Urban Farming Institute Picks up the First of Hopefully a lot of Produce

Written by Paul on July 13th, 2016

Our partnership with the Urban Farm Institute took the next step. Ladawn Strickland and Apolo Catala came out to harvest some of our abundant produce. The produce which I donate will be sold at very affordable prices at two three farmers markets in Boston. I will be supplying produce every week through the summer and into the fall. Our partners are training young people to produce food at their urban farms in Boston and sell their healthy food to restaurants and farmers markets with the goal of creating businesses around the local production of food. Producing food in the city can be very challenging as property values are so high and many city soils are heavily contaminated with lead. The goal of this experiment besides providing healthy food to people who may not be able to access it, is to maximize food production on my 2.5 acres. This will not happen overnight as we are not so much challenged with toxic soil as the lack of soil. And soil building will be the number one focus for the next 5 years.20160711_113547



The Urban Farm Institute is a non-profit formed to train young people to grow fresh, healthy food. The Move is a partner organization which organizes youth volunteers to connect with farms and healthy habits. Please consider donating to these organizations.


The Ever Expanding Garden

Written by Paul on July 4th, 2016


We’ve had some great weather for growing so far …… but only if you have water. Very dry through May and June. Permaculture systems temper the need for water but the garden beds definitely still need it for crops to thrive.


Lots of stuff happening in the gardens, here are beets almost ready.


There are a couple small zucchini starting, we’re expecting a big crop soon.


Here’s more Zuccini with cucumber plants in front and sweet peppers behind.


I thought I’d try sweet potatoes this summer, I planted 25 slips.


Some lettuce just getting started.


Bush beans here.


Asparagus doing really well.


Breakneck Hill Farm Continues to Evolve

Written by Paul on July 1st, 2016

“..yet my mind was not at rest, because nothing was acted, and thoughts ran into me, that words and writings were all nothing, and must die, for action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing,”

Gerrard Winstanley 1649

Gerrard Winstanley was an activist in the wake of the English Civil War where King Charles I of England (the guy Charlestown is named after) lost his head (literally). Winstanley took a group of the poorest people to the common land on St Georges Hill where they built a small community and farmed the common land.

While many people talk and write about their beliefs, it means nothing if we don’t act. I have always believed that I must own my stay here on Earth and I must leave the parts I have control over better than when I found them. I must reduce my impact to this finite planet. And I must share with my community.

My original vision was for a larger farm but there are many examples of people raising significant amounts of food on just a few acres. That is my dream and goal. And it will include everyone who wants to be a part of it. I will reach out to communities where food security and quality are not taken for granted. As the Cow Fund finishes the process of dissolving, we will continue to disperse the funds generated from the sale of the last cows to hopefully help to inspire young farmers to look at how they can change the food system.

To this end, three organizations we are supporting that are making a difference in both Boston and Worcester. Over the course of the year you may see members at Breakneck Hill Farm helping with the management of the animals and the production and harvest of food.
Please consider making a donation to them.

Urban Farm Institute, Boston, https://urbanfarminginstitute.org

The Move, Boston, https://farmvolunteer.org/themoveteam/

YouthGROW, Worcester, http://www.recworcester.org/#!youth-grow/c1thu

Here are some pictures of the YouthGROW farm in Worcester.



Thanks to everyone who has helped and supported this adventure.

Paul Bourdon


Cow Fund Donates Money and Beef

Written by Paul on April 24th, 2016

The Breakneck Hill Cow Fund made our first two donations as we close down operations. The two non-profit organizations receiving the $2000 donations were both hosted by the Cow Fund at Breakneck Hill Farm in 2015. The Urban Farm Institute who came out to Southborough twice last year, trains young people in urban sustainable farm methods. They run a number of small scale (less than an acre) farms in Boston. They will put the money to work on farm supplies. The Cow Fund also donated a cow to them. The beef will be distributed to underserved residents of the Roxbury community. The second organization, The Move also trains young people by taking large groups from inner city Boston to farms to help out with various projects. They came out in October with a group of about 40 and with the help of Cow Fund volunteers we ran a number of different projects. Their major expense is a bus to transport such a large number. We plan to continue and expand the relationship with both organization at Breakneck Hill Farm. While activities on the conservation land will be limited to the orchard, production at Breakneck Hill Farm will be intensified and all the extra food produced will be donated to the Urban Farm Institute.

Two members of the Urban Farm Institute picking up the beef of the donated Cow Fund cow.



Propagating Comfrey

Written by Paul on March 31st, 2016

My Comfrey has grown two seasons now. Last season it was huge and its time to propagate it. The front yard where I want to graze the cows has struggled to grow much of anything. The soil is heavy with clay and appears low in organic matter. My goal is to build soil here and grow forage so that the cows can graze periodically here. So this is a great place to set up a comfrey patch where the cow will be able to graze once its established.


This is a single plant dug out of the garden.


I cut small “chunks” of root but also some with the sprouting plants like this.


And planted




Seeding the Cow Paddock

Written by Paul on March 25th, 2016

The cattle herd has been pretty tough on their winter quarters, basically tilling it. Bare ground presents so many problems to sustainability, erosion, loss of carbon and evaporation just to name a few. With the herd reduced and needing less space and the spring weather coming early it was time to seed part of the cow’s paddock. I am hoping to get the pigs in here this year and decided to plant barley. While it would be nice to harvest the barley it is more useful as a forage. The cows and pigs will be happy to grazing on it. Barley is an early germinating grain, meaning it will germinate when the ground is still fairly cool. It is also fast growing so I’m hoping to get the cows and pigs in here in May. With the ground already prepped by the cows it was a matter of simply broadcasting the seed and figuring a way to harrow it in. As it turns out I happen to have the front part of a 19th century spike harrow which works great as a human powered harrow. It was heavy enough to turn the seed in enough to cover most of it.


This shot shows the harrowed ground on the right.


The seeds on the right have been harrowed.


The goal is to eventually keep this paddock covered in forage plants. That will require exceeding the animals from most of the paddock during the winter.


Can’t Have Too Much Compost

Written by Paul on March 20th, 2016

Compost is the life blood of an organic farm. If your going to grow annual crops, compost is vital to supply the nutrients they will need. I am not sure I will ever entirely give up on annuals as I move towards a regenerative permaculture systems. I have been using the manure from the cows, pigs and chickens all winter in compost bins and layering under sheet mulch but this weekend I really decided to make compost a priority. I built and filled 4 compost bins, like the one pictured, out of pallets and filled them alternating between layers of manure, waste hay and a loam/sand mix. I have been trying to minimize inputs but because we have so little soil here, I felt it necessary to bring in 6 yards of loam. The sand should help to offset the heavy clay soil we do have here. These compost bins create a four foot square which should allow the compost to heat up to about 160 degrees F. This allows thermophilic bacteria to take over the process, rapidly breaking down the complex molecules into ones that can be more easily used by plants. Also by transforming volatile compounds into living organisms those nutrients that might be easily lost to the air or water cycle are captured and held in the soil and released as these organisms die and decompose.



Cows Looking Pretty Beefy

Written by Paul on February 24th, 2016

Breakneck Hill Farm will continue to have at least a few cows. Here are the last couple belties with Peter displaying his impressive rack.


Here is Henry and Bristol hanging out in the cows paddock.



New Raised Bed

Written by Paul on February 23rd, 2016

In New England there is no shortage of rocks. There is a shortage of soil though. One solution is to build raised beds. Using wooden forms presents the problem of what type of wood to use. If you use untreated wood, the boards will only last a few years. If you use pressure treated there is a certain toxicity that must be accepted. By using stone to build the beds we solve two problems. We’ve removed the stones from one place they were unwanted and we create a raised bed that is rot resistant and very flexible. This space was some of the worse soil on the property. By raising the soil by 6-8 inches we’ve now added about 200 square feet of growing space. In addition to the cow and chicken manure that has been added to this new bed, I planted black locust trees behind it. Black locust is a member of the pea family meaning it is a nitrogen fixer. Not only during the short growing season a pea might have but for most of the year. Black locust is also one of the most under-utilized woods. It is very strong and one of the most rot resistant woods that grow in this climate. At some point the trees will be harvested and used for other projects. Permaculture is about utilizing local  and multifunction resources.



Recycling of the Raspberry Patch

Written by Paul on February 23rd, 2016

The raspberry patch has given us many gallons of raspberries over the last 9 years but it was finally time to renovate the space. So it was mowed and manure from both the cows and chicken coops was spread over the grass and weeds. Now we have begun the process of sheet mulching with cardboard and then covering it in wood chips. The cardboard is free from recycling and the wood chips were dropped off from a tree service in my next door neighbors yard. The goal is to utilize local resources as much as possible. All three components, manure, cardboard and wood chips are considered waste and would need energy exerted to deal with them. By changing the paradigm and looking at how can these be used as resources we are now able to suppress grass and weeds and build soil. This area will eventually be planted with food crops. This is how permaculture works. Changing the problem into the solution.