Soil Health: Livestock Grazing and More
By Martha Jackson Suquet

A few months ago, we talked about how farmers take care of the soil that their livelihoods are based on. While we focused on vegetable farmers in that story, there are also many amazing other kinds of farms in our membership and our region, and our farmers who raise animals also work in a close relationship with the soil.

In the Berkshires, there’s a good amount of farmland that might not be ideal for vegetable farming, but can still be managed responsibly in other ways. You can see the diverse mix of farmland use in Massachusetts in the recent agricultural census.
Vegetable farmers care for their soil with practices that include amending the soil with compost, minimizing tillage, and planting cover crops. But livestock farmers aren’t working with soil in the same way as veggie growers; they’re generally not planting annual crops each season. Their focus is more on managing pastures made up of a mix of grasses and forage crops. So soil management looks a bit different on a livestock farm.
No-till vegetable beds at Red Shirt Farm, Lanesborough
Some types of livestock, like chickens and pigs, are omnivores, meaning they eat a varied diet. While many farms (especially large-scale industrial operations) can raise these animals indoors or in feedlots entirely on commercial feed, most of our members choose to raise them at least partially on pasture. Other species, like cows and sheep, are ruminants—they can get almost all of their nutrition from grass and other plant forages.
Kim Wells pastures beef, pork, and chickens at East
Mountain Farm in Williamstown.
Any pasture-based livestock farm, especially those raising ruminants, needs healthy soil so that their pastures produce enough nutrition for their animals. The animals themselves actually contribute to the soil health. How? Well...with poop. Yes, while vegetable growers may add composted manure as part of their soil management, animals raised on pasture leave manure for the soil themselves. Manure contains key macro- and micro-nutrients, and organic carbon, all of which benefit the soil for future growth.
It may sound simple, but managing this soil health balance--especially on a large scale--requires careful planning and observation by farmers. Keeping the right number of animals on the land, rotating them appropriately, and minimizing soil compaction can help keep pastures healthy and productive. Farmers need to fully understand the types of plants that grow in their pastures and/or hayfields and what those plants need to thrive. They may also need to reseed pastures and add soil amendments.

One new opportunity for farmers to manage soil health on a large scale is the No-Till Seed Drill available to rent through the Berkshire Conservation District. With this tool, farmers can revive or reseed pastures and hayfields without fully disturbing the soil. Tilling can disrupt the natural structure of the soil and release carbon into the atmosphere. Cynthia Grippaldi of the BCD says that they created the rental program based on farmer input: farmers who may want to try no-till seeding don’t want the expense of a tool they’ll only use once or twice a year. Farmers from Sheffield to Adams are making use of this new tool and it’s been used to seed around 200 acres so far. “It had a slow start, no one knew what it was,” says Cynthia. “Now it’s in demand and very popular.” Berkshire Grown held a no-till workshop in early 2020 to help introduce the tool to our farmers.

There’s not always an agreement on how livestock farming and meat-based diets impact sustainability and climate change. But it’s easy to see how responsible farming practices that conserve soil health are certainly a more sustainable way to feed people. We’re proud of all the farmers in our region who work in partnership with the land.
See you at the Berkshire Grown
Next market is on Saturday, February 20!
Eisner Camp, 53 Brookside Rd, Great Barrington

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Shoppers at the November and December Winter Farmers Markets.
What We Are Reading:
How America’s Food System Could Change Under Biden 

New school meal standards? Help for small farmers? Maybe, but first the new administration has to deal with hunger, food safety and a diminished U.S.D.A.

By Kim Severson for the New York Times, Jan. 26, 2021
Karen Ducey/Getty Images
The transition memos from the left flank of American agriculture began piling up almost as soon as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential win was clear.
There were pleas small and large. Fix the rules for raising organic livestock, and reverse the department’s track record with Black farmers. Restore school food standards and strengthen G.M.O. labels. Prioritize the climate crisis. There was even a suggestion to change the name of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the Department of Food and Well-Being.

The chef Michel Nischan is among those who have spoken with the Biden transition team about nutrition and farming policy. His food-advocacy résumé goes back to the first Bush administration. It was his idea to double the value of food stamps for fruits and vegetables, a notion that has grown into a national program.

He has a message for his fellow food warriors, many of whom say their issues were shoved back several squares on the game board under former President Donald J. Trump: The Department of Agriculture is an understaffed agency facing staggering hunger and safety challenges brought on by the pandemic. Repair needs to happen before reform.

Read full article here.
Is Dairy Farming Cruel to Cows?

A small group of animal welfare scientists is seeking answers to that question. Facing a growing anti-dairy movement, many farmers are altering their practices.

By Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, December 29, 2020
Mr. Chittenden with a new calf, one of the 1,500 Jersey cows on his farm. Photo Credit: Lauren Lancaster for The New York Times
The 1,500 Jersey cows that Nathan Chittenden and his family raise in upstate New York seem to lead carefree lives. They spend their days lolling around inside well-ventilated barns and eating their fill from troughs. Three times a day, they file into the milking parlor, where computer-calibrated vacuums drain several gallons of warm milk from their udders, a process that lasts about as long as a recitation of “The Farmer in the Dell.”

Mr. Chittenden, 42, a third-generation dairy farmer whose family bottle-feeds each newborn calf, expresses affection for his animals. It’s a sentiment they appeared to return one recent afternoon as pregnant cows poked their heads through the enclosure to lick his hand.
“I’m in charge of this entire life from cradle to grave, and it’s important for me to know this animal went through its life without suffering,” he said, stroking the head of one especially insistent cow. “I’m a bad person if I let it suffer.”

Read full article here.
Want to learn more about how
eating meat can support a resilient food system?

Supporting local non-profits has never been more important than it is right now!

Give back to your local community by purchasing a $2.50 reusable Community Bag at the Big Y, located at 740 South Main Street, Great Barrington, during the month of February.

Berkshire Grown will receive a $1 donation for every reusable bag sold. If you do pick one up, be sure to practice standard safety protocols. Just like you need to wash your hands regularly, always wash your reusable bags before and after use. If possible, bag your own groceries at check out when using a reusable bag. Thank you in advance for your support!
Berkshire Grown connects you with local farmers, restaurants, and food producers. DONATE TODAY to celebrate local farms and food, sustain our Berkshire food economy, and Keep Farmers Farming! Support your favorite local eating establishment.
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PO Box 983, Great Barrington, MA 01230 or call (413) 528-0041.
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Now more than ever, connections to local food and farms hold our community together. 

Berkshire Grown's 2020 Guide to Local Food and Farms is the region's best guide to farms, farmers markets, and restaurants offering local foods. Use this Guide to find farm stands, CSA farms, pick-your-own farms and orchards, as well as locally sourced, value-added products like charcuterie, preserves, and fermented foods.

Connect to the Guide here to see descriptions of Berkshire farms, farmers markets, restaurants and local food businesses, with addresses and a detailed map. Pick up a printed copy at your local grocery store or farm stand. Keep it handy and use it frequently!
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Margaret Moulton, Executive Director
Andrea Caluori, Program Manager
Jess Camp, Program Manager
Kate Burke, Farm to Food Access Project Manager
Sharon Hulett-Shepherd, Membership and Office Manager
Join Berkshire Grown here.