Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Organic Certification Progress at Canterbury Shaker Village

Co-op Organic Garden Manager Stacey Cooper has been busy these past few weeks tilling the fields, transplanting seedlings and getting an irrigation system set up at Canterbury Shaker Village. Among other things she has been going through all the steps to have the fields pass their organic certification.
While Stacey is already using organic practices on the land to nurture her plants, there are a few tests that need to take place before the USDA give her the ok to use their organic brand on the label of the produce she will be providing us.
Watch the video below...

Some of the produce Stacey has been able to pick so far that you can find at the Concord Food Co-op is mizuna, radish's, beet greens, spinach, and arugula. Look for it in the fresh produce displays.
Stacey also planted potatoes last week along with parsnip and green beans. Looking toward the future she also planted for this fall pie pumpkins and squash.
If you have any questions for Stacey, leave her a comment below.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The DARK Act, GMO Labeling, and How You Can Take Action

Reprinted with permission from Ken Davis & the Co-op Food Store Co-op News

Murky debate, GMOs. Few food topics arouse such acrimony and zeal, even though the jury is still out on how noxious and harmful the things even are.

At the Co-op, we believe what most Americans do: consumers have the right to know the source of their food. That’s why legislation that threatens to undo hard-fought-for GMO labeling efforts gets our attention. Learn more and find out how you can take action.


What Are GMOs?

When we alter the genetic material of a living thing so it can do something new or different, we create a genetically modified organism or GMO.  A GMO may be a bacteria that puts out human insulin or an insect-resistant corn plant.


What’s So Bad About That?

Life-saving insulin. Disease- and pest-resistant crops. What’s not to love? GMOs have undeniable advantages, or they wouldn’t exist in the first place. But there is also a big, whopping unknown—and that’s what worries people.

Human meddling to modify nature is nothing new and often innocuous. Farmers for centuries have been tweaking breeding methods to produce greater yields, grow larger plants and animals, and so on. But these historical practices relied on the natural reproductive processes of the organisms themselves. In the case of GMOs, labs create things that nature cannot. Critics contend that unforeseen consequences are inevitable and potentially dire, with health risks to humans that may include exposure to new allergens or the transfer of antibiotic-resistant genes.


How Would Labeling Help?

Labeling doesn’t put an end to GMOs, but it does identify them. Mandatory labeling of GMO foods would, at the very least, give consumers the ability to know what they’re eating so they can make informed choices.

It’s an idea that has overwhelming, widespread support. In 2013, a New York Times poll indicated that more than 93 percent of respondents favored GMO labeling, and by 2014, 24 states were considering broad, sweeping legislation to label GMO foods. Vermont’s legislature led the way, passing the nation’s first law in 2014 mandating the labeling of genetically modified ingredients in packaged products.


Latest Legislation: The DARK Act

Introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), HR 1599, the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015,” allows for a national labeling system without actually requiring it—and therein lies the problem.

“Not a single company has ever voluntarily disclosed the presence of GMOs in its food,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, an environmental think tank and advocacy organization. “Voluntary labeling does nothing to solve the confusion consumers face at the supermarket, nor does it provide them with the information overwhelming numbers of consumers clearly want.”

Known by detractors as the DARK Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know), HR 1599:
    • blocks state labeling laws.
      While a uniform national labeling standard is simplest to enforce, the lack of such a standard prompted several states to develop labeling laws of their own. This bill prevents states from establishing future labeling laws and blocks any existing laws, too.
    • closes the door on a national GMO labeling standard.
      The bill not only eliminates state labeling laws, it also restricts the FDA’s ability to mandate national labeling laws—an authority the FDA currently holds.
    • muddies the “natural” label.
      As if “natural” wasn’t bewildering enough, HR 1599 requires the FDA to define “natural” in the next two years, and GMOs just might be covered in the definition. HR 1599 also blocks any state provisions that make it illegal to label foods containing GMOs as “natural.”
    • establishes a weak review process.
      HR 1599 establishes guidance for reviewing the safety of new GMO products, but the bill includes loopholes to automatically approve products that aren’t assessed by the FDA within 180 days.


What Can You Do?

Take Action
E-mail or call your legislators today and tell them to oppose HR 1599, or the DARK Act. Find your legislators here.

Get Involved
Join the New England Farmers Union and advocate for a transparent and sustainable food system. A special membership discount is available to members of food co-ops that are part of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association. Join here.



Just Label It
NH Right to Know GMO
Vermont Right to Know
New England Farmers Union
The Neighboring Food Co-op Association

Thanks to our friends at New England Farmers Union and the Neighboring Food Co-op Association for contributing to this post. Ken Davis is a writer for the Co-op News. Contact him at kdavis at coopfoodstore dot com.

Monday, April 20, 2015

First Harvest for 2015!

by Stacey Cooper, Co-op Organic Garden Manager

We have transplanted our first seeded flats into the hoop house raised beds at the Shaker Organic Gardens, in addition to the direct seeded crops. I have utilized floating row cover to help conserve moisture in the beds as well as buffer the plants from extreme heat during the day and cold at night. The spinach is finally germinating.

We harvested our first crop last week, being pea tendrils. Having clipped them about an inch from the soil surface we should look forward to a second crop soon. Look for them in the produce section of the Co-op's Concord store! I will then incorporate the remaining tops and root systems into the soil to help build organic matter and return nitrogen to the soil.

Watch the video below...

I have started to harden off some of the seeded flats to prepare them for transplanting into the outside raised beds. I have removed the row covers, lessened watering, and I am putting them outside for a few hours each day to expose them to direct sunlight. Often if crops are transplanted directly from inside to field conditions, the sun is too strong and scalds the plants.

We should have pac choi, spinach, scallions and arugula ready to transplant outside this week.

The fields have been tilled once and are looking good. The relatively dry weather has allowed us access to the fields earlier than I would have anticipated, which is giving me a chance to break up the weeds. I will amend the field soil based on soil test results and then we will till a second time to break up the clumps of soil and weeds.

A good portion of the field will remain in cover crop the first season to help break up the weed regime as there is significant yellow nutsedge established in a portion of the field. This section was seeded to white clover last week.

I hope to be able to use white clover in the sections of the field that are transplants, as opposed to direct seeded, as an in row cover crop. This will hopefully help to reduce weed pressure in newly turned soil as well as reduce compaction.

To read more from Stacey and her developments at the Canterbury Shaker Village hoop houses click here.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Planting the Seed in the Hoop House

Concord Food Co-op Organic Garden Manager Stacey Cooper has been busy planting the seeds for future produce, even while there is still snow on the ground! The hoop house located on the historic Canterbury Shaker Village grounds has been staying warm enough as the days are getting longer to begin the first of many plantings. Watch the video below to find out what Stacey has planted so early in the season and she also has some helpful tips for the home gardener.

If you have any questions for Stacey, leave them in the comments!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Future of the Hoop Houses

Co-op Organic Garden Manager Stacey Cooper has some big plans for the hoop houses at historic Canterbury Shaker Village. Watch the video below to see what she envisions...

If you have any comments, leave a comment for Stacey!

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...