Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lessons from Harvard's Green Community bid

As Ayer's Green Community Committee works to get key information out to voters before the spring Town Meeting (see below for information on the upcoming Stretch Code seminar that will take place March 23), neighboring Harvard is gearing up for the first energy-reduction projects that will be funded by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) since the town earned "Green Community" status at the end of 2010.

Eric Broadbent, a Harvard resident with a personal interest in sustainability issues and alternative energy, is a member of the Harvard Energy Advisory Committee, which spearheaded the town's charge for the Green Community label. I recently spoke to him to see how Harvard was able to meet all the requirements and get them approved by its Board of Selectmen and voters in time to meet last fall's DOER deadline, as Ayer seeks to do this year.

How did Harvard's bid for "Green Community" status start off?

The Harvard Energy Advisory Committee (HEAC) was appointed by the BOS in mid-2008 and began to put together an energy audit of town facilities, with an eye to an energy-reduction plan, before the Green Communities Act was passed. Then in mid-2009, when some citizens and members of the committee began to hear about the act, HEAC went to the BOS to make the case to pursue the Green Community designation.

What was the BOS response?

We had some members who weren't sure about going for it. But because we already had good working relationships with the boards in town, they agreed to allow us to apply for a Planning Assistance Grant from DOER, which would pay for a consultant to advise us along the way. We got our assistance grant in September 2009, and in early 2010, began meeting with our consultants. From there, it was a process of educating the public and addressing the concerns of the Selectmen as well as we could. We always took the attitude that the decision was theirs, and it was up to us to give them as much information as we could to help them decide.

How did you get information out to the public?

The Stretch Code (a new building code aimed at minimizing life-cycle energy costs, to which all new residential construction over 3,000 square feet, as well as new commercial or industrial projects will have to conform) was the key piece we needed to educate voters on. Initially, we had put the Stretch Code on the spring Town Meeting warrant, but as we only had time to have one sparsely-attended open meeting about that requirement before Town Meeting, we knew we probably wouldn't get an informed vote. As we anticipated, the town tabled that item for future discussion rather than go for a toss-of-the-dice vote. But the warrant served the purpose of getting the topic out in front of voters. It was basically our (HEAC's) job at this point to get the public informed.

We had a terrific volunteer effort to create a web site to put up a large amount of information we had from DOER and other towns so voters could refer to that. We were also able to get the League of Women Voters to sponsor a panel discussion between people who were for the Stretch Code, and people who were against, along with a person we provided who could answer Stretch Code questions. This event was broadcast on local public access cable. We also had an open mic event for questions about the Stretch Code and other Green Community topics.

The local paper was another venue for keeping our efforts in front of the town. Several articles were published as we worked through the criteria. Also, a number of citizens wrote letters to the editor, which helped keep the subject in the public eye.

We had to meet with every board in town who had a vote on the criteria. We went into those meetings and basically said, "Here's our plan. What are your concerns?" And we had to acknowledge that, yes, there were some issues we didn't have an easy answer for, but we were ready to show the members the positives that each part of the plan could provide.

Did you run into stumbling blocks along the way?

Early on, we had a Planning Board chairman who told us that the weight of opinion on the Planning Board was against us for "as of right" siting for alternative energy projects (the first criteria) and the Stretch Code. That person later wound up resigning, so we began working to address the other members' concerns.

There was some initial resistance to the vehicle-replacement policy (which requires that towns replace town vehicles with energy-efficient models). But once we were able to show the boards and voters that it didn't cover every vehicle used by the town -- just the ones where feasible models existed (so not the town's fire engines, for instance) -- and that the fuel requirements were comparable to most current standards anyway, that eased up.

There were also a lot of ins and outs to the timing of meeting the criteria. In order to be ready for key votes, we had to watch out for Open Meeting laws, so that meetings were published with enough notice that anyone who wanted to could attend, so that later steps which required votes weren't jeopardized.

Economic concerns must have cropped up. How did you address them?

As far as concerns about the Stretch Code somehow costing local developers money or business, DOER has published a lot of cost data, and their evidence is that homeowners would have payback in Year One. So we put those numbers out there: some people were going to believe them and some weren't.

How important was citizen involvement?

As I said earlier, citizens helped start the ball rolling by expressing interest in the Green Communities Act. And it was citizens who put together the web site, wrote letters and articles in the paper and finally, sponsored a petition and got enough signatures to have a special Town Meeting to vote to adopt the Stretch Code.

Now that you are officially a "Green Community," what projects are you hoping to have DOER fund?

The first projects for which we've applied for and received grants are building-automation and energy-efficiency systems for the elementary school and police station. At both, we're looking to install automation to make heating and ventilation systems more efficient, and at the elementary school, we're also planning to install a demand-control ventilation system. We also applied for funding for boiler replacements in several buildings, and at least one building (the fire station) will get a new boiler. Once these projects are completed, we are eligible to apply for additional grants whenever the next round of DOER funding becomes available.

Green goings on

Voters, get informed! Stretch Code info session March 23

For Ayer to become a Green Community under the state's Green Communities Act, voters must approve a new energy code at Town Meeting on May 9. This "Stretch Code," one of the requirements the town must meet to complete its application for Green Community status, aims to improve energy efficiency in new residential and commercial projects.

To give voters -- including builders and developers -- some insight into what this code means and doesn't mean for Ayer, the town Green Community Committee is hosting an informational session at Town Hall on Wednesday, March 23 at 7 p.m. The special guest speaker will be Mike Berry, a consultant and stretch code expert with IFC, the group providing planning assistance under our recent grant from DOER.

If named a Green Community Ayer will:
  • Shrink energy costs in municipal buildings.
  • Be able to access Green Community Grant funds to make Ayer even greener.
  • Foster clean energy technologies.
  • Promote energy-efficient construction of homes, businesses and municipal
  • buildings.
  • Become a better place to live, work and play.
Help set up veggie gardens for a good cause
Growing Places Garden Project, based in Clinton, is looking for volunteers in mid-April to help set up vegetable gardens for clients in various locations. This organization has been working for most of the past decade to provide families, schools and institutions with free-of-charge garden set-ups, seeds and seedlings (using volunteer labor) to empower people to provide nutritious food for themselves at low cost. Click here to view a survey of dates when Growing Places needs volunteers and go put your green thumb to use -- you know you want to, after this winter!

Learn organic lawn care methods right here in town!

If you're thinking of going organic with your lawn care, but want to learn more about what's involved, head to the Sandy Pond recreation area on Saturday, April 9, for a workshop led by John Coppinger of The Coppinger Company, who, not so incidentally, provides organic lawn care for that very spot.

The workshop is part of a series, “NOFA/Mass Statewide Organic Lawn Days,” hosted by the Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter, Inc., and funded by the Toxics Use Reduction Institute of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. The cost is $25. For more information or to register, contact Kathy Litchfield at 413-773-3830 or

Get set for A Cleaner Ayer and Shirley, April 30
Mark your's almost time for townwide cleanup day for Ayer and Shirley. Grab a friend, then come down to Depot Square (or to the town Recycling Center in Shirley) and grab a bag or two and help polish up the towns' roadsides and neighborhoods from 9 a.m. to noon. Afterward, join the Ayer and Shirley Recycling Committees for pool and an appetizer/dessert potluck at the Billiards Cafe in Ayer from 2 to 5 p.m.

Volunteers are advised to wear bright colors. In addition, Shirley is looking for volunteers to help sort recyclables at the Shirley Recycling Center from noon to 1 p.m.

To register or for more information, contact Laurie Sabol in Ayer at 978-772-7858 or at or Dawn McCall at 978-425-6132 or at

If there's something strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call?

If, in your travels around town, you spot something happening that seems environmentally iffy (illegal dumping, construction projects causing excessive runoff, chemical odors, etc.), you might wonder where to go with that information. The Ayer Conservation Commission (978-772-8249) is one option, and can take your report of what's going on and track down the right people to deal with the situation. (And of course, the Police Department can also assist you.)

Monday, January 31, 2011

Next steps underway for Green Community effort

Monday, Ayer's Green Community Committee took the first steps on the latest leg of the town's journey toward becoming a state-recognized "Green Community." If the committee realizes its ambitions -- which, among others, include creating a plan to reduce town energy consumption by 20 percent over five years and garnering voter approval to change key policies to foster greater energy efficiencies across the town -- Ayer will be able to apply for the"Green Community" designation. With that title in hand, Ayer will be in the running for additional state funds to go even greener.

This was the recently-formed committee's first getting-down-to-business meeting with Marianne Graham, a senior associate with consulting firm ICF International. Her technical assistance is funded by a grant the town received in the fall, one of several the state issued to help communities attempting to meet the five criteria required to be considered for "Green Community" status.

Developing an action plan
The five steps towns seeking "Green Community" status must take are:

  1. To adopt "as-of-right" zoning, which means certain locations are set aside specifically for renewable or alternative energy generation, research and development or manufacturing.
  2. To adopt an expedited permitting process -- 12 months application to final answer -- for such projects.
  3. To establish an energy-use baseline and a plan for reducing baseline usage by 20 percent over five years.
  4. To purchase only fuel-efficient cars (provided models are available or feasible).
  5. To require all new residential construction over 3,000 square feet, as well as new commercial or industrial projects to conform to a new "stretch code" designed to minimize life-cycle energy costs.

Graham's role is to determine how far along the town has come toward meeting these requirements and to develop an action plan to complete the process so that the town can apply for the designation. The committee hopes to have worked through each of the criteria in time to be ready to secure voter approval for the portions of the initiative that require it in time for this May's spring Town Meeting. That would put the town in good shape to be prepared for the state's next Green Communities application deadline later in May.

Committee members present included Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand, Selectman Carolyn McCreary; David Maher, director of the town's Department of Planning & Development; and town resident Ted Staples of Reclaimed Energy, who represents the interests of builders and developers. Also on hand was Kelly Brown, the state Department Of Energy Resources' Central Massachusetts regional coordinator for Green Communities.

During this session, the committee worked with Graham to outline what's been done to date on each of the five Green Communities criteria and identified action items and point-people to move the process along.

Some areas well along
As part of earlier efforts to get the "Green Community" designation, Ayer now has in hand an energy-use audit (performed last year by Johnson Controls, whose longer-term hiring voters failed to approve at last spring's Town Meeting) which puts the town well down the road toward satisfying that portion of the state's requirements. The Green Community Committee will need the approval of the Board of Selectmen for the energy baseline and reduction plan.

The committee plans within the month to begin coordinating its efforts with Ayer's Energy Committee. This will ensure that projects like the recent lighting overhaul of town buildings and the $150,000 grant the town recently received to update its wastewater treatment plant will be taken into consideration as part of the Green Community requirements.

Warming up to tackle the stretch code
Persuading the town to adopt the stretch code is expected to be among the more complex tasks the committee faces. While Harvard -- named a Green Community near the end of last year -- adopted the stretch code, Devens recently rejected it. With that in mind, members agreed to form a subcommittee charged with learning about and in turn educating residents, and especially the builder and developer community, about the benefits of the new high energy efficiency building standards which the town must adopt as part of the Green Communities criteria.

With Graham's assistance, the committee is arranging a Q&A session with Mike Berry, another IFC consultant with expertise in the stretch code. The committee also plans to dedicate space on the town Web site to communicating about the code and its significance. In addition, the committee is conferring with Eric Broadbent, a member of Harvard's Energy Advisory Committee, who was instrumental in securing Harvard's adoption of the stretch code.

DOER's Kelly Brown took a realistic, but still optimistic view of the road ahead for the committee: "You have some work to do, but [some other] towns have been able to get ready and get approved in this time span."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Green goings on

Recycling Committee meeting, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 7 p.m., Town Hall 2nd floor

Topics on the tentative quarterly meeting agenda include planning for "A Cleaner Ayer," the annual townwide cleanup day, in April, and working with the schools.

"A Farm for the Future" screening and soup, Friday, Jan. 21, 7 p.m., Harvard Unitarian Universalist Church Fellowship Hall (off Elm St.)

The latest offering in the Community Food Film Series (a joint effort of the UU Green Sanctuary Committee, the Harvard Farmers' Market, the Congregational Church of Harvard, and Harvard Local), this film features BBC wildlife photographer Rebecca Hosking considering her family's farm in Devon with nostalgia and an eye to one possible future, contemplating how the farm might fare in a low-energy future. Hot soup, tea, cookies, and conversation to follow.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Film for your brain and 5 Go Greener points: "Carbon Nation" at St. Andrew's, Tues., Dec. 7

The next event in Ayer's Go Greener Challenge promises a thoughtful movie night: a free pre-release screening of the documentary Carbon Nation. The movie airs Tuesday, December 7 at 7 p.m. at St. Andrew's Church.

The film introduces citizens who are working toward energy independence for their own communities and illustrates how solutions to climate change also address other social, economic and national security issues. Go Greener campaign coordinator Faith Salter notes that viewers may be treated to a Skype question-and-answer session with the director following the film, schedules permitting.

Participants in the Go Greener Challenge, take note: Attending this event is worth five points toward the drawings for prizes, including the Grand Prize: a two-night stay for two at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Crawford Notch visitor center in New Hampshire. There will also be door prizes donated by Ayer Public Works, St. Andrew's Church, The Wholesome Cafe, and the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Read more about Carbon Nation by visiting

Friday, October 1, 2010

Big "greener" doings afoot on 10/10/10!

This October 10 -- or 10/10/10, a date whose unique stamp is sparking many environmentally-conscious efforts -- St. Andrew's Church will be the launchpad for the Ayer Go Greener Challenge. This project offers residents of Ayer and other local towns a chance at prizes for making some not-too-difficult, inexpensive changes in their energy consumption habits. The grand prize will be a two-night stay for two at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Highland Visitor Center in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire.

Those who sign up for the challenge will be able to collect points for each step they take in the greener direction, whether it's contacting MassSaves for a free home-energy audit or changing out traditional light bulbs for lower-wattage options, and more. Children can help their families collect more points, for example, by remembering to turn off the water when brushing teeth or turn off lights when leaving rooms. For every 10 points, participants earn another entry toward winning prizes.

To help locals learn more about the types of steps they can take, St. Andrews will host inspirational events over the next several months -- and yes, attending any of these is worth additional points in the challenge. Currently planned are a kids' showing of the Disney movie "Wall-E," which has resonating environmental themes; a presentation geared toward helping families do what they can toward stemming climate change, and a pre-release screening of the film "Carbon Nation."

"Many people want to live green, but 'going green' can be such an overwhelming prospect," says Ayer resident Faith Salter, who is organizing the challenge. "So this event is to help residents see that they can take it in smaller, manageable steps -- going 'greener' a little at a time. All these seemingly small changes by individuals and families add up across the community."

To sign up or learn more about The Ayer Go Greener Challenge, you can go to the kickoff event on Oct. 10 at St. Andrews Church from 2 to 5 p.m., or register to begin collecting points by going to the church website. You can also join the Go Greener Group on The contest wraps up on January 1, 2011.

Ayer's Go Greener Challenge is registered with grassroots climate change action group, one of thousands of projects that will be part of the group's October "Global Work Party." To read more about this overarching effort, visit

Important info on town stormwater planning this Monday -- yes, tomorrow!

Dan Nason, superintendent of Ayer's Department of Public Works, will introduce plans for a stormwater enterprise fund to help cover the cost of Ayer's efforts to meet state and Federal stormwater management regulations during a public outreach and education session on Monday, Oct. 4., at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

Find new homes for your used winter sporting goods

As part of the Ayer Recycling Committee's Recycle Your Reusables Day on Oct. 23, People of Ayer Concerned about the Environment (PACE) will be holding a sale of gently-used winter sporting goods, from coats and boots to skates and hockey gear to skiing and riding equipment and snowshoes -- and more. If you have items in good condition that are taking up valuable space in your home, stop by one of several collection bins, conveniently located around town, to make donations for the sale:
  • Ayer Post Office
  • Ayer Public Library children's room entrance
  • Ayer High School gym entrance
  • Ayer-Shirley Middle School
  • Parker School

The sale, which benefits PACE and the Ayer Public Schools, will take place during the Recycle Your Reusables event on Oct. 23 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Ayer High School.

Green goings on
Ayer Greenway Committee fall foliage walk
-- Saturday, Oct. 9, 9-11 a.m.
For an easy walk and nice views of Long Pond, meet at the end of Wright road, near the cut for a new subdivision. The rain date will be Oct. 10.

The Human Powered Vehicle Festival -- Saturday, Oct. 16, on the Nashua River Rail Trail, all day

Bring the family out for a bike ride to see fun and creative travel solutions, with events and booths on the trail in Ayer and Groton.

Monday, September 6, 2010

State award will help pave way for Ayer to become a "Green Community"

Late last week, Ayer became one of 45 communities that will receive technical assistance to boost its bid to become a "Green Community." A planning grant from the Department of Energy Resources covers the hiring of a planning professional to help the town meet state requirements to earn the "Green Community" designation, which recognizes Massachusetts towns' dedication to cutting their energy use.

Under the Patrick administration's Green Communities Act of 2008, towns who meet a set of five criteria that demonstrate their commitment to reducing energy consumption and pursuing alternative energy solutions become eligible for state grants to help them take their efforts even further.

Earlier this year, members of the Board of Selectmen planned to hire a consulting firm to help advise the town on ways to reduce energy usage in order to become a Green Community, but hit a stumbling block when the Town Meeting article that would have financed it was tabled for future discussion. With the help of the planning professional Ayer will now have on hand, thanks to the award, the town should be able to make a fresh start toward earning the "Green Community" title.

The BOS unanimously agreed to apply for the grant toward the end of August. Under the terms of the grant, Ayer must now commit to meet the five criteria within a year. The town is now planning to form a Green Communities committee to get the push going in earnest.

To read more about the Green Communities initiative and the criteria involved, click

Recycle Your Reusables event set for Oct. 23

If you find you've been accumulating a few piles of household odds and ends and are wondering what to do with them, hold the least a little longer. Recycle Your Reusables, brought to you by the Ayer Recycling Committee and its cosponsors, has reuse solutions for a whole host of items, including, but not limited to:

  • Athletic sneakers
  • Personal documents
  • #6 Styrofoam (even food trays!)
  • Canned goods
  • Coats and blankets
  • Good-condition used furniture and home goods
  • Gently-used sporting goods
The event will take place in the Ayer Public Schools parking lot from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. To get more specifics, contact the Ayer Recycling Committee at or 978-­496-5839. You can also visit the Recycle Your Reusables Ayer blog.

Green goings on

Ayer Recycling Committee quarterly meeting
-- Wednesday, Sept. 8, Ayer Town Hall, Conference Room A, 7 p.m.

This session will focus on preparations for the Recycle Your Reusables event (see above), to be held Oct. 23. All are welcome.

Fourth Annual River Day with Congresswoman Niki Tsongas --
Sunday, Sept. 12, noon to 5 p.m.

Celebrate the role of local waterways in connecting and contributing to the Fifth Congressional District with stops along the rivers in the Fifth District.
Stops included are:
  • Riverwalk Park, Osgood Street, Methuen, noon -- Meet with city officials and Groundwork Lawrence volunteers to discuss efforts to expand and clean up the Spicket River Greenway.
  • Muldoon Park, Lowell, 1 p.m. -- Paddle on the Concord River and visit the newly-completed Concord River Greenway with volunteers from the Spindle City Corps, the Massachusetts Audubon Society and Girls Inc., to discuss their efforts to rehabilitate this greenway.
  • Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center, Hudson Road, Sudbury, 3 p.m. -- Tour this newly-completed, green building and meet with students from the area to talk about their involvement with the Refuge.

RSVP to Jane Adams in Representative Tsongas' Acton office by e-mail or at 978-263-1951.

DEA National Prescription Drug Takeback Day -- Saturday, Sept. 25, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Get those leftover prescription meds out of your house...safely! You can drop off your expired, unused and unwanted prescription medications at the Littleton and Townsend Police Departments. This event is being held by the Drug Enforcement Agency (supported by the Mass. Department of Public Health).

Law enforcement staff will handle the dropoffs and ensure that the collected medications are safely stored and destroyed in accordance with DEA’s requirements. This collection gets these drugs out of medicine cabinets and closets, protecting people who shouldn’t take them, and prevents them from being flushed down drains and into sewers and septic systems, where many pharmaceutical compounds survive municipal water treatment.

Ayer Greenway Committee Family Rock Scramble -- Saturday, Sept. 18, 9 a.m. to noon

Kids aged six to 12 should have their responsible adults meet at the trailhead on Groton-Harvard Road at 9 for a short hike to Porcupine Hill, followed by an easy-but-steep climb to an area with caves and chimneys to explore for about an hour. Play clothes and sturdy shoes are recommended. Call 978-821-2916 or e-mail event leader Steve Smith with any questions and to sign up for this event

Ayer Greenway Committee monthly meeting -- Saturday, Sept. 25, location TBA

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Local couple's season of learning pays off in Gourd & Plenty harvest

Many of us have probably daydreamed at one time or another, "Wouldn't it be great to have a farm of my own? Grow the produce I want to eat. Enjoy the great outdoors and fruits of my own labor?" But where to begin? And how to make sure that dream can be carried out practically?

Ayer residents Beth Suedmeyer and Takashi Tada have made their desire to farm a reality, thanks to the
New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (NESFP), a program sponsored by Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and Community Teamwork Inc. of Lowell.

The husband-and-wife team work a quarter-acre that they've named Gourd & Plenty Farm at one of NESFP's plots of land in Dracut. Their produce -- several varieties of heirloom tomatoes, a rainbow of peppers, eggplants, French heirloom scalloped squash, and fresh basil, among many others -- is now for sale at Ayer's Farmer's Market on Saturdays in Depot Square.

A natural progression toward farming

Beth's interest in farming began early on. She was raised on a farm in southern Illinois where her family raised livestock, corn, wheat and soybeans, all on a part-time basis.

When Beth and Takashi came to Massachusetts for graduate school about 10 years ago, says Beth, "that's when we were exposed to local sustainable agriculture," which furthered her interest. "I always found pleasure in small-scale vegetable and flower gardening. That and the fact that we were both people with a strong sense of environmental stewardship, interested in preserving open space and growing good healthy food, made farming on a somewhat larger scale seem ideal."

As a next step, the couple became caretakers of a town-owned hay farm in Shirley, where they coordinated volunteers and sold the crop. Ready to move forward, the couple enrolled in some educational courses, eventually contacting the state Department of Agricultural Resources, where they learned about New Entry.

The New Entry mission

New Entry supports local agriculture by helping would-be small-scale farmers from diverse backgrounds get a start in Massachusetts. This program gives participants both classroom and field training in key aspects of starting and running a sustainable farm, from business planning to soil preparation to methods of organic gardening and advice on crops.

Participants get their hands into the soil by working a plot (most are in the Lowell and Dracut
area) leased to them by NESFP. Their yields are split between New Entry's World PEAS cooperative community-supported agriculture (CSA) project and local farmers' markets.

They can use this land for up to three years. After that, NESFP helps farmers find land of their own to purchase or lease.

Beth and Takashi began their field experience this past spring, hiring New Entry staff to help prepare their raised beds, then getting most of their crops planted around Memorial Day weekend.

The couple has spent the spring and summer heading to their Dracut field two to three nights a week and putting in 10-hour days on Saturdays and Sundays, feeding, weeding and -- now -- harvesting the crops. That's in addition to their respective day jobs: Beth's in Boston in the environmental section of the Department of Transportation; Takashi's working for an environmental and wildlife consulting firm in Boxboro.

Harvesting the experience

Beth and Takashi began selling their organically-grown wares (which, besides those mentioned earlier, include squash blossoms, kale, chard, ground cherries and others) at the Ayer Farmer's Market in August. They expect to continue through the fall, when they'll begin harvesting gourds and pumpkins, as well, and may bring some of the fall produce to an additional farmer's market or two. They also made an appearance at the Bolton Fair.

Asked what the program has added to her gardening knowledge, Beth says, "The biggest improvement to how we're growing is through the New Entry staff's guidance on pest control and disease management. I've really enjoyed learning to use non-chemical methods, such as mesh-type barriers and also a food-grade clay spray that protects the plants. We did have our fair share of insect damage, but we haven't lost much due to pests...knock on wood!"

Another eye-opening lesson from the program: "We definitely get a sense of not being able to charge a price [for produce] equivalent to our input. It costs a lot to produce food."

To other aspiring farmers, Beth says, "I would definitely encourage anyone thinking about this to contact New Entry or the Department of Agricultural Resources. Exploring the opportunities they offer helps put farming as a career in perspective. It's not for everyone. It requires significant commitment, time, passion and work. You don't want to go into it naively, but programs are available that can help you figure out if it's a good fit."

Of her mentors at New Entry, she says, "They make it all very accessible: the logistics and land and equipment and supplies they make available, and their technical assistance." "

Down the road, Beth says, "We would ultimately like to have our own land and make an investment in good healthy soil, and maybe to offer an educational program to help the next generation understand sustainable farming techniques."

Weeds, not too surprisingly, have been one of her least favorite parts of the experience -- especially since the field was formerly used for hay and is still inclined to sprout now-unwanted grass.

Getting to enjoy nature during their time in the field has been the most satisfying part of the experience, Beth notes. Besides the growth of their vegetables, she and Takashi were happy to have a chance to observe a spotted sandpiper's nest in their field that yielded several fledglings. "It's wonderful to have a piece of land that you're intimately familiar with, and to eat food that you've grown."

You can e-mail Beth and Takashi about their produce and their experience at Gourd&