Leadership in the Field

Gaining Ground’s no-till practice is garnering attention: the organization is one of nine organic farms selected to participate in a three-year USDA Conservation Innovation Grant. The $170,000 grant was awarded to Northeast Organic Farmers Associations (NOFA) of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“The goal of the project is to help accelerate the development and adoption of organic no-till and reduced-till methods for smaller scaled organic farms in the Northeast,” according to the NOFA project leader, Caro Roszell. “The project is organized around nine well-respected farmers experimenting with tillage reduction methods.” Of the nine, GG stands out as the smallest farm (3.5 acres compared to 20–40 acres) and the only nonprofit.

For several years, farm manager Doug Wolcik has led workshops at the NOFA Massachusetts summer conference about Gaining Ground’s successful transition to no-till farming. Since making the switch four years ago, the farm’s annual produce donations have increased 50 percent, from 60,000 pounds to 99,000 pounds.

No-till farming is a method of growing crops without disturbing the soil through cultivation. It provides a strategy for growers to protect the soil, conserve its natural properties and nutrients, plant earlier, and ultimately save time and money. With no tilling or plowing, weed control is the largest challenge. Where conventional farmers turn to herbicides (such as glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup), organic farmers have developed other successful systems and tools for suppressing weeds without tillage or herbicides.

During this three-year innovation study, Wolcik and his team will host several “field days” to share no-till practices at GG with other interested farmers. Wolcik will also participate on panels and teach through conferences and webinars. Research will track soil health, pests, and weed pressure with discussion of outcomes, challenges, data, and observations. Results will be compiled and shared to encourage additional organic farmers to integrate no-till practices into their operations.

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