Our organizational charter requires that we farm with a minimum impact on Island resources. The farm needs a minimum of electrical power primarily to operate the greenhouse irrigation systems and some refrigeration. To provide this power the farm operates a 3.5KW solar array. This system provides for all of our electrical demand and the balance is delivered into the Island’s electrical grid. The farm’s solar system annually produces excess electrical power and for this the electric company credits the farm’s account. In a past year we donated this credit to pay some of the electrical bills for the Martin Luther King Center and a veteran’s home in Warwick. We also have two smaller solar systems that power our electrical chicken fencing and our battery recharging system.
The farm needs fresh water to continuously irrigate greenhouse plants and some occasional irrigation for seedlings and initial plantings outside the greenhouses and fresh water for the bees and chickens. We do not have a well and we are not on the town water system. The farm gets all its water from natural rainfall. All farm buildings including our two greenhouses have a rainwater gutter and collection system. The collection and storage system on our 100’ long high tunnel greenhouse is the only one in Rhode Island. We have the capability to collect and store over 6500 gallons of rainwater which meets our annual need.
Our composting/recycling program is an integral element of the farm involving community businesses and operates at several different levels. Atlantic Lawn and Garden, Jamestown landscape company, delivers all their leaves and wood chips to a one acre area in the back portion of the farm. Atlantic has the responsibility to rotate the leaf piles and systematically break down the leaves and wood chips into reusable, composted material. The farm is allowed to use as much of this compost as needed. The farm also collects in excess of 250 pounds of vegetable material weekly from McQuades Market. (6.5 tons annually) McQuades boxes unsold/spoiled fresh vegetables from their produce shelves and the farm picks it up from the market three times a week. The vegetables are fed to the chickens and what is not consumed by the chickens is added to a designated leaf compost pile. The farm manure from the chicken coup and from a neighboring horse farm and the discarded vegetable material are seasoned for one year into a rich natural fertilizer and plant growing medium. All cardboard boxes are broken apart and used for weed control in the high tunnel greenhouse or recycled in the Town’s recycling service. This composting program is managed with an environmental understanding, professional equipment and the recycling areas are neat and well maintained.
Farm Soil Protection and Carbon Capture Outreach Program
If farm soils are not annually cultivated and tilled to produce crops they rather quickly evolve into a “successional” growth. Essentially weeds and invasive plants grow into a woody tangled growth that makes future agricultural use of the land and soil difficult and expensive to reclaim. We are working with the USDA, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)to insure that our agricultural land does not become less available for farming in the future. We have committed seven acres of the Community Farm to growing and nurturing specific cover crops that eliminate weeds and pull soil nutrients up from lower soil levels. These nutrients are made available to cultivated crops with shallow root systems closer to the surface. This is a program that will build, nurture and save farm soils for the future.
As importantly, the natural interaction of growing plants in soil provides one of the most effective carbon capture and storage systems known. Many national and international studies on earth warming and climate change have identified this capture and storage capability of plants and soil as a significant participant in the solution of reversing climate change. For agriculture, the problem is that when soil is disturbed (plowing) and bare soil exposed to the air, the captured carbon quickly dissipates back into the atmosphere. The idea then is to grow vegetables productively, minimizing the disruption of soil and keeping exposed bare soil to a minimum.
Traditionally the Community Farm deep plowed the soil in the spring as the first step in preparing the soil for vegetable production and planting cover crops only in the fall after the vegetable production is complete. Starting in 2019 we stopped plowing and moved the farm into more of a “no-till’ cultivating regimen and the use of cover cropping all year long. The purpose for this is minimizing soil disruption, protecting soil microbes, earthworms, etc. and rebuilding the fertility and organic matter of the soil from the top up even while producing the year’s vegetable crop and without the application of commercial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
Our new farm plan includes all of the following:
Plowing: We do not deep plow the soil. However, we do harrow the top 3”to 6’’ We are presently experimenting with planting a deep rooted radish that pulls nutrients deep in the soil closer to the surface making them available to growing vegetables, also providing a root system that allows easier passage for living things between the layers of soil
Crop Rotation: We grow a wide diversity of vegetables and we rotate the location of each annually.
Winter Cover Crops: All of the farms acreage has some variety of cover crop planted during the winter months.
Summer Cover Cropping: Annually a 20%portion of the vegetable acreage is taken out of production and planted with a summer cover crop for the express purpose of restoring soil nutrients and organic matter.
Summer Soil Exposure: Exposure of soil between rows of growing vegetables is minimized. The soil area is planted with a fast growing grain crop (generally buckwheat) or a nitrogen fixing legume. (vetch, clover etc.) We have purchased several new pieces of farm equipment that allow us to till the soil with minimum disruption and methodically mow the cover crops, maximizing a faster return of organic matter to the soil and maximizing the ability to capture and store carbon.