Fall is in the air. The leaves are turning, the hoophouses are planted and getting covered, we have had our first frosts, and the root crops are coming in. At the BFA, we are preparing for another year of courses and conferences, and our research and coalition strategies are shifting into a higher gear.

The last month has seen events in Baltimore and New York, central Maine and Montpelier, VT, across southeast Michigan, and at the 4th Annual Yale Food Systems Symposium. A return engagement with deeper presentation has been requested by national program leaders at the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), and will likely be scheduled for November. Allies across the food movement have requested a proposal to develop the bionutrient quality meter that we have been talking about for years, and registrations for our best ever Soil & Nutrition Conference are filling up. Our past conferences have sold out, so be sure to sign up soon!

The time has come for those soil tests. Send them in now and coordinate with your local chapter to order through the BFA mineral depots. Generally, the best prices available for rock mineral amendments, trace element blends, inoculants, foliar sprays and drenches. Check our calendar for upcoming events and chapter meetings in your area, or if you do not see one and would like to help set one up, contact gary@bionutrient.org.

May your fall be prosperous and the drought end,

The 6th Annual Soil & Nutrition Conference

With an expanded program and a great lineup of speakers this conference is going to be a fun, active, deep dive into practice and management of food production and the widespread implications for human health across our wider culture.

We are happy to announce that this year Joel Salatin will be joining us as a presenter and keynote speaker. Along with the highly anticipated return of John Kempf, our speakers this year, bring a vast body of knowledge from in season solutions on the farm to holistic models for improved management, health perspective and the changing landscape of food and sustainability in today's world.

December 4-6, 2016
Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, MA

Learn more and register today!

Highlighted speakers, with session descriptions

Joel Salatin

Polyface Farms, Swoope, VA

"Ballet in the Pasture"
Take a virtual tour of Polyface Farm, from field to forest, fertility to infrastructure. Multi-speciated pasture management using mobile, modular, and management-intensive design creates ecological, emotional, and economic advantages.

"Peopling the Farm"
Drawing from his many years working with parents, spouse, children, grandchildren, non-related staff, apprentices, and interns, Salatin jumps into the people part of the farm, a subject rarely discussed but perhaps more important than anything else--and more difficult.  Be prepared to laugh, cry, and ponder.

"Seedstock — Picking for Performance"
At Polyface Farm, wellness performance, without any intervention, is the basis for breeding selection.  Improved health across the production spectrum takes time and observation, but weaning a farm from intervention strategies ultimately brings more production, pleasure, and profits.

John Kempf

Advancing Eco Agriculture, Middlefield, OH

"Using Nutritional Management to Develop Disease Resistance"
John will discuss real world experience in developing crops with exceptionally strong immune responses to disease and insect pests by managing nutrition and cultural management practices.

"Seed to Seed, Critical Points of Influence in Plant Development"
John will discuss specific nutrient management practices at Critical Points of Influence that produce crops with a high degree of disease resistance, and exceptional seed and fruit quality.

"Managing Crop Nutritional Integrity Using Sap Analysis"
Monitoring and managing nutritional integrity is the foundation of strong immune responses to various disease and insect pests. John will describe the use of sap analysis to manage a crops nutritional integrity and disease resistance during the growing season.

Wherein our agronomist talks fall clean up

As you prepare your farms and gardens for fall, I want you to focus your attention on supporting the biology that makes up the soil/plant ecosystem.  I am reminded of the importance of this perspective as I drive by the farm fields in upstate New York, where I again see farmers out “cleaning up” and tilling their fields - readying them for winter.  Apparently, the farm/garden aesthetic ideal consists of naked soil and buried organic matter (or whatever is left of it after most is removed).  I suppose that used to be my ideal as well, and so I can appreciate it when I see my neighbors, family, friends, and clients dutifully going about their “fall cleanup” in their gardens and on their farms.  But unfortunately, these widely accepted practices are doing you a great disservice.

Remember that soil should be covered, and organic matter/crop residues are wonderful food, and homes, for soil microbiology.  The conventional wisdom that these materials present opportunities for pathogens to overwinter and infect next years’ crops relies on a simplistic understanding of these systems, and one that is based on agriculture as a war against pests.  The reality, as many of you know, is that when we work with nature, instead of fighting (a losing proposition anyway), we create the conditions of abundance, health, and restoration.  If our fields are devoid of diverse microorganisms, crop residues certainly may exacerbate disease, but rather than treating the symptom (by removal of the organic materials), we can instead address the root causes; through microbial inoculation and creating conditions for microbe diversity.

So this year, I would urge you to consider a few “fall cleanup” practices that may differ from your traditional approach:

  • Don’t till!  About the only thing that should be tilled in the fall is if you really need to get a crop in the ground in early spring, and need to avoid tilling wet cold soil at that time.  About all I can think of would be a first planting of lettuce or spinach.  And even then, if you can’t follow up your tilling this fall with a mulch layer over the soil (hay, leaves, etc), then seriously question whether you really need to till it now.
  • Inoculate with microbes.  Use a few different types of microbes, too.  Perhaps something like Terra Biotics “Crop Recycle” and/or TeraGanix “EM-1”, or even your own indigenous microbes you harvest from healthy forest edge environments... all of which will create healthier, more diverse populations of beneficial soil microbes that will help break down crop residues.

  • Leave your crop residues.  At least consider leaving the roots if nothing else.  Instead of ripping up your dead annual vegetable crops, chop them up with a brush hog or weedwacker.  The roots will help hold the soil in place, and as they break down, they will leave channels through the soil for water and air to move.  The plant materials will mulch the soil surface, and provide food and shelter for soil organisms.

Agronomy questions

with David Forster, BFA soil & farm consultant
The next Agronomy Conference Call with David Forster, our in-house soil and farm consultant, will be held on Thursday, October 13, 2016. These monthly calls are 1-hour discussions that are open to members and non-members alike, so tell your friends! If you have specific questions or topics you'd like to hear about, please post ahead of time in the forum to be sure we get to your questions, and to make our limited time more effective and efficient. Check the Agronomy Consulting page for dial-in numbers and additional details.
Agronomy Conference Call
Thurs, Oct 13, 8pm EST
Click for details

BFA Workshops beginning soon!

This two-day course provides an overview of the principles and practices of biological farming. Our goal is to build upon your knowledge and experience to find ways to increase the health of your soil and crops for greater yields, healthier produce and better marketability. Nearly 2,000 growers have attended the course over the past five years, and our attendance continues to grow thanks to word-of-mouth by previous attendees!

Participation-based with questions and answers, our signature workshops are designed for farmers, growers, and gardeners of any type to learn current research and proven methods, and go step-by-step through the processes that will lead to optimum crop health and sustained yield.  Learn more at http://bionutrient.org/workshops

Keene, NH  Nov 6 & 20
Ann Arbor, MI Nov 12 & 13
Montpelier, VT Nov 19 & Mar 18
Richmond, VA Feb 18 & 19
Pomona, CA Feb 25 & 26
And more added soon!

Learn more

Food Quality Over Time... What Are We Observing?

Recently, we came across a visual comparison of the number of apples you would need to consume in the 1990s in order to have the same iron intake from one apple grown in 1950. The result? The iron content of one apple from 1950 is equal to the combined total of a whopping 26 apples from 1998.

Are the numbers real, or is truth stranger than fiction?

This data has a striking similarity to findings by researcher Don Davis who compared USDA nutritional data across 43 crops collected in 1950 and 1999 (Davis, 2004). Of the 13 nutrients evaluated, 6 of them (protein, calcium, phosphorous, iron, Vitamin B2 and Vitamin C) were found in smaller quantities in 1999 relative to 1950, suggesting a decline in nutrient content over time. (The other 7 showed no statistical change over time.) Davis points out, in a follow up report (which you can find here: http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/content/44/1/15.full.pdf+html) that this historical decline is mirrored by a host of studies, some comparing USDA or other historical data, some performing side-by-side plantings with different crop varieties or different nutrient treatments (see Jarrell and Beverly, 1981; Farnham, 2000; Garvin, 2006 in reference list from above article). Although other studies indicate that nutrient content has remained fairly constant over time (Scott, 2006 and follow-up broccoli studies), when all evidence is taken together, we can conclude the following:

  1. Plant breeding has historically focused much less on improving nutrient density than on improving yield and crop growth. The good news is that this attitude is slowly changing thanks to folks including past (Phil Simon, USDA-ARS) and upcoming (John Navazio, Johnny’s Selected Seeds) speakers from the BFA’s Soil and Nutrition Conference.
  2. As plants are cultivated to be “bigger” – think massively sized apples – a dilution of the nutrients within plant tissues can often be observed. Not all nutrients may suffer this “dilution effect” to the same extent – the change may be more apparent with nutrients that are taken up from the soil (like minerals), and less dramatic for those made within the plant (like vitamins or antioxidants).
  3. Soil fertility is missing from a lot of this discussion. Existing reports of crop nutrient decline have focused on the effect of genetics and physiology because they can be (more or less) directly tested.

Can we evaluate the nutrient content of the same variety in a 1950’s agroecosystem relative to a 1990’s environment… if we could even typify an agroecosystem?

Likely not, but we do know that many metrics of soil fertility including soil organic matter, soil compaction, soil structure and soil life can all affect soil nutrient availability. This, in turn, affects crop productivity and resilience. (For more information on how this happens, see Cornell University’s fantastic Soil Health manual here: http://www.css.cornell.edu/extension/soil-health/manual.pdf, also highlighted at the December 2016 Soil and Nutrition Conference.) The million dollar question is if improved soil fertility can also improve nutrient density.

Perhaps surprisingly, few, if any, published reports exist to support this claim. We do know, however, that many ecological growers, organic growers, and BFA members adopting best management practices in their gardens and farm operations have observed improvements in flavor, color, pest resistance and storage quality in their harvests. Perhaps NOT surprisingly, all of these qualities are often linked by a network of plant nutrients (one example of this connectedness across different facets of food quality can be found here: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(13)00573-3), some which are beneficial to human health. This suggests that all grower observations of food quality could be pointing to an underlying shift in nutrient density or composition.

Where do we go from here?

Ecological growers and more specifically BFA member growers are well positioned to substantiate the links across food quality, crop nutrient density and soil fertility. Through member initiated efforts such as the demonstration plots designed and maintained by the BFA Connecticut Chapter, and future BFA-member coordinated field trials that will involve more detailed measurement, recording and reporting, we can help to fill this knowledge gap.

Local chapter highlights

Our chapter network continues to spread the word about growing (and eating) high quality, bionutrient-rich food. Chapters are meeting regularly, coordinating mineral depots, bringing in outside speakers to share insights, organizing seasonally-themed discussions and outings, and generally sharing knowledge, camaraderie and good food! See more information below about upcoming events and meetings to engage with your local group. Don't see one local and want to help start one? Reach out to chapters@bionutrient.org.

Also, if you haven't had a chance, check out the Westchester/NYC BFA Chapter's YouTube channel, featuring Chapter leader Doug DeCandia - good stuff!

Upcoming meetings:

Oct 16  Central VA
Oct 19  Southeast Ohio
Oct 25  Westchester/NYC
Nov 13  Westminster, MA

BFA mineral depots

The mineral depot is operating with nearly a full stock of minerals, organic fertilizers, "custom blends", liquids, and inoculants. We have the full line of Agri-Dynamics liquids, soluble inoculant nutrient products (like "Complete") from Terra Biotics, and compost blended with micro-trace elements (Co, Mo, & Se) for ease of application. We have dedicated a significant amount of time (and several thousand miles of driving) to get this going so our members can access our assortment of excellent products at low prices. We have negotiated rates as low as we can right now and some of our items are available to BFA members at substantial discounts to retail prices. When more members take advantage of our mineral depot we'll be able to buy in larger quantities and pass along even better bulk pricing, so please help us, and each other, by checking out the materials we have available and get your orders in now for Fall applications! And remember, the mineral depot is for members only.

We have organic potassium sulfate, gypsum, k-mag, soft rock phosphates, organic nitrogen blend, humates, trace elements and pre-blended trace elements, granular borate, carbonatite, desert dynamin, basalt, garden blend, and spring blend (which isn't just for spring!).

Check out our listing and get your orders in. We are shipping out as orders are received, but we WILL run out of some items, so place your pre-orders soon.
Looking for a list of available amendments?  Click here.

The mineral depot is open to BFA members only, so join now if you haven't already!

And if you want some last-minute advice about minerals and what to order, consider joining David for the next Agronomy Conference Call on Oct 13, 8pm EST. Click here for more details.

If you have questions, you can email me (David) at agronomy@bionutrient.org, and please join us on the next Agronomy Conference Call!
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