Since 2009, EarthDance has operated a (now certified) organic farm and educational programs on the site of Missouri’s oldest organic farm, in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis. We currently grow 89 different varieties of crops on 2.3 acres of a 14-acre farm.
In 2012, EarthDance purchased the farm where our programming takes place. EarthDance has expanded its programming to include workshops, classes, free farm tours, volunteer opportunities, and youth programs. EarthDance’s produce is enjoyed by apprentice and staff CSA members, shoppers at farmers markets, patrons at several local restaurants, and recipients of food donations.
In 2015 EarthDance completed a business plan with the help of consultant Chris Blanchard of Purple Pitchfork. Blanchard recommended that the farm transition to a permanent bed market-garden approach, and increase high-tunnel production. These adjustments to our methods, along with increased wholesale production is forecasted to increase revenue to $150,000 by 2020.
Since EarthDance purchased the farm in 2012, the organization has consistently worked to establish our Organic Farm School campus as a showcase of innovative methods that contribute to positive social, environmental, and economic impacts on our surrounding community and ecosystem. EarthDance utilizes cover cropping, crop rotations, and now minimal tillage in order to steward our soil. EarthDance practices proactive pest management, including use of row cover and insect netting, encouraging a diverse ecosystem with habitat for beneficial insects and birds, and utilizing low-impact organic sprays such as neem oil and kaolin clay. In 2014, EarthDance established a 250-tree mixed-fruit, alley-cropped orchard with support of a SARE Farmer Rancher grant; the sustainability of the orchard is enhanced with pollinator plantings along each fruit tree berm. The berms follow swales that slow the flow of water on the property. The project "Farmscaping and Permaculture IPM at an Organic Farm School" is focused on increasing our whole-system's approach to pest management, while beautifying our campus as well through native flower plantings.
Information to be updated at the time of final report.
EarthDance proposed to increase the effectiveness of its pest-management efforts through floral farmscaping to attract beneficial insects, and the use of insect netting as an exclusion method.
Objective: intersperse perennials that have proven highly attractive to beneficial insects amidst our fields, in orchard “strips” and a centrally located 3000 square foot plot.
Progress: EarthDance has planted the orchard strips with approximately 700 native plants. The 3000 square foot plot was solarized in fall 2017 and will undergo a second round of solarization in Summer 2018 to be planted with more natives in fall 2018.
Objective: test the effectiveness of using insect netting in place of Remay rowcover as a means of excluding insects from tender crops. EarthDance has begun to utilize insect netting with our field crops.
In addition to measuring the effectiveness of these methods, EarthDance is educating the beginning farmers of its Farm & Garden Apprenticeship program about the use of these techniques.
In total, EarthDance has planted more than 700 plants including over 20 species of native wildflowers. EarthDance Managing Director, Rachel Levi, researched the best native plants for the farmscaping and permaculture IPM using the Michigan State University study. The native plant species chosen are proven to attract pollinators and beneficial insects. The flowers were also chosen to make the farmscape even more beautiful.
Some plants researched include native species such as New England Aster, Dotted Mint, and Golden Alexanders which aid in IMP and are also aesthetically pleasing. Some beneficial insects may only prey on pests in one phase of their lives but need to survive through adulthood, to reproduce more allies. Plants were chosen to sustain these bug allies to ensure a thriving population of pest predators. In addition, native flowers were chosen to feed bees that pollinate crops. The plants not only had to attract desirable insects but had to be hardy enough to survive intense July heat and dryness without the help of irrigation.
Another aspect of the project is trialing insect netting to be used to exclude pest insects, in place of row cover, which has insulating properties that are not always ideal. Insect netting is more durable as well. Thus far, EarthDance has been very pleased by the results of this substitution.
EarthDance is still assessing the results of our Permaculture IPM project. 2018 will be the first year in which many of the native plants put in the ground in 2017 will blossom. Thus far, EarthDance farmers are very enthusiastic about the performance of the natives for attracting pollinators. For 2018, EarthDance will partner with the University of MO-STL to engage a student researcher to sample insects visiting the pollinator plants at several points throughout the season to gain more data about which beneficials are responding to the plants. Our final report will include results of insect sampling; records of organic sprays used to control insect pests (with a comparison to previous years, to see if the frequency has declined); and reports on the durability and success of using insect netting in place of row cover after another full season of use.
Educational & Outreach Activities
In 2017 EarthDance educated 24 farmers/ranchers through Farm & Garden Apprenticeship Program. Apprentices learned relevant aspects of IPM including growing with natives, propagation, permaculture berms, companion planting, and about the native planting project. Several apprentices also participated as volunteers in addition to the Apprenticeship Program during the native planting volunteer days.
EarthDance hosted 26 free public tours on Saturdays from May 2017 through November 2017. 484 tour guests learned about EarthDance, our permaculture berms, and the native plantings.
Social Media Posting:
In this video posted on February 15, 2018, Garden Manager Crystal Stevens showcases how to plant elderberry stem cuttings in the permaculture berms. In the FaceBook post, Crystal writes, “Rachel Levi spearheaded a pollinator project to incorporate perennial native plants into the berms to attract pollinators!”. Crystal also discusses that native, perennial pollinator attractors have been planted in the berms. This video received 1.8 thousand views.
This video, viewed by 1 thousand people, was posted on EarthDance’s FaceBook page to notify the public of our volunteer native planting day. Then Volunteer Coordinator Nick Speed and Assistant Farm Manager Kaitie Adams demonstrate how to plant Canada anemone and purple prairie clover in the permaculture berms. “Join us on the farm tomorrow as we continue our Natives & Wildflowers project! 9am-noon. To sign up, contact our Volunteer Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Volunteer Coordinator Nick Speed posted on EarthDance’s FaceBook on May 16, 2017, “Many thanks to all the volunteers who came out last Saturday to help with our Natives & Wildflowers project! For those of you who missed out, we will continue planting this Friday, from 9am-noon. To sign up, email email@example.com.” 1,779 people viewed this post.
EarthDance Managing Director, Rachel Levi has published 2 articles in the EarthDance newsletter and website blog:
How Can Native Flowers Save Your Veggies?– Rachel Levi
This article was published by Rachel Levi on August 8, 2017. Rachel mentions a common question asked by EarthDance guests, “How does an organic farm deal with pests?” Rachel discusses how healthy soil leads and healthy plants, combined with Integrated Pest Management and permaculture techniques helps organic farms flourish.
“NCR-SARE (North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a division of the US Department of Agriculture) grant that enables us to plant a huge number of native plants in order to make the farm a more diverse, better-functioning ecosystem. EarthDance is grateful to NRC-SARE for their support of this project! As they mature, superstar native species like New England Aster, Dotted Mint, and Golden Alexanders will attract beneficial insects and pollinators while beautifying our farmscape. A total of 800 native plants will be interplanted with EarthDance’s permaculture orchard trees.”
Rachel outlines how the natives will feed pollinators and other beneficial insects in a technique called farmscaping, which, “In our SARE grant, EarthDance proposed to farmscape by planting native plants in our fruit tree berms.” Linked in the article is the Michigan State University study: Attracting Beneficial Insects with Native Flowering Plants. This article also outlines the numerous benefits of the project including feeding bees that pollinate crops, farm beautification, medicinal uses of the natives like boneset and echinacea, and continuing to educate the public by demonstrating the project.
A Field Walk to Visit Native Plants– Rachel Levi
In this article published on March 14, 2018, Rachel highlights several natives including dotted mint, red milkweed, lance leaf coreopsis, hyssop, and boneset. “EarthDance’s Native’s Project kicked off this spring. EarthDance is planting hundreds of natives across our farm school campus. The species were chosen particularly for their attractiveness to pollinators and beneficial insects. Since May, we’ve planted twenty+ species of native wildflowers and over 700 plants!”
Volunteer Coordinator Nick Speed posted on EarthDance’s FaceBook to call upon volunteers to help with the native planting project on May 4, 2017:
“Join EarthDance Organic Farm School as we plant hundreds of native plants! Superstar native species like New England Aster, Dotted Mint, and Golden Alexanders will attract beneficial insects and pollinators while beautifying our farmscape. A total of 800 native plants will be interplanted with EarthDance’s permaculture orchard trees. Learn more about the project and help us plant on Friday, May 19th, 9am-12pm. Please bring your own scissors (if you have some) to help snip holes in the landscape fabric where they will be planted.”
On May 12, 2017, 3 EarthDance staff members participated in a native planting training to prepare for the upcoming volunteer native planting days. May 13, 2017 was the first Native Plants and Wildflowers Volunteer Planting Day led by Volunteer Coordinator Nick Speed. Another volunteer planting day was led by Nick on May 19, 2017. Altogether 35 volunteers planted roughly 700 natives.
Plans to further communicate results:
“EarthDance will also be able to provide increased education as we demonstrate the system to tour-goers, farm apprentices, and local youth.” Rachel Levi, How Can Native Flowers Save Your Veggies?
In 2018 we will continue to educate public tour guests on free Saturday tours as well as see recurring volunteers helping Garden Manager Crystal Stevens in the permaculture berms with natives. There will be posts on EarthDance’s social media and published articles regarding these recurring volunteers. This year EarthDance will welcome 28 farmer-rancher apprentices who will assist in the berms on their field shifts and also 6 Junior Farm Crew members who will be integrated with apprentices during these field shifts.