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Mark Bittman: New Farmers Find their Footing

Eliot Coleman was one of Chelsea Green’s very first authors back in the mid-1980s. His easy explanations of deep organic farming techniques have been inspiring others since then, and now a legion of new farm entrepreneurs are following the path he helped blaze.

New York Times columnist Mark Bittman looks at Coleman’s legacy, and sees that young organic growers are figuring out how to make a nice little pile of green (money, that is).

When Brenna Chase was farming in Connecticut a few years back, new farmers weren’t always welcome by oldsters. The pie, she says, just wasn’t big enough. “But now,” she said to me here, where she now farms, “the feeling is that the pie is getting bigger and that the more people that get into this the better it will be for everyone.”

By “this,” she means sustainable farming (here I use the term interchangeably with “organic” because many ethical farmers can’t afford organic certification), and the poised 33-year-old, who began farming in high school, is representative of young people I’ve met all over the country. These are people whose concern for the environment led to a desire to grow — and eat — better food. And although chefs still get more attention, the new farmers deserve recognition for their bold and often creative directions. … There’s only a quarter as much land in farming in Maine as there was 100 years ago, but that’s changing. There are more farms today (up around 50 percent since 1992), more acres in farms and more money generated by farming than there were 20 years ago. This is, at least in part, thanks to people like Ms. Chase, who follow in the footsteps (foodsteps?) of one of the granddaddies of can-do, intensive organic farming, Eliot Coleman. Mr. Coleman runs Four Season Farm in Harborside with his wife, the gardening writer Barbara Damrosch, and has squarely faced nearly every challenge a new farmer can since he started in 1968. Now, the 1.5 acres he cultivates, mostly in vegetables, are not only almost unimaginably lush (Ms. Damrosch’s gorgeous flowers don’t hurt), but they’re so productive that, in his cheerful, wise way, Mr. Coleman almost gloats: “You couldn’t be in a less likely spot than here to do what we’re doing,” he says, “and yet we’ve transformed a poor, wooded area into a place where there’s nothing we can’t grow.” I marvel at his artichokes; he responds: “I grow them just to make the Californians nervous.” Now 71, Mr. Coleman maintains his long-range view. (He delights in telling the story about unloading a truckload of free clamshells when a county agent came by. “The agent,” says Mr. Coleman, “was incredulous: ‘Those aren’t going to break down for 100 years!’ But I was thinking, ‘I have 100 years of free fertilizer here!’ ”) And he clearly loves the work. (“If work is what you do when you’re not doing what you want,” he quips, “I haven’t worked a day in my life.”) Read the entire article.


Tips on No-Till Farming and Cover Crops

In the below Q&A, author and permaculture designer Shawn Jadrnicek answers questions about no-till farming and the use of cover crops from two readers (one from North Carolina, and the other from Nova Scotia). In his groundbreaking book, The Bio-Integrated Farm, Jadrnicek provides in-depth information on water flow management along with projects that use the free forces of nature—gravity, […] Read More

Reimagining Restoration as a Radical Act

Finding ways to manage “invasive” species as we’ve come to know them has sparked a vigorous debate within conservation and restoration communities, as well as farmers, gardeners, and permaculturalists.In her thought-provoking book Beyond the War on Invasive Species, author Tao Orion urges us to rethink and reimagine restoration as a way to break out of […] Read More

What Can Wisteria Do For Your Forest Garden?

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Tips on Perennial Crops with Eric Toensmeier

Eric Toensmeier is the award-winning author of Perennial Vegetables, Paradise Lot, and most recently The Carbon Farming Solution—a groundbreaking new book that treats agriculture as an important part of the climate change solution, rather than a global contributor to the problem. As part of our “Ask the Expert” series going on throughout the month of May to celebrate […] Read More

How to Design Swales for Optimum Water Flow

May has arrived! The birds are chirping, flowers are budding, and it’s time to officially celebrate Permaculture Month.Throughout the next few weeks, we are putting our pioneering permaculture authors to work for you in our “Ask the Experts” series. If you are looking to become a better permaculturalist, there’s still time to participate. Submit your questions here.Today’s topic is […] Read More
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