Friday, February 17, 2017

AOLCP Snapshot: Emily Dutra, Dutra Designs

     1)      How was your business year in 2016?

In 2016 many of the goals I had in the works over the last several years came together. We had an incredible diverse team. They were loyal, knowledgeable, friendly, reliable and passionate. Our clients and their projects could not have been more supportive of our continued mission to make the environment a cleaner, safer and more beautiful place through regenerative land care. We did run into more emphasis on budgeting than normal, but it only challenged us to be more creative with our services.

     2)      Share something that you learned last year, whether about horticulture or the horticultural business.

       A lesson that has come up throughout my career is that it is so important to communicate well. Helping to set and understand your client’s expectations is the first step to a successful relationship.  When a new project starts your clients goals and yours should be aligned and realistic. This includes cost, timing, and the finished product. Meadows, hugelkultur gardens, and organic lawns are some areas where this was driven home for us over the last few seasons.  Construction and establishment of these installations take time and money but the finished product is beautiful and saves on both. This applies to many of our services!

     3)      What are you looking forward to in 2017, and what do you plan to do differently?
      I am really looking forward to continuing to increase living alternative lawns: Meadows, clover, ground covers, edible gardens, native grass and perennials to our sustainable landscapes. A proper alternative lawn not only saves on water, fertilizer, and pesticide use but it is beneficial to the earth and makes for gorgeous functional design! I also have a renewed excitement for our container gardens. They were my first love and after 3 years and 2 moves our greenhouse is finally back up allowing us to grow unique material and get really creative with our designs! 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review from Landscape Heroes: Carbon, Water and Biodiversity Conference

by Jenna Messier

Jack Kittredge, Julie Rawson, Allison Houghton - NOFA MASS
Back in the summer of 2016, Julie Rawson and Jack Kittredge from NOFA MASS spoke with ML Altobelli from Ecological Landscape Alliance and determined that there was great interest in carbon in the soil and a potential for collaboration on a conference. I was happy to get on board as well, as folks at CT NOFA and NOFA OLC were all excited about the Soil Carbon Restoration white paper written by Jack Kittredge and we wanted to know more.  Folks from Biodiversity for a Livable Climate were asked to participate, and so our conference committee began.  Coordinating Committee members included Penny Lewis from Ecological Landscape Alliance, Adam Sacks from Biodiversity for a Livable Climate, Allison Houghton from NOFA MASS and myself.

Fast forward to January 31st, and the room was packed for Landscape Heroes: Carbon, Water and Biodiversity at UMASS in Amherst!  We started out the day with our Keynote Speaker: Courtney White from New Mexico. Courtney first wrote about carbon farming in his book, Grass, Soil, Hope, where he reported that ranchers out West were creating soil fertility, actively managing their water resources, and implementing healthy grazing practices: and all of these practices were resulting in more carbon being stored into the soil. Courtney also shared five strategies for reducing and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere into the soil:
Courtney White
    1. Enriching soil carbon
    2. Farming with perennials
    3. Climate-friendly livestock production
    4. Protecting natural areas
    5. Restoring degraded watersheds and rangelands
    T. Fleisher

    For the next presentation, we had T. Fleisher, co-owner of F2 Environmental Design, talking about compaction as a huge problem to be overcome in order to increase soil health, nutrient cycling and soil's carbon sequestration potential.  T. has worked at large public properties which are heavily used, and thus suffer from compaction.  He uses soil biology to help reduce compaction on his properties, letting the microbes do the work.  See the full report on T's work at Harvard  and the Harvard Yard Soil Restoration Project HERE. T is able to transition heavily used properties to organic management because he starts with soil testing, he uses test control plots for comparison and he measures the changes which occur after the applications are made.

    Bryan O'Hara, organic vegetable farmer from Lebanon, CT, talked about the process of transitioning
    Bryan O'Hara
    his farm to a no-till system of production. Tilling soil allows carbon to be released into the atmosphere, as one by product of the tilling process.  Using a no-till system means you need to come up with a non-chemical way of knocking down your previous crop and incorporating that organic material into your soil all without using mechanical turning of the soil.  Bryan slowly started a no-till approach one crop at a time, one field at a time, but he has really seen it pay off over the years.  The last few years of drought have actually been the most productive and lucrative on Tobacco Road Farm, as the improved soil held soil moisture very well.
         Bryan also talked about Korean Natural Farming techniques which he first heard about from interns working on his farm.  It uses particular composting processes which utilize local biology, and increase soil fertility on the farm.
         Jim Laurie from Biodiversity for a Livable Climate ended the morning session with an overview about the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, around 360 ppm at this time, and how we may hit 500ppm by the end of the century - which would cause significant ice-melting and ocean rise.  He also showed a diagram demonstrating how little fresh water there is on the planet, from Howard Perlman at USGS. 
       The afternoon session was called "Humans as Agents for Positive Change."  We started with Paul Wagner from Soil FoodWeb NY and Greener Pastures Organics, who provided an overview of how soil biology symbiotically works with plants to break down minerals and make nutrients available to the plants at the root level.  As a  result of this process, carbon is drawn down from the air, travels through the plants and then can be stored in humus around the root zone.  When humans choose to reproduce soil microbiology in compost or compost tea, and then apply it to the soil, this increases nutrient cycling and can restore healthy soil function.
    Paul Wagner and Jenna Messier

    Bruce Fulford, Owner of City Soil and Greenhouse which produces and distributes locally produced compost, mulch and amended soils in Boston.  By making compost and removing food wastes from the landfills, it reduces methane released into the atmosphere when food is decomposing and not properly composted. In addition, by producing high quality composts and distributing them locally, this increases the ability to grow healthy plants in a community and reduces trucking and shipping of heavy bags or trucks of composts from far away places.  Bruce sees this work as community improvement, from local foods to jobs being produced.
    Bruce Fulford

    Hugh McLaughlin, Chief Technology Officer from NextChar, presented information on biochar such as its properties and unique place in soil health.  Biochar is fascinating! Hugh shared that biochar has lots of microscopic pore space, where water and soil microbes can hide or be stored. Biochar endures in the soil for many years, contains carbon,  increases cation exchange capacity, and increases adsorption capacity.  Biochar can be produced in many ways, and is an up and coming part of any soil health program.

    Chip Osborne
    Last but not least, Chip Osborne from Osborne Organics finished up the presentations by talking about growing healthy, organic turf and how this can also contribute to carbon being stored in the soil.  If you choose to use a diversity of turf species, by selecting perennial rye grasses, fescues and kentucky blue grass, then the turf can be more healthy and resilient under stress conditions.  If you improve the soil and aerate compacted areas, you can increase root growth which improves plant health and allows photosynthesis and carbon draw down to occur in turf and lawns, too.  By keeping your grass over 3 inches in length, the longer the blades, the better those plants will photosynthesize and function, as well.  "Grass will not disappear, but you can manage your turf organically and sustainably and it can be part of a healthy ecosystem" was the message from Chip.

    The conference was a general overview of what people from various industries currently know about carbon soil sequestration, demonstrated what is working well in different areas of the country, and showed us all that much more research needs to be done to identify solid ways of measuring carbon storage in the soil with different approaches.  It was a collegial atmosphere, people had  great questions for the panelists, vendors offered products and information of interest to the group, and we all had to run out the door a little too soon as the snowstorm began.  I realize that we were not able to answer all of the questions: but we started the conversation.... What are you doing to sequester carbon in the soil???? to our sponsor, Rincon- Vitova Insectaries, Inc. for providing support to our conference!

    Thanks to all of the following vendors!

    The Conway School
    Green Earth Ag & Turf
    The Perfect Earth Project
    Pearl's Premium
    Dvinci Energy

    Friday, January 20, 2017

    Q & A with Peter Schmidt from Compostwerks!

    A Q&A with Peter Schmidt of Compostwerks! LLC, a company based in Westchester County, New York which provides products and knowledge to assist ecologically minded growers, transitioning green industry professionals, municipalities, colleges, institutions and composting operations.

    Q: Please describe your business in 50 words or less. What is your business and who does it serve?

    Peter Schmidt: Compostwerks is a wholesale supplier of many different organic land care supplies such as organic fertilizers, soluble amendments and natural pest controls. We also sell commercial compost tea brewers, sprayers and compost top dressing equipment. Compostwerks uses all of the materials it sells in their service division. 

    Gregg Twehues and Peter Schmidt, co-owners of Compostwerks, LLC


       Q:What is the state of the organic gardening industry? Where do you see the greatest growth and what’s driving it? 

    Schmidt: We have seen growth every year since formalizing in 2007. The area of largest growth for us currently is in private higher education. This is followed by municipal business. Landscape contractors, arborists make up the balance of our clients, followed by organic agriculture.

    Q: What are some of the most common challenges professionals face in caring for the land organically and what approach do you take to solving them?

    Schmidt: One area is being competitive in the market place. We can help in this area because we sell strictly wholesale. The other challenge for the professional is the market being inundated with new products and unrealistic claims of efficacy. We always suggest keeping it simple: Focus on building soil biology, organic matter and sound cultural practices. 


                Q: What advice do you have for conventional land care professionals who are considering transitioning to organic?

    Schmidt: First, stay abreast of new education opportunities such as becoming an Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLCP)! Second, understate expected outcomes with your clients. Explain that restoring natural soil systems takes time and patience. Third, don’t overdo the ‘product approach’. Top dress with compost. TEST YOUR SOIL.

    4.    Q: How do you consider your business to be part of the solution to environmental degradation and overuse of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides? How do you educate your clientele? 

    Compostwerk’s biggest role is to help disseminate accurate information about organic land care and back it up with simple and easy to use organic inputs and equipment. We host periodic workshops, consult directly and have an extensive website with valuable information. Go to for more information.

    Thanks Peter, for sharing your business and your approach with us today!

    Wednesday, January 11, 2017

    How to select an Eco-Friendly Ice Melt Product

    by Jenna Messier
    Jenna Messier

    Recently, I bought an ice melt product which said it was eco-friendly and listed four ingredients ending in the word "chloride". No other chemicals were listed on the label.  I have stairs and steps which must be free of ice for the tenants living upstairs, so I was seeking to purchase a de-icing product which would not hurt my gardens or lawn and would not end up in the Long Island Sound via the storm drains on the street either.

    I reached out to Joe Magazzi, President of Green Earth Ag & Turf, located in Branford, Connecticut, to ask him about how to select an eco-friendly product and how to differentiate among the products available. Here is what Joe had to say:

    Joe Magazzi

    Advertising environmentally-friendly in the ice-melt world is a bit sketchy…it is largely unregulated and ice-melts aren’t required to list their ingredients like fertilizers or most other products we put down on our plants, trees and turf.  Most ice-melts are made from rock salt (which is sodium chloride or common table salt).  So it can be organic or all natural, but it is also corrosive and can kill turf, trees and plants due to the salt toxicity caused by the sodium.  For that reason, our ice melts are potassium-based (made from food grade ingredients and in fact produced in food facilities).  

    Potassium is actually a required lawn nutrient, so if anything, it will have a minor fertilizer value (although you wouldn’t use it as a fertilizer) instead of burning.  Potassium is also the best for pets…it does not burn their paws, and better for concrete as it does not freeze thaw as readily – which is what causes the damage.  Besides the burning, the sodium chloride would not be a huge environmental pollutant.  Some fertilizers, however, contain ammonia, nitrates or urea.  All of these molecules are basically nitrogen sources.  These ice melts will have the same environmental impact as over-fertilizing with nitrogen does.  In fact, more so as the nitrogen is less likely to absorb into the frozen soil or vaporize and is thus more likely to run into our water systems in the winter, thus becoming sources of eutrophication.  

    For that reason, we suggest and sell the potassium-based ice melts as it has the least impact on people, animals, all things green and water and the environment in general.  There is  more information on our website here which may be helpful for you.

    Thanks Joe! That was very informative!