Benson Bounty LLC is an urban farm located on 1.6 acres of land in Omaha, NE. We have about 3/4 acre under production, including a 30' X 72' high tunnel. Our main crop is heirloom garlic, but we grow over 50 varieties of vegetables. We have been in operation since 2015. We utilize cover cropping, crop rotation, make compost on site and do not use any pesticides or fertilizers.
Despite the proven benefits of providing on-farm habitat for pollinators, many growers are hesitant to dedicate time or space to such endeavors and instead focus their energies on revenue generating annual crops. We plan to show that there are a number of pollinator-friendly plants native to Nebraska that can be utilized to build a stronger, healthier farm ecosystem while simultaneously providing an additional revenue stream. We will plant a variety of perennials and self seeding annuals and evaluate them on their ability to generate profit. We hope to show that these native plants can produce revenue on par with annual vegetables but with far less year-to-year maintenance or inputs.
- Plant 12 species of native Nebraska plants to establish a permanent pollinator habitat on our farm and evaluate each variety’s ability to generate profit.
- Host a field day in partnership with UNL extension educator John Porter to share the results of our project with local producers.
- Host horticulture students from Metropolitan Community College for an on-farm demonstration outlining our approach and results of the project.
- Make a YouTube video explaining our project and highlighting the successes and failures.
- Publish one-page production charts for all 12 varieties to demonstrate profit potential.
We will test the profitability of 12 species of native Nebraska plants by growing them alongside each other in test plots of 120 sq/ft. The 40’ x 3’ foot long beds will be separated by 2’ wide aisles, resulting in an additional 960 sq/ft. for a total plot size of 2,400 sq/ft. We decided to lay out the test plots in this manner because our current equipment is suited for this arrangement. The plots are the same size as our current beds and this will enable us to compare the profitability per square foot of the test plots with our previous records.
We decided to experiment with a large number of species because our research into pollinator habitat revealed that diversity in plants is important. We focused on native species because the premium price that these flowers, herbs, and roots demand in the local market. Our market research revealed that there are a number of species of native plants where the local demand is far greater than supply. Many of the species we selected are native throughout the North Central Region and our project will help others identify the market potential for these native plants.
California Poppy, Wild Bergamot, Anise Hyssop, Common Yarrow, Purple Coneflower, Blue Vervain, Leadplant and Narrowleaf Coneflower will be marketed for their flowers and leaves. The following plants will be marketed for their roots: New Jersey Tea, Spiderwort, Butterfly Milkweed, Solomon’s Seal.
We will host horticulture students from the local community college for a tour of the pollinator habitat, exposing them to the possibilities of growing profitable alternative crops. We will also work closely with UNL extension educator, John Porter, to host a field day for local producers so they can come and learn about the results of the project.
Educational & Outreach Activities
We hosted representatives from NCR-SARE for an on-farm visit in which we detailed the progress of our project. They created a YouTube video of their visit-the video currently has 131 views.
We have been pleased with the results of our project. We set out to show that installing permanent pollinator habitat could lead to economic sustainability through improved market opportunities and improved profitability. In our first year we successfully marketed many of the varieties of native flowers as specialty cut flowers at local farmers markets. We have built on that and started to market the flowers to florists as well. We have also had some success marketing the native plants as medicinal herbs to be sold to local herbalists. An unexpected benefit has been the ability to integrate some of these flowers and herbs into our value-added products to diversify our offerings and provide a unique product. We have created a whole new line of products called our “Nebraska Wildflower Series,” which includes our handcrafted soaps and beeswax candles infused with the native flowers that we grow in our pollinator habitat.
One disadvantage of the project is the upfront costs it takes to install permanent pollinator habitat with established transplants. With the time constraints of the project there was no way to start from seed and have time to analyze the economic impact of improved market opportunities. In the project proposal we stated that we would attempt to propagate our own stock once our patch was established. After the first season we collected seeds from Common Yarrow, Purple Echinacea, and Anise Hyssop and had success starting our own plants from seed. We will also attempt to further propagate through root cuttings and division.
We were very happy to confirm that the perennial beds we installed took less maintenance than our typical beds filled with annual vegetables. This was variable for each bed, as much of it depended upon the speed at which the flowers filled out the growing space. Yarrow, Echinacea, Spiderwort, and Bee-Balm were quick to establish and spread, limiting competition from weeds that resulted in very little time spent maintaining those beds. The more shrub-like plants demanded a little more attention during the first year, but weeds were still less of a problem than in our annual vegetable beds. And best of all, we did not have to prep the beds more than once during the season and will never have to ‘turn them over’ as we do when we plant annual vegetables.