ifoam'96 ifoam'96
Book of Abstracts
11th IFOAM Scientific Conference
11-15 August 1996, Copenhagen, Denmark
EcoWeb Denmark

Organic World

USA: Sustainability: Field, Farm, Community O20

Henderson, Elizabeth

Rose Valley Farm, Rose, New York 14542

An intense struggle is going on in organic agriculture in the United States between those for whom organic growing is just another technical approach to production and those who consider it part of the creation of sustainable, regional food systems for sustainable communities. Until about 5 years ago, when organic foods broke into mainstream supermarkets and natural foods chains began to expand, small northeast organic farms (2-50 acres for vegetables, 500-700 acres for grains) could survive by marketing their produce as »certified organic.« The certified label allowed new people to come into farming. With the entry into the market of a few larger west coast operations, prices fell. Organic is no longer enough. Small organic farms are in the same situation as conventional NE farms under constant economic pressure from the global market and organo-agribusiness as usual. With 35 acres under cultivation, Rose Valley Farm is one of the larger organic vegetable farms in the Northeast. Using slides to illustrate our practices, I will analyze our efforts to achieve sustainability on the level of the field, the farm as a whole, and the farm in relation to the surrounding community. Field: The foundation of our growing practices is based on careful rotations and building soil health. We minimize tillage, using a chisel plow for primary tillage except when breaking a sod. We produce our own compost which we make from aquatic vegetation from Lake Ontario, the horse manure and bedding from a local race track and organic materials from our own farm and neighbors. We spread it at the rate of 14 to 20 tons per acre per year. We have raised the organic matter in our sandy soils from 2.5 to 3.5 percent. With the help of a mycologist, we are studying the mycorrhizal associations in our soils with the goal of maximizing their effectiveness. We use a variety of cover crops and green manures, about a quarter of our ground is in sod at any given time, and we underseed most crops with a cover crop in order to prevent erosion and wherever possible to grow the fertilizer for the next crop. Farm: We conceive of our crop production as integrally related to the ecology of the entire farm. Our approach to pest control is through cultivating biodiversity, improving habitat for birds, toads, snakes and other wildlife in our ponds, hedgerows and woods. Rose Valley is located in the Lake Plains region south of Lake Ontario, an area known as the »lake effect« zone for the unpredicatble dumps of rain or snow. Like much of the surrounding land, to make it tillable, our farm requires careful drainage. We have constructed drainage ditches, tiled some of the fields and built ponds to catch the water. Our ditches are grassed or tree lined. Community: For our farm to be sustainable, it must be economically viable, a challenge in a state where 20 farms have gone out of business every week for 20 years. Our approach is to build consumer support directly for our farm. We have created a Community Supported Agriculture project with 170 member families who receive »shares« of vegetables and berries from us for 6 months of the year. A core group of 21 members administers the project. With the purchase of a share, members commit themselves to 12 hours of farm work and 4 hours of distribution work. Last season, 91 children participated at the farm with their parents. We offer scholarships for low-income members. The project is in its eighth year. Our farm cannot survive in isolation from the town of Rose, the county of Wayne, or the food system in the northeast. We try to contribute to sustainability on all those levels. We work for cultural diversity and alternatives to violence. I chair the county Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board which is creating an action plan for increasing economic development based on agriculture. I also participate in the state, regional and national sustainable agriculture working groups which promote policy changes to enable the creation of regional, sustainable food systems based on community food security.