My time at Rippling Waters Organic Farm is drawing to a close, with only a few days at the farm each week to help wrap things up. The bulk of the work, from seed cataloging and selection to harvest and cleanup, now falls on the shoulders of the journeypersons who will be taking the farm over next year under the guidance of our farm manager Julee Applegarth. The farm will be in good hands with Molly and Brenna-Mae taking the reins and planning out their fields for production – they are both extremely bright, strong, and far harder workers than I could hope to be. I am extremely excited, as I know they are, to see where the farm will go next year and what successes they will experience.
Although I am in love with the land at Rippling Waters and devoted to the good they do there, it is time for my partner and I to move on. We are a part of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) Journeyperson program, which guides us for two years through conferences, business courses, on-farm training, and education in hopes that we might be better equipped with the skills to start our own farm. It is one of the most successful farmer training programs in the United States, with seven out of eight participants going on to start their own farm. Part of the deal is that you can spend time on a host farm (Rippling Waters) and slowly transition your efforts to your own project, which is what we have been keeping ourselves occupied with the past month.
My family owns land here in Limington, Maine, about five minutes away from the Saco River and Rippling Waters. The soil is fair albeit a little rocky, the southern exposure is excellent, and there are old hand-dug wells spotting the 35 acres. Much of what was once pasture land now stands tall with young sugar maples and ash, and rock walls divide the land into neat parcels. I should mention here that my brother Dylan and his partner will also be joining the team as we wrangle the land and begin farming here.
Our methods are slow and probably counter-intuitive to the wisdom of most conventional production farmers. With an emphasis on hand tools, animal and human power, true sustainability and health we move forward, thinning the sugar stand and expanding “arable” land.
We do not own a tractor, and none of us have really voiced any interest in acquiring one. We do not wish to till the land, but to create growing beds as complex and rich as we see in nature. Following the permaculture principles of Bill Mollison and the edible landscaping work of Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier, we are turning around and taking a step forward, so to speak. Our concentration is on quality and nutrition, giving plants enough space and healthy soil so that they don’t just grow, but they thrive. The quality of food is the key, and from healthy food we hope to make a healthy living.
We have already cut much of the goldenrod in our first field and layered the ground with newspaper, seaweed, composted crabs and manure, compost, hay and leaves. The seedlings find this habitat supportive and friendly, and when they are strong they dig their foothold in, plunging their roots into the true soil below our sheet-mulch. This way, the soil is never exposed, never given a rush of oxygen so that the nitrogen becomes overly available like a steroid, never spun and ripped of all its biota and fungal activity, never torn of its structure and innate, natural characteristics, and, to be blunt, never exploited for the sole purpose of production and financial gain.
We believe that tilling can work, and perhaps can even be healthy if done in a controlled and minimal way, but it is not for us, and certainly not for our unique plot of land which curves and twists and changes form in low areas and high. It is not the end all, it is not the only way to farm, and it is not the only way to make money, despite what conventional wisdom might dictate. It is our nature to set out on our own path and stick with what feels right in our hearts, I guess this is partly why we are calling our project the Wild Folk Farm.
As we cut down the young saplings to make way for growing space we stack them in long windrows on contour with the southern facing slope. We then cover this in whatever we can find, from seaweed, compost, and manure to old bedding hay, leaves, and grass clippings. The result is an organized, beautiful mess that would make any conventional farmer cringe. This technique, called Hugelkulture (German for ‘hill culture’), allows for a growing bed that breaks down slowly, churning our rich humus and loam over the course of years. As the wood decomposes fungus moves in, air pockets allow for microbial life to bloom, and water is retained amidst the hard carbons. It is truly fascinating to me, and a great to use up all of the saplings! An added bonus – without the need to till there is no need to pull out all of the stumps and wonderful stones found in our fields, in fact we think of them as nutrient batteries for the long life of our farm.
Pigs are wild folk too – we envision using them to mow down plots as we expand. The pig, a hardcore forager, eats everything in its path and inadvertently works the land into a plantable space, all the while growing fat and beautiful on the free food. Animals are very important to the soul of the farm, and we will most likely end up with a small menagerie before all is said and done, to the delight of my folks, I am sure.
As climate change continues to worsen and the idea of an economy based on petroleum gets more and more ludicrous, we think it is important to set off in a new direction. There are farms all across this country where the over tilled soil is blowing away in the wind, where the farmer who plants 600 acres of corn makes no more money than the farmer who grows veggies on 2 acres, where farmers have given up because the methods and the subsidies are falling flat, and where people are leaving because the land is scarred and gone, sold to the miners, sold to the tar sanders, sold to the housing developments, and sold to the sprawl.
But there are also farms out there which inspire us, farms where people are going back to work – hard work that made our nation great, which gave our forefathers strong hands, good food, and true wealth. There are farms where young and old people are doing things completely unheard-of, new, and seemingly crazy, and getting amazing results. There are rice farmers in Cambodia who boast equal or better yields to those which are conventionally operated by actually planting LESS rice and focusing instead on healthy soils. There are farmers now reaping hundreds of pounds of potatoes from a single plant.
We are following our hearts and moving slow, and we couldn’t be more out of breath by the rush of it all.
Last month I gave a few examples of how we battled with the elements all season here at Rippling Waters. I am going to keep with this theme and wrap up the remaining challenges I faced here in Southern Maine and how we are going about fixing them.
The earth challenge, the soil challenge; everyone’s soil seems to give them one issue or another, if it isn’t the structure it’s the weed bank, if it isn’t that it’s the calcium levels or the acidity, each issue as important and daunting as the next. Our biggest issue is a sandy soil, so sandy that if you dig down a foot you will pull up a golden stretch of beach. This soil does not hold things, whether they be water or the nutrients that are carried with it. Even without surface erosion from rainfall, sandy soils deteriorate physically and chemically as lenses of water slide downhill beneath our feet. A slope can quickly become a wash and without some mitigation you end up with a desert on a hillside.
That is more or less what we have been observing over the last two years in one of our main upper plots. This year we forewent planting it and headed to the drawing board to fix the problem once and for all. We were particularly interested in an ancient Eastern practice of water mitigation where farmers create massive trenches, or swales, along the contour of the hillside. The biggest enemy is fast moving water, so if we can slow it and sink it into the landscape using a series of trenches that span the hillside and obey the various changes in pitch or rise, then we can prevent erosion and nutrient loss.
The extreme of this technique would be terracing, a practice commonly used in rice paddy farming where farmers dig ponds into the hillside that collect water as it rolls down the hill. Terracing is an ingenuous way to create microclimates as well, allowing mountainsides to harbor a variety of vegetation and biota which may be unprecedented on that spot. For more on a really unique and genius terracing system check out the work of Sepp Holzer, who has carved out a permaculture paradise in the frozen Lindau mountains of Austria.
Swales are less labor intensive and serve more in slowing the water moving down a hillside rather than trapping it indefinitely. To begin we needed to find the contour lines along the hillside we were choosing, which are essentially created by finding a series of points across the hill that are at the same elevation. This line curves much like the lines you see on a topographical map, and indicate the very rise and fall of the land.
To find this we constructed a very low-tech, easy to build tool called an “A-Frame Level.” I took two five-foot poles and crossed them at the top like a tee-pee and then screwed in a cross brace about 3 feet off the ground (forming the letter A) – it is important that the distance from the cross brace to the ground is equal on both legs.
Next, using a level surface, I took a heavy rocky and tied it to a string and then tied that string to the crux where the two main uprights met, long enough so that it dangled down below the cross brace. Holding the whole thing upright I drew a vertical line where the string came to rest, flipped the level so the feet exchanged positions and drew another line. That field informs us of when the two legs are on ground of the same elevation.
From there it was a matter of tracking across the hillside, flipping the frame horizontally and always holding the trailing foot of the level in place to get an accurate contour from one side of the hill to the other. We used stakes to mark the trail and then got to digging.
To dig the swale we pulled with hoes from a foot uphill of the line downhill into a lengthy berm. The resulting channel, or swale, is what we really want but because we are concerned with growing food we souped up the berm with compost, manure, and seaweed and mulched it so next year it will act as a planting bed. This serves also to hedge our beds against erosion: even if the swales don’t prevent runoff, the height of the berm will ensure a long-lasting growing area. We did this 7 times down the hill, cutting the swales about a foot deep and a foot wide to double as paths for future farmers.
Already we have seen water pooling in the swales and have even planted some of them with perennial herbs in accordance with our permaculture transformation of this plot for next year. We hope to add in an Asian Pear tree for shade and fruit surrounded by comfrey and yarrow that will help pull nutrients and minerals from deep in the soil on up. We will plant Siberian Pea Shrubs in this plot to help increase overall fertility as their roots, like those of other legumes, are fixated with nitrogen clusters by bacteria in the soil. The shrub is also another shade plant, helping us to grow cool weather crops in micro-climates throughout the summer and thereby increasing our overall diversity and profit.
Water mitigation is a vast and important topic within farming. Soil and water are inseparable in terms of how we think of them, and there are various grants out there from the Natural Resources Conservation Service that can help you tailor your land to better handle water moving through the landscape. A few years ago they helped us dig a massive gully in the middle of our farm and line it with rocks, greatly increasing the ability of our land to dry out in wet times.
We are elementalists; we are students of force and flow. We watch water fall and rush then rise and float in the heat of the day. We observe magnetism in the soil and encourage the mineral balance of the earth to better facilitate our crops. We feel the breeze with our faces and hands and know what it brings in spring and what it brings in autumn, what it means for the massive seed head, and what it can tell us about the future. Our life as farmers is tactile and demanding; the project is ongoing, fraught with elusive problems, wrapped in great success, and always changing.
This year I learned many things about these elements and how they affect what we do with our seeds and our time. I watched as a previously successful layered bed all but drowned our tomato plants. I tried to ignore the heat, and paid for it. I found some great soil, some tired soil, and a place where the underground lens of water had run its course and made off with everything it could. I saw sandy soil dry out and clay soil pool up with the falling rain. I saw a woodchuck eat an entire Howden pumpkin and roll off to his cozy hole in the sand. I learned that our mulch has inertia. I messed things up and made things happen, I had a great year, so here are some thoughts on the elements I played with.
First, water. Hydrogen is crucial to the movement of nutrients in the soil, as a crash course in soil science tells us plant roots breathe out carbon dioxide into the soil which quickly binds with free-floating Hydrogen to form carbonic acid which then inundates the host sites of adsorbed alkaline nutrients. This inundation is like a big swap, as the light H+ is able to trade places with the cations that are stuck to soil particles, most notably Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, and Sodium; freeing them up for uptake into the plant. Ok, phew, that is enough of that.
Nitrogen has a hard time with this little dance because it is an anion and so without a place to stick it is free to go on its merry way. We lose nitrogen, and in the case of conventional farming – in which large doses of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer (NH3, which is 83% pure Nitrogen) are applied to the ground and crops – we lose it to the ground water as it is whisked away and ends up in our water supply, in the ocean, and in our bodies. Nitrogen is highly water soluble, so the blood meal we put down last week could be washed away by the time we plant.
This year we had a wet spring in Maine. At Rippling Waters Organic Farm we have a sandy soil profile, due to our location on the glacier-carved Saco River (I imagine a towering chunk of ice moving through the landscape and leaving a soft, sandy bed in its wake). Sand particles are large which allows water to flow between them readily. We were very excited in the spring because where some farmers had standing water in their fields we could plant as soon as it got warm enough.
A lesson here – just because your soil is ready, doesn’t mean the temperature is right. We were so excited that we put about 500 kohlrabi plants in before Memorial Day, and lost nearly all of them to a hard frost.
The obvious downside to this kind of soil is that it loses nutrients and becomes tired very fast. We began planting kale and other Cole crops in the sandy field, gave them a healthy dose of fish emulsion and blood meal and hoped for the best. But as the rain kept falling we watched them stall out, and the kale never got to that wonderful kale-fountain stage, in fact it just recently rotted in the field two weeks ago. The lesson? Water is crucial, but it also robs you – next year, stay on top of nitrogen feeding in the sandy areas or watch crops choke on tired soil.
Roots need air as well; this is why hard packed soil is such a detriment to farming. In a place where the soil had become so hard packed after years of tilling that you could play basketball we decided to create the Mandala field, a radial labyrinth of permanent beds built with seaweed, compost, newspaper, and mulch. The first year of this field was a smash hit; kale thrived there, able to penetrate using its strong roots deep into the old soil while growing strong on the mineral rich seaweed and compost. We rotate our fields and so this year it was time to plant nightshades in the mandala – tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. If it worked so well for the kale, wouldn’t it work for the tomatoes?
Answer – no. Hindsight Is always 20/20 and mistakes sometimes look like glaring errors in the rearview, but were riding high on the success of the field the year before, and gave little thought to the water element in that field. Creating a loose, layered bed on top of a hard-packed clayish field was akin to dumping a pile of potting soil onto a road and sticking a plant in it. Rain water – because we never had to irrigate this area once and still had water trouble – couldn’t readily penetrate the hardpan of the ground and so pooled and collected in the rich soil and humus of the layered beds. In some places the water became stagnant and had the odor of a marsh.
The tomatoes there were wrecked, unable to really do much with sopping wet roots all season long. Fungal issues exploded and by August the we called the trellises “the gallows” because most all of our heirloom plants dandled like hanged criminals in the field.
The lesson there? Just because something worked once season doesn’t mean it will the next. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this thing we call farming, so we must always remember to keep an open mind and a diverse toolkit when approaching a project. Every action we take in care of the land requires our full, steady attention and analysis from every possible angle we can take.
I realize now that this topic requires a second post, so I will continue with the elemental lessons I have learned next month, thank you for reading.
An update from Rippling Waters Organic Farm: we are expanding the mandala garden. If you came to see it last season and witnessed the unrelenting vegetative salvo then you know why – it was a huge success, blockbuster. In the name of progress we’ve created labyrinth-like rays shooting out from the center (sun) bed. Piled high with newspaper, seaweed, sawdust, greensand, compost, leaves and hay these beds will cure for the winter and give home to our nightshade crop next season.
Pulling that seaweed from the beach – up two flights of stairs and a hill, bucket in each hand – is no easy task and quickly wears at our breakfast energy. So why do it, you might ask, why not apply manure like most farmers? Why not skip the rotting slimy stuff and head inland for greener pastures? Well, I will tell you – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Seaweed works. While it has nearly the same Nitrogen/Phosphorus/Potassium (NPK) content as your typical bovine manure it lacks the potential weed seeds harbored in dung. In addition to a great nutritive base, scientists have verified the presence of at least 60 elements in common algae – as we learn more and more about soil science we see that a diverse diet is fundamental to a healthy plant, and that plants fed only your classic NPK are weak and unhealthy, on par with a child fed only pizza and soda – he will live but will he grow?
Anything dredged from the sea also contains sodium and boron. Two things most farmers typically lack in their fields. I saw a soil guru at this year’s Common Ground Fair dare a group of onlookers to dump a 55 gallon drum of sea water on their garden. After a series of “uh ohhs” and general sneers he said, with a smile, “It will thrive!” Sodium has a bad name (“Salt of the earth!”) and for an understandable reason – too much sodium and you have got a completely toxic environment. But sodium adds to soil structure and without it plants would be unable to uptake nutrients from the soil on a molecular level; think of it as a phone line from your plants to your soil. So when someone tells you to wash your seaweed off well, you know what to say.
Sea weed also contains a cornucopia of things from the oceanside that are rich in organic matter (carbon and nitrogen), like crab shells, sand fleas, feathers and worms. The one thing we have found problematic about seaweed is the presence of dog droppings which can harbor maggots- no fun. That aside, the benefits are endless and the cherry on top might be that seaweed is free – just make sure to ask your park ranger first.
With the help of seaweed and some garden mulch we have created beds worthy of a farm, and I encourage you to try the same!
At a time when the word “automobile” is, in some circles, synonymous with peak oil, climate change, and supreme-wanton-disregard-for-all-things-sacred-and-green, and the roaring sound of an engine seems to impress only the attendant at the gas station or the oil tycoon picking filet mignon from his teeth with one of the thinner bones of an Ivory Billed Woodpecker, I am going to attempt a risky metaphor: our farm is currently a vintage beast of an automobile, cherry red, with a snarling, carnivorous engine thundering on all eight hemispherical cylinders and powered completely by – what else – vegetable oils.
The market season is fully on and every passing day another few beds are given happy, humming plants, mulched, and set to prosper. The weather has been up and down, but with our sandy soils we have been able to hold on through the downpours.
But back to my automobile analogy; just as a finely tuned roadster depends on continued fuel combustion and oil viscosity, so too our farm requires some key processes. The bulk of physical labor during the early summer is devoted, therefore, to the mother of all farm tasks – mulching (vroom vroom). It is not possible for me to overstate the importance of mulching here at Rippling Waters Organic Farm.
If you look at plants growing in a field or on a forest floor you will observe nature’s mulching (effortless) efforts as leaves, pine needles, golden rod stalks, and rye all fall to the earth and facilitate new growth. Every crop we plant is subsequently mulched with decomposing leaves and hay, this covering is anywhere from two to four inches thick.
First, this bio-mimicry allows the soil to retain moisture – think of a bare field of tilled soil baking in the sun with the moisture rising up and away, paving the way for desertification and soil erosion. With more moisture locked into our soil we can water/worry less about plants crashing in the field.
Mulch also suppresses weeds by blocking sunlight to their creeping rhizomes or seeds. In some cases where the Bermuda grasses have a presence like old phone wires in the soil we start our mulch with newspaper or cardboard. The fight against weeds is good, important work and mulch allows us to maintain a game-long 10 point lead – something every organic gardener needs.
Better than black plastic – which requires yadda yadda amounts of petroleum to produce and is more than slightly annoying to purchase, put down, find drip tape beneath, maintain, clean up, etc – mulch is nearly free and does something black plastic does not – it gives back all important organic residues into the soil (not to mention it is well loved by and frequently packed with worms).
Let me reiterate this point – we do not use black plastic. And yes, we grow peppers and tomatoes just fine, in fact earlier this week we had a visit from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) Ag Services Director Dave Colson and he was visibly impressed by our quest for better soils through organic mulches. While this technique can indeed keep the soil too cool for the heat-craving tomato roots we get the benefit of steady moisture management and organic-mass payload.
When microbial life (various bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms) already present in the soil comes into contact with this mass of carbon compounds in the mulch a veritable feast is kicked off. The microbes chow down on carbon for their own metabolism and transform the organic residues back into plant food and nutrients as microbes have mutualistic relations with plant rootlets in the soil. The undigested portion accumulates as readily available humus.
Moving forward we envision this farm as a place where healthy soils are built through a variety of methods including mulching and responsible rotational tilling. It will be exciting to see which method works better in adding to our river-sand soils, so I will certainly keep you updated. Thank you for reading.
Last spring our farm manager, the venerable Julee Applegarth, was looking out over the top of one of our fields and musing out loud to a gathered crowd upon the fact that previously she was unable to get much to grow in the hard-packed soil there. She stamped her foot, I recall, illustrating the hard-packedness of this particular quarter-acre field. She said it would be planted with members of the brassica family but because of years of tilling followed by hard rains the topsoil would probably not yield much. She said with its scattered hay and dappling of punky weeds it was no place to foster the life of our much-loved and cared-for broccolis, kales, cabbages, and collards.
So after a few seconds of thought (I would say minutes but inspiration seems to come explosively quick to Julee) an idea came volcanically forth. Julee spun around with both arms up in the air and shouted: “MANADALA!”
In his epic Permaculture, A Designer’s Manual, author and permaculture prince Bill Mollison talks about “Gangamma’s Mandala,” a polyculture garden built in a cyclical shape. The word itself first appears in early Buddhist and Hindu vocabularies as a mystical form suggestive of the cosmos and the different relationships established between the material and spiritual world. Influenced by the curves and spherical patterns used in Taiwanese and Philippines gardening, “mandala” is now permie-speak for any bed utilizing keyhole shape design, radiating circles, ovoid patterns, et al.
The mandala is powerful; I will probably write this more than once. Beyond it being an aesthetic improvement (who likes to gaze upon long straight lines of monoculture vegetables anyway?), the mandala allows for a very dense planting so crops that otherwise would be rows apart can abut one another. This neighborly association confuses pests (no more straight line buffet), allows for easy companion planting, and makes harvesting much easier.
The mandala decreases the amount of pathway you need in the garden and therefore increases production. The mandala cannot be tilled, so the soil will always be increasing in ecological diversity and strength. Because they are usually designed in a raised bed fashion the mandala helps to decrease water waste and runoff as it channels rain to the base of each bed. Finally, the mandala helps us focus on all of the plants and not just the weeds on the north or south side or the bugs invading one crop here or another there.
Armed with all of this knowledge we set to planning and designing our own raised bed mandala to reinvigorate the failing field. With some luck we were able to make a connection with the Portland Permaculture Meetup group and get the project off the ground. They showed up on a balmy day with a trailer full of rotten seaweed like some sort of deranged/victorious patriots of decomposition.
Our shape – a radiating clover with beds deepening to five feet in some areas. Our layers – recommended soil amendments lime and potassium magnesium sulfate (SPM), sawdust for moisture retention, the mineral laden kelp, some high nitrogen alfalfa meal, our own compost, rotting leaves, Benson’s compost (great Oreo cookie stuff with little claws from sea-creatures mingled throughout), and finally a thick hay mulch.
In a week the mandala was planted with every kale we could pack in it along with some nasturtiums, collards, and an outer ring of cabbage. Bam.
And how did it do you might ask? Well, my friend, you should probably just come and check it out. But bring your sunglasses because this thing is radiant and strong, beautiful and supercharged, healthy and evocative, lush and powerful, triumphant and righteous and the vegetables we are pulled out of it are Beethoven’s-fifth Jurassic-era mega flora.
Fast forward to this year. The mandala is now expanded so that if you were to look at it from a helicopter you would see a radiant sun with jagged rays formed by new beds. We have packed the beds full of nightshades – Jimmy Nardello peppers, Ruby Gold tomatoes, Green Apple eggplant, and a ton of other funky stuff (and some old standbys). We are seeking out a Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) grant that would allow us to also build a pollinator border along the field-edge by the mandala – these folks have helped us in the past with the construction of a massive three-bay composting facility.
So thanks for reading, I hope my story gives you some ideas as to how you can layer it up and grow healthier foods using permaculture teachings. Stay tuned and increase the peace.
I didn’t get into this thing consciously; there was no decision made, no career-test administered, or no plan of any sort, not at first anyway. It just sort of grew in me, starting perhaps when I was a boy passing off Comfrey leaves as payment for an invisible meal at a ‘restaurant’ in a game we used to play in the woods. My mother ran a daycare which meant there was always an endless supply of friends to grow the economy of the imaginary town we created in the woods. Everywhere there were paths through the woods, lady slippers and log bridges, and my old house beneath the giant maples in the front yard. The Comfrey plants by the barn were the bank, guarded by Tristan or Ryan with sword in hand; that community meant everything to me, to all of us who played.
Fast forward to a college dropout journalist me, together with sweet Marina, disillusioned by the annoying Bush years and the crawl of a generational unrest, the first pangs of a staid life of loan payments and general drudgery just beginning to ache. We were in the kitchen, I recall, just staring at each other with this anger, this sleepless feeling of want and unhad adventures. Nothing was how we wanted it to look, as if we both were part of a group project and somewhere along the line we had ceded control to other people in the group and now the whole thing was wholly wrong and unsatisfying and we were ashamed to present it to anyone else.
In a sentence or two we hatched a plan to get out, the way you would hatch a plan to hit the eject button on your starfighter pre midair-death-collision, a knee-jerk. Our first notion was something like “Let’s go be ski bums in California,” and it seemed good, rolled off the tongue well and left our mouths with this electric taste, the zing of movement and of action; we had crossed a line.
After some internetting and advice from my brother at Warren Wilson College we stumbled upon the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program. It seemed like an inexpensive way to travel – we could rig up a sleeping situation in the back of Marina’s truck and just go from farm to farm, live to work and eat farm meals, be outside, be together. It felt perfect.
So I was never interested in farming as an occupation, it just popped up in my life. It exploded, actually, into my life, and brought with it this warp-speed rush of all things important and romantic, radical and right. Goats that gave milk that you could drink right out of the pail, long days in the field that reworked the epidermal integrity of my hands, crock pots of bees wax, a cupboard of glass jars filled with every dried herb imaginable, food alive, boots and tools, farm libraries, and everywhere across the country people involved in discourse and work, action and drive, the very nuts and bolts I was missing. Importance thrived on these farms.
Now I work at Rippling Waters Organic Farm in Standish, Maine as a Journeyperson through an educational program with Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). This is my second year on the farm and from here I intend to start my own small operation in nearby Limington – the land I grew up on. My experiences through WWOOFing took hold on something deep within me and fused this lifestyle to my own.
Rippling Waters is a five-acre operation on the Saco River; we actually pump our irrigation water right out of the river. We farm for markets in Portland, Bridgeton, and Gorham and do our best to practice farming methods we view as sustainable and beyond the realm of just conventional organic. Sheet mulching, layered beds, no-till practices, permaculture, companion planting, funky beds, and perennial food – all of these things have helped us increase productivity on the farm and open our fields up for education and experimentation while helping to actually increase produce yields.
The farm is technically an educational, non-profit operation with gardens in nearby elementary schools and a solar-passive greenhouse (that uses water barrels as a solar heat sink) at the middle school. Farm to school education is the main goal of Rippling Waters, and every week it is part of my job to teach others how to grow food as I work with various social service groups and volunteers. We have a field staff of four, run a 100+ member CSA and work six days a week.
It is a beautiful place and I have gained a deep admiration for those who are working to bridge the gap between real food and the void left by financial constraints in our public schools. It is good work, but for the most part my job focuses on the running of the farm, which in itself encompasses a wonderful one-million things. Contending with the ever-multiplying stack of mysteries woven into things like greenhouse construction, plant health, pests, water management, companion planting, polycultures, fundraisers, irrigation systems and electric fences. The farmer has to be the everyman; able to transplant delicate flowers, build shelves and stairs and tables, find and snare woodchucks, design posters, talk to customers and take care of the soil all within the confines of a day. There is never want for a challenge and each day requires a full and healthy mind and body; each day requires full attention, creativity and responsibility.
It is everything to me, this life. To live by the potential of my own hands and mind. I think if you are still reading this then maybe these things mean something to you too. So I invite you to read along with me this year, so I can tell you about all the wild insane awesome stuff I find.
-Thanks again, Stowell P. Watters