Tag Archive for: ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture

The National Center for Appropriate Technology has launched a new, interactive website for its ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program which provides trusted and practical tools for farmers. Since 1987, ATTRA has been a key resource for sustainable and organic farmers and ranchers. The new website is at ATTRA.NCAT.ORG.

“For 35 years, ATTRA has been helping sustainable farmers grow healthy foods, expand their market opportunities, and diversify their farm businesses through our trusted knowledge base of practical information,” NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson said. “With the launch of our new website, farmers and ranchers will have even more access to the ATTRA tools they’ve come to rely on.”

The new ATTRA website features nearly 400 practical digital publications on everything from growing organic tomatoes to becoming an agrotourism destination. Each publication is free, and most now include the ability to listen to a publication in a variety of languages. The site makes available archived episodes of ATTRA’s weekly podcast series, Voices from the Field, and hundreds of how-to videos.

“Not only is ATTRA known for providing no-nonsense sustainable agriculture information, we’re also a powerful connector,” said ATTRA Director Margo Hale. “We’re proud to launch a peer-to-peer forum on the new website where producers can share best practices and learn from each other, in addition to having access to real-time one-on-one support from our team of sustainable agriculture specialists.”

The new website improves one of ATTRA’s most-used tools, its internship hub. Farmers can post internship opportunities for free, and those seeking internships can browse a nationwide database of opportunities.

In addition to a digital publication library, multimedia hub, and interactive forum, the new ATTRA website includes a topic index to search for specific sustainable agriculture information. Users can connect with our team of sustainable agriculture experts, sign up for ATTRA’s Weekly Harvest newsletter, and bookmark our events calendar filled with free learning opportunities.

ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture is a program of the National Center for Appropriate Technology and is funded through a cooperative agreement with USDA Rural Development.




THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY has been helping people build resilient communities through local and sustainable solutions that reduce poverty, strengthen self-reliance, and protect natural resources since 1976. Headquartered in Butte, Montana, NCAT has six regional offices in Arkansas, California, New Hampshire, Mississippi, Montana, and Texas. Learn more and become a friend of NCAT at NCAT.ORG.



Alvina Maynard likes to say she didn’t seek out alpaca ranching, rather it found her. Maynard is a military veteran in Richmond, Kentucky. It was during a hotel stay while she was still with the Air Force that she saw a commercial about alpacas being farmed as livestock. And the rest is history.  

Today, Maynard and her family operate River Hill Ranch. “We grow clothes,” she says. River Hill has evolved into a greater mission of regenerative agriculture and education. Not only is she growing clothes but she has also developed children’s educational programs and an agritourism operation. River Hill Ranch is selling their Kentucky-grown, American-made alpaca sweaters, socks, and hats at the Lexington Farmers Market, through an online store, and in an on-site gift shop. For Maynard, being part of the resurgence in American-made sustainable manufacturing is a big deal. “Our value-added manufacturing happens within a 400-mile radius of our farm. All our products are grown regeneratively, and manufactured using sustainable methods right here in the U.S.”  

Alvina Maynard River Hill Ranch 2Maynard says when she set out to launch her alpaca farm, she had no idea of the sustainable agriculture resources and farmer-veteran community that already existed. “When I came on to my land, it wasn’t in great shape,” she says. “I overgrazed my fields when I first started. I didn’t know how to manage ruminants correctly. ATTRA gave me the tools I needed to be able to do that. Not only did my land rebound, but the forage production per acre has at least doubled if not tripled because of the resources ATTRA empowered me with. I am now able to grow much more with less.”  

Maynard credits ATTRA and our sustainable agriculture experts who’ve provided the alpaca industry with technical assistance with changing the industry for the better. “ATTRA influenced a whole livestock industry in the U.S. to rethink how they were managing their livestock in a way that regenerates the soil.” 

Maynard was recently a guest on ATTRA’s podcast series, Voices from the Field. Give it a listen!

By Nina Prater, NCAT Sustainable Agriculture Specialist

Getting nutrients right in farming is a balancing act. When planning to apply fertilizers and soil amendments, farmers must consider their soil type, climate, the time of year, the crops they are raising, water availability, soil health, water quality concerns, and the nuances of the many different macro- and micronutrients that plants require. The way nutrients are applied is also an important consideration. A series of research projects have been conducted at the Dale Bumpers Small Farm Research Center in Booneville, AR, to assess a new way of applying poultry litter (the manure and bedding removed from commercial poultry houses) by inserting it into the soil.  

Poultry litter is a National Organic Program (NOP) approved fertilizer and is readily available in many parts of the U.S. The litter is often surface applied, but this can lead to nutrient loss through nitrogen volatilization or surface runoff. A novel technology has been developed to reduce nutrient loss from poultry litter. Named the “Subsurfer,” it is an implement pulled behind a tractor that inserts poultry litter into the soil in bands and reduces nutrient losses to the air, soil, and water by over 70%. The Subsurfer was initially developed for use in pastures, but researchers have been conducting studies to determine best practices for its use in organic cropping systems. While not yet commercially available, the results of the studies suggest that it is a promising technology that can help solve nutrient-loss issues while maintaining productivity and improving both crop quality and soil health.  

Dr. Amanda Ashworth, Research Soil Scientist with USDA’s Agriculture Research Service (ARS) Poultry Production and Product Safety Research Unit, has conducted research to determine the optimal crop row distance from the poultry litter bands for the greatest crop yield and quality. Planting directly into the litter would damage the plants, so the litter has to be inserted to the side of the plant row. But what distance is best for different crops? 

How Litter is Applied 

The ARS Subsurfer is pulled behind a tractor, inserting the litter approximately 4 inches beneath the soil surface, with wheels that close the soil up over the litter after it is inserted. The litter must have a moisture content of 35% or less. A seeder can be attached to the Subsurfer so that the fertilizing and seeding can be done in one pass. In these research plots, a GPS was used to ensure accurate spacing of seeds and litter bands.  

An additional finding of the research was that the crop quality was improved with the use of the Subsurfer, even as compared to plots that were fertilized with urea. Dr. Ashworth found the additional nutrients contained in poultry litter led to this improved quality. The liming properties of the poultry litter, as well as additional macro- and micronutrients it contains, provide a more complete “diet” to the crop in ways that urea, which only supplies N, could not.

There is potential for the Subsurfer to help with nutrient management on small to medium-sized farms, organic and conventional alike. The equipment can only cover approximately 20 to 30 acres in one day, so it is not likely to work well on farms in the thousands of acres, but for smaller-scale operations, it could provide a way to fertilize efficiently.


A tractor pulling the subsurfer attachment across a field.

Ashworth, A.J., D.H. Pote, T.R. Way, and D.B. Watts. Effect of seeding distance from subsurface banded poultry litter on corn yield and leaf greenness. Agronomy Journal. 2020; 112:1679–1689.

Ashworth, A.J., C. Nieman, T.C. Adams, J. Franco, and P.R. Owens. Subsurface banded poultry litter distance influence on the multifunctionally of edamame (Glycine max Edamame’) yield and leaf greenness. Pending Publication.

Photos courtesy USDA ARS.

Related ATTRA Resources

Meet The Subsurfer: ATTRA Blog
Meet The Subsurfer: ATTRA Podcast
Arsenic In Poultry Litter: Organic Regulations
Sweet Corn: Organic Production
Edamame: Vegetable Soybean
Nutrient Management Plan (590) for Organic Systems
Soil Management: National Organic Program Regulations

The information contained in this blog is also available as a downloadable fact sheet here. This factsheet is produced by the National Center for Appropriate Technology through the ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program, under a cooperative agreement with USDA Rural Development. This factsheet was also made possible in part by funding from the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, Specialty Crop Grant AM180100XXXXG157.

Adaptive grazing is a regenerative livestock production system that uses multiple paddocks, frequent moving of livestock with short grazing intervals, and long rest periods to provide full pasture plant recovery. It is a proven method of increasing the resiliency of pastures by building soil organic matter, increasing soil water infiltration, promoting water conservation, adding diversity, and decreasing surface runoff.

Dr. Allen Williams travels all over the world to teach about adaptive grazing. A former professor at Mississippi State University, he came to the realization that conventional methods of production were not working for many of the farmers he was trying to help. Farmers were having to use more and more inputs to get the same productivity and were having a difficult time staying profitable. This caused him to rethink his approach. He transformed his own ranch in Starkville, Mississippi, using adaptive grazing and, ultimately, he decided to leave academia to become a full-time rancher and consultant. He has been teaching other producers how to implement adaptive grazing on their land ever since.

In this video series, filmed at an in-person workshop at The Piney Woods School, Dr. Williams discusses and demonstrates the principles and benefits of adaptive grazing.

This video series was produced by the National Center for Appropriate Technology through the ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program, under a cooperative agreement with USDA Rural Development. This video series also was supported a grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service as part of The Piney Woods School Sustainable Farming Outreach Project. The workshop was hosted in partnership with the Piney Woods School in Piney Woods, Mississippi. ATTRA.NCAT.ORG.

Fremontodendron; a species that explodes with beautiful yellow flowers in the Spring.

NCAT’s Western office has completed the first year of its hedgerow planting project. NCAT secured funding to provide hedgerow plants and technical assistance to farmers across California, taking us from as far south as San Diego to Crescent City in the north. All told, we delivered to 80 farmers who ran the gamut of what California offers in terms of farming systems, scale, and crops grown.

As a resilient bunch of plants, these native species have been planted in the deserts east of Los Angeles, the fog draped regions of the redwood forests, and everywhere in between.

The goal of the project was to provide habitat to native species with a mix of 18 different hedgerow plants. A special addition of Narrow Leaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) was added to the mix in an effort to grow back a tiny portion of the Monarch butterfly habitat that has been removed in the name of development over recent decades.

Hedgerows can serve many functions. Historically, hedgerows were commonplace in several European countries. They were managed to mark property boundaries and provide a dense

Revegetating a burn scar caused by last year’s fires.

barrier to reduce unwanted traffic from predators and pen-in livestock. Some turned the practice of managing hedges into a specialized skill, even an artform. Many miles of these hedges were eventually replaced due to increasing labor costs and the popularity of labor-saving tools like wire fencing. Like many innovations, the replacement of hedgerows by a more “efficient” technology came with its costs. Erosion, wind, dust, and pest pressure increased, while biodiversity decreased greatly.

Of course, every farmer has their own reason for wanting to plant a hedgerow. As we came to learn, these reasons included privacy, protection against wind, noise reduction, habitat for animals and beneficial insects, soil stabilization, supplemental food production, and beauty.

All told, if we had been able to plant in a single row, this hedgerow project would span 26 miles. And we hope to make it longer. If you are a farmer and are interested in planting a hedgerow, please contact NCAT’s Western office at 530-792-7338. We are planning to secure funding for another project like this one and hope you might be a part of it.

This blog post is produced by the National Center for Appropriate Technology through the ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program, under a cooperative agreement with USDA Rural Development. This blog post was also made possible in-part by funding from ATTRA, CDFA Specialty Crop Block Grant (Conservation stewardship training and demonstration for specialty crop growers; investing in your farm #18-0001-034-sc), Regenerative Ag. Foundation, and Environmental Defense Fund.  

With its four new agriculture specialists onboard, the National Center for Appropriate Technology will have at the ready first-hand sustainable-agriculture expertise in even more parts of the country.

NCAT has boasted national credentials for decades. Its premier sustainable-agriculture information program, ATTRA, for example, has been on the cutting edge and connecting farmers with trusted, practical information since 1987.

The nonprofit organization is headquartered in Butte, Mont., and boasts a network of regional experts at offices in California, Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas, New Hampshire, as well as remote staff in Colorado, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The new specialists will add Idaho, Kentucky, and northcentral Montana to NCAT’s list of locations.

Just as every farm and ranch has its own story to tell, every region of the country brings its own twists and turns to those tales.

“The knowledge a successful root crop farmer in Montana develops has quite a bit in common with an orchardist in Arkansas,” said Executive Director Steve Thompson. “They learn to read the weather and mitigate the threat of pests and disease. They enrich the soil and market their products. But the details of that knowledge can be very different. That’s where NCAT’s specialists come in. We are excited to expand our reach to assist even more farmers and ranchers at no-cost to them.”

The new NCAT sustainable agriculture specialists include:

Linda Poole, Montana

Areas of Expertise: Grazing, rangeland management and monitoring, genetic selection and husbandry of livestock (sheep, cattle, horses, livestock guardian dogs), biodiversity, process-based restoration; conflict resolution and consensus building

Linda Poole is an agriculture specialist focused on regenerative grazing practices. Childhood adventures on her family’s ranch in eastern Washington led to a deep love of working wildlands where people nurture nature to sustainably produce wholesome food, clean water, haven for animals both wild and domestic, and abiding beauty. Poole has a Master of Science degree in wildlife ecology from Oregon State University. She’s spent over 30 years managing large working ranches to enhance biodiversity and rural resilience. Poole raises crossbred fine wool sheep, using them to restore vitality to a 320-acre prairie homestead in northcentral Montana. Her passion is advancing context-appropriate strategies to produce healthy food, fiber and families, using minimal outside inputs, holistic principles and the power of diverse collaborations.

Mike Lewis, Kentucky

Areas of Expertise:
Crop and livestock rotation, regenerative practices, silvopasture, and cooperatives.

Farming is in Mike Lewis’ DNA. Born in the aptly named town of Farmington, Maine, Lewis follows in his great grandfather’s footsteps as the first family member in two generations to continue the farming legacy. Raised throughout Maine, green farms and rolling acres accented Lewis’s childhood and cemented in him a love for the natural process of agriculture. After serving in the military, Lewis landed in Kentucky and realized that it was farming that was calling to him. In 2009, he took an internship on an organic farm in Gravel Switch, Kentucky and founded Growing Warriors — the first veteran-oriented food security project with a mission to equip, assist, and train military veterans in production agriculture to feed themselves, their families, and their communities. To date, the organization has provided education and training resources to hundreds of veterans and their families. In 2014, Lewis began farming hemp as part of the Kentucky Pilot Program. With the support of Fibershed and Patagonia, he became the first federally permitted hemp farmer in the U.S. since Prohibition.

Justin Morris, Idaho

Areas of Expertise:
Regenerative land management and ecologically based grazing management practices

Justin Morris is a regenerative-livestock specialist. He studied agribusiness and livestock production systems at Brigham Young University where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in animal science along with a minor in business management. Immediately afterward, Morris studied soils, forage crops, range management and plant physiology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he earned a Master of Science degree in range and forage science. While at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Morris spent considerable time investigating how major native grasses in the fragile sandhills ecosystem are affected by different levels of drought and grazing. Throughout his professional career, Morris has provided agricultural expertise on regenerative forms of land management to farmers and ranchers in addition to training fellow employees for nearly 16 years in several positions and locations ranging from Hawaii to New York. These positions included agricultural extension agent for the Montana State University Extension Service as well as soil conservationist, rangeland management specialist, area pasture specialist, and most recently as a regional soil health Specialist for the National Soil Health Division of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Morris is passionate about improving soil, plant, livestock and human health primarily through ecologically based grazing management practices that also improve farmer’s and rancher’s profitability.

Katherine Favor, California

Areas of Expertise:
Viticulture, agroforestry, silvopasture, fruit orchards, biodynamic farming, soil health, integrated pest management

Katherine Favor is a sustainable agriculture specialist, based in the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s Western Regional Office in Davis, California. Favor holds a Bachelor of Science degree in viticulture with minor in sustainable agriculture from Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo and a Master of Science degree in agroforestry from the University of Missouri – Columbia. She has worked on organic farms in California, Montana, and South America for over 10 years and was the manager of an organic vineyard for several years. Favor spent two years in Paraguay with the Peace Corps, working on food security and agroforestry projects with small farmers, and two years in Argentina, researching vineyard agroforestry systems. She has also worked as an educational program coordinator and conference organizer for several environmental organizations throughout California. Favor is passionate about the intersection of natural resources conservation, food security, and community well-being, and has specialized experience in the utilization of perennials to create regenerative farmscapes.

By Guy K. Ames, NCAT Horticulture Specialist

It’s the time of year when apple and pear growers are watching their trees like hawks. . .because the crows are watching the trees, too—like, well, crows.

Ripening fruit becomes attractive to crows and many other critters. The fruit sugars are just too much to resist. And beating the other critters to the fruit is one of the reasons you need to know when to pick. This is not always as clear as you’d think because, when it comes to apples and pears, there is ripe and there is “ripe.”

Ripe for the Picking

Pome fruits, apples, pears and quince, are “physiologically ripe” (the seeds are mature) sometime before they are their sweetest and before they begin falling from their parent trees. This is important because as soon as they are physiologically ripe they can be picked and expected to finish ripening off the tree! Fruit left on the tree past this first stage of ripening will continue to sweeten and change color and texture. There is nothing wrong with letting an apple reach peak sweetness on the tree. But doing so could compromise its firmness and storability. . .and it remains on the tree for the crows to find.

Pears, at least the European types, are a somewhat different story. European-type pears—like the familiar Bartlett and Comice—ripen best off the tree. This is not true for Asian pears, which ripen fine on the tree. If left to ripen on the tree, European pears generally start ripening from the inside out and can be grainy or mushy. These pears are best picked just shy of full ripe (but physiologically ripe) then chilled and “cured.”

Curing is simply a matter of allowing the pear to reach perfection at room temperature on your kitchen counter or table. If you’re in a hurry you can put the pears in a paper bag. Bag with a banana to further hasten the process. To check for perfect ripeness, hold the pear in your hand and push on the fruit near the stem area with your thumb. When the pear gives just a little to your thumb pressure it is ready to eat.

Follow the Signs to Ripe Fruit

But back to physiological ripeness and other indicators of ripeness. Here are some important indicators:

  1. The hanging fruit begins to change color. Even green apples like Granny Smith and most pears have a subtle color shift when ripening begins in earnest, but the untrained eye might not see it. But red apples will show a more obvious color shift from green toward red as they approach ripeness.
  2. Some fruit begins to fall. This is usually a solid giveaway, but it doesn’t mean that every fruit on the tree is at exactly the same stage. As fruit approaches maturity, a layer of tissue on the stem accumulates abscisic acid in preparation to drop the apple or pear. The grower can exploit this phenomenon to determine ripeness. Gently lift a fruit from the vertical hanging position to something approaching horizontal. If the fruit is ready, the abscission layer will break cleanly where it joins the twig or spur it is attached to.
  3. The seeds are hard and brown or black. This is the surest indicator of physiological ripeness because, after all, that’s what this whole thing is all about. The fruit gets sweet to attract creatures like us to eat it and spread the seeds. If the fruit gets eaten too early, before the seeds are ready, then the whole thing was for naught! Seeds that are soft and white are not ready and the fruit isn’t ripe. If you were to pick the fruit before the seed is mature, the fruit will not continue to ripen.
  4. The fruit pleases your palate. Hey, there’s no substitute for your taste. If you like it, then it’s ready!

There are four key indicators of ripeness in apples and pears.The professionals have other tools, like a starch test and a refractometer for measuring sugars, but even the pros will use the four other indicators listed above.

Storing Apples and Pears

If your intent is to store your apples or pears, then catching them right when they are first physiologically ripe will allow you to take these fruit while still firm and store them. Sometimes they will last for months depending on what you might have to keep them cool.

Interestingly, it could be argued that pome fruits are still very much alive after picking. They are still respiring (exchanging gases like oxygen and ethylene) and starches are continuing to convert to sugars. We’ve already mentioned that European pears reach their highest flavors after storage and curing. Similarly, many apple varieties don’t achieve their finest, most complex flavors until they’ve been stored for a while.

Happy eating!

Additional Information on Apples and Pears

For more on apple and pear production, see the ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture publications Apples: Organic Production Guide and Pears: Organic Production. You’ll find many other resources on fruit production on the ATTRA website’s Fruits page, including publications, podcasts, and videos.

Guy has written several blog posts on the joys and challenges of fruit production. His previous posts include Pear Trees Exemplify Resilience, Restorative Pruning, Dwarfing Apple Rootstocks: Pros and Cons, Fall Planting Fruit Trees, and Battling Borers in Organic Apple Production.

You can contact Guy or other NCAT agriculture specialists by email at askanag@ncat.org or 800-346-9140.

By Ann Baier, NCAT Sustainable Agriculture Specialist

Foreword: After the recent passing of her mother, Ann reflects on some valuable lessons and preparations, especially relevant in the time of a pandemic.

Building resilience in agriculture and communities is at the heart of our work at the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). For over 40 years and continuing in this time of the pandemic, we persist in agricultural endeavors that support just and ecological food and farming systems in the midst of racial and economic inequalities and the public health implications of COVID-19.

Unexpected things happen all the time, in food and farming businesses, and in life. For a farm business to be resilient amid the unpredictable, we develop risk management plans and integrated pest management strategies to minimize loss and weather adversity. We create standard operating procedures, food safety plans, quality control measures. We analyze hazards and address critical control points and develop recall plans. We buy insurance. We set emergency preparedness plans in place, considering regional probabilities of a wildfire, flood, earthquake, hurricane or tornado, illness, or death.

Each of us has some capacity to prepare, prevent, or mitigate unpredictable events that may or may not happen in life and business. We also need to prepare for the inevitable (death)—that which will happen; we just don’t know how or when. During a pandemic, we are slightly more aware of our mortality, that any one of us could suddenly reach the end of our life. Our lives, no matter how long they may be, are finite. Even though talking about death may seem difficult at first, preparing for its eventuality won’t cause it!

Last year, my women’s group began discussing aging. (We are all aging, no matter how old we are!) We committed to meeting regularly to support and inspire each other to prepare for life’s eventual end. Each month we address a topic, such as Health and Medical Care, Legal Arrangements, Information for Survivors, Legacy / Succession, and Death Cleaning. We share meaningful reflections, practical help, and even laughter as we work toward clarity and organization. Our experience may be helpful to others.

The best time to make emergency preparedness plans is before the emergency begins. I’ll gather my important papers, map out an escape route, decide on an out-of-state contact and a family gathering place before a disaster looms and communications are lost. The best time to prepare to die is while we are healthy and of sound mind. When the possibility of illness and the eventuality of death seem far-off in the future rather than imminent, I can work with a clearer mind, and ground my decisions in carefully considered and dearly held values. It is quite all right to set arrangements in writing and not need them; it is more costly, legally complex, and emotionally exhausting to need, and not have them. Putting my affairs in order can give me peace of mind while I’m alive, especially understanding how I can minimize the legal, financial and emotional burdens on my loved ones–or business partners–when I cross life’s finish line.

Part I: Health and Medical Care: Advance Health Care Directives

My Mom used to joke, “None of us is going to get out of here alive!” Indeed, she made a timely exit from her life’s journey earlier this year. Her passing was peaceful and consistent with her values, thanks to her preparations. Mom completed both an Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD) and Physicians Orders on Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST) form, I had copies, and both documents were on file with her health care system. Mindful that someday she would take “that journey that needs no baggage,” my Mom had put her wishes in writing years prior when thoughts of physical frailty or mental incompetence were merely hypothetical.

No matter my age or current health status, I can consider various scenarios and write down my wishes. What if I get into an accident or fall suddenly ill, get a brain tumor, or lose my memory? There are times when discussing the real possibility–or probability– of disability or death might feel like taking away someone’s hope. It is best to prepare now, while I can still reason clearly and speak for myself. Knowing I have discussed my values and criteria for decision-making with my family and my doctor and filed my advance health care directive with my health care system, I can be at ease.

My Mom had a fall. At age 95, it was not her first, but this one was different. The doctor who assessed her condition asked if we wanted to honor my mother’s POLST. “Yes,” I said, knowing we’d had the necessary conversations ahead of time. “Then we are providing comfort measures.” I clarified, “This may lead to the end of her life?” “Yes.” Having Mom’s wishes in writing gave me peace of mind. I did not need to second-guess, or worry that a family member would question her end-of-life care. It also allowed her a natural death, free of invasive medical interventions. She was able to die as simply as she lived, with modest use of finite medical resources.

Advance Health Care Directive templates are easy to find; many health care systems provide them. Physicians Orders on Life-Sustaining Treatment, or POLST, is described in https://polst.org/: “All adults should have an advance directive to help identify a surrogate decision-maker and provide information about what treatments they want for an unknown medical emergency. A POLST form is for when you become seriously ill or frail and toward the end of life. A POLST form does not replace an advance directive — they work together.” The POLST form has three sections with checkboxes to express your wishes with respect to: A) Resuscitation (Attempt or Not); B) Medical Interventions (Full, Selective or Comfort-Focused Care); C) Artificially Administered Nutrition (Long-term, Trial or None), followed by D) Information and Signatures—yours and your doctor’s. That’s all. Together, the AHCD and POLST can save costly confusion for family members and care providers when life hangs in the balance. It is reassuring to have written guidance about when to try what kinds of interventions, and when to accept death when it is time.

Part II: Legal Affairs

Making legal arrangements, appropriate to one’s family composition and farm business, is a worthy investment of time and money. Get reliable legal advice! Key documents often include a Will, General Durable Power of Attorney, and a Living or Revocable Trust. A Trust complements the Will, and allows the property to be transferred to beneficiaries without the expense and delay of probate court proceedings. A Trust is “funded” by titling items of value (such as bank accounts and real property) in the name of the Trust, and recording deeds with the county.

A Trust names beneficiaries and Successor and/or Co-Trustees. “We wouldn’t want to declare you incompetent!” explained my Mom’s estate attorney, as she drew up the Trust.  And explained the key distinction between Co-Trustee and Successor Trustee. Being named Co-Trustee gave me the legal authority to take care of Mom’s affairs as her energy waned, her eyesight faded, and her hand grew increasingly unsteady over several years. The latter would have allowed me to act only if and when the primary Trustee was declared physically or mentally incapable by a medical professional. Because life provides no guarantees about a person’s longevity or the order of death (one of my mom’s children died before she did), it is good to name more than one Co-Trustee, and the order in which they would serve.

Making necessary legal arrangements does not mean giving up or losing hope. It’s simply a good idea. At any moment, I may find myself needing to act, in some legal capacity, on behalf of my spouse, sibling or business partner—or one of them for me! Some people lose capacity gradually, with age or dementia; others more suddenly, due to an accident, stroke, heart attack, or some rapidly progressing illness. Human beings may find it increasingly embarrassing, frightening, or uncomfortable to speak of getting one’s affairs in order when failing health or death become real possibilities. Anyone’s judgment can be clouded by emotion, fear, or stress when the balance of life itself or the future of business seem to hang on some critical decision. Why not set things in order now?

Further Reading:

  • Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
  • Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won’t Have To by Melanie Cullen, September 2018, 8th Edition, NOLO Pres