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Posts Tagged ‘farm’

Photo: Boston Area Gleaners

In September, I posted pictures at a community garden where a sign said not to pick anything that wasn’t yours. I expressed the hope that when the gardeners were completely finished with their harvest, gleaners for food pantries would be allowed in. I don’t know if they were, but I did learn that my church contacted Boston Area Gleaners to help collect fresh surplus produce at local farms.

Kathy Shiels Tully provides background on Boston Area Gleaners at the Christian Science Monitor.

“As a volunteer for the past four years with Boston Area Gleaners (BAG), which collects excess fresh produce at local farms for those in need, I’ve watched the nonprofit grow into something of a gleaning giant. …

“[Laurie ‘Duck’] Caldwell, the executive director of BAG, is pretty much responsible for the group’s, shall we say, mushrooming growth. Though she deflects any praise, her story shows how one person can have a powerful effect on an organization. Caldwell, in fact, was BAG’s first paid employee.

“She believes deeply in BAG’s mission of ‘rescuing’ surplus produce (as the group puts it). Last year, BAG helped deliver 1.45 million four-ounce servings to those who might not otherwise enjoy the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables. …

“I learn that she is a carpenter with more than 20 years of experience. Her entry into nonprofits came while living in Vermont, through a program she helped pioneer at Vermont Works for Women. There, she taught incarcerated women skilled trades like carpentry and plumbing, and they built a modular home that was then sold as affordable housing. The pilot program gained national attention.”

Having lost her job after the 2008 financial crisis, “she searched for volunteering opportunities to buoy her spirits while job hunting and discovered BAG. …

“Gleaning gave Caldwell an emotional boost and challenged her to develop new skills. She and [founder Oakes] Plimpton became the organization’s first ‘gleaning coordinators’ – arranging farm visits, picking pantries to deliver to, and rounding up volunteers. …

“On Jan. 2, 2010, with salary money secured, that she signed on as BAG’s first employee.

“Caldwell dug into her new work immediately. She made the gleaning process easier for the farmers, proactively calling them instead of waiting for the farmers to speak up. She grew the solid list of 30 volunteers by recruiting like-minded people at farm, alternative energy, and ecology events. And, knowing she couldn’t do it alone, she almost doubled the size of the board of directors. …

“Strawberries, zucchini, corn, beans, carrots, tomatoes, kale, radishes, turnips, beets, squash, apples – everything but bananas fills empty, cardboard banana boxes, which are driven into Boston to a distribution partner such as the Greater Boston Food Bank or Food for Free in Cambridge, Mass.

“ ‘BAG is the Cadillac of food distribution to food pantries,’ says farmer Carl Hills. … Last year, he let BAG glean more than 71,000 pounds of produce on the 200-acre family farm. The crops gleaned are high-quality, the kind sought out by top chefs at high-end restaurants. ..

“Sasha Purpura, executive director of Food for Free … says, [it’s] “beautiful food” – something that for many people is out of reach.”

Read more and learn how to take action at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Vermont’s Farm Ballet

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Photo: Jonas Powell
The Farm Ballet performing at Philo Ridge Farm in Charlotte, Vermont. The atmosphere is casual and allows small children to have fun, too.

Around the country, arts organizations are continually thinking up new ways to expand their audiences whether it’s New York City’s public schools adding Broadway shows to the curriculum with $10 tickets (here) or free admission for teens to the Art Institute of Chicago (here).

In today’s post, a ballet company makes professional dance performances available to people who prefer to be outdoors and dress casually.

Elizabeth M. Seyler writes at Seven Days, “Going to the ballet often conjures images of elegant theaters, dapperly dressed adults and thin young people dancing across a pristine stage. But what if ballet were more than that? What if parents in jeans and sandals brought their rambunctious children to a farm picnic to watch ballet lovers of all ages dance across a verdant, or muddy, field? Would it still be ballet?

“In Vermont, it sure would. Since 2015, the Farm to Ballet Project, founded and directed by Vermont-raised ballet professional Chatch Pregger, has given 24 full-length classical ballet performances for adults and children at 17 Vermont farms.

“Featuring six string musicians and 25 adult dancers, each performance conveys the work and life of a female farmer during the growing season and the natural forces she encounters. …

” ‘At our performances, I see all the adults with their picnic blankets and their dinners — eating, drinking, enjoying themselves,’ says company soloist Maria Mercieca. ‘And I see all the kids dancing along, running around. They’re watching, they’re enjoying it, they’re taking it in, but they’re not being made to be still. I love that about it. It’s a family- and kid-friendly event, and I mean little, little kids.’

” ‘It’s really a great event for our members and our community,’ says Tre McCarney, director of community programs at Shelburne Farms. She’s coordinated four Farm to Ballet events there, and each has drawn more than 600 spectators. …

“From two performances this year, McCarney expects to receive approximately $8,000 to support Vermont Food Education Every Day, a partnership of Shelburne Farms and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. More specifically, funds help sustain Jr Iron Chef VT, a statewide culinary competition for teams of middle and high school students charged with creating healthy, locally sourced dishes to improve school meals. …

” ‘The company is very tight; we’re very close,’ says Mercieca, 41, a member of Farm to Ballet since 2016. “‘It’s not competitive; it’s really supportive and a good place to be. …

” ‘We aren’t 40-pound creatures who can wrap their legs around their heads,’ adds company soloist Avi Waring. “We’re human beings,.’ …

“For most of Farm to Ballet’s choreography, Pregger reinterpreted ballet classics such as ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Giselle’ to allow dancers to perform on grass without turns or pointe shoes. But each year he also created original choreography for one of the concerti in Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. ‘Bees & Friends’ combines those original works into a 45-minute performance set to the Vivaldi piece.” More here and here.

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Photo: Sustainergy
Solar arrays can reduce a farm’s carbon footprint while allowing room for crops and livestock. In Japan, Sustainergy has designed “solar farms at large scale so that farmers could obtain additional stable income.” Above, cloud ear mushrooms.

When a company solves two important problems with one project, I probably shouldn’t call it killing two birds with one stone. Send me a better metaphor, please.

Adele Peters writes at Fast Company about the dual benefits of a Japanese project that provides not only solar power but also a cozy place to grow mushrooms.

“Small farms in Japan are struggling to survive. Rural populations are shrinking, and the average farmer is 67 years old. But two new farms will test a different business model to try to reinvigorate the sector: solar panels with mushrooms growing underneath them.

“The farms, at two locations in northeastern Japan, will produce a combined 4,000 kilowatts of solar power that will be sold to a local utility, while the mushroom farms will yield an annual 40 tons of cloud-ear mushrooms, a crop that is typically imported from China.

“ ‘The environment needs to be dark and humid for mushrooms to spawn,’ says Minami Kikuchi, who leads the ‘solar sharing’ project that combines agriculture and solar power at Sustainergy, a renewable energy startup. ‘We simply created the suitable environment for them by making use of vacant space under the solar panels.’ ”

As Kikuchi explained to Fast Company in an email, ” ‘We designed the project of combination with solar farms at large scale so that farmers could obtain additional stable income. Of course, this renewable energy technology is contributing to the sustainable development of Japan too.’

“Today, an estimated 10% of Japanese farmland is not in use, despite the fact that the majority of food is imported. Government tariffs have discouraged companies from converting farmland to solar power generation, but a partial change in regulations in 2013 meant that solar power was more viable – provided that it was constructed in combination with agriculture. …

“Sustainergy believes that similar farms could potentially grow other crops that need little light, such as potatoes. In the U.S., researchers at the University of Massachusetts are exploring the possibility of growing a much wider range of crops; a farm in South Deerfield has spent the last two years growing plants like kale, broccoli, and Swiss chard under rows of nine-foot-high solar panels. …

“Farmers also have another option: Grazing sheep or cattle on grass grown under solar panels. Sheep can take the place of lawnmowers, and as the grass sucks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the farm can have a negative carbon footprint.”

More at Fast Company, here.

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Photo: Ben Gilbert/Wellcome Collection
Art and science meet at performances for farm animals in England.

Today I have another of my offbeat stories for you. It’s about performing for farm animals and checking their reactions.

Lyn Gardner writes at the Guardian, “Almost 10 years ago, David Harradine made a show in a basement for the Brighton festival. It was called An Infinite Line and featured a horse that stood entirely unconcerned throughout the performance, barely blinking at what went on around him. He was an impressively large presence, a symbolic representation of the natural world, and clearly didn’t give a fig for the theatrical avant-garde.”

Harradine was looking for more reaction from animals in March as his company, Fevered Sleep, conducted “an experiment in which human artists perform for sheep, pigs and goats at a location in Peckham. …

“The show [was] part of the Wellcome Collection’s fascinating Making Nature exhibition, which aims to explore our relationship with the natural world and how we perceive animals. ‘We are starting from the point of view that perception is knowledge,’ says its curator, Honor Beddard, ‘but when you have an encounter with an animal, how do you know that you are not projecting something on to it?’ …

“For Harradine it’s definitely ‘the most bonkers project I’ve been involved in. But it’s fascinating too. The performances are being used to start a conversation.’

“As Harradine says, we prefer not to see animals as being just like us: complex, sentient beings, with emotional responses. To that end, the animals chosen to experience Fevered Sleep’s performance are all what Harradine, himself a vegan, describes as creatures that are mostly perceived as ‘meals in waiting.’ … ‘The purpose is not to suggest that people shouldn’t eat meat but to examine our relationship with animals – and the ethical and political responsibilities of humans towards them.’ ” More here.

Sounds like such fun to be part of a “bonkers” performance. I think we could all do with a little nutty creativity in our lives.

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In an article by the “Cooperative Development News” at Mother Earth News (by way of twitter), I read about a group of Somali Bantu refugees in Maine who started a cooperative farm.

This interests me particularly because when I was at the magazine, I acquired a couple articles about Somali refugees adjusting to life in Lewiston, Maine, through farming.

Here’s the story: “A group of Somali Bantu refugees have started a cooperative farm in Maine … Thousands of miles from Somalia, on 30 acres in Maine’s second-largest city, they’ve begun to feel like they’ve come home.

“New Roots Cooperative Farm, though just recently started by four new Americans, is already a success story. Combine the complexities of farming with the uncertainty of navigating a system that is unfamiliar — and, at times, unfriendly — to newcomers and you’ll understand just a fraction of how far New Roots has already come. They’re inspired to help one another and the community, too.

“ ‘Our aim is not only to grow food and run a business ourselves but to help our community and teach them about how to run a business,’ says New Roots farmer Batula Ismail. …

“The group used to farm before being forced from their homes during Somalia’s tumultuous civil war period. … After arriving in Maine, they got back to farming at Cultivating Community’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Project at Packard-Littlefield Farm in Lisbon, Maine. The program empowers New Americans to launch independent farm businesses, to adopt new leadership roles in the community, and to attain increased economic independence for themselves and their families.

“Now, with a decade of experience at Packard-Littlefield backing them up, the group is ready to put their education to the test. When Gendron Farm, a dairy farm in Lewiston was divided into several parcels in 2015, New Roots worked with Cooperative Development Institute, Maine Farmland Trust, Land for Good, Cultivating Community, and many others to preserve 30 acres as a working farm.” More here.

I’ve been interested in Somali immigrants since living for three years in Minneapolis, where there is a large population. I was friendly with one man who worked in our apartment building, ran for mayor, and got a job as a community liaison for a US Senator. Very nice guy. I loved his stories about being a child in Somalia, soaking up geography from international radio news, and pausing for a camel to get off the field when he was playing soccer.

Photo: Jenny Nelson/Maine Farmland Trust
Bantu refugees start a cooperative farm in Maine.

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Missing the excitement of the summer Olympics? As these Vermont farmers show, any determined and organized group can have their own “Olympics” and have a lot of fun.

Jessica Rinaldi writes at the Boston Globe, “With the world’s attention focused on the Olympic Games in Brazil, a decidedly different type of competition was held in a small corner of New England, as farmers took to the field for the second annual Farmer Olympics in Vershire, Vt.

“After taking part in warm-up events that included a hay bale toss, the crowd gathered for an opening ceremony where a quartet performed the Olympic theme song on kazoo. When the competition began, 60 farmers sprinted up a hill, empty bins and shovels in hand, for the manure relay. The event was sponsored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. In the end it was a team from Cedar Circle Farm in East Stepford who took the gold. Their team’s name? Soil’d.

Click here for a terrific collection of photos from the second annual Farmer Olympics.

Photo: Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont
Competing in the Farmer Olympics, Vershire, Vermont.

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Photo: Leigh Vincola, ecoRI News
David Kuma, left, is learning to farm under the tutelage of Ben Torpey.

In this story from Leigh Vincola, an ecoRI News contributor, several good things are happening simultaneously.

“David Kuma set out to grow more of his own food as he learned about industrial agriculture and all of its poisons. His father, a biologist, always had a garden growing up, so an innate knowledge of plants followed his curiosity.

“Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., raised partially in rural Illinois and then in Attleboro, Mass., Kuma understands urban, rural and suburban lifestyles and how plants can fit into each.

“Today, Kuma is one of three participants in the Southside Community Land Trust’s (SCLT) farm apprentice program …  Acknowledging that it has been historically difficult for minority populations to enter into commercial growing, the program’s mission is to provide organic farming experience and education to those who are interested.

“Kuma is partnered with Ben Torpey at Scratch Farm, a small-scale, chemical-free operation at Urban Edge Farm. Urban Edge is a state-owned, 50-acre piece of land managed by SCLT, where seven separate farms grow and share resources. The farm was established to give new farmers access to land and a community to learn from. As part of his paid apprenticeship, Kuma spends a full day on the farm two days a week and is learning a lot quickly. …

“From transplanting and cover crops to solarizing and low-till cultivation, Kuma is learning what it takes to run a small-scale farm naturally. His eyes have been opened to the importance of soil health.

“ ‘There’s a lot more to it than putting seeds in the ground,’ he said.

“For Torpey, having an apprentice is rewarding.

“ ‘Dave comes with a intuitive sense of plant biology and his curiosity reminds me that what we’re doing is fun,’ Torpey said. ‘It encourages me to experiment with new things.’ ” More here.

Don’t they both look happy? Nature can do that to you.

Photo: Scratch Farm

 

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