Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bodacious Berries Workshop provides a template for Success

In 2005 Rod Nippert wanted an agricultural hobby that would provide him the exercise and fresh air he felt he needed. Rod had transitioned from years of carpentry into less physical stained glass work. In thinking back to his youth growing up on a farm near Dayton he decided on raspberries. When hearing the story you realize that it was more than his body that Rod had decided to exercise. He started by doing his homework and hasn't stopped since.

On August 25th, nearly 100 people from as far away as New Philadelphia gathered to hear Rod speak on his experiences with organic raspberry production. They observed his clean healthy and ergonomically friendly 800' planting of mostly heritage raspberries. They learned about his successes and struggles and most did there best to avoid popping the tantalizing red fruits into there mouths. Expert technical information was also provided by Maurus Brown Extension Horticulturist from the OSU South Centers in Piketon.

When Rod started his patch he did two things that helped lead to his success. He called Athens County OSU Extension Educator Rory Lewandowski, and he didn't rush. His first growing season was spent on site preparation considered crucial in any horticultural endeavor yet often ignored. He tested the drainage of the site, since raspberries hate “wet feet”, bush hogged, plowed, disked, and manured and then used buckwheat as a fall cover crop. The next season he planted his first 400’ of berries after researching the variety and source of the plants he wanted to grow.

Although not certified organic Rod uses completely organic methods and inputs and the planting is on ground that was long fallow. He fertilizes yearly with well rotted horse manure uses dripline irrigation with careful timing and scouts aggressively for insects and disease. He also selected the variety that he uses with a strong consideration to disease and insect resistance. He developed his methods by extensive reading and consulting with Extension Educators including Shawn Wright and Maurus Brown of OSU South Centers in Piketon. The internet has also been a big source of information for Rod. This winter he plans to top dress his rows with gypsum to increase the level of calcium in his soil in an effort to control the fungal disease Phytophora which is one of the major threats to raspberries. Rod learned about this relatively new method of control through computer links to Cornell University in New York.

With the economic downturn reducing the call for stained glass Rod now looks to his raspberry planting named “Bodacious Berries” as an income source. He added another 400’ of heritage plants this year. His berries are marketed through word of mouth and sell for $7 dollars a quart. Rod delivers to businesses and residences and has been known to put the berries right into your refrigerator! Demand remains high and Rod currently sells all he can grow. He pays as close attention to the economic side of the berries as he does to the horticulture. Rod keeps a meticulous log of his time, expenses, and inputs. He is currently netting an eye opening $14 an hour for his efforts.

For more information on raspberry production, and small fruit production in general contact your county OSU Extension Educator or the South Centers in Piketon at 740-289-2071.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sustainable Ag Gurus Present 50 Year Farm Bill to the White House

Heros of the Sustainable Agriculture movement, Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry and Fred Kirschenmann, recently traveled to Washington to propose a 50 year Farm Bill which would transform American farming. The three met with Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of agriculture, and several members of the Kansas congressional delegation to discuss their plan, which details the importance of perennial crops to reduce soil erosion, increase drought resistance and reduce energy use. The plan calls for $50 million a year to fund research that would help make possible, the transition from annual to perennial crops. The presentation included a giant photographic banner showing the immense, nearly 20 feet long root systems of perennials grasses.

The group emphasized that a system that values not only yields but local ecosystems, healthy food and rural communities, was the way to revolutionize American agriculture. Fred Kirschenmann, a fellow at the Leopold Center, expressed concern in a universal solution to hunger that involves industrial agriculture and genetically modified crops and stressed the importance of appropriate technologies.

Wes Jackson described the reception as positive.

"They were all impressed by the roots," he said. "I just handed them the farm bill. I didn't get what you would call a solid commitment." During their stay, the team toured the White House and its gardens and Jackson left two sacks of The Land Institute's perennial Kernza wheat flour with the White House chef.

Members of Rural Action and the community were fortunate to have the founder of The Land Institute and acclaimed author Wes Jackson present on his work with perennial grains at this year’s Annual Meeting. He had his impressive photos of perennial root systems on display for us as well as a detailed presentation of his work in Salinas, Kansas. More information about the Land Institute’s work can be found at their website:

Click here to read a full copy of the 50 Year Farm Bill presented by the trio.

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