The local food movement is gathering steam. To keep locavores informed about best farming practices, one organization spreads the word about what sustainable farmers are achieving under the radar.
Formed as a coalition of schools, Mid-Atlantic-based nonprofit organizations, and the USDA, the Small Farm Success Project is “dedicated to helping small and emerging farmers improve their financial success.” Project researchers keep raising that million-dollar question: How does a small farmer committed to sustainability find success?
One publication, “Characteristics of Successful Farms,” provides an insightful overview of six small-scale farmers operating throughout the Mid-Atlantic states. The growers profiled in this report are true risk-takers and innovators.
Farms make the grade by possessing a number of characteristics falling under the categories of “sustainability” and “production.” One of the sustainability indicators that stood out from the rest was the “willingness to question.” The project’s researchers believe farmers deserve recognition for “not accepting the status quo” on conventional or even organic standards, both of which may forsake ecological practices in order to maximize crop yields.
Each profiled farm had a remarkable story. Ecosystem Farm, located by the Potomac River in Maryland and run by a non-profit, was founded on a depleted tobacco field. The farm’s primary mission is to restore this cropland once deemed unsalvageable. Another farm, the Pittsburgh outfit Blackberry Meadows, is fostering a “local food community” and annually plants an excess of produce to share its harvest with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
These farms do what they need to make it work, utilizing both old-school and modern strategies. Beech Grove Farm takes the Spartan approach of using draft horses and horse-drawn tillage equipment, while Village Acres Farm once tried to employ a hawk-mimicking helikite to scare birds away from the blueberry bushes. (It didn’t work, but give them points for the effort.)
Village Acres also constructed a bat dwelling that attracts about 400 bats to cut down the pest population. The farmers report that not only are bats good bug-eaters, their guano (excrement) also serves as fertilizer.
A Locavore Slogan?
Roy Brubaker, who runs Village Acres Farm with his daughter, may have articulated a slogan for the eat local movement: “The consumer and the farm ought to be natural allies.” Connecting these two entities, so long divorced from each other, is easier with resources like the Small Farms Success Project.
Stay tuned for more stories about best small-farm practices and local food enterprises.