Innovation is in the Air…and on the Ground

Planting Green:  no-till planting corn into a standing crop of winter rye

Planting Green: no-till planting corn into a standing crop of winter rye

The growing season if finally starting to take hold. I have seen corn plants poking through the ground, vegetable crops starting to look like something edible, and first cut hay is on the ground in some places with hopes of a dry day to bale tomorrow. And with a new growing season comes all the hope and suspense of another year…all the potential for the best year ever or the worst, or maybe something in between. Farmers are going all out this week. We may not be able to predict what the weather will do this year, but one thing is for certain. Farmers in Vermont are innovative.

As I traveled from farm to farm today, I had the pleasure of talking with several different farmers – all of whom are trying something new this year. I saw fields of winter rye that were ‘planted green,’ that is no-till planted corn into standing rye before the cover crop was terminated. Innovation. I measured out 16 strips in a soon-to-be corn field with one farmer to help analyze two different reduced tillage systems this year. Innovation. He wants to interseed three different cover crops over those strips once the corn is up. Innovation. Another farm rounded out a SARE partnership project that analyzed two different cover crop mixes by no-till planting corn into those cover crops right next to a conventionally managed part of the field to see how these two systems will perform on his farm. Innovation. Another farm asked to borrow our GPS and try their hand at some precision agriculture. Innovation. A vegetable farmer is trying out different strategies to implement cover crops in his rotations for green manure, weed suppression, mulch and livestock forage. Innovation. A soybean grower has just modified his corn planter so he can no-till soybeans in 30-inch rows and will be trying out higher populations and some interseeded cover crops in those same soybeans. Innovation. I talked to three farms who have agreed to partner on a cover crop mixture demonstration project and will be hosting field days on their farms to share the results. Innovation. I have spoken with several farmers this week growing new crops like chicory, quinoa, and berseem clover.  Innovation.  I emailed with a new member of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition who is excited to be part of a farmer-based watershed group looking to protect Lake Champlain and thriving agriculture in Vermont. Innovation.

As you walk around your own farms, identify the many ways you are being innovative. As you drive down the road, what are your neighbor farmers doing to be innovative? If you see some fields this year that look a little different – instead of wondering if something went wrong, maybe its just another Vermont farmer trying something new.

Here’s to Innovation!

A grain grower marking out strips in a field to compare tillage practices.

A grain grower marking out strips in a field to compare tillage practices.

Chicory planted with grass, clover and alfalfa in a pasture

Chicory planted with grass, clover and alfalfa in a pasture

Winter rye with hairy vetch used for a green manure before vegetables and ear corn.

Winter rye with hairy vetch used for a green manure before vegetables and ear corn.

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On Mother’s Day: Testing Your Food Waste IQ

Compost-kitchen-wasteIn honor of Mother’s Day (I’ll explain later), let’s see what you know about food waste in the U.S.:

A. What food category yields the most waste at the consumer level?

  1. Grain Products
  2. Seafood
  3. Fruits and Vegetables
  4. Meat
  5. Milk

B. The average American family throws out what percentage of the food they purchase?

  1. 5%
  2. 10%
  3. 25%
  4. 50%

C. What is the “cost” of wasted food in the US?

  1. $165 billion that could be redistributed throughout our economy
  2. Millions of hungry Americans that could be fed
  3. Increased greenhouse gas production
  4. All of the above

food-waste(see below for the answers)

Food waste has been on my mind lately. Recent articles and a spike in social media coverage on the topic of food waste made me curious.  I hadn’t given this issue much thought before–we have plenty of social problems to concern us and food waste…well, it just isn’t that sexy as an issue. I was wrong. The numbers are staggering!

But let’s get back to the Mother’s Day connection.  I associate food with my Mom because she was the primary cook, gardener, canner/preserver/freezer and shopper. There was always plenty of food but nothing was wasted. Our family ate three meals a day at home (or we took lunch with us to school and work). Leftovers were featured 2-3 times a week and no one complained (ok, we might have complained but it didn’t change the meal plan). We rarely went out to eat and take-out didn’t exist in our rural community. We also raised a lot of our own food. The food scraps and garden leftovers that we did have went to the chickens and pigs. I don’t recall a compost pile but there may have been one. Mom controlled the food distribution in our family and she was strict. Her rule? DON’T.WASTE.FOOD….EVER!

So, in honor of my Mother and all the other Mother’s of that generation I ask you to take action against this serious (and very fixable) problem. Buy only what you need. Plan and cook carefully. Use your leftovers. Compost food waste rather than send it to the landfill. Ask your friends and family to join you.

Happy Mother’s Day!

The answers to the quiz above:
Question A: correct answer is 2. Seafood (but it is followed closely by 3. Fruits and Vegetables)
Question B: correct answer is 3. 25% ($1,350-$2,275 annually)
Question C: correct answer is 4. All of the above
food waste
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Keep Your Farm Buzzing–3 ways to encourage native pollinators this year

For most produce farmers, crop planning is done and the planting has begun (though still inbumble bee the greenhouse for most Vermonters!).  But have you planned to support the creatures that can make or break your yields? Well, farm workers could be on this list, but the creatures I’m talking about are pollinators– specifically the bee family.  It turns out that 30% of food crops require a pollinator, and bees are the best pollinators out there.  Recently, John Hayden from The Farm Between in Jeffersonville, VT shared information and strategies for encouraging native pollinators on farm landscapes in a UVM Extension New Farmer Project webinar.  All New Farmer webinars are recorded and accessible in the webinar archive.

So here are three things you can do this year to start supporting these important farm workers throughout the season, so they’ll keep turning up for work each Spring.

1. Identify food shortages.

While we rely on pollinators when our cultivated crops are in bloom, if you want them to Apple Blossomsturn up for work, you need to make sure they have a season long supply of food.  This year, observe when cultivated and wild species are in bloom on your property, and identify any time periods when there is a gap in the pollinator food supply (nectar and pollen).  Then visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center site which has a searchable database of native plants that you can sort by bloom time, soil type and sun exposure.  Find suppliers of these plants on the Xerces Society for Invetebrate Conservation site.

2.  Time you mowing; careful with your spraying.

Hayden encourages farmers to “soften” their eyes when looking at what are traditionally considered weed species.  Dandelions, milkweed, and others are excellent food for pollinators.  Time your mowing to happen after the flowering of these pollinator delectables.  milkweed flowerIf you spray, don’t spray when the crop or neighboring plants are in flower.  Pesticides and herbicides are significant contributors to the declining numbers of pollinators.  Even OMRI certified organic sprays, such as spinosad and neem products, can be harmful to pollinators.

3.  Make a home.

Bees need safe places to nest, rear young and over winter.  Piles of brush, bare and sandy south facing soil, and wood with 6 inch deep holes bored throughout are a few examples of attractive bee real estate.   Learn more Bee housing made from logs and reedsabout making a home for your insect labor force in this Xerces Society fact sheet Nests for Native Bees.  Or look at the many examples, such as the picture on the left, on the Treasure Coast Beekeepers website.

There is much more to learn, and a great place to start would be to watch the recording of the John Hayden’s one-hour webinar, Enhancing Native Pollinator Populations on Farms.  The Xerces Society is also a great resource, providing regional information on pollinator species.  Whatever you do, don’t forget this sex legged workforce on your farm!

 

 

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