At the Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education, we offer classes, workshops and other hands-on experiences on topics connected to food: how to grow it, find it, hunt it, prepare it. As stewards of this 186-acre parcel of land, we are managing fields of annual crops (plants that complete their life cycle in one growing season) along with the wooded areas surrounding them. The woods and the fields are naturally interconnected and interrelated in many mutually beneficial ways. To grow annual vegetables in a way that is ecologically friendly, we need a well-functioning ecosystem. Here is a short list of those mutually beneficial relationships:
- Pollinators and predator insects need plants that flower throughout the growing season as food sources of pollen and nectar. Come fall and winter, these tall, weedy habitats in order to lay their eggs and/or over winter in order to maintain their populations.
- Predator mammals such as foxes and coyotes are critical to keeping the vole, groundhog, and rabbit populations in balance. Foxes and coyotes make their homes in the the hedgerows and woodlands and need intact woodland corridors to allow movement across territory.
- Bird predator species such as red-tailed hawk and other raptors hunt from the edges of fields. They need wooded edges, and tree lines as perches from which to hunt mice, voles, and other rodents.
- Healthy forested areas improve the hydrology (water movement) of agricultural areas by bring subsurface water to the layer of the soil in which plant roots can access that water. Stout and deep tree roots provide this function.
- Healthy stream side (riparian) areas as well as trees on slopes help to conserve topsoil, prevent erosion, and to filter water entering streams. Shade over streams keeps water temperatures lower in summer which creates appropriate fish habitat and greater species diversity.
- Managing wooded areas to include species which provide non-timber forest products, native medicinal and fruit and nut bearing species, and mushrooms can increase potential economic yields for a farm.
- Engaging with a sensorially beautiful landscape affects the psychological and emotional well-being of humans.
- Woodland restoration is a proactive response to the challenges of climate change. Healthy ecosystems are more resilient: better able to tolerate periods of drought or flooding. Healthy ecosystems sequester more carbon. Carbon sequestration (the movement of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the cells of plants– especially trees) is a highly effective way to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
See you at the farm!