Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Southeast Women's Herbal Conference: This Weekend

Picture from last year's event (from website)
If you are a woman, and enjoy being in the company of a lot of other women, and you want to learn about herbs, natural healing, yourself, and spirituality, you really should attend this conference.  Conference isn't even the right word for it; it's so much more than that.  It's held outside, at a beautiful camp with a lake; there is a big tent and a bazaar, great food, lots of color and music.  Personally, I always feel rejuvenated, cleansed, enlightened, and uplifted by this event.  "It’s a weekend for women to learn, connect, and deepen into the Wise Woman Tradition—simple living, earth-based healing, and local plants.”  Hundreds of women and 30 teachers, including internationally renowned herbalist Susun Weed, will come together in just a few days. So if you want to come, you need to sign up now!  For more info, take a look at their website, http://www.sewisewomen.com/.   Details:  October 2-4, 2009,  The Southeast Women’s Herbal Conference, Camp Rockmont, Black Mountain, NC.

If you want to know why this is a women only conference, read the section on their website; it's a good explanation:  http://www.sewisewomen.com/womens_herbal_conference/focus.php


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fall is a Good Time to Plant Many Perennial Herbs

Planting bloodroot in the woods

Fall is an excellent time to plant a wide variety of perennial herbs.  These include woodland botanicals such as bloodroot, goldenseal, black cohosh, and wild ginger; sun-loving medicinal herbs such as Echinacea and valerian; culinary herbs such as thyme and rosemary; and aromatic herbs such as lavender.   Garlic isn't a perennial herb, but fall is the best time to plant it, too.  See http://ncherb.org/ for ideas, information, and links.

Friday, September 25, 2009

New Late Blight Resistant Tomato Varieties Being Developed

Heirloom-type hybrid variety with late blight resistance

Heirloom tomato, 'Akers West Virginia' without late blight resistance
We did a harvest on our organic heirloom and heirloom-type hybrid tomato study today.  All the true heirloom varieties have succumbed to late blight.  Although I must say, 'Mr. Stripey' put up a good fight! Several of the heirloom-type hybrids that are under development in our tomato breeding program, however, are still going strong.  The two varieties I'm most excited about are currently known as NC08144 and NC08224.  They are large, pink-fruited 'Brandywine' types with early blight and late blight resistance.  They were the winners in our taste tests, are providing high yields of beautiful tomatoes, and as you can see from the pictures, are performing well in a late blight infested field.  All of these tomatoes are grown using practices that would be acceptable for certified organic.  Our late blight spray program is Serenade + copper, five days later Sporatec + Neem, five days later Serenade + copper, etc.  I don't like relying so heavily on copper because that could lead to soil problems in the future, but this is an unusual year.  We plan to do more studies on organic late blight control next year.  There were three other previous posts in this blog with pictures about this study in August.  This study was made possible through funding provided by Brandt Consolidated http://www.brandtconsolidated.com/.  This study is located at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, NC http://www.agr.state.nc.us/Research/mrs.htm.  Both Brandt and the research station have been very supportive of our organic tomato research program for many years. 

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Organic Growers School-Farmer Education Committee Makes Plans

This evening, the Farmer Education Committee of the Organic Growers School (http://organicgrowersschool.org/) met at the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co. on Coxe Ave. (http://www.ashevillepizza.com/) to plan how best to serve current and aspiring commercial organic farmers in the region in the coming year.  We will continue to support our new CRAFT program (http://organicgrowersschool.org/content/1874) to provide a comprehensive training program in organic agriculture involving farmers, farm apprentices, and agriculture students.  We also discussed partnering more with the local Extension offices (http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/) to offer more programing, e.g., on Conventional Farmers Transitioning to Organics and Commercial Blueberry Production.  For the Spring Event, which will be held on March 6-7, 2010 at the UNC-Asheville campus, we will develop one or two tracks specifically for commercial farmers.  If you have a topic you would like to see us cover, please drop me an email!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Time is Short to Apply for Cost Share Funds for Organic Certification

North Carolina organic farmers: You have until September 30, 2009 to apply for the cost-share funds for organic certification through the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. Here is the website with the letter about the program and application form:  http://tinyurl.com/m9rglw.
Don't let this opportunity slip by; up to 75% of your costs could be covered!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Information on Harvesting Flooded Crops in Western NC

Unfortunately, all I had to do was look back at my September 2004 emails to find most of this information for you! My heart goes out to all of you who are losing crops to flood waters at this time.

Harvesting Decisions for Flooded Crops

Crops intended for human consumption are considered contaminated if they have been covered with flood waters from rivers, creeks or streams. Growers should distinguish between rainwater that accumulates on a field because of excessive rainfall versus fields covered by flood waters from risen rivers, creeks or streams. Flood waters can carry potential contaminants from off-site sources. Fields covered by flood waters are distinctly different from fields where rainwater has accumulated in low areas. Standing waters often occur after heavy rain.

The present concern is for crops which have been in direct contact with flood waters from risen rivers, creeks or streams which may be contaminated with runoff such as human or animal waste, petroleum products, pesticides or industrial chemicals.

If the crop is in standing water from accumulated rainwater, not flooding from rivers or streams, keep in mind that most fruits and vegetables are subject to damage or decay if they are flooded for more than a couple days. In that case, the crop will either be in a state of deterioration, or it will not cure and store properly. In effect, these conditions will render most of the flood affected crop unharvestable or unmarketable.

Before cleaning up or destroying crops in flooded fields, check with your crop insurance and/or their local Farm Services Agency (FSA) representatives regarding exact documentation to certify losses, procedures for initiating claims, possible financial assistance.

If you have questions, contact your county extension agent, your local FSA or crop insurance representatives, or the Food and Drug Protection Division of NCDA&CS at 919-733-7366.

Here is information direct from the FDA on the topic:

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that certain foods exposed to flood waters, and perishable foods that are not adequately refrigerated, are adulterated and should not enter the human food supply. In addition, crops and other food commodities exposed to flood waters would not be acceptable for use in animal feed. FDA is also providing guidance in determining when food products can be reconditioned for future use. The information follows.

If the edible portion of a crop is exposed to flood waters, it is considered adulterated and should not enter human food channels. There is no practical method of reconditioning the edible portion of a crop that will provide a reasonable assurance of human food safety. Therefore, the FDA recommends that these crops be disposed of in a manner that ensures they are kept separate from crops that have not been flood damaged to avoid adulterating "clean" crops.

Disposition of crops in proximity to, or exposed to a lesser degree of flooding, where the edible portion of the crop has NOT come in contact with flood waters, may need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Factors to consider in the evaluation include:

What is the source of flood waters and are there potential upstream contributors of human pathogens and/or chemical contaminants?

Type of crop and stage of growth, e.g., is the edible portion of the crop developing? How far above the ground does the lowest edible portion grow?

Were conditions such that the crop may have been exposed to prolonged periods of moisture and stress which could foster fungal growth, and possibly, development of mycotoxins?

Grains and similar products stored in bulk can also be damaged by flood waters. These flood damaged products should not be used for human and animal food.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables that have been inundated by flood waters cannot be adequately cleaned and should be destroyed. Fresh fruits and vegetables that have begun to spoil due to the lack of refrigeration should also be destroyed. These food items may be considered for diversion to animal feed under certain circumstances.

There is an excellent document on Salvaging Flooded Crops by Dr. John Rushing. I have posted it under "Late Breaking News" on both the http://ncherb.org/ and http://ncorganic.org/ websites.

Two more articles that may be helpful:

A 2008 article from University of Wisconsin food safety extension specialists on harvesting flooded gardens:

A 2008 article from Purdue Extension:

Sue Colucci, area extension agent, has also posted some important information concerning flooded crops on her blog at http://wncveggies.blogspot.com/2009/09/flooding.html.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Rain: Too Much at the Wrong Time

Here is the southern counties of western North Carolina, it has been raining for days on end.  About 3 am Saturday, the rain REALLY started coming down, and it has been steady ever since.  The French Broad River and other local rivers and streams are flooding.  There are many fields of tomatoes, peppers, nursery stock, hay, and sod totally under water right now.  The apple orchards, many of which suffered severe hail damage two weeks ago, are being further damaged by the excessive rain.  My heart goes out to these farmers.  Years of drought followed by one with excessive rain at harvest; it just isn't fair.

If ever there was a time to support your local farmer, this is it.  Please show up at the tailgate markets and road side stands and buy whatever local produce is available.  Let's try to come up with some creative ways to help these hard-working stewards of the land who provide food for table and help maintain the natural beauty of our region.

Extension agent, Sue Colucci, has a good post for farmers about how to handle their flooded crops at http://wncveggies.blogspot.com/2009/09/flooding.html

See pictures of the flooding in my area at:

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Visit by Representatives from Ingles, Albert's Organics, and Appalachian Harvest

On Friday, representatives from Ingles Supermarkets (http://www.ingles-markets.com/), Albert's Organics (http://www.albertsorganics.com/), and Appalachian Harvest (http://www.asdevelop.org/buy.html) came to the Haywood County Extension office in Waynesville, NC to talk to growers interested in growing organic produce for them.  There were about forty people in attendance, including a number of well-established organic farmers.  Jim Ray, VP of produce operations for Ingles, described the commitment Ingles has made to organics. Ingles buys much of its organic produce from the other two companies represented at the meeting. 

Albert's Organics is a national distributor interested in buying a large variety of fresh produce from farmers of all sizes.  They are opening a new distribution center in Charlotte, NC next week; thus the interest in finding more local farmers to supply them.  One caution that was presented, however, was to not expect to get a large price premium for organic produce when you sell on the wholesale market.  The Appalachian Harvest presentation was the longest and of most interest to many people.  Appalachian Harvest is a program of the non-profit organization, Appalachian Sustainable Development.  It is a network of about 65 certified organic farmers in Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina producing 30 fresh produce items.  The participating farmers all abide by certain quality standards, use uniform packaging and labeling, and are certified organic under a group certification.  The service costs the farmer 27% to 35% of the price they receive for their produce.

I thought it was a great meeting.  New market opportunities were presented for local farmers.  Some of the larger conventional farmers, in particular, might now want to consider transitioning to organics.  But the very frank discussion showed some of our smaller organic farmers that they are better off sticking with their established direct markets.  As Jim Ray said several times, "Take care of your current markets!"

If you are considering transitioning to organic production and want to learn more about it, plan on attending the new class that is starting on Tuesday, Sept. 22nd at the Buncombe County Extension office in Asheville, NC.  See area extension agent Sue Colucci's blog for more information: http://wncveggies.blogspot.com/2009/09/beginningtransitioning-to-organics.html.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello

Cover from the 2009 festival brochure
I have had the great honor and pleasure to be an invited speaker at all three of the Heritage Harvest Festivals held at Monticello in Charlottesville, VA.  It has been great fun to watch a little (but brillant) idea turn into an amazingly successful annual event in a very short period of time.  The first two years, the event was held at Tufton Farm at Monticello.  Even with a hurricane last year, it was clear that the event had outgrown that lovely little site.  So this year, the event was moved to Montalto, a beautiful location high above Monticello.  With breathtaking views and bright sunny skies, it was a perfect venue for this important and fun event.

View from Montalto (photo by David Schwartz)
I understand that over 2500 people turned out for a day full of demonstrations, lectures, and hands-on activities all centered around the theme of sustainable gardening and preserving heirloom plants for the future.  The artisan cheese and heritage fruit tasting was very popular, and the lines so long, I never did get a chance to sample any of them.  But they looked good and smelled heavenly!  I did get to sample some of the dozens of heirloom tomato varieties on display and jotted down the names of several I plan to try in my own garden next year. 

View from the other side of the mountain! (Photo by David Schwartz)
There really was something for everyone at this event.  There were demonstrations and lectures on a wide variety of topics including cooking, medicine making, mushroom cultivation, traditional hunting methods, composting, permaculture, woodworking, blacksmithing, cider making, seed saving, and shape note singing, just to name a few.  Yours truly gave a presentation on how to grow medicinal herbs in your own backyard and led a hands-on workshop on propagating woodland medicinal herbs. 

Sampling of the heirloom tomato varieties in the taste test.
There were also lots of vendors set up under colorful tents.  They had a wide variety of products and services for sale including crafts, yummy food, seeds, plants, rain barrels, books, and skin care products.  There were also educational booths where you could learn how to grow plants and animals or how to get involved in local causes supporting farming and the environment.

Local farm products for sale at the festival
So, I strongly suggest that you mark your calendar for mid-September 2010 and watch the website that Southern Exposure Seed Exchange maintains for this festival at http://heritageharvestfestival.com/ for the actual date.  It's a beautiful area and Charlottesville is a lot of fun, so if you don't live there, you will probably find It is worth the trip.
This event is organized by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange http://southernexposure.com/ and Monticello http://www.monticello.org/.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Advanced Organic Horticulture Training for Extension Agents was a Success

Ray Christopher describing his farm to extension agents from four states
On September 5th, I told you about the Advanced Organic Training session we had planned for extension agents from NC, SC, AR, and AL this week (see below).  It's over now, and I think we would all agree, it was a tremendous success.  First of all, I have to say that the UNC Rizzo Center in Chapel Hill, NC was an incredible place to hold the three day training session.  We had a very difficult time trying to find an appropriate venue for our training.  We needed a place where we could all stay, eat, and learn together.  We looked at various camps, hotels, and college settings and they either weren't available when we needed them or we couldn't afford them.  The Rizzo Center is upscale, and we felt pampered, but most importantly, it met all of our needs.  The meeting room was comfortable and equipped with all the electronic technology we needed to teach and demonstrate using Powerpoint, videos, and the Internet.  The food was outstanding and much of it was sourced from local organic farms; some we visited on our tour.  There are small meeting areas scattered throughout that accomodated our seven teams that had to meet several times to work on their projects.  It was perfect.

The biodiesel bus that transported us in comfort all day
Our tour on Wednesday was more than we had hoped for.  The weather was sunny and warm, the biodiesel bus was comfortable, and the farmers openly shared their successes, challenges, and hopes for the future.  NC extension agent, Sue Colucci, provided a description of that tour on her blog http://wncveggies.blogspot.com/

Haygrove high tunnels at Peregrine Farm
After several educational sessions this morning, we wound up the training with reports from the seven teams.  We had a fictitious farm scenario with seven problems that an extension agent might be asked to solve.  Each team was assigned one of the problems and had to work together to develop an answer.  The reports were creative, educational, and very entertaining.  I was impressed with how the everyone worked together and used what they learned over the past few days to formulate their answers.

Attendees discussing beneficial insects at the Student Farm at the CCCC campus in Pittsboro
At the end, the agents reported that they really liked the format of the training and that the farm scenario and assigned problems made for a good teaching tool.  They also liked having agents from different states all together to share experiences and knowledge, and they say we need to do this again in another 18 months or so.  Now the project leaders have to finish the development of a series of modules to be posted on a website to use as training tools and resources for all extension agents in the South.  This training was funded by a grant from the Southern SARE program.

Last tour stop was to ECO (Eastern Carolina Organics) where Todd was preparing to store winter squash

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Fun: My Chickens Are Molting!

It's the Labor Day and I'm not working and this post has nothing to do with alternative crops or organic horticulture.  But I went out to check for eggs in my chicken tractor a little bit ago and was shocked to find it full of feathers.  It looked like a chicken exploded!  I knew a few of them were molting, but right now the feathers are literally falling off the white one in the center.  Anyway, I thought it was funny and wanted to share.  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Training Extension Agents in Organic Horticulture

For three days next week, Debbie Roos (http://growingsmallfarms.org/), Tony Kleese (http://www.easterncarolinaorganics.com/), Richard Boylan (Ashe and Watagua Co. Alt. Ag Agent), and I will be leading a three day session to train extension agents from NC, SC, AL, and AR about organic horticulture.  This is an advanced level training session to help build a core group of agents in each state to serve as resource agents on organic agriculture for other agents in their state.  All the agents attended a beginner level training last year in their own states.  This is all part of a Southern SARE (http://www.southernsare.uga.edu/) funded project entitled 'Building Organic Agriculture Extension Training Capacity in the Southeast' led by Elena Garcia at the University of Arkansas.  We will base our training out of Chapel Hill so we can visit the following wonderful examples of organic and sustainable agriculture in North Carolina:  Peregrine Farm (http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/chatham/ag/SustAg/hittSAREawarda.html), Timberwood Organics (http://www.timberwoodorganics.com/), Benjamin Vineyards (http://www.benjaminvineyards.com/), the Student Farm at Central Carolina Community College (http://www.cccc.edu/curriculum/majors/sustainableagriculture/) and Eastern Carolina Organics (http://www.easterncarolinaorganics.com/).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Introduction to the NC Herb Association

Young adults "thinking" about herbs at the 2009 Wild Herb Weekend in Valle Crucis, NC.
There is a rising interest in herbs of all kinds; culinary, medicinal, aromatic, and ornamental.  People interested in herbs like to share their knowledge, learn as much as they can, and be around other "herbal folks".  If you are one of these "herb people", and you live in North Carolina or one of the surrounding states, you should check out the North Carolina Herb Association (NCHA).  It is a small organization of herb professionals, including growers, processors, herbalists, crafters, educators, and researchers, and herb enthusiasts, ie., hobbyists.  Every year the NCHA hosts Wild Herb Weekend at the Valle Crucis Conference Center (http://www.highsouth.com/vallecrucis/).  That alone is a good reason to belong!  It is a magical weekend in a beautiful high country location.  Every year there is a wide diversity of topics covered, with workshops, walks, and lectures.  This year Richo Cech of Horizon Herbs (http://horizonherbs.com/) and his daughters, Sena (author, illustrator, herbalist) and Nadja (natural products chemist), were speakers.  The association publishes a beautiful newsletter and has a great website.  Next summer, they will be one of the organizers/sponsors of the the first Piedmont Herb Festival.  And the website contains a wealth of good information.  The association exists to educate people about herbs, support research, and support the NC herb industry.  I have served as an advisor to the board for 20 years.  Check out their website at http://ncherbassociation.com/ and consider getting involved.

Richo Cech leading an herb walk at the 2009 Wild Herb Weekend

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Read and See Even More About the Hops Tour in Western North Carolina

Area specialized agent, Sue Colucci, did an extensive blog on the hops tour on August 29 with many more pictures than I have posted.  So check it out at: http://wncveggies.blogspot.com/.