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> Spotlight on People - Daniel MacPhee
NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professional, 2008
Yale Sustainable Food Project Manager
New Haven, CT
By Kathy Litchfield
NEW HAVEN, CT – Living in rural Africa, growing food and buying local chickens fueled NOFA AOLCP Daniel MacPhee (Leominster, MA course, ‘08) to pursue a career and lifestyle that was close to the land and connected to his community.
From lead remediation in Cambridge, Massachusetts soils to organic farming positions and urban landscape design projects, MacPhee’s career has always come back to having his hands in the dirt, educating people about sustainable food and agriculture, and living his family’s dream of working together, playing together, raising food and being together as much as possible.
“My love is in food production and helping people to figure out how to do it themselves,” said the Yale Sustainable Food Project Farm Manager and Educator, who lives on the New Haven campus with his wife Corinne Wesh, son Bennett and one-month-old daughter Annah.
MacPhee, a native of southern California who graduated from Yale College in 2001 and lived in South Africa for a year as a Fullbright Scholar doing geological mapping and environmental education, attended graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) studying earth science.
Choosing an intentional lifestyle with his family, MacPhee worked at Waltham Fields Community Farm for a season before his son was born. He was doing lead-safe landscape design for low-income residents for the City of Cambridge, while his wife worked as a full-time bicycle mechanic. MacPhee founded Little Green Landscapes, his organic land care company, in 20078.
“I was working for CitySprouts part-time, managing gardens in two Cambridge public schools and working with teachers and students, teaching them to do small scale organic gardening in the city,” he said.
“My other job was doing small scale urban design/build jobs for people within 10-12 miles of my home, commuting on bicycle. I always had way more clients than I could handle and it was all word of mouth,” he continued. “There’s a significant need for urban gardeners in the city. If I needed more than two cubic yards of compost, I’d call for a delivery. It worked out very well and was successful based only on word of mouth advertising.”
NOFA accreditation gave MacPhee the marketing credentials that helped him transition from designing ornamental and native plant gardens, to focusing more on food production gardens. He also installed green roofs, container gardens and taught about sprouting and yogurt making.
His present position at Yale allows him to incorporate his passion for growing food for his family and community, while still teaching, having health benefits for his family and living off the land.
“We have a one acre urban market garden, managed organically, on campus. It’s my job to maintain that space and shepherd students through the management of this space,” he said. Students sell vegetables at year-round farmers markets, work three days/week in work study positions and learn all aspects of the farm’s operation. Many of the students are environmental studies majors with a concentration in food/sustainable agriculture, he said.
“Growing food becomes a passion of theirs and the garden provides this outlet where they can delve into what will probably be a very important part of their lives, post-college. They realize this is a viable career, and a really important part of our community,” he said. “They realize this is deeply valid and important work for all of us, and that feels really good, to help support these activities in the community.”
MacPhee also teaches non-credit workshops that are open to the public at Yale in “farming 101” for urban and non-urban sustainable agriculture, seed saving, container gardening, fermentation and do-it-yourself skills. He also runs a speaker series inviting the public to lectures on sustainable food, agriculture and the environment.
For more info, visit the Yale Sustainable Food Project website at: www.yale.edu/sustainablefood.
Remediating Lead in Soils
First, always take soil tests for each specific area of the garden/yard where planting will be done. Design where food will be grown versus where ornamentals will be grown. Cover bare contaminated soil with a thick green groundcover, or mulch. Usually it’s the top surface layer of soil that has the highest levels of lead, said MacPhee. For food growing areas, aim to have the pH close or above neutral and amend with lots of organic matter, or create raised beds, a good alternative especially in urban environments. Another environmentally-friendly possibility is to literally bury the contaminated soil in a deep pit, by moving it from the garden site to another less used site where edibles won’t be grown.