Old MacDonald Had a Sustainable Farm…

This week has given us a wide spectrum of experiences, from staring at computer screens to crouching in the dirt!

This week marked the beginning of our group project, focused on background research to aid in the creation of an agricultural management plan for the Martin van Buren National Historic Park (MAVA). It wasn’t until this project that I was even aware that there were active agricultural sites in National Parks! It makes sense though, if the site itself historically was an agricultural site to stay true to the land use patterns. That’s how you can truly recreate the experience for the visitors. Another layer to this project is the focus not only on agricultural practices but sustainable practices as well. It’s clear that the Park service doesn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to promote environmental stewardship in every avenue. Which also makes sense since back in Van Buren’s time, there wasn’t as much agricultural infrastructure to utilize.

As brief summary: The way the Park Service had integrated active agricultural on the MAVA site is through a partnership with a local organization called Roxbury Farm, a leading entity in sustainable agriculture for the region. The Park service has leased out parts of the land to Roxbury Farm to cultivate as their own, as there style is close to the practices that would have been practiced in the 1850s. So for the earlier part of the week, us interns picked 4-5 topics to research within the spectrum of sustainable practices as well as the practices of the NPS and Roxbury Farm. My topics are Soil Health and Fertility, Compost, Plant Stock and Propagation and Pest Management.

Yesterday we ventured out to Lincoln, MA (home of one Margie Coffin-Brown) to visit some local farms, get a better feel of current practices and some of our questions answered. The first stop was Pete’s and Jen’s Backyard Birds, which is a suburban farm that specializes in chicken, turkey, rabbit and pig raising. Though I am not focusing on livestock or poultry, Pete did share with us some of his soil managing techniques such as his cover crop rotations and movement of the animals through move-able infrastructure. I was able to take away from the visit the benefits of each different kind of manure (which is useful to know for the composting process). Rabbits are cute and their waste is quite useful. The best of both worlds, right?1Y7A0457

Close-up of shoveled-up rabbit manure. Teeming with a bunch of “Red Wiggler” worms.

Next stop was to Minute Man National Historic Park (MIMA). Our time in MIMA was brief (as our stomachs were telling us it was time for a break!) but we did drive by some agricultural stops to get a better feel at how agriculture is already managed at a National Park.

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Me explaining to an interpreter in full costume about our project while walking around MIMA.

After a wonderful lunch break at the Coffin-Brown estate (Margie’s house is breath-taking to say the least), our last stop for the day was at her neighbors’ establishment, Drumlin Farm. Here, we learned more about a slightly larger scale operation. Our contact Matt taught us about successional planting, which helps the farm keep up with production demands. Matt went into full detail about the soil qualities of most importance, organic matter (OM) being the biggest. Organic matter helps with aggregating the soil and thus water retention. Soils with adequate OM have almost a doughy and clumpy texture and is dark in appearance. Some sustainable practices that help build up this soil factor is mulching, composting and the use of cover crops. They diminish the need for chemical fertilizers, which are detrimental to the environment and are an added expense for the farmer. Sustainable practices, in general, promote the farmer to take advantage of the already naturally occurring processes in order to encourage and maximize a strong, healthy, reliable crop yield.

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View of rows of wildflowers grown at Drumlin farm for self-picking visitors. Not only profitable but screens off parts of the farm and adds a visual appeal with the array of colors.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a farm visit without some farm work. In exchange for their time and useful information and knowledge, we help hand weed their carrot crops along side some of the apprentices. It was great to get to meet some of the workers and get our hands dirty, really dirty. There is just something zen about fieldwork. I know I walked away feeling more appreciative of the Drumlin operations and invigorated by some good ol’ fashioned farm work.

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Just another day as an intern for the OCLP

I’ve never really got to understand the inner workings of agriculture, though I grew up around it and know the mechanisms behind it. It was great to see the products of the soil principles I learned in school firsthand. It’s going to be a challenge trying to concisely describe all of the sustainable practices, where the detail is the best part! But just as providing healthy, delicious food through respectable and environmentally responsible practices is what these farmers do… This is just what we do.

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Our spoils!

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