"We need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine."
- Michael Pollan



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 Spring Growth Conference Minimize

Saturday, March 4, 2017

10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Common Ground Education Center, Unity


$75 individual / $100 couples
(includes lunch)

Keynote speaker Will Brinton, Woods End Laboratories

Children's Programming at Spring Growth

MOFGA and Northwood Natural Learning are excited to announce a new youth program in conjunction with the annual Spring Growth Conference. While adults are learning inside, children will spend the day outside playing, exploring and learning. Programming is available for children over the age of 4. Childcare is available for younger children as well. Cost for the program is on a sliding scale of $20-$40 per child, but please do not let cost be a barrier. No one will be turned away due to cost. To register, or for more information, please contact Anna Libby
alibby@mofga.org or 568-4142.


9:30 a.m. - Registration

10:00 a.m. - Keynote

11:45 a.m. - Q&A with Will Brinton

12:00 p.m. - Lunch break

1:00 p.m. - Farmer Panel

3:00 p.m. - Wrap up; Q & A/ discussion

3:30 p.m. - End

- - - - -

Will Brinton

Keynote: Will Brinton, CEO/Chief Science Officer, Woods End Laboratories, Inc., Mount Vernon, Maine

Healthy Soil: A Biological-Plant Mediator and Microbial Battleground

Will Brinton started his soil testing lab because he believed organic farming required a different soil test. Conventional farming, based on mineral nutrition theory, is served by testing inorganic factors. Organic farming always professed to feed the soil in order that the soil feed the plant. What is the soil test for it?
Over time, many elements of mineral theory have moved over into organic practice. An example is the popular focus on soil mineral balancing. This talk will explore the need for a more demanding, soil biological perspective.
The new, emerging view of fertility is that soil is a vibrant, living (biological) system. This view is not new to organic practitioners. In this view, a healthy soil may be largely self-sustaining, supplying plants with what they need for nutrition and disease defense – without significant intervention. Yet, almost no soil testing services are able to say much about it.
Due to the increased popularity of "soil health" there is new interest in scientific means of depicting soil biology and soil degradation. If successful, these developments may influence and alter organic approaches. The sweeping innovation of No-Till, an outgrowth of intensive chemical farming, is putting pressure on organic practitioners to reexamine soil management methods. Is there a unifying, underlying biological view?

Some questions to be explored include are we trying to add microbes to soil by composting? Microbes like any other farm animals need to eat and will compete with other organisms to acquire and alter a niche. Adding manure and compost and using green manure crops should be seen as feeding indigenous organisms. The soil "battleground" of feeding cycles is also one its greatest strengths for the balance it attains acts to control and eliminating introduced disease organisms and confers long-term soil stability that reaches physical proportions.
Brinton will discuss how he developed a new biology test called Solvita as a means to introduce soil biology to mainstream soil-labs. The new approach has triggered debate on how well we understand soil fertility in general and if it is practical for farming. From the climate perspective, the talk will look at the larger plight of our soils in relation to global carbon, and what the chances are that after long-ignoring of biological components of soil the needed mediation of CO2 levels can come about by means of good farming.

Farmer Panel

Barbara (left) and Jason Kafka
Jason Kafka, Checkerberry Farm
Checkerberry Farm in Piscataquis County, Maine's Central Highlands, has been MOFGA-certified organic for more than 25 years. With 30 open acres, 20 of them tillable, Checkerberry grows no more than 10 acres per year of cash crops. The remaining 10 acres are in "recharge" mode, employing an array of tried and true, experimental, and benign neglect modes with the intent of keeping the Flywheel of Life spinning at a high rpm. A little more than 10,000 square feet in high tunnels and greenhouses completes the mix.

Lois Labbe (left) and Tom Roberts
Tom Roberts, Snakeroot Organic Farm
Snakeroot Organic Farm grows 5 acres of MOFGA-certified organic mixed veggies and culinary herbs, sold at farmers' markets in Orono, Pittsfield, Unity and Waterville. Tom Roberts and Lois Labbe also sell horseradish to Split Rock Distilling, sunchokes to Crown of Maine and garlic mail order via their website.
Since they lost their source of cow manure, they've been making compost from Pittsfield residential grass clippings, wood chips, municipal leaves and their own farm's vegetable waste. To this they add in the spring wood ashes from their home wood stove, from the greenhouse wood furnace and from the maple evaporator. They spread this selectively on a few of their fields, based on their four crop rotation schemes. They use no plastic mulches but mulch 2 of the 5 acres with shredded leaves, whole leaves, hay or wood chips, depending upon which crop is being mulched. They have about an acre of non-tree perennials, including grapes, rhubarb, sunchokes and horseradish. Tom and Lois are attempting to reduce their overall tillage on the garlic-potatoes-winter squash-long season-greens rotation by mulching those crops almost continuously throughout the four-year rotation. They believe that adding mulch has much of the same effect as growing a cover crop, except that the "cover crop" has been grown elsewhere and is imported to the fields. So, although they aren't incorporating whole living plants into the soil, they are bringing in new nutrients from off the farm. They also believe that keeping the soil mostly undisturbed and covered with decaying vegetable matter encourages a fungal dominance in the soil biota.

Daniel Mays
Daniel Mays, Frith Farm
Frith Farm is a diversified, MOFGA-certified organic farm on 14 acres in Scarborough, Maine. Now in its seventh season in operation, the farm offers organic vegetables and pasture-raised eggs, chicken, pork and turkeys.
Mays' mission is to build soil, increase biodiversity and strengthen community through growing wholesome food. Toward this end, he bases his practices on the following principles:
Biomimicry – Farm practices are modeled after the cyclic and resilient examples set by nature.
Chemical-free – Pesticides and highly soluble fertilizers are avoided in favor of slower, more sustained solutions.
Community – All sales are local, and customers are encouraged to visit the farm to see how their food is grown.
Organic Matter – Carbon is cherished as the foundation of healthy soil.
Respect – Farm animals are treated humanely and encouraged to exhibit their species' natural character.
Transparency – Openness and honesty surround all farming practices, and visitors are welcome on the farm at any time.
Quality – Freshness, taste and nutrition are top priorities and are not compromised in the name of volume or profit.


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