Mike and I recently hopped on a bus to take a “Sustainable Landscapes Tour” in a neighboring county. Over an 8 hour period, we made 6 stops at a variety of sites including parks, offices, a community garden, and a farm. It was encouraging to see that even in the middle of a shopping center district, individuals and organizations are taking the time to build and landscape in a way that reduces energy use, and conserves and cleans water. Here are a few highlights of our day.
I think that Sean Zigmund and Cheyenne Miller are audacious. They have a few acres in upstate NY and they call it a farm. And you know what? It is a farm. These young people know how to work the land so that they are both producing and building soil for the years to come. On the day we visited Root N Roost Farm, they were busy processing duck, but Cheyenne took the time to show us around the farm. (Yes, we emailed ahead of time). On this small plot, they are producing enough to fill 15 CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares, in addition to stocking their farm stand and feeding themselves and their apprentices. And they are raising hens for eggs, and pigs, ducks, turkeys, and chicken for meat, and bees for honey and pollination.
Their raised beds are built using hugelkultur and/or lasagna gardening. And they use hoop houses to extend their growing season (winter CSA shares are available). And if you think they couldn’t possibly fit one more thing on their land, you would be wrong. They recently built two small ponds!
Missing from the farm are tractors or even rototillers. All of the work is done by hand – well, the animals help work the land as well.
While “pretty” or “manicured” would probably not be apt descriptions of their farm, you could certainly ascribe the adjective “resourceful” to these farmers. Their outbuildings are built from pallets, and one of their coops is made from an old truck cap. Sean and Cheyenne know how to recycle or, I should say, upcycle. We’re not talking dog-patch, though. (That’s the probably not politically correct term we use for people whose property is littered with junk that they think they will some day use). No, Sean and Cheyenne put this rescued junk to good use.
As if they aren’t busy enough, they love what they are doing so much that they conduct classes to share their knowledge with others. While you may not live near Root N Roost, you live near a farm. Call them up; take a tour. You’ll learn something, and hopefully you’ll take home some fresh organic produce and eggs like we did.
J.I. Rodale is considered the father of the organic farming movement in the U.S. I’ve read Organic Gardening Magazine for many years and many Rodale Press books are included in my library. But I had never visited the Rodale Institute until recently, despite the fact that it is only an hour and a half away in Kutztown, PA. While there, Mike and I took a 2 hour workshop on growing apples organically. And we spent several hours roaming the apple orchards, fields, and gardens. Despite the fact that spring has not yet arrived, we found the farm to be interesting and inspiring.
For over 60 years, the Rodale Institute has been researching the best practices of organic agriculture. A thirty year “Farming Systems Trial” compared conventional, chemical agriculture with organic methods and found that organic farming yields match conventional methods. And in years of drought, organic farming outperforms conventional methods since organic methods build, rather than deplete the soil. This is encouraging news, as I often hear that “organic farming cannot feed the world”. I do not believe this to be true, and research is now supporting that. In addition, the trial showed that organic systems are more profitable than conventional systems!
As a Penn State Master Gardener, I am required to take 8 hours of continuing education each year. I wanted to take the opportunity to visit a farm just outside of NYC called Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, so I chose a day that a class that interested me was being held. I traveled with my husband, Mike, and my daughter, Jessi, on a cold, winter day through the beautiful Hudson River Valley and over the 3+ mile long Tappan Zee Bridge to the former Rockefeller estate.
We took the class Intensive Home Growing Techniques for Homegrown Edibles taught by James Carr of the NY Botanical Gardens and author of Gardening and Landscaping the Natural Way. The 3 hour class was informative and inspiring and I am especially anxious to begin using what I learned to extend the gardening season in my PA garden. I’ll try to keep you up to date in future posts.
Both before and after the class we enjoyed the 80 acre, four-season farm. We found much life for the middle of winter. Stone Barns raises over 200 varieties of organic crops in their fields and greenhouse beds. Many of those crops are growing right now, and not just in the greenhouses. It is also home to cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, ducks and turkeys – all pasture raised. The farm also maintains a number of bee hives.
Two exciting things we found are a cafe and a restaurant which are sourced from the surrounding fields and pasture, as well as other local farms. We enjoyed a fabulous lunch at the cafe which included parsnip soup, homemade bologna sandwiches on freshly baked bread (I could genuinely learn to like bologna if this is what it’s meant to be like), and parsnip cake with cream cheese icing (not surprisingly, they harvested parsnips this week). The cake tasted very much like carrot cake and inspired me to consider growing parsnips.
September 19th marked my 10th year working at Lamplighter Publishing. I came into work that day to flowers, rugala and fresh fruit. But there was more. As the morning wore on, I received a call from my boss, Mark Hamby, thanking me for being a part of this ministry and telling me that he had a gift for me. He was sending Mike and I to Mohonk Mountain for a day. And there was more. He had made arrangements for me to spend time with the greenhouse manager while I was there! I was overwhelmed …. and I cried. I’ve been to Mohonk on several occasions and that alone was a phenomenal gift. But the fact that Mark had taken the time to make arrangements for me to do something that is so “me” really touched me.
Mohonk is an historic hotel in the Shawangunk Mountains of New York. It’s castle like structure is built into the cliffs of the mountain. In addition to spending time with Cindy Muro, the greenhouse manager, we hiked, strolled through the gardens, wandered the halls of the incredible hotel, visited the Barn Museum, and dined on some of the finest food to be had.
Here are some photos from the hundreds that we took while there. If you have a chance to visit, try to take a camera for each person in your group. Mike and I
fought over shared our camera all day.
Thank you, Mark, for providing a wonderful day! For those of you who may be interested, this past July, Lamplighter Publishing hosted its first Lamplighter Guild for Creative Disciplines right here at Mohonk Mountain. For more information on next year’s Guild, visit http://www.lamplighterguild.com.