4-H & FFA competitions benefit students, livestock & communities

Washington county fair 2014 - cover storyLocal and regional fairs with 4-H and Future Farmers or America (FFA) competitions build competitors’ skills, self-confidence and leadership skills while educating fair visitors about agriculture. Competitors and audiences may become be our next generation of farmers and ranchers.

4-H competitions offer students valuable feedback on their agricultural projects and a chance to compete with peers. Students face public speaking angst while improving presentation skills. Prizes offer incentives for future efforts, pay for additional projects and contribute to college educations.

Prize winning livestock often bring high prices at auction. 4-H animals are accustomed to working cooperatively with people, and may be easier to manage that other livestock.

Livestock competitions may include beef, dairy, goat, sheep, equine, rabbit and poultry classes. Learn more here.

Successful urban farmers use intensive agriculture

Andy Pressman

Andy Pressman

There are many benefits to farming in urban areas. Most urban farmers are close to markets and customers. They often spend less time and money transporting goods to customers than rural growers. Urban sites generally offer easy access to potable water. Most urban farmers have fewer wildlife problems than their rural counterparts. Urban environments tend to be 6 – 8 degrees F warmer than rural areas. This is partly due to the heat island effect of pavement and sidewalks.

Urban farms may be on abandoned or open lots, neighborhood backyards, city parks or rooftops. Many urban farmers grow on multiple sites and use intensive farming techniques.

Learn more here.

National Organic Seed Survey

The USDA National Organic Program announced their “National Organic Seed Survey,” held every five years. The USDA seeks feedback on certified crop producers’ perceptions on organic seed and their current seed usage. Certified organic crop producers are encouraged to take the survey. Responses are confidential; no data will be identified with an individual or farm.  The data will be analyzed and released in the next State of Organic Seed report in 2015.  This report will capture successes, obstacles, opportunities and risks in organic seed systems and will offer detailed recommendations. The online survey deadline is October 3, 2014. Send questions to Jared Zystro at the Organic Seed Alliance.

The National Organic Seed Survey is being conducted by the Organic Seed Alliance, a national non-profit organization that supports the growing organic seed movement.

NOFA Summer Conference

NOFA Summer ConferenceJoin me at my workshop “Growing Hops and Home Brewing” at the NOFA Summer Conference this weekend. Hear about cultivating, trellising, harvesting and drying hops. Hear about global hops history. Discover hops’ landscape, medicinal and beer brewing uses. Learn about brewing terms, equipment, ingredients, sanitation, bottling and capping. Hear brewing tips and get sources for recipes and ingredients.

Other RI-based speakers include John Kenny, of Big Train Farm in Cranston and Steve Walach, school garden manager.

Kenny will lead “Growing Brassica Crops.“ Take an in-depth look at the often-challenging world of growing the Broccoli family. Join a conversation on growing excellent Brassica crops, hear their natural history, fertility inclinations, insect relationships and overall management techniques. Emphasis will be on soil balancing and organic pest control.

Walach will lead “Improved Production for Medium and Large Gardens.“ His presentation will address gardening fundamentals to produce greater yields. This will include crop rotations, fertilizer plans, seedling care, labor requirements and organization of garden space. In 2012, hisschool garden harvested 5,734 poundsof vegetables from 2,000 sq. ft. of raised beds, close to 3 lbs/sq ft.

Learn more about the conference here

The secrets of a successful Farmers Market

RI Farmers Market Manager Conference

2014 RI Farmers Market Manager Conference

Thriving Farmers Markets have loyal customers and great vendors. The market’s customers spend money, return regularly and bring friends. Successful vendors bring great products, friendly smiles and the right pricing, week after week.

The 2014 RI Farmers Market Manager Conference was held at Mount Hope Farm in Bristol, RI. A brainstorming session revealed  a variety of factors that contribute to a successful market and challenges that may be limiting a market’s success.

See the characteristics of successful markets here.

Start at the top to prevent soil erosion

Mike Harding of Geosyntec Consultants creek-side near his home town in Indiana. Photo supplied by Mike Harding.

Mike Harding near his home town in Indiana. 

“Treat soil as a resource not a pollutant,” said Mike Harding of Geosyntec Consultants. It takes 10,000 years for nature to make an inch of topsoil. Harding explained, “Vegetation is the skin of the earth, and when vegetation is removed, the earth bleeds. That’s what we call erosion.” Behind population growth, the World Bank has recognized that conserving topsoil is the second biggest global challenge.

Harding urged anyone disturbing soils to:

  • Control water, beginning at the top of the slope
  • Prevent erosion by limiting the amount of area disturbed
  • Minimize erosion on all slopes
  • Do more than just install silt fence at slope bottoms

Silt fences and other sediment control devices do not prevent erosion. When property installed and maintained, they contain runoff and sedimentation before it can move offsite or pollute waterways.

Read more here.

Photo supplied by Mike Harding.

Weed control for vegetable crops

Dr. Rich Bonanno

Dr. Richard Bonanno

Good weed control leads to stronger plants, higher crop yields and higher farm profits. “Effective weed control starts with proper identification,” said Dr. Richard Bonanno, UMass Extension and GAP Educator, at a recent pesticide-training workshop held in Warwick, RI. He recommended growers verify weed ID using the “New England Vegetable Management Guide” or a good a field guide.

Growers should note weeds, treatments and weather each season and use past years’ notes to determine likely locations and times for outbreaks. Scout potential trouble sites to verify the need for treatment. For peak effectiveness, apply just enough of the right treatment at the weed’s most vulnerable life stage. Read more here.