January 31, 2017
Sometimes electrical wiring saves the chickens. Radish plants can feed the soil in winter.
These pearls of wisdom and many others were shared earlier this month at the 2017 Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) Conference. Three CLF staffers attended sessions at the conference to broaden their perspectives on how food systems can be improved to become not only more resilient but more profitable. Here are some of the things we learned.
Alicia Carter came away from the conference more knowledgeable about the trials faced by famers, thanks to Dru Peters and Homer Walden of Sunnyside Farm in York County, Pennsylvania. They raise chickens for poultry and eggs, pigs and cows for sale via direct market. They also have half a dozen dogs for protection and ducks, which eat the mosquitoes and ticks. But it’s risky business—coyotes, foxes, eagles, hawks and other predators will seize any opportunity to make a meal of the farm’s livestock. An entire flock could disappear in a day. Their remedy? Electrical wiring around the perimeter.
Alicia was also motivated to investigate interventions she can do in her communities near her own, in part because of session that explored how farmers can redirect unsold food to hungry families via social enterprise organizations like Farm to Freezer and the Community Food Rescue, which is based in Montgomery County, Maryland. Amanda Cather of Plow & Stars Farm (also in Montgomery County) was one of the speakers who inspired Alicia with her ideas of how to waste less and feed more. Apps such as Chow Match and Means App connect food to those in need, helping to prevent hunger and nutrient deficiencies.
Another tip for enriching soil came from Jarrod Miller, a soil scientist from the University of Maryland. By cultivating living plants in the soil over the winter, farmers allow the living plants’ roots to add to the soil. These winter plants such as radishes, peas, rye and oats are rarely harvested—the benefit comes from what their roots do.
Caitlin Fisher was drawn in by the passion and knowledge of Friday’s keynote speaker, Kristine Nichols, a chief scientist at the Rodale Institute. She began her address by saying, “My name is Kristine and I have a carbon problem.” Her research focuses on the complex relationships between organisms in the soil—sort of a soil biome. Crop rotation, tillage and other methods are just some of the ways that farmers can help to draw carbon out of the air and put it into the soil.
Innovations in vertical growing were explained by urban farmers from Cultivate the City, the Urban Vertical Farming Project, and Little Wild Things City Farm. They discussed the benefits of zip-grow towers, farm walls, and tower gardens for gardeners seeking to maximize their use of space: reduced soil contamination, minimized water, fertilizer and energy inputs, reduced physical labor per pound compared to field crops, mobility, and cost-effectiveness to name a few.
Schoolchildren were the focus of the Farm-to-School Programs panel, which featured speakers from school systems in Fairfax, Loudon and Caroline counties in Virginia. The panel included organizations such as TasteWise Kids, Real Food for Kids, and FreshFarm Market’s Foodprints, as well.
All CLF staff members were happy to participate in the taste tests offered by various vendors at the event on Saturday, the Local Fare Fair. Various kinds of kimchi, kombucha and ciders were just a few of the items available for sampling. Some of Alicia’s favorites came from HEX Ferments, The Sweet Farm Fermented Foods, Pie Time, Catoctin Creek Distilling, Millstone Cellars, and Popcorn Queens.
Photos: Alicia Carter and Future Harvest, 2017.