Saturday, November 12, 2016

Diversity Gives Way to Bountiful Opportunities

Coppal House Farm, run by John and Carol Hutton sits on 78 acres in the beautiful Lee, N.H. John and Carol started the farm 11 years ago after previously farming in Stratham, N.H. They have a highly diversified operation that includes raising pigs, sheep, and chickens all while growing numerous vegetables. They are a mixed power farm meaning they use draft power and tractor power to accomplish tasks on the farm depending on which is more beneficial to use. Sleigh rides in the winter time and three large corn mazes attract many customers to drive to their farm stand on route 155. There are many interesting features of the farm but one that stands out is the production of sunflower oil.
Seven years ago John had the desire to grow hog feed at the farm. Pigs are their most expensive livestock to feed and being able to grow animal feed fits the goal of the farm to be diversified and sustainable. The option that the Huttons chose to go with was canola. They investigated how to grow it through Vermont Cooperative Extension and information available from growers in the Midwest. They purchased an oil press from Germany and were in the business of growing canola. Unfortunately, after two and half years of growing canola, the deer population discovered it and began munching away at it in the winter months when it is dormant after a fall planting. Deer are tricky to control in the winter time and they desolated the entire crop so it was time to find something else that could work.
At this point, growing sunflowers was the next best option. Transitioning to sunflower production was a breeze after growing canola because of how similar it is. Harvesting, pressing, bottling, and labeling are all identical with the two crops so no new equipment was needed. They use it to feed the hogs and can produce all of the hog ration (feeding roughly 30 winter-raised hogs) on their farm save for adding trace minerals. The sunflower meal, fibrous part left over after pressing, has a protein percentage as high as thirty-three percent! Processing the sunflowers also makes a beautiful sunflower oil that they sell in their farm stand and at farmers markets. Each year they run out of oil because it is in such high demand. The primary goal of the sunflower operation is to make hog feed; the high quality oil made on farm is a tremendous added benefit of sustainability at Coppal House farm.
The uniqueness of this operation lies in its rarity in New England. Coppal House is the only commercial sunflower grower in New England. Sunflower production in the U.S. is concentrated in the Midwest. It is also not highly common to use sunflower oil in this part of the country in cooking. European countries, especially France, use sunflower oil much more widely. Despite the fact of its uniqueness for the area that it is being grown in, the oil made at Coppal House Farm has received national recognition and awards. A National Culinary Award (similar to an academy award) was given to the farm this year and John got to speak about the farm and its products in front of 800 people. This award had considerations for farming practices used to grow the sunflowers and the oil had to go through a twelve person taste test before the award was given. As far as cooking uses are concerned, sunflower oil has many. It can be used for stir-fry, baking, and with high temperatures.  

Overall, the farming method used at Coppal House farm is one of diversity, integration, and sustainability. The farm has many functions and produces a wide variety of products and attractions. John and Carol are passionate about what they do and are willing to share with people why they do what they do. Both of them clearly believe in what they are doing. Visiting the farm is a worthwhile investment of time to see local agriculture in action, learn more about what they are doing, buy locally grown products, and to support agricultural in your neighborhood. To learn more about the farm visit for more information.  

Monday, October 3, 2016

Worst Drought in Northeast this Decade has Broad Impacts

               When the word drought is said, thoughts of California and the Salinas Valley come to mind. Thoughts of large Midwestern irrigation system and raging wildfires also emerge. Most do not think of the Northeast as a place of drought. But if you are a farmer in the Northeast or have spent any time here for the past two summer you probably know about the current drought conditions.
                In the Northeast currently and during the summer farmers were and are wrestling with the worst drought the region has seen in a decade. This creates quite a problem when considering the fact that the Northeast contains 175,000 farms that produce $21 billion in food, hay, and flowers[1]. Total production will likely not reach this figure due to lack of rainfall. Some farms that usually produce 2 or 3 cuts of hay may only mange producing one cut this year.
Precipitation has been below average for nearly all of the Northeast. Most of Connecticut and Massachusetts, and all of Rhode Island received below 75% of normal rainfall from March to June[2]. This is also true for large areas of New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In contrast, parts of West Virginia broke record rainfall amounts in the month of June. The USDA reported that in early July the moisture in topsoil was very short for 51% of New York and 60% of New England. Subsoil moisture was very short for 47% of New York and 56% of New England[3].
The Northeast drought may not be as severe as the five-year drought currently plaguing the West coast but conditions are hot and dry enough to stress crops and have prompted water restrictions and bans in many towns. Increased numbers of wildfires are also a concern. Some national weather experts are saying that these conditions could last until the end of October and beyond[4]. If one state were to be dubbed the epicenter of this drought it would be Massachusetts. The United States Drought Monitor shows that three quarters of the state are in some kind of drought condition and nearly the entire state is dry[5]. Katie Campbell-Nelson, a vegetable production specialist with UMass Extension reported yield and quality decrease in produce across the state and increased irrigation costs.
One farm that is experiencing the negative impacts of the drought is the Warner Farm of Sunderland, Mass. run by Mike Wisseman and his family[6]. The farm is situated in the Connecticut River Valley with silty clay soil that holds water well. Despite this fact, Wissemann thinks that his farm lost tens of thousands of dollars due to the dry conditions. They were unable to plant the 2 or 3 acres of sweet corn or produce a second crop of zucchini like they usually do. The Wissemann family couldn't spend as much time working the land because they were busy installing irrigation lines.
There is hope for those who make a living through agriculture and there are steps that can be taken to aid in times of need. Masoud Hashemi at the University of Massachusetts says that many farmers are calling for information about transitioning to no-till agriculture[7]. This means that crops are planted on top of existing vegetative matter from previous plantings rather than the land being conventionally tilled. Erosion concerns are minimized with this practice because naturally occurring soil aggregates are broken up and softened when soil is tilled. Soil is allowed to go undisturbed and perform some of its normal functions such as acting like a sponge to hold water and nutrients well. Crop rotation, cover cropping, and pasture rotation are other practices that promote soil health and  reduce losses experienced in a drought.
The satellite-activated U.S. Drought Monitor, located at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, is the go-to online map for Northeast farmers[8]. It has the ability to detect when a drought is on the way before the human eye can. Warning in advance is good but farmers also need to plan ahead. The impacts of a drought can be heartbreaking so farmers need a plan for how to prepare for and deal with conditions of low water.

[1] Kaufman, Jill. "Northeast Farmers Grapple With Worst Drought in More Than a Decade." NPR, 30 Aug. 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016.
[2] Mecray, Ellen. "Drought Impacts and Outlook." Northeast Regional Climate Center, July 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016
[3] Mecray, Ellen. "Drought Impacts and Outlook." Northeast Regional Climate Center, July 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016
[4] Casey, Michael. "Drought Hits Northeastern US, Could Last Months." The New York Times, 24 July 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016.
[5] Casey, Michael. "Drought Hits Northeastern US, Could Last Months." The New York Times, 24 July 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016.
[6] Kaufman, Jill. "Northeast Farmers Grapple With Worst Drought in More Than a Decade." NPR, 30 Aug. 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016.
[7] Kaufman, Jill. "Northeast Farmers Grapple With Worst Drought in More Than a Decade." NPR, 30 Aug. 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016.
[8] Kaufman, Jill. "Northeast Farmers Grapple With Worst Drought in More Than a Decade." NPR, 30 Aug. 2016. Web. 03 Oct. 2016.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Honeyberries: The New Fruit In Town

Honeyberries: The New Fruit In Town

....Is it a blueberry? ....Is it a grape? Neither! The honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea L.), also known as "haskap" in Japan, is native to Russia and up until recently was seen primarily in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Canada. It is part of the edible honeysuckle family, which contains mostly shrubs and vines. Generally grown in temperate regions, it is a cold hardy shrub to -54 degrees fahrenheit. Several varieties are viable for USDA climate zones 1-8. Ideal for farmers in New England, honeyberries can be harvested in the spring, earlier than nearly all other fruit in the area. Additionaly, the honeyberry grows well in a range of soil types. It is a wonder they aren't being sold at every farmers market in the Northeast! The berries have a distinctive taste- with their outer skin being sour and a tangly flavor inside. They are often described as tasting like a combination between a blueberry and a raspberry.  It's common to see the berry used in jams, pies, ice cream, or just eaten right off the bush! Yield and taste are dependent on a variety of environmental factors such as: climate, variety, soil condition, and insect population for pollination.

     Cultivation of the honeyberry is through cross pollination. Moreover, it requires two unrelated varieties of honeyberries planted in close proximity for pollination to take place. Dormant stem cuttings (placed in water or in the ground) allows the plant to root easily. A soilless mixture is ideal until the roots have developed. If you have purchased a non-dormant plant, an acclimation period is imperative to minimize environmental stress. It's important to watch out for factors that may cause damage, including excessively high or low temperatures, wind, direct sunlight, or frost snaps.   

      Once transplanted into prepared beds, the plants have shown to do best in a moderately moist soil, with a pH around 6.5 and organically amended mixtures. Space transplants 4 to 6 apart, in an area of your garden with good sunlight. Mulching approximately 5 feet in diameter is advised. Watering frequently in the first couple years is required, but much less is needed once fruiting occurs. In fact, honeyberries are exceptionally drought-tolerant. It generally takes 3-4 years for significant amounts of berries to be seen. The plants average at 3 to 5 feet tall. Like with any fruit crop, there will most likely be critters that will want to feed on either the bush or the berries themselves. Some of these include birds, deer, chipmunks, rabbits, voles, etc. Putting a fence or bird netting around your bushes may be helpful to reduce or eliminate the problem. 

       In a time where loss of biodiversity is so prevalent, nothing is more exciting that introducing a new species into the area! This crop is ideal for small to medium scale farmers in the northeast for a variety of reasons. Little attention is required, high yields on relatively small sized bushes, and high value are just some of them. Scientists are using selective breeding to further promote high-yielding plants. Because they are so new to the area, insect pest pressures should be relatively low. Furthermore, honeyberries are a great option for organic growers or no-spray growers, who are looking to avoid pesticides. Being the first farmer in your area to have honeyberries could mean great success for your business! Now ask yourself, why on earth wouldn't you grow honeyberries?! 
Ingvaldson, Bernis. "Move Over, Blueberries?" Acres USA Feb. 2016: 33-35. Print.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

UNH Students Integrate Agriculture Systems to Create Food Security

Project OASIS (Optimizing Aquaponic Systems to Improve Sustainability) is the name of a research project started in January 2016, by a group of engineering students at the University of New Hampshire. The goal of their project is to "develop an energy efficient, sustainable hydroponic system that will provide the food insecure with a source of local nutritious food." These students have been collecting data and discussing their plans for this project since their freshmen year at the university, and are now working with UNH's College of Life Sciences and Agriculture, along with the New Hampshire Agriculture Experiment Station at the Macfarlane Research Greenhouses on this research.

The project was kicked off when four engineering students, Paige Balcom, Siddharth Nigam, Will Taveras, and Allison Wood made plans to create a sustainable aquaponics system down in Honduras. Unfortunately the plans for Honduras fell through; however, the students found a new location in Costa Rica with the help of Professor Andrew Ogden. The students traveled to Uvita, a small community in Costa Rica, during their winter break in January 2016. The students chose this site as a model for a community that does not have the resources to produce or access fresh food. This community's land lacks the fertile soil necessary to grow vegetables, and the cost of food continues to increase. It's also prohibited to fish on the coastline in this community because the land and ocean are part of a National Park which does not allow fishing. The aquaponic system that the students plan to build in this community could potentially provide both fresh vegetables and a source of protein for the people, creating a more secure food system.

During this initial visit, the students visited the community, collected site data, and spoke with many members of the Uvita community who are interested in helping with this project. After returning home, the students quickly got to work on the construction of the model system and the scalability of the system considering the site location. The students are working with Dr. Todd Guerdat, Professor Andrew Ogden, and several other UNH students in the Macfarlane Research Greenhouses. Their goal is to build a sustainable aquaponics system that is economically and environmentally feasible in the Uvita community and potentially many other communities around the globe. The system has been up and running in the greenhouses since March, and further testing is being done to review its efficiency and potential. 

Project OASIS has received funding from their third place finish in the student category at the Social Venture Innovation Challenge, as well as from the Ocean Engineering Program, and a grant from Emeriti Council. The UNH Peter T. Paul Entrepreneurship Center also awarded the team a Summer Seed Grant. The team is excited to head back down to Costa Rica this summer to build the system for the Uvita community. Although the originators of this project are seniors, many other students have shown interest in continuing their research in upcoming years. Dr. Todd Guerdat and his team will continue to research these aquaponic systems with a goal to integrate agricultural systems in order to maximize nutrient recycling and resource management.

For more information and updates on the project, visit Project OASIS on Facebook! 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Data Loggers: Monitoring Made Easy!
The Hobolink Data loggers are an innovative technology that Farm to YoU NH adopted in August of 2015. Andrew Ogden, Farm to YoU NH instructor, was rewarded with a grant from The Tuttle Foundation's Endowment for Environmental Horticulture at UNH which helps to supports horticulture education, teaching, and research here at UNH. This has allowed Farm to YoU NH to better monitor and manage environmental conditions in our high tunnels. This system measures many variables in our field and high tunnels that allow students to track the micro-environment for our farming systems online. Hobolink uses sensors in the beds and a datalogger to measure specific variables: soil and air temperature, relative humidity (%), water content of soil, dew point, and photosynthetic active radiation (PAR). They are connected to a WiFi hot-spot that is installed in the heated high tunnel; this allows for 24 hours monitoring. The students can access this data online from any location to see the status of the farm. Having this system helps Farm to YoU NH stay as efficient as possible because the students can adjust the amount of irrigation and ventilation needed in the tunnels and on the field for optimal efficiency while also reducing waste. The Hobolink online database takes the data from the remote locations and create a chart for each variable measured. The changes in data are tracked for analysis and to make comparisons between the tunnels and the field, as well as making comparison between months, etc.

The set up of our data loggers in the high tunnels
The cost of the equipment itself is fairly reasonable- the unit itself costs about $900 and each individual sensor is an additional $100-200.  It's an investment for any grower to choose to make, but so far it has proven to be a very valuable resource to the class.  Our data logger is connected to a WiFi hotspot that is set up in our heated high tunnel, but there are other options for internet connection, such as direct connecting an Ethernet cord or by using cellular service.  They do not require a lot of electricity and can be run off of a very simple solar panel, allowing for use even in remote off-grid areas.  We have incredible technology at our disposal and can access the information our data loggers record whenever we want. The links to the information that is recorded by our three sensors are posted below and we encourage you to take a look!


Heated tunnel:

Unheated tunnel:

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Farm to YoU NH- Then... and Now!

We are now in our fourth year of production here at Farm to YoU NH at UNH (36 Spinney Lane at the Fairchild Dairy in Durham, NH). It has been an amazing adventure to see how the student participants of this program have transformed the way in which this farm runs and all the ideas we have put into action.

Take a look at our first ever blog to see how far we’ve come: Get to know Farm to YoU NH.

Starting in 2012, the students (with help of one instructor, SAFS lecturer Andrew Ogden, and a production coordinator/teaching assistant) have built two 90ft x 30ft high tunnels as well as formed two growing fields that comprise roughly a half acre. Farm to YoU NH began producing food in October 2012; just two months after the tunnels were finished and the class itself began in spring 2013. We now deliver a variety of crops ranging from salad mix and head lettuce, to tomatoes and peppers to the UNH Dairy Bar, Conference and Catering, and the three UNH Dining Halls here on campus. In total, we delivered 2519lbs to the Dairy Bar, 1,800 to catering, and 672lbs to the dining halls in the 2014-15 school year alone. Three new initiatives during this year for Farm to YoU NH include micro-greens production, cut flower production, and hydroponic lettuce production.

See what else that we’ve done in our community!
Farm to YoU NH and the Local Community
                Harvest Day at the Farm!

In the fall of 2014 the class decided to plant a pollinator bed from the middle of the outdoor growing field in hopes of attracting beneficial insects to our field by providing them a habitat.  Dr. Cathy Neal, landscape extension specialist here at UNH, provided plugs of pollinator plants to use in the pollinator bed.  In the summer of 2015 it was decided to add a second pollinator bed below the field and the high tunnels, which was planted with transplants that were seeded in the high tunnels. This helped increase the natural flow of the pollinator population throughout the field and high tunnels. It has also added to the aesthetic beauty of our fields.

This semester, we are growing strawberries, garlic and a combination of winter rye and hairy vetch as a cover crop in the fields.  In our unheated high tunnel we are growing onions, carrots, kale, Swiss chard and an array of herbs.  The heated high tunnel is growing kale, Swiss chard, spinach, Mache (a very cold hardy leafy green vegetable), head lettuce and salad mix.  We just constructed a germination incubator which is a foam box with a heating pad where we will begin to grow two varieties of ginger and turmeric.
We are currently in the process of establishing this year’s crops! We have discussed and intend to grow some cultivars that were bred by University faculty, Dr. Becky Sideman and Brent Loy. Dr. Sideman has developed a tomato variety grown from hanging baskets which would minimize the space needed to grow tomatoes! Dr. Loy is a plant breeder who has multiple varieties of melons and squash available from numerous regional and national seed vendors We will be using a variety of his squash in our “Three Sisters” planting of corn, beans, and squash. Brent has also created a spineless variety of summer squash which makes harvesting much easier! Using these varieties will allow this program to hone in on all of the University's assets.
In the last four years the class has flourished, networked, and has made a name for itself. We have implemented the use of four separate teams that all play important roles to our class as a whole: Propagation, Production, Records Keeping, and Social Media. Each team has various responsibilities and tasks to accomplish throughout the semester, which allows the class and farm to function smoothly.

                View, Like, and Follow all of our pages on Social Media!

  Fifteen to twenty-five students have actively participated in the course each semester since the start of the program. The class offers a great opportunity for students to gain practical first-hand experience about vegetable production and farm management all the while getting their hands a little dirty.

THEN- 2014
NOW- 2016

Thursday, February 11, 2016

At Home Season Extension: How to Keep Your Backyard Garden Growing Into the Fall

At Home Season Extension: How to Keep Your Backyard Garden Growing Into the Fall 

It's that time of year again; the days are getting shorter, the nights are colder and the mornings are frosty. Things in the garden are dying back, maybe some of your more cold hardy crops are still hanging on but for the most part the outdoor growing season is over. As you drive by the university you may gaze longingly at the high-tunnels and greenhouses you pass on the road, wondering, "is there some way that I can extend the growing season in my backyard without one of these big, expensive high-tunnels?"
Well as a matter of fact there is! There are a number of ways that anyone can construct a low-cost, season extending structures in their backyard. Here at Farm to YoUNH we are very lucky to have access to our two high-tunnels, one of which is heated, that allow us to grow food all through the winter; so we wanted to publish a guide on how you at home can continue growing some crops into and over the winter without a hi-tech, expensive structure.

Ways to extend the growing season:

One of the easiest ways to help a garden grow longer into the season is by making a cold frame. A cold frame is essentially an insulated bed usually made of hay or straw bales and covered with plastic or glass. The beauty of the cold frame is that they are both easy and inexpensive to construct. You can use materials that you have lying around in your backyard, or with things that you can buy at a hardware store. The first step to a cold frame is to outline your beds with straw or hay bales; both are excellent insulators and can be cheaply purchased from local farms. Once your bed is framed by the bales, you can add
plastic or glass over the top and secure it to the bales. Cold frames are extremely simple to construct and maintain and provide a warm enough environment to keep your plants alive longer into the fall, and protect them from frost damage.

Another easy way to protect your crops that are already planted in the ground is to make a low tunnel over them. A low tunnel is just a series of hoops, usually of pvc pipe over a section of rebar, over the crop, and then cover with either plastic or a fabric covering like Re-may. Covering the hoops with fabric will protect the crops from frost damage, but will not have much of an effect on the temperature inside the tunnel. Covering with plastic will help to actually raise the temperature and relative humidity around the plant, which will encourage more growth as well as protecting the crops from frost at night. Low tunnels are ideal to keep your lettuce or spinach growing well into the fall, but the height of the tunnels can be adjusted to fit over any crop.

Benefits of At-Home Season Extension:

So is it worth your time as a backyard gardener to build some type of season extension structure over your garden? Of course it is! All of these structures are very easy and cheap to build, making it a great option for anyone to do at home on any budget. Extending the season of your garden has many benefits as well. The earlier in the season you build a season extension structure, the later into the season you can plant for a late fall or early winter harvest, and you can give your already planted crops a late season boost that will have you harvesting your own produce well into the winter. As the season progresses, the plants require less water and fertilizer, weed pressure will be minimal if not completely nonexistent making maintenance a breeze. Once you have built the structures, they can be used in the spring to give yourself an early start to the garden as well; and they are easy to break down, put away or recycle the materials and then rebuild at the end of the summer. Season extension is an easy way for anyone, farmer or backyard gardener, to keep the garden growing well into the winter, you don't have to have a big fancy high tunnel to reap the benefits of season extension technology.