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&