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Soil Stewardship: Fostering Long-Term Fertility in Your CSA Garden

June 26, 2024

Table of Contents

Soil Stewardship: Fostering Long-Term Fertility in Your CSA Garden

Cultivating a Reverence for the Land

As I step out of the old farmhouse and into the crisp morning air, the familiar embrace of our graceful beech tree greets me. For years, this loyal companion has witnessed the ebb and flow of life on our community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm, Thornapple CSA. Its branches seem to whisper the secrets of the land, reminding me of the importance of nurturing the very soil that sustains us.

My journey with Thornapple CSA began decades ago, when I was invited to a fateful meeting in Amagansett. There, I encountered a group of visionaries who had come together to form the first CSA in New York state, Full Circle Farm. Over the years, this community-driven experiment evolved, taking root on conserved land and blossoming into what we now know as Promised Land Farm.

As I reflect on those early days, I’m reminded of the words of my dear friend and mentor, Edgar Wallis. A master of the meadows, he taught me the art of working the land, guiding me through the steep fields above the Cornish coast. “The natural world, the whole substantial pageant,” he would say, “if it exists for a purpose, that purpose is not solely ours to order or to legislate.”

Embracing the Unseen

It’s this reverence for the land, this understanding that we are but humble stewards of something greater, that has shaped my approach to farming at Thornapple CSA. For me, soil stewardship is not just about maximizing yields or optimizing nutrient levels. It’s about fostering a deep, enduring relationship with the land – one that acknowledges the intrinsic value of the soil, the plants, and the myriad of unseen life that call it home.

As Deborah Light, the visionary who donated the land for Promised Land Farm, once shared with me, “The intrinsic value of land and the diverse species that inhabit the land, both plant and animal, macro life forms and microbial life, is based on something much greater, more expansive than best use or market fluctuations.” It’s a sentiment that has resonated deeply with me, guiding my work and shaping my understanding of what it means to be a true custodian of the land.

In my daily interactions with the beech tree that embraces our farm shop, I’m constantly reminded of the interconnectedness of all things. Its roots, stretching deep beneath the soil, are a tangible representation of the unseen world that sustains us. As the British author-adventurer Robert MacFarlane eloquently put it, “You must imagine the ground almost as a mirror-line, because a tree’s subterranean root system can spread nearly as wide as its aerial crown.”

Navigating the Shifting Tides of Climate Change

In recent years, the implications of climate change have become impossible to ignore. The once-reliable patterns of weather and seasonal cycles have given way to a new reality, one marked by unpredictable storms, prolonged droughts, and a relentless assault on the delicate balance of our ecosystems.

As a farmer, I’ve had to adapt and evolve my practices to meet these challenges head-on. The impacts of climate change on soil health are a new frontier, with microbial communities shifting and nutrient cycles becoming more dynamic. Gone are the days of a simple “ABC” approach to nutrient management – now, we must be more precise, more deliberate, and more in tune with the ever-changing needs of our land.

Implementing a rigorous soil testing regimen, employing precision soil amendments, and closely monitoring the growth cycles of our crops have become essential to maintaining the fertility and resilience of our CSA garden. For our livestock farmers, the story is much the same, with the need to diversify forage species, implement hay conditioning, and carefully manage grazing patterns to build soil and withstand the ravages of extreme weather.

Fostering Community and Cultivating Resilience

But our efforts to adapt to the changing climate extend far beyond the boundaries of Thornapple CSA. We’ve actively sought out partnerships and collaborative initiatives, such as the Maine Soil Health Project, to share knowledge, resources, and best practices with other farmers and land stewards in our region.

By coming together as a community, we’ve been able to tap into a wealth of expertise and support. Whether it’s accessing cost-share programs through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or participating in virtual solutions-focused workshops, we’re constantly learning and growing, building the resilience we need to navigate the uncertainties of the future.

As Meg Mitchell, the Climate Smart and Organic Transition Specialist at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), eloquently stated, “Lately, I’ve been challenging myself to restructure my understanding of climate change from a problem to be solved to the appreciation that it is a dilemma with a myriad of adaptation pathways.” It’s a sentiment that resonates deeply with me, and one that has shaped my approach to soil stewardship at Thornapple CSA.

Cultivating a Reverence for the Unseen

In the quiet moments, as I pause to listen to the birdsong and feel the gentle caress of the breeze, I’m reminded of the profound wisdom of the natural world. The life that thrives beneath the soil, the intricate web of relationships that sustain our ecosystems – these are the things that truly matter, the unseen forces that hold the key to our long-term resilience.

As Guido Frosini, the passionate rancher behind True Grass Farms, shared with me, “Herbivores and grasslands have evolved together for millions of years. At True Grass Farms, we manage the cattle as to mimic wild and regenerative disturbance on our lands. Healthier ecosystems correspond to more diverse and resilient flora – the plant life present in the area. In turn, our cattle are fat and happy.”

It’s this kind of holistic, harmonious approach to land management that inspires me. By fostering a reverence for the unseen, by cultivating a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of all living things, we can unlock the true potential of our soils and build a future where the wellbeing of our planet and each other is a priority.

As I turn my gaze towards the vibrant, verdant fields of Thornapple CSA, I’m filled with a sense of purpose and gratitude. This is more than just a farm – it’s a living, breathing testament to the power of community, the resilience of nature, and the transformative potential of soil stewardship. And as I continue my journey as a writer, a seedsman, and a caretaker of the land, I know that the lessons I’ve learned here will continue to shape and guide me, inspiring me to create a more sustainable, regenerative future for all.

About Us

Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

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