“we still do not know one-thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.”
– Albert Einstein
HEALTHY ECOSYSTEMS SUSTAIN LIFE
At Fox Haven Organic Farm, we are learning to live in harmony with the natural world, in alignment with natural systems.
LAND RESTORATION, REGENERATIVE PRACTICES & PRINCIPLES OF PERMACULTURE
Over a span of more than twenty years, Fox Haven Farm weaves a fascinating story about the successes and failures that come with building a working farm. A farm that is minimizing use of commercial supplemental inputs by growing cover crops, or green manure as a means of enriching healthy soils. A farm that engages in best practice farming methods to accomplish healthy food production. A farm that is operated with emphasis on building and maintaining healthy soils and conserving our water resources by capturing and redirecting rainfall out onto the land. We have learned that by talking about our failures, we can share our learnings and harvest our mistakes.
Many projects exemplify what can be done to heal the land, while growing nourishing foods. Fox Haven Farm shares what we have learned with our visitors and educational programs and the ways we are farming in the best interests of our sensitive environment.
Some areas of focus are highlighted below with additional project details posted on our Sustainability Models and Projects webpage.
We have used conservation and agricultural easements to protect five miles of Catoctin Creek and we are working with our neighbors to protect the entire Catoctin Watershed. Our goals for Fox Haven are to practice responsible land stewardship with careful regeneration of the land’s diverse ecosystems and protection of wildlife corridors along Catoctin Creek that will serve as sanctuary for wildlife species for many years to come, forever.
Our work with the USDA Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) has been a significant project for over 20 years. Learn about our experience with CREP.
Learn about our conservation restoration projects below.
Beginning in 1998, the Fox Haven team researched and studied known methods for managing and conserving open and highly erodible soils. It was thought that there should be programs or practices that would teach us to manage, conserve and then preserve Fox Haven cropland. We predicted that any improvements to manage and preserve our increasing acres of cropland would be beneficial to the life and health of Catoctin Creek and its tributary waters. Past farming practices on the properties that were being acquired were of such a nature that significant erosion was taking place and topsoil was being washed away. We determined early on that corrective actions must be made to stop the erosion, keep the soil in place to enhance the health of the soil and to protect the water quality of the streams.
Taking a closer look, we discovered a program that was doing just what we wanted to do. We discovered that the USDA Farm Service Agency and the Frederick County Soil Conservation District were promoting a program for planting trees, shrubs and grasses. That program was titled Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). It was being offered to landowners who owned land that qualify under the guidelines set forth by the program. As an incentive to enter the program, a cost-share was being offered to cover 87.5% of the expenses of the trees and shrubs and grasses and other expenses associated with the project such as stakes and tree shelters. Additionally, the size of the project was determined by soil types, slopes of the land and distance from an active stream or river. It was something the owner would have done anyway, even if there wasn’t an incentive, because it was good for the land, reforesting, slowing erosion and improving water quality of Catoctin Creek.
In the spring of 1999, we entered our first contract to establish a CREP tree planting on three acres of the original Sanctuary parcel which is inside the horseshoe that is carved out by Catoctin Creek. Our concern was that we were obligated under the agreement to maintain a survival rate, for the trees, of 65% for the first three years of the contract. That turned out to be an easy commitment for us and we ended up with a survival rate of 86%. We entered into thirteen additional CREP contracts following that first one.
Overall, we have planted just shy of 200-acres of trees, shrubs and Warm Season Grasses under the CREP Program. In later years, 200-acres of existing woodlands were added to the 200-acres of new plantings to secure a 400-acre perpetual CREP easement. That means protected forever.
What have we learned since the first CREP planting?
Initially, it became apparent that we should plant our trees in rows that follow the contours of the land. That makes mowing between the rows an easier task. It also helps to manage sediment run-off. A second practice that we adopted was that of preparing all CREP acreages for planting by establishing a thick crop of clover in which to plant the trees and shrubs. We developed this practice because we did not want to spray herbicides to kill growth ahead of the planting process. Clovers have two beneficial characteristics for growing trees and shrubs. First, they are a legume nitrogen fixer so they provide residual nitrogen that benefit the growing trees. Secondly, during winter months the amount of clover foliage is reduced and the voles move to other habitat and root damage is diminished.
All of the benefits of the CREP program are worthy but the benefit that has been recognized in recent years is that there are positive effects that lead to the reduction of greenhouse gases that are realized by planting and growing trees, shrubs and Warm Season Grasses. In fact, the numerous white oaks that we have planted are one of the better tree varieties for capturing and sequestering carbon in the roots of the trees, storing carbon in the soil. We have planted thousands of indigenous white, red, black, swamp, hickory and pin oak species and many other species that are native to Maryland. With the exception of one species, sawtooth oak, all of our trees and shrubs, sixteen different species, are native species to Maryland. We are also enrolled in CRP and WHIP, short for Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program.
Under the umbrella of the Fox Haven Organic Farm operation, the CREP program has occupied a large amount of time and effort over the last two decades. Maintenance entails mowing between the rows of trees and weed-wacking between the trees. Since we are certified organic, we do not use any chemical sprays, no herbicides and no pesticides and no fungicides. “No chem” means we have to fight back the Johnson Grass manually by mowing before it goes to seed. This year many of the trees have outgrown their plastic tree shelters, tubes which have been removed. And we are working with the County Executive to find a way to recycle them so they don’t have to go into landfill.
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