Increase soil fertility by adding chickens in field rotations

About 100 Black Australorp chickens at Big Train Farm in Cranston, RI.

Black Australorp chickens at Big Train Farm in Cranston, RI.

Building soil fertility and organic matter is a standard practice in organic agriculture. Organic farmers count on healthy soils to increase crop yields and crop quality as well as their farm’s long-term sustainability. Farmers build soil fertility by feeding soil organisms, often by spreading composted animal manures. Efficient farmers encourage their livestock to spread and incorporate their own manure for speedy incorporation. Chickens can produce 1/4 pound of manure every day.

Crop planning accommodates appropriate “days to harvest” or waiting periods to allow fresh manure to break down. Farmers must wait 120 days for root crops or ready-to-eat crops like fennel and greens. A 90-day period is sufficient for crops without soil contact like broccoli or tomatoes.

Moving livestock regularly prevents destruction of soil structure and protects against overloading soils with potassium or nitrogen from too much manure in one place. Allowing chickens to scratch and peck at crop residues and weeds helps incorporate the manure, minimize Nitrogen loss through volatilization and prepare fields for future planting.

John Kenny of Big Train Farm in Cranston, RI uses his 100 Black Australorp as part of a four-step field management process. [Learn more here.]

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Food System Solutions in New England

Christoph Hinske and the Institute for Strategic Clarity will map New England’s regional food system.

Christoph Hinske of the Institute for Strategic Clarity will map New England’s Food System

According to many American food system workers and consumers, our food system is broken.

Organic farmer Diana Kushner of Arcadian Fields Farm in Hope Valley, RI explains it this way: “1) Local … food does not cost too much, industrial food with all of its hidden environmental and social costs (think slave labor and the plight of migrant workers) is too cheap. (2) Subsidies to corn and soy make [processed] food cheap.”

Field laborers, food processors and restaurant workers do not often receive living wages. New American Farmers (formerly known as migrant workers), typically earn so little they cannot afford to live where they work or purchase the food they produce. Food processors may work in dangerous production facilities with minimal safety training. Restaurant workers rarely havepaid sick leave. They risk being fired to stay home from work to care for a sick child or other family member. Many of the poorest workers fear reprisals, losing their jobs or becoming blacklisted if they complain. Worker advocacy groups offer these workers a voice.

[Read more here.]

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Sustainable production leads to success at Little River Farm

Bob Payne and Camille Abdel-Nabi in the bentwood greenhouse they built at Little River Farm.

Bob Payne and Camille Abdel-Nabi in the bentwood greenhouse they built at Little River Farm.

How many young farmers met their financial goals during their first year in business?

Bob Payne and Camille Abdel-Nabi started their 3-acre farm with solid training and experience in organic growing, high energy and a good business plan. Bob has an agricultural degree from University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences or Universität für Bodenkultur Wien (BOKU) in Vienna, Austria. He worked as a farmhand at Greenview Farm in Wakefield, RI. Camille met Bob while an apprentice at Greenview Farm. The couple praised the hands-on organic production, marketing and sales training from Greenview Farm’s owners, Craig and Emily Totten. Bob and Camille pass along these lessons to their farm apprentice at Little River Farm.

Founded in 2013, Little River Farm is a 3-acre vegetable farm. Farm owners use organic and sustainable practices to grow a broad variety of greens, herbs and vegetables. Bob and Camille’s favorites are arugula, mesclun greens, root vegetables, heirloom tomatoes and peppers. Little River Farm sells through a 40-member CSA, two farmers markets and a spring Market Garden Festival. The farm also sells wholesale to food cooperatives and restaurants.

Learn about this farm’s intensive planting, season extension tools and custom-built, bentwood greenhouse here.

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Terroir matters at Oxbow Brewing Company

Oxbow Brewing Co.

Oxbow Brewing Company

The Oxbow Brewing Company motto is “loud beer from a quiet place.” Local yeasts and bacteria influence many of their beers. Local fruit and honey will influence future beers. Co-owner Tim Adams, Director of Brewing Operations at Oxbow Brewing Company, said their brewery brews uses well water at their farm in Newcastle, Maine.

Company marketing targets craft beers aficionados and as well as newbies, inviting them to enjoy Oxbow’s funky saison beers. Sales continue to grow across the Northeast, Baltimore and Philadelphia and selected cities in northern Europe. Increasing production demanded more and larger equipment, overflowing the brewers’ rural barn in just two years. In 2014, Adams and Co-founder, Geoff Masland added a second production site – a 10,000 square foot warehouse in Portland’s east end industrial park, about an hour from their brewing barn. The Portland site handles the brewery’s barrel aging, blending and bottling. The barn now hosts additional large steel tanks increasing their production capacity for draught beers.

The Portland site also houses a Tasting Room. Picnic tables and twinkling Christmas lights welcome visitors. Servers offer table service delivering beer and water. Learn more here.

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Building a Great Farm Team

Dave Hambleton of Sisters Hill Farm

Dave Hambleton of Sisters Hill Farm (photo provided by Sisters Hill Farm)

Good hiring decisions help farm owners/managers and farm workers build an efficient, productive and happy team. Where does a farmer find good employees? How should farmers select the right apprentices, farm workers or farm managers to build a successful farm team?

David Hambleton has been the farm manager of Sisters Hill Farm in Stanfordville, NY for 16 years. He shared his experience with hiring, training and managing over 30 Apprentices in a workshop at the 2015 Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) Winter Conference.

Interviews are just a small part of the hiring process. Farmers must begin a search by posting openings where their ideal candidates will see the listings. See the sites Hambleton posts his openings and read about his screening and interviewing process [here.]

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Multispecies rotational grazing maximizes soil fertility and health

Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm

Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm (photo shown in Joel’s presentation)

Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm ( in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley recommends rotational grazing to caress soils and confuse pathogens. The Salatins delight in diversity and prefer portable, flexible animal infrastructure. They blend and rotate livestock and pasture species to puzzle pests. Soils rest between rotation cycles to nurture nutrients and to break pest and pathogen patterns.

For centuries farmers have understood that animal manures return vital nutrients to crop fields. Many farmers pull mechanical spreaders behind fossil fuel-burning tractors to move manure into fields. At Polyface farm, livestock spread their own manure.

Rotational or mob grazing simulates large herds of bison grazing and moving across the American prairies. Well managed grazing concentrates livestock in one area for a short period and then move them on. At Polyface farm, portable electric fences contain grazing beef herds. Farmers move the fences and livestock daily. Salatin said his animals look forward to a fresh “salad bar” every morning. These cattle graze forage at a sustainable level. They trample their manure patties ensuring good soil contact and starting the decomposition process. [Read more here.]

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Legal concerns around farm workers & employees

Rachel Armstrong

Rachel Armstrong of Farm Commons

Workers and Employees

Farming is hard work. Many farmers seek help from a blend of volunteers (CSA work shares – trading food for labor), compensated volunteers (trading food and/or housing for labor) and paid employees. Farmers seek happy and productive workers. Rachel Armstrong, lawyer and former grower, led an informative webinar on the legal considerations around unpaid and compensated volunteers. “Ag. law is incredibly complex,” said Armstrong. Her website ( offers checklists, flowcharts and model documents to guide farmers.


Armstrong recognizes that consumers everywhere value their connection to the land; they want to reconnect with the land and with farmers who grow their food. Many farm customers happily volunteer with their favorite farmer. Armstrong noted that no one volunteers to pump gas.

[Read more here.]

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