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.

IMG_20141110_121127642 (1)

• 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.

IMG_20141110_155443494 (1)

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!

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

Just Roots – Mulling it Over

My time at the Just Roots farm has been filled with learning and internal reflection. There are times when you get to work by yourself and that’s when the real work takes place. As I am working with my hands, my mind is endlessly asking questions and searching for what makes me tick. I think everyone at one point in their life will look down at the earth and question their whole existence on this ever turning sphere. As a kid growing up in a small suburban town, I spent most of the day exploring the woods and climbing trees. I became to appreciate the landscapes I knew so well, becoming a familiar face to the surrounding wildlife and people who were on the same endeavors.

The times I ever felt a spiritual essence was when I would gaze at a starry night sky under the tallest of pines I could find. I never thought that in my local town I would find the same kind of connection with nature, people and myself. This feeling is hard to explain, and maybe there is just no explanation. Its the most primitive kind of work I’ve ever done, in terms of strictly using your hands and nature running its course. I have become the harvester, the gatherer that everyone has embedded deep within psyche thanks to our ancestors.

I wonder if they were capable of asking the same questions I ask myself out there in the field. Did all this time alone gathering food aid in the development of the Explorer? The Inventor? The Philosopher? The Crusader for spirituality? Farming is a lifestyle that will be a part of my life for many years to come. Without this opportunity to work at Just Roots, my life would be much different now. Thank you to all the people who were a part of getting me there, to give me the direction I need to better my life, the very thing I forgot how to do. My time here is far from over. You’ll be hearing more from me in days to come.

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature. -” Joseph Campbell



Just Roots – Just around the river bend

I consider Just Roots a social justice organization. Our mission is to connect communities with easy access to local produce. All of our produce at Just Roots is purely organic, health and wholesome. I have never been apart of something like this before and its exciting to see the development take place. Just Roots is just about to wrap up its second season and its well on its way to another successful year.

One of the many things we do for outreach is our CSA distribution. People are able to purchase shares within the farm and in return receive produce that normally would cost much more if bought from the market. About two weeks ago we held our CSA at the Sloan Center right at GCC!

WP_20140813_009  WP_20140813_008WP_20140813_006

We also take part in the Farmers Market at the Greenfield Town Common. Its amazing to see the transition the produce takes place. From the earth to a display shelf. People are very interested and supportive of what takes place at the farm.


Just this past Thursday, Just Roots and other organizations including Greenfield’s Market (the co-op) donated a lot of food to prepare a meal for the residents at the Winslow House (affordable housing). It was a great turnout and I was encouraging to see people come back for more food, all prepared by volunteers and local produce.


There is so much more we want to do! Maybe you can be apart of this progressive and healthy movement!

Just Roots – Quick Intro

Hi Everyone!

So much has been going on here at the Just Roots farm, its hard to figure out where to begin. Might as well begin with the average day here. My colleagues and I begin the morning around 6 am. On Tuesday and Wednesdays, we are harvesting mostly for the CSA distribution and Thursday and Fridays we are harvesting for the Farmers Market here in Greenfield.

We harvest everything from Kale, Eggplant, Watermelon, Peppers, Squash, Cucumber, Scallions, Tomatoes, Beets, Onions; the list is endless. After gathering all the produce, we prepare them for market which consists of cleaning, trimming roots, and packing.

The rest of the day is usually spent with me dying behind a lawnmower, just kidding. Our afternoons vary from priority, so much to do and it seems there is never enough time. We transplant, weed, and generally if we have time harvest something from the next days list. I am beginning to realize how much work it takes to make a farm successful.

Fall is on its way and Winter is just around the corner. I imagine the next few months we will focus on getting the winter harvest gathered, greenhouses tucked away, and other various tasks.

Cant wait to see what the future has in store!

Heres a bunch of pictures to give ya’ll a little idea of what we do here.

Victory from the rockbags!!!

Victory of the rockbags!!!/Crew mane


Heres our wash station, Hi Aaron and Wankaman!

Produce ready for distributing.

Produce ready for distributing.



Got Garlick?

Got Garlick?

Yes I do in fact capture reptiles on the side

Yes I do in fact capture reptiles on the side


Just Roots – The Journey of Purpose

Hey everyone!

My name is Nate Rogers. Over the past few months I have been interning at the Just Roots farm located right here in Greenfield Mass. I am new to this whole blog process, so bare with me as I learn the ropes. These blogs will be about my daily experiences, goals, and events that take place at the farm. To start off, I’ll share with you how I got involved with Just Roots.

While incarcerated, an opportunity arose where a few selected people would be able to work on a local farm a couple days a week and receive college credit from Greenfield Community College. The hiring process was based on a written essay and a formal interview. Out of several, myself and one other person were chosen to come work at the Just Roots program. I could hardly wait to start the journey into the farming life.

Before I ever even heard of Just Roots, my days were filled with anxiety and little hope for my future. Its been several weeks since I walked out of those jail doors and I can confidently say that I am more grounded in life then ever before. Just Roots has given me a purpose and drive in life that was once missing. I am eager to share with you all how my life has gradually changed through working at the farm.

(Here is me harvesting some Dino Kale earlier this year, and yes I am wearing a bee helmet.)

Them buggers after my soul!

Them buggers after my soul!

(This is me and my friend Juan acting triumphant over all the kale and broccoli we just planted. There is so much more to plant!)


Abundance at Rockridge Retirement Community

photo 4 copy( Above is Ian putting in shallots)

photo 3 copy

(Above Photo: The New Beds )


I am not sure how to express the amount of learning that has occurred and knowledge obtained throughout this semester! I will try to capture the feeling in words.

For the past semester and a half Ian Walton and myself have been working on creating a small scale food system for Rockridge Retirement Community in Northampton, Ma. The idea being that the kitchen staff and residents can have full access to food from a garden.  The kitchen can easily access the garden beds due to their proximate location–this ease of access will help the integration of produce into the meals served at the community.

Ian and have spent hours going over what the constraints were for the project and how to keep it sustainable and a cyclical system. We proposed to Rockridge, back in the fall, that we create a guidebook for future volunteers, interns, staff and residents. Throughout this process Ian and I have been conscientious of bringing the knowledge we have learned in the Farm & Food Systems program at GCC to help us. We have sourced all our materials locally and through donations. The amount of support we have received and encouragement is invaluable. It is amazing just how much people are willing to help if you just ask.

The other amazing aspect of this internship is getting to know the residents at Rockridge. I have befriended a few and ones whom I see regularly. Their reception to our work in the garden is wonderful to see progress over the last few months. The other day I was out working and I saw Miriam, a regular that I run into and have struck up a friendship with. She helped me plant pansies and violas (donated by Andrews Greenhouse) for Mothers Day. We planted in the beds and put them in big pots and sat and chatted for hours. It was such a wonderful exchange. She was telling me about her history and her trials and tribulations in life and we were both just enjoying each others’ company. It is very apparent that  a lot of the residents don’t get enough company. It is such a warm feeling to see them light up when they are given the chance to be heard. photo 5 copy(Above is a photo of Miriam planting pansies)

Currently sprouting in the beds are: Peas, Leeks, Scallions, Shallots, Romaine Lettuce, Chives, Times, Spinach, Oregano, Mint, Mesclun mix and Cabbage.  We have a big planting day May 30th where we will put the rest of the plants into the ground. Once that is done we will then focus our attention on creating a system for weed and water maintenance. Along with that we will be documenting and finishing up our guidebook.

It is my hope that as this internship winds down, that we will have helped Rockridge succeed in maintaining this system. I will be contributing volunteer hours throughout the summer to see the garden to harvest. However after that, there will be a need for regular volunteers and interns to help maintain and scale up the system. It is a wonderful place to be and this project is just constantly growing and moving in directions that are above what is expected! I am putting the call out to everyone on this blog site who might be interested to contact me.

I want to give a huge Thank You to Ian for being a wonderful partner! I also want to Thank everyone else for contributing to the success of this internship.