Sarah Berquist: Creating ‘Good Work’ at a Young Age

“ We couldn’t have done it without you!” resounded in Amherst Chinese Restaurant from the farmers in the Saturday Amherst Farmer’s Market. It was the end of the market dinner for the Amherst Farmer’s Market family, a group of dedicated farmers and volunteers linked by the market manager Sarah Berquist, to provide local goods to the community of Amherst.

Saturday Amherst Farmer's Market

 

Sarah Berquist is a recent graduate from Umass Amherst and the Sustainable Food and Farming concentration, but has since continued new learning opportunities into our larger Pioneer Valley Community. Entering into school as an Environmental Science major, Sarah realized she thrived while working with her hands. After switching to Sustainable Food andarming, Sarah immediately got the hands- on experience she was looking for at Astarte Farm, securing her passion and interest for agriculture. Sarah is always exploring challenging opportunities and looking to provide her friends and family with healthy food choices.

Sarah and Professor John Gerber of the UMass Sustainable Food and Farming Program

Most recently, Sarah was the Teachers Assistant and researcher for the Student Farm as well as The Saturday Amherst Farmer’s Market Manager. Sarah was an integral part in ensuring that the Farmer’s Market exceeded the expectations of the community in providing an accessible outlet for healthy food to our community. Sarah woke up at 5:30 every morning with the farm vendors, always conscious of connecting the market to the wider community. Personally as a volunteer, by the time I came to the market, Sarah was wide awake conversing with patrons and vendors, dealing with market logistics, and checking in with everyone’s needs, with a friendly and concerned attitude.

Sarah and intern Andrea Colbert working the SNAP/EBT machine

Going beyond the conventional market structure, Sarah searched for opportunities to make the market more widely accessible to a broader socio-economic base. Driven by her frustration with the lack of accessible locally made products, she pursued a grant that would increase the markets availability to a variety of economic statuses. The grant allowed individuals receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program(SNAP) benefits incentives to buy from the farmer’s market. The Electronic Benefits Transfer machine matched the amount of money the person would receive from their SNAP benefits(If the card was charged $10 the customer would receive $20). Sarah wants to address the affordability of healthy options for the Amherst community and the environment.Sarah has responded to the communities demand for products that benefit the entire community by extending the accessibility and incentives to frequent the market. The SNAP/EBT machine is great for any customer who forgets cash for the market, but most importantly diversifies the economic base for those who wish to benefit from the great food that their neighbor farmer’s provide. It is all part of a closed loop system of relationships and resources that helps the community thrive. Inspirational, dedicated, young individuals like Sarah are integral to a community that must develop cooperation and resilience in the face of uncertainty with our resources.

Sarah has experienced the importance of reaching beyond the classroom walls to apply her knowledge and accept the learning opportunities from trying. During her time at Umass Amherst, Sarah created a home for herself in the Valley away from her home of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Sarah immersed herself in a community where she feels at home, while she continues to push herself to improve the community she loves. In the time I have known Sarah she has inspired me as an undergraduate and her other friends at the university to experience and engage in the community for the happiness of everyone. Sarah has created a close network of people while working in agriculture, including Sunset Farm,The Umass Student Farming Enterprise, Umass Ethnic Crops Program and Winter Moon Farm. There are no limitations in her interests to explore and only furthers her diverse contribution to the Pioneer Valley. Hosting regular potlucks with friends, playing music and speaking Spanish accompany her talents in producing, educating, researching and marketing sustainable agriculture. With intentions of returning to the place and people she learned from, Sarah is beginning a new adventure to Costa Rica where she will travel and learn farming techniques to return home with.

Sarah is a great friend to many, who made me a part of the market family, even as an occasional volunteer. Volunteering at the SNAP machine for me was a time to hang out with great friends and learn new things about a town I spend a majority of my time in during the year. Sarah taught me the importance of integrating oneself into a community that will help me grow and give back to my community that has given me knowledge and support in a place away from home.

By: Sara Hopps

Laughing Dog Farm

Daniel and Divya Botkin, of Laughing Dog Farm, live on a 3+ acre permaculture-inspired farm in Gill, MA with their children, one other couple, and ten goats. They currently have one housemate, although there are usually several seasonal helpers. The property does not look like a traditional farm, but instead is on a hill scattered with a number of beds and greenhouses, a teepee, and structures created out of found wood.

Teepee at the farm

The house

They live in a unique, angular house that was built by members of the commune that previously existed on the land. We visited Laughing Dog Farm for a workshop that they led on winter gardening. Danny and Divya welcomed us into their cozy living room, heated by a wood stove, and began the workshop with an icebreaker for the ten of us to learn about each other. Danny taught us about the technical aspects of greenhouse structures, but also stressed the “psychological benefits” of being able to plant all season long. Being able to seed vegetables in December and January is how he stays motivated through the winter months. Although we couldn’t see the full potential of the property on the late fall day, the greenhouse was filled to maximum capacity and in peak season every planting space looks that way. Each greenhouse bed was interspersed with different vegetables, including lettuce, spinach, leeks, tomatoes, and beets. He calls himself a “carpet installer” instead of a gardener, and makes sure that there are no spots of bare ground.

One side of the greenhouse

Danny showing us a bed in the greenhouse

Danny spent twenty years teaching and counseling, but had a love for gardening and homesteading and was always searching for more community involvement. It seems that he connected them well when he left to start Laughing Dog Farm, where he is able grow food with loved ones and use the farm to educate others. The goat products and food produced on the farm provide more than enough for the residents. The excess is sold through a small CSA and some direct sales. However, it is clear that selling at markets and making money is not the point of this farm. Spreading knowledge is the community service that Danny and Divya value most. Their primary source of income is from workshops for the public, like the one we attended. They also host many WWOOFers to learn on the farm in return for food and board. Inspiring people to grow their own food, teaching them the necessary skills, and attempting to instill the correct mental models to do so are the values that stand out at Laughing Dog Farm.

Divya and Danny demonstrating how to bend hoops for winter hoophouses

 

- Maria Superti and Nora Seymour

Draft Horse Power at Amethyst Farm

Bernard Brennan

Amethyst Farm was started over a century ago by settlers who wanted to farm in the fertile valley that has become the progressive town of Amherst, Massachusetts. It has always been a family farm, changing hands over the generations, while maintaining the charming qualities of a rural homestead. The property has offered its residents the resources to establish a quality of life that produces self-sufficient results, with a horse-boarding business and an indoor equestrian arena that pays the bills, while an extensive acreage of hayfields lays the bedding to comfort both the two-legged and four-legged residents. This land has provided the good life to many generations of Amherst agriculturists.
Now, a new generation of sustainable-minded farmers has moved into the old farmhouse, with goals of returning to a simpler way of living.
Bernard Brennan and his wife and children moved to Amherst from Connecticut last year, with plans of revitalizing the old farm and making it produce more than just shelter for purebred show horses. The Brennans want to construct a local economy using Amethyst farm as a community center for the families of Amherst seeking more than the intellectual rigors of academia. Coming from Yale where he was a Professor of Behavioral Ecology, Bernard wants to put the horses to work and reclaim the land. He sees this stretch of open pasture and small woodlot as an investment for his children’s generation, and his goal is to correct the incongruities caused by the elder generations whose cultural norms have led to peak oil concerns and social disparities that threaten future generations enjoyment of natural habitats.

Making Hay in May 2012

When he bought the 120 acre property, Bernard had never worked with horses before, although he did extensive research on the behavioral patterns of wasp species, that led him to appreciate the diverse mysteries of animals and their relationship with humans. When he came to Amethyst Farm, he decided that draft horses would be a key element to creating an alternative lifestyle that answered the problems of our dependence on fossil fuel. Horses have played a significant role in the founding of this country, and Bernard plans to reform this relationship with his own two hands on the reins. He bought two beautiful gray Percheron geldings which he harnessed up and hitched to a fleet of horsedrawn equipment that would otherwise be pulled by antique tractors. Pioneer welding is a company that produces modern farming implements for draft animal power, and Bernard has used his equipment budget wisely in purchasing quality-built equipment that will work the land without dependence on gasoline or diesel tractors. Last year, he plowed his garden beds with the team of Percherons and planted his family’s vegetable garden in that horse-tilled plot. Instead of planting the ordinary broccoli and carrots, he plans to grow crops that will feed his family in a holistic way. His first crop of rice was successful, and he plans to grow nut trees and shrubs along a one hundred foot long hedge row which will develop into a self-maintaining edible forest garden.
This winter, Bernard plans to drive the horses into the twenty acre woodlot and harvest enough firewood to heat the old farmhouse, instead of filling the tank with expensive, imported oil.

An important aspect of the Brennan’s farming enterprise is trading and bartering with their neighbors.  They believe that modern citizens of the world have grown away from our neighbors, and that in order to create a healthier world, we must befriend the folks on the other side of the fence, and share the bounties of our harvest.  Part of this mission has been the regular monthly potluck dinners that the Brennans have shared with other families and friends in Amherst.  They share homemade bread, meats, vegetables, and skills with each other, in hopes of building longlasting relationships that will heal the wounds of our alienating society.  Another huge philanthropic contribution that Bernard has made within his short residence in Amherst, has been the provision of land to the newly established Many Hands Farm Corps founded by Ryan Karb, Eric Day, and George Daniel Vest just this past year.  All he asks from Many Hands is a share in their organic vegetable CSA and some help from their crew weeding the garden.  Bernard hopes to incorporate the Many Hands apprentice program into his draft horse operations within the next few seasons, by offering some training and hands-on experience with the draft horses.  This would be a huge contribution to the farm corps that uses tractors on a minimal basis and depends on human labor as the primary source of energy in their growing of high quality fresh local produce.

Bernard shares a philosophy with Blue Star Equiculture founders, Pamela Rickenbach and Paul Moshimer, who believe that this country was built by humans and horses together.  Horses pulled the stoneboats that built the iconic stonewalls of New England.  Horses pulled the wagons loaded with supplies and equipment that settlers used to establish new towns and societies.  We owe horses as much respect and gratitude as our founding fathers and mothers.  Without them, we would still be gardening in our backyards with our hands, and we would not even be able to refer to tractors and trucks in measures of horsepower.

When I think of sustainable farming, I don’t think of John Deere and International Harvester.  I think of sweating and backbreaking work, and plows pulled by stoic equines.  Only when we as humans learn to appreciate our animal friends and take as much care of them as we take of ourselves, will we be on the right course to repairing the damage we’ve done to this world in the last one hundred years – and that’s a pretty short period of time, since we invented machines.  Horses have been working with us for six thousand years.  It’s time we remember that and follow in their hoof prints.

I want to thank Bernard Brennan for showing me around his barnyard and stables, and for taking on the hard work of reestablishing the great occupation of horsemanship.  One farmer and two horses can plow our fields back to the health of pre-European settlement.  And I think that is a utopian future to work toward.

CHICKEN GROUP

After a grueling in-class test on the anatomy and physiology of animals, I got into my friend Amanda’s black Pontiac Grand Prix with her, and our friends Jocelyn and Dylan and did this fantastic interview in the car. Amanda, Dylan, and Jocelyn, and their friend Lila who could not make the interview are the founders of UMass Chicken Group. They are a student run club that teaches students how to raise poultry for meat. This semester they started with 15 chickens, which they hope will become 40 next semester, and raised them in a free range, pasture rotation, sustainable manner. It is a completely student run organization where students bring in guest lecturers, do all the labor themselves, and make all the managerial decisions. The group had a rocky start with a freak snowstorm and inexperience causing several deaths, with the help of the barn managers the group took off. By the end of this semester they had processed twelve birds and sold them to group members. They hope to one-day raise enough birds each semester to become part of the student run CSA’s and Farmers markets in the area. The one thing I could not understand, as a very inactive member of chicken group was what kept them going, for the 4 am barn checks in the freezing cold, and the daily maintenance that the chickens need. For each of them it was a different answer, Dylan loved the interaction with the chickens, and raising them, Amanda loved what a learning experience it ended up being, and Jocelyn thought that following your food from beginning to end, and seeing every step it went through was enlightening and fun. All in all Chicken group is a great, jusdgement free place to go and learn a little about meat production for those who want it. (pictured from left to right: Lila, Amanda, Jocelyn, and Dylan)

Chicken Group Founders learning the basics of chicken processing

Chris Marano and Clearpath Herbals

I find it easy to forget how unsustainable modern medicine can sometimes be. I certainly don’t discredit it for the amazing, lifesaving advances that have enabled it to save so many lives, but there is another side of modern medicine. A side that, I think, in some ways, tricks a healthy person into thinking they are unhealthy. A healthcare system based on profit cannot but fall into the trap of advertising, and the consumerism lifestyle that comes with it. And predictably, our societies consumerist habits have followed into the medical world. However, I have had the pleasure of meeting Chris Marano, a clinical herbalist based in the Pioneer Valley, who inspires me to hope that one day our healthcare system might be able to become more balanced.

Chris has been practicing traditional medicine in his own life for 30 years and bringing it to others for 18.  He recognizes that certain aspects of modern medicine are unsustainable, such as the fact that many pills must be synthesized in a lab. If, for whatever reason, labs that produce pills were to lose power or resources, they would be unable to operate. That’s a scary reality, but the fact that we have people like Chris who uphold the tradition of looking to the earth for healing is a saving grace. Chris has much to teach and I recommend that everyone consult with an herbalist at some point in their life. Natural medicine creates a more sustainable circle and I hope that more people will begin to incorporate it into their lifestyles.

Check out Chris’s website at www.clearpathherbals.com.

Raising the Next Crop

 

Hope Guardenier is the Executive Director of School Sprouts Educational Gardens and one of the three founding mother members of  The Farm Education Collaborative.  School Sprouts, in conjunction with teachers, educational professionals and students, has installed more than a dozen educational gardens throughout the Pioneer Valley. The Farm Educational Collaborative (TFEC) provides agricultural experiences to children and their families.

Hope began her career as an educator some fifteen years ago while working as a naturalist. She had just one hour a week to talk to people who stopped at her garden spot as a part of a guided trail hike. It soon became glaringly obvious that this was a woefully inadequate amount of time to convey the importance of food and its origins to the people that she was trying to reach. After deciding that bringing gardens to the children was the way to solve this problem she headed back east.

Once here Hope attained her masters degree in environmental education from Antioch University. Here she sowed the seeds that would grow into the network and support system that she enjoys today.

The Pioneer Valley is host to a number of inspiring people who are dedicating their lives to bettering their communities and the world beyond. Hope Guardenier is not only one of these people but she is also guiding and molding a future crop of leaders and world changers.

Teaching Small Ones About Our World

I had the pleasure of walking around Small Ones Farm and interviewing Sally Fitz about her early childhood farm education summer camp. Located in Amherst, Ma, Small Ones Farm is probably the most adorable farm you’ve seen in a while, because it’s geared towards five and six year olds, everything is tiny.

Sally was a psychology professor before starting Small Ones Farm with her husband Bob and that is extremely apparent in the layout and management of the camp. Since the students are five and six years old, big open spaces, like a farm, can be incredibly overwhelming to them. Kids need clear boundaries and limits in order to feel safe and comfortable and receptive to information. The camp area is a small mini-farm with a wooden fence around it, this doesn’t cage the kids in, it allows them to see the bigger, working farm surrounding them, the beautiful fields and orchard, but also makes them feel safe.

Literally everything in the mini-farm is thought out and geared towards teaching kids how to nurture the world around them and see that they are a part of it. There is a “sunflower house”, sunflowers planted that grow tall and create a space for kids to go sit and be entirely surrounded by plants. There’s also a bean tunnel, where children get a different perspective of plants growing and also makes harvesting an adventure. Kids in the camp also learn about compost and plant cycles, and see firsthand that nurturing plants helps them grow.

Another aspect of Small Ones Farm program that I really liked is that it runs alongside a working farm so kids get to see what a farm looks like, what a farmer looks like (Sally mentioned that all the farmers make it a point to come eat snack with the kids). Also incorporated is a weekly visit from a scientist that comes to teach the kids about natural science in ways that are accessible to them.

          

Small Ones Farm is a beautiful, loving place. Not only do Bob and Sally have a CSA, they also sell honey, apple cider, pies, and apples at their roadside stand. It was really great to see that even in this time of economic uncertainty, there are still wonderful people out there following their passion and doing the good work that needs to be done.

Many Thanks to Sally for the adorable pictures of the camp when it’s up and running and for taking the time to talk!

Go-Berry!!!

Molly Feinstein is the owner of Go-berry, a frozen yogurt shop in Noho and Downtown Amherst. A fairly new business, Go-Berry opened up in Noho in May of 2010, a mere 3 months after Molly and Alex (her husband) decided to quit their jobs in Boston and start up a business in the Pioneer Valley. Go-berry makes all their own frozen yogurt, using just milk, yogurt, sugar and fruit puree; unlike other frozen yogurt shops, who water down their yogurt to bulk up the product.

Coming from a background in healthcare, Molly never really had any experience in farming or restaurants. The idea spurred one day when she was in line at Starbucks thinking “I wonder what the heck is in this food and where it’s from?” Since then, local food has been a part of her business plan. She uses local sources such as Sidehill for yogurt, Mapleline Farm for milk, and various other farms  for the fruit puree.

Go-berry and its owners are new to the Valley, but their enthusiasm and curiosity have gained them many friends. The quick success and growth of their business is a great example of the local food community in this Valley. By finding their niche market and sticking to their values, Molly Feinstein has proven that local food doesn’t mean just perusing Farmer’s Markets and buying CSA shares; you can enjoy your guilty pleasures, without the guilt.

The “Real” Behind Real Pickles

Dan Rosenberg explains the lacto-fermentation process

Dan Rosenberg started his business in 2001 not solely as a way to make a living, but as a way to make change. Real Pickles produces 12 naturally fermented vegetable products out of Greenfield, MA using produce from 6 organic farms within a 40 mile radius of their facility. You can find their products at over 350 natural food stores throughout New England. Since starting this endeavor, Dan and his crew have received well-deserved recognition from the press and organizations; they were deemed a “Local Hero” by CISA and won a Good Food Award for their Garlic Dill Pickles last year (they are finalists in the Good Food Awards again this year!).

Dan’s devotion to a regional food system definitely presents him challenges- our current industrial food system doesn’t provide much infrastructure for people wanting to support local farms. But the fact that Real Pickles exists and is thriving is a great indication of how more businesses could operate in the future to support a more regional and local food system.

Besides being devoted to local food, the folks at Real Pickles are ultra-conscious of their consumers and the world around them. Dan was inspired to start fermenting after learning about Dr. Weston A. Price, a researcher who found people living in non-industrialized societies that still consumed fermented foods had significant nutritional benefits compared to people in industrial societies (where fermented foods were replaced with their factory-made “sterile” foods). Real Pickles is pioneering the comeback of naturally fermented foods in this area, and health-conscious people are definitely starting to catch on. Real Pickles also has a blog, Ferment, in which the staff connects their work to what is happening in the world (OWS, sustainable agriculture, etc.).

In addition to their social awareness, Real Pickles as a business is a great model for an energy efficient operation, as they are aware of how their actions affect the environment. Less than a year ago, Real Pickles’ neighbors Pioneer Valley Photovoltaics installed solar panels on the roof of the Real Pickles facility, making them 100% solar powered. Besides using solely solar power, Real Pickles also strives to lower the amount of energy they need in the first place. They use very little machinery whatsoever and do most of their work by hand.

Real Pickles is a great model for a sustainable business that supports a local food system. Any person looking to help farmers in their area by processing their produce can learn so much from Dan and every other person who has helped make Real Pickles “real.”

[Astrid O'Connor]

Ginger Lover's variety pack (www.realpickles.com)

Cabbage-based Real Pickles products (www.realpickles.com)

Jennifer Hartley-Grow Food Northampton

 

Jennifer Hartley and her daughter, Lily

Jennifer Hartley, a Northampton resident, is one of the founding    board members of the non-profit group Grow Food Northampton. Jennifer’s interest in the project grew from her interest in food and the power of community agriculture in bringing people together, as well as her concern for food shortages and the state of modern commercial farming.

In 2010, GFN, driven by the commitment and energy of its fanatic members, waged a grassroots campaign to purchase 121 acres in Florence (formerly the Bean and Allard Farms) and start a community farm. The group set out to educate Northampton residents about their cause to rally support and raise funds, eventually reaching their goal and purchasing the land. The project was funded primarily by individual donations and received grant funding as well.  The City of Northampton pre-paid a 198-year-lease for the Florence Organic Community Garden portion of the site, which enabled that parcel to be purchased.

In the community garden, which will have its first growing season in spring 2012, individuals will pay a reasonable fee for a small plot of farm land.  GFN will not only supply this land for public use, but also will work to educate individuals on how to successfully manage their plot.

GFN leases land to community-minded organic farmers on long term leases. These long leases allow new farmers to make substantial investments in the land, making them feel truly connected to the land and promoting the development of operations that are accessible and educational to the public.

Grow Food Northampton is working to break down the barriers between consumers and farmers. Their commitment and values have driven them so far as a young organization, and with no sign of slowing efforts, GFN should prove to be a staple in the Pioneer Valley’s community food movement well into the future.