Growing Food in Partnership with Nature . . .
So what does that mean, “Growing Food in Partnership with Nature?” To us it means looking to nature as mentor and respected co-worker as we go about the practice of sustainable agriculture. From seeding to harvest and all the many processes in between, we aim to cooperate with nature instead of to combat and dominate.
We look to the example of nature, which never lets the ground lie naked, building every year with fallen leaves and dead grasses. Likewise, we mulch with leaves and hay. Worms are nature’s soil architects, enabling the soil to breathe air and drink water via the tunnels they burrow, and fertilizing with their castings as they go. We do our best to provide good habitat for worms, knowing they will do the work for us. This means minimal tilling, cover cropping, vigilant mulching and avoiding soil compaction. Native manures, rock minerals, egg shells, oyster shells, and composted vegetation all replace the nutrients taken out with each successive crop of nutrient dense produce.
Insects are only pests in the perspective of the farmer whose crop has become their breakfast. In fact, many so-called pests are dubbed beneficial in another life stage. Take the butterfly – admired pollinator in adulthood, leaf-munching nuisance in her youth. The natural realm uses diversity as the key to maintaining balance and avoiding the devastation of any one plant species. We aim to do the same. By incorporating year-round habitat for predator insects such as spiders, lady bugs, praying mantises, parasitic wasps, and assassin bugs, we have a better chance of limiting the populations of plant-munching and sap-sucking pests. In order to maintain a food supply for those helpful predator beneficials, we do not annihilate the pests when they do show up. Instead, we do our best to grow enough food to feed our customers and the pests who feed the beneficials, thus keeping the food chain happy. We do use OMRI-approved (Organic Certified) pesticides in moderation – bacillus thuringiensis (a bacteria that kills soft-bodied pests like cabbage worms) and soaps which make leaf surfaces inedible to the hungry pests. As in nature, there are the occasional population booms of invasive species such as Japanese beetles or stink bugs. They usually put a good dent in one or two of the season’s crops, and overpopulate themselves gone by the next. Physical barriers such as row covers and protective high or low tunnels are the most effective measures we take to protect the quality of our produce from the appetite of pestilent insects.
Preventative medicine applies to the plant world, too. Well-fortified, stress-free seedlings develop immune systems that decrease the odds of whole-crop losses to disease. Rotational plantings, protective covers, and careful removal of infected plant debris all help to keep diseases to a minimum.