We manage the Farm as a single living ecosystem made up of many elements (i.e.: fields, forests, plants, animals, soils, compost, people,) and perhaps more importantly the spirit of the place. Everything we do is coordinated with that principle in mind. We are biologically integrated farmers well rooted in the practices of organic farming who rely solely on biological and cultural farming practices to eliminate chemical inputs such as conventional pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. On our farm we work hard to conserve resources, support our community, remain economically viable and environmentally conscientious.
We are soil farmers and our plants are grown in the ground in living soil, which we believe provides a quality of health and nutrition, not possible with synthetic chemical fertilizers or hydroponic growing. We generate our own fertility through composting, integrating animals, cover cropping, and crop rotation.
We are inspired by the biodiversity of our unique ecosystem and the landscape on our farm. Annual and perennial vegetables, herbs, hops, flowers, berries, fruits, nuts, grains, pasture, forage, native plants, and pollinator hedgerows all contribute to our farm diversity, amplifying the health and resilience of our farm as a living organism. Visit this farm at anytime of the day and while you may not always see it you will certainly feel it—this farm is alive!
For all those who enjoy the farm and what we produce we believe it to be important that you understand the philosophy that guides us and the practices we follow on the Farm. We are organized around five core principles:
Healthy soil, is the “continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.” This requires constant attention to meet nutrient requirements and crop productivity both in the short run and for long term production. Determining crop nutrient requirements is a key starting point for creating a nutrient management plan and we routinely test our soils. We consider soil testing as an investment, not a cost and we test all our soils frequently.
The most important thing we do on the farm is to manage the application of natural fertilizers, manure, amendments and organic by-products as the source of the nutrients we deploy. This is where we spend the most time and the most money. We include a combination of cover crops, naturally occurring nutrients, beneficial organisms, compost and manure (primarily poultry) into our management system to increase soil organic matter and nutrient availability without relying on chemical fertilizers (which we do not use). Composting brings animal manures, plant material, and soil into a healthy relationship and transforms them into a potent source of strength and fertility for the farm. Cover crops contribute to on-farm fertility, adding plant diversity and bringing life and sensitivity to the soil through oxygen and nitrogen. Cover crops also increase soil organic matter and fertility, reduce erosion, improve soil structure, promote water infiltration, and limit pest and disease outbreaks. Nitrogen is the primary need for all the crops we grow at the farm and cover crops help in “fixing” nitrogen in the soil as the crops planted following a cover crop can more readily use the plant available form of it. Together, these practices reduce or eliminate the need for imported fertilizers and enable the farm to move toward equilibrium and resilience.
Crop rotation within our market garden helps balance the needs of each crop and enables us to increase farm diversity. Crop rotations mitigate weeds, disease, insect and other pest problems; provide alternative sources of soil nitrogen; reduce soil erosion; and reduce the risk of water contamination.
Crop diversity allows us to increase farm productivity by helping us better manage disease through using disease resistant cultivars, improve individual variety yields, focus on those plant attributes that consumer’s desire (we do not plant any GMO seed/stock) and by promoting health soils.
In a few words we avoid routinely tearing up the ground. It is virtually impossible to maintain healthy soils and annually till our fields. We have developed a series of permanent plots with permanent beds where we grow berries, apples pears etc, hops, perennial vegetables such as asparagus and rhubarb, and our three acre market garden where we do not need to use heavy equipment to maintain fertility nor to harvest. The only area we still use the heavier equipment is in the cornfield and even there we have drastically reduced the amount of tillage.
We only use biological cultural, mechanical and bio-chemical controls and only those products approved for use on organic farms. We consider a pest to be any plant, animal, insect, bacteria, virus or fungus causing disease that interferes with the plants we grow on our farm, damages our homes or other structures, or impacts our and/or our animals health and well being. Our IPM focuses on long- term prevention. By paying attention and researching the environmental factors affecting a pest, we tailor our plan to create unfavorable conditions and reduce the possibility of future outbreaks. This goes to the very heart of how we operate the farm, as our IMP Plan does not seek to eradicate the pest but rather by using the least harmful (to ourselves, other farm life andour customers) option we reduce the pest pressure to an acceptable level.
We engage in a number of practices to make our harvest of the things we grow as efficient as possible. We begin by quickly harvesting ripe or in some cases pre-ripe produce and rapidly removing field heat that hastens spoilage. We have a dedicated wash area that we can quickly clean applicable produce. We have designed our produce storage to operate at minimal electrical draw as compared to conventional refrigeration. We reduce overall food waste, which is estimated by the USDA at $160 billion dollars or about 35% of the available food supply by coordinating our availability with the local food bank. We developed our on-farm market and expanding what we offer to pull customers onto the farm versus pushing our produce off the farm. We use only recyclable and/or compostable packaging. Whatever waste we do generate on the farm we compost.
We use the farm as our farmers market and other than providing food to a handful of restaurants we only sell through the farm. Market gardening is growing better, in lieu of bigger and our model uses the entire farm to produce value – making the farm work for us as opposed to us working for the farm. The farm and our commitment to sustainable agriculture is the real thing of value not what we produce as you can get a tomato anywhere. You can only get a Sweet Hill Farm tomato here.
Lastly, the USDA standards outline a variety of necessities for creating and maintaining an organic agricultural system. These include methods for farmers to preserve natural resources and biodiversity, support animal health and welfare, use only approved materials, and pass regular onsite inspections and certification requirements.
We are not yet a USDA certified organic farm but that is certainly in our future. We believed that an immediate pursuit of organic certification was imprudent given our lack of experience with farming in general and this farm in particular – we needed to walk before we could run. While we have adopted organic practices we are not a USDA certified organic farm.
Similar to our investments in our, orchard, our berry fields and our hops the economic benefits from converting to organic farm production systems will not be visible for several years yet we remain committed to pursuing USDA organic certification.