Many Hands Organic Farm has been in existence since 1982 and has been selling to the public since 1985. We were first certified organic by the Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association in 1987. Organic certification is a process by which a third party organization sets a standard for organic production and management that the farmer adheres to. In October 2002 there came into place a USDA program, the National Organic Program, with standards for certification that are the same for all farms across the US. Prior to this date certification was taken care of by 44 independent certifiers across the country. Since 2003 our certification has been handled by the Baystate Organic Certifiers, a USDA accredited certifying agency, because NOFA/Mass no longer functions as a certifying agency. We at Many Hands plan to continue to be certified organic into the future, though trends in the USDA National Organic Program are concerning to us as Big Organic has more play in the system. In 2018, we also became certified by The Real Organic Program (www.realorganicproject.org) which requires the use of soil in the growing of food.
Organic farming is broadly defined as a farming system that respects the balance of natural cycles and works as much as possible within those natural cycles.
Practically for us at Many Hands it means that we use no chemical fertilizers, insecticides or herbicides, that we do use foliar nutritional applications, natural rock powders, vegetable meals, crop rotation, heavy mulches, wood chips, and corrugated cardboard, cover crops, and animals in rotation with vegetables and fruits. We extend the season on both ends with the use of unheated hoop houses. Over the past several years we have focused intensively on fertility, using soil tests and enhanced observation to determine fertility needs. Our biggest advances are since 2014. We have upped our game to prioritize carbon sequestering methods on our farm – more careful mob stocking pasture management, farm-made fungal composts and amendments, living vegetative pathways between our vegetable beds, heavy use of cover crops during the season and in the winter, and now no tillage. In 2016 our productivity and food quality took a sharp jump up, despite the region’s worst drought in our 36 year history here. In 2017 we sold our roto-tiller! Again in 2018 crop quality and taste took another upward trend with long term customers commenting on the continual improvement. This was despite snow almost every day in April, dry conditions in May and June, and then almost incessant rain July to November with a hard shut down of the season in November with record below freezing temperatures. 2020 was the first full season farming with our no-till implement we call “the ripper” This tool aerates the soil and greatly speeds up the process of preparing beds for planting, which we had been doing completely by hand since we sold the tiller. In 2019, with the addition of the ripper, soil organic matter jumped as much as 2% in one year in some of our fields. Perennial beds in our vegetable gardens facilitated large increases in beneficial insect populations. 2021 will include more focus on tarping and/or cardboard/leaf mulching to weaken the ever present grasses and to open new areas for vegetable production to keep up with the new demand in Covid times. We will be returning to a previous practice of brewing our own fertility and microbial liquids to add to our intricate foliar feeding program. Redoubling our efforts to keep the soil covered with growing plants throughout the calendar year will also be a priority. Ask – we are quite voluble on this topic of proper management strategies to keep the mycorrhizal fungi happy and at full capacity to manage the underground soil system for maximum photosynthesis! And read Jack’s world renowned “Soil Carbon Restoration: Can Biology Do the Job” here.
Personnel on our farm used to center around our family labor. We are Jack and Julie and four kids: Dan, Paul, Ellen, and Chuk. Julie and Jack are both recently retired from their non-farm jobs, Julie from NOFA/Mass and Jack from The Natural Farmer. We both are active volunteers in the local music community (in times besides COVID).
Now all in their late-thirties to early 40’s, the kids are leading interesting lives. Dan is the executive director of the Bionutrient Food Association, which focuses on food quality. He has 4 children – Anya, Samuel, Micha’el and Raphael. Paul is married to Betsy Miller Kittredge. Both of them work for NGP Van Software in Washington DC. They are the proud parents of Geoffrey and Matthew. Ellen is a nutritional counselor with a thriving business and can be reached at ellenkittredge.com. She married Dan Leak this past year and now lives in Winnie the Pooh’s 100 acre wood and runs her evolutionary wellness business. Chuk lives 25 minutes away in Athol, MA and is a “gentleman contractor” who has served in the role of volunteer coordinator for both the NOFA Summer and Winter Conferences. He is married to Cathleen O’Keefe who runs the Amherst Winter Farmers Market, manages their burgeoning homestead, and joined the MHOF staff in 2020.
Additionally, we have had numerous farm apprentices over the years and continue to barter with adult working shareholders for our CSA. Since 2007 we have hired full time seasonal and part time year round staff. Presently there are five full and part time folks on staff. We make it a priority to work with otherly abled and at risk youth. Over the past 7 years we have developed a close working relationship with Stetson School in Barre (http://www.sevenhills.org/