.

Switchel originated in the Caribbean and became a popular summer drink in the American Colonies in the late 17th century.  By the 19th century, it was a traditional drink to serve to thirsty farmers at hay harvest time.  Hence, the nickname haymakers punch.  Switchel not only quenched the thirst of those farmers in the hay fields but it also replenished their electrolytes needed to keep them going in those hot, humid summer days.

Like many other recipes, all the “Aunt Minnie’s” out there had their own version and called it whatever they wanted.  Most recipes call for Cider Vinegar, Molasses, Ginger and very cold Water.  However, many resources mention that honey, sugar, brown sugar or maple syrup could be substituted in place of molasses.  Dad wasn’t too far off in his description of Aunt Minnie’s recipe.  In Vermont, oatmeal and lemon juice were sometimes added.  Once the drink was consumed, the switchel-soaked oatmeal became a snack to be eaten.  A Vermont physician D.C. Jarvis, recommended a mixture of honey and cider vinegar which he called  ”honegar”.

Even our literature contains references to this beverage for the thirsty.  Herman Melville wrote in I and My Chimney, “I will give a traveler a cup of switchel, if he want it; but am I bound to supply him with a sweet taste?” Another author, Laura Ingalls Wilder in The Long Winter, describes a switchel-like beverage that her mother had sent for Laura and her father to drink while haying: “Ma had sent them ginger-water.  She had sweetened the cool well-water with sugar, flavored it with vinegar, and put in plenty of ginger to warm their stomachs so they could drink till they were not thirsty.”  It was another time but the same old beverage.

I have a neighbor who is about the same age as my father would be, if he were alive, and who was raised on a farm in our area.  While having coffee one morning, I asked him if he ever heard of switchel on his farm.  “I sure did” he said.  “Did you drink it?”  “Yes I did and it tasted good,” he added.  “Do you know what ingredients were in it,” I asked?  “I have no idea,” he confessed.

I’m guessing that times were tough even in the years leading up to the Depression.  Folks cut corners any way they could and maybe it popularized switchel as a refreshing social drink as well as a necessity in the hay field.


In hopes that Switchel, the time tested, thirst quenching, refreshing beverage from the Caribbean may be enjoyed today, the following basic recipe is provided for all of you to try.  You might even like it.

Ron Mac Lean grew up in a small village surrounded by farms in Central New York.  He is now retired and lives in the Fingerlakes Region of the state.

By Christen Trewer

“Change brings opportunity. ~ Nido Qubein”

This can be said for the transition made by R H Rhodes & Son Inc, of Penn Yan, NY, when they stopped farming vegetable cash crops in 2003 and explored the venture of becoming black currant producers.

Black Currants grown @ R.H. Rhodes & Son, Inc. Photo by Christen Trewer.

Most people are not familiar with the small black berry that is so popular in Europe and in the culinary world. Many European countries utilize the berries as a substitute for the nutrient rich citrus fruits that are at times hard to obtain. Black currants were once widely grown in the United States until the early 1900s when they were banned as a vector of white pine blister rust. In the late 1960s, the federal government transferred the jurisdiction of the ban to the state governments and in 2003, New York lifted the ban. Decades after the plant was banned, the average person would find little use for the obscure, sharp tasting berry.

Black currants grow on a bush similar to a blueberry bush. Once they are planted it takes 2-3 years to produce fruit. The shrubs are hardy in harsh climates and drought resistant. The weather in the Finger Lakes Region of New York can be a gamble when growing crops, making the black currant a lower risk wager.  The nutritional benefits of the black currant are most likely as little known as the berry itself. It is extremely high in Vitamin C, containing 3 times the daily value of the vitamin. It is high in minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and also contains unsaturated fatty acids, making it somewhat of a “super fruit”.

In 2003, Curt Rhodes of R H Rhodes & Son Inc, a family farming corporation, read an article about black currants and the idea piqued the family’s interest. Switching from a labor intensive vegetable farm to such a unique commodity would take a large investment of family participation and everyone rose to the challenge. According to Carolyn Sullivan, Curt’s sister, one of the most important steps in the decision was to take a good look at what their farm had to offer. The area offers optimum soils, the family has a deep well of farming knowledge and some of the equipment necessary was already part of the farming operation, including a cold storage building. With the ability and the interest present, the next step would be to see if there was a market for the little known crop. Cathy Fritz, another Rhodes family sister, sent out a survey to gauge the interest in black currant use in wine as the farm is located in the heart of the Finger Lakes wine region. The response from the wineries was that the product had a market. The Rhodes family now had the opportunity to make a successful transition to a new crop. The first acre was planted that year based on the availability of plants; today, the farm has a total of 25 acres dedicated to currents.

Watching the currants travel along the harvester Photo by Christen Trewer.

In the summer of 2007, the Rhodes family complete with brothers, sisters, in-law, sons, daughters, nieces and nephews, harvested the first acre by hand. Carolyn credits the Cornell University Geneva Experimental Research Station as a valuable resource for crop and market information. Two of the first customers that made the difference for the farm were Montezuma Winery and Bellwether Hard Cider. After some extensive research and number crunching, the corporation made the decision to purchase a mechanical harvester from Oregon. This would make the long hot harvesting days a bit easier on the family as well as making it feasible for them to farm a full 25 acres of black currant bushes. Over the years R H Rhodes & Son Inc. has expanded their juice market to include other wineries and cider mills. Wineries as far away as South Dakota are interested in what the Rhodes family currants have to offer their wines. With the help of an off-farm co-packer, jams and jellies are made and sold at local farm markets.

R H Rhodes & Son Inc. saw the opportunity in producing black currants and seized it. Harvest time is the first few weeks in July. They are currently producing an average of 1 ½ tons of berries per acre and have their entire harvest sold almost before it is grown. This is much different than the vegetable crops that were grown on the farm before. Approximately 25% of the sales are from jams and jellies with the rest of the harvest being sold as juice.

The black currant harvester hard at work in the field Photo by Christen Trewer.

Challenges facing the operation are similar to any farmer producing a crop; they cannot control the weather. Overall, Carolyn feels the cooperation, dedication and knowledge base of the family has kept the farm successful since the transition. The best recognition is that their customers keep coming back year after year. Looking ahead, the Rhodes’ plan to plant 3 more acres of currants and perhaps invest in a large cold storage unit. At the end of the day, the satisfaction of taking a unique transitioning opportunity and making it a successful venture is the best reward.

Christen Trewer is a loan officer trainee with the USDA-Farm Service Agency in Bath, NY. She can be reached at or (607) 776-7378.

By Peter J. Smallidge

On most wooded properties, the owner will recognize the presence of at least a few undesired plants species.

This native honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) has no interfering qualities, although other species of honeysuckle can become problematic. Photo by Peter J Smallidge.

In some cases, these plants become sufficiently abundant and interfere with the owner’s objectives.  Interference might include the development of a beech or fern understory that impedes oak or pine regeneration; hardwoods that interfere with the establishment and growth of conifer forests; or invasive shrubs that reduce the diversity of native plant species.  In situations of overabundance, the owner may need to control the interfering plant to more fully achieve his or her objectives.

A productive hardwood forest, reverted from an abandoned agricultural field. Photo by Peter Smallidge.

Landowners should resist the temptation to grab a saw, brush loppers, a bottle of herbicide, etc. and head out to do battle against the undesirables. We all have limited time, experience, ability, equipment, and money to commit to “weed” control, so it is wise to plan ahead to make the most of our efforts!  Each situation of interfering plant control is somewhat unique, so a set of guiding principles will help owners consider the range of management strategies.

Strategic Goals

Landowners should consider the following factors when planning for control of interfering plants:

  • Efficient use of labor, energy and equipment
  • Cost effective to minimize the consumption of tools, supplies and especially time
  • Targeted control of the interfering plants with minimal damage to desired plants

Integrated vegetation management, or IVM, is the approach that incorporates these management goals in a framework that allows optimal control of interfering plants.  IVM originated with plant management on power utility corridors, but its principles apply to private lands.

The foundation for effective IVM is a situation profile that includes knowledge of: plant biology, the extent of the plant problem, the desired level of control, and an estimate of the costs (equipment, supplies, and time).  The owner and manager should consider these four elements of the profile before commencing any treatment of the vegetation.  Not considering these elements may result in unnecessary cost, undesired damage to desired plants, excessive use of herbicides or wasted labor and supplies, and ultimate failure to control the target plant(s).

Land managers need to understand the biology of the species they hope to control. Biennial plants, such as the garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) pictured, or woody shrubs may have one or more years of vegetative growth before they produce fruit. Photo by Peter Smallidge

IVM Situation Profile and Vegetation Treatments

  • Plant Biology – Identify the plant, understand its life cycle, reproductive strategy, and any mechanism that the plant uses to store propagules or energy reserves.  Give special attention to what allows the interfering plant to be successful.
  • Extent of the Problem – The geographic extent of the problem plant on the property being treated and within the landscape will influence the likelihood of reintroduction, the operational efficiency of potential treatments, the likelihood of treatments affecting viable non-target species, and the amount of disturbance and open space following the treatment.
  • Desired Level of Control – Complete annihilation of a species is a difficult task.  In many cases, ownership objectives can be satisfied with less than 100% control of the target plant.  However, any residual plants may allow for spread into the treated areas.  Some objectives may be satisfied with spatial control (e.g., within rows for a plantation) or control for a period of time to allow other species to become established.
  • Costs– Costs include the actual financial cost of the materials and labor, the ecological costs associated with the treatment, the ecological costs of not controlling the undesirable plant, the cost for re-treatment if the initial effort fails, and the risk to the staff applying the treatment.  Failure to plan to successful re-vegetation with desired species is an added future cost.

    Table 1. Examples of vegetation management techniques.

IVM treatments can be described by mode and method (Table 1).  Mode is the specificity of the treatment to the target and is either broadcast or selective.  Method is the mechanism that allows the treatment to limit the plant and includes mechanical, chemical and biological.  Each treatment is a combination of mode and method, the choice depends on the profile of the target plant.  Each method functions differently to control target plants.  Mechanical methods remove the plant and thus future propagules.  This removes the plant, depletes the root energy reserves as plants attempt to resprout, and limits the ability for on-site reintroduction.  Chemical methods disrupt biochemical pathways by changing the plants’ ability to, for example, regulate growth hormones or form enzymes used in photosynthesis. Biological methods include a variety of host-specific insects, fungi, viruses and bacteria that limit the success of the target plant to grow and reproduce.

Table 2. Potential advantages of method-mode approaches to vegetation management

All the advantages (Table 2) and the disadvantages (Table 3) may not apply to each situation, but should be considered.  The integration of ownership goals and IVM situation profile determine the combinations of methods and modes to consider. Use the treatment that is least intrusive and has the lowest environmental impact, but that gives an adequate level of effectiveness and efficiency. Managers should independently scrutinize each situation, assess the likelihood of potential advantages and disadvantages, and discuss treatment options with the owner (if not

Table 3. Potential disadvantages of method-mode approaches to vegetation management

your land) to achieve management goals with minimal costs.

Hypothetical Example

Here is a hypothetical example of IVM in practice.

  1. Profile – multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) has invaded a 60-year-old hardwood forest.  Positive identification confirms it is not a desired species.  The plants have an average height of over 5 feet. The shrub’s abundance has reduced wildflower diversity and will restrict the future regeneration of desired hardwoods.  The shrub has reduced access by the owner into this section of the woods.  A moderate to large deer herd is likely helping to favor the multiflora rose (not heavily browsed) over desired species. The shrub dominates 15 acres of the property and has spotty but limited presence in other areas.  The manager recommends at least 90% control, sustained for 10 to 12 years, to ensure successful hardwood natural regeneration.  The desire to control the shrub is fairly high and the owner wants to avoid a prolonged treatment period.
  2. Response Selected– The owner and manager want to minimize the use of herbicides, but recognize that some herbicide will be needed to kill the root system in an effort to minimize soil disturbance.  They opt for a combination of selective mechanical and selective chemical treatments.  The prescription involves cutting the shrub and applying an appropriate herbicide to the freshly cut surface of the stump (NOTE – check with your local office of Cooperative Extension for assistance in the selection and application of herbicides).  The owner has the equipment and labor necessary to apply this type of treatment at a reasonable cost.  The cut stems will be left clustered but not piled in an effort to impede the access of deer to the area and minimize their impact.  Further, the owner works with hunters on his property and neighbors to increase the harvest of female deer.  Initial IVM efforts will concentrate in the main area of infestation, but also expand to scattered shrubs.  In future years, the owner will pull small shrubs as they are noticed or apply a selective foliar herbicide to areas having numerous small scattered multiflora rose shrubs.  A forester has developed a prescription to open the forest canopy to increase sunlight and further aid in hardwood seedling regeneration.

    Flame weeding is an organic control option that provides control for some woody species such as autumn olive, bush honeysuckle, and barberry. Photo by Peter Smallidge.

  3. Why not other treatments – Each situation is different and the treatments used by one owner might not work in the future or might not work for the neighbor’s need.  The owners and managers decided against selective foliar herbicide sprays because these would not have been as effective given the shrub’s abundance and height.  Repeated cutting would not sufficiently control the shrub and would have required repeated entry that the owner did not have time to complete.  Grubbing and excavation was deemed too disruptive to the soil in this location. Controlled grazing with silvopasture principles would work, but the owner lacked access to livestock or funds for fencing.

The complexity of IVM rests primarily in understanding the biology of the plant and the relative merits of the different treatment options.  Most owners will benefit from the advice of foresters or others trained and experienced in plant biology and vegetation management.  Consult with your state’s forestry agency and Cooperative Extension Service to help identify people who can help.  A recorded web conference of IVM, including descriptions of several problem species, is provided at

Peter J. Smallidge is a New York State Extension Forester with Cornell University Cooperative Extension.  He may be reached at or visit

By Crystal Stewart

It is rare to see a group of all women circled in a farm field, kicking at the dirt and talking about the weather. But across the northeast for the last two years, women have been getting together to do just that, and to gain all the benefits that come from having a group to talk farming with. A total of 180 of these women across the Northeast have come together through a program organized by Holistic Management International, an organization which advocates balancing the social, environmental and economic aspects of farming to increase quality of life. Funding was provided by a USDA/NIFA grant, which has allowed all participants to attend ten days of training free of charge.

Empowering Beginning Women Farmers Coordinators

Regional Coordinator
Lauren Lines
Central NY RC&D Project, Inc.
99 North Broad Street, Norwich, NY 13815
607-334-3231, ext. 4,

Local Coordinators
Bill Duesing / Deb Legge – CT
Connecticut NOFA
Box 164, Stevenson, CT 06491-0164
203-888-5146 /

Devon Whitney-Deal – MA
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)
1 Sugarloaf Street, South Deerfield, MA 01373
413-665-7100 x22

Gail Chase – ME
WAgN Maine
314 Clark Road, Unity, ME 04988

Kate Kerman – NH
Small and, Beginner Farmers of New Hampshire
Phoenix Farm Learning Center
350 Troy Road, Marlborough, NH 03455

Lauren Lines – NY
Central New York RC&D
99 North Broad Street, Norwich, NY 13815

Jessie Schmidt – VT
UVM Extension
617 Comstock Road, Suite 5, Berlin, VT 05602-9194
802-223-2389 extension 203 or toll free: 866-860-1382 extension 203

The program launched in the Winter of 2010, when women gathered at farms and community centers in New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine intent on learning to be better farmers.

Beginning Women Farmers and their mentors planning infrastructure at Hawthorne Valley Farm. Photo by Crystal Stewart

Some were fresh out of school or internships and were thinking of starting their own farm; some were looking to use their land for agriculture during retirement. Many had already begun farming, and were especially eager to learn how to do a better job of everything from marketing products to purchasing the right equipment.  Among the eager faces in each room were two women farmer mentors, ready to meet with each beginning farmer individually over the course of the season and help with specific issues during on-farm meetings.

The ten week program began not with discussions of crop or animal specific issues, but with a bigger picture question: What is your whole farm plan? Who has a say in decisions on the farm, and what do those people want their lives to be like both now and in the future? How does the farm work to enhance that goal? All other decisions would be made with this whole farm plan in mind, from choosing enterprises to adjusting management practices.

After articulating a goal for the farm and its decision makers, weeks were spent hashing out the details. First, participants tackled finances. This was a tough couple of weeks for many people, particularly those who had not previously spent time determining if their enterprises or potential enterprises were profitable. Quite a few were not. Fortunately, everyone had time to carefully look at their expenses and their income. Groups helped each other brainstorm ways to cut maintenance costs while protecting wealth generating expenses and later helped each other develop better marketing plans to increase revenue. If an enterprise simply couldn’t be profitable, groups brainstormed other enterprises that could be and still fit into the farmer’s whole farm plan.

Hawthorne Valley Farm’s Vegetable Farmer talking about their operation. Photo by Crystal Stewart.

In looking back on the class recently, Mary Beth Welsh, a farmer from the 2011 class said of the financial planning sessions, “[this] portion of the class made it very clear that to be successful, understanding the financial issues and catching errors early is essential to keep moving forward …”  When asked immediately after the sessions about attitude change, 95% of participants said they had gained confidence about writing a business plan. Five months after the course was finished, 43% of survey respondents indicated that they had actually developed a financial plan. One farmer survey respondent wrote the following about financial planning’s effect five months later: “The budget planning that we did at the beginning of the season set me and my husband on a solid path for our first season of farming: we exceeded our planned profit, in part thanks to the decision making and budgeting tools I learned from HMI.”

As the weather warmed,  sessions moved outdoors, and focused more on “nuts and bolts” aspects of farming including soil health, biological monitoring and management of animals to improve the land and increase productivity/profitability, and infrastructure planning. Many of these sessions took place on participants’ farms, where the group was able to first assess the situation and then brainstorm improvements. Lunchtimes during these summer sessions were filled with talk of animal breeds, cultivation equipment, and countless tips and tricks. Tours of each farm were a highpoint for many participants, many of whom had not been able to spend so much time on another person’s farm.  The diversity of farms was seen as a positive, even if the enterprises were not exactly in line with what each participant was doing.  Tricia Park, 2010 class participant, noted,” It was interesting to see the age differences and different types of farms- but we all had a common goal:  Doing what we love and making it successful.”

Another highpoint for some participants came during biological monitoring sessions, when lawn darts were used to take a detailed inventory of what was happening in pastures rather than making “windshield assessments.” Participants quickly learned how to identify signs of biological activity, healthy nutrient and water cycling, and efficient energy flow, all of which contribute to the productivity of the land. They learned to be thorough, and to look for positive change from year to year in a given field. Many participants have indicated in surveys that their productivity and animal health has improved after learning to better manage pastures.

A Beginning Woman Farmer who worked at Hawthorne Valley showing other BWF’s how to secure floating row cover. Photo by Crystal Stewart.

The benefits of the last two years’ programs will continue on based on the relationships formed by participants in the program. A listserve has been created for participants to keep in touch and ask questions, and some states have decided to keep meeting, often combining participants from years one and two. One of my favorite thoughts from my conversation with Mary Beth was on this very topic: “Being part of this group has opened up an entire network which also includes women from previous and future classes – women I haven’t even met yet.” This is a very true statement—the grant has one more year of funding, so another twenty women will be accepted from the pool of applicants in each state. Anyone with less than ten years of farming is welcome to apply.

Crystal Stewart is the Regional Agriculture Specialist with the Capital District Vegetable and Small Fruit program. She taught financial planning, animal impact, soils and marketing for this program. She can be reached at (518) 775-0018 or See the resource spotlight for more information on the Beginning Women Farmer program and contacts for your state.

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