Demonstrating Higher Yields and Market Opportunities of Mixed Annual and Perennial Intensive Planting in Appalachian Ohio

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $5,909.80
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: apricots, berries (blueberries), berries (brambles), cherries, peaches, berries (strawberries)
  • Nuts: hazelnuts
  • Vegetables: sweet potatoes, asparagus, beans, beets, onions, parsnips
  • Additional Plants: herbs, native plants


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration
  • Farm Business Management: agritourism
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, biodiversity
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, soil solarization
  • Production Systems: permaculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal summary:

    In the early 1990's, Appalachian Ohio fared the worst of all regions in the state when it comes to crop production, averaging a six percent row crop cover (by township), giving rural Southeast Ohio the same row crop rate that larger, metropolitan areas of the state normally report. The region's land is characterized by thin soil, slope, and forest, resulting in small irregular tracks that do not lend themselves to conventional farming methods, and most farming is focused on commodity feed and hay. At the same time, the Southeastern Ohio region has one of the strongest Farmers Markets in the nation. These conditions warrant using land with agricultural potential in ways that maximize productivity to meet the ever-growing market by building the region's agriculture economy so it can effectively compete with other development interests and contribute to farmland preservation.

    To provide Appalachia Ohio landowners with a sustainable, income-producing agricultural model, this project will establish a site that combines organic practices that can bear the greatest yield while conserving soil and water resources by adapting Small Plot Intensive (SPIN) and Permaculture methods to the conditions of the region's topography and ecosystems.

    With the heip of Agriculture Specialist, Permaculture site designer and SPIN methods instructor Andy Pressman of the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service and Joe Kovach, Director of Ohio State University's Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program, I plan to adapt Kovach's system to our region to test its protitability for small tracks and solid conditions typical to our region. Kovach has just completed his seventh year of study in which he is demonstrating a gross of $10 per row foot, equal to $90,000 per acre using methods that combine SPIN and Permaculture in a system he calls Modular Ecological Design. His project, on one and one half acres in Wooster, where some of Ohio's best farmland can be found, demonstrates how a small landowner can earn a living while keeping pests from doing the same. The site employs four different types of polyculture modules-plots with a mix of such high-value crops as snap peas, green beans, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes and edamame (edible soybeans) have been a success. Among the returns, all based on
    prices received through a local farmers' market: $1.99 per row foot for green beans in 2005; $3.65 per row foot for edamame, $25.52 for tomatoes, $12.65 for strawberries and $15.65 for fall raspberries in 2007.

    According to a press release from Ohio State University, Kovach found that using the mulch fabric cut weeding costs from $1.35 a foot to 10 cents a foot. Similarly, his high tunnels, unheated stuctures covered with plastic, which were added in 2007, averaged a 14 percent jump in growth when compared to outside crops, with some crops, like raspberries increasing by 79-96 percent. Like Kovach, I will employ mulch cloth, and if funded by a proposal just submitted to the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation, a high hoop greenhouse to increase yields and extend the season. Another release cites Kovach's use of drip irrigation, and I will include materials for part of the system in my budget.

    The demonstration site will be a fenced plot on my farm, just under half an acre to:
    1. Test the productivity and profitability of combining intensive planting using Small Plot INtensive (SPIN) and Permaculture methods as practiced by Joe Kovach's Modular Ecological Design at Ohio State University, Wooster.

    2. Create income-producing options on the small-irregular tracks common to the region.

    3. Promote the profitability of sustainable organic growing methods

    4. Use methods that minimize soil disturbance and build organic matter

    5. Offer local landowners, faculty, and students field day opportunities. A method called Small Plot Intensive (SPIN) farming, is growing in popularity and is described as "a non-technical, easy, and inexpensive farming system that makes it possible to earn significant income ($50,000 plus) from land bases under an acre in size, (and) removes the two big barriers to entry: land and capital."

    Permaculture is a more than 30-year-old approach to land use that has popularized techniques that conserve soil fertility, energy, and water by installing swales, planting beds along contours, and choosing mixed perennial and annual plantings to maximize pollinators, fix nitrogen, and provide green manure. Swales can slow the flow of water along a slope and make water more available to adjacent plantings. Increasing pollinators ensures higher yields from fruit, nuts, and seed and green manure crops-i.e. cover crops. Kovach has used SPIN principles-intensive planting, choosing high profit crops-in what he calls Modular Ecological Design to maximize yields and profits in on small acreages.

    Because perennial plantings reduce inputs over time, increase carbon sequestration, and minimize tillage and soil loss, this project will emphasize perennials, looking particularly to the most profitable nuts and berries, replicating several of Kovach's crops and adding cultivars like hazelnut, and asparagus. Further, mixed plant cultures boost the stability and resiliency of the system, just like biodiversity in healthy ecosystems. The site will also demonstrate a variety of annual crops including both those that can be harvested for market with those that can be turned into beds to provide green manure, including edamame, winter rye, and flowers.

    Combining these approaches are especially suited to the small, irregular plots found in the Appalachian region. With the cooperation of partners, the site will be open to interested landowners, students, and community organizations working in the field of localizing food and agriculture.

    OSU Integrated Pest Management Coordinator Joe Kovach has been conducting research on a poly-culture intensive planting site for five years at OSU Extension in Wooster Ohio. Together with Andy Pressman, Agronomy Specialist with NCAT ATTRA in Pennsylvania, and Certified Permaculture Designer who conducts Small Plot Intensive Workshops around the country, Kovach has agreed to cooperate on the site design and methodology and to be in "communication with Michelle as the project develops." In his support letter Kovach states he is "particularly interested in the outcomes of this project because the social and ecological conditions of the Appalachian region of Ohio are much different from most other areas of the Midwest and provide an entirely new setting to test the principles of [his] experiment." NCAT's support letter commits roughly 60 hours of professional support to the project over a 21-month period to provide technical assistance for project planning and evaluations.

    I have also applied for a small grant ($3000) from the Ohio Farm Bureau to pay for materials to build a smal1 high-hoop greenhouse to compliment the system by providing season extension for market. Award announcements for that grant should come by February 2011.

    To achieve the goals of the project, I will:
    • Design a site plan: With the help of Andy Pressman of ATTRA and Joe Kovach at OSU Extension in Wooster, we will design the site to employ key features of Kovach's design system while adapting plant selection and layout to the conditions of our region. The goal will be to combine native and non-native perennial trees, shrubs, and vegetables with annual crops to maximize increase farm income.

    • Document the project using site maps to provide a baseline, document of our planning and design process, and provide a teaching aid to visitors on Field Days.

    • Schedule seasonal field days to engage the public in learning techniques that they can try on their home plots.

    • Foster hands-on learning with community residents and university students through cooperative workdays, field days, and internships.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.