Category Archives: Blog

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!

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!

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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