Edible Acres Permaculture Farm Field Trip – Student Post by Juliet
The summer Integrated Pest Management class had the opportunity to take a field trip on Monday June 19th, 2017 to see Sean Dembrosky’s homestead farm, Edible Acres. Edible Acres is a permaculture farm business and nursery where he plants, cultivates, cares for, harvests, and sells both perennial and annual plants like chestnut trees, currants, wild onions, and cacti. He farms several plots of land throughout the Ithaca area, owned by several different people. This flexibility allows him the opportunity to continually expand his business and experiment with different practices since he is not tied down by the cost of land ownership.
It was a gray, drizzly day on Monday, and the sky threatened to crack and cause a downpour. The weather this spring has been a complete reversal from what we had experienced at this same time last year. In any case, this was farming, and rain or no rain, we were all excited to head out on this field trip. And so, we quickly bundled up into our raincoats and jumped in the van to make the short drive to Sean’s homestead.
When we arrived at Edible acres, Sean eagerly greeted us in the front of his yard. Our class had worked with him previously, because he helped us to create a small nursery and permaculture minded growing space at the farm where we planted our gooseberry, elderberry, and currant bushes. It was during this past workshop that we learned about the true meaning behind the term ‘permaculture’. Coined by its founder, Bill Mollison, permaculture is actually a combination of two words- permanent and agriculture. According to Mollison, Permaculture is an ethically based design system for human habitation that is in harmony with the natural world. Mollison himself states that, “It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing for their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.” For example, pumpkins planted in between hop plants, the ‘Three Sisters’ (corn, beans, and squash) system of planting, or peas trailing up a nut tree would all be examples of permaculture practices. (http://library.open.oregonstate.edu/permaculture/chapter/what-is-permaculture/)
Farms may be interested in planting with permaculture practices due to the fact that the diversity permaculture allows for attracts and provides a habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators. Permaculture is also an efficient use of space since plants ore coexisting with each other in the same vicinity. Finally, permaculture is designed to last and has the ability to sustain life, diversity, and ecosystems indefinitely, thus it is sustainable.
Sean started the tour by bringing us around to the back of his property to show us his chicken coop. On the way to the coop, we passed two small DIY greenhouses that were happily housing a collection of tomatoes, basil, and other herbs. When we stopped to take peak inside, we noticed that the temperature was noticeably warmer than outside in the cold rain. In fact, Sean mentioned that the greenhouses were so insulated due to the thick sheets of utility plastic covering the sides, that the chickens could often be found nesting there, warm and comfortable, in the colder months.
It was raining hard when we arrived at the chicken coop. However, everything was warm and dry in the coop! Sean proudly pointed out a new addition that he had built just a few weeks prior to our visit. It was an incubated (heat-containing) nesting box where the hens could go to sit on their eggs and keep their chicks protected from the pecking instincts of the flock. There was even a mesh door in the front of the box, so that the other chickens could observe the baby chicks at a safe distance. Perhaps you have heard of the term ‘pecking order’? Interestingly, pecking order is a type of social hierarchy that chickens naturally possess. Pecking order causes them to pull and pluck the feathers from another member of the flock. In some extreme cases, some members may even resort to cannibalism, a trait that is almost contagious within the flock and must be immediately dealt with by the owner, lest the entire flock becomes too aggressive. (http://articles.extension.org/pages/66088/feather-pecking-and-cannibalism-in-small-and-backyard-poultry-flocks)
Pecking order occurs when there is added stress to the flock, such as new additions, abrupt changes, and food competition- all things that baby chicks provide. Sean explained that keeping the chicks safely isolated for period of time, and separated from the flock by a mesh door, allows the rest of the flock to see the babies and properly process the concept of new additions and added mouths to feed. Thus, when the baby chicks do emerge, they won’t be bullied and attacked by the other flock members.
We finished our tour by exploring Sean’s gardens. Without the use of chemical fertilizers and sprays, wild onions grew contentedly alongside acorn squash, curly leaf kale grew under currant bushes, and flowers, tree stumps, logs, and bushes provided a natural habitat for birds, bees, and other beneficial insects. Compared to the orderly rows and seed spacing techniques that we use on the TC3 Farm, Sean seemed to have no set order in his own gardens. In fact, he mentioned to us that he allows the patterns found in nature to be his guide. For example, while most people would often remove dead tree stumps from their land, he noticed that keeping the tree stumps provided the opportunity for beneficial birds and insects to flourish, pollinate, and protect his garden.
The entire tour was absolutely amazing, and it was fantastic to be able to see extensive permaculture at work. Chickens provided eggs, meat, manure, and weed control, while plants provided food for both the humans and the chickens, as well as a habitat for beneficial organisms, and an income for the homestead caretakers. Nature truly is beautiful, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to see how well nature can coexisted with plants, animals, and humans to help create a tremendously diverse and sustainable ecosystem on such a small scale.
Find out more about Edible Acres at http://www.edibleacres.org/