My name is Rachael.  I am brand new to the Farm and Food System program at GCC, but certainly not new to GCC.  This is my first blog, ever.

I feel the best way I can track my journey is to summarize how I ended up where I am now.   For several years now I have been struggling with being a single mom and dealing with PTSD.  I am a survivor of violence and rape, with the help of NELCWIT, I haven’t had to feel completely alone, not that I didn’t feel it from time to time.  I have had a difficult time caring for my children with limited hours of availability because cost of after school care is too expensive. Also being under educated Limits the jobs available to me.    I knew that my potential was being neglected so I vowed to do whatever I could to improve my family’s and my situation.  I enrolled in GCC in pursuit of a nursing degree, an honorable job with good pay and job security.  I excelled academically, but still had an empty feeling.  Between school, work, raising two kids, coaching their sports team, going to counseling, I was busy enough, but I was lost.

I am at heart a child of nature, so whenever I could I was hiking, snowshoeing, hydro climbing (don’t ask) or doing anything that involved being outside.   I only found true inner peace when I was connected with nature.  I always had to have lots of plants in my home and always had to have a garden.  Even when I lived in an apartment building with no yard, I had huge pots growing veggies near every sunny window.  Anything I read, that wasn’t school related, had to do with gardening, nature or farming.  But, I didn’t put the pieces together until one semester when I was one credit short to meet the terms of my financial aid.  I chose a class that simply fit my schedule that unknowingly would change everything.   The class was, Mushroom Cultivation and Foraging.   Not only did I learn a ton about mushrooms (yes, I am currently growing shiitakes at home). But, opened up the idea that nature is all connected, in this class through mycelium networking.  This got me thinking about all the other ways nature connects, forms intricate symbiotic relationships, and webs into a great cycle.  The idea was magnificent and really spoke to me, but I was shaken by the fact that humans are breaking these cycles and killing the beautiful system that sustains us.  We simply take, but do not give.  So, I am motivated now not by the need to have a job that makes a decent wage, but the need to spiritually connect with nature and others and gain the tools necessary to do my part in leading us (human beings) to a better sustainable future.

I already feel a fire igniting my spirit forward, only in the first two weeks of starting school in a new field.  I am not sure on where I will be lead, but I am positive this path will lead me to my potential and to a place where I am meant to make a difference.


Just Roots more than farming

New discoveries. There are many types of weeds you can eat, such as dandelions and chick weed. I ate a lot of chick weed while we were weeding, it tastes like spinach. Ground cherries, before this I have never even heard of one, but, they are one of the most amazing things I have ever tasted and will from now on be a staple in my garden. There are well over 200 species of kale, so far my favorite is dino kale. The spots on potatoes mean different things, such as; blight, Rhizoctonia Canker, tubers….Aaron explained a lot to me, and I still don’t understand it all. I also tasted Kuri squash, and delicata squash for the first time and they are delicious! Watermelon radishes were also a first for me, I brought some home and pickled them, and I will say they smelled bad once pickled but, taste amazing, they were a big hit at our family holiday party.
A good amount of the things I learned during my internship was not just about farming. There is a beautiful connection that happened with the fellow interns I worked with. Just by being there we already knew that we shared similar passions and goals. There was never any “small talk.” We shared very meaningful conversations of spirituality, life and our planet, the importance of ritual, being thankful, making connections and healing. We shared with each other our own journeys and how it brought us all to cross paths. We spent time brainstorming on ways to improve our communities, food system, our own health and mental well-being. I knew I would learn about farming, but I was surprised on how much I learned about myself and my own passions. I have always been kind of a “lone-wolf’ and kept many things to myself. After spending time with these amazing people I find that my passions and faith have been re-ignited.

Although the fall semester was very busy for me. Being a working single mom and a full time student I was apprehensive about taking on an internship. I am so glad I did. Some days I did feel crunched for time, but, in the end the whole experience was completely worth it. I met some great people, I learned a lot and I re-discovered my own spirituality and passions. Thank you Just Roots for letting me be a part of your amazing organization.

Just Roots Internship

The fragrance of earth and fresh air. A large red barn on a hill surrounded by fields of colorful and aromatic produce. The buzzing of insects, and the enchanting songs of the birds. A slight breeze blows in my face and I can smell thyme and sage. The moment I got out of my car on the first day of my internship I knew Just Roots had a great experience waiting for me.

My first task at Just Roots was harvesting potatoes. This involves, loosening the soil with a pitchfork and turning the soil over by hand to collect the potatoes without damaging them. Little did I know on the first day that I would soon become quite familiar and efficient at harvesting potatoes. (Note: Always wear gloves while harvesting potatoes, there are rocks and ones knuckles will hit those rocks, many times.)

I learned many things from both Aaron and Bill. They are very hardworking and always willing to share knowledge. One can fantasize about a picture perfect day on a farm and the satisfaction of the labor with the sun on your back and the breeze in your face. Taking part of a wholesome way of life and the production of the best quality of food. It is easy to forget that running a farm is hard work. I observed many the tasks Bill and Aaron complete every day and their work is astounding. Planning spring planting, planting, harvesting, washing, assigning tasks, time management, making sure CSA orders are filled, on time and as freshly picked as possible, teaching, planning and hosting fundraiser events and more… Not all days are that picture perfect day either, even if it’s a cold rainy miserable day they are out there working hard and enthusiastically getting the job done. Many times during our lunch break Aaron and Bill spent it working in the office. I didn’t have the pleasure of having many conversations with them as they had much work to do. I will say that I very much admire both Bill and Aaron. They both are very knowledgeable and passionate about a wholesome way of life and organic farming. They both are more than happy to share their passion, and I am thankful for everything I learned from them this fall.

Nate is a farmhand at Just Roots, it was a pleasure to work with him. Nate is dedicated, hardworking and a natural leader. With every task that I worked with Nate on, I learned something. As we harvested tomatillos he explained to me how they grow a husk (which I called, “a little bag”) and the fruit grows inside. When they are ready to pick you can either see them bursting through the husk or they feel really full inside “the bag.” He was willing to share with me the mistakes he made when he first started at Just Roots so I could avoid making the same ones. I enjoyed talking with Nate and even though I never felt “rushed” working with him, there was always a sense of, “staying on task.” I am very pleased to have met him, he is a bright young man with a bright future ahead of him. Just Roots made a great move by adding Nate to the farm.

National Farmers Union Conference on Cooperatives

Hello, my name is Jon Shina, and I am currently a Farm and Food Systems Major at Greenfield Community College, and I am also currently employed at Franklin Community Cooperative. It’s been a long road that has lead me to being both back in school and working at a member owned cooperative grocery store. Back in 2008, I was living in Brooklyn trying to make it as an artist and working full time as a mover. One of my coworkers at the time was a raw foodist, and one day he invited me over to have a juice from his juicer. I was blown away by this juicer (the omega masticating juicer if you’re curious), and I quickly got one as a surprise present for my birthday from my girlfriend Shannon. It was so exciting, and we rushed down to the nearest market, and bought all the random fruits that you could imagine. After juicing random concoctions for a few weeks, our friend Deanna told us about organic food, and sent us a video of an interview with Michael Pollan to watch. That 1 hour long video was the beginning of the beginning! Shortly after our viewing, we bought a copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which lead us to countless other books on topics like food and food systems, billions of hours of food docs on Netflix, weekly visits to farmers markets, and becoming members for the first time at a food Coop in Brooklyn. And finally, our passion for healthy food, food justice, and stewardship for the environment took us out of Brooklyn, and brought us to rural Western Massachusetts, where Shannon and I are now both back in school learning about everything food related. So it has been a fascinating 7 years of learning about where food comes from, and the food system’s impact on global/national markets and the environment. I had an amazing eye opening experience being at the Nation Farmers
Union 2015 Conference on Cooperatives! I wasn’t really even sure what I was attending, or what I was going to learn. I tried to have no expectations except for the fact that Minneapolis is the Mecca of Coops. The conference was an immense learning experience, and all of the speakers were poignant and they all really drove home the benefits of the cooperative business model. BUT, the real amazing experience for me was meeting all of the other college students from states that I have never been to in the Midwest! I met kids from North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and many other states. The majority of students that I met grew up on farms, usually large scale ones, and they where all attending college for some sort of Agriculture Management. I need to be perfectly honest here, I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb at the conference. I am a 33 year old student who grew up in a suburb of Boston where there was maybe one farm in my town which was probably inactive and more used for a tax exemption rather than producing anything. Then, for the majority of my adult life, I lived in cities during a time when urban farming didn’t even exist yet, nor did I know where my food came from, and I was living in Food deserts, and totally oblivious to what was happening to the environment around me. Jeez, I only started gardening two summers ago! Needless to say, my life experiences have been very different from, say, my roommate Chris during the conference who was only 19, grew up raising livestock, and has barely left North Dakota. This was my takeaway from the conference, meeting young farmers and the children of farmers who own large scale farms like the ones that I initially read about in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. No longer where these farmers just an abstract character in some book or Food Doc, but instead these where real people, with different life experiences, backgrounds, and knowledge then me, and here we were having very long and meaningful conversations about growing food, and the food system that we all live in. I personally would categorize myself more in the Permaculture background of gardening and farming, although I still very much consider myself an amateur. That being said, I had numerous great discussions with various conventional farmers, who again, tend to land in the hundreds to thousands of acres. Our conversations were very interesting, with both sides explaining their views on the subject on hand. All conversations were very polite and engaging, with no one side arguing for whose philosophy was better. It was truly a learning experience, and I now have a very good understanding of who these farmers are and what they stand for. And that is my eye opening take away from the NFU 2015 Conference on Cooperatives.

Just Roots: Home

Just Roots is a place for the people.  A space to create, learn, and grow within the Franklin County community.  Open to all walks of life, judgements are left at the gate and the intention to progress while working together is brought to the farm.  During my time as an intern I have become engaged in something real.  Since Just Roots is a non-profit community farm, the big picture goes beyond annual revenue.  There is a focus on providing the local community with wholesome organic produce while nourishing other non-profit organizations such as the Western Mass Food Bank, and The Stone Soup Cafe where shrink produce is donated to help provide meals.

Just Roots provided me with a space where I felt comfortable.  Comfortable with the land.  Comfortable with my team.  Comfortable with my self.  This is special, and is felt mutually throughout the golden chain of employees, volunteers, interns, and members of the Community Farm which shares space within the farm.

During my time I learned more about my self, teamwork, and communication than anything else.  I learned about cover cropping, crop rotation, and seasonal timing regarding different plants; but what I took away was a sense of friendship, trust, and accomplishment.  The work was fun because everyone has a voice, and everyone is able to listen.  This to me is not something that can be taught, but rather shown by example with leadership and patience.


Taking it With a Grain Of Salt

With a clean slate and the ball in their hands, farm managers Bill and Aaron are making thoughtful, progressive decisions creating a strong future for Just Roots.  What I love about working with the team at Just Roots is the openminded listening towards worker input, regardless of social stature.  As an intern and amateur farmer I felt comfortable both asking questions and making mistakes.  It is an open learning environment.  Each worker a student to the land, all in various stages of education.

Each day spent at Just Roots really helped to further establish my relationship with nature, and the soil from which we reap so much of our food.  In addition to that, my relationship with myself improved tremendously.  There is something about the contact between body and earth having a therapeutic affect on the self.  Everything was taken with a grain of salt, and there is room to laugh at yourself and with others because hey, were all in this together; learning, growing, one day at a time.

One of the most fun days involved some of the least attractive work.  There were a couple hundred pumpkins curing in one of the greenhouses.  They were visited by a ferocious group of rats who took out close to two thirds of the pumpkin population.  Well, let me just say that by the third or fourth day baking in the greenhouse, the decomposition process had rapidly taken over and these pumpkins were now dripping, rotten gas bags.  With pitchforks in hand and a few trash barrels we went to battle.  With our optimism and developed sense of humor we prevailed triumphantly and succeeded the work of the rats.  We had won the battle, but the war was far from over.



Summer Garden Internship

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to intern at GCC’s permaculture garden. Starting the internship was eye opening. I would go around the garden and learn all about species that I have never heard of. I would learn practical, edible, and medicinal uses for plants all around the garden. I learned a lot about plants that we call “weeds” which turn out to be extremely useful such as the common dandelion, plantain, and curly dock.

I learned how to maintain plants such as strawberries, how to use plants such as comfrey to add soil fertility, and how to use radish to mark where the carrots are planted.
I think one of my favorite aspects of interning in the garden, besides munching on various types of delicious berries, was harvesting the fruits and vegetables and taking them to cafeteria so they could be incorporated into the week’s menu. It was always a lot of fun to see the amount and variety of produce that came from the garden. It was even more fun to see everything being advertised to the entire GCC community.

Even though most of my time in the garden was spent weeding and watering, I enjoyed being outside and contributing to the garden. The garden is a place where people come together and create connections through different aspects of the community. The GCC garden is a special place, and I truly feel privileged for this experience.

Radishes harvested from the garden. Aren’t they beautiful!

Worm Composting at the GCC Permaculture Garden

For my summer garden internship I was required to take the lead in a project and implement that into GCC’s very own permaculture garden. I got excited when I heard this, and I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to implement a composting worm bin into the garden.
Before I get into the construction of the system, there are a few things I would like to share about worms. Using worms in order to compost is called vermicomposting.

Vermicompost is rich in organic matter, nitrogen, beneficial fungi and bacteria, and many other nutrients that are beneficial to building a diverse, healthy, and strong soil food web. Vermicomposting is a great way to sustainably dispose of most kitchen scraps, and paper products. Worms break down material way faster than an ordinary compost pile without worms.

After a long time researching and designing plans for the system, I came up with a fairly cheap and simple system that anyone can build and implement into their homes.
• First I gathered the materials needed: an even number of storage bins (with lids), an electric screwdriver for making holes, pvc tubing (not pictured here), and worms.

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• I then started drilling holes in the bottom of half of the bins. These holes are for drainage purposes so the worms won’t drown.


• Next, I cut some pvc to put in the bottom of half of the bins. This serves as a way to elevate the bins with holes in them so that the water and liquid in the bins can be sufficiently drained. Anything can be used for this; pvc was just the easiest thing for me to obtain.


• After this step I put the bin with the holes in it on top of the pvc in the other bin. I then cut holes in the side of the bin, the part that sticks above the bin with pvc in it. These holes serve as aeration holes so the worms can get enough oxygen to live. I also cut holes in the lid.


• Next comes time to start adding your bedding, or whatever you want to compost. It’s best to have a bin set up with scraps already in it so that the worms can have a nice place to live from the time their put into the bin. Once you have the bin ready it’s time to add the worms.


Here’s a close up of the worms!


• Once all of this is completed you have a fully functioning vermicomposting system. I would maybe wait a week or two before adding a lot of scraps just to let the worms get settled into their new home.

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I hope this was helpful. I learned a lot by doing this, and I had a lot of fun in the process. Happy vermicomposting everybody!

Designing a Pond for a Bioshelter



a panoramic view of the pond

As part of my internship this summer, I was able to help design a pond that was part of an aquaponic system. The pond is housed inside a bioshelter that I helped to construct.

I have had the privilege of interning with Keith Zaltzberg from the Regenerative Design Group.  While working with him on the design of the pond, he taught me a very valuable lesson when working with a client. “Design first, and budget later.” Basically, when you are designing for a client, don’t feel restricted by monetary confinement. Have the design be pure of your concept, and then later you can adapt it to fit the needs and budget of your client.

For this design, the pond had to meet a few requirements. It couldn’t overreach the 5′x6′ restriction, the client wanted to have a seating area next to the pond, and the pond had to sit next to two large water containers in order to be apart of the filtration system. All and all, it is a fairly simple design, because of the size, and simplicity of the task.

initial design of the pond

The main idea was to achieve the client’s wish of having a seating area inside the bioshelter where she could host guests, drink coffee, or even enjoy a meal. The concept of my design was to accent the curve of the 2′ diameter table which would be placed in the corner of the bioshelter. I thought that the aesthetics of a concave circle would look really sharp from where one would sit. Also, I thought it would be easily accessible, as well as ease of walking around it. All and all, I was very happy with my design.

Keith was very helpful in explaining to me how to conventionally design a pond. He explained to me that most ponds should be designed in a peanut shape. That is the shape that is usually found in nature, and what we would try to mimic with our design. Keith also explained that now due to budgeting, we were going to look for a pre-cast pond.

After many long hours of internet searching, I was unable to find a pond that could fit our parameters. We needed a pond that would fit our 5′x6′ dimensions, and that could hold 250 to 400 gallons of water. You wouldn’t believe how many “pond” websites there are out there (many of them in Great Britain). Most ponds where either way too big or way too small. Nothing fit our needs.

After our search, we decided to dig our pond, constructing one from scratch using a polyurethane liner. Keith made up an estimate for a hand dug, hand constructed pond, and gave the estimate to the client. The estimate was too high, so we had to go back another search of a less expensive pre-cast pond.

The next day, Keith found a pre-cast pond in Greenfield that was $150, could hold 150 gallons of water, and was 5′x2′ which fit our dimension requirements. It was smaller than our original design, but in the end, it met our budget, met our space requirements, and would hold enough water that was needed.

Next was 4 hours of manual labor, which is something that I’m pretty good at!

started digging

started digging

Finished Digging

Finished Digging

All Finished

All Finished

It was a long search, but we finally finished. Next we’re off the constructing the aquaponics system!