Thursday, March 26, 2015

Building Raised Garden Beds in your Hoop House

by Stacey Cooper, Organic Garden Manager

Raised beds can be built and back-filled with a variety of materials.  It is usually handy to utilize materials you have access to on site or at your home.  Some examples of reclaimed materials that you can utilize to help keep expense down are concrete blocks, untreated barn boards, re-bar, sand, compost, or topsoil.
I choose to use wood to build the raised beds in the Shaker Organic Garden hoop house largely because access is an issue in the winter and spring months.  Concrete blocks would have been a chore to get on site, while lumber could be carried to the greenhouse by hand or with the tractor.  To facilitate using the tractor to move materials, I pre-cut the lumber into 6' lengths. This helped in a few ways: I was able to fit the lumber in the tractor bucket to move it, the shorter lengths allowed for more flexibility with the varying grade of the hoop house floor, and it readily marked where 25% were needed to stabilize the lengths of the beds.
I chose to construct the beds at 3' wide, which is about a foot more narrow than the average raised bed.  I choose to do this because it is easier to reach across for fertilizing, weeding, and harvesting without needing to rest my arms on the soil surface, which can lead to compaction. 

I also set the raised beds in about 2' from the outside edge of the hoop house. This allows the outer area to be used as an access path. The outside strip of soil around a hoop house collects the run-off condensation that is produced inside the house and leads a strip of soil with leached nutrients.  This outside edge is also the first to freeze and last to defrost.  By setting the raised beds in a little, I am able to use the least conducive soil for access and the best for growing plants.
The weight of growing medium along the length of a raised bed can cause the boards to bow out and eventually break.  By placing stakes or rebar hammered into the soil, every 6' or so, we have alleviated this pressure.  I prefer to place stakes on the inside of the beds.  This allows easier weeding and cultivation of aisles and also keeps clothing and equipment from snagging on the sides of the beds when working around them.
To backfill the beds I used some onsite loam, stockpiled from the existing floor of the hoop house that accumulated from grading and leveling the area along with compost, sand and greensand.  The approximate ratio for the 10" beds was 2" of loam, 2" of sand, 5" of compost and then appropriate amounts of greensand to improve drainage and prevent clumping of the compost. A bit of balanced organic fertilizer is all that will be needed to get seedlings or seeds started in the beds.
The first crops I plan for these beds are beets, peas (for tendrils), and radish.  The heating system is not yet operating, so getting seedlings going and planting them is risky. I've selected cold hardy direct seeded crops to start the season to better utilize the space.  In a few weeks mizuna, lettuce, pac choi and kale should also be ready to transplant.
I have a few early season flats that were in need of sunlight, but not ready for the cold nights in the hoop house.  I experimented with digging out a section of the raised beds, placing the flats into the channel and then placing an on site Plexiglas door over the flats, creating an improvised seedling chamber. So far the experiment has worked as the seedlings were left in the chamber over the weekend and seem to be growing fine.  The mizuna and lettuce seem to be responding the best.  Since this system seems to be working I will get a few more flats seeded this week and move them to the chamber once germinated.
One of the most gratifying components of small scale farming for me is the constant need for improvisation.  Using what is on hand, creating new processes and sometimes finding success makes for a good days work!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Preparing the Shaker Organic Garden Hoop House for Spring

Tucked away behind the snow drifts at Canterbury Shaker Village you will find the Co-op's Organic Farm Manager, Stacey Cooper happily digging away in the dirt under the protection of the hoop house that will soon be flourishing with seedlings to produce fresh veggies and leafy greens.
Stacey has been busy cleaning and weeding to prepare the space for raised garden beds. Watch the video below to see the progress...

If you have any questions for Stacey, ask away in the comments below...

Monday, March 2, 2015

Reviving the Organic Gardens at Canterbury Shaker Village

The rumors are true! The Co-op has formed a Strategic Partnership with Canterbury Shaker Village to revive the historic Shaker fields with organic produce, cultivate beehives, and offer workshops and classes in the unique spaces available on the picturesque grounds in Canterbury, NH.

Starting this Spring 2015, the Co-op's newly appointed Organic Garden Manager, Stacey Cooper will work with Celery Stick CafĂ© Chef's, the Co-op's Produce Manager Shawn Menard, and Lakes Region Community College Culinary Arts Program Chef Patrick Hall to grow organic produce to meet demand. Fresh produce will also be available for purchase at the Co-op and at the Shaker Box Lunch and Farm Stand.

Stacey will be sharing updates via the Co-op's blog so you can follow the gardens progress online or visit the Canterbury Shaker Village to see it in person. Now let us introduce you to Stacey...

Hello and thank you warmly for welcoming me to the Concord Food Co-op! The collaborative efforts of the Co-op and Canterbury Shaker Village have everyone involved excited about the many ways we can more directly contribute to the local food system.
My journey into organic farming began with many years of field and office experience in the landscape architecture and horticulture industries. After finishing graduate school, I acquired the farming bug and decided to switch gears. In 2007 I joined Larry Pletcher at Vegetable Ranch, LLC and for years thrived in my new chosen career path.
The opportunity to work at Canterbury Shaker Village with the Concord Food Co-op's support and encouragement was a perfect fit for my interests and background. I'm very much looking forward to embracing the history of the Shaker Organic Gardens site while renewing the agricultural uses of the land.
The beauty of the site, even under 5+ feet of snow, has me invigorated already. To date my efforts have been focused on reclaiming the hoop house. Weeding, grading, pulling up old fabric, shoveling snow and general cleaning. Fortunately on a sunny day it is over 65 degrees inside and I have been getting my full dose of vitamin D.
I will continue to get the hoop house ready and begin seeding flats and building raised beds as the weather improves. I am also working towards getting the land re-certified as organic for the coming season.
I look forward to meeting more of you and I hope that as the season progresses you will be able to stop by the Village and see the results of our efforts!"
Stacey Cooper
Co-op Organic Garden Manager

Monday, January 5, 2015

Long Wind Farm: Vermont Organic Tomatoes

by Shawn Menard, Produce Manager

Just a few steps over the New Hampshire border in Thetford, Vermont lie the magnificent glass greenhouses of Long Wind Farm. Here, the growing season truly begins in early January, when most of us are still enjoying fresh snow on the ground and warm cups of tea.

Within the greenhouses, employees are busy planting thousands of tomato seedlings that have already been slowly growing in Emerald City, the farm’s largest greenhouse. All hands are on deck as the greenhouses see a rapid change in atmosphere. Rows upon rows of beautiful, glowing tomato seedlings fully grounded and by March will be producing fruit.

Once the tomatoes begin ripening, the greenhouses emit an intoxicating combination of aroma, color, and taste. The vibrant red can be seen from wall to wall. Nutrient-rich soil adds a wholesome smell to the air. And the taste, oh, the taste! If you’ve ever had a Long Wind tomato, you know that their taste is remarkable. Fruit and vegetables grown in a greenhouse often have a bad rapport due to the seemingly unnatural conditions that exist within the structure. However, it is here in the greenhouse that Long Wind Farm has been able to capture the very best conditions a tomato can thrive in.
Since 1984, founder David Chapman has been committed to growing the very best-tasting and healthiest organic tomatoes possible. He had always been struck by conflicting qualities he had seen in other greenhouse tomatoes. Fruit that looked spectacular was usually lacking is taste. Chapman knew that people were looking for both attractive and delicious tomatoes and he has become a master in growing such fruit.

Today Long Wind Farm is as committed as ever to growing organic tomatoes that taste amazing. Believe me, I eat these tomatoes throughout the growing season, and the flavor is never disappointing.

Along with paying close attention to the tomatoes, the farm also closely monitors its number-one resource, its employees. The farm invests a lot into its employees, knowing that people want to work hard and be happy. This is very evident to me each time we receive a delivery directly from a Long Wind Farm staff member. Our produce staff is kindly greeted with each delivery, and we enjoy seeing the Long Wind van pull into the parking lot each week.

Even though the seasons are rapidly changing your flavor palate, food cravings are still begging for fresh produce. Long Wind Farm’s “Good ‘n’ Ugly” variety is my favorite along with the smaller-sized “Vermatoes.” Also try the perfectly sized and wonderful-tasting Grade A’s. We hope you enjoy choosing Long Wind Farm tomatoes from our produce department every year from March through December.

Photos courtesy of Long Wind Farm. Learn more about Long Wind Farm at

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Organic vs. Local

by Wesley Hatch, Produce Clerk

Greetings friends. My name is Wesley Hatch, produce clerk extraordinaire. I can be found early mornings stocking the greens case or stacking up those lovely local apples. I’d like to share a local agriculture story with you.

Before my partner Megan and I moved to Concord, while still living in Northern Vermont, we decided to shift from a vegetarian diet to one with a small amount of meat. We also hoped to add more local produce and dairy to our diet. Being food-conscious people who are aware of the negative affects artificial growth hormones can have – both in the animals being treated and in people who ingest the food – we believed organic meat was the best choice. We also knew that supporting local agriculture is beneficial to the community, helping farmers continue providing good quality food to their customer while also signaling to Washington that Americans around the country support local agriculture and have a desire to know where their food comes from.

The closest farm offering organic, humanely raised beef was about fifteen miles away, which in rural Vermont meant about a half-hour ride. With winter coming and gas prices rising, we knew we had to find another solution. Riding home from work one day, I noticed a sign for a farm close by our apartment, just outside town. There was no organic certification attached to the name, and nothing indicated how the cows on the farm were treated. At first, we were skeptical: If it wasn’t certified organic, how would we know if the food produced was healthy or the cows well treated? Would it be better to just buy organic meat from a local grocer?

A visit to the farm taught us a great deal about food production and raising animals that we would never have known without talking to Brian the farmer. Brian gladly showed us around his well-maintained farm. He took great pride in the work accomplished on the farm, proud of his healthy and humanely treated cows, and proud to share his wide-breadth of knowledge with interested customers.

We learned that although his farm was not certified organic, he used many of the same practices that organic farmers use. None of the cows were treated with artificial growth hormones and he did not use pesticides or industrial fertilizers on his cow-feed corn. Chickens roamed freely, foraging around the property. The eggs were healthier and better tasting than any of the store-bought organic eggs we had tried.

After our visit, we knew in the future it would be important for us to seek out and learn about our local food producers without preconceived notions. If we had simply discounted Brian’s farm because it was not organic without first visiting it, we would have missed out on some of the best meat either of us had ever had, and Brian would not have had two valuable customers supporting his farm.
In the ongoing effort to find the best food grown under the best possible conditions, it is important for all of us to keep our minds and ears open. Next time you see local produce or meat without an organic certification, a visit to the farm is a great way to verify to yourself whether or not the food is right for you and your family. Here at the Co-op, we strive to offer a range of organic and local options so that you know that whatever you pick, it’s a better-than-average choice. Happy eating, friends!   

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New Glass Bottle Dairy! Contoocook Creamery

by Shane Smith, Perimeter Manager

We’re thrilled to now offer a new local dairy option in our stores, including milk in returnable glass bottles. Contoocook Creamery is part of a century-old family dairy farm in Hopkinton, known as the Bohanan Farm.

Jamie and Heather Robertson own the farm, which is named “Bohanan” because it came down through Heather’s side of the family. The farm is currently in its fifth generation of land stewardship. In 2009, through partnerships with the town of Hopkinton, Five Rivers Conservation Trust, private donors, the State of New Hampshire, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the farm was able to make needed changes to its business model to better position it for the future. The coalition worked closely with the family, raising funds and educating the residents of Hopkinton about what a conservation easement consists of and the importance of open space to the town.

Bohanan Farm has 450 tillable acres, on which they grow about 150 acres of corn and 300 of grass. They have 240 milking cows, 200 young stock, and three streams running through the property. Their three full-time employees have been with them for years, and the Robertsons have five other people providing part-time help. The liquid dairy from Bohanan Farm is bottled in Maine, and when it is returned and delivered to stores it bares the name “Contoocook Creamery.”

The farmers strive to provide milk of the highest quality, utilizing the most efficient and environmentally sound practices available. The milk is antibiotic free, and the farm does not use growth hormones (rBST/BGH),

Look for Contoocook Creamery dairy products at the Co-op. Their milk and half-and-half will be available in returnable glass jars. Down the road, we hope to add Contoocook Creamery eggs, cheese, and butter to our dairy shelves as well.

Learn more about Contoocook Creamery at

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sunchokes at the Co-op

by Jaimie Jusczyk Digital Marketing Specialist

Sunchokes are available at the Concord Food Co-op!

Sunchokes at the Concord Food Co-op
Sunchokes are a type of sunflower with a bright yellow flower and can grow to 9 ft tall. They are native to New England and can even become invasive if not tended to.

You may know them as Jerusalem Artichokes or Sunroot, but whatever you call these knobby little carbohydrates, introduce them into your diet slowly to avoid any unwanted side effects as the human digestive system can not break down the inulin and it will be metabolized by bacteria in the colon.

Not sure how best to enjoy them? Watch the video below as Shawn, the Co-op's Produce Manager and James from Generation Farm share how they like to enjoy these sweet nutty flavored tubers.

Like James suggested, steaming sunchokes is the best way to enjoy them cooked. If you boil them they will not hold their shape and will turn to mush. Preparing them amongst other root vegetables is a great way to enjoy their flavor without over doing your inulin intake.

Why do we want to eat sunchokes? Sunchokes contain more than three times the amount of iron than a serving of broccoli. The sunchoke is also a great choice for diabetics due to the high levels of inulin that may help regulate blood sugar levels. Sunchokes are also used to help boost the  immune system and remove toxins from the body.

Local and organic, the Co-op is receiving sunchokes from Generation Farm in Concord, NH. They may not be the most popular vegetable so why not try something new and out of the box this week! Share in the comments how you prepared and enjoyed them! Stop by the Concord store and try some.