Learning from the Land

Hello! This week, I have been working with Margie, Alex, and the other interns, on Agricultural Management Guidelines for Martin Van Buren National Historic Site. It’s been a fun week of digging into articles on sustainable agriculture, growing lists of best management practices, and weeding carrots (at Drumlin Farm).

The premise of doing active agriculture within National Parks is very intriguing. Before last year, I had always thought of National Parks as places where natural resources were preserved from human influences like farming and defense. Farming inside of a National Park would have seemed like an oxymoron to me. Now, however, I see that it does fit within the NPS’ goal of preserving a park’s cultural resources and telling the story of a farmer and politician like Martin Van Buren. In our Agricultural Management Guidelines, I hope that we can help bridge the gap between natural and cultural resource preservation by promoting highly sustainable agriculture within the park.

Furthermore, I am intrigued by the idea of teaching Martin Van Buren National Historic Site visitors about sustainable agriculture today. While living at Lindenwald, Van Buren did a lot of experimentation on soil fertility, crops, and composting. He promoted experimentation rather than tradition in farming. Similarly today, a minority of farmers is experimenting with biophilic, organic, Community Supported Agriculture, and other sustainable methods of farming that go against the norm. As a way of honoring Van Buren, I think it would awesome if those more experimental farmers were able to farm his land today.

Patricia whole drawing_reduced

Martin Van Buren’s Lindenwald farm at around 1850 Drawn by Steven N. Patricia, R.A.

2014 Bing Aerial

Aerial photo of park property today. Same road and ponds, but less patchwork quilt feeling in farmland

In order to compile a set of guidelines for evaluating a farm’s suitability for leasing park land, the interns and I divided up the topics we needed to research.  My topics are crops, irrigation, and erosion. After researching these topics for three days, I felt like I had barely scratched the surface! However, on our visit to Pete and Jen’s Backyard Birds and Drumlin Farm on Thursday, I felt like I got many of my questions answered.


Welcome to Drumlin Farm!

At Drumlin Farm, I was shocked to learn that they do not irrigate! Back in California, we would be thrilled to not irrigate in our drought and still have growing crops! Matt explained Drumlin Farm’s advantages of having a lot of clay and little sand in the soil, shallow groundwater, and lots of dew. Still, I was very impressed!


All of this with no irrigation! Hope those clouds have rain in them!

At Drumlin Farm, I also learned a lot about crop rotations, soil fertility management, and harvesting. Matt was awesome and very specific about answering my questions about leaving land fallow and increasing the organic matter in soil. After answering our many question about farming, Matt put us to work pulling weeds around the carrots.


Learning the art of pulling weeds


The Olmsted Center crew!

Having had a fun day of touring farms and farming, I think I’ll add weeding to my list of potential programmatic opportunities for the park!! 🙂

p.s. If it were closer to Martin Van Buren NHS, I’d add lunch at Margie’s house to list too!

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