Jason (the Cuch) Cucchiara

For eleven years we worked closely with recovering addicts directly on the farm. Many remarkable people passed in and out of the farm during that period from 2007 – 2017. Brian, for example, who was one of our first hires, was one of our most reliable, responsible and mature farmers from that collection of folks. And he “made it out”, which is not common amongst recovering addicts.

I want you all to meet Jason, however, who in the end died of a heroin overdose. Jason came to us in 2009, and except for two trips back to jail, worked with us until November of 2016. Like another child for Jack and me, and a valued friend to Dan, Chuk, Cathleen, Clare, and Lindsay, a long-term farm staffer in those years, Jason was larger than life. Dan’s kids Anya, Sammy and Doodle loved Jason and the boys particularly wanted to be wherever Jason was when they were at the farm. He was big and strong and funny and worked harder than anyone else on the farm. He loved animals, he loved people, and he loved farming. The dogs always went crazy when he drove up in the driveway, and Sweet Pea, our male cat regularly rode around on his shoulder.

During that time period we were intensively involved in educating ourselves about things like soil base saturation, nutrient density, rock dust, foliar sprays and drenches, drip tape, homemade fertility brews, no till, etc. Jason was always at the head of the class, be it the classroom at NOFA and BFA events, or in nature and on our farm. When Clare and I decided to sell our tiller in 2014, Jason went about building a spear-like contraption that was to be used to dig a hole in the mulch so that we could plant seedlings without pulling back the mulch.

I remember a notable event, back before we hired Jason and when he was a weekly volunteer from the Almost Home program at the Worcester County House of Correction. It was 11:45 and it had started to rain heavily. Everyone else on the crew headed to the house to get out of the rain. Jason stayed out with me to finish weeding the tomatoes. This event was a typical display of his joy of life and willingness to go the extra mile. Because he was so big and strong, he could do the lifting of two men and was known to carry several small children as needed or desired. I remember when Doodle, just 3, was over for a couple of days when his brother Raffi was born. Jason and Doodle worked together on the farm, with Doodle emulating his big friend to the best of his ability.

Jason relapsed twice before the time he overdosed. These events, though we had experienced so many relapses with the tens of guys who worked on our farm in that time period, were always heart wrenching. We got to know his two sisters, Stephanie and Angie, and sometimes we serendipitously met Angie at the jail during a visit, which we did at least every other week when he was back in jail. Jason and I kept up a hilarious correspondence when he was in jail. I will keep these letters until the day I die, right next to me in my desk drawer. I would pick 5 words not in common usage and then write a sentence using them. He would come back with leg slapping humor to respond. And sidesplitting drawings of jail life.

In the fall of 2016 Jason started using again. I saw the signs but didn’t want to see them. Jack and Jason had spent the night before his death doing some carbon proxy testing in Eastern Mass on a NOFA farm. Jack related that they had a marvelous time and Jason, as always, was beloved by the workshop participants. The next day Jason didn’t show up for work. I started calling him, and with a sense of great foreboding, I called another man who was living at the Halfway house in Gilbertville where Jason stayed. Marcus and I stayed on the phone while he went and knocked on Jason’s door, tried it, but it was locked. He got the Halfway House manager and she unlocked the door. Marcus screamed, while still on the phone with me, “He is gone, he is gone, he is gone.” I spent the next couple of days calling and counseling Steph and Ang (as Jason always called them), and supporting them as they set up funeral arrangements. I was grateful to be able to console others so that I didn’t have to totally engage with my own grief. His funeral was packed to overflowing with friends from all walks of life. I was honored to be able to share some of our best reminiscences from his “farm family.”

Jason had always said that after he died, he would be hanging out on the pink clouds that sometimes appear in the sky when the light is just right. We have found him there ever since when this anomaly occurs. And there was a particular spot in the field, where, if I was there, he came to be there with me. A couple of years later I was asked to participate in a conversation at the Barre Library with others about gardening experiences. As I sat waiting for my turn, not having prepared anything (as is often my wont), I ended up being called last. And right before I went up to speak, I decided to talk about Jason. After relating some of my best memories and breaking down in tears I finally sat down. A woman in the audience came up to me afterward and told me that there was a very large man there, visible to her, over my right shoulder.

Jason is with me every day now. He was instrumental in getting me a GPS. I can’t read the street signs, so this new tool made me a much safer driver.  Now when I drive anywhere, be it in the field with the truck where I want to miss the pot holes or on the main highway in traffic, I no longer am in a state of anxiety. Jason has me covered, and my driving is more confident and safer that it has ever been. Now I know to acknowledge his presence when I go out to drive and I can not only see better, but drive with total confidence.

This year we have jumped back into building and using locally brewed inoculants to add to our foliar mixes. This process was the joy of Jason’s life and we had let these brews slip after he died. He is helping us pull this off now, and elated as anything. He is not only my guardian angel but the guardian angel for the farm too.

Jason and Doodle making sauerkraut in 2016

Special gratitude this week goes to

Mike Prokosch and Jim O’Brien – both very long-term friends. I remember the first time I met Mike he was playing the clarinet at a party that Jack and friends had in May of 1976. That night Jack and I had a double win at Cosmic Encounter (one of Jack and friends’ signature games) and it was the first step in our 46-year journey together. Jim was a friend of Jack’s from Carleton College since 1961. In both cases we have kept up long friendships. Mike put down $500 for the bale chopper and Jim came in with the remaining $166. Thanks so much, dear friends!

Farm Videos From Last Week

Chicken Musings

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Cleaning up the Solar Panels

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Cleaning up the Mushroom Yard

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Clare Giving a Pruning Lesson

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Happy Birthday, Jack

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Join the 2023 Summer and Fall CSA

Thanks to the folks who are signing up 5 months in advance. Never too early to sign up! The prices are in place for 2023 now. Prices below for your convenience. Pickups all over Central Mass: at the farm in Barre, Holden, Worcester, Gardner, Athol, Warwick, Sutton, Shrewsbury.

Sliding scale – For those of you who want to support a more affordable share for others, you can pay the top of the range. And for those who are of more limited finances, feel free to choose a lower number. Delivery/handling fee – Trying to make our PayPal options as manageable as possible, we have decided to fold delivery/handling into the share price. SNAP customers reach out to Julie to set up a payment plan.

Here are the rates for 2023

  • Summer large – $750-$850 (SNAP- $700)
  • Summer medium – $550-$650 (SNAP- $500)
  • Summer small – $425-$525 (SNAP- $400)
  • Fall – $170 (SNAP- $160)

Reserve a 2023 CSA Share

Meat for Sale

We have some pork cuts for sale. All we have left is roasts and regular style ribs. Come on by soon to avoid disappointment. Lard is sold out for the year. We also have 2 chickens from our August batch. Email julie@mhof.net to reserve.

Working Shareholders Always Welcome

Though we have always counted on our working shareholders to meet the labor needs around here, they have become more essential to accomplishing our work each week. Joining this team assures you a warm place in the MHOF community while also giving you a weekly excuse to stretch your muscles. Working shareholders in January and February are welcome Monday and Friday mornings from 8-12. Come at 7 for breakfast and stay afterward for lunch.

Volunteer at MHOF

Ways to Donate to MHOF/MHSC

Many Hands Organic Farm

Bale Chopper – all paid for!
With the donation from Mike Prokosch and Jim O’Brien, the bale chopper is all paid for. Perhaps we will put a nice brass plate on it honoring our investors.

Many Hands Sustainability Center 
our farm non-profit

Many kind folks have been making an annual donation to the MHSC (read about it here – https://mhof.net/many-hands-sustainability-center/) since 2007 through the present. This goes into our general operations of the MHSC and usually helps pay for hiring an outstanding Stetson School student. Recently the MHSC has helped with funding the publication of this newsletter which utilizes significant resources to publish each week. If you are interested in donating to special programs that help make our high quality food available to folks with lesser means, you are welcome to donate to these two programs below.

Community Fridges
We have been donating food to this elegantly simple project in Worcester whereby four refrigerators are stocked with fresh produce from volunteers, and those in need shop for free at these locations. Last year MHSC supporters donated $6700 to this cause. I had a good meeting with Maria Ravelli of Community Fridges this past week. They are in for next year and will be fundraising on their end to keep this enjoyable partnership going.

SNAP support
SNAP recipients are encouraged to use SNAP and Healthy Incentive Program funds to purchase a MHOF CSA share. We work with around 20 of those customers each year and provide a slightly discounted share to these folks. A total of $1000 in donations will help us defray the costs of providing this assistance to these valued shareholders.

Workshops at MHOF

Pruning and Managing an Orchard
Trees, Grapes and Small Fruit

Saturday, April 1, 2023, 10 am – noon followed by potluck lunch

Few things agricultural give you as much joy and satisfaction as a bountiful crop of healthy fruit. Yet it takes a few years of time and steady effort to achieve these results. Make sure that time is well spent! Learn how to manage and prune tree fruit, berries, and grapes at our Spring workshop. We have 100 trees in our orchard and produce apples, pears, peaches, paw paws, mulberries, grapes, blueberries and raspberries every year. We will discuss our fertility management practices and share our foliar and drench recipes. This is a hands-on event. We will supply tools.

Cost: Sliding Scale: $25-$75 per person. Register here.

Building and Using a Chicken Tractor

Saturday, April 1, 2023, 10 am – noon followed by potluck lunch

Pasturing poultry gives your birds access to the extra nutrients only Nature can supply best. Yet how do you protect them from predators out on grass? A well-designed range-house “tractor” offers security from hawks, owls and four-footed varmints. Each year we raise 500-600 birds in these “tractors” on pasture. Two people feed and water the animals and move their range houses by hand every day to fresh grass. We will be moving some for this workshop presentation, as well as building one so you can get up close and learn how it is done.

Cost: Sliding Scale: $25-$75 per person. Register here.

Growing Shiitakes Mushrooms on Logs

Saturday, May 15, 2023, 10 am – noon followed by potluck lunch

Come learn how to easily grow your own mushrooms at home! In this 2-hour hands on workshop we’ll be plugging our latest batch of oak logs with shiitake spawn. We’ll tour our mushroom yard in the woods and talk about managing logs for production throughout the season.

Cost: Sliding Scale: $25-$75 per person. Register here.

All-day Vegetable Farming Intensive

Saturday, June 10, 2023, 10 am – 3 pm with potluck lunch

Thinking about diving into no-till farming or increasing the quality of the food you are raising? Come spend a day with us at Many Hands Organic Farm to learn all aspects of our vegetable production. Our goal is to raise the highest quality food possible while incorporating management practices that are in balance with nature while having a good time. Spend the day with farmers Julie Rawson, Clare Caldwell, and John Duke for discussion, hands on work, and a pot luck lunch. We’ll start seeds, prep beds for planting, discuss foliar nutrition management and use our sprayers, and spend an hour observing soil through the microscope with John.

Cost: Sliding Scale: $50-$100 per person. Register here.

Cooking with your CSA share

Saturday, July 22, 2023, 10 am – noon followed by farm lunch

Taking the large step to buy a CSA share is sometimes followed by overwhelm, especially for those who may not center their eating around vegetables. Clare Caldwell and Julie Rawson, farmers at Many Hands Organic Farm will take the share from the week of July 17 and turn it into a delicious lunch for us all to eat. Last year the CSA received these items during that week – chard, parsley, lettuce, chives, kale, summer squash, cucumbers, beets, sugar snap peas, radishes. Limit – 12 participants

Cost: Sliding Scale: $25-$75 per person. Register here.

Food Preservation with Many Hands Organic Farm

Saturday, September 16, 2023, 10 am – 2 pm with potluck lunch at noon

We preserve hundreds of pounds of food each year enough to fill 7 freezers, 400 mason jars, a root cellar, and cupboards with dried foods. Join us at the height of the food preservation season to preserve our way through the day. We will freeze vegetables, can tomatoes and grape juice, make applesauce, start some lacto-fermented sauerkraut, dry some herbs and garlic and discuss best methods for canning, freezing, drying, lacto-fermenting, and root cellaring. At lunch time we will share a pot luck lunch. Limit – 14 participants

Cost: Sliding Scale: $50-$100 per person. Register here.

Farm Doin’s

We cancelled work again on Monday this week – what a round of wet and sloppy weather we have had this January! I doubled down and did more writing on Jack’s and my book. We had a deadline for completion of February 1, but just got a stay of execution until the 22nd. Head down and typing whenever I can steal some moments!

Jonathan, Clare and I were so happy to reunite on Thursday. Jonathan made more progress on the bathroom tile project, Clare put a lot f time into certification and I worked on website, ordering and other winter tasks to get our farm in order. Friday we actually enjoyed some out on the farm time, with real snow under our feet. We were able to do some work on our solar panels clearing away brush, spreading more woodchips around fruit trees, organizing in the mushroom yard and pruning 6 of our 100 or so fruit trees. In the afternoon Jonathan spread a load of gravel on our driveway that was sinking away while Clare and I laid out the maps for where we will plant everything this year. This is somewhat of a hilarious process where we make very careful plans in the winter. By the end of the season we have usually radically changed our plan due to one excuse or another. But it is always fun to plan to be super organized each year!

Dumping our prunings around the solar panels

Clare, Matt and the dogs coming out to start chipping around fruit trees.

Even Huckleberry is excited by our germinating arugula in the orange house

Spreading chips

Matt excited to start pruning

Julie risking life and limb at the top of the tractor bucket’s reach while Clare bites her nails below

This pile of gravel is now spread and folks can be assured to not sink in the driveway. Thanks Jonathan.

Another beautiful sky this week.


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