Local Food & Farm Guide: Agroforestry blossoming in New Haven
When we’re talking about soil health we can’t separate it from community health, from economic health, from the quality of the conservation habitat.
— Mark Krawczyk
Mark Krawczyk thinks about soil on several different levels.
“From a wide point of view, rebuilding and regenerating soils is one of the most valuable legacies we could leave for future generations,” he told the Addison Independent.
Krawczyk and his wife, Ammy Martinez, began creating their own legacy in 2013 at Valley Clayplain Forest Farm in New Haven, not far from the confluence of Otter Creek and the New Haven River.
There are plenty of reasons to nurture the soil, of course.
“From a production point of view, more well-balanced soil fertility is going to make plants that are more robust and resistant to stressors, which is going to make food that’s more nutritious and humans who are better nourished,” Krawczyk said. “Also, carbon storage in soils is a vast opportunity, a huge reservoir, and it just make sense as a way to combat climate change.”
Valley Clayplain Forest Farm soils were in particular need of rejuvenation and restoration, he said.
“This is not a super-well-cared-for field that we purchased. It’s been hayed for at least 60 years, if not 160 years. It was difficult to get things established in our first few years, but I feel like we’re developing more information about which plants do better, and how to prepare for them, so I think we’re getting better at growing better plants in our soils.”
Three-quarters of the farm’s 52 acres are forested. On the 12 acres that are not, Krawczyk and Martinez have been installing different agroforestry systems over the years.
“Woody plants are helping stabilize the soil, and some of the things we’re growing are leguminous, adding fertility through their bacterial relationship,” Krawczyk explained.
And because their crops are largely perennial they require little if any disturbance to the soil.
The farmers have also been integrating grazing animals.
“We have a small flock of sheep, mostly for homestead use, so intensive rotational grazing is one of the most important tools we’re using,” Krawczyk said.
On top of that there are “copious applications of mulch around our plantings, mainly wood chips, hay and animal bedding.”
Valley Clayplain Forest Farm has had sheep for only four years, but it’s already seeing a dramatic improvement in forage density.
“You can look down and see how well colonized the soil is,” Krawczyk said. “We’ve also seen an improvement in the species that are there, from a forest perspective, so we’ve seen more legumes and clovers move in, and less persistent weeds.”
And of course the mulch is helping.
“That’s definitely transforming the soil structure because we’re literally building new topsoil through the decomposition of organic matter on the surface. But we’re also importing materials to do that, so we should be seeing that.”
COLLABORATING WITH THE LAND
Krawczyk and Martinez have “slowly embraced farmhood,” Krawczyk said. “We were more of a homestead for the first few years, and now we’ve really started to home in and focus on a few crops we feel we can do well.”
Because Valley Clayplain Forest Farm is so young, and doing things a little differently, with a “holistic site-plan living-working landscape” approach, progress and resilience can be hard to measure.
“What we’re doing isn’t experimental but there’s also not a lot of precedent that we’re borrowing from,” Krawczyk said. “We didn’t get into this saying, ‘We’re going to grow shitake mushrooms and we’re going to grow black currants.’ It was more, ‘We’re going to put a lot of diversity into the landscape and explore what agroforestry systems can do.’ And then over the years we’ve come to focus more on the things that have felt best-suited to our lives and the landscape here.”
The farm now turns its black currants into a value-added tonic called Black Current Oxymel. Its shitake mushrooms, which are grown on logs that came from the thinning of managed forests, are sold almost exclusively to the Arcadian restaurant in Middlebury.
Krawczyk and Martinez chose black currants because they performed the best.
“We have honey berries and raspberries and blackberries and a few different types of currants, and if you look at all those plants put in at the same time, in the same soil, you can just tell the black currants far and away outperformed everything else.”
So far. And that’s always the issue, he said.
“The more you do of something and the longer you’re at it, the more you open yourself up to potential issues (with pests, disease and weeds).”
Valley Clayplain Forest Farm set up a farm stand last summer and the response has been positive.
“We had some really lovely comments … which made it all feel totally worthwhile,” Krawczyk said.
As the farm continues to evolve, soil health and agroforestry will remain key areas of focus.
“When we’re talking about soil health we can’t separate it from community health, from economic health, from the quality of the conservation habitat,” Krawczyk said. “And I think that as we face so many issues — from carbon sequestration to water quality to animal performance and health — integrating trees into our agricultural landscapes is a really potent solution. It will be an important strategy for us to delve into more deeply as we think about what agriculture needs to look like in the next century and beyond.”
Learn about the disease in a documentary film by a local woman who knows first hand. Plus … (read more)
This past Thanksgiving, Nov. 23, saw almost 60 people converge upon the 1,400-square-foot … (read more)
Two state lawmakers are urging Addison County folks not to ease up on efforts to battle cl … (read more)