Ecological Urban Farming: Adaptation of No-Till, Compost Mulching and Perennial Hedgerows for the NYC Ecosystem

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2019: $14,987.00
Projected End Date: 12/15/2020
Grant Recipient: Project EATS Help Sec Farm
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Orion Ashmore
Project EATS: Help Sec Farm


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: no-till, pollinator habitat, windbreaks
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, carbon sequestration, habitat enhancement, hedgerows
  • Pest Management: mulches - living
  • Soil Management: composting, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: urban agriculture

    Proposal summary:

    Project EATS has been growing and supplying fresh produce for underserved communities in NYC for almost 10 years. In the 2019 season, we intend to trial new production techniques at our 1+ acre “Help Sec Farm” to begin stewarding our farmland with the same care we have for the people we serve. Drawing from successful farming models and scientific literature, we aim to move away from tillage practices that have detrimental impacts to our soil’s health and instead apply regenerative principles to our operations.

    However, we have found no farms located in dense metropolitan areas that have attempted an ecological approach to production agriculture. We will therefore adapt two interventions used in rural regenerative agriculture to our urban farm: 1) converting half our production space to a no-till, deep compost mulching system and 2) installing perennial hedgerows to provide wind buffering, diversified yields, and beneficial insect habitat. We will determine the impacts between the experimental (no-till) and control (till) plots, with the hypothesis that harvestable yields per square foot will increase and weed management labor will decrease. We will also track pest and predatory insect/animal populations on our farm across three years to determine whether a more complex ecology is forming on the farm. Outreach will include the request of inclusion of our farm operations in Farm School NYC courses, sharing of our results at the 2019 Just Food Conference, providing transparent farm updates through social media, and tours/educational workshops focused on both city farmers and interested residents.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to 1) compare the efficacy of deep compost, no-till production techniques against our current tillage practices on the farm. Within the first year, we expect that the labor hours required for weed management of the no-till production space will decrease, and that harvestable crop per square foot (a measure of quality and pest impact) will increase -- both against control beds. We hypothesize that no-till will reduce labor hours by 20%, freeing up enough staff time to justify activating 4 new 100 row feet beds in the following season.

    This project also seeks to 2) install two perennial hedgerows (adapted from Singing Frogs Farm model), and track pest and beneficial species on the farm across three years. Because our transplants will be young, we expect a gradual increase in our identification of beneficial plants and animal beginning in year two.

    If these objectives are met, we believe our interventions demonstrate that a more complex ecology is forming on the farm by attending to the health and diversity of the soil and the landscape.

    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.