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February News on the Farm

We have made it to mid-winter in New England. I must say that I enjoy it when winter is doing what it is supposed to do – being cold and snowy. It doesn’t hurt to know that it won’t be around that much longer, of course. Jack and I went for a walk down the road yesterday and were amazed that it was still somewhat light out at 6 pm. Right now we are mostly cutting and storing a lot of firewood, ordering seeds and making plans for where to plant, filling out certification applications, and ordering our various animals for the year. Jack and I did the same workshop at the NOFA/Mass Winter Conference and the NOFA-NH conference on understanding the hazards of GMO feed in livestock and then what one can do to raise/find and buy high quality organic feed for livestock. On March 1 we will travel to CT NOFA to give a talk on root cellars – another favorite topic of ours.
We are looking for a medium to large mutt puppy. Jimbo is holding out, now at 15, but doesn’t do much running at night when we need him to help Franny keep the myriad critters at bay. If you know of such a mutt puppy that is looking for a good farm, let us know. Dogs live the life of Riley here.
I have a goal this year of writing to you once per month with 3 main purposes

  • Let you know what we have for sale
  • Discuss some agricultural topic in some amount of detail
  • Discuss some nutritional/health topic in some amount of detail also

Here is the update on what we have for sale at Many Hands:

  • Half hams – 4-6 lbs at $13/lb – smoked and cured at VT Smoke and Cure in northern VT, these hams are delectable as a fancy meal, or cooked and served and then turning up again in ham sandwiches, and ham and bean soups.
  • Ground beef, stew beef from Butch and Spike – delectable grass and sprout fed beef that is top of the line - $8/lb
  • We also have some steaks – NY sirloin at $14/lb
  • Eggs - $7.00/dozen – try these and you will never go back. They love their sprouts, certified organic grain, kelp, oyster shell, and kitchen scraps and you will love the beautiful orange yolks that stand up tall when you crack them open.
  • Comfrey salve from this giant of a healing plant will do the trick on dry hands, cuts and scrapes and rashes - $8/jar
  • Fantastic lard/tallow soap – both lavender and pepper mint – that lasts a very long time and is super hypoallergenic - $6/bar
  • Lard will be in short supply this year – order it now to avoid disappointment as we won’t be processing again until November - $20/quart. We do ship.
  • Frozen Beef and pork stocks -  $7.50/quart – thick, rich and loaded with vitamins and minerals
  • Frozen applesauce/with Cinnamon - $5/quart – delectable and chunky

And of course it is never too early to sign up for a medium or large CSA share – June 2 – October 31, and our 2014 meat offerings.  Additionally, we are selling soup hens along with our meat birds this year in July and October and you can pre-order them. Check out this opportunity on the meat page.
Come Sing with Us!
Thursday February 13, 2014 Circle of Song will begin spring rehearsals for a new choral season, and what better way to chase away the winter doldrums than joining with others to make music.  Circle of Song has been rehearsing and performing in the Barre area since September 2001.   We are a multi-generational community chorus that sings a wide variety of music in four part harmony.  Julie Rawson, an experienced local musician, is our director.  As we enter our 13th year we invite new members to join this group of folks that glories in music and how it activates the human soul. Chorus members range in age from 22 to 82, and from beginning musicians to professionals in the field.  Our members are from several towns in the area including Barre, Hardwick, and the Brookfields.
Circle of Song rehearses weekly on Thursday evenings from 6:45pm – 8:45pm at Julie Rawson and Jack Kittredge’s home at 411 Sheldon Road in Barre, MA. Circle of Song is a non-audition group that performs two concerts annually, offering seasonal fare at our Yuletide Celebration each December and a variety of classical, spiritual, folk and lighter works in the spring.  You will recognize some pieces and be pleased to learn new songs you have not heard before.  Circle of Song has a high level of expectation for musical blend, intonation and expression.  We truly are an ensemble and would be happy to have you join us to make beautiful music.  Please contact Julie Rawson at 978-355-2853 or with any questions.  And you can learn more at our website at We look forward to singing with you!

Agricultural and Health Education
Already I have a lot of grist for the mill for the latter two items after reading Jerry Brunetti’s new book, Farm as Ecosystem, and attending the NOFA/Mass and Bionutirent Food Association’s annual Soil and Nutrition Conference with featured speaker Graeme Sait. These three links will be a start toward giving you a sense of what these two guys are up to.


Below is an article that I wrote for the NOFA/Mass ( newsletter this month.

Considering Cover Cropping in The Farm as Ecosystem
I always look hungrily for Jerry Brunetti’s articles in Acres magazine. He has a thoroughly scientific, while poetic and practical way of discussing soil, soil health, and biological systems. I was not let down with his new book, The Farm as Ecosystem.
Brunetti’s chapter on cover crops is subtitled “Farming in Nature’s Image.” It starts with an admonition by Wes Jackson: “We live off what comes out of the soil, not what’s in the bank. If we squander the ecological capital of the soil, the capital on paper won’t matter much.” As intelligent stewards of the land we must be building the soil reserves while we harvest their treasures. Besides stopping the erosive effects of sun, wind and water, cover crops bring other values to the farmer, among them increased soil fertility and soil tilth, reduction of insects, weeds and diseases, and enhancing resilience against drought and excessively wet conditions.
Cover crop cocktails are an interesting mechanism for intensifying the value of the cover cropping experience on your land. Many growers now will use a combination of upwards of 20 different legumes, grasses and brassicas to gain all the benefits of these varied families in one fell swoop. Brunetti covers a few anecdotes from some of the more successful farming operations with whom he works. 
He also praises the publication Managing Cover Crops Profitably, available from the Sustainable Agriculture Network. One very handy chart pulled from that publication offers guidance on beneficial cover crops for different needs. When wanting to add N to the system use red clover, hairy vetch, berseem clover and sweet clover. For soil building choose rye-grass, sweet clover, sorghum-sudangrass and rye. Best at fighting erosion are rye, ryegrass, subterranean clover and oats. For subsoil loosening use sorghum-sudangrass, sweet clover and forage radish. The best weed fighters are sorghum-sudangrass, ryegrass, rye and buckwheat. And at the top of the list of pest fighters are rye, sorghum-sudangrass and rapeseed.
I have to confess that I do not see myself as a good cover cropper. Because we operate on mostly marginal land that is characteristic of northern Worcester County – Jack refers to it lovingly as rocks, trees, and swamps, and I will add, ledge – the vegetable growing area that we have carved out is relatively small. I have been loathe to do anything but crop it intensively, and cover crop around the edges.
Spurred by the increasingly erratic climactic conditions that again presented themselves in the 2013 growing season, I finally realized that I need to take the whole cover cropping process more seriously. Let me tell you about our recent practices. We regularly sow clover pathways and sometimes under sow it in brassicas. And we over sow rye in our late crops in late fall. During recent years in September we over sow the half of our beds that we plan to use for early spring crops with an oat, field pea and forage radish mix that will die back over the winter. In areas where we will plant the June crops the next year, we plant rye, vetch and clover – to be incorporated the third week of May, after they have put on some real growth.
In 2014 I am taking out ¼ of our growing area, primed to maximize the cover cropping experience. For our “fallow” ½ acre this year, I will try one of Jerry’s “gardener” cover cropping plans. In late May I will mow down the rye, vetch, and clover that I over-wintered and run the chickens through quickly in their chicken tractors. Next I will over-seed buckwheat. When that flowers, I will mow it down and over-seed with sorghum-sudangrass in July. When it heads I will mow it and over-seed with forage radishes in August or September and then over-seed in late September/early October with winter rye, clover and vetch. I am looking forward to a productive 2015 for vegetables on that field after this super-charged cover cropping adventure is completed.
In addition to helping build our soil, cover crops also allow us to prioritize organic matter development, an important part of reducing CO2 levels, according to recent Soil and Nutrition Conference presenter, Graeme Sait. Sait sites that a 1.6% increase in organic matter content in our agricultural soils worldwide would bring the atmospheric CO2 levels to 300 ppm. Cover cropping is a major mechanism for us to get to this goal. Meanwhile we can also break up our plow pans, provide adequate N for subsequent crops, improve the tilth of the soil, and decrease insect, disease, and weed pressure.
Be sure to check out Brunetti’s book – it is a gold mine of valuable information on how to farm more deeply in nature’s image. It includes a lot of information new to me, as well as a lot of information that has been written before by him, all in one easily referenced location. Let 2014 be the year that you seriously consider cover cropping--either starting to do so or upgrading your practices.

From Graeme Sait’s February workshop at Cuisine En Locale in Somerville I wanted to highlight two exercise routines that will help with toning up and removing belly fat. I am already planning to make them part of my daily/weekly routine. I copy the following text from Graeme’s work book:

The 5 Tibetan Rites
Stress is a major killer yet we have created a world where low level anxiety is ubiquitous. Balance is a key building block to neutralize stress. The health, longevity, and vitality of Tibetan lamas have been attributed to a set of five simple exercises that is practiced for ten minutes each day. The 5 Tibetan Rites were designed to achieve chakra balance by spinning the seven energy vortices in sync. Correlation of Eastern belief and Western science suggest that the seven chakras correspond to the seven glands of the endocrine system. Chakra balance may well be hormonal balance. Here is a YouTube one can follow along with to learn them – 21 times for each exercise.
Peak “8” is an exercise strategy that can be practiced 3 times per week for 20 minutes per session. It has been shown to increase Human Growth Hormone levels by over 500% and it is a remarkable weight loss tool. This exercise affects different types of muscle tissue than conventional aerobic exercise and offers exceptional heart health benefits. This strategy can be used on a treadmill, an exercise bike, out on a run, or in the gym and it involves a series of 8 bursts of energy over a 20 minute session.
Do the 5 Tibetan Rites and then warm up for a further 3 minutes. Run as fast as you can for 30 seconds. Rest for 90 seconds. Do this 30/90 pattern 7 more times. Warm down for 3 more minutes. Don’t do this more than 3 times per week and don’t jump into this if you don’t have the fitness capability. Exercise-induced HGH should flood the body for 2 hours following each session – seeking out body fat like a heat-seeking missile.
Happy Valentine’s Day!