Demonstration of High Value, Small Scale Sustainable Vegetable and Fruit Production Methods
During the last decade many farmers have gone out of business, in part due to the rising costs of land, machinery, chemicals, fertilizer and seed. Young people are finding it increasingly difficult to make the capital investments necessary to enter farming. In their producer grant funded project, the recipients set out to show that a sustainable profit may be made from as little as two acres and a few purchased organic fertilizers, using no chemicals, tractors or tillers.
The producers created an additional one-acre garden on their farm specifically for this project. They planted a series of vegetable and fruit crops over three years. The crops planted were corn, sweet potatoes, cabbage, strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe and butternut squash. The garden was divided into four equal sections. Two of the sections were mulched with straw and the other two sections were mulched with black plastic. The purpose of the mulches was to see which was better at conserving soil moisture and also to determine if the hay added sufficient organic matter to the soil through decomposition.
The producers were able to demonstrate that lowering farming inputs through the use of mulches and hand labor increased economic sustainability. They grew the above vegetables and fruit crops on a one-acre garden, reduced to one-half acre partway into the project, during the three years of the project.
Since the planting and most of the weeding and maintenance labor was conducted with hand tools, the hay mulch side did not stop weed emergence and that half was overtaken with weeds. That part of the project had to be discontinued. But the side mulched with black plastic kept the weeds down, conserved soil moisture and resulted in healthy profits due to the low input costs of hand labor.