Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Drip/Micro Payback Wizard

There is a new on-line tool that can be used to help you decide if drip irrigation is right for you. The Drip/Micro Payback Wizard from Toro Co. was designed to help growers recognize the cost savings and determine payback period for converting to a drip or micro irrigation system. Growers submit information including state, crop, number of acres, current irrigation type and water cost per acre foot and the Payback Wizard does the rest. The on-line tool will also estimate additional acreage that could be farmed with the water saved. Check it out!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Did you know...

that there are two plant diseases that are specifically regulated by the state of NC? Both Potato Virus Y and White Pine Blister Rust have laws on the books that regulate plant movement into NC.

Potato Virus Y is a plant pathogen that is spread by aphids and infects crops including potatoes, tomatoes and tobacco. NC regulation prohibits the movement of tobacco and tomato transplants from areas of Florida south of and including Dixie, Gilchrist, Alachua, Putnam and Flagler Counties. Plants that were brought to NC from these areas have tested positive for Potato Virus Y. Though Potato Virus Y occurs annually in NC, it is not able to overwinter here. This regulation helps to prevent or slow down the build up on the virus in our agricultural fields. Plants that are grown in greenhouses in the areas mentioned above that are certified as grown in an aphid-free environment can be purchased and planted in NC.

The second plant disease is White Pine Blister Rust caused by the fungus Cronartium ribicola. Currants, gooseberries and other plants in the genus Ribes cannot be legally brought into or grown in NC. Ribes spp. are alternate hosts for the pathogen that causes White Pine Blister Rust, the most devastating disease of the white pine (including Pinus strobis). This is an old law, however there is still an active eradication of native currants in WNC within a certain distance of white pine plantations as young white pines are rather susceptible. Though many cultivated varieties of currants and gooseberries claim to be resistant to White Pine Blister Rust, there is not significant scientific evidence of the claim. Researchers are actively researching this subject.

To find out more about these regulations visit the NCDA&CS Plant Industry-Plant Protection Section.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Organic Certification Cost Share Program

The NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services has released information on the organic certification cost share program:

"This program is designed to assist the organic grower with the cost of becoming certified under the National Organic Program. For a farm to be eligible for this program it must be located within the state of North Carolina and must be certified by a business or organization that is accredited by the USDA to certify organic operations The NCDA & CS will pay 75% of the cost of certification up to a maximum of $750 to the certifying agency for any certification occurring between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009. Funding for this program comes from a USDA grant to the NCDA & CS. The assistance is available on a first come first serve basis until the funds are depleted."

For more information, contact Kevin Hardison at NCDA&CS at

If you would like more information or a copy of the NC Organic Cost Share Program Authorization Form please contact me:

Visit the NCDA&CS Organic Horticultural Crops Marketing Division site to learn more about organic production in NC.

Monday, November 10, 2008

CFSA Part Two: Saturday and Sunday

Alas, the time is come to hear about my final two days at the CFSA Conference! Again, the word I have to describe it is "Wow!"

Saturday was a day full of Joel Salatin, proprietor and visionary of Polyface Inc., a "family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley". Salatin is a congenial, outspoken proponent of local and sustainable food systems, and probably the youngest child* in his family ;).

Salatin's first presentation was entitled "Tightening the Distance Between Field and Fork", a story about his likes, dislikes and successes in marketing his farm products.

Salatin discussed major marketing venues and his experiences with them:
1. farm gate sales - direct sales at your farm
2. farmer's markets - group of locals selling their product at a central location
3. metropolitan buying clubs - kind of like a CSA for those that are far from the farm, the customers chose the products they want and are charged a flat rate for delivery ($0.25/lb)
4. restaurant sales - sales to local restaurants who value the quality of local food
5. institutional services (colleges, hospitals, etc) - lots of hurdles to jump through!

With all of these venues for sales, he stressed that building relationships is the #1 priority and he reminded us of the 80-20 rule- that is that 20% of your customers make up 80% of your sales. Among ways that Polyface Inc. value their customers is to reward those who buy in bulk, as well as those who recommend Polyface to others. The first question that a caller gets when they call the farm is "where did you hear about us?" This is logged into a computer and when the reference comes in they give them a gift!

After dinner (and of course dessert) Salatin spoke again. This time he discussed "Building a local Food System that Really Works". He discussed the 3 vulnerabitilies of our food system, centralized production, centralized processing and long distance transport (the average trip of our food is 1,500 miles!). The answer to these vulnerabilities is a local, embedded, transparent food system (in green for a reason). The problem is energy! Studies have shown that there is a lot more energy that goes into our local food than the Wal Mart trucks.
Salatin discussed that what we need is a "whole system". This whole system has six components that work together. I will list and briefly discuss Salatin's view of them below.

1. Production. Salatin says we have "ostracized" production to places that are unseen and outside of the community. We need to make the local food system aesthetically and aromatically pleasing. We also need to make it profitable! Production involves a connectivenss with our ecological niche, as well as sweaty workers and young apprentices.
2. Processing. Ideally this should be done on the farm, but we need to keep it in our communities.
3. Marketing. Products don't sell themselves. This is the job of the youngest child, the *"gregarious, storytelling schmoozer of the bunch".
4. Accountant. Someone who watches the money and shops for the best deals.
5. Distribution system. We need to allow colaborative farm-gate sales.
6. Patrons. People who enjoy food, know where their kitchens are and are interested in the morality of food and their connection with it.

As you can tell, he has some big ideas. If you would like to learn more about Joel Salatin and his ideas, I encourage you to read his books which include "Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal", "You Can Farm", "Holy Cows and Hog Heaven" and "Family Friendly Farming".

Sunday was spent learning about Small Fruits. First up was Organic Pest Management with Dr. Harald Scherm of the Dept. of Plant Pathology at UGA and then Dr. Gina Fernandez from the Dept. of Horticultural Science at NCSU discussed Caneberry (the new name for brambles) Production and Challenges of Organic Production. Both were great talks and filled with useful information- all of which I will share with you next season when you have Small Fruits on your mind.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Local Events Next Week

There are 2 local events next week that you should be aware of.

1. Nov. 11, 7 pm - Farm Energy Efficiency Project- The North Carolina Farm Bureau is hosting a series of meetings to discuss a new program to make your farm more energy efficient. Presentations will highlight the program and elaborate on how NCFB can provide extremely low cost farm energy assessments. Representatives from USDA will be on hand to discuss how this program leads into their 9007 (REAP) program which provides grants and loan guarantees for energy improvements. We all know how important it is to conserve energy in order to be efficient and save $$$. This event will take place at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center in Mills River (formerly Fletcher). If you would like to attend, please RSVP by Friday to Scott Welborn at

**BONUS: A delicious dinner will be catered by Freeman's BBQ!**

2. Nov. 12, 1:30 pm - Farm to Fork: Building a Local Food Economy- Dr. Nancy Creamer
with the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, along with its partners, is launching a statewide initiative "Building a Local Food Economy in North Carolina". Over the next 9 months they will be gathering input a number of ways: working with an advisory group, hosting regional meetings, facilitating targeted issues working groups, hosting a statewide summit (March 2 and 3), and finally, drafting a State Action Plan that will articulate a shared vision and specific opportunities for action that will enable us to make progress toward shared goals. **The meetings are not designed to be presentations about how to build your local food economy, but are working sessions that will help us identify specific regional and local sustainable food systems models that are successful, and also regional and statewide challenges that can be addressed through policies, programs, and funding.**
Come participate in the local discussion in Asheville on November 12 from 1:30-4:30 at the NC Arboretum, 100 Frederick Law Olmsted Way.

Update: The program in Asheville is at capacity. Consider attending another meeting, details at or by contacting Nancy Creamer at

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

CFSA Part One: Thursday and Friday

All I can say is "Wow!" I had a great time at the CFSA Conference this weekend in Anderson, SC. Besides the food, the energy of the participants was the best part. There was a buzz among the crowd and every workshop I attended was filled with knowledgeable and inquisitive people and speakers. I learned so much that I am going to split it into two posts. Here is Part One!

On Thursday night I was fortunate enough to attend a delicious dinner (and dessert, of course) that was followed by an address from Wes Jackson, the mastermind and visionary behind the Land Institute in Kansas and a sustainable ag pioneer. Jackson discussed the idea of a "50 Year Farm Bill". He discussed that each 5 year farm bill is a "mile post" towards sustainability and a 50 year plan. Jackson, who has a PhD in genetics from NC State, stressed the importance of sustainable grain production through breeding of perennial grains as a way of restoring and sustaining our soils and water usage. At the Land Institute, students and researchers are working to perrenialize sorghum, wheat, sunflowers and corn. To hear a clip of what Dr. Jackson had to say click on the video from the Chautauqua Institute in NY on Aug. 14. Quite the concept.

On Friday I attended a special Rodale Institute session with Dr. Paul Hepperly, the director or research, and Jeff Moyer, the farm director and inventor of the "roller-crimper". Did you know that in the U.S. we are losing topsoil 10% faster than nature can replace it?! Dr. Hepperly stressed that it is imperative that we reduce the erosion of topsoil immediately- the goal of research at Rodale. This involves cover cropping and rotation which increases soil organic matter and carbon sequestration.

Jeff Moyer discussed his roller-crimper, a machine that was developed to mechanically kill cover crops by rolling them down then crimping them in a no-till system. This allows you to sow your cash crop directly into the green manure. Both Hepperly and Moyer empahsized that you "can't get something from nothing"; when it comes to decreasing tillage we need to increase cover crops.

After the Rodale Institute session, the ag agents were off on a field trip, which was a good thing because I think ag agents tend to get antsy being "cooped up". Our destination was Greenbrier Farms where we were greeted by the owner and a gracious host, Joyce Palmer (shown right with her milking station). It was Joyce and her late husband's dream to have a farm where they could raise all-natural beef that is good for their customers as well as the environment. In addition to the all-natural beef, Greenbrier Farms also produces broilers (left), eggs and goats, as well as having an "alert llama" (below, left), pet turkeys, a community garden and a new greenhouse (below, right). Upon our arrival, Joyce was also celebrating becoming a certified raw milk dairy.

It was quite a fun trip, even if there wasn't many vegetables to see.

Greenbrier Farms is part of the Upstate Forever, a non-profit organization dedicated to smart growth and development of SC, as well as the protection of "special places" in the Upstate. We were fortunate after dinner (and dessert, of course) to hear from the Founder and Executive Director of Upstate Forever, Brad Wyche. Wyche shared with us the role of sustainable agriculture in a strong regional economic development program, as well as Upstate Forever's efforts to preserve farmland and rural communities.

As you can tell it was a busy two days! I can't wait to share with you the exciting information I learned. If you would like to hear more about the programs that I attended, give me a call or write me an email. I also encourage you to visit the website links above.

I will be back with Part Two later in the week.

: Part Two contains information about Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, tomato season extension, organic blueberry and caneberry (formerly brambles) production.