Many Hands Farm, Massachusetts

Julie Rawson and Jack Kittredge have farmed organically at Many Hands Farm, Massachusetts since 1982 and have been certified since 1987. Julie is also the Executive Director of NOFA-Mass, while Jack is the longtime publisher of The Natural Farmer, a quarterly magazine delivered to all NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) members.

In their Know Your Farmer interview, Jack and Julie speak about their reverence for the population of microbes that deliver nutrients to plants in the soil, and also to human beings from within our own guts. Julie and Jack are parents to Dan Kittredge, an advisory board member to the Real Organic Project and the founder and Executive Director of the Bionutrient Food Association, an organization that holds a deep focus on the relationships between microbial populations and the overall health of both soil and humans.

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Know Your Farmer | Many Hands Farm, Massachusetts

Julie Rawson: First of all, organic isn’t enough.

I think it’s important to be organic, but it can’t just be organic by substitution when you just rape the soil like everybody else does, you know, minus the chemicals. That’s not okay.

It’s not adequate to being what I would consider organic.

Farm crew weeds colorful lettuce plants in the soil at Many Hands Farm

The Organic Label And Consumer Awareness

Jack Kittredge: I think a lot of consumers unknowingly respect that label, the organic label.

And if the trend continues that it becomes more industrial, and they open it up and you don’t have to graze your animals, you don’t have to give them out of doors access, you don’t have to you respect the microbes in your soil, then organic is not going to mean much.

And consumers need to understand not just the term, but they need to understand the process and make their decisions about:

“Is it important to me that animals have access to the out-of-doors?” If so, then organic. But if it [the organic label] doesn’t require that, then it’s not enough, and I need to go look for something that does.

Piglets huddle together to eat outdoors

Growing In Soil Means Sequestering Carbon + Balancing Microbes

Julie Rawson: I think it’s nice everybody’s awake now about organic and now the next thing they have to really get awake about is carbon sequestration and microbial balance, and you know thinking about who’s under here.

And realizing that they’re [microbes] calling the shots, not only underground but also in our bodies.

Jack Kittredge: We both really believe in the whole idea of microbial symbiosis with plants and that it’s how the nutrition really gets into plants. And this has been demonstrated so clearly now in so many studies.

Chickens on outdoor pasture at Many Hands Farm Massachusetts

Fungi are really the critters that create a lot of the nutrients, the amino acids, the vitamins and so forth that get into plants; plants give them to us, and to the animals.

It’s just a burgeoning recognition that I think we’re getting, and hopefully, more and more farmers will get that you really have to farm the critters in your soil as well as the crops.

Transitioning To No-Till At Many Hands Farm Massachusetts To Protect Microbial Partners
Julie Rawson: There are so many microorganisms in the soil and the tillage is deleterious – you know there’s a long list of things that are deleterious – but it was most recently pointed out that some of the micronutrients, some of the trace minerals particularly are very impacted. The ability [for plants] to access them because of the microbial partners that they work with are wiped out in tillage systems.

Field crops grow with heavy organic mulch between rows at Many Hands Farm Massachusetts

Jack Kittredge: That’s our concern; basically you can add a lot of carbon to anything, you can buy compost, you can do it in some industrial fashion I suppose, but if you don’t have a healthy soil microbial population, you’re not going to stabilize that carbon. You’re not going to sequester.

Julie Rawson: You don’t have roots, essentially, roots in the soil…

Jack Kittredge: …and the glues that make the glomalin, and the soil aggregates, and all that stuff – so much of that is really a product of life in the soil, microbial life. If you don’t have that? You know, the more compost you dump on the soil, you may get good plants but you’re not sequestering any carbon.

Improving Soil Fertility Brings Flavor, Yield, and More

Julie Rawson: So, we’ve been trying to really move into a no-till system. And we’ve noticed across the board much better fertility.

Jack Kittredge: We’re getting comments from CSA members about the flavor and the quality of the produce.

Julie Rawson: And more, just more volume and longer-lasting. And like the kale over there, definitely the best I’ve ever had.

Working in the fields with soil-grown crops at Many Hands Farm Massachusetts

Jack Kittredge: So, we decided to become certified I think in 1987 and have been marketing ever since.

We raise a number of crops as vegetable crops as well as fruit, have a lot of animals, trying to do an integrated farming approach.

Julie Rawson: We’re mulching very heavy this year and then I usually start intercropping, inter-sowing with crimson clover this time of year.

Organic Still Opens The Door To Conversation + Education

Jack Kittredge: What I would say to somebody who’s thinking about being organic is: yeah, I think it gives you that little bit of a gold star that some retailers look for when you’re selling to a store. And customers, it gives them a lot of confidence.

I think probably the educational aspect is as important to us as anything else, in that it opens us up to being able to talk about the soil and health and those issues. I mean, they’re so connected to us all, soil and food and health. That’s really why I think a lot of customers come to us.

Julie Rawson: Frankly, my most important thing I think is: take good care of the soil and the earth and plants and the animals and take your clue from how nature works in a good system and try to make your farm work like that, in that fashion.

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