Congratulations! The board of the Nell Newman Foundation, Inc. is awarding Northeast Organic Farming Association a donation in the amount of $2,500 specifically to fund The Natural Farmer project. The board is very inspired by the work your organization is doing. — Evelyn Fasheh, Nell Newman Foundation, Inc. (August 5, 2019)
Thank you Evelyn.
This comes as a complete surprise but my colleagues in NOFA will be very pleased at your support. — Jack Kittredge and Julie Rawson, editors
What a dose of spring tonic I received in my mailbox this morning: The BRILLIANT choice of SEEDS as the subject of the supplement, and your review of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, “Braiding Sweetgrass,” profoundly appreciative of her voice and message(s), and bringing to my attention topics covered that I do not even recall from my reading of it two years ago.
I will check it out and reread it, with pleasure, and can assure you that I have introduced it to friends who have in turn given their friends copies and talked it up.
This issue just hits the spot–bringing sweetness like maple syrup this reader, preparing ground, planting, and dreaming of sunny summer weather surely on its way–? English cool and moist climate perhaps has left the British Isles to establish itself in Vermont. Even in the chilly May and June days of the ’70s, we could send the children out to catch the school bus in their winter jackets, knowing the day would warm up so that by the time they’d line up for the afternoon bus, those jackets would be forgotten in the heat of the day!
THANK YOU for your discerning heart! Really, I have not seen as fine an appreciation of “Braiding Sweetgrass” anywhere! — Beth Champagne
Thanks for the high compliments! I don’t generally hear from readers much, so this is very much appreciated. I’m glad you enjoyed the issue and it brought the sweetness of spring that has been a little slow coming around here! Yes, Robin’s book is a real pleasure to read and her insights are so apt that I learn from each one. – Jack
Hello NOFA folk,
I am only a gardener, but I don’t use chemicals. Would you sometime do an article – perhaps in my new favorite periodical, The Natural Farmer, on how those of us who try to be organic gardeners might discourage invasive species such as locust trees and Chinese bittersweet and the invasive honeysuckle without using chemicals? I wrote this plea onto the list serve, but my question was moved off the list. — Katherine Conway
Excellent idea! Perhaps we might even devote a whole issue to the topic of invasive species. There are certainly enough thoughtful and conflicting opinions to go around, and that generally makes a good topic. Anyone else out there think this is a good one? As part of it, of course, we would devote space to ways of dealing with invasives, if that is your choice, in an organic, effective and safe manner. In the Meantime, here is a thoughtful response from my co-editor:
Especially as one moves toward no till, as we have with our 3+ acres of vegetables and small fruits, the topic of invasives becomes more and more a consideration on our farm. We have an infestation of Bishops weed in parts of our gardens, and of course burdock, yellow dock, thistle, grass and all the other perennials that have figured out how to grow fast and heartily.
For a minute we should stop and remember that all of these plants have a purpose and that particularly with plants that we call invasives, they come in to repair injured or played out land. They can photosynthesize faster than their neighbors and have found strategies to stay put once they get a toe hold. So first we need to celebrate that they are providing incredible ecosystem services for our land and our atmosphere in their carbon sequestration and support of the important soil micro-organisms that work so well with them.
That said, diligence is the only practice that I can think of that works to keep them at bay – and let’s not eradicate them – because diversity is a good thing, and likely they know better than we do how to work cooperatively in the environment for the benefit of more species. Clipping, moving, pulling (carefully) occultating (shading), and finding animals to raise that like to eat them are my favorite methods. And my favorite tool to keep handy is a rogue hoe – – because they are heavy and sharp and do the job quickly.
But in the end, I think that if we think of invasives as worthy adversaries in the game of life and survival, and appreciate them and their place in the world, they will no longer feel like worthless pests but an enjoyable gaming partner that helps us see more broadly around ourselves and become more of a partner with nature. – Julie Rawson, Many Hands Organic Farm
We received several responses to our offer to trade kittens for puppies a while back in an effort to break the monopoly on these farm animals held by the shelter industry. Here are some of the comments. — Jack
To allow cats to continue to make kittens, year after year, while millions of homeless cats die, or are euthanized, is just ignorant, cruel and irresponsible. For every kitten that you rehome, another kitten, somewhere, is not.
Shelter kittens are dewormed, deflead, vaccinated and spayed/neutered before adoption (the only way to ensure those kittens do not grow up to contribute to the cycle). I doubt Julie ensures her kittens are all neutered before they are adopted. The cost would be prohibitive.
Anyone in need of a farm cat can adopt from several shelters with specific programs for cats best suited for this outdoor life, cats who, for various reasons, can not tolerate living in a home.
Cats are not crops. — Respectfully, Amy Redder
Farm cats are more than pet animals who can’t tolerate living in a home. We need them for the same reason farmers have needed cats for millenia — to keep down the rodent population. We store grain here, as do many farmers, as feed. That attracts rats and without cats soon the farm would be infested with dozens of rats. That would be a public health problem, involve our town, perhaps making it impossible for us to farm.
So few people in America are farmers these days that I am not surprised that not more are aware of the need for cats on farms. It is not the same kind of life a pet has. Cats here are working animals, living outdoors, finding the majority of their diet themselves, risking being someone else’s lunch because of the many wild creatures around (owls, coyotes, fisher cats, etc.) who would happily eat a cat. My understanding is that cats evolved in the wild, not in human homes, and can stick up for themselves in the rough and tumble of nature.
A cat that has lived as a pet for any extended period might have forgotten those skills, and I can understand not wanting house pets to suddenly compete in the wilderness. But newborn cats of farm cat mothers are taught what they don’t already know instinctively about survival.
Our experience with shelters is that they do not understand or support farm animal life. When we approached a shelter for a farm dog the price was between $400 and $500. I don’t know what cats would cost, but such prices are unrealistic for farmers needing several and likely to lose one or two in a year. That could easily run to a thousand dollars or more, which I am sure you would agree is prohibitive.
I think we will stick to the system nature provided and agriculturalists have adopted for thousands of years — having farm cats and maintaining them by natural increase, just like other farm animals. I appreciate your concern and hope this note explains some of our thinking. We are happy to supply excess cats to either other farms or our pet-loving friends. If they wish to neuter and otherwise treat them, it is certainly their right. I do not think farmers should be required to do so, however, so long as our agriculture is based on grain crops and rats and other grain-eating animals will need to be controlled. — Jack
Dear Jack and Julie,
I understand and respect your nurturing instincts and appreciate the cuteness of young critters.
I have similar enthrallment with the birds in our environment. The Dawn Chorus has become dimmer in the last few decades and is greatly missed. There are varying figures on the role of bird deaths by cats, but all are disturbing:
Cats that live in the wild or indoor pets allowed to roam outdoors kill from 1.4 billion to as many as 3.7 billion birds in the continental U.S. each year, says a new study that escalates a decades-old debate over the feline threat to native animals.
The estimates are much higher than the hundreds of millions of annual bird deaths previously attributed to cats. The study also says that from 6.9 billion to as many as 20.7 billion mammals — mainly mice, shrews, rabbits and voles — are killed by cats annually in the contiguous 48 states. The report is scheduled to be published in Nature Communications.
I hope this will be part of your picture as well. — Fondly and respectfully, Sue Coles
Thanks for your note. We took some heat from folks who thought we should spay our cats and not produce any more kittens. Their argument was the suffering of excess cats. I see yours bird deaths. No question cats are killers. That is what we want them for, mostly rats, although we will take the rabbits, shrews and voles too. You see we keep them to protect our grain, which rodents are notoriously good at gnawing into and devouring unless you have a feline ready to catch them in the act. The birds are pretty to watch and listen to, I agree. And we seem to have a lot around despite our cats. But some species of birds do eat a lot of earthworms, which we prize.
Short of being a speciesist (not sure of the spelling of that one!) I would argue that nature balances these things and makes sure just enough of each species survives to make the world we love.
After all, you know (if you watch Alfred Hitchcock) what the world would be like with too many birds! — Jack
To the Editor:
Just wanted to reach out and encourage the gentleman who was interested in growing cotton (letters to editor, summer issue). I’ve grown a small crop in my greenhouse for many years and taken it through harvest to thread and then cloth. It is a beautiful plant when it blooms, with large hibiscus-like flowers, and certainly doesn’t suffer from boll weevil in New England. Seeds for many varieties are available from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and are easy to save and replant. I have also grown flax, which is a much more traditional textile crop for our area, but requires a retting process and LOTS more tools to process. I much prefer cotton. He’s welcome to contact me for growing advice – email@example.com. — Jacqui Marsh
I would not have thought it was so easy to grow here. I would not be surprised if you get some questions from new enthusiasts. Thanks for volunteering to give advice! — Jack