Some clouds
47°
Some clouds
Hi 53° | Lo 37°

Farming

Growing organic: Taking the worry out of farming

Rosaly Bass of Rosaly’s Garden advises local gardeners, farmers in her new book ‘Organic!’

  • Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state.

    Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Brenna Morss-Fish (left) and Linda Estabrook (right), farmhands at Rosaly's Garden, prepare onions to be sold at the farm stand.

    Brenna Morss-Fish (left) and Linda Estabrook (right), farmhands at Rosaly's Garden, prepare onions to be sold at the farm stand. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state.

    Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state.

    Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state.

    Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state.

    Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state.

    Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Matt Gifford, farm manager, and Rosaly Bass, owner, with just-picked beets at Rosaly's Garden in Peterborough NH. The certified organic farm is the oldest and largest in the state. Bass began faming the land there in 1973. Gifford started when he was 18, 13 years ago.

    Matt Gifford, farm manager, and Rosaly Bass, owner, with just-picked beets at Rosaly's Garden in Peterborough NH. The certified organic farm is the oldest and largest in the state. Bass began faming the land there in 1973. Gifford started when he was 18, 13 years ago. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state.
  • Brenna Morss-Fish (left) and Linda Estabrook (right), farmhands at Rosaly's Garden, prepare onions to be sold at the farm stand.
  • Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state.
  • Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state.
  • Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state.
  • Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state.
  • Rosaly Bass of Peterborough has written a new book, Organic! A Gardener's Handbook. The 77-year-old's farm on Route 123 is the oldest and largest organic farm in the state.
  • Matt Gifford, farm manager, and Rosaly Bass, owner, with just-picked beets at Rosaly's Garden in Peterborough NH. The certified organic farm is the oldest and largest in the state. Bass began faming the land there in 1973. Gifford started when he was 18, 13 years ago.

For years, not many people knew who Rosaly of Rosaly’s Garden was, the 77-year-old matriarch said in an interview last week.

Once, a man wandered into Rosaly Bass’s farm stand. “Which one of you is Rosaly?” she recalled him saying.

Bass, chuckling while retelling this story, said her protégé, Matt Gifford, lowered his voice as deep as he could and replied, “I’m not Rosaly.”

As with her Peterborough farm stand, Bass is equally humble about her influence on New Hampshire’s organic movement. Although Rosaly’s Garden is the largest and first certified-organic farm in New Hampshire, Bass modestly refers to its significance and the legacies she is passing on to future generations of organic farmers. Just about the only exclamation she puts on organic farming is in the name of her latest gardening guide, “Organic! A Gardener’s Handbook.”

Bass acknowledges her book is an accumulation of everything she knows about farming. But its content is not overly authoritative, she said. Instead, it is full of “practical advice” for recreational gardeners and professional farmers.

In her book, Bass’s tone is welcoming. It is also serious, as in the first sentence of the first chapter, “There is a strong connection between pesticide and birth defects.”

In the next paragraph, she pulls back and speaks more personally. “This is a powerful motivator for me. I like not having to worry, or even to think about whether I am injuring myself, my family, my workers, or the people who buy my, produce, or whether I am damaging wildlife, sullying the environment, or polluting ground water.”

She finishes, “Being organic takes the worry out of farming.”

Bass will be speaking about “Organic!” at Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough on Saturday at 11 a.m.

Bass’s expertise mixed with her care comes through throughout the book. She said she was just writing about how she, Gifford and their farmhands farm every day.

However, beyond just being a field guide, this handbook is one of two legacies Bass is leaving as she continues to take a step back from farming. The other is her 41-year-old, 25-acre farm on Route 136 in Peterborough. She is gradually passing that on to Gifford.

Bass said she is realistic about her age, even though she looks and moves decades younger than someone in their 70s.

The farm is actually owned by the family of her late husband, Perkins Bass. But they enjoy her farming on it more than they enjoy farming themselves, she said.

Bass said she started Rosaly’s Garden in 1973, “scarfing” plots to garden from a cattle farmer her husband was renting to. She didn’t open her farm stand until two decades later. Bass was organic from the get-go, although she said it wasn’t a “big thing” then.

“I was lucky if I sold $100 worth of [produce],” she said about her early years.

Bass also said she was only following her mother’s example. She referred to her mother as a dedicated and obsessed organic farmer. Her mother refused to use any pesticide or unnatural fertilizers on her garden in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

Gifford became one of Bass’s farmhands when he was a teenager. He planned to work under her for just three weeks. But in that span of time he came to realize farming was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He has since earned degrees from University of New Hampshire’s agriculture and applied science programs.

Bass said Gifford couldn’t outright buy the farm from her stepchildren and their family. But she said Gifford has the will and the expertise to run the farm.

Although Bass pulls more than her weight around the farm, Gifford oversees their crops. Bass often sorts and cycles their hundreds of pounds of tomatoes, while Gifford is up at first light, spraying the fields with organic pesticides or picking.

They are also constantly experimenting and improving their craft. They started growing ginger this year, which they’ve never attempted before. They are also successfully growing sweet potatoes, after they attempted and failed twice before. They are continuing to widen the variety of tomatoes they offer. Four decades ago, Bass grew two kinds of tomatoes. Now, it’s up to 22. They also sell a variety of salad mixes, kale, spinach and other types of lettuce. A field of flowers and blueberry and raspberry bushes offers pick your own opportunities.

Bass’s garden is a testament to how much she pours herself into farming. When you turn in from Route 136, you’re welcomed by a rainbow of flowerbeds. You can find everything from sunflowers, to hydrangeas, to zinnias. Out of the public view are rows and rows of green and purple lettuce, six greenhouses of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squashes and pumpkins. On the other side of the farm are bushes of blueberries and raspberries a family is picking.

Along the way, farmhands, mostly 20-something-year-olds, are out in the fields. Bass said that without these 12 farmhands picking cherries, sheathing onions and behind the register at her farm stand, she couldn’t run her farm. Bass deflected credit away from herself, instead saying they are the “unsung heroes of the farm.”

Bass said her new handbook showed her how much has been learned about farming organic over the last four decades. Originally, she planned to reprint articles she wrote years ago for the Ledger-Transcript. Once she started compiling this handbook, she realized she was rewriting everything because so many of their practices have changed. As an example, she spoke about how they don’t pull out weeds by hand much anymore. Instead, they combine growing rye grass around rows of crops with using thin plastic sheets.

“I’ve been doing this for 41 years, and I’m still learning.”

There are no comments yet. Be the first!
Post a Comment

You must be registered to comment on stories. Click here to register.