Winter Update: SMF went to a Farming Conference

pasa_zc_v2_123005000001182004Earlier this month, the Sandbrook Meadow Farm Team attended the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s 25th Annual Farming for theFuture Conference. Since our number one priority at SMF is you – the reasons our beautiful farm exists and flourishes – our loyal CSA members, we wanted to take a minute to share with you our experience.

 

alexcabin_zc_v2_123005000001182004-2

Who better to kick things off than Farmer Alex?!
 Winter not only gives us a chance to recoup our energy, but also an opportunity to improve upon our farming systems and methods.  Part of the improvement process includes going to winter conferences to learn from other farmers and experts in our field of business.  It is incredibly revitalizing to spend a few days rubbing shoulders with like-minded folks from all over the northeast, sharing stories and different farming techniques.  The ultimate goal is to glean bits of information from workshops and conversations that will make us better at what we do.  Topics range from business and marketing techniques, new crop and variety additions, innovative production methods, and everything in between.

One such method that I am excited about implementing this coming growing season involves using cover crops in creative ways.  Forage peas, which are used for adding nitrogen to the soil also taste delicious.  Instead of having an area out of production under cover crop for soil building purposes, the pea shoots can be also be harvested when they are tender and sweet to add another tasty green to our offerings in spring w hen variety is limited.  This multi-use approach can also be employed when sowing clover as a living mulch.  Not only will the clover suppress weeds and prevent soil erosion, but also improve soil health simultaneously.  Clover fixes more nitrogen than peas, as well as adds a significant amount of organic matter to the soil.  Living mulches is not a new idea, but we believe we now have the knowledge base and experience to incorporate such a method into our existing system.  Soil health after all is our top priority.  If all farmers took the approach of being a soil builder rather than a product producer, our environment would be in a much better state than it currently is.

megbroccoli_zc_v2_123005000001182004-1Megan is returning as Intern Manager for the 2016 growing season!

I’ve centered my focus this winter on learning about soil microbes and structure. I have farmed for two seasons now and have experienced firsthand the growth and harvest of our vegetables. Now it is time to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes in our soil, the things I can’t see. I have been amazed and awed at what I have read about the complex relationships and balance that occur amongst the roots, bacteria, fungi, and all levels of soil life. It is a cohesive system that cannot survive, and certainly not thrive, without each element. It has highlighted even more my responsibility as a young farmer to respect and nourish this system we so greatly rely upon.

The PASA conference served to further elaborate on the concepts I have been studying. My favorite workshop, Finding Your Crop Rotation Rhythm, was actually the first one I attended. It was taught by Lakeview Organics, a name I was familiar with as a large supplier of organic animal feeds as well as cover crop seed, but they do so much more. Their knowledge from over 20 years of organic farming is impressive and something to aspire to. Even their dynamic together seemed to fit the content of their talk. He gave applicable anecdotal stories while she kept them on track with more concrete content – a perfect balance. They highlighted integrated planting schedules and approaches with soil health enhancement. Perhaps the most important lesson they gave is that we are only limited by our imaginations. They are words of encouragement for those mental blocks we get from doing the same thing over and over yet losing sight of why. It is a call to action for us to experiment with our cover crop and rotation combinations and to try new things in a quest to continually better our soil. I have always loved the idea of working with nature rather than against it; why not have some fun with it?

Attending the conference was simultaneously energizing, educational, and exhausting. Being in such a rich farming environment is a reminder of why I love what I do. I am ready to apply what I have learned to the upcoming 2016 growing season. I can’t wait to get my hands in the soil again!
Attending the conference was simultaneously energizing, educational, and exhausting. Being in such a rich farming environment is a reminder of why I love what I do. I am ready to apply what I have learned to the upcoming 2016 growing season. I can’t wait to get my hands in the soil again!

devdelicata_zc_v2_123005000001182004-2Devin is excited to return for a second season interning at SMF!

Attending PASA’s winter conference for the first time this February, I soon found myself surrounded and over-stimulated by all things agriculture. What I found most intriguing about PASA was simply the diversity that pervaded every aspect of the conference. Lectures and workshops covered a broad range of topics, from mushroom cultivation to GMO awareness. So many different agricultural organizations and businesses were represented, from apiaries to seed banks to conservation groups. Most of all, I witnessed a mass of people who, without agriculture, would likely never be found together.

The demographic diversity of the conference was both a surprise and a delight. Over the weekend, I saw grandparents introducing grandchildren to their life’s passion (hoping they too will catch the farming bug). I witnessed the exchange of advice and wisdom between young farmers and long-time veterans of agriculture. There were guys with dreadlocks, girls with mohawks, people in suits, and people in muck boots.

Aside from the opportunity to spend more time with my team, it was the recognition of this diversity that brought me the most fulfillment from the conference. Just by attending, I felt I was part of something greater, and grateful for all of those whose hard work and persistence allow us the opportunity to meet in such a way. Being surrounded by so much energy, passion and optimism was a breath of fresh air, to which I will gladly return in the future.

img_1184_zc_v3_123005000001182004-1This is Eileen’s third season at SMF. 

With the uncharacteristic temperatures we’ve seen over the past few months, I found it very appropriate that this year’s theme was “Farming in a Changing Climate.” My background in biochemistry left me especially intrigued by the keynote speakers, Richard Alley and Laura Lengnick. Alley presented his research on the effects climate change is already having on our planet. As always for me, it was awe-inspiring to walk through the evolution of the planet’s climate through history (It’s amazing the things science technology unveils!) and humbling to see the mere blip humanity is in relation. Lengnick’s presentation acted to revitalize my passion for what we’re doing here at Sandbrook Meadow Farm with her research on the climate-resilience benefits of sustainable agriculture.

Although the keynote speakers were enthralling, my favorite part of the conference was the workshops. Who betterto give an introduction to farmers looking to possibly extend their range, or even aspiring farmers, than someone who is a practicing fanatic of the subject matter? At the Radical Introduction to Cheesemakingworkshop, David Asher was so excited for us to make our own cheeses that he gave us each our own piece kefir grain to start our cultures. At the Home-Scale Grain Growing workshop, Will Bonsall assured us that although it was completely impractical to grow on a small scale for sale, because of the time and labor that went into it, that we would produce ourselves the most amazing flours we had ever tasted. And at the Low & No-Tech Methods for Mushroom Growing workshop, even though it was the last workshop of the weekend, Tradd Cotter stayed an extra half hour to finish the slides in his presentation and then, even longer for questions. The passion that these farmers have for their crops is invigorating and inspiring. Even if I don’t have the opportunity to dabble in these fields for a few years, the passion shared bolsters my own passion for organic farming. For the second year in a row, I’m very satisfied to have attended the PASA winter conference. 🙂

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