Art and Technology

I haven’t blogged in a while, so publishing some tear sheets is way overdue. 

This spring’s Merrimack Valley Home Magazine features a story about Lowell’s Whistler House Museum of Art. It’s located right downtown in Lowell, on Worthen Street, and features a nicely kept historic building and grounds, in addition to lots of classic art work.

Neil Boissonneault and his staff at CON-CEPT are the cover story of this month’s CE Pro Magazine, a locally-published techie magazine. In addition to the cover, I had the run of his showroom in order to get lots of gear shots. In the 50s through the 70s, my father had a television store, so I enjoyed talking with Neil about some of the old products and how they compare to today’s technology.

Things that I Like

My thing is People Photography. I think I give that impression anyway. I'm not a marketing professional, but I read and can follow directions. So, since I love to photograph people, that's what I emphasize. Any good photographer though, can do many things. Not necessarily all things. I don't do weddings, sports, I really dislike grip-and-grin shoots... I could go on. I do enjoy making photographs that please me though. I have found that those are most often subjects that I am attracted to in the first place. Here are some. (Make sure you click on some of the captions. They have links)

I like to eat. Slowly. Small portions that taste. Heaping piles of stuff annoy me.

Here are some dishes that are decidedly not in that category.

pizza on copper.jpg
This, and the previous shot are of some dishes by Chef Carolyn Grieco, of Haverhill, MA

This, and the previous shot are of some dishes by Chef Carolyn Grieco, of Haverhill, MA

Rainy days make great shots in the summer. So green. This organization and the fields owner deserve a lot of credit!

Rainy days make great shots in the summer. So green. This organization and the fields owner deserve a lot of credit!

There's a rumor that I had some work published in a special Home edition of a local magazine...

There's a rumor that I had some work published in a special Home edition of a local magazine...

The beautiful new interior of Lowell's Merrimack Rep (MRT)

The beautiful new interior of Lowell's Merrimack Rep (MRT)

Speaking of Lowell, Massachusetts...

Speaking of Lowell, Massachusetts...

Vendor preparing for Lowell's City of Lights parade

Vendor preparing for Lowell's City of Lights parade

The Scott Grimes Cover that Almost Didn't Happen

Back in August, Masschusetts native, actor and musician Scott Grimes, of ER and Band of Brothers fame, came home to do a benefit concert at Lowell's Memorial Auditorium. Merrimack Valley Magazine loves a hometown success story, so Scott was a perfect fit for the cover. It was all arranged. We were to meet Scott back stage before his concert and do the cover shoot. Nothing highly produced, just a series of portraits of him sitting, singing, enacting a voiceover session in a theatrical setting. Dramatic lighting, minimalist background... you get the idea.

I had the lights all set up. Everything was ready to go. I did some test shots with the publisher sitting in for the star. He loves that (ha!). In walked someone in charge. 'Scott won't be able to come down. It's too close to showtime.' I looked at the publisher and the creative director as they went completely pale. I blurted out: 'can he just give us five minutes?' The guy paused and said, ok, I'll check. He walked away and the aforementioned magazine honchos shot me a look. A glare really... I said, 'I am all set up. If he comes down here for 5 he will be here for 15.' I may have even said 'trust me'... I really need a manager; someone to stop me before I say 'yes' again!

Scott came down to the set and was incredibly personable, helpful, ready for a photo shoot, and seemed to be in no rush to leave. Happy to accommodate. We shot the cover in a little less than 10 minutes and followed that up with several relaxed, informal posed shots of him, his band and our writer, Beth Daigle. It had turned out to be a good night all around. But someone really needs to stop me next time.

And please don't miss this issue to check out Creative Director Steve Pennimpede's great vision and Photoshop work on the cover concept!

Merrimack Valley Magazine - November/December 2012

Merrimack Valley Magazine - November/December 2012

A Happy Team - Merrimack Valley Magazine's owner, editor & publisher, Glenn Prezzano, writer for the Scott Grimes story, Beth Daigle, and creative director Stephen Pennimpede

A Happy Team - Merrimack Valley Magazine's owner, editor & publisher, Glenn Prezzano, writer for the Scott Grimes story, Beth Daigle, and creative director Stephen Pennimpede

Sustainable Farming in the Merrimack Valley - Matthew Himmel Interview

In today's blog, I have the distinct pleasure of presenting an interview with Matthew Himmel, the Marketing Manager of World PEAS Cooperative at the New Entry Sustainable Farm Project, here in the Merrimack Valley. The New Entry Sustainable Farm Project's (http://www.nesfp.org/) mission is to assist people with limited resources who have an interest in small-scale commercial agriculture, to begin farming in Massachusetts. World PEAS ("People Enhancing Agricultural Sustainability") Marketing Cooperative primarily sells directly to consumers through a Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA), with additional sales to institutional food services/restaurants, and at farmers’ markets (in partnership with the United Teen Equality Center).

Complicated, I know! That is also why I decided to interview Matthew and get the real scoop, right from the source. So let's get started!

Matthew Himmel Interview
Matthew Himmel

* You studied biology and environmental studies at Hamilton College. Are you originally from that area of New York, and did you have interests in farming and local agriculture before going to college?

No, I am actually from around here; I grew up in Lexington.  When I was growing up we had a vegetable garden, compost pile and great backyard, so I spent a bit of time outdoors, tinkering in the garden. By the time I graduated from High School I was already very interested in agriculture, and took a year off to travel and work on farms in Central America and Europe.  I became confident that I wanted to work in agriculture, but not exactly sure how.  I studied biology and geology at Hamilton, studied Permaculture in the summers, worked on research at Cornell in Crop and Soil Sciences and Horticulture, and ultimately found a niche that I love, helping farmers access markets and resources they need to succeed.  After trying a few different things out, I have concluded that market-base strategies are essential to creating the healthy, equitable, and sustainable food systems we all want.

* Did you or your family have a background in farming when you were growing up?

My mother emigrated from a small town in Romania, where everyone was subsistence farmers.  While I had a very different upbringing, this heritage has influenced me.  I still love hearing the stories from my grandmother about how they made sauerkraut to save for the winter, started seedlings in the warmth of a composting manure pile and so forth.

My dad is from New Jersey.  He’s definitely had an influence on me too, but less directly in farming.  I think I get my systems thinking from him.  He uses Excel spreadsheets to do just about everything.  Learning Excel from him, has been enormously helpful coordinating farmers for World PEAS.

* What are the goals of World PEAS, NESFP and of the Lowell CSA, and how do they work together?

NESFP is strengthening our local food system by training new farmers (either new to farming or new to the U.S.) and helping them access the resources they need to successfully establish farm businesses.  Helping farmers access markets is critical, since the financial viability of farms is essential to their continued existence.  While we encourage farmers to have diverse marketing venues, including farmers’ markets, restaurant accounts, etc., we also coordinate cooperative marketing through the World PEAS Cooperative.  

World PEAS helps small farmers connect with local consumers, by coordinating the production of farmers, each of whom may only be growing six crops, to offer customers a diverse bounty of over 70 local fruits and vegetables.  The cooperative also packs and delivers produce from all of the cooperative farmers, which is much more efficient than each farmer spending time and fuel making their own deliveries.  Consumers also benefit, because they are able to have just-picked freshness, and support small farmers in their community, without having to drive out to each of the farms, and with the convenience of online payment, and a free weekly newsletter with recipes.

* Is the main objective of NESFP to train farmers, or is it to provide resources for them to get started? Or are some of the farmers very experienced?

New Entry works with farmers with varying levels of experience and resource needs.  Many of the immigrant and refugee farmers we work with have decades of experience farming in their homeland, but are less familiar with the local climate and markets, and may also need help accessing land and other key resources.  Others come to the program with very little or no farming experience.  

We have recently seen a rise in the number of American-born applicants looking to get into farming for the first time.  They may need more help with production skills and land access, but are often more familiar with trends in the local market, through their observations at farmers’ markets, supermarkets, etc.  

We also work with farmers who have some experience farming in the U.S.  Some a single Field Training to learn about a single production topic, such as organic pest management, others may wish to re-vise and formalize their business plan through our Farm Business Planning Course.  Others come to New Entry for our Farmland Matching Service, so they can find available land to farm.

* How many share holders did the CSA have this past summer, and how did it compare to previous years?

Last year, the World PEAS Community Supported Agriculture (aka CSA or farm share) program, which is our largest market, provided weekly boxes of fresh produce to 425 households throughout the greater Lowell and Boston areas.

The CSA and World PEAS in general have been growing rapidly over the past couple of years.  When I started in 2008 we had 100 shares.  We’ve been adding about 100 every year since, as well as additional markets.

* Is the CSA self-sustaining? Do the farmers all make a profit?

As of 2010, the World PEAS Cooperative achieved financial solvency.  We are really proud of this achievement, and feel that our success demonstrates the efficacy of this model to other farmer groups and organizations.

We cover our costs by charging a commission on sales, a little over 20%.  This still leaves farmers with much higher prices than they would receive through most other markets, because it is a pretty direct and efficient value chain.  Unlike traditional channels, produce doesn’t change hands several times, and there are no expensive warehouses and supermarkets to maintain and power.  Farmers can still get better prices selling directly to customers at Farmers’ Markets, and many do.  But many of the farmers in the program have other jobs, don’t speak English very efficiently, or have volume that are too small to justify going to a market on their own.  World PEAS provides another market.

Whether farmers’ make a profit is dependent on how well they manage their farm.  There are a lot of expenses, including seeds, land rental, water, fertilizers, organic pesticides, tractor rental, gas, etc.  Farmers need to plan their production to make the most efficient use of these resources, and make sure they can sell what they grow.  Often times farmers in the program break even their first season, and increase their profits in subsequent years.

* Is the land generally lent or leased, and to NESFP or to the individual farmers?

New Entry manages a three incubator farm sites in Dracut where farmers can rent land and equipment.  We have various arrangements in each case.  Our Farmland Matching Service typically helps arrange direct leases with farmers.

* Are there any long-range plans that any of the various organizations that you work with have in the works?

Having achieved many of the goals we set several years ago, we are in the midst of another round of strategic planning.  Having built up a suite of successful programs New Entry is well poised to expand in a variety of directions.  It will be exciting to see how things develop.




Registration for the World PEAS CSA is now open.  For more information, visit http://www.worldpeascsa.org/.

If you have questions about World PEAS or for further information about the Training Program, please call the office at 978-654-6745.

Harvest Time

It saddens me to say that the end of summer is upon us. I would love Fall if it were followed immediately by Spring. Ok, enough complaining!

Local farmers are bringing in their Fall harvests. I met up with two of them in Dracut last weekend, JoAnn and Kamal, as they collected their potato crop. Bigger farms will harvest potatoes with a fork, as I used to do when helping my father. I imagine that factory farms use something far more high-powered to dig them up. JoAnn and Kamal like to get down into the dirt and find them by hand. As JoAnn told me, using a fork results in a number of potato stabbings. This way, they find them all and they don't destroy them in the process.