farming

A Growing Business

Two of the nicest people you could ever meet also happen to be two of the smartest and innovative entrepreneurs in the area. Lydia and Francey are the force behind Mill City Grows, the Lowell, Massachusetts-based enterprise that is bringing community gardening and urban food production to the city and surrounding area. Their mission: “Mill City Grows fosters food justice by improving physical health, economic independence and environmental sustainability in Lowell through increased access to land, locally-grown food and education.” Please visit their web site: http://www.millcitygrows.org

Back to Francey and Lydia though, both of whom, along with their husbands, are thoroughly invested in the community and its success. I have had the opportunity to follow them around to a few of their projects for the Merrimack Valley Magazine and the Local Farming photo essay that I did last year. Yesterday afternoon they dropped by my studio to pose for some shots at The Big Doors. Please do visit their web site to see what’s growing!

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Francey Slater and Lydia Sisson of Mill City Grows

Francey Slater and Lydia Sisson of Mill City Grows

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From Farmer's Market to Table

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It must be two years ago now, but my wife Amy and I did a blog for quite a while about food. Amy did all of the writing, and the food prep, and I did all of the photography and most of the eating. Her blog is still out there (in every sense of the word), and is called fournightsaweek. Don’t confuse that with her very serious and important education blog, amybisson.com.

Inspired by the free magazine that is handed out by restaurants around Boston, we have decided to restart the blog, this time with a “buy local” focus and with a farm-stand to table theme. Being the dead of winter here (not kidding!), farmer’s markets are, for the most part, dormant. However, there are a few, so yesterday we decided to visit the winter one in Chelmsford, MA. Amy’s intent was to just show up and see what looked good, and build dinner around that. Here are some of the shots. Visit her blog at fournightsaweek.wordpress.com to read more about it!

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Happy 2014!

Every year at this time I whine about how tiresome all of the end-of-year lists and retrospectives are, so it seems only natural that I do one myself. 2013 has been a very good year for me. I have had a number of rewarding commercial photography successes, as well as some really interesting editorial ones. As important for my sanity though have been my self-assigned portrait projects that have allowed me to get to know many interesting people who I wouldn’t necessarily have had the opportunity to spend time with. Thank you to everyone who has helped too: my wife Amy (and reluctant keeper of the books), my son and new daughter-in-law, my assistants Melissa and Liz, my stylist Grace, Western Avenue Studios, and my loyal and supportive clients and fans. I know I am forgetting someone, so please accept my apology in advance! Thank you again and have a very Happy New Year!

Adrien

2013 in Pictures

2013 in Pictures

Local Farming Lives

I really want you to go out and get this month's Merrimack Valley Magazine! It should arrive on news stands around September 16th. I do have the fall fashion cover story, but I will talk about that in another blog. I want to talk about my local farming photo essay today though. I am really happy that I was able to pull this long-term story-in-pictures off! Working on it most of the Spring and early Summer, I got to visit a number of agricultural enterprises around the valley and meet with some really dedicated people, each of whom was more than happy to spend time giving me guided tours of their operations. I really do get to see aspects of some things that most people don't get to see or sometimes, even know about. Hopefully, this article will give you a taste for what is growing all around us. And speaking of taste, there is an accompanying article in which Carolyn Grieco, of Carolyn's Farm Kitchen, cooks up some of the dishes recommended by the farmers, just to be captured in my photos.

So please check out the magazine for the rest of the photos, the extended captions by Emilie-Noelle Provost, as well as the accompanying article with lots of recipes and food shots.

Farmer Dave checks the progress of his crop

Farmer Dave checks the progress of his crop

Farmer Dave's blueberry crop

Farmer Dave's blueberry crop

Mann Orchard crates await the harvest

Mann Orchard crates await the harvest

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Lydia and Francey, of Mill City Grows, discuss their city community garden in Lowell

Lydia and Francey, of Mill City Grows, discuss their city community garden in Lowell

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Jeanmerli of Groundwork Lawrence taking care of the weeds

Jeanmerli of Groundwork Lawrence taking care of the weeds

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Groundwork Lawrence... I love these!

Groundwork Lawrence... I love these!

The beautiful landscape of the Cider Hill Farm

The beautiful landscape of the Cider Hill Farm

Karen of Cider Hill Farm shows me what's growing

Karen of Cider Hill Farm shows me what's growing

I first met Karen and Glenn in the spring, shooting another assignment. Like all of the others that I visited, they were more than generous with their time and enthusiasm.

I first met Karen and Glenn in the spring, shooting another assignment. Like all of the others that I visited, they were more than generous with their time and enthusiasm.

Busy as...

Busy as...

Merrimack Valley Apiaries

Merrimack Valley Apiaries

And let's not forget the final product! 

And let's not forget the final product! 

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.

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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...

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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

Locally Grown - One More Time

Just as I have done the past two years, I spent some time this summer visiting small local farms and farm-related training events, mostly for the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. This year I got to revisit a few of the farmers that I had met in previous years, this time at their new, larger farms. You may recognize a few people from both my portfolio and some of my previous blogs. One couple that I met in Dracut, Massachusetts, last year now has a farm in Groton, as well as a new addition to their family! Congratulations!

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By way of showing how the food progresses from the farm to the table, I also visited the new packing station for the Lowell CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture project. Clearly a growing and well-run organization.

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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.

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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.

Boxing Day at CSA

Matthew Himmel, the World PEAS (People Enhancing Agricultural Sustainability) CSA Coordinator at New Entry, here in Massachusetts, invited me to observe him and his workers boxing the Lowell CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares. They pack three days per week. Here in the Boston area we had torrential rains both Tuesday and Wednesday this week, and while they needed to work in the rain, under a tarp, I didn't. I wimped out and showed up on Thursday morning, the first nice day in a while. Conditions were actually pretty good for photography though; no direct sunlight and off and on clouds. And no rain!

I watched and learned much about how they divide up the produce to provide CSA shareholders with their goodies. I never thought about it, but they need to weigh quite a few things and even out the contents of the boxes to make them all uniform, fair and bountiful.


I had originally asked Matthew if I could photograph him for my portrait project back in January. Things happen, so it's a good idea to plan ahead!

For the first few shots, he invited me to experience the refrigerator truck. After 10 minutes, the 60F outside the truck felt pretty good. But what's up with the lens fogging up? A long, beautiful summer makes you forget about those joys of cold weather photography.

Matthew Himmel, the World PEAS (People Enhancing Agricultural Sustainability) CSA Coordinator at New Entry