Participatory Agriculture 2017

Our Farm

FarmIt is our intention every year to raise as much produce as Mother Nature allows, and to do so using environmentally-conscious, organic methods. This year we will continue to grow all the traditional favorites like strawberries (pick-your-own), tomatoes, asparagus, sweet/hot peppers, eggplant, sweet potatoes, okra, cucumbers, carrots, radishes and cold-weather crops like cabbage, greens, lettuce and turnips. Some highlights of this year’s gardens include mushrooms and tropical veggies like chayote, yacon, tumeric, and ginger. Having recently acquired nearly 40 acres of mostly woodland, we plan to start investing in long-term food production as well. This includes farming the forest, planting a food forest, and polyculture plant guilds using a permaculture approach. Some of these plantings will include trees, shrubs, and perennials like figs, elderberry, pecans, hazelnuts, hickory, sunchokes, asparagus, and much more. Look for some of our design plans soon! All of our produce is grown organically using compost and cover crops for nutrients, and certified-organic sprays when necessary for pest and disease control.

Participatory Agriculture 2017
Introduction

PCSA

You can view our full calendar of classes, workshops, wild plant/mushroom walks, events, and community days on the farm at the bottom right of this page.

CSA, or community supported agriculture, is an increasingly popular method for growers to share the risks and benefits of agriculture with the local community. Traditionally, a farmer puts his or her money into the farm at the beginning of each growing season, taking a huge financial risk on the crops, and then sells these crops on an ever-volatile market. There is tremendous pressure for high-yields, quick results, and many ways for the farmer to lose a lot of money. This puts undue stress on both the farmer and the land, as demand for high yield often leads to unsustainable practices. In part, CSAs were invented to eliminate this negative aspect of modern farming.  Under a CSA system, the farm accepts a fixed amount of money at the beginning of the growing season from a set amount of customers. This money is used to finance the growing of crops, which are then shared in equal portions with the customers throughout the growing season.

Using this system makes it easier for farms to “go organic”, because the high risk of organic farming is spread out among many financial participants. Organic farms are susceptible to pests and diseases which non-organic farms can limit with the use of chemicals.

One other benefit of a CSA is that it often allows customers to volunteer to help on the farm occasionally, learning about farming practices and contributing to the local community.

At Chesapeake’s Bounty, we developed a hybrid CSA/Community Garden/Educational concept we call Participatory Agriculture. Over the years, the program has evolved several times as we explore this new method of farming without any guidebook or precedent to go by.

How does Participatory Agriculture work?

PCSAEvery year we make changes to this concept as we learn and grow together with our participants. Last year we hosted weekly Community Work Days where we shared knowledge, completed tasks in the gardens, and shared the food that we grew.  The work was hard at times, but we had fun and produced an abundance of food! Based on what we learned last year, we modified our goals and made some structural changes. Check it out.

Participatory Agriculture should:

  • Maximize community involvement
  • Be highly educational, offering classes on specific topics
  • Be fun
  • Encourage cooperation
  • Produce an abundance of highly-nutritious food 
  • Eliminate the need for currency exchange
  • Use sustainable growing methods
  • Promote self sufficiency
  • Encourage participants to grow food at home

In short, our motto should be “Less work, more food!”

Here’s the plan for the 2017 season:

  • Weekly classes and hands-on workshops on topics ranging from seed starting, raised bed and straw bale gardening, mushroom cultivation, wild plant/tree/mushrooms identification, composting, permaculture, food forests, and more
  • Open participation on the farm. Any day during normal business hours, anyone may come and volunteer on the farm. You will get hands-on, guided experience in the daily tasks of growing food, and when you finish you will be able to harvest and take home whatever type of food is available at that time in an amount that seems fair to you. Groups also welcome with advanced notice.

Check out our event calendar here: Upcoming Events

How we grow.

PCSAMany of our veggies and herbs will be grown in raised, natural wooden boxes. The boxes provide 40 square feet of growing space. We can construct as many of these boxes as is necessary to meet demand. These boxes allow us to control soil conditions and make for ease of access to the crops grown within. This year, we will also be using straw bale gardens, potato boxes, mushroom logs, and Hugelkulture.

Although all of our produce is grown using strict organic practices, we are not participating in the USDA or MDA certified organic program. Absolutely no chemicals are used on our farm. This includes chemical fertilizers,  pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or any other “cide”. We use crop rotation, natural oils, companion planting, and beneficial insects to control pests and disease. For fertilizer, we rely on heavy use of cover crops and natural compost produced on-site and from other local farms. We do purchase certified organic fertilizer occasionally, as we cannot yet produce enough on-site. Eventually, we hope to produce enough of our own fertilizer to meet our demand, transitioning to a predominately self-sustained farm. When practical, we also save seeds from previous crops to be used in the next planting.

As a long-term goal, we are implementing an increasing variety of permaculture techniques. Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the idea that human agricultural practices can be modeled after nature’s own processes in manner that simultaneously and harmoniously cares for the earth and supports people. Key ideas within permaculture include maintaining fertile topsoil, using organic materials and no-till practices, maintaining clean water, capturing rain/grey water, and promoting abundant biodiversity and thriving soil microbes. The focus is on promoting a healthy ecosystem rather than simply producing high yields. Perennial vegetables, herbs, fruit/nut trees, berry bushes, medicinal plants, plant guilds, companion planting, swales, and composting are all elements of a permaculture design. In the process of building this micro ecosystem, mechanical energy use and off-site inputs are only used when necessary. Permaculture is indeed a “labor of love,” putting people in contact with nature and involving them in growing the food that they eat with a respect and care for the earth. Food produced in this manner will always be more sustainable and nutritious than food purchased with money and traveling many miles from production to consumption.

This type of farming, if can be called farming at all, is more of a perennial goal than an expected achievement. We here at the Bounty will always be working to become more sustainable and increasingly in harmony with our ecosystem.