Clare is Back

Clare went off to England and Scotland with daughter McMillan and was gone from the farm for 2 ½ weeks. She had a good time, and we missed her. She came back on Thursday. Clare has been with us for 15 years now, and her being gone only reminded me of how much a pleasure it is to work alongside her. Though I am quite efficient and happy and productive when she is not here, everything gets that much easier when we do things together. At this point of the season we are always certain that it will be the finest year yet and that all of our plans and goals will fall into place seamlessly. One of her salient features is her unbounded optimism and positive perspective on things. Today I celebrate my great fortune, and the farm’s fortune, that Clare expresses so much of her life energy here.

Putting together daughter Ellen’s annual seed order birthday present

Expressing Gratitude this Week

Matt Korn joined us last fall as a working shareholder. He is by far one of the quietest people I have ever met. And one of the most steady and hardworking folks too. When asked for a bio for the website, he returned this work of art –

“After several years of passively participating in Community Supported Agriculture, Matt decided to take a more active role, and volunteered to be a working share holder at MHOF in 2022. He has a growing desire to be more self-reliant and self-deterministic concerning the quality and origin of the food he eats. Due to his constraints of time and land, working at MHOF provides him with a “loophole” to achieve this goal. Trying to be a better steward of the land that he inherited from others before him and will someday leave behind, Matt is applying the principles of regenerative agriculture/landscaping he learns, to transform his small, urban “lawnscape” into something more beneficial to the beings with whom he currently shares it. Hopefully his neighbors will be inspired to do the same. His time spent on MHOF has become a therapeutic respite from the challenges that modern life sometimes gives us.
Originally from Pittsfield, MA, Matt now lives in Worcester and works for the city as a firefighter. He makes a home with his wife, Meghan, and their two Shar Peis, Saki and Mo’i.”

Matt Manhandling a big piece of frozen woodchips

Farm Videos From Last Week

Pruning blueberries – come to our fruit workshop April 1

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The last tree comes down next to the home orchard

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Podcasts from the Outside World

Is There a Master Switch for Disease? with Isaac Eliaz, MD

I think this guy is the real deal. Worth the over an hour of listening.

Healing Your Mouth and Gums with Dr. Al Danenberg

Here is a periodontist with some very strong opinions about what to put on your teeth and in your body.

Join the 2023 Summer and Fall CSA

We continue to have excellent sales of the CSA shares for 2023. We are itching to get back in the fields, but must wait another month at least. Until then, back to the pruning and perennial management.

We would love to receive your CSA application. Check out all the details here:

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.

Here are the rates for 2023
Summer large – $750-$850
Summer medium – $550-$650
Summer small – $425-$525
Fall – $170

SNAP pricing
Summer large – $700
Summer medium – $500
Summer small – $400
Fall – $160
SNAP customers reach out to Julie to set up a payment plan.

Pickups all over Central Mass

  • At the farm in Barre
  • Holden
  • Worcester
  • Gardner
  • Athol
  • Warwick
  • Sutton
  • Shrewsbury

Reserve a 2023 CSA Share

Would you like to help us market the CSA?

We have trifold brochures. We can send you some, or email the master for you to print. Be in touch. We also have 8½” x 11″ posters.

Emails From Readers

To Till or Not to Till Responses

“I love this! I shared the trailer to the symposium to our IG account because I felt like it was addressing an issue that has been bugging me for a while, that no till conventional is more climate friendly than organic. Although I believe that no till is the ideal, no till conventional using glyphosate and other toxic chemicals is more harmful than thoughtful tillage in an organic system. It is similar to my frustration with the “regenerative” farming movement. You can call yourself climate friendly if you don’t till in a conventional context and you can call yourself regenerative if you don’t till and pasture animals, but are buying grain for your pastured animals that is raised on farms using conventional chemical agriculture practices. Ben” (farmer)

“I like a good debate. I hope Dave takes you up on your offer. What you are doing over your years of experimentation is incredible and groundbreaking. I so enjoy your continued enthusiasm and always find inspiration in your newsletters. Enjoy your snow day, Linda” (farmer)

“Thanks for covering this important topic with your subscribers Julie and Jack. I’d like to offer free tickets to the symposium for all your subscribers by giving them this link. It is really important to attend first to understand what we are saying and then join the conversation. Would you be willing to share this with them? Otherwise, I’ll have to explain what we cover over and over again. Session 2 dives in really deep to production practices.
Looking forward to your reaction after session 2. Linley” 
(from Real Organic)

“Hi Jack and Julie. Sorry I have been slow getting back. Symposium week is a very busy time.

Your responses to my response opens a long conversation. Lots of questions. The suggestion that all tillage is always wrong is too extreme for me. Tillage has been used by ALL human cultures since we began scratching in the dirt to plant the first seed. Sometimes we used fire. Sometimes we use animals’ snouts or hooves. Sometimes we used sticks or forks or shovels, sometimes we used discs and plows, at first pulled by us, then by oxen, then by horses. I have done all of these except fire. The suggestion that we can grow all of our food without any tillage is a wonderful challenge. I say go for it if you can. The suggestion that all tillage is a mistake seems like a mistake. But again, if you can find new ways of doing it, go for it. I know that you are experimenting and teaching as you go. I am not against reducing or stopping tillage if you can figure it out. I AM against replacing tillage with herbicides, which is the dominant tool in no-till agriculture at this point. I have been no-till for some years in our greenhouses, although in recent years I have been experimenting with returning to annual tillage as a way of improving the growth of our crop. The results are not clear or consistent. A complicated world under the surface. I am not advising anybody to follow my example one way or the other.

When I look at thousands of years of tillage in places like China, I see an organic system that was clearly sustainable. Like me, you have read Farmers Of Forty Centuries. It was one of the first books that I read on my organic journey. Right at the beginning. In recent years China’s traditional practices have been abandoned for chemicals, and the land and the people have suffered as a result. My Chinese friends are often desperate to find real organic food. We have been approached to see if Real Organic Project can help them. I am not sure we can. They will need to create their own homegrown movement if they can. But I offer this example from King’s book as a reminder that tillage has proven it can be done well and over long periods of time when done in conjunction with green manuring and composting. This has been demonstrated in many indigenous agricultures before the invention of plastic. When tillage is practiced without green manuring or animal manuring, it is reliably destructive to the earth.

Whether crops can be BETTER grown without any tillage is a question that has not yet been answered. Certainly, some farmers HAVE answered this to their own satisfaction. You are growing great crops without tillage. So is Bryan O’Hara, and a number of others now. I have seen and tasted Bryan’s beautiful crops. They are delicious. And I have seen and tasted Eliot Coleman’s beautiful crops grown using skillful tillage. They are delicious. It would be a privilege to be fed by either farm. And many others as well. I do not find it in myself to make a dramatic statement that tillage is good or bad. It can be very good. It can be very bad. Many people who have tried no-till have had serious problems. I hear about them all the time. It is possible that these problems will be solved over time. I don’t see why they can’t be. But many are having great success WITH tillage, improving their soil, and growing fantastic crops.

I have no desire to fight about this. I am not against no-till. I am against practicing chemical no-till and attacking organic farming in the same breath. I am sure that many who do so believe in what they are saying and practicing. I am not calling them liars. I am just disagreeing with them. The corporations that sell them those herbicides are a different matter. I consider them to be a cancer upon us. The vast majority of the acreage that is “no-till” in this country is sprayed with an herbicide. That is just the truth. General Mills has pledged to take a million acres “regenerative.” Walmart (not to be outdone) has pledged to take 50 million acres “regenerative.” It sure as hell won’t be organic.

May the organic no-till revolution prosper. Just be nice to your mother. Best, Dave” (from Real Organic)

“Thanks, Dave, for writing back. The one pledge that I took 46 years ago, was to not use chemicals on land under my care, and similarly no chemicals in my body, though I did take one course of anti-biotics 2 years ago for Lyme, then did a massive search for nutritional alternatives to build my personal system. It has been a long journey since that moment in 77 when I had my first garden on my own. I tilled in some format until 2014 and then have been working toward a different paradigm since – thanks to Graeme Sait, learning as I go. I find it interesting that John Kempf, a guy who I think it would be really wise for you to interview, a mentor of mine in the search for how to grow the best nutritious food, doesn’t even discuss the issue of tillage. He instead focuses on plant health. Of course I, and I suspect you, were trained that it is all about the soil.

I appreciate John’s approach (CEO of Advancing EcoAgriculture) because when I follow it, I find that my vegetable quality, fruit quality, livestock quality, and soil quality (by standard measures of cation exchange, base saturation, soil organic matter, etc.) has improved dramatically. For me it is about a hybrid approach of staying within the parameters of certified USDA organic, certified Real Organic, being as no-till as possible, and also using practices that maximize photosynthesis which drives food quality.

I would never say that all tillage is bad. As you note, tillage is always a matter of degree, and when I use my hoe to prepare a bed, I am performing some tillage. My personal checklist for treating the soil under my stewardship includes things like keeping live roots in the ground as many days of the year as possible, growing a diverse system, using animals in rotation (including pigs that disturb the soil surface), adding amendments to the soil and through foliar feeding, utilizing indigenous microorganisms, thick mulches, cover crops pre, during and post season. Every year I fall short of my goal, but hope (and innovation) springs eternal in the farmer’s breast!

Dave, I don’t think anyone – or perhaps very few – who attends Real Organic seminars believes we should use chemicals in agriculture. I do believe that amongst the tillers, black plastickers, tarpers, no tillers, composters, mulchers, IMO users, etc., there is a hunger for more information and discourse around how to better treat mother nature while farming, and also raise the highest quality food possible. On top of that, we would all like to make a living at it. I just think that you miss an opportunity when you rail against the word regenerative and that your time would be better spent highlighting the folks who continue to innovate successfully under the umbrella of organic. Additionally, we can learn from those who consider themselves regenerative, biological, permacultural, biodynamic, etc., etc., because there is incredible innovation in all these sectors.

When I watched the trailer for the Real Organic Symposium, I felt that I was given the option to choose between organic tillage or regenerative with chemicals. Again, going back to John Kempf, he has used the tactic of educating very conventional farmers to use biological inputs to improve their bottom lines. Hard core chemical users are switching to organic methods because they work for them. Many of his clients have lost family members to cancer, and that has been a catalyst for them to change their ways. Many wonderful innovations are happening under the heading of regenerative. Let’s reach “across the aisle” and see what we can learn from each other. I think that most all farmers truly want to do good in the world. If we can talk to each other and learn from each other without judgment we can “be the change we hope for in the world.” I grew up on a conventional farm in a conventional farming community. I guess I really understand those folks, viscerally.

Remember the playground? “He hit me first.” I suggest that we sort through all of the rhetoric and roosterish behavior and turn the other cheek while opening our full consciousness to all the amazing possibilities out there for us to learn how to better provide food for others while regenerating the environment. As I noted in my first email to you and Linley, I would love for you to come and do an interview with us here at MHOF. We are doing some cool stuff and learning as we go. Julie”

“Hi Julie. I agree with all that you write until the end. It is true that very few who support Real Organic would support the use of chemicals, but believe me that many of our supporters are very confused about the term “regenerative.”  They have heard regenerative advocates get up at organic conferences and “shame talk” organic farmers who till. They genuinely question whether all tillage is evil. And those regenerative advocates tend to leave out the part about widespread use of herbicides in “regenerative” agriculture.  For one anonymous example, a leader of the “regenerative” movement tells me privately that he grows, buys, and eats organic food, but will never say so publicly because it would undermine his reputation with the midwestern farmers he is trying to persuade to use less chemicals. I appreciate his dilemma, but I don’t appreciate it when the story gets hopelessly muddled in public. If we built the organic brand as a label to be trusted, we would create a market powerful enough to move those farmers. More than anything they want to make a living.

This confusion has been cultivated and enhanced by large corporations, and they have been remarkably well-paid for doing so. They recently got most of the $3 billion USDA giveaway. I know that some of the organic NOGOs got a small part of that as well. But imagine if the USDA had set a billion dollars aside to research and encourage organic farming? Then the world starts to change for the better. For many years I farmed on my farm, raised my kids, and ignored what was happening outside of Vermont. I was wrong.

I think that if silence worked, we wouldn’t have over 70% (probably MUCH higher) of certified organic eggs coming from egg factories. As with the milk. Vermont has lost a third of its organic dairies in the last 5 years. So has California. Retail milk sales have not gone down, which means the missing volume of milk is coming from the new CAFOs. And all the stores and distributors are happy with the “quality.” This is not just an economic issue for the farms that are pushed out. It is a question for all consumers about what “organic” means. If there was transparency in the marketplace, Lady Moon and Many Hands would always beat Wholesum. Butterworks would always beat Aurora. Your problem would be how to meet market demand. Their (Wholesum and Aurora) problem would be how to convert to real organic. Organic would be a stronger and more trusted brand.

We don’t live in isolation. I respect anyone’s decision to stick to their farm and feed people the best that they can. But I would urge them to respect those who are working for change on a larger scale. We only do this together. Honest conversations are not divisive. They are the starting place for change. The issues we are dealing with are complicated. Real Organic is trying to allow them to be complicated and to still approach them. I suspect that we agree on almost everything. Certainly, I support your work and your choices. Best, Dave”

“Hi Julie and Jack,

Loved the MHOF Newsletter with the expert and PROVEN no till experience and wisdom -highlighted against all too familiar and glaring dismissiveness of known truth. It is unfortunate that Dave does not realize the no-till cat is too big to be put back in the bag! Your great work at educating, educating, educating has not just created a ripple effect….but a large looming wave, as anyone who: has spent time at “the farm” over 4 decades (in various/numerous capacities and workshops), read even a few pages of The Natural Farmer through the years (and passed it on), attended NOFA conferences/workshops year after year and shared what they learned with friends, family and colleagues- knows all too well!

The vital Carbon sequestration within the soil associated with No TIll, are now KNOWN facts and actively discussed between backyard gardeners, elementary, highschool and college (under-grad, grad and post grad) students, government and world leaders- in large part because of your efforts. Rest assured, our family, like countless others I am sure, will continue to do our part-fighting with our no-till efforts – and remain committed to pass along all that we have learned (and continue to learn) from you! This wave will just continue to gain momentum. It cannot be stopped. The “Real” Organic Project folks are not REALLY living up to the mission within their own name, though there is always the possibility to reclaim integrity…Best, Kim” (gardener, former working shareholder)

Working Shareholders Always Welcome

Pretty soon the weather won’t be iffy and it is a good time to come and get your feet wet as a working shareholder. Feel free to contact me to give it a one morning trial (Monday or Friday) to see if becoming a working shareholder is right for you.

Ways to Donate to MHSC

Many Hands Sustainability Center – our farm non-profit

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. I had a good meeting with Maria Ravelli of Community Fridges. They are in for next year and will be fundraising on their end to keep this enjoyable partnership going. We have received a few Community Fridges donations this year. We have raised $1,350 so far.

To provide 14 summer shares this year there will be a total need of $6650. The WCF folks will attempt to raise “their” half, and we will raise our half – $3325. Here below is their promotional material. If you would like to donate to us directly, write a check to MHSC. If you would like to donate to them directly, here is the link –
Thanks in advance for your generosity.

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.

Other Upcoming Workshops

  • Building and Using a Chicken Tractor – Saturday April 22, 2023, 10-12 followed by potluck lunch; $25-$75
  • Growing Shiitakes Mushrooms on Logs – May 15; 10-12 with potluck lunch; $25-$75; Jonathan and Clare to lead
  • MHOF vegetable production intensive (all day) – June 10; 10-3 with pot luck lunch; $50-$100; Clare and Julie to lead
  • The Permaculture Farm and Agroforestry hedgerows – June 24; 10-3 with pot luck lunch: $50-$100; Jono Neiger to lead
  • Cooking with your CSA share – July 22; Clare and Julie to do this one. 10-noon with complimentary lunch; $25-$75
  • Food preservation – September 16, Julie, Clare and Jack; 10-2 with pot luck; $50-$100

Register here

Farm Doin’s

With so much snow and an underlay of ice on the ground, we returned assertively to cleaning up areas of the farm of trees and brush that are in some way blocking sunlight. Dan had taken down a bunch of trees on the south wall of the west field on Sunday, and Jonathan started cleaning them up with the help of many on Monday. We burned a lot of brush, cut up firewood and brought it back and started splitting. We spent a lot of time on the ground, falling down many times on the very slippery snow over ice underlay! And on Friday we finished cutting down all of the trees that resided to the east of our home orchard. More fires and more hauling of firewood. As can be seen in the photos, the weather was fantastic both days.

Asher clips a grapevine out of a tree

Kamarin fans the fire

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Gary loaded up with firewood

More vines in trees – Leslie does battle

Friday, we also worked on our tans while Leslie and I pruned our annex blueberries as Clare delivered several loads of wood chips there for mulching. Over the week, Jonathan picked away at the bathroom, getting the famous toilet put in on Thursday and suffering a lot of personal discomfort getting off old grout. Thank you, Jonathan!

Next week we start some seeds and our lactobacillus brew.


Quick Links

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