Sunday, May 22, 2016

Certified What? Weavers Way Farms Growing Practices

Eating Locally
By Emma Dosch, Field Manager
We want our consumers to be familiar with our growing practices and trust that our products are good for you and the environment. 
Our farming system follows organic growing methods, yet we are not certified organic. Organic certification requires farmers to demonstrate a system that begins with soil building and preventative pest and disease controls, as well as prohibiting chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.  It offers farmers a marketing opportunity where consumers (who may rarely ever go to the farm) can trust and understand the farm’s growing practices. The organic certification can be unwieldy in cost, record-keeping, and application to our urban locations.  Perhaps more importantly, we believe that our consumer’s unique relationship and interaction with our farms and farmers can create an authentic community-based understanding.  There are numerous ways we communicate our “organic” methods to our consumers. 

- 43% of our consumers are CSA members.  CSA members interact with our crops every week as they pick up their shares, they see farm staff working and can ask questions
- Coop members engage with our fields and farm staff by doing work hours at the farm
- Weavers Way shoppers can talk to store staff about the farms – many of whom have also done work hours at the farms!
- Our community can stay informed by reading the Shuttle and attending farm events
Our growing methods are described below and follow the standards set by the National Organic Program. 
Soil Testing – Prior to growing in a new field or area, we test for unsafe levels of toxic substances such as metals, mercury, selenium, arsenic, molybdenum, lead, and PCBs.  Each year we test for soil fertility and use organic fertilizer based on the needs of our soil. 
Fertilizer – Our fields primarily receive a fertilizer mixture derived from: peanut meal, blood meal, feather meal, greensand, bone charcoal, aragonite, and sulfur. 
Compost – Each year we apply around 200 yd3 of compost made at Saul High School to every inch of our fields. 
Cover Crops – We utilize cover crops throughout the year to add organic matter, prevent erosion, and combat annual weeds.  Since 2015 our farms have added a rotating fallow section to focus on cover cropping throughout the season and allow our soil to rest. 
Beneficial microorganisms – We occasionally add beneficial nematodes or symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria to our soil to increase natural populations. 
Potting Soil – We use organic potting mix from Vermont Compost Company for our seedling propagation. 
We purchase organic seed when available and the additional cost is not prohibitive.  Some varieties have been selected to be somewhat resistant to some diseases.  We often utilize these more resistant options in anticipation of certain diseases each year.  We do not use any seed that has been treated with fungicides or is genetically modified.  
Our entire growing system revolves around preventing pests, disease, and environmental issues from adversely affecting a crop’s productivity.  From selecting varieties, choosing planting dates, and using crop rotation, our disease and pest prevention begins before we plant a seed.
Preventative Practices –
For pests: row cover, insect netting, squishing, traps
For disease: crop rotation, good airflow, trellising and pruning when necessary, removing infected plants and debris
For weed management: Cultivation using hand tools (hoes), plastic mulch, close plant spacing, transplanting, mowing/weed whacking, creating stale seed beds by using tarps, handweeding
If a pest or disease issue is persistent and will significantly affect yields we may introduce beneficial insects or use an organically approved insecticide.  In 2013, we had a bad Mexican Bean Beetle infestation and introduced beneficial wasps that parasitize the bean beetle larvae.  The parasitic wasp lays its eggs inside the bean beetle larvae.  The wasp larvae feed on the insides of the bean beetle, kill it, pupate in it and emerge as adults.  A few common organic insecticides we may use are: neem oil, pyrethrens (oils from chrysanthemum flowers), kaolin clay, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) – a naturally-occurring bacteria, and insecticidal soaps. 
Our vegetables are immediately washed in cool fresh water after harvesting.  Any soil from the field is washed away, they are packed into boxes, bags or bins and refrigerated until they reach you – the consumer!  Some delicate vegetables are not washed or refrigerated to retain maximum freshness and flavor, and have minimal handling (mostly our tomatoes). 
Please take a minute to walk through the farms, see our fields and ask us questions this season!

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