Its time to join (or renew) at All Things Local Cooperative Market

atlbannerAll Things Local Cooperative Market is an experiment in local food democracy.  Whenever I mention the co-op to friends, I get a smile and a nodding reassurance that they truly believe this little store is an important step toward a more sustainable way of living.  But when I ask if they are members….. well, most say something like “yes, I should join…… but (fill in the blank).”  A co-op  relies on membership to be successful! 

Its time, now – please “click here” and join!

We need to make a commitment to:

  • local food
  • local crafts
  • local economy
  • local community
  • local caring for our neighbors
  • local caring for the earth…. right here in our home town

Membership is commitment… please join (or renew) now!

Here is a message from the managers at ATL from the most recent newsletter. 


All Things Local Cooperative Market provides a vibrant place to embrace community – buying and selling food and art, sharing treats and ideas as we create a more local economy.  It is a bold experiment in sustainability! We have celebrated a year and a half in business and we have, as of this date, distributed over a half million in payments to our local producers.

We are grateful to you, our members, our community, because your membership dollars go so far to help us provide a space to make this venture possible. Your membership allows us to return 70% to our producers, allowing them to earn and pay their employees a livable wage. Membership at ATL costs you only 14 cents per day! One person paying 14 cents per day certainly couldn’t maintain a storefront in downtown Amherst, which is why we are asking all of you, our community, to renew your membership or make an additional contribution now to keep the vision of ATL possible!

Memberships are a major factor in ATL’s success, and I ask that you kindly visit the website to renew, or stop by the shop and renew in person.

The first few years of any venture are vulnerable, and I hope you will continue your support of our growth and improvement through membership, volunteering, and of course, shopping!

Sincere Thanks!

Its time, now – please “click here” and join!


Fort River Farm Conservation Area in Amherst will be available to start-up farmers beginning next year

Saul Property -
Preliminary Site Plan to be modified based on ecological assessment

Scott Merzbach – Published in print: Thursday, June 11, 2015 – Daily Hampshire Gazette

AMHERST — By this time next year, start-up farmers could be working some of the land and growing crops at the Fort River Farm Conservation Area on Belchertown Road.

The nearly 20-acre parcel, purchased by annual Town Meeting for $150,950 last year using a combination of town Community Preservation Act money and a state Local Acquisition for Natural Diversity grant, is still nearly a year away from being ready to serve as both incubator space for new farmers, as well as a community garden that will produce food to be shared with local soup kitchens and meal sites

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said this week that between six and eight acres of tillable land will be advertised through requests for proposals to use variously sized parcels, in time for next year.   “We anticipate putting out an RFP for the incubator space for the 2016 growing season,” Ziomek said.

The town already licenses 65 to 75 acres of conservation land elsewhere in Amherst to more experienced farmers, but these spots at the Fort River Farm will be mostly aimed at students who come out of farm programs at the University of Massachusetts and Hampshire College, and Amherst College students interested in pursuing agriculture, Ziomek said.

The purchase of the farm was designed to be a learning space and the Grow Food Amherst organization will be among those recruiting local farmers who might serve as mentors and share equipment, as well as offer workshops and demonstrations to apprentice farmers and the public, in the future.

This year, though, is about what Ziomek calls “due diligence” with the property that has been actively farmed in the past. This includes mapping wetlands and the riverfront and protected resource areas.  “It really all starts with this ecological assessment,” Ziomek said.

This includes marking off areas for the incubator space, locating where a loop trail will go and how the community garden, which will grow fruits and vegetables to be donated to local groups, will be created.

John Gerber, co-chairman of Grow Food Amherst, said about one-third of an acre of the land has already been plowed and a cover crop will be planted. “This will help build organic matter and reduce weeds,” Gerber said.  That also prevents erosion, Ziomek said.

The site of the Amherst Pollinator Garden.
The site of the Amherst Pollinator Garden.

Development of the sharing garden is being undertaken by Stephanie Ciccarello, the town’s sustainability coordinator.  The first project will include planting buckwheat, sometime this month, which will begin attracting bees to that area of the farm.

Ciccarello said she will then create a section for pollinator plants. The pollinator garden,will attract more bees, as well as butterflies and hummingbirds. And she intends to plant wildfowers and native berry plants, likely blueberry and raspberry bushes and some other fruit-bearing plants, in September or October.

The idea is to have plants that require little upkeep and water, in part because it is hard to get water to the site. “Access to water is one of the limitations,” Ciccarello said.

The amount of fruits and vegetables available for donation to places such as the Amherst Survival Center and Not Bread Alone will be limited next year and in the early years of the project.  “We’re starting slowly and carefully,” Ciccarello said.

Among other work that remains to be done in the coming months is installing a crushed stone parking area for visitors and a pedestrian bridge that will provide access so children from the neighboring Fort River Elementary School can visit the farm.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

Original Post


Do you support the proposed Massachusetts GMO Labeling Law?

BACKGROUND NOTE:  UMass Professor, Dr. Elizabeth Vierling gave a presentation on the science of genetic modification for Grow Food Amherst on April 15, 2014 in the Amherst Town Hall.  She is an accomplished educator, dedicated to helping the public understand the complexities of genetic modification. The Grow Food Amherst Steering Committee has voted for Massachusetts legislation in support of the public right to know how their food is created by requiring GMO labeling.  Please read the following article and share your own thoughts in the comments box below.

Do you support the proposed Massachusetts GMO Labeling Law?


By ELIZABETH VIERLING; Tuesday, May 5, 2015

AMHERST — As a career educator, when I hear questions about “genetically engineered” plants (GMOs), I recognize how complex the issues are — and how difficult it is to sort out what our concerns should be.

One is labeling. We can go to the grocery store, and increasingly to restaurants, and find information about the nutritional content (or lack thereof!) in the food we buy. This information includes specific quantities of carbohydrates (sugars, starches and fiber), fats (oils), protein, vitamins, minerals, calories and serving sizes, as well as other information (e.g. additive content) as regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration.

People are calling for information about whether a product contains ingredients derived from a GMO. Will that label really provide information important to us as consumers and citizens?

There are at least two major reasons to want the “GMO” label. One reason is to enable individuals to make the choice to avoid buying products they feel support the crop monoculture and seed monopolies considered to be corporate-controlled agriculture. This “Big Ag” can be viewed as the driver of a variety of social and economic ills, although where blame lies is tied up in the agricultural economics of farm subsidies, world trade, food supply and other complex issues.

From this perspective, choosing not to purchase GMO-containing foods as the “socially responsible” choice would be similar to why many of us try to avoid buying products from any company we presume exploits its employees, damages the environment, or otherwise counters values we may view as critical to human health and the future of our planet.

What’s in a label?

However, if this is a major motivation, the GMO label alone does not serve the purpose, as corporate agriculture produces much more than the corn and soybeans that are the primary GMO crops in our food chain today. (There are minor amounts of GMO alfalfa used as hay, and sugar beets produced for sugar). Contrary to what many think, no wheat, rice, potatoes, peanuts, fruits (with the exception of Hawaiian papayas), or other major component of our diet comes directly from GMO plants.

Thus, foods with the GMO label would identify only a part of “Big Ag” products. It is difficult to know if avoiding such products would limit the reach of “Big Ag” without also damaging other sectors of the farm economy.

Of course, another major reason to want the GMO label relates to health. Although major medical and science groups, includes virtually all of the oldest and most respected scientific organizations in the world, have deemed current GMOs safe, doubt remains.

Here it becomes important to consider what makes a GMO a GMO. Take GMO soybeans. Soybeans have been engineered to have a tolerance to herbicides, one being the infamous “Roundup” produced by Monsanto.

What change was needed to make soybeans herbicide resistant? It involved modification of a single protein, one already found in plants, and one that you have eaten every time you have eaten a plant. We know proteins are important in our daily diets, but perhaps do not know that proteins are made from strings of amino acids. To make a soybean plant resistant to Roundup, scientists changed two out of the approximately 500 amino acids of one protein (called “EPSP synthase”) found in all plants so that it could still do its job for the plant, even in the face of Roundup.

Soybeans and other plants contain thousands of proteins, and therefore hundreds of thousands of amino acids. Changing only two amino acids was required to make an herbicide-resistant plant. This is amazing — that such a small change can have this effect. The compositional difference between a GMO soybean and a non-GMO soybean is so tiny that there are more differences among different varieties of soybeans than between a GMO soybean and its non-GMO parent.

In terms of labeling, the GMO content of the GMO soybean is this one protein. Because there are so many proteins in soybeans and other plants, the GMO protein comprises less than 1 percent of all the protein in the soybean. So if you eat pure soybean protein, it is very likely that much less than 1 percent of what you are eating is a genetically modified protein.

What if you buy soybean oil from a GMO plant or something made with soybean oil? If you read the current label on any soybean oil and look for the amount of protein, you will find the number “zero”. Oils produced from plants do not contain protein, or contain so little, it is not even measurable. This means that foods containing soybean oil (or for that matter corn oil) do not contain any GMO ingredients.

Do we need to avoid high fructose corn syrup from GMO corn? The nutritional label on corn syrup will also say zero protein. We may want to avoid high fructose corn syrup for lots of reasons, but it won’t contain GMO protein. If the health effects come from the genetic modification, which is the introduced protein, then the label should specify how much of the genetically modified protein is present, just as labels now specify how much protein, carbohydrate, oil, or additives are present in food. Should soybean oil be labeled GMO if it actually contains none of the GMO ingredient? Should products made with corn oil or high fructose corn syrup be labeled GMO when they contain none of the GMO ingredient?

Limits of labels

If we want to know what we are eating, a label that indicates a product came from a GMO source does not really tell us much and can be misleading. Do we want our labels to correctly indicate GMO content? If so, then each product should be tested and the percentage of GMO ingredient actually listed. Only then could we actually know what the GMO label would mean.

I do not think it makes sense to label foods as GMO for reasons of avoiding products of “Big Ag.” Our current system of agriculture needs an overhaul to achieve sustainability, and GMOs are not the major culprit here, as the system was broken and unsustainable before the first commercial GMO field was planted in 1996.

In fact, the “right” GMOs, with pathogen resistance or drought tolerance, water or nitrogen use efficiency, could be one part, though in no way all of the solution.

Yes, all GMOs need to be regulated and tested, as each GMO is different. We no longer casually introduce non-native plants to solve our erosion problems, and we monitor our borders for the hitchhiking seed, insect or pathogen.

So assessment of each GMO remains essential. It is, however, a tragedy that the public perception of GMOs is so negative, when the potential is there to add one more tool towards improvements in agriculture.

Achieving sustainable agriculture is an important goal for the world, and not enough funding is devoted to research and training towards achieving this end.

We need more fun runs, walk-a-thons and nonprofits supporting this type of research, not to mention federal investment. It is ironic that so many of us donate to efforts to conquer disease, when without a sustainable food supply, disease will be the last of our concerns.

Elizabeth Vierling is a distinguished professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She has followed the development of “transgenic plant technology” (how GMOs are made) from its inception during her graduate school years and uses this technology in federally funded research at UMass. With support from the National Science Foundation, she has given presentations in Amherst and elsewhere on genetic engineering technology.

Source URL:

For more information on Dr. Vierling’s work related to GMO plants, see:

And for a very thoughtful response, see:

And if you want to TAKE ACTION about the proposed labeling law, see:



Gardening 101 – Getting Started

By CHERYL B. WILSON; Amherst Bulletin Contributing Writer; Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How do you learn to be a successful gardener? Basically, by trial and error. Getting your hands in the dirt (pardon, me — soil) is the best way to learn, even though you are bound to make mistakes.

However, there are resources readily available to help you avoid the pitfalls and make your landscape beautiful and productive. There are neighbors who already garden and know this climate. There are books and magazines with inspiring articles. There are good Internet sites — and some that are not so good. There are telephone and email hot lines where you can get ready advice about specific problems. There is knowledgeable staff at local garden centers and nurseries. Grab every nugget of information you can get.

The basic advice is to start small. Dig up a small area in your yard, improve the soil and plant a few things as an experiment. Before you start digging, ask yourself a few questions: Do I want to grow edibles or ornamentals? How much sun reaches this spot? Is the soil sandy or like a bog?


It all starts with the soil. Roots need oxygen as well as nutrients to support the top growth. Getting the soil tested is an excellent first step. You can do a simple test for acidity level or pH or a full-scale soil test at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Acidity level is important because blueberries require a very acid soil while tomatoes need a “sweeter” soil, often with lime added. Directions on taking a soil sample are available online at

JERREY ROBERTS Michele Pietras, left, of Granby, and Christine Bergquist, of Amherst, test a soil sample at the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association tent Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market. Bergquist is a master gardener; Pietras is an intern.
Michele Pietras, left, of Granby, and Christine Bergquist, of Amherst, test a soil sample at the Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association tent Saturday at the Amherst Farmers Market. Bergquist is a master gardener; Pietras is an intern.
 If your soil needs help, don’t expect big changes overnight. Soil took years to develop and it will take time to improve.

Adding organic matter is always helpful, whether your soil is sandy or claylike. Start a compost pile for future use. Meanwhile, buy a few bags of “black gold” (compost) to get you started. Most people don’t use peat moss anymore to amend soil since the peat bogs are in trouble. Lobster compost is very popular as is cowpost, which is essentially rotted cow manure.

Right plant, right place

Once you have determined the condition of the soil and made appropriate amendments you can start planting. After soil, the most important factor is sun. Tomatoes need at least six hours of sun every day (unless it rains). Lettuce and root crops can succeed on less sun. Most daisy-like flowers are like tomatoes. They need sun. Ferns like shade as do choice trilliums and certain other wildflowers. Hostas also thrive in shade, although a few, usually those with yellow-tinted leaves, do enjoy sun. The old adage is “right plant, right place.” Don’t expect tomatoes to produce fruit in shade and don’t expect shade-lovers to endure too much sun.

And don’t be afraid to move a plant that seems unhappy. Sometimes even a few feet more or less into a sunny area is all that’s needed for a plant to thrive. Most perennials actually require dividing every few years. Peonies are an exception. They don’t like to be moved and will happily stay for decades in the same spot.

Early spring is the best time to divide most perennials. Some can be easily dug up and their roots and crowns pulled apart to make several small plants from one big one. Others like daylilies require a lot of effort and ornamental grasses often are best divided with a chain saw! One reason there are so many non-profit plant sales in May is that good gardeners know their perennials thrive on regular division. (See the weekly Get Growing column in the Gazette for upcoming sales.)


So how do you learn which plants are the right plants for your spot? Look around your neighborhood and ask your neighbors what they grow and why. When I first started gardening in Washington, D.C., in 1970 I was a total novice. I relied on elderly neighbors to teach me how to garden. I fell in love with primroses and sundrops in Washington. Neighbors in Amherst introduced me to gardening in the north. I love daffodils because they remind me of Jean Manfredi who lived on the South Amherst Common and grew more than 400 varieties. Her neighbor Carol Cornish was also a garden mentor.

DAN LITTLE Karen Chrisman, left, and Meredith Michaels dig up plants to divide and sell at the Amherst Garden Club's annual plant sale at Chrisman's home Wednesday in Belchertown.
Karen Chrisman, left, and Meredith Michaels dig up plants to divide and sell at the Amherst Garden Club’s annual plant sale at Chrisman’s home Wednesday in Belchertown.

Books and magazines

My next source of gardening teachers was the library. My first memorable garden book was Vita Sackville-West’s compilation of her garden columns in The Observer newspaper in England, “V. Sackville-West’s Garden Book,” Her garden, Sissinghurst Castle, has been a Mecca for me for decades. Yes, she gardened in a different climate and with a larger budget, but I learned from her to seek out the best variety of whatever plant I wanted rather than settle for mediocre.

The books I usually recommend to new gardeners are: Ron and Jennifer Kujawski’s “Week –by- Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook” and “The Garden Primer” by Barbara Damrosch. They will get you started on the right foot.

There are fewer garden magazines than there used to be but still they are helpful. My big indulgence is membership in the Royal Horticultural Society in England because it has a gorgeous monthly magazine, The Garden. Its website is very informative ( Fine Gardening is my other standby because it is filled with practical advice.

DAN LITTLE Gardening Books
Gardening Books

Catalogs/seed packets/hang tags

While it is usually best to shop locally for plants, including bulbs and seeds, there are two mail-order catalogs that are worth requesting just for the information they include. Johnny’s Seeds in Maine is a reliable source, especially for vegetable seeds, and it has wonderful information and advice on growing everything from beans to tomatoes to zucchini. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Virginia not only indicates the best growing situations for various bulbs, it also suggests bulb and herbaceous perennial partners for your landscape.

Most seed packets have a lot of useful information such as how deep to plant the seeds, how soon in the spring is safe, and when to harvest vegetables. Save the hang tags from trees and shrubs and the labels from perennials, herbs, house plants and annuals so you know how to care for your purchases.

The Internet

The Internet has a wealth of information. There are several university and botanical garden sites that are especially helpful. The Missouri Botanical Garden’s,, is wonderful as is the Cornell University website, UMass Extension’s not only has loads of local information but also a weekly landscape message ( during the growing season, which can alert you to problems like hemlock woolly adelgid, salt injury on evergreens and late blight on tomatoes.

Dave’s Garden ( is filled with anecdotal information and a good rating system on mail-order nurseries. Just realize that the people who post on this website are amateur gardeners, like you, with varied experience and knowledge.

A number of good gardeners have websites or blogs. Bookmarked on my computer are Pat Leuchtman’s “Commonweeder” ( and Matt Mattus’ “Growing With Plants” ( Leuchtman gardens in Heath and writes the weekly column for the Greenfield Recorder. Mattus is the newly elected president of the North American Rock Garden Society and lives in Worcester. He has a gorgeous greenhouse and wonderful primroses. I met him through the American Primrose Society.

Speaking of plant societies — there is one for almost every kind of ornamental plant. If you develop an obsession with daylilies or roses, dahlias or primroses, there is a national society, usually with a quarterly journal and regional meetings that is just for you. Google your favorite plant and find out.


The Western Massachusetts Master Gardener Association has been a fixture in my life since I took the training course in 1986. Trained volunteers do pH soil testing at farmers markets, maintain demonstration gardens at the Northampton and South Hadley Community Gardens, help with the landscaping for such nonprofit groups as Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst and Grandmother’s Garden in Westfield. We all learn together how to be better gardeners. A new “crop” of 48 trainees just finished classes and will be out in the four western counties helping other gardeners learn to do better.

The volunteers maintain two hot lines where home gardeners can get answers to their particular questions. First, there is the email hot line on the website Click on Ask a Gardener and type in your problem and your contact information and expect to get an email answer within a couple of days. A volunteer will research the problem and respond by email. The master gardeners also staff a telephone hot line at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge on Mondays. Call 298-5355 between 9 a.m. and noon and talk directly to a master gardener. If they can’t solve your problem immediately, they will do research and call you back.


Botanical gardens offer frequent workshops on everything from pruning shrubs to saving seeds from native plants. Check out Nasami Farm in Whately, the nursery of the New England Wild Flower Society, the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge and the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston. Workshops cost $25 or more and are taught be experienced professionals. In the winter, Hadley Garden Center offers weekly free workshops that draw more than 50 people each week.

There are so many ways to learn to garden successfully. Just don’t get discouraged when plants fail. Tony Avent, the loquacious owner of Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina, says that you haven’t learned how to grow a plant until you have killed it several times!

Cheryl Wilson can be reached at

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UMass sustainable food and farming major Mike Mango transfers a barrel of goat manure into the back of his vehicle at the Goat Girls barn on the Amethyst Farm in Amherst on Saturday. The Goat Girls, a landscaping operation that rents out goats to eat homeowners' brush, offered the manure in exchange for helping clean out the goat barn after the long winter.
UMass sustainable food and farming major Mike Mango transfers a barrel of goat manure into the back of his vehicle at the Goat Girls barn on the Amethyst Farm in Amherst on Saturday. The Goat Girls, a landscaping operation that rents out goats to eat homeowners’ brush, offered the manure in exchange for helping clean out the goat barn after the long winter.

AMHERST — For The Goat Girls, a landscaping operation that rents out goats to eat homeowners’ brush, this weekend’s spring weather meant it was time to clean out the goat barn after the long winter.

It’s tough work, and probably not most people’s idea of a good way to spend a sunny 70-degree day. But owner Hope Crolius was able to lure a few members of the public to help out Saturday by posting an offer at the local garden store, on Craigslist and in the newspaper: If you pitch in, you can take as much manure as you want.

It’s like pick-your-own, except instead of berries, you get a fertilizer that Crolius said can be applied to gardens — without needing to be composted — to provide nitrogen and other nutrients.

Seven people took her up on the offer, showing up at the small goat barn at 132 Pelham Road with pitchforks and buckets to work alongside The Goat Girls employees and volunteers.

Michael Mango, 25, wearing work gloves and a sheen of sweat, loaded manure by the pitchforkful onto a tarp in the back of a Honda Element.

“I’m going to do another load after this,” he said.

He was taking it to spread on a small plot of land at the Amethyst Brook Conservation Area where he is planting his first vegetable crops for the season.

A junior in the sustainable food and farming program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Mango heard about the work-for-manure swap when he visited the goat farm with a class last Tuesday. “They needed some help and I needed some manure, so it sounded like a really great win-win for everyone,” he said.

For some dedicated gardeners, going to horse, dairy or other livestock farms to shovel their own manure isn’t a novel idea.

As they loaded a few buckets of composted goat-manure into their car, Gayle and Scott Barton of Pelham explained that they have been gardening for 40 years and always supplement their own food-scrap compost with manure.

“So for us, it’s not a new thing,” Gayle Barton said. But, she added, “it’s fun to see other people get involved, fun to see the excitement around it.”

In recent years, the movement to support local farms has taken off in the Pioneer Valley. The owners of several area Community Supported Agriculture farms say that their shareholders like feeling that they have a stake in the operation.

In the case of The Goat Girls barn cleaning day, that stake isn’t a financial one — Crolius calls it “sweat equity.” But she says people like helping a local operation, and getting some rich fertilizer to boot.

Crolius, who also owns Artemis Garden Consultants, started The Goat Girls in 2010 when she purchased three goats to clear the brush and weeds from a client’s yard. She started getting calls to rent them out to other landowners, and the business grew. Now, on land she rents from Amethyst Farm, she has 18 goats, a barn manager, an outreach assistant and several interns and volunteers.

Crolius has offered the shovel-your-own manure deal to her clients for the last few years, but this is the first year she opened it up to the public.

“I don’t see the community pouring in, but I do see a few people who are dedicated — and the day is young,” Crolius said while taking a break from the shoveling Saturday morning. Throughout the spring, people also will buy the goat manure by appointment for $1 a bucket.

Her customers like the idea of a fertilizer that is safe for the environment and comes from just down the road, she said. “I think there is something so darn satisfying about knowing that the food you’re eating was fertilized with the manure of your local goat herd,” she said. “It’s so much more satisfying than getting a bag of fertilizer that says, ‘made in China.’ ”

Ellen Chechile, who lives a few doors down from the land Crolius rents for her goats, said taking home quality fertilizer for her perennial flower garden was only part of her motivation for being at the barn Saturday.

“Primarily, I just wanted to help with the goats,” Chechile said, and lend The Goat Girls’ workers a hand. “They do a great job and it’s a system I want to support as much as possible.”

Another draw is that the friendly, dog-like goats are so popular, Crolius said. When she puts out a call for people to drop off their leaves in the fall or their Christmas trees in the winter, customers and total strangers are all too happy to oblige, she said.

The dry leaves make great bedding, Crolius said. The goats strip the trees, eating the needles, tips of branches and even the bark.

They are taking something that seems like waste and making it useful, she said.

“It’s a really great feeling to use something that would be a quote, unquote waste product.”

Rebecca Everett can be reached at

Original Post

Look Sharp

By Aaron Jermain

Are your tools falling all over each-other? Create systems to keep them organized

You’re ready for spring! But are your hand tools? Did they get hung up neatly in the tool shed last fall, after a thorough cleaning and re-sharpening? If not, don’t worry! Better late than never. But if you’d planned to just claw through the pile of shovels and rakes for the right implement and get right to work this spring, don’t do it! Don’t subject your legs and back to a dull shovel. Don’t subject your plants to a blunt lopper. A few hours today will save you weeks of wasted effort and shoddy work.

Keeping hand tools clean and sharp is not just easier on your body and more enjoyable; it also sets a standard for yourself and your teammates to achieve quality and beauty with your efforts. Did I mention it makes it easier for your body and more enjoyable?

Every craft benefits from clean, sharp, well-maintained tools; farming and gardening is no different. Here’s all you need to do to rescue your aging relics:

  1. Assess the damage. Are the tool parts intact? Wash or brush away any dirt sothat you can see all the parts clearly. Wooden handles can crack and split from abuse or age. Severe rusting can irreparably damage blades and other steel parts. Some plastic parts become brittle with sun exposure. Impact tools like axes and maddocks need strong handles and a tight connection between the tool head andhandle; don’t use a loose or damaged tool for swinging or heavy work! Leave metal repairs to someone with experience. In most cases severely damaged tools need to be replaced. If you’re really committed to taking good care of your tools, paying for a quality tool will be a good investment.
This axe handle is cracked and could come apart during use. Don't use one like this! Visit your local home center and look for replacement handles
This axe handle is cracked and could come apart during use. Don’t use one like this! Visit your local home center and look for replacement handles
  1. Replace wooden handles as necessary. Wooden handles are often easily replaced by anyone with basic tools and experience. New handles are available at hardware stores; local stores may have more options than “Home Despot” or similar. If you’re not confident replacing the handle on a tool, see if a woodworker can help you.

A flat file like this Nicholson Handy File makes quick work of shovel and hoe edges
A flat file like this Nicholson Handy File makes quick work of shovel and hoe edges
  1. Remove rust from metal edges and joints. It’s not necessary to remove every rust spot from your tools; in most cases an outer layer of rust slows further corrosion. However metal joints need to move freely, and edges must be sharp. So start by brushing down important metal parts with a wire brush. Power tools such as a wire-wheel, flap-wheel or other abrasive methods may speed this up for you. In general, don’t use a grinding wheel on surfaces that don’t need repair or sharpening. Lastly, lubricate metal joints with a small amount of vegetable oil. Rapidly opening and closing the tool works the oil into the joint; you can feel the difference!

  1. Sharpen metal cutting edges. Now consider what grinding options you have. For basic edges like on shovels and hoes, give them a quick re-sharpening with an electric grinding wheel or with a flat file. I am partial to using small hand-crank grinders from the last century; they’re safer and less likely to damage the tool. If you use an electric grinder go slowly and cool the tool often with water. Over-heating tool edges will result in oxidation colors appearing on the edge, purple, blues, reds, and yellows, showing that you’ve heated the edge enough to soften the steel. This makes the steel quicker to dull, and is something to avoid! Unlike most knives, shovels and hoes are only sharpened from one side; look closely at your tool to see the original bevel, and regrind this. For harvest knives, loppers, and other tools with very sharp edges, you’ll need a more refined approach to sharpening. A two-grit whetstone, such as you’ll find in any hardware store, will work for most knives. No matter what the instructions tell you, use whetstones with pure water, unless you really need a big oily mess on your workbench. There are as many ways to sharpen edges as there are people sharpening their tools, but you can find good information on ways that work by doing a web search. You’ll need to see sharpening in action, so look for videos or find an experienced friend who can show you. Just remember, there are endless gadgets and jigs out for your money. An abrasive stone or two is all you need.

Before sharpening on the left, and after sharpening on the right
Before sharpening on the left, and after sharpening on the right
  1. Wipe tools down with oil. Raw linseed oil is my preferred wood and metal preservative. It’s made from flax seeds, and unlike Boiled Linseed Oil, it doesn’t contain toxic metal driers. Raw linseed oil can be rubbed on every part of a tool that is either bare wood or bare metal. Metal components only need one light coat. Wood can take several coats, if you give them a long time to dry in between. Better to just rub down the whole tool every few months with an oily rag. The dry time can be anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on the temperature. Once dry, linseed oil turns into a polymer, sealing out water, preventing rust, and is dry to the touch. In fact, dry linseed oil can add a bit of extra grip to handles. Other drying oils include walnut, poppy seed, and tung oils. Give your old motor oil to a mechanic who has an oil furnace; don’t use it on your hand tools!

Cover handles and blades with a thin coat of raw linseed oil
Cover handles and blades with a thin coat of raw linseed oil

That’s it! If you did all that, you should have weeded out the unsalvageable tools in your collection, and restored the rest. New tools may need to be sharpened as well, so check their edges before heading into the fields. Now keeping your tools looking this great only requires washing or wiping them off after use, sharpening them as necessary, and oiling them every few months. Plus, now that you have such sharp looking tools, you’re willing to make room to store them away from moisture, and in such a way that the edges won’t get damaged. Consider an organized tool shed. At the very least, bring them in from the fields and tuck them away from the rain!


Aaron Jermain is an experienced and knowledgeable hand tool-maker, and currently enrolled in the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Sustainable Food and Farming program. He wants you to use more hand tools; to accept the limits of human existence; and to enjoy slow rhythms, elegant artifacts, and beautiful vistas. Send him love letters or other general interest to


In Like a Lion … Out Like a Lion?

Submitted to the Daily Hampshire Gazette by Karen Ribeiro; March 29, 2015

karenAs March 2015 comes to a close with the weather report calling for yet more snow, one can easily appreciate the value of weather patterns – and ecosystems – in harmony. So how can people in Western Massachusetts support natural harmony?

There may be countless ways; of them, two are particularly noteworthy. One is to buy locally produced food and goods. Another is to support fair carbon pricing. When we purchase locally produced food and goods we are reducing the diesel miles that food and goods have to travel to get to us, and by supporting fair carbon pricing we ultimately reduce the “externalized” costs that have made it possible to ship and truck and sell food and goods – many produced in the US, transported to a country halfway around the world for packaging, and transported back to the US – thousands of miles for artificially low prices.

atlMarch 30th also marks the one year anniversary of an amazing local store, aptly named All Things Local. This producer cooperative has, in this past year, generated nearly $400,000 of additional revenue for local food and beverage producers and local artisans producing goods from wood and wool and much more (books like my memoir Thirsty: Journaling to Survive, Thrive, and Feel Alive and my Inner Fortune Journal are on sale at All Things Local).

But there’s a hitch. Stores like All Things Local need community members to join the co-op, shop there and, if possible, get involved by lending a few hours of time here and there. People can help amandawith anything from cleaning and organizing to writing copy and sending out e-newsletters. The more people who take that added step of shopping at a store that came to be through a beautiful concerted community effort, the more sustainable our community will be. While All Things Local may not stock some basics like toilet paper, which takes up a lot of space, it is impressive and inspiring to see the array of products available – not to mention the daily Local Cafe’ menu of delicious foods prepared by on-site cafe owner Amanda Wasserman.

So as we think about buying more food and goods locally, we can also think about supporting legislation that would also have a positive impact on local industry development. Fair carbon pricing is an important step toward equitable economic transactions and greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Currently there are two proposed bills for fair carbon pricing: Senator Barrett’s bill, SD285, and Senator Pacheco’s bill, SD1815. Each bill aims to combat climate change and reduce the carbon footprint of the commonwealth by assessing a fee at the first point of entry for all fossil fuels in the state (distributors and sellers but not resellers). To learn more, come to a Climate Action Now general meeting and participate in the carbon breakout group discussion or come to a regional house party (details available at

climateKaren Ribeiro is a Pelham resident who strives to have a greener thumb, and a regional sustainability consultant with www.SustainableValley.US.  Karen is also a founding member of a network of local citizens called “Friends of All Things Local”.  If you would like to join us to advocate for our favorite downtown cooperative market in Amherst, please contact Grow Food Amherst.

Leave 10% for the Bees!

Grow Food Amherst recommends that we leave 10% for the bees!

Bee advocate, Jonathan Mirin, writes “one of the major challenges facing honeybees, native bees, and other pollinators (not to mention many other species around the globe) is loss of habitat. In the words of South Deerfield, MA beekeeper Dan Conlon of Warm Colors Apiary, honeybees in many parts of the U.S. simply don’t have enough to eat.  Our 10% For the Bees Campaign encourages audiences and communities to let nature plant 10% of their lawn – or plant a bee garden.”

If your front lawn looks like the one below, honey bees and other native pollinators will not find any food.  They need flowers!  And they need them throughout the summer.

clean cut front lawn2

If you simply don’t mow your entire lawn, clover and other flowers will fill in quite naturally over time.  Also your neighbors will feel safer as they know you are not using any weed killers!  Okay…. so not ready to let your lawn go wild?  Fine, then why not leave at least 10% for the bees?

wildlawnOf course, with a little extra effort you can create a nice wildflower border.  The bees and other native pollinators will love it!

wildflowerlawenAnd if you love flowers…..  pollinators will love you!


Finally, for you pros…. perennials make a great pollinator garden once they are established!  For information on developing a pollinator garden, see: Pollinator Garden.


For more information on pollinators and pollinator gardens see:

More on Pollinators


How to Grow Ginger in a Container

gingerThere are a few spices that grow well in containers right at home, and ginger happens to be one of them. Popular in tasty Asian dishes and in many favorite baked treats, ginger adds zingy flavor to culinary delights of all sorts. And, ginger is super easy to grow in a container. In fact, it’s so easy to grow; you may not be able to stop yourself from running out today to get this simple gardening project started. You can have fresh ginger available to add to your own recipes in no time flat.

Ginger has been a useful plant since before historical records even began. It’s believed to originate in India. It’s been a popular spice on the worldwide scale, second only to pepper, throughout time.

The ginger plant’s adaptability has allowed the most humble of folks all the way to the fancy rulers to enjoy it throughout history. For example, Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) is credited with enjoying the appearance of gingerbread men popular still today at Christmastime. Ginger’s rich history goes right along with its impressionable flavor, and millions continue to enjoy its flavor and its medicinal properties today.

How to Plant Ginger: Container Selection and Sprouting

The healthiest ginger plants are grown from reputable nurseries or from quality online gardening sources. But a ginger root can also be purchased from your local grocery store. Grocery store ginger roots may be coated with a growth inhibitor, which prevent it from sprouting in the grocery store. Grocery ginger root may also be treated with fungicides and/or pesticides. So, to clean your ginger, soak your new ginger root for 24 hours before slicing it up to plant.

Choose a wide, flat container to plant. Ginger’s roots grow horizontally, so width is more important than depth. Containers that are small enough to easily be moved inside and out are the perfect choice for ginger. Fill your container with a rich potting soil that will drain well.

Slice your ginger knob, into thin pieces. Select pieces of the knob that have “eyes” on them. Eyes are indentations in the surface of the root, where sprout will begin. Place the piece of ginger with the eyes facing up into the soil, and cover with about and inch and a half of soil.

How to Care for Ginger Plant

Water your ginger well in the early stages of planting. Continue to water or spray your plant’s soil often to keep the soil moist but not soggy. And be patient. Ginger can take several weeks to sprout.

Ginger is a good plant to enjoy indoors in colder climates. While it will enjoy the outdoors during warm months, any frost will kill a ginger plant. Choose a location with indirect light for your ginger.

After about eight months, your ginger plant will be mature. At that point, you can separate the rhizomes by pulling off a section of the plant including a piece of the rhizome. Transplanting is as easy as setting that rhizome into a new container of soil. Ginger is an easy root to share with a friend.

How to Harvest Ginger

Although the ginger plant may take many months to mature, you can harvest ginger when the plant is three or four months old. When you push away the soil from around the rhizome, you’ll notice that ginger rhizomes look knobby. You will also see roots reaching outward and downward from the rhizome. The rhizome is the edible portion of ginger. The roots can be cleaned off as you clean the rhizome to eat.

To enjoy a bit of ginger, simply uncover a piece of rhizome, and trim off one of the finger-like extensions. You can harvest ginger in this manner anytime you wish. However, you may find that you love it so much that you’ll need more than one rhizome planted at a time. You can alternate snipping from your plants if you grow more than one.

Before you eat ginger, you should rinse it and peel the skin off with a potato peeler. Then, enjoy your ginger freshly sliced or grated. Or, dry your ginger by slicing it paper thin and setting it on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in an oven or outside in a dry, sunny location. Ginger may take several hours or several days to dry. When it’s completely dried, it can safely be stored in plastic bags. You can also grate your dried ginger with a coffee grinder. Grated ginger is a delicious result of an easy gardening project!

Original Post

Remembering our Backyard Baker

For Dorie – the Bionic Baker/Biker

Lissa Pierce Bonifaz

An empty shelf at All Things Local
An empty shelf at All Things Local

One summer day in June of 2010, I biked to Simple Gifts Farm to pick up my share. To my disappointment, Bread Euphoria had been replaced by Backyard Bakery. This new bread had heft with which I was not accustomed. So, I asked Jeremy, “what’s with the shift?”

He explained that Dorie was a local patron to the farm and that her bread was “out of this world”. So, I took loaves of flaxseed and Danish rye home. My family loved it. Dorie’s bread was soulful: full of substantive nutrition and texture. It found its way into my morning routine of hot tea, buttered toast and marmalade. And I came to depend on Dorie’s bread each morning like one needs water when walking through a desert.

Dorie got around-on her bike that is. I bought her bread at the Amherst Farmer’s Market, at Kendrick Park, at the Swartz’s farm, at Portabello’s and most recently at All Things Local. She quickly became known as a local superhero like no other: an entrepreneur, single mother of two teen-age boys who moved her bread around town on bike. She seemed superhuman; using mixers taller than her to bake a bazillion loaves of bread and bike them around town, no matter the weather. A spark in our midst. Who inspired so many to think beyond the conventional choices we, women were being given in this small town.

dorieJust three weeks ago, Elsie, of Aunt Elsie’s Cookie Crisps shared with me how she and Dorie supported each other during the more difficult months of the winter market. I told her that the two of them were real inspirations to other women who would like to be entrepreneurs, but lacked the courage that these two women so abundantly shared. I went to Dorie’s table next and bought my last two loaves of her bread. My daughter was with me and asked her, “where’s your green car?”

She told us that her bike mobile was broken and she didn’t know how it could get fixed. She smiled at us and then moved to attend to another customer. While leaving, I wondered if it was difficult for Dorie to go back to driving when she was so committed to her travels by bike. I knew these ideals were her bread and butter.

It seems ironic that the very world Dorie was trying to protect would be the culprit for her tragic death. Out enjoying Mother Nature, she was swallowed up by frozen falls and taken from us so abruptly. This does not seem natural to me.

It is hard to make meaning out of such a tragedy for her family and our community. Perhaps her energy burned so bright precisely because it knew its finite ending.

As I finish the last few crumbs of her beloved bread, I am assured that I have known a local heroine like no other.