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Article published by Centre Daily Times

Written by Holly Riddle
April 13, 2024.

Chris Hench transplants lettuces at Blackbranch Farm. Photo by Abby Drey,

Chris Hench is one of Centre County’s newest farmers. He and his wife, Amber, own Blackbranch Farm in Julian. However, Chris’s background is far from agriculture. After art school, he traveled the world as a freelance photographer — but farming was always his end game.

“My whole adult life, my end game goal was to find somewhere suitable to homestead and live off the grid,” he said. “That was my exit strategy from working in Hollywood, doing this freelance photography work and feeling burnt out all the time. How could we make money homesteading … full-time? The answer was farming.”

Blackbranch Farm is in its third year of production. Launching in 2021 came with its own challenges, as the world navigated the first summer following the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only, Chris said, were they building a farm — infrastructure-wise — from scratch, but they were also attempting to build relationships with chefs and enter farmers markets for the first time. Now, though, you can find Blackbranch Farm at the Pine Grove Mills Farmers Market, and online through Centre Markets and State College Market. The farm also works with farm-forward restaurants around the area, such as Allen Street Grill, Pine Grove Hall, Creekside at the Gamble Mill, Grace at Carnegie House and Four Ways Pub & Eatery.

Blackbranch Farm is thought to be one of the only no-till, intensive market garden-style farms in Centre County. It’s a rare farm model due to the labor intensity, Chris said, but it’s healthier for the soil.

“One of my guiding principles to farming is, I wanted to farm as naturally as possible and beneficially to the earth as possible. I didn’t want to take and not give,” he said. “I follow very regenerative farming practices. … We don’t till, so we aren’t coming into the fields and ripping up the soil biology and destroying layers of soil. We establish the fields and then just leave them be, with cover crops in the off season to feed the soil. … It’s a whole philosophy of farming as naturally as possible.”

The farm is Certified Naturally Grown, a certification that comes from a non-governmental organization, and with somewhat stricter standards than organic certification. The farm also does not use any tractors in the fields, and all three acres are hand-tended. Because of this approach, the farm, according to Chris, can produce the same quantity that a traditional 12-acre farm might — which leads into the farm’s “intensive market garden-style” of farming.

“We’re selling at the farmers market, then have permanent standing orders with local restaurants, then bagging a hundred-something bags of lettuce for the CSA, and we can do that week to week and never run out because of the intensive planting,” he said. “We’re mostly transplanting, so when one crop’s done, there’s already another crop in the nursery that’s been growing for 30 days, and we can swap out for that crop.”

Both originally from the Lancaster area, Chris said that one of the elements of farming that he and Amber love most is simply the food. “We like eating healthy. We like cooking… We like cooking and high-end culinary…” That, and a desire to work with area chefs and high-end restaurants, has informed the farm’s crop choices.

“We grow, in one season, 80 or 90 different varieties of produce,” Chris said. “This is also partly because we run a pretty large CSA and the CSA is free choice. Each Sunday, members log into their account online and build their farm share box. They’re customized each week, so I want to have a big variety.”

“We grow a lot of different leafy greens and specialty mixes, like spicy mixes, frilly mixes… We do candy-striped beets and rainbow carrots and rainbow-colored radishes — a lot of the stuff the chefs we work with want. We don’t do any melons or corn, but we do buy corn from a local organic farm for the CSA, just because everyone has to have their corn in the summer,” he added. The farm also has a large microgreens operation.

The farm’s summer CSA program, which offers both pick-up and delivery, has grown rapidly since the farm’s founding and runs May through September. CSA spots for the upcoming season are still open and available, at


View more pictures of Blackbranch Farm in the original article at Centre Daily Times.

Queens County Farm Museum to launch all-new immersive agricultural program April 18th

Article published by Morning AgClips

Written by Hayden Lees Cubas, Queens Farm
April 16, 2024.

FLORAL PARK, N.Y. — Blooms at Queens Farm, an all-new immersive agricultural experience this spring, introduces a sprawling field of over 70,000 U-pick tulips and vibrant photo opportunities to visitors of all ages at Queens County Farm Museum. This ultimate seasonal celebration will kick off April 18th and continue Thursdays through Sundays until May 19th, 2024. Gate admission to Queens County Farm Museum is free, and Blooms field entry tickets are $6–$8. Blooms guests may pick their own tulips for $2/stem.

A showcase of colorful tulip varieties will bloom throughout the event, including Algarve Early, Orange Brilliant, Jan Van Ness Triumphs, Texas Flame Parrots, Queen of the Night and many more. Throughout the year, flowers on the farm help support important pollinators such as bees from the farm’s apiary and a variety of butterfly species, including endangered monarchs. All crops at Queens County Farm Museum, including flowers, are grown using regenerative agricultural practices, and are Certified Naturally Grown.

As guests wander throughout the three-acre field of stunning tulip rows, they are invited to pick their own unique bouquets to bring home and enjoy. From rich reds, vibrant variegated oranges, vivid yellows, soft pinks, deep purples, delicate creams and more, blooms are available in a stunning array of hues that make each U-pick collection one-of-a-kind.

The Blooms tulip field is set among Queens County Farm Museum’s historic 47 acre grounds, which guests are invited to explore with free daily admission. As the natural scenery transforms to welcome a new growing season, visitors can enjoy the fresh spring air while learning about the rich agricultural legacy of New York City, meeting the farm animals, visiting the Farm Store and Plant Shop, hopping on a hayride, and touring the historic Adriance Farmhouse (weekends). Queens County Farm Museum’s Farmstand also opens for the season on May 8th, 2024.

Blooms at Queens Farm is part of an impressive lineup of spring events and education programs coming up at Queens County Farm Museum. Additional highlights include:

• Apple Blossom Children’s Carnival (April 20–28) – With Spring in full fling, visitors can enjoy carnival rides, hayrides, games and local food and drink while paying a visit to the farm’s array of friendly animals. Tickets: $16.95–$23
• Bee-a-Pollinator Earth Day Service Day (April 22) – Guests are invited to get outside and protect the planet at Queens Farm’s volunteer service day marking the 54th anniversary of Earth Day. Tickets: Free
• Grow and Gather Family Program (April 23–May 26) – This parent-child program will teach fledgling gardeners to plant, grow, and harvest vegetables, herbs, and flowers outdoors in Queens County Farm Museum’s new Edible Teaching Garden. Tickets: $25
• Teen Gardening Club (April 23–May 26) – Tweens and teens will enjoy a unique outdoor learning adventure while honing skills in indoor and outdoor gardening, hydroponics and urban gardening. Tickets: $25
• Celebration of the Three Sisters (May 4) – Guests will celebrate the Three Sisters Garden, learn more about Native American agricultural expertise, discover the rich history of Three Sisters planting and harvesting practices, and create inspired mosaics. Tickets: $25
• Sheep Shearing Festival (May 11) – The only event of its kind in NYC, guests are invited to learn about the cycle of wool production as the farm’s sheep get their much-needed spring haircuts. Tickets: $12-$15
• Wild Edibles Walk (May 16) – Expert guided exploration of a variety of wild edible plants in Queens County Farm Museum’s woodlands, pollinator gardens, and pathway edges, led by plant expert and author Marie Viljoen. Tickets: $55
• Art on the Farm (June 6–27) – Queens-based artist Denis Ponsot will help guests find their inner artist on the bucolic grounds as they experiment in the media of watercolor, pen and ink. Tickets: $55
• Strawberries: A Sweet Celebration (June 1) – Guests of this intimate event will take in the beauty of the growing fields during an evening guided tour. Farm-fresh berries, light fare and wine pairings included for an unforgettable evening. Tickets: $40
• Milk and Honey Month (June 1–30) – Queens County Farm Museum hosts this month-long celebration in honor of National Dairy Month and National Pollinator Month, both in June. Tickets: Varies by program; free and paid programs available.
• Cheesemaking 101 (June 12) – This introductory, hands-on class will guide students through the rich history and science behind curds and whey as they make two types of soft cheeses. Tickets: $55


Queens Farm offers free admission 354 days out of the year in addition to its robust offering of family-friendly events and educational programs. For more information, including full detail and registration links for the events summarized here, please visit

Article published by National Geographic

Written by Leah Worthington.
March 13, 2024.

The difference between organic, non-GMO, and certified naturally grown—and whether they’re worth paying a premium for.

Grocery shopping can be a dizzying experience these days.

If choosing among a dozen different yogurt flavors wasn’t overwhelming enough, there’s also the growing, confusing list of buzzwords on packaging labels. Is there a nutritional difference between organic Greek and regular? Is naturally grown healthier? What does it even mean for yogurt to be bioengineered?

While ostensibly created to educate consumers about how food is grown or processed, excessive labeling can have the opposite effect.

“Food labels can be very useful. And I’m saying ‘can be’ because sometimes they’re not,” says Ariana Torres, an agricultural economist and associate professor at Purdue University. The problem, she says, is that too much information can muddy the waters—making it harder for consumers to determine what labels actually mean and distinguish real certifications from empty marketing.

Food marketing experts weigh in on the most common food labels to demystify the claims and help consumers make educated choices about whether to pay the premium.


The term “organic,” which was first used in reference to farming in 1940, has come to describe a multi-billion dollar industry that represents nearly 6 percent of all retail food sales in the United States. And market research has shown that, while price premiums have fluctuated over the years, they’re generally trending upwards, with consumers willing to pay an average of 58 to 92 percent extra for organic over conventional produce and nearly 200 percent more for products like eggs. But what does organic mean, exactly?

Organic encompasses a broad spectrum of factors, from soil quality to pest control and use of additives, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which regulates the market through its National Organic Program (NOP). For a product to receive the ubiquitous green “USDA Organic” label, it must meet a long list of requirements for growing, processing, and handling. At least 95 percent of a product’s ingredients must be organic to be certified.

Broadly speaking, organic products are guaranteed to be grown without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, contain no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors, and are produced without certain prohibited practices, such as genetic engineering. The term genetically modified organism (GMO) describes any plant, animal, or microbe whose DNA has been changed through the use of technology. All organic products are GMO-free, though not all non-GMOs are organic.

Organic farmers are also required to use methods that “foster resource cycling, promote ecological balance, maintain and improve soil and water quality, minimize the use of synthetic materials, and conserve biodiversity,” according to the USDA.

Kathleen Glass, associate director of the Food Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, describes purchasing organic as “a lifestyle choice,” adding that there’s no evidence that organic is more microbiologically safe than conventionally grown foods.  Compared with 50 years ago, she says, the amount of pesticides and herbicides allowed on food are well below levels that could cause long-term health impacts.

Robert Paarlberg, an associate in the sustainability science program at the Harvard Kennedy School, says that there’s “no convincing evidence” that organic products are better than conventional from a nutritional or food safety perspective.

“Certified Organic does not mean much from a nutritional standpoint,” says Walter Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard. While organic products will have lower levels of pesticides and herbicides, he says that the health benefits of that are still unclear. “If the cost is similar, I would suggest the organic option, but for those on a limited budget, eating plenty of healthy foods would be more important,” he says.

Certified Naturally Grown

Consumers wanting to steer clear of synthetic chemicals and genetic engineering might also look for the “Certified Naturally Grown” label—and should be aware that any product claiming it’s “naturally grown” is not quite the same.

Though the standards are essentially the same as organic, the verification process differs slightly, says Alice Varon, executive director of Certified Naturally Grown, the independent nonprofit and certifier. “Certified Naturally Grown means that the food was grown without synthetic inputs or GMOs and that the practices of the farmer were verified through a peer-review inspection process.”

Founded and run by farmers, Certified Naturally Grown was created as an alternative for growers and producers intimidated by the “onerous,” national organic verification process, Varon says. Unlike organic, the CNG label implies locally grown and primarily covers minimally processed or non-processed foods like fresh produce, honey, sauerkraut, and salsa.

Whereas terms like “all natural” and “free-range” have no formal definition and can be used as an unverified, unregulated marketing ploy, Chris Berry, associate professor of marketing at Colorado State University, says that CNG—and other government or third-party certifications—are “something that consumers can rely on.”

Still, there’s always a margin of error, according to Varon. Unlike GMO certifiers, the CNG doesn’t conduct post-production lab testing, so cross-pollination with nearby conventional GMO corn fields, for instance, could potentially go unnoticed. “It’s entirely possible that there’s some contamination,” she says, adding, “That’s the nature of the food system.”

Non-GMO and bioengineered

While there’s widespread agreement that GMOs are as safe as any other foods, many consumers still want to know which is which. Though only a handful of GMO crops are grown in the U.S., several—including corn, soy, and sugar beets—are major players in the food market, both as ingredients and as feed for livestock.

One way to tell the difference is to look for products with the Non-GMO Project Verified label. The private nonprofit certifies goods free from organisms modified through any form of biotechnology. That means that, in a bag of non-GMO chips, not only must the potatoes be free from GMOs, but also any processed ingredients, like the canola oil used to fry the potatoes into chips.

While the Non-GMO Project sets the standards and makes the final certifying determination, independent companies conduct the actual genetic testing. These contractors use a lab technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to test for the presence of genetically modified materia in DNA, says Hans Eisenbeis, the director of mission and messaging at the Non-GMO Project. To put it simply, he adds, they’re looking out for products that “can’t occur in nature and can only occur in a lab.”

Per Non-GMO Project standards, certain “high-risk ingredients,” like apples and canola, are allowed to contain a small percentage of genetically modified material.

“Contamination happens,” Eisenbeis says. Still, if you see the label, he adds, “you can be really confident that you are meaningfully avoiding every GMO that a human being can avoid.”

The USDA regulates a similar, but inverse label—bioengineered—to identify foods with a detectable amount of genetically modified material. The Non-GMO Project defines GMOs broadly and includes genetic modifications used at any point during food production. The federal designation, on the other hand, is much narrower. Bioengineered uses a higher threshold for contamination and excludes processed foods made from bioengineered crops with undetectable amounts of modified genetic material.

From a nutritional standpoint, there is no difference between GMO and non-GMO foods. However, Non-GMO Project certification could help justify manufacturers in raising product prices, which also reinforces—as premiums often do—the idea that the non-GMO option is somehow better. Recent studies have shown that non-GMO foods can cost anywhere from 10 to nearly 75 percent more.

Labels can often be a “marketing tool” more than anything else, Torres says. “We need to educate consumers…because some labels actually don’t have a real value or added value to a product is just a label.”

While consumers may prefer to eat non-bioengineered foods, a USDA spokesperson emphasizes that the label is meant only as “a marketing standard and does not convey information about the health and safety of foods.”

Find the original article at National Geographic.

This article was originally posted by the Staff at Ark Valley Voice.

The March SOIL Sangre de Cristo “Speaker Series” is set for 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Wednesday, March 13, and it will feature guest speaker and owner of Rocky Mountain Garlic, Tiffany Collette. Those wishing to attend should RSVP to receive the Zoom Link.

Collette has received two zero-percent interest loans from SOIL Sangre de Cristo. With the equipment and supplies purchased with these loans. Rocky Mountain Garlic’s production and connection to the communities has increased significantly. Tiffany and her husband Mike Collette now offer a diverse array of fresh vegetables, garlic and eggs.

Rocky Mountain Garlic (RMG) is the only Certified Naturally Grown Farm in Chaffee County. This designation is a grassroots alternative to USDA Certified Organic. RMG is committed to regenerating their soil; no herbicides or pesticides are used.

This event will be recorded for future reference in the “Speaker Series Archives”.

It will be simultaneously translated into Spanish during the live presentation.


This article was originally written by Erin France for

Where you’ll go for seeds likely will depend on what you’re looking for and how much money you can budget for your garden this year. If you’re just picking up one or two packets, shopping in a store is fine. Otherwise, you’ll likely get more interesting seeds by shopping online.

My farm products are certified naturally grown, and according to the certification, I must purchase organic seed unless I cannot find an organic option at three other businesses. Organic seeds are pricier, but cost isn’t something I can use as a reason to not purchase organic. If you’re interested in growing organic seeds, be prepared to pay a higher price.

While you’ll likely find GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in your fast food meal, you’re not likely to find them in a seed packet. Genetically engineered seeds are almost entirely geared toward commercial conventional agriculture like corn and soybeans. However, you might want to look for and avoid any “treated” seeds. Treated seeds are more available to the home gardener, and come with a chemical coating of pesticides or fungicides. It seems wasteful to me to start covering your home-grown food in any chemicals when it’s not even germinated yet.

Finding the Cheapest Seeds

One of my perennial favorite seed purveyors, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, touts a collection of seeds made for the heat and humidity of Northeast Georgia. There are plenty of options for tomatoes, okra and lettuce. The company also employs small farms—including some in Georgia—to grow and harvest seeds for them. This is a great way to buy worthwhile inexpensive seed stock (including organic) and support small farms at the same time.

I have not purchased seeds from MI Gardener, a gardening YouTuber who now also sells seeds. If you’re just looking for a wide selection at rock-bottom prices, this is the place to go. Most seed packets are just $2, making a big garden more affordable for folks with a strict budget.

Speciality Flavors

Kitazawa Seed Co. has a great collection of Asian greens, gourds and everything in between, with a focus on Japanese vegetables. The business also boasts Indian and African produce not found in many grocery stores. As someone who loves food from around the world, but doesn’t always know where to start, I’ve purchased a few of their seed bundles. This year, they have offerings such as a “Juicing Garden,” the “Ugly Vegetables Garden” and the “Indian Cuisine Garden.” These packets can be a great way to get started on a new cooking habit or bolster the one you already have.

I don’t buy from Seeds From Italy, but I know farmers who swear by them. The germination rates, especially for finicky types like tender greens, prove they’re worth the extra money. If you love Italian food or really fancy greens, this could be the right catalog for you.

Healthy Hybrids and Organic Options

High Mowing Organic Seeds has a great selection of winter veggies. The problem, at least for Georgians, is High Mowing’s location in Vermont. If the description of a tomato reads as “does well in heat and high humidity,” that could mean something different for the Vermonter writing it than the Georgian reading it. I worked on a farm in Vermont for three months and was shocked at the public service radio announcement reminding people to stay hydrated at 85 degrees. At 85 degrees, y’all. That being said, their winter vegetables can stand up to any wimpy cold weather the South gets.

Many farmers in the Athens area order from Johnny’s Seeds. This company sells many hybrid offerings that can outperform heirlooms. Hybrids come from purposeful, selective breeding to provide a specific benefit, such as disease or pest resistance or higher yields. However, seeds saved from a hybrid plant won’t run true—you won’t get the same type of crop again. I choose hybrids over heirlooms for plants I know suffer from specific and widespread disease, like my blight-ridden tomato plants. Heirloom varieties, such as Cherokee Purple, tend to die from blight before they can produce much more than one tomato. Hybrids like Mountain Magic boost a plant’s immunity from blight, and allow my garden to grow a full season’s worth of tomatoes.

The following story was originally printed in Hobby Farms Magazine, written by Phillip Mlynar

Ellijay Mushrooms Innovates With Lion’s Manes, Shiitakes

Ellijay Mushrooms founder Howard Berk tells us how mushrooms are being used in bourbons and whiskeys along with being turned into creme brûlée toppings.

Howard Berk has deep mushroom roots. Early on, the Georgia-based Berk experimented with growing mushrooms on toilet paper and phone books, before turning his interest in mycology into the 2 Fun Guys home-growing kits.

Now, Ellijay Mushrooms has become the next stage in Berk’s journey. Situated at the base of the Appalachian Mountains in Ellijay, Georgia, the venture aims to supply eye-catching shiitake and lion’s mane mushrooms to chefs, stores and home cooks alike.

Taking a moment out from mushroom duties, we spoke to Berk about the appeal of mushroom powder and the demands of trying to be a mushroom genie. We also touched on the trend of using shiitake mushrooms in bourbon.

DIY Mushroom Growing Trials

“Ever since I guess when my kids were younger, I’ve always liked growing different mushrooms,” recalls Berk. “I’ve learned how to grow them on toilet paper, phone books and cardboard—kinda just learning about mycology at that time. You can grow oyster mushrooms on phone books pretty easily.”

Building From the Ground Up

A long-standing interest in gardening led to Berk helping to install a garden in his kids’ school. “That kind of started my real passion for it,” explains Berk as he looks back over his farming adventure to date.

“I helped start a farmer’s market here in Georgia 13 years ago, met my first mushroom partner there and created 2 Fun Guys,” he continues. “Those are the kits where you take the plugs and inoculate it. To make a long story short, five years ago my new business partner found me through 2 Fun Guys and we started Ellijay Mushrooms to supply restaurants, grocery stores and people like you and me.”

The Mushroom Genie

Early on, Berk says that “figuring out the timings and the scalings and logistics” was the trickiest part of launching Ellijay Mushrooms.

“I kinda had no clue what was really going on,” he admits. “So we kinda just dived in head first and learned trial by fire. How do you keep up with production and guess what your customers want to order ahead of time? It’s like being a mushroom genie, so to speak. You’re trying to predict the future!”

The Joy of Lion’s Mane

When it comes to the most distinctive mushrooms that Berk grows, he says lion’s manes always catch the eye first. “We’re just in a big phase for lion’s manes right now. Then the second one is our shiitakes because they’re so thick and meaty and look very plump. Most people just see their shiitakes at the store being flat and having no texture.”

Mushroom Bourbon!

“The recent trend is a lot of people are using our shiitakes with bourbon, whiskey or rum,” says Berk when asked about innovative ways he’s seen chefs incorporate his mushrooms into menus. “We’re seeing a big change in the last six months of using them for spirits and then pairing them with the mushrooms they’re cooking for meals. So we’re playing with bringing a shiitake spirit to the market.”

“Every chef does something different and creative,” adds Berk. “Like they might make a shiitake bacon or bring it down and dry out the shiitakes and use a powder to make a creme brûlée topping.”

Follow Ellijay Mushrooms at Instagram.

A fresh vegetable farm outside Morgantown was awarded the West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year award at an event in Sutton.

The Mountain Harvest Farm is located on the grounds of the Owl Creek Farm on Goshen Road and is operated by Mary Oldham and Chico Ramirez. Oldham and Ramirez rent the ground from the Yoder family and have been in operation and growing for the last 10 years.

As part of the win, Oldham and Ramirez will get a $1,000 cash prize, 200 hours, or three months of use of a John Deere tractor from Middletown Tractor Sales in Fairmont, with the option to purchase at a 10-percent discount.

“We’ve found this community is really supportive of what we’re doing,” Oldham said. “We grow all certified naturally grown vegetables, so that’s using organic practices, and the community has been very supportive.”

The natural process includes rotating crops from year to year to preserve the fertility of the soil, contour farming, no-till farming, and water conservation methods like drip irrigation. When it comes to additives to the process, they all must be natural.

“Fostering a good ecosystem here at the farm,” Oldham said. “We don’t use any synthetic pesticides, and we try to have a lot of pollinator habitat for bees and other pollenating insects that help our crops.”

The Mountain Harvest Farm regularly brings things like fruits and veggies, meats, breads, baked goods, eggs, and honey to the Morgantown Farmers Market and also participates in the Winter Market at Mylan Park on select weekends.

“We’re actually able to do it now and survive on it full-time; our business is growing and we have several employees, and that still seems like a dream,” Oldham said.

The farm now offers a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program where people pay a pre-season fee in exchange for weekly or bi-weekly boxes of vegetables from the farm during the season. Through the website, customers can select what they want, decline what they don’t like, and have access to recipes and cooking ideas.

“We have grown up to 40 different things, and we offer recipes and suggestions of what you can do with the items to get to try new things,” Oldham said.

Oldham wants to serve more people, not just with the CSA program or at a farmers market, but to host them at the farm and share their farming practices.

“Educational tours, school groups, and things like that teach how we farm and what conservation practices we use,” Oldham said. “I think in the future we hope to expand that.”

Original article in CLFN Chronicles by Carteret Local Food Network

Written by Catherine Elkins, CLFN’s Board President and Founder.

For those of us who seek well-grown foods, the adjective “organic” serves a useful purpose. The USDA is the only agency charged with certifying that a farm follows certain standards.

Farmers pay over $2,000 for an inspector’s travel and investigation of the farm, learning about record-keeping, integrated pest management, weed control, storage of materials and crops, fertilizers, waste, and sanitation. This is an annual cost and covers the entire farm. Farmers may use sprays and inputs if allowed; home gardeners may also purchase OMRI-approved products (Organic Materials Review Institute) at their local garden center.

“Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) provides affordable, accessible means of certification for farmers using ecological production methods.” CNG respects the standards set by the USDA but also respects the knowledge and care of our local CNG-qualified peer-to-peer reviewers and farmers.

In Carteret County, only one farm has met CNG standards – Ocean Natural Farm in Bogue/Newport. Here farmer Michael Murdoch practices his craft on sandy soil in the center of Carteret County. The initial inspection involved Cooperative Extension agent Shawn Banks in 2021.

Now farmer Murdoch stands ready to ‘pay it forward’. That’s how CNG works – farmers helping and reviewing other local farmers. His off-the-grid, 100% solar attitude reinforces his commitment to farming sustainably and to nurturing our environment.

We all know that organic certification means compliance with certain standards. “These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”

Soils and crops get the most scrutiny, but the record-keeping must be very detailed and can be very onerous.

  • Where was organic seed purchased, stored, and planted?
  • What additives were applied when and at what rate?
  • When and how was the crop harvested?
  • How was the crop stored (temperature, sanitation, label)?
  • Who purchased the crop for resale?

Not all farmers who describe their farm products as organic are certified organic. If a farm’s gross annual sales are under $5,000, they may claim they are organic, but not claim certified organic. Many farmers use the terms organically grown or no spray or spray free; no real definitions are universally accepted, so please ask them what that phrase means to them.

I personally do not deny the organic farmers their due – to satisfy the requirements of the USDA is a very difficult effort and when our farmers achieve this, more power to them! But please learn and appreciate Certified Naturally Grown; which is good for all of us!

Original Article by Nooga Today.

Editor Kristen here. Back in July, I experienced my first taste of gourmet mushrooms at a local food competition and was absolutely blown away by how delicious they were. The mushrooms used were all grown by business and life partners, Emma Riegel and Gabriel Harrison of Gowin Valley Farms.

Gowin Valley Farms is a small family farm in Rocky Face, GA (a ~30-minute drive from downtown Chattanooga) that has been in operation since 1964. The 122-acre farm was started by Emma’s late grandfather, who specialized in small vegetable and fruit production.

During the pandemic, Emma and Gabriel moved to help out on the farm, which was just temporary at first. While exploring the property, they noticed a large amount of golden chanterelle mushrooms growing along the trails of the farm. This led them to get their foraging certification and sell the mushrooms locally.

From there, the door to growing gourmet mushrooms opened. When deciding whether to pursue a change of careers and transition to permanently living on a farm, Emma said her grandfather gave her some advice: “Never let someone tell you you can’t do what you want.”

Fast forward to now, Gowin Valley Farms has a new focus on sustainable indoor + outdoor gourmet mushroom operations — and all of the mushrooms are certified naturally grown (think: no GMOs or any synthetic chemicals used).

The farm received a grant and is working in partnership with Kennesaw State University + Cornell University to conduct indoor mushroom-growing research. They received a mushroom cultivation chamber (inside a 40-ft shipping container) equipped with systems to automatically regulate the growing conditions of the mushrooms.

Now, the farm is able to grow and isolate wild cultures of over 20 gourmet mushroom species like lion’s mane, turkey tail, shiitake, oyster, and chestnut. The growing process is pretty incredible — you can learn more about that on the farm’s website.

So, where are these mushrooms going exactly? To local chefs and potentially to your plate. The farm delivers its mushrooms to local spots like St. John’s Restaurant, Cashew, and Whitebird Chattanooga.

Bonus: If you’re a local chef or restaurant owner looking to add some local mushrooms to your menu, you can reach out to Emma via email about ordering.

Want to try out some of the mushrooms for yourself? Gowin Valley Farms is set up at the Chattanooga Market on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Make sure to follow them on Instagram for other pop-ups, educational opportunities, and visits to their farm.

Additionally, you can shop their products online. Check out some of the tinctures that are produced in-house, growing kits, and other supplies.

Boulder County Farmers Market: At the Market: Nourish skin with products made from locally grown herbs

You’ve heard of farm-to-table. Now, let us introduce you to farm-to-skin.

Colorado Aromatics is a natural skincare company that creates its products from herbs they farm themselves. As the owner and founder of Colorado Aromatics, Cindy Jones plays equal parts scientist and farmer. After obtaining her Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, she spent years doing cancer research, medical writing and teaching classes. But after a while, she began to crave a career that offered more balance as she raised her children.

She and her husband, George, purchased a farm in Longmont and set off on an entirely new venture: founding their own herb farm and creating a skincare company that honors nature. As a biochemist, Cindy knew the research behind the beneficial properties of herbs and how to use the principles of chemistry to bring them to their fullest potential. She traded her lab coat for overalls as she began Colorado Aromatics, which is home to an entire catalog of herbs that includes fields of lavender, lemon balm, parsley and some tulsi she is experimenting with.

While these herbs are grown to support Colorado Aromatics, Cindy sees the ecosystem her farm creates as equally important as its final products. Colorado Aromatic’s farm is Certified Naturally Grown, a grassroots and peer-led certification process awarded to farms and producers whose farms operate in harmony with nature. Last summer, they cataloged 87 wildlife species on their property, including insects, birds and mammals that seek refuge at their farm. “Farms are more than just food,” Cindy noted.

Because of this, Colorado Aromatics pushes the envelope on what “natural skincare” can truly be. Cindy harvests, dries, distills and extracts her herbs on the farm before taking them to her processing facility to turn them into their signature moisturizers, face mists and other beauty products.

Just like you might choose to feed yourself healthy, locally grown foods, Colorado Aromatics allows you to treat your largest organ — the skin — with the same attention to detail. Plus, since all products are grown and made in Colorado, their body care line caters to our local climate (yup, we mean dry skin) and the active lifestyle many Coloradans are accustomed to.

Read the full article at Daily Camera.
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