By Spencer Fenniman, Director of Farm Operations

As spring comes on in force in the valley, it is a moment to reflect on the past six months of activity on the farm, and how it relates to some of the themes brought up in a film screened here in April, Regenerating Life. The climate crisis that we are in is overwhelming, and some of the most essential and practical solutions lie in the way we manage our agriculture, our land, and our water. While agriculture is a solution, it is also deeply challenged by the climate crisis. Our work over the past six months has focused on infrastructure and community engagement in an effort to build resiliency to face these challenges.

The new deer fence on the home farm, and enhanced electric deer fencing at a vegetable field on Hickory Hill Road, will allow us to turn more of our attention from stemming the inevitable tide of deer through leaky fences towards focusing on soil management and providing sufficient water to our plants in a timely manner. We have also spent time repairing old pasture fences to make necessary water management adjustments and then re-setting the fence. Ensuring that our pastures are not over-saturated in wet periods—particularly by road drainage—will allow for more root-growth and development that will, in turn, create more pasture resiliency during drought periods. Thanks to a grant from Columbia County Soil and Water Conservation District, we will create a new stream crossing in the North Pasture, converting an existing laneway to an expanded riparian buffer, and consolidating our two cow crossings on Harlemville Road to one more visible crossing.

Farming also involves equipment, and what equipment we use and how we use it can have major impacts on our resiliency. One of the features of this changing climate has been substantially shorter “windows” of activity, whether it is for cultivation or hay making. This week, we will be the first farm in the county to rent the Columbia County Soil and Water Conservation District’s new No-Till Grain Drill. This tool will allow farms across the county to establish crops without prior disturbance of the soil. The farm has also purchased a new, larger hay baler which will substantially reduce field time, diesel, and plastic wrapping.

Jake Thiele from Hawthorne Valley Farm team driving a front loader tractor loaded with crates of supplies into the barn

But farms cannot make an impact on their own. Collaboration in the farming community and engagement with researchers, customers, and the public is essential to not only increasing awareness of agriculture’s role in the climate crisis but also in building resiliency through that awareness. This year, the farm again partnered with the Hudson Valley Farm Bulk Order Program to provide substantially reduced prices on supplies to local farms. We have also given numerous tours of our operations to farms and groups, sharing our knowledge and experience of practices and infrastructure. And last week we helped a neighbor in need put new plastic on his greenhouse.

In the broader agricultural context, the farm is currently partnering with two agricultural research projects. One is a project of the Yale Center for Carbon Capture focused on Basalt applications to farmland as a way to increase the carbon sequestration potential of soil. The other is a joint project by the Universities of Wisconsin and Vermont focusing on twelve farms across the country who are “dam-raising” dairy calves (allowing the mother to rear her calf), an uncommon dairy farming practice that we have been using for the past 18 years.

Tractor spreading basalt on pasture; view is from drone flying above the field

We are excited to participate in Farmscape Ecology Program‘s re-launch of the Farmer-Ecologist Research Circle to build a community of practice around enhancing biodiversity on farms. To this end, we also look forward to building an Ecology Trail on the farm to provide a further picture of what management for biodiversity can look like on a farm.

Finally, the farm continues to focus on being a landing point for the public to engage with agriculture — whether it is schools, summer campers, adult learners, or casual visitors. In this year, the 100th anniversary of biodynamics, we are especially honored to serve as a highly visible accessible example of a functioning Biodynamic® farm. A place where the public can come to see that cows naturally have horns, to learn that farms can steward water, soil, and natural resources, and to experience that manure and compost can smell good.

Where will this engagement lead us? As we spray the horn manure preparations on the fields in the evenings, we think about how we can manage the farm now to make the next 100 years of biodynamic agriculture thrive on this farm. We look forward to continuing our journey and sharing it with our community to inspire change beyond our valley.