Author Archives: Jon Shina

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.

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!

Froggy Pond Farm’s Bioshelter

The Bio Shelter I helped build

The bioshelter I helped build for my internship this summer…

I helped build a bioshelter at Froggy Pond Farm in Greenfield, Ma. I was very fortunate to work under the guidance of both Keith Zaltzberg and Sebastian (Bas) Gutwein with the Regenerative Design Group. This was an extremely interesting learning process, because I was able to use the knowledge that I immediately learned this spring from my permaculture design class at GCC, and put it to practical use.

What is a “Bioshelter” you ask? A bioshelter is like a very intensive greenhouse that has many different functions to keep the temperature inside even hotter than an average greenhouse. This is especially more beneficial for the cold winter months. A bioshelter is able accomplish these feats because of it’s many interesting and thoughtful design factors.

To start off, the bioshelter at Froggy Pond Farm was built from lumber that was hewn on the property, and then milled on site. The exterior was designed using the board and batten technique which will help the structure expand and contract between the hot and cold months. The bioshelter is divided into two main rooms. The Large room (below)

a panoramic view from inside the Bio Shelter (still under construction).

A panoramic view from inside the Bioshelter (still under construction).

is the main south facing room that will house all of the living plants and fish. Unlike old school greenhouses, the bioshelter’s north facing wall is completely covered, so that it looses less heat in the winter. The second room behind this wall is going to house chickens! But I’m getting off track here, let’s next talk about how the bioshelter is designed to stay warm in the winter.

Nancee Bershoff

Nancee Bershoff, property owner

The bioshelter is designed to keep heat in, and also generate its own sources of heat. It does this in two ways, by relying on passive solar and biothermal heating. The passive solar comes in through the south facing glazed roof, where the sun light is intensified. It is always much warmer inside the bioshelter than outside. Next is one of the key factors of the bioshelter, the sunlight enters and warms up the two large 225 gallon water containers. These water containers, and the 150 gallon pond below them, absorb all of the suns energy during the day, and that heat is stored inside the water. As day turns to night and the inside gets colder, the water slowly dissipates heat though out the night, and this in turn keeps the bioshelter warm. This design is especially helpful in the colder winter months.

The bioshelter also generates it’s own biothermal heat. There is a compost pile under the floor boards inside by the south facing raised bed. As organic matter decomposes, it gives off heat. The compost pile was designed on the other side away from the the water tanks, to help balance out the heat distribution.

But wait, there’s more! There is a “thermal battery” designed within the bioshelter. As heat rises inside the structure, the heat will be sucked up through a vented pipe powered by a small fan. Hot air will then be transferred through the pipe and into the gravel floor of the bioshelter. This too will help keep the structure warmer through the cold winter months.

And finally, back to the chickens. The idea of housing chickens in a bioshelter is also one of generating heat (as well as providing eggs!). As the chickens run around, they emit body heat. This might seem like very little heat, but the more chickens you have, the more it adds up. Raising the temp of the bioshelter even 1 degree can be extremely beneficial when it is below freezing outside. Plus, the bioshelter will make a lovely home for chickens during the winter.

Nancee Bershoff, the owner of Froggy Pond Farm, was inspired when she payed a visit to Eric Toensmeier’s bioshelter in Holyoke, Ma. Nancee witnessed Eric growing avocados in Western Massachusetts, and Nancee said to herself, “I want to do this too!” I am very proud to have helped Nancee this summer in her dream of growing avocados in Massachusetts, and one day that will be my dream too!

Froggy Pond Farm

Froggy Pond Farm