[MUSIC] Hello. This is Bob Lawrence again. Michael Heller joins us now to discuss a vision for sustainable agriculture from his farmer's point of view and how local farms can benefit local residents by participating in CSA's and benefit nearby urban dwellers by offering farmer's markets. In inner city neighborhoods. For the past 22 years, Michael has been operating Claggett Farm, a 285-acre grass-fed beef and vegetable operation in southeast Maryland, near Washington, DC. The farm markets directly grass-fed beef and has a 250 member CSA in which shareholders pick up vegetables weekly at the farm or at drop off sites in the DC area. The farm is owned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation whose purpose is to protect and restore the health of the bay. The Claggett Farm, also works in collaberation with the capital area food-bank. The farm commits 45% of all produce raised, to distribution in low-income neighborhoods in the district. Working with the food-bank, the farm has also created a farmers market, in Anacostia, an area that has little access to fresh produce. Hello, my name is Michael Heller and, I want to share some of my experiences on the farm and how they relate to a vision for agriculture. The other day, I was driving to a friends house to buy some oats that I was going to plant this fall and, I saw a truck with one of those little aphorisms on it that, you know the aphorism, like the plumbing truck that says a royal flush beats a full house. This was a flatbed tow truck, Raleigh's Towing, and it said, we meet by accident. In, in that very same sense, we meet by accident today. And in our case the accident is the breakdown of our agricultural system. And you can see this in many ways. When 92% of our farmers have a lower income than the average non-farm income, that's not a good thing. When, the average distance the food on your, your dinner plate travels is 16-1800 miles, we've got problems. Agriculture is the number one source of polution That is hurting the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf Coast. We have dead zones each year that reach record proportions. These dead zones are areas that are so low in oxygen they can't support life. This year in the Chesapeake Bay It reached more than 40% of the volume of the water. This is a problem. We have federal farm policies that, for the most part, make these problems worse rather than better. We've got to reevaluate a lot of what's happening with our agricultural system. There's a gentle zen story that I think captures a little bit about farming and the state of farming today. And this story is about a man galloping wildly on his horse. And as he passes a crowd, someone shouts to him, where are you going. And the man thinks for a moment, and then shakes his, his head and says, I don't know. You'll have to ask the horse. And, the horse could well represent agriculture or our agricultural system, agri-business and the man, the farmer, where the farmer really is not directing his own decisions day to day. The horse could also represent our agricultural food system and the person on the horse could be the consumer. Again, without directing the food choices that they get to make to a large extent every day. And this points to the need for sustainable agriculture imperative. We need to create a vision for what a healthy food system could be. Now whenever I think about creating a vision. I remember what a woman once told us, a farm woman once told us, that you have to very cautious when you create a vision. There were a bunch of us farmers visiting a farm family in Iowa. And we were out on the front lawn talking with her and someone in our group said, well We have a vision for sustainable agriculture. And I remember the woman of the farm couple, looked at us and said, you know, well that's really great, she said, but there's often a very fine line between a vision, and a hullicination and I think that really is true. And, so it's important to develop some criteria, or guide post, to ensure that you really are going the right direction, as you develop this vision. I want to use our farm. The farm that I've been operating for the last 23 years, and my experiences there, to give a sense of my vision for a sustainable agriculture. The farm is 300 acres. It's owned by an environmental group, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. But they let me farm it entirely according to my designs and interests. And we have three basic areas production. The first is vegetables, we have wonderful local markets that we really want to tap into. The second is beef, we have a lot of very steep land and putting cattle and permanent grass on this land is one of the best things that we can do with it, to rebuild the soils here. And the third piece is a nursery of native trees and shrubs. And it's from these three pieces that I'm going to describe a little about our operating system and the way we go about our farming. With a vegetable operation, with all parts of the farm, three of the key things you have to focus on are weed control, Pest control and fertility and all of our decisions have to take in to these, into account, these 3 portions. Within the vegetables one of the very key things we do is we develop crop rotations which are very well thought out. And our crop rotations tend to be A five year rotation or a seven year rotation depending on the crops involved. So for instance, this field which is largely got tomatoes, green peppers this year, which is one family called the solanaceae, the tomato family. Will go into something different the next year. It will be in beans, for instance. These are string beans which are in a different family, the legume family. These legumes produce their own nitrogen and actually leave a little bit of nitrogen behind them. So the next year we go to a crop that would be a nitrogen user, such as broccoli, and cabbage, members of the mustard family. And that might be followed with sweet potatoes, which do not like a lot of nitrogen, but love a lot of potassium because they're a root crop. And so our rotation is keyed very much to looking at the needs of each of the crops and making the sequence. Fit that need. It also allows us to be sure that for instance, the potato beetles, that might effect the tomatoes, and green peppers, and white potatoes won't have that crop available to them the next year. So that reduces our insect pressures. Another crop that fits into this rotation are the pumpkins, the squashes, which are known as the cucurbit family, and again, have a different set of needs from the others. So crop rotations are key. A second major element of the farming operation that is key to everything we do is cover crops. And this is probably something that is one of my biggest interests and fascinations. Looking at how can we make cover crops Work for us. Now, a cover crop is a crop that we plant on the farm and many farmers plant that is not going to be harvested but is grown to protect the land, to build the soil and to build fertility. And in this case, you see crimson clover, which is a legume. It's wonderful for fixing. Atmospheric nitrogen, storing it in the roots of the plant, so that it'll be available to the crop the next year. This would have been planted in the fall, usually late September, early October and what you see here is the crop in early May, where it's flowering. So it. It flowers in early May, it attracts tremendous number of beneficiale insects, which help us with our pest control. So this single cover crop, builds soil, by enriching it with organic matter that the worms love, it builds fertility through the nitrogen that it's storing in its roots. And it attracts beneficial insects, to help us with our insect problems. Now, when I talk to people about cover crops, and particularly other farmers, a lot of farmers throw a cover crop out whenever they get their other crops harvested. My belief, very strongly, is you gotta treat your cover crop, just like a crop, it's just as valuable to us, as our commercial crops that we will sell. because if my cover crop isn't successful, the other crops won't be. Because in our farmer operation, we follow all the organic farming principals, where we do not purchase synthetic fertilizers, and we don't not use synthetic Pest controls. So planning ahead to develop fertility, soil quality and the controlling of pests is critical. Here you see a fall crop of broccoli that will not be harvested early enough for me to plant the cover crop. So what we've done is we've overseated the cover crop. And you see the green grass like stuff growing between the row crop of the the broccoli. I have planted that in mid September. So it comes up when there is still the temperature and moisture for it to get well established. So when we are done harvesting this field, it will already have a good cover crop established. Timing is critical with cover crops. Most people think of cover crops as a fall crop to protect the land in the winter and then provide some nutrients for the spring plantings. We use a lot of cover crops on our farm in the middle of the summer so when we harvest our spring greens, for instance, which will be harvested in May and early June. We will never leave a field bare. This is a crop of cover crops. The tall, corn leaf-like plant is sudex, which is a wonderful fast-growing, very hardy plant that provides a lot of biomass, and helps build the soil. And then beneath it, in front, you can see a little broader leafed plant, which is cowpeas. Which is something that, if you talk to farmers from 50 years ago, they'll talk about cowpeas and how valuable. They were to their farming operation. Cowpeas have been lost to farming in general. Not many people use them anymore. Turns out they are still one of the very best at building soil and building nitrogen for the crops that follow. So this summer crop is critical to the success for our farming operation. We can't always use cover crops. Cover crops like moisture too. And we can't have competition for moisture. So one of the weed control methods that we use is mulching. And here you see a gas-powered mulcher. We often spread mulch by hand but sometimes we use this as well. This is straw that we have grown on the farm Useally from oats that we've harvested in early July and then we harvest the straw which is the stem of the oat or the stem of the wheat. And this makes a wonderful mulch. Here we're mulching strawberrys. Actually to protect them through the winter and you can see where the name strawberry comes from, because strawberrys were berry that were, were mulched to get them through the winter. The straw is a wonderful mulch, in that it too, is providing organic matter to the soil, so it is building soil while it is also, in this case, protecting strawberries. We use it under tomatoes, because if we put about a 4-inch layer of straw in there, it shades out the sunlight, so that weeds that might try to come up on the Under the tomatoes won't have the sun to grow. So, the mulch is a wonderful form of weed control. It builds soils and it turns out that certain bugs like the Colorado Potato Beetle hate to walk across it. It's very awkward for them. So it ends up being a very good source of pest control for certain insects. Cattle are a key part of the farm. We try to balance our crop and livestock on the farm. The cattle always end up on the land that is too steep to plant vegetables on and we've got a lot of it on our farm. The farm is located About 20 miles outside of Washington DC, in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. And it's very rolling country. The cattle really help us in rebuilding the soils. This farm, when I got to it 20 years ago. Was all corn and soybeans which are extremely hard on soil and soil quality. And so, remember the soil conservation service when I first had them out to the farm said, it's as if your soil has been mined. There's very little good soil left on the farm. So one of our goals from the first has been to rebuild the soils on the farm. Cattle are one of the best ways for us to do that. Now with the cattle, again, we have systems that we work with the cattle. Probably the most important thing with the cows is to make sure the cows are happy and comfortable. If the cows are comfortable, they're not stressed, you're going to have very little Disease problems. Another key element for us is we have what I call a closed herd. We don't bring new animals into our herd. All the cows that we have are cows that we have raised on the farm. The only new animal that comes into the herd is a bull that I will bring in every two years. So every two years a new bull will come onto the farm, and he'll be held with just one other cow For the first months to ensure that he is disease free and then he joins the herd. This is the way that we can manage the cows, without any antibiotics, with any hormones and be relatively disease free, we have very, very few problems. Part of the health of the cows is very much determined by the grass. A lot of farmers who feed cows only grass refer to it as grass farming. And in this case what we're trying to do is grow the best grass that we can grow. The best way to do that is to focus on the grass and to use the cows as the tool for managing the grass. So here you see a field where on the left hand side the grass is very short. It's difficult to see, but there's a single strand of electric wire Running down between the green part of the field on the right, and the short grass on the left. That single strand of electric wire is what separates the cows from the different fields. We rotate the cows. through our pastures. So we'll put the cows on one piece of grass for one day. And we give them a fairly small piece of grass. We'll put out about 40 - 50 cows on an acre to 2 acres. They don't move until they have eaten everything there and you can see they've done a pretty good job on the left-hand side, it's as if we'd mowed it with a lawn mower. That's what we need to see. They're very happy to move to the new field when it's time, so it's very easy to move the cows each day. You just open a little gate and they'll walk right in, because they know they're getting Good fresh grass. What's important is we don't want the grass to look this when we're finished grazing, because this grass is shading out the clover underneath. We want it to look like this, we want the cows to manage the pasture for us. To provide open light so that the clover which we are really trying to encourage in these fields has the light it needs to thrive. If we manage the grass well, graze it but not over graze it We will end up with pastures that are rich and just ideal for the cows in a very natural sort of way. We do very little seeding of grasses or clovers into our pastures. If we manage them well, these grasses and clovers will come on their own. In the winter months, the cows always have access to pasture, but we do feed them hay in a barn, hay that we raise on the farm. And so we do gather some of the manure from the cows, and this manure will become part of the rest of the vegetable and nursery operation. We take the manure and we build a compost pile. Composting the manure kills the bacteria that are harmful and will kill the weed seeds that might be come a problem in our vegetable fields. Now we use a different composting system than most people, in that we try to be as energy efficient as we can. This is a newer system that's been developed called passive aeration, where we put pipes underneath the pile, layered in straw, so that there will be air always entering the pile from the base. And we slowly build our pile on top of these pipes. This way there's natural air coming in the pipes from the outside, and entering the pile because for composing to be successful, you need enough oxygen for the bacteria that are really doing all the work for us. It's bacteria and numerous other organisms that are breaking down. The manure, the straw that is mixed with the, the wood chips that we mix in with it to create the finished compost. After we have the pile built, we cover it with a compost cover that sheds the water so that we do not have run off so this helps keep the warmth in. It also keeps the water from running through the pile and leeching out the nutrients. We have found that even in the middle of winter, the compost pile generates the kind of heat that we need to kill the weed seeds using this passive system, Here you can see, the temperature outside this day was 17 degrees. This was last January, the compost in the center of the pile there, was 140. It was actually 140 all the way out to about two inches from the cover. This is what we want to see and we're able to do it without a lot of energy and diesel fuel through farm equipment. So that compost will re-enter our farm fields, the vegatables, the nursery and will help rebuild the soils and generate nutriants, or provide nutriants for the crops. Such as the sun flowers that we grow for sell and this gives you a pretty good idea of the farming system that we're using on the farm. When we come back, I'm going to talk a little bit about the criteria that we've developed from our farm experiences that I've just talked about and describe these criteria that we use in our decision making on the farm. Whenever we make big decisions, but even in our day to day decisions. And these same criteria, I think relate well to decisions for the bigger, sustainable agricultural system. system.