In the last weeks of school, students from Bakersfield and Fairfield headed to West Farm in Jeffersonville to get their hands dirty and learn about organic vegetable farming practices. Tucked under Mount Mansfield and the Sterling Range, The West Farm grows 10 acres of vegetables and herbs for schools, hospitals, and Deep Root Cooperative.
As the students discovered, the upland soil at West Farm also grows a seemingly endless supply of rocks. Both school groups hauled many buckets of rocks from a newly tilled plot that farmer, Angus Baldwin, is generously donating to Healthy Roots this season. With the help of students and volunteers Healthy Roots is using this area to grow crops for donation. Third grade students from the Bakersfield School planted three rows of potatoes with gusto after hauling as many rocks as they could find. In addition to potatoes, Healthy Roots is growing sweet corn, winter squash, pumpkins, melons, cabbage, and onions, all for donation to area food shelves. Students will return in the fall for harvest.
During their visits the students also had a chance to tour West Farm and observed some of the growing methods employed by Angus and his crew. The seventh-grade class from the Fairfield Center School saw a demonstration of flame weeding and plastic mulch laying. Angus explained to the Fairfield students how they are minimizing tilling at West Farm by establishing semi-permanent beds and using large silage tarps to germinate and kill weed seeds in the soil. “We hope to reduce our use of tilling and plastic over time, but it takes a while to improve the soil enough to make that possible,” Angus said. These new fields have only been in production for 2 seasons, after moving the operation from a smaller plot that is now being used by the Green Mountain Technical Center. Another approach Angus showed us is the use of cover crops between beds. Young shoots of barley, buckwheat, and several other green manure crops were just emerging when we visited. Angus explained how cover crops not only suppress weed seeds, they also discourage insect pests. “It seems to confuse them” Angus said. “I have watched a Colorado Potato Beetle walking away from potato plants [inter-planted with cover crop] towards some seed potato that was in the compost pile.” He believes that in the future, farmers will grow a lot more crops with methods like these.
The students from Fairfield also got to explore some of the larger landscape by hiking to the the nearby Brewster River Gorge. The West Farm is located on land conserved by the Brewster Uplands Conservation Trust. This is a place where old and new come together for all to enjoy. The Brewster Uplands has succeeded in preserving the historic working landscape of farms and forests and at the same time this is a place where students can learn about cutting edge farming practices at West Farm
Thanks to Angus Baldwin and crew as well as the Bakersfield third graders and Fairfield seventh graders for helping us provide healthy food for the people in our community.