A little bit of inspiration goes a long way.
Last week, after a sweltering morning working in the field, the Campus Farm workers went on a little field trip to Frog Pond Farm.
Owned and operated by Duke professor Larry Bohs and his wife Libby, Frog Pond Farm is located just down the road and around the corner from the Campus Farm.
Frog Pond is an exceptional farm in many ways. At first glance, the farm itself was among the more beautiful farms I’ve witnessed (growing up in the Midwest, I’m somewhat an expert).
The farm is divided into two fields by a line of pine trees. The vegetable patches are located nearest to the house, and feature tomatoes, peppers, beans, greens, melons, strawberries and recently dug garlic.
We passed through the tree line to the second field, home to the orchard, black-, blue- and gooseberries, grapevines and kiwis.
I mentioned that Frog Pond is exceptional—in addition to the evident TLC the crops receive, Frog Pond is a model of agriculture sustainability practices.
Irrigation is water and energy efficient. Pond water from a neighbor is pumped up hill to two storage tanks using solar power. The water then flows downhill to buried drip tape, ensuring that as much water as possible reaches its intended destination (aka: plant roots).
Larry, Libby, and their family live in the farmhouse. Through passive solar design, the house runs on less than 100 watts per day, or the amount of energy you’d need for a single light bulb.
Frog Pond was also exceedingly neat. Note the double entendre, but I mean specifically “well kept.” The weeds were controlled (no easy feat) using mulched material from the City of Chapel Hill, as well as clever use of other recycled materials.
And the soil. When you spend a lot of time digging in the ground, you become well acquainted with dirt. The dirt on the Campus Farm is a mix of sand and clay, and after a warm sunny period our beds resemble adobe houses.
Most farms till fields every year to prepare them to planting. Tilling degrades and erodes the topsoil so that it needs fertilizer and other inputs in order to be farmed. Topsoil loss is a big problem in industrially farmed areas, like the Corn Belt in the Midwest.
Frog Pond practices no-till agriculture and they have some of the healthiest soil around. The dirt at Frog Pond is dark and spongy, full of worms (worms are good) and organic material. No-till disturbs the soil as little as possible, allowing organic material to naturally develop and drastically reducing erosion.
Larry and Libby spent well over an hour talking to us, imparting free advice and asking questions about the Campus Farm. Our visit to Frog Pond inspired us to improve sustainability (and also to remove every single offensive weed).
The Campus Farm is already organic, but now we’re going to try no-till, and we’re discussing the incorporation of perennials. With any luck, and a lot of dedication, the Campus Farm will be an exceptionally sustainable farm as well.