Our farming methods prioritize ecological diversity and improving soil quality through intensive cover cropping, crop rotation, organic fertilizers, promoting beneficial insects, and only using naturally-occuring OMRI-approved pesticides that are not synthetic and can be used safely alongside all the non-pest life on the farm (birds, frogs, humans, insects, ect.).
As organic farmers, we see soil as a living, complex, microscopic ecosystem of which our crop's health is entirely dependent on. Plants depend on microbes to access nutrients and to convert them into a usable form as well as for combating disease, so we strive to support soil microbial populations that are healthy and diverse by intensively feeding the soil with organic matter from cover crops.
We work to always have our fields in cover crops whenever they are not planted in a main (or "cash") crop. Cover crops can reduce weed pressure, fix atmospheric nitrogen into soil nitrogen to reduce fertilizer requirements, add organic matter to soil, relieve soil compaction, reduce erosion, improve nutrient cycling, and host beneficial microbes, insects, and nematodes. Although not required by NOP regulations, we only use certified organic cover crop seed (unless not available like for sunn hemp) in order to support growth of the organic seed industry and sustainable seed production in general. Using legume cover crops, we're able to grow 40% to 100%, depending on the following crop, of our nitrogen needs directly in our soil allowing us to ship in less manure-based fertilizer.
We rotate each field into a different crop family every year to break life-cycles of soil-borne pathogens - the conventional alternative to rotation is fumigation of the soil with non-selectively toxic gas.
In addition to legume cover crops, we use composted chicken litter from certified organic laying hens (Symphony fertilizer). This is a slow-release fertilizer that has a much lower risk of polluting surface and ground waters than conventional synthetic fertilizers. We do not use any fertilizers that are by-products of conventional agriculture like feathermeal, bonemeal, soymeal, ect. so that our farm is not dependent on conventional ag.
We use flowering cover crops like buckwheat and vetch to attract and provide habitat for beneficial insects which pollinate our crops and can also prey on crop pests. We do not use any pesticides that are persistent enough to harm pollinators from lasting residues. We do use natural insecticides like azadiractin and spinosad (a plant extract from the neem tree and a metabolite from a soil bacterium, respectively) that can be harmful to pollinators if sprayed directly, but these are only applied in evening hours when blooms have closed and pollinators have already left the fields for the day.
We only use naturally-occuring, bio-rational pesticides that are OMRI-approved. By bio-rational we mean that they're effective towards the target pests while relatively non-toxic to other organisms (including humans, birds, fish, frogs, ect.) and thereby have little to no environmental impact. Our organic pesticides fall into 3 categories:
Botanical - e.g., regalia, a plant extract from the giant knotweed, which is an indirect biofungicide by activating a crop's natural immune response. Botanical pesticides degrade rapidly in sunlight and water to benign constituents. Another example is azadiractin, a plant extract from the neem tree that has insecticidal activity.
Microbial - e.g., BT, a protein produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis which has insecticidal activity against caterpillars (and other insects depending on the bacterial subspecies). Aside from the target pest species, BT is non-toxic to wildlife and humans, and like botanicals it degrades rapidly in sunlight and water. Other examples include biofungicides containing beneficial bacteria especially from the Bacillus genera which can colonize a crop's leaves before pathogens arrive effectively outcompeting them for space and nutrients. They can also fight off pathogens though antibiosis and inducing the plant's immune system. We also use Beauveria bassiana, an entomopathogenic fungus that colonizes pests like catepillars and aphids. All of the microbes that we use as pesticides are naturally-occuring and were isolated from soils or plants in nature.
Mineral - e.g., sulfur and copper, minerals that have been time-tested in organic agriculture to control our most difficult fungal diseases like downy mildew and alternaria. Since they're minerals, they can accumulate in soils as demonstrated in vineyards over a century of high use. However, our soil is naturally very deficient in copper and sulfur and our soil tests track their levels each season. We also use the university-developed method of rotating minerals with microbial biofungicides in order to reduce potential for soil accumulation while maintaining overall efficacy. Both are easily washed off by rain, during our post-harvest wash process, or when washing in the kitchen (and copper piping, which in terms of environmental health remains the safest way to transport drinking water, is likely to be supplying your kitchen faucet).
Bare soil production:
In Summer of 2019, we stopped using plastic mulch on our farm (except for strawberries for now) and have instead transitioned crops like squash, tomatoes, melons, eggplant, ect. to bare soil production. Plastic mulch results in an enormous amount of non-recyclable waste (at least in our region) at the end of each season. While plasticulture does offer potential yield and early maturity benefits, we've decided these are outweighed by the unsustainable waste.
If you have any questions about our organic growing practices, feel free to email us any time. We want our practices to be fully transparent to our customers - plus we are nerds and really enjoy "getting in the weeds" on organic agriculture.