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Gathering Moss

Gathering Moss
Video: Betting the Farm


Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses
by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Oregon State University Press, 2003; http://osupress.oregonstate.edu/book/gathering-moss
176 pgs., paperback, $18.95

Who would have thought that a book about moss would be interesting enough to actually read? Not I. But when a friend put the book in my hands and told me for the third time that I would like it, I gave it a try.

The book does describe the huge variety of mosses from the scientist’s perspective, including Latin names and distinguishing features, but that isn’t what kept me reading. It’s the way Kimmerer describes mosses as a part of the interconnected mystery of life that is such a delight.

Kimmerer weaves her own story of Native heritage and scientific training into the story of moss. In the indigenous way of knowing, she says, “we say that a thing cannot be understood until it is known by all four aspects of our being: mind, body, emotion and spirit.” The scientific way engages only mind and body in gathering and interpreting information.

Mosses have many uses, Kimmerer says, but they are rarely eaten by insects, birds or mammals. One surprising exception is the bear. The indigestible fiber of mosses has been discovered in the anal plug produced by hibernating bears. Apparently just before entering the winter den, bears may eat a large quantity of moss which binds up their digestive system, preventing defecation during the long winter sleep.

Soft and pliable mosses are woven into birds’ nests and line nests to insulate and cushion fragile eggs. Flying squirrels, voles, chipmunks and bears are among the many animals that use moss for nesting material.

“It seems as if the entire forest is stitched together of threads of moss,” says the author, and she describes how many ferns are rooted in mosses. Moss mats serve as nurseries for tree seedlings, and a specialized class of fungi, essential to forest function, resides in the soil beneath the moss carpet.

We use sphagnum moss in our planting media for its ability to hold and absorb 20 to 40 times its weight in water. “This rivals the performance of Pampers, making it the first disposable diaper,” Kimmerer observes in her discussion of the custom of native people to keep babies clean and dry with moss.

“When we steward the earth for our children,” the author comments, “we are living like Sphagnum.”


– Joyce White


by Richard Horan
Harper, 2012
336 pgs., paperback; $14.99

In 2010, in response to criticisms about hiring foreign farm labor, the United Farm Workers challenged Americans to take jobs harvesting crops. Richard Horan did just that, visiting several U.S. farms throughout 2011 and writing a chapter about each one.

For someone who knows nothing about agriculture or current issues in farming, this book will be enlightening and entertaining. It covers several crops and farming and marketing styles, and introduces dedicated farmers intent on saving the land and its biodiversity. Horan doesn’t delve deeply into any one farm but writes breezily about each, with liberal editorializing and abundant footnoting, often about his own life. This style can be distracting for someone looking for in-depth information about a particular farm, but easy to read for those just learning about agricultural issues.

MOFGA members may be most interested in the time Horan and his daughter spent sorting potatoes from rocks at Jim and Megan Gerritsen’s Wood Prairie Farm in Aroostook County, Maine. Horan compares Jim to Abraham Lincoln and Megan to an Olympic athlete. He admires the team spirit of the family as it works together, with some hired help; of the Gerritsen girls, Sarah and Amy, doing cartwheels in the soft earth of the potato field when they finish harvesting one row; of Jim’s intensity whether farming or fighting Monsanto. At Wood Prairie Farm and others covered in the book, Horan’s respect for authentic farmers permeates his writing.

Betting the Farm
Scene from Betting the Farm. Aaron Bell and Carly DelSignore of Tide Mill Farm share a light moment. Photo courtesy of Pull-Start Pictures.

– J E



Betting the Farm
84-minute video by Maine filmmakers Cecily Pingree and Jason Mann, Pull-Start Pictures, 2012
Schedule of showings at www.bettingthefarmfilm.com/screenings/
$15 from bettingthefarmfilm.com/store/video/betting-the-farm-dvd/; also available from iTunes and Amazon Prime

This beautiful, powerful documentary follows the development of the MOO Milk Company (Maine’s Own Organic Milk) after H.P. Hood pulled out of Maine in 2009, leaving 10 remote dairy farmers without a buyer.

The film document farmers Vaughn Chase, Richard Lary, Aaron Bell and their families for two years as they work to get MOO Milk going with entrepreneur Bill Eldridge. They join with MOFGA and Maine Farm Bureau to create a special limited liability corporation (denounced by Rush Limbaugh on his radio show for having a social mission).

Initial slow sales and mounting debt (at one point the farmers are owed more than $200,000, and Bangor Hydro is threatening to turn off the power at Tide Mill Farm) seriously threaten the effort and lead to discord among the farmers and within their families. The frank portrayal of this stress is just one strong point of Betting the Farm, and it is a low point after which the viewer is treated to news of rising sales, an influx of money from investors, and the farmers’ agreement to convert back pay into stock to keep the enterprise going. By the end of the film, despite no regional advertising campaign, MOO Milk is in 200 New England stores and is adding new farms.

Getting to know the farmers through the film is a wonderful experience. I feel more connected – especially to Aaron Bell and Carly DelSignore of Tide Mill Farm – after being allowed “into” their home, business and life, including Carly’s pregnancy and the arrival of a new baby during the whole MOO Milk process. I had been buying MOO Milk before seeing the film, but I buy it more fervently after seeing what these farmers (and the associated businesses – Smiling Hill Farm, Crown o’ Maine Organic Co-op, Oakhurst, Schoppee Milk Transport) went through to keep this part of Maine agriculture going.

The film also portrays MOFGA’s executive director at the time, a healthy-looking Russell Libby, as he helps craft marketing and other business solutions. These scenes are touching for anyone who knew him, and his observation that “The new model may be that you figure out how to do things with other people” is so Russell.

Those involved in MOO Milk, including the filmmakers, have done a great service in showing us a way forward (not to mention producing a delicious and healthful product).

– J E



The Beginning Farmer Resource Network (BFRN) is a collaboration by several agricultural service providers, including MOFGA, coordinated by Tori Jackson, professor of agriculture and natural resources in the Androscoggin-Sagadahoc counties office of UMaine Cooperative Extension. It addresses concerns among beginning farmers about available services and answers commonly asked questions. Learn about taxes, financing, USDA programs to find land, who the local large animal veterinarians are, and how to balance farm and family life. http://umaine.edu/new-farmers/

Food MythBusters: Do we really need industrial agriculture to feed the world? This superb 6-1/2-minute video by Anna Lappé and the Real Food Media Project convincingly challenges the myths put out by multinational corporations that industrial agriculture is the only way to feed the world. The video shows how sustainable agriculture can feed people while conserving the environment. Two short “Food Hero” videos on foodmyths.org movingly highlight two organic farms.

The USDA’s new Organic Resource Guide is an overview of USDA programs and services available to the public that support organic agriculture. It includes agencies that provide technical information, education, business development and marketing information, and other services to organic farmers, ranchers and handlers. It also provides contact information for agencies and individuals. www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5100093

Seeds of Doubt. Videos of experts’ talks about problems related to genetically engineered foods and the herbicide glyphosate. Includes Jeffrey Smith, Don Huber and Gilles-Eric Seralini, at the 2012 Seeds of Doubt Conference in Los Angeles.

The Cornell Small Farms Program has 12 YouTube videos on grazing – from setting up electric fence, water systems and laneways to addressing weeds or drought. www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLeB3pvIz7iiGMpBcmeYP1WLHS_DtLJbEs&feature=plcp

Willowpedia, hosted by Cornell University, supports a community of knowledge on the academic study and commercial use of shrub willow for bioenergy, biofuels, bioproducts and environmental engineering and horticultural applications.

Best Practices for Sampling at Farmers Markets: A Practical Guide for Farmers Market Vendors, is a free online manual for farmers and farmers market managers. http://news.ca.uky.edu/article/sampling-impacts-purchases-farmers-markets

Sharing the Harvest: A Guide to Bridging the Divide Between Farmers Markets and Low-Income Shoppers is a 12-page PDF to help communities link farmers’ markets and low-income shoppers. The full project report, Farmers Markets for All: Exploring Barriers and Opportunities for Increasing Fresh Food Access by Connecting Low-Income Communities with Farmers Markets, is also available at www.asapconnections.org/index.php

Finding Your Niche: A Marketing Guide for Kansas Farms tells how to set prices, develop a wholesale business with restaurants and institutions, set up online marketing, and more. http://kansasruralcenter.blogspot.com/2012/12/local-food-news.html

The UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) has developed a Rain Garden smart phone app available from iTunes. The app, targeted to homeowners and contractors, leads the user through siting, sizing, construction, planting and maintaining a rain garden. Tools help the user calculate the proper size of the garden, learn about local soil conditions, estimate the price of construction, and customize a plant list. Six short videos explain rain garden care and feeding. Currently for iPhones, but an Android version is coming. Imagery and plants are specific to Connecticut, but a national version is in the works. http://nemo.uconn.edu/tools/app/raingarden.htm



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