Albuquerque, NM. Plainfield resident Maribeth Ritchie, co-owner with her husband, Derek, of Sangha Farms, plans to attend a two-day regional conference titled “Exploring Whole Farm Planning,” on Thursday and Friday, March 22nd and 23rd on the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts.
Ms. Ritchie, who produces culinary herbs and produce and Nubian goat cheese on the couple’s 20-acre “natural family farm,” has been participating in a Beginning Women Farmers Program co-sponsored by Holistic Management International (HMI) and U.S.D.A.’s National Institute of Food & Agriculture. After receiving training in 2010, she and another classmate are mentoring four other Massachusetts farmers.
Now in its third year, the Beginning Women Farmers Program will have trained 270 farm owners in New England and New York State (45 in each of the six states). Its demonstrable success inspired the Program’s co-sponsors to organize the March conference, in cooperation with U Mass/Amherst’s College of Natural Science and The Center for Agriculture.
“Exploring Whole Farm Planning” is designed for current and past HMI “Beginning Women Farmers in the Northeast” program participants, their farm partners, and anyone else interested in Whole Farm Planning. The overall goal is to educate participants about how Whole Farm Planning can help farmers achieve improved quality of life, profitability, and land health.
Attendees will hear specifically about the successes the Beginning Women Farmers Program has already achieved; learn from experts in the field about ways to farm successfully – no matter how long they’ve been farming; and network with other farmers in the Northeast to share tips and learn about farming resources.
At the end of the Program’s second year, particpants reported a 95% change of knowledge about financial planning. Ritchie and her husband are prime examples of how such knowledge can have an positive impact on an agricultural enterprise. When they wanted to move from Ashfield to larger acreage in Plainfield in the late fall of 2011 (after a three-year search), the couple knew they would require a bank loan to purchase their new property. “The bank asked us for a lot of financial information. I completely understood what the loan officer needed, and I was able to provide it.”
People interested attending in the conference may obtain more information and register in advance online at https://holisticmanagement.org/conferencebwfne/ Registration closes at 5 pm on Friday, March 16th. -30-
HMI is an Albuquerque-based international non-profit organization whose mission is to educate people to manage land for a sustainable future. They believe people count, healthy land is essential, and money matters. They accomplish their mission by delivering a variety of programs and services designed to educate and support farmers, ranchers and land stewards in their efforts to enhance the land through Holistic Management®, a whole ranch/farm planning system. Currently, there are 40 million acres of land on four continents under Holistic Management.
Beginning Women Farmers Program
The Beginning Women Farmers Program for the Northeast was started in 2009; the first class trained a total of 90 people in six states. 90 new participants enrolled in each of the second and third years. A number of program graduates have become mentors to new participants. At the end of the Program’s second year, participants reported a 100% change in their knowledge about soil fertility, leadership and communication; a 97% change in knowledge about whole farm goals and time management; and a 95% change of knowledge about financial planning.
According to HMI’s CEO, Peter Holter, the results indicate that a great need exists for a program that focuses on beginning women farmers (and ranchers). “Currently, there are a million women farmers throughout the country, and the number of young women getting into farming is growing,” he says.
“The Women and Food Agriculture Network has information indicating that – since 2002 – the agriculture industry has seen a 30 percent increase nationally in the number of women running farms and ranches. If you look at demographic, social, and economic factors, they indicate that the number will continue to rise in the coming years.”
More about Maribeth and Derek Ritchie and Sangha Farms
- Maribeth and Derek Ritchie established their first western Massachusetts farm in Ashfield in 2003, after having been successful farmers in Maine.
- Sangha is a Buddhist monk community where people live in harmony with nature. It is also a Sanskrit term for “a place of harmony, mindful actions, compassion, insight and happiness.”
- The couple grow “pretty much everything”: 30-40 different vegetables, including three types of kale, 5-6 types of heirloom tomatoes, three varieties of cucumbers and cabbages and four varieties of onions.
- Until recently, they were selling their produce in four farmers’ markets: in Ashfield, Amherst, Northampton and Florence; and were able to cover the markets with interns. Because they moved relatively recently to Plainfield, they intend to start more slowly this year.
- They have been producing goat cheese since 2007. In August of last year they purchased Goat Rising, an award-winning local goat cheese company, which allowed them to expand production from 50 lbs. of cheese per week to over 200.
- In addition to their Nubian goat herd, they have two oxen who work the fields to prepare them for planting.
- Before they encountered HMI’s Whole Farm Planning system, the Ritchies always did planned rotational grazing with their animals, a technique HMI advocates to improve land health. “Now, I’m rethinking how to set up the pastures,” Maribeth says.
- Although certified organic “is not important to our customer base,” the Ritchies are working towards an organic certification, which they had obtained for their first farm in Maine. They farm in a completely organic manner, even producing their own compost.
- They go “beyond organic,” using biodynamic preparations developed by Rudolph Steiner, founder of the Waldorf Schools. Following Steiner’s system also means that the Ritchies plant and harvest their crops on certain days when a seed or plant’s energy is at maximum level.
- Future plans include bringing on a vegetable manager who is also an aspiring farmre; making sheep cheese for the first time this spring; making hard-aged goat cheese (from raw milk); and expanding the goat dairy.