Sustainability on the Farm
Pitney Meadows Community Farm is committed to the preservation of our wildlife areas and important agricultural viewsheds, and to practicing environmental stewardship through sustainable farming and growing practices. We consider our farm a vital community asset -- a living, breathing practice and educational center demonstrating the benefits of sustainability.
Our goal in the Community Gardens is to model the best organic and sustainable gardening practices for both soil improvement and pest management for small scale growing. As required by our garden rules, all community gardeners use only organic certified (OMRI) amendments, fertilizers and pest control products.
Community gardeners improve their plots through the use of organic compost, leaf mulch, worm castings, and cover crops. Pests have been controlled through removal by hand, safe removal of infected plants, and limited use of organic certified sprays. For 2020, in an effort to reduce the expense, waste, and storage issues associated with plastic container seed starting, we are piloting the use of soil blockers in the new Children’s Greenhouse. These hand-held devices are pressed into growing medium to create a “block” of compressed soil for starting seeds. The growing medium for the blocks is comprised of sphagnum peat, worm castings and biochar, and is sourced from a NY-based manufacturer. These organic growing methods are perfect for this smaller scale garden production, and a great opportunity for children to learn about sustainable growing methods.
After three years of allowing the field to remain fallow, in 2019 we began farming again on 5 acres of our 166-acre property. In 2020, we will expand to approximately 10 acres under production, allowing is to expand our Pick-Your-Own CSA to 80 members, to continue to grow for local food pantries, Saratoga area restaurants and institutions, and to supply school districts in Saratoga Springs, Corinth, Galway, and Schuylerville with local produce under the State’s Farm to School program.
As the farm operation grows and evolves, we aim to test and use organic and sustainable practices as described below.
- Cover Crops - Cover crops are one of our farmer’s favorite ways to add organic material to the soil. The cover crops grown in 2019 include Sudangrass, buckwheat, field peas, oats, winter rye, and red clover. Cover crops discourage weed seeds from sprouting, which saves in labor and cultivation over time. Moreover, they fix nitrogen in the soil, conserve water, and build up the organic matter in the soil over time. They are a great tool for prepping a field for the future, and resting a field after it has been used. We use organic cover crop seed from Lakeview Organic Grain Company in Penn Yan, NY and Johnny’s Seed Company.
- Biodegradable Mulch - This material is an alternative to traditional plastic row covers, and is made predominantly from starch. As it is 100 percent biodegradable, it does not need to be removed from the field at the end of the season, but rather degrades in place with the help of weather and cover crops. We use this mulch to warm the soil, retain water, and avoid the need to disturb the soil to cultivate weeds. The result is earlier and higher yields. More importantly, this allows us to avoid the use of an estimated 600 pounds of plastic that would otherwise end up in a local landfill at the end of the season.
- We use only organic certified sprays in our field, and only when we have a pest issue. Inputs and fertilizers other than the compost made at the farm also all fall under organic standards.
- No-Till Methods - Research has shown that tilling (either to remove weeds or break new ground) has a negative effect on the soil, destroying the vital microbes that improve soil quality. For 2020, we have invested in farm implements that will allow us to decrease the amount of tillage for certain crops. This experiment requires us to scale-up a method which has primarily been used on home gardens and on smaller farms.
Compost returns valuable nutrients to the soil to help maintain soil quality and fertility and also improves water retention in sandy soils such as those at our farm. The use of compost is a key organic practice that improves plant growth and leads to improved yields, making it a priority for implementation at our farm. For 2020, we will be making our own compost using manure from a local horse farm and coffee grounds.
Moreover, we accept vegetable food scraps from the community to be composted for use on the farm. Beginning in 2019, in partnership with Sustainable Saratoga, we opened Saratoga’s first Community Compost on the farm, encouraging community members to bring their vegetable food scraps to the farm for centralized composting. We then use that compost as soil amendments in our fields. For 2020, we will introduce a larger container to accommodate this growing program. The Community Compost will open April 1st.
Pollinators are responsible for assisting over 80% of the world’s flowering plants to reproduce. Some scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of animal pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths, birds and bats, and beetles and other insects.
In 2017, Pitney Meadows Community Farm hosted its first three honeybee hives, which were managed by Jenn Dunn, an experienced local beekeeper. In 2019, under Jenn’s leadership, we launched an inaugural introductory mentored beekeeping class. The class was designed to guide young adult and adult students through the entire 2019 beekeeping season using a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on experience. The goal of the course was to provide participants with the confidence and experience to manage their own hives and to act as mentors for other new beekeepers. The class honeybee hives are located in a field that is a distance from the hub of main farm activities where most people gather. As of fall 2019, there are 20 honeybee colonies located on the farm. Throughout the spring and summer, the hives are managed every 3-4 weeks by Jenn and 6 mentored beekeepers. Routine hive management includes identifying the queen; assessing brood, pollen and nectar patterns; observing the activity and mood of the hive population; and searching for signs of disease. The hives are treated for varroa and winterized in the fall.
Zero Waste Events
For 2020, we are aiming for a goal of reaching zero waste for all farm-managed events. In consultation with our partners at Sustainable Saratoga, we are developing a plan to replace the use of paper, eliminate recyclable plastic dinnerware, and compost food scraps. Stay tuned for news on this front for our 4th Annual Fire Feast on the Farm.
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