I was first introduced to Grounding Stone Farm when it was called Russell’s. I only had one daughter at the time (she was two), it was our first summer living in New Hampshire and we went blueberry picking with some friends. I remember being so awestruck by the beauty of the place, how relaxing it was to spend some time on these big, yet practical fields and the wonderment of eating food grown so close to home. Without pesticides as well! I was hooked.
Time passed and we (now with second daughter and my mother in tow) returned to the farm last year. I was again impressed by how beautiful, simple and productive it had remained. (The Covid protocols were also excellent!) We visited again this summer and that’s when I met Kathleen and David and this interview was born. So much information is shared and I learned a lot! I hope you enjoy this interesting and super informative read about the importance of organic farming and its role in preventing climate change. – Rachel
1) Please tell us a little bit about Grounding Stone Farm. How did you develop this interest and space? We didn’t hesitate when we purchased our farm at 289 Maple Street in Contoocook (NH). We were spellbound by the beauty of the property that included the organically grown and well maintained blueberry orchard – we fell in love with it immediately. The previous owner, Peter Russell, started planting blueberry bushes in the 1980s and established it’s organic status in 2003. We have maintained its certified organic status since we moved here in 2016. We felt a deep responsibility to maintain the certified organic status, not only because it’s important for everyone’s health, but as a way for us to contribute to our community and play an active role with helping to protect our immediate environment.
Both Kathleen Jacobs and I have been actively interested in nature and saving our natural environment for most of our lives. I (David Miller) am a mechanical engineer and currently work in the electric car industry. My partner, Kathleen Jacobs, worked in the solar energy industry when first out of college, but, as an artist, her graduate work/thesis related to nature. She focused on sounding the alarm about climate change, during a time when people were not talking about it, nor accepting that climate change was real.
Running a Certified Organic Farm means using no harmful pesticides and requires submission of an up-to date Organics System Plan (OSP) application to the NHDOAMF, each year. We keep very detailed records of the way we organically fertilize and grow the berries, and how we follow the National Organic Program (NOP) requirements. Our orchard is inspected yearly and we receive approval each year to remain certified organic by the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, department of Markets and Food (NHDOAMF). We have loved becoming stewards of the organic farm and have taken farming courses offered by the state. We received lots of help from Peter Russell, who was very generous in sharing his time-tested methods for maintaining healthy organically grown blueberries. The farm uses safe fertilizers and practice rigorous orchard maintenance. Kathleen and I seek out experts from University of NH Cooperative Extension, get soil and leaf tissue testing for the plants, as well as receive current farming data/information about crop management. We do not use synthetic pesticides in our farming practice and use an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practice that helps to prevent the need to use pesticides. But if we do have to spray, we use OMNI approved organic matter that helps to keep pests under control and contains naturally occurring products that are derived from our natural environment.
2) What is it like to own a small business in New Hampshire? Pros? Cons? There is nothing more rewarding than having a farm that provides healthy berries that do not make people sick. This business is such a pleasure to run. We see our customers return every year. They are interesting, informed and concerned people who care about our natural environment and their families’ health. We feel privileged to be a part of the organic farming movement that is very active in New Hampshire and throughout the New England region. We proudly belong to the Northeast Organic Farmers Association and support their efforts to help small farmers stay financially and environmentally healthy.
Our orchards provide berries to the community in two ways; “Pick Your Own” customers and wholesale customers, i.e the Concord COOP, Brookford Farm in Canterbury, Sweet Beets in Bradford, Warner Public Market as well as Local Harvest and other CSAs to name a few. Every year we get new customers as the word gets out about our healthy organic berries. We stay open at the farm every day from 9am to 7pm, from early July to Mid-August, since it is a short 6-7 week summer season in NH. We also have an “honor system” for purchasing during off hours. Some senior customers like to pick early when it is cool (and especially when COVID hit). Customers can come at their leisure, regardless of whether there is someone at the farm stand or not, and just leave payment at the stand. Late in the season, the Gleaners come to remove what was missed all season and provide berries to the area shelters.
The biggest down side to contemporary today is the threat of climate change, and this summer was the most highly affected crop we’ve had thus far since owning the farm. Early in our Spring blooming season, we noticed less honey bees, so we had to bring bees into the farm. We had the rainiest July ever recorded in NH and were hit by a severe hail storm that caused damage to the berries.
3) Organic gardening is very important because it refrains from using pesticides that disrupt our ecosystem. What are some simple tips you could give to people who are maintaining their home gardens and lawns? Why else does it matter? Organic farming practices keep us from not only getting sick, but will help save our environment. All the information available now about conventional farming practices (that include the use of synthetic pesticides) is proven to be killing bees, birds, animals and hence ourselves. We all need to act now to stop supporting this type of farming by buying organically grown food in order to save our planet and our lives…it’s become a crisis that everyone needs to face.
You can develop an Integrated Pest Management system (IPM) that includes; weeding, pruning, mowing and, if pesticides are needed, use only organic pesticides that are approved by the Organic Manufacturers Requirements Institute (OMRI) that are not synthetically manufactured and naturally occur in nature. Blueberries like to be a lower PH, between 4.5 – 5.5. To help lower the PH, we use woodchips or sawdust, any type of wood product, as it is more acidic and keep weeds down, adds organic matter to the soil and helps to lower the PH. Contact NOFA if you need more information about organic gardening.
4) Please tell us about your own zero-waste journey. What are some habits you’ve mastered and others you are working on? We only package our organic blueberries in green corrugated fiber one-pint re-usable or recyclable containers and cover them with mesh covers as opposed to plastic. Customers sometimes return these or reuse as often as possible. We compost all plant-based waste from our orchard and our home.
We primarily buy local, and mostly organic food (certified when possible), use reusable shopping bags when we go to the grocery store and recycle all plastic, paper, cans etc and try not to use plastic. The latest thing we are trying is to use heavy paper lawn bags for our trash rather than plastic. We are trying to consume less in terms of clothes, shop at the Goodwill at times, re-use, mend and donate clothing as we can.
We struggle like everyone does, but try our best to live gently and change our consuming habits.
5) Anything else you’d like to share? Thank you! We appreciate all you are doing and that you are actively trying to make a difference!