Dirt Tasting: A day at CT NOFA's 36th annual OrganiConn winter conference

Dirt Tasting: A day at CT NOFA's 36th annual OrganiConn winter conference

The Homestead team spent all day Saturday attending OrganiConn, an annual conference for farmers, gardeners, eaters and all fans Organic, held at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, CT. Myself, My mom - Jackie, Cait and Emmi were all up and at 'em early in the morning to make the hour and forty minute trek, bright eyed and well coffee'd, ready for a day of "dirt tasting"!  

Beginning at 9, the conference was a series of four sessions, all with about 10 workshops per session. We split up, to cover more ground (hurr hurr). Workshops ranged from our openers like business basics, Common vegetable diseases and management and the medicinal uses of garden plants to the "heavy stuff" like no till transition techniques, worm composting, soil fungal inoculants and soil fertility workshops. We learned so much about everything from what a balance sheet is, to how to graft varieties of apples onto the same root stock, to how the fungi to bacterium ratio in soil directly effects the biomass of plant life! (uye!) 

I was particularly interested to learn that, generally speaking, as long as plants or trees are of the same family, they may be able to be grafted together. In some ways I was aware of this, but to actually learn that I could graft multiple varieties of apples onto the same trunk given enough patience and practice was absolutely fascinating. And you don't need a Ph.D in plant science to do it! 

Knowing that the more I learn, the more I realize how much more learning I need to do I went into this conference looking for ways to improve the soil health here on the Homestead. I had already been interested in a minimum tillage system and discovered on more than one occasion that many of our garden spaces do better when we keep active disruption to a minimum. That said, this space of ours was used for conventional agriculture for many, many years and for all the richness and life here, it does sometimes show me signs of distress. Our main garden, to my horror, exhibited a cracked and clumped surface texture about midsummer last year. Initially, I thought that perhaps this was just a texture problem, and did some experimentation with soil amendment. This helped, but it wasn't until I had introduced rich compost into several beds, crawling with worms and beetles and all manner of little critters, that I noticed an almost immediate difference. This observation was absolutely cemented in the no-till and soil fertility workshops. Organic farmers and scientists are spending a lot of time looking into soil micro-biology and their findings are incredible. As Adam Squire put it, we need to start paying attention to the livestock beneath our feet. More on this in a later post...

After lunch, we attended an absolutely phenomenal keynote presentation by David Chapman of Long Wind Farm in East Thetford, CT. Long Wind Farm has spent 37 years growing from an oxen-powered field vegetable concern to quite a successful greenhouse operation. A founder of Vermont Organic Farmers and awarded "Farmer of the Year" by NOFA in summer 2017, Dave "walks the walk". His presentation, "The Fight For Organic Integrity & What Savvy Organic Eaters Need To Know." was filled with images and stories from his recent work about "keeping the soil in organic" ( a movement against hydroponic intrusion into the organic label that you can read about here), and the activism he has helped organize in launching The Real Organic Project. Modern Farmer covered the story here. I don't know that describing him as soft spoken is the correct adjective, but despite proclaiming himself a poor public speaker, we felt captivated and moved as he denounced the USDA's muddying of the organic label and the current Administration's inclusion of CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) under the umbrella of "organic". He called upon us to "Just Ask". Next time you're in your favorite grocery, ask an employee where the produce comes from, whether or not it's hydroponic. Through no fault of their own, they probably don't know. But if you ask, most of them will be moved to find out and, according to Dave, if we all went out today and asked we might just change the industry overnight. By the end of his presentation, Dave had the audience on it's feet and I, personally, felt like my tiny farm and I were precisely on the side of the fence we needed to be. 

The boil down from the whole conference, for us was this:

We're on the right track. More worms. More Fungus. Less disturbing our soil. Our philosophy that as long as we take care of this little patch of green, it will take care of us, has been validated in the best way. Over the next few weeks, as the crew comes back together and we compare notes, I'll try to break down some of what we learned and present it here, so that as we learn to utilize it, so can you. 

Don't get discouraged by all this snow! Our seedlings are starting in the sun room, and we'll all have our hands in the dirt soon enough.

Keep Growing.

We'll see you out there,

Nick

 

The Doctor is in!

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The Doctor is in!

We're off to a good start for W.H.A.O season 2018!  We've seen our first ever batch of product come back from the CT blanket program, which means the girls are finally pulling their weight (beyond being the best dang thing this side of puppies). We were absolutely stunned by the quality of the gorgeous pieces, from a great, big queen blanket all the way down to our long, toasty scarves. Even better, all of it was almost instantly spoken for and only one blanket remains on the Homestead. Between a successful first veggie season at market and our beautiful wedding last summer, this really does feel like an immense victory. Thank you so much to everyone for your continued support!

The girls, however, are quite grumpy with Nick today as he invited Dr. Satterfield of Norwichtown Veterinary Hospital to pay a visit and update the girls on their rabies and CD&T vaccines. They took it in high spirits, and didn't put up as much of a fuss as we'd feared they might. Though fully fleeced (and thus well armored), the good doctor made the task look like a breeze. 

Now, Nick is grinding his fingers to the bone planning this years' crop cycles and figuring out the numbers side of the farmstead (BLECH!) while resident duck herder Chewie supervises....from in front of the fire, of course. 

 

Hope you're all getting excited for growing season! Stay warm, dust off those garden hats, and remember: Always keep growing.

 

We'll see you out there.

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The Homestead goes live!

Today is the day the Woodward Homestead and Orchards website goes live! The sheep got so excited about it that they managed to break through one of their stable fences and pooped all over the shearing bay! That's okay, with a little encouragement from the hay feeder everyone has finally settled down; even the ducks have curled up in the corner of the coop and settled in after a hard day's playing in the rain. 

There was (and still is) lots of office work to be done on the Homestead today (Nick's least favorite, yuck!) but with the website up and the facebook page dusted off, the Homestead team is gearing up for a busy week of planning this year's crop, changing out the chicken coop, the first eggs going into the incubator, some creative carpentry, and even a visit to Precious Memories Equestrian Center in Salem, CT! 

Come join us this Saturday as we support them in their fundraising event: Spring Cleaning Tag Sale and Auction. Woodward Homestead will be setting up our first booth from 11 am to 4 pm and couldn't be more excited to lend a hand! All proceeds from this event aid in the rescue and temporary housing of horses in need. Come on out and say hello! Find them at the link above or here.

 

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