Perhaps you are part of our CSA [community shared agriculture] garden already or are considering joining us this season but are wondering what it is special about our farm. We are a small farm by today’s standards at 93 acres but that allows us to better manage the many complex details involved in producing wholesome nutritious food and caring for the land we steward.
One of the most important aspects of growing nutritious food is having a healthy soil. Healthy soils grow healthy crops for humans to eat and results in healthy people and ultimately less health care costs for society to bear. This is a responsibility we take very seriously at Orchard Hill Farm. So what do we do differently?
One thing that really sets us apart is that we do most of our fieldwork with draft horses. They allow us to work the fields and harvest vegetables while reducing our dependence on petroleum fuels and represent one of our ways of tackling climate change right here on the farm. Granted, we are not purists, so we do use a tractor for a few jobs like loader work and baling hay and a rototiller for small plots that are difficult to work with horses. These working horses are fed pasture, hay and grain we grow on our fields as part of our diverse crop rotation which keeps the bugs and weeds guessing as to what is coming next. In the winter months, we collect the horse manure and straw bedding (from the grain we grow for feed and flour) and start the composting process, which results in a soil amendment rich in plant nutrients and organic matter which is then returned to our vegetable and grain fields to help supply the many nutrients essential to plant health.
A big part of creating healthy soils is promoting all the biology [bacteria, fungi, etc.] living below ground. We encourage this biology by crop rotation, cover crops, compost applications, minimizing tillage and even developing organic no-till methods. Every time the soil is disturbed, it also disturbs the bacteria and fungi – they play a critical role in providing plants with nutrients, and impact the water holding and drainage capacity of the soil – so we want them as abundant and happy as possible.
Another aspect of healthy soils is avoiding compaction, which squeezes the soil particles together – eliminating pore space where air and water are stored in the soil for use by microbes and plants. The use of horses helps us avoid compaction caused by using heavy tractors in the field.
This year we are beginning a trial of a “permanent bed system” that if successful will eliminate field wide tillage for most of our annual vegetable crops. This is a big change initiated by the next generation of farmers at OHF – Ellen and Aaron – and a big challenge for Ken to develop new field and equipment designs to make it possible.
So join us for an exciting season of progress and good food at Orchard Hill Farm CSA.