Farmer Spotlight: Eco-City Farms

File-1Miles from the countryside, surrounded by townhomes and busy city streets in Prince George's County, Maryland, one organization is working to serve as a model for urban farming operations. Deborah Wren and the team at Eco-City Farms are working to prove that farming in urban environments is not only viable but is greatly needed in these areas. Wren, the lead farmer of Eco City Farms, draws on her experiences growing up on a dairy farm and studying anthropology in college as she connects people of various cultures, backgrounds, and classes to fresher food in the city. Wren works to ensure that Eco-City's motto of "growing great food, farms and farmers," spans across the organization's two farms in the county.

The Edmonston Farm, the first property Eco-City worked, was founded six years ago on 1.25 acres. The farm started with hoop houses and a small outdoor growing space in a highly residential area. The second property in Bladensburg is larger at 3.5 acres and is known for its permaculture, garden beds, and edible forest. Both properties are Certified Naturally Grown, which is "a practice managed by a farmer collective where farmers from around the world hold each other to certain standards."

PhotoFarmer Wren credits her passion for farming to her upbringing. As one of seven children she was often working outside, helping her mother in the garden or helping her father with the cows. In her undergraduate studies in anthropology she traveled to a number of developing countries. She began drawing comparisons between urban areas such as those in areas like Washington, D.C. and Prince George's County to those in developing countries. The shocking similarities—lack of resources, environmental issues, and lack of access to essential resources such as food—motivated her to make a change upon returning to the United States. Wren began her career with Eco-City Farms as an apprentice just five years ago and is now the lead farmer in her third growing season.

As one can imagine, farming techniques are different for urban agriculture. For example, tractors do not till the soil and extensive sprayers do not water the crops. A part of changing farming into urban spaces is adapting the growing practices as soil, water, and even temperature are all different in the city. Eco-City Farms works with these changes to provide fresh sustainably grown produce year-round to its local community.

PhotoAdjusting to the land is just one factor as Eco-City Farms also works to appeal to different cultures. Nearly 48 percent of its customers and volunteers are Spanish speaking. The organization has an education and outreach coordinator who is fluent in Spanish as the farms are located in what many locals call "Little Mexico." Addressing the cultural differences and unifying people through food is something they hope to achieve as they look to reach a broader audience.

Eco City Farms offers two-size CSA shares and allow members to apply and pay weekly, providing more flexibility to those in lower income communities. In addition to their CSA share, it sells fresh produce at the Riverdale Park Farmers Market on Thursdays and the Port Towns Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Eco-City Farms not only works to deliver food to those with limited access but also provides resources such as nutrition-based education, training programs such as the Beginner Farmer Rancher Training program, as well as hosting composting workshops, and beginner farmers for apprenticeships. Eco-City Farms is a model for the future of urban farming, led by people who want to reconnect people to fresh, healthy food, regardless of their culture, class, or location.

—Kellie Rogers; Photos courtesy of Deborah Wren

Learn more about how farmers across the watershed are working to improve both water quality and farm productivity in our Farmers' Success Stories series.


Farmer Spotlight: Sassafras Creek Farm

Dave and Jen in high tunnel 2015In honor of Military Appreciation Month, our latest Farmer Spotlight story features military couple David and Jennifer Paulk who went from serving our country to now serving our community. The former suburbanites never imagined that their small traveling backyard garden would one day inspire them to begin their own farming operation, Sassafras Creek Farm, in St. Mary's County, Maryland.

After serving in the United States Navy for 26 years, David began considering second careers as a veteran. In 2011, he applied for the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) Beginner Farmer Training Program where he apprenticed once a week at Calvert's Gift Farm in Baltimore County. Through his apprenticeship, he was able to learn the ins and outs of a small, organic farm.

20141016_104246Paulk explains that his military career allowed him time to get to know himself. By having real life experiences " . . . veterans are well suited to farming as they are used to maintaining structure, a skill required of any successful business owner who needs to develop a business plan and marketing strategies." Financial resources, coupled with that military background, allowed David to purchase an 80-acre property in St. Mary's County.

The property, Sassafras Creek Farm, consists of 46 tillable acres with the remaining 34 acres in forest cover. Forty of the 46 acres are in constant cover crop, which are " . . . key to building what is the essence of an organic farmers' healthy soil." Two seasonal high tunnels allow the Paulks to extend their growing season, and they plan to put up a third one in the next two weeks. The couple installed a 13 kW solar panel that generates more than enough power to run the greenhouse, walk-in coolers, lighting, and more. They grow spinach, lettuce, spring mix, beets, 20160515_160553_resizedkale, turnips, and carrots in the high tunnel, which extends the season and allows them to generate revenue year round.

While David runs the day to day operations on the farm, Jennifer (also certified a Maryland Master Gardener) manages the books, organic certification, and helps on the farm despite having a full-time career as an Environmental Scientist for the Department of the Navy. David explains that growing organic is in line with their beliefs and how they want to produce their own food. The USDA Organic Certification requires a third party inspection, adds certainty to their business model, and reassures their customers that the practices they are using are best for their own health as well as the health of the land and water around them.

David's advice to someone who is considering farming is clear: " . . . don't jump off the deep end into it. I had basic skills and financial resources. Starting a farm takes a small capital something that many fresh out of college do not have." Additionally he encourages all future farmers to go work on a farm or two and see first hand every aspect that goes into farming.

The Paulks show that the dream of having one's own farm is attainable. David recommends that anyone considering an occupation in farming work on a farm whether by volunteering or as a part of an apprenticeship program. Six years after graduating from the Future Harvest CASA program, he now serves as a mentor to new beginner farmers.

The organic produce from Sassafras Creek Farm is sold through a number of venues: California Farmers Market; Chesapeake's Bounty in North Beach; MOMS organic market in Waldorf; a natural food store in Leonardtown; and on the plates of guests at farm-to-table restaurant Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore City.

We are grateful for people like David and Jennifer who not only serve their country, but now serve their community through sustainable, responsible agricultural practices.

—Kellie Rogers

Learn more about how farmers across the watershed are working to improve both water quality and farm productivity in our Farmers' Success Stories series.

Farmer Spotlight: St. Brigid's Farm

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Photo courtesy of Judy Gifford.

Tucked away in Kent County's Kennedyville is a land where cows graze on clover, and creeks flow freely. This charming piece of land, known as St. Brigid's Farm, is home to 200 grass-fed beef and dairy cows. The farm is named after St. Brigid, the patron saint of dairymaids and scholars who was renowned for her compassion and often featured with cows at her feet. Partners in the farm have remained steadfast in practices that not only protect the health of the cows but the consumers that rely on responsible stewardship of the land. 

Judy Gifford was raised on a dairy farm, which eventually led her to earning a degree in Animal Science from the University of Connecticut. After 16 years in the public sector, she returned to her roots by establishing a 69-head Jersey dairy operation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with partner Dr. Robert Fry.

Robert graduated from the University of Georgia's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1977. After years of working with cows, he became interested in Managed Intensive Grazing, also known as rotational grazing as a healthier alternative to grain-fed production. After meeting in 1991 and beginning St. Brigid's in 1996, the partnership between Bob and Judy continues to strengthen. 

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St. Brigid’s Farm Partner Judy Gifford. Photo courtesy of Judy Gifford.

The 62-acre farm established in permanent pasture provides relief to the Chesapeake Bay in comparison to many conventional agricultural practices. Despite the benefits of the sustainable farm, Judy explains that small-scale operations are "a dying breed." A host of unique challenges come when considering small-scale farming, such as marketing: "[you] have to be flexible and look at ways to maximize your resources."

But Judy explains that St. Brigid's success is grounded in the three legs they believe make a sustainable farm. "We believe that a farm needs to be economically viable, which we achieve through producing high-quality Jersey milk and grass-fed beef, [be] ecologically sound, and promote community involvement." The rotational grazing practices of St. Brigid's produces healthy cows and meets the pollution limits for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Judy and Robert's dedication to local foods and their community is evident in their annual event Field to Fork. The proceeds from the event are donated to a different organization every year. This past year's benefitted a group that does not feed people but rather rescues them in times of trouble—the Kennedyville Volunteer Fire Department. During the dinner, farmers and consumers sit side-by-side in the green pasture enjoying a four-course meal grown from Maryland soil.

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St. Brigid's annual Field to Fork dinner. Photo courtesy of Linda Farwell.

In addition to their commitment to their community, St. Brigid's Farm is a partner of the Buy Fresh, Buy Local Chesapeake Chapter, which promotes local and sustainable foods by connecting consumers to producers, and which CBF coordinates. St. Brigid's is also a partner in the Maryland Grazers Networka mentorship program that pairs experienced producers with farmers who want to learn new grazing skills. Sustainable practices, like rotational grazing, have allowed St. Brigid's to develop a healthier product for the consumer. In stark contrast to the confined animal operations that line the Eastern Shore, Judy and Robert demonstrate just one success story of the great things that can happen when science and the land come together in harmony.

—Kellie Rogers

Maryland farmers like Bob and Judy are doing their part to clean up pollution to their local waterways. So why is it that big poultry companies take little responsibility for the harmful waste their chickens produce?! This week, Maryland legislators are considering the Poultry Management Litter Act, which requires big chicken companies to take responsibility. This legislation would ensure cleaner, healthier waters for us all, and it would protect Maryland farmers and taxpayers from costs that should be borne by the large poultry companies. Click here to learn more and to send a message to your legislator.

Learn more about how farmers across the watershed are working to improve both water quality and farm productivity in our Farmers' Success Stories series.

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Photo courtesy of Linda Farwell.


Farmer Spotlight: Whitmore Farm

Picture 1The opportunity to purchase a farm gave Maryland native Will Morrow a final push into a mid-life career change. From a residential landscape design firm in D.C. to the hills of Frederick County, Morrow credits his interest in eating well in the city to spurring him into organic- and pasture-based farming. 

Despite the weeds and abandoned structures, Morrow invested in a 30-acre farm property in the Valley and dedicated himself to restoring the land to its previous splendor. Upon purchasing the land in 2003, Morrow established Whitmore Farm as a way of honoring the successful pioneer years of Benjamin Whitmore and his family. The property, which lies within the Monocacy Watershed, is bordered by Toms Creek and now serves as a Certified Organic Production.

Morrow notes that a large part of the farm's success—both environmentally and economically—is approaching the business with a consumer perspective: "We were the people shopping at farmers' markets in the city. We were the people seeking out and eating at restaurants that sourced locally. So, as a producer, I was familiar with the venues I wanted to sell at. I was also comfortable navigating the tight urban landscape for deliveries. And, I knew my buyer well. I was selling to myself."

Picture 2Morrow works to emphasize sustainable agricultural practices while he raises acres of crops and livestock. The farm specializes in both Heritage and American breed pasture-raised livestock for lamb, pork, and poultry for eggs. Morrow's philosophy toward animals is not only evident in the pasture-raised system but through his Livestock Guardian Dogs, a team made up of five rescued Great Pyrenees and a central Asian Shepherd.

In addition to his pastoral operations, Morrow is always looking for new ways to improve the sustainable production of the farm. He remains steadfast in his philosophy that ". . . part of our farm's mission is to use sustainable ag practices that respect the land and provide healthy food to our customers."

Picture 3The small but mighty farm raises grass-fed and finished lamb, pastured pork, and pastured eggs. In addition to the livestock and poultry productions, Whitmore Farm is also home to a sustainable and certified organic produce operation. Morrow grows an assortment of tomatoes, peas, arugula, beets, carrots, and flavorful figs to distribute to restaurants and sell at farmers' markets.

What's more, Morrow is a huge advocate for clean water. During an interview with the Baltimore Sun in November, he stated that the American Farm Bureau Federation was "on the wrong side of history" when it and its allies petitioned the Supreme Court to review their challenge to Chesapeake clean-up efforts.

Picture 4"As I get older, I tend to focus more on the long view," says Morrow. "Society, culture, and values are not static. They evolve over time . . . people farming today farm differently than their parents did and different still from the way their grandparents did. To think that we have reached the apogee in farming and that our current agricultural system is beyond reproach is naive and arrogant. The Farm Bureau is ignoring the science and values that most of the farmers I know hold dear. The status quo is not acceptable. The sooner they accept that, the sooner we can focus on the solutions."

A staunch believer in the power of education, Morrow has hosted numerous field days and informative trips for teachers as well as served as president of the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) Board. "Education is key for the next generation of farmers," he says. Appropriately, CASA's mission is to provide education, networking, and advocacy to help build a sustainable Chesapeake foodshed—something Morrow does every day on his farm in Frederick County.

—Text by Kellie Rogers; Photos courtesy of Will Morrow

Learn more about how farmers across the watershed are working to improve both water quality and farm productivity in our Farmers' Success Stories series.


Burgers and Brews for the Bay: Getting to Know Your Neighborhood Market

 Clagett Cow Panorama

Photo by Kellie Rogers.

Did you know that you can eat your way to a cleaner Chesapeake Bay? That’s right! A few weeks ago, we hosted our first Burgers and Brews for the Bay event at our sustainable Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Guests gathered on a beautiful fall Sunday to enjoy craft brews and local food while learning about the importance of local, sustainable food and how it reduces our impact on the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams.

Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

One event attendee recalled that she felt she had "stepped into a different world," surrounded by organic vegetables, herbs, and grass-fed animals. Clagett was the ideal location for the premier of this event as the farm demonstrates how agriculture can be made both profitable and sustainable.

Notable chefs traveled to the farm to feature grass-fed beef (provided by Clagett Farm Manager Michael Heller) in their own interpretations of gourmet sliders. Six food stations, each paired with a local craft brew, presented those sliders and other fresh ingredients like grass-fed lamb, organic herbs, and vegetables, all produced at the farm.

Today many people believe that we could not feed the world's growing population if every farmer were to switch to sustainable farming practices. But that simply isn't true. A research team from the Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC) group stated that contrary to popular belief, the global industrial food system uses 70 percent of the agricultural resources while producing a mere 30 percent of the world's food.

Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

In contrast, what the ETC group calls "peasant food systems" (or food from local, sustainable farming) are responsible for 70 percent of the world's food with access to only 30 percent of the agricultural resources.

What's more, through more local, sustainable farming practices, the consumer is able to have a better, more personal connection with their farmer and their food. 

Burgers and Brews not only helped educate and connect event participants with their own "neighborhood market," it also highlighted the fantastic work of various, regional programs through educational tables set up around the farm throughout the day:

  • Capital Area Food Bank is the largest organization in the Washington metro area working to solve hunger and its companion problems. The food bank works with our Clagett Farm CSA to deliver fresh organic produce to communities in D.C. with otherwise limited access.
  • Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) supports local and sustainable food through existing and prospective farmers. Future Harvest CASA shared their mission to provide education, networking, and advocacy to help build a sustainable Chesapeake foodshed.
  • Attendees could also learn about local and sustainable farming opportunities through our Maryland Grazers Network. The Network, started by Farm Manager Michael Heller, is a farmer-to-farmer mentoring program that pairs experienced livestock, dairy, sheep, and poultry producers with farmers who want to pilot or switch to rotational grazing practices. Grazers Network mentors spoke with visitors who were interested in the benefits of grass-fed products not only for their own health but for the health of the animals and the environment.
  • The Chesapeake Chapter of the Buy Fresh, Buy Local Campaign, which CBF coordinates, was on hand to promote local and sustainable food sources for the betterment of the community, economy, and the environment. The Chapter's Eater's Guide to Local Food in Maryland is a resource, which includes a directory of sustainable farms, locally sourced markets, CSAs, craft breweries, and farm-to-table restaurants.
Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

Throughout the day at the farm, guests also enjoyed live music by local bluegrass band Fiery Deep. Clagett farm staff set farm equipment out on display nearby, while tractors pulled wagons for hay rides around the property. The six food stations featured Maryland, D.C., Delaware, and Virginia brews including Bold Rock Hard Cider, DC Brau Brewing, Devil's Backbone, Dogfish Head, Fordham & Dominion, and Mully's Brewery. The delicious food menu included items like the "Fire It Up" beef slider topped with spiced tomato sauce and fresh pesto, Moroccan ground lamb sliders with roasted garlic and tomato jam, and a pastrami and Swiss slider with local sauerkraut. Other farm staff cooked fresh homemade vegetarian and meat pizzas in the farm's clay oven. Children and adults sipped on local root beer floats in the main tent where rain barrels and Clagett's grass-fed meat were offered as raffle prizes. Next to the main tent, our Education Program entertained kids climbing on hay bales, painting pumpkins, and printing fish on T-shirts.

Most importantly, event participants learned of the health benefits of grass-fed meats, the major sources of agricultural pollution to our waters, and ways that farms can become more sustainable. Attendees returned to their own neighborhoods later that day, full from a day packed with fresh, local food, craft brews, and learning opportunities that offered insights into delicious ways to help Save the Bay.

—Kellie Rogers

Check out our Facebook Photo Album for more photos of this fantastic and educational day on the farm!


Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

Photo of the Week: Burgers and Brews for the Bay

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Fall on CBF's Clagett Farm. (Don't you want to be here right now?) Photo by CBF Staff.

In just a few short weeks, for many of you, this will be the incredible backdrop to your Sunday afternoon. On October 4, we're throwing a party celebrating fall, local food, clean water, and our sustainable Clagett Farm (hence the pretty pic above). And you're all invited!

Burgers and Brews for the Bay will feature delicious food created by area chefs using fresh, local ingredients and specially paired craft-brewed beers. Top that off with live bluegrass music, hay rides, and everything you ever wanted to know about how sustainable farming leads to healthier, cleaner waters, and you've got a fantastic fall afternoon on the farm. 

Tickets are selling fast. Click here to get yours!

Emmy Nicklin
CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media


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Photo of the Week: Favorite Time of Day

FullSizeRenderThis was taken by the Severn River in Severna Park, Maryland. This is our favorite time to wander down to the river and watch the sun set.

—Cindy Fleet

Ensure that Cindy and future generations continue to enjoy extraordinary places like these along the Chesapeake. Support the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprintthe plan to Save the Bay! 

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's Senior Manager of Digital Media, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign], along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo, and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. We look forward to seeing your photos!

Gardening and the Bay: A Future in the Making

Lindsay Bushong, a junior at Drexel University, shares her story of encountering a love for gardening, and the role CBF played along the way.

Some of the Backyard Beds in Philadelphia, PA

In high school, I took a half day field trip with CBF. I had a blast and when they talked about the summer programs they offered, I knew I had to go. Fast forward a year and I'm two days into a week long adventure down the James River in Virginia. We did various things to learn about the Bay, digging in the detritus, not leaving any trace at our campsites, going to leadership workshops. However, what I remember most is our visit first to a large organic farm, and then to a smaller, urban garden in Richmond. I grew up in a really rural community, but had never seen an organic garden to the scale of the one we visiting in Virginia. There was a beautiful rainwater catchment system and rows upon rows of lush, gorgeous veggies. In the city, we learned about the benefits of having nature in an urban setting, how its good for both people and the environment. While I didn't realize it then, the idea of the "triple bottom line benefit" would follow me to Philadelphia.

I recently began my own social entrepreneurship project, Backyard Beds. Backyard Beds came into fruition for a number of reasons. Having moved to the city from an agricultural community, I was astounded at the lack of fresh food in my neighborhood. Through my academic studies I began to learn about food deserts and food insecurity, which really sparked my interest. My freshman year I worked on an urban farm, and this experience seemed tie together all my passions into one amazing social venture. Through professors, mentors and classmates, I soon found myself managing a small garden only a few blocks from my house at The Dornsife Center. While gardening there, I got to meet a lot of amazing people, but most importantly, I got to meet Mantua (my neighborhood) area residents. These are long-term residents. One afternoon a neighbor was asking how she could build her own raised garden beds, I immediately offered to help, and thus Backyard Beds was born from this interaction.

Harvested radishes from backyard beds

Our seed funding came from a fellowship with The Resolution Project, an amazing organization helping young people start really cool projects around the world. In the summer of 2013 we built five gardens for five families. Not only are these gardens beautiful and relaxing, but they provide practically free fresh, local produce. Something most Mantua area residents lack. The gardens also decrease stormwater runoff and the heat island effect. We hope to create a small food distribution competent to the project that helps move the food more efficiently around the neighborhood.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been pivotal in my growth and development. I would have never discovered my passion and interests without my experiences in and around the Bay. This project has brought my studies and experiences full circle, giving me the opportunity to create real, meaningful change. In high school, after I got back from I trip I knew I wanted to start a little organic garden. CBF helped me do this, leading to me earning a Certificate of Environmental Leadership. The ways in which CBF facilitate and support students are incredible, and I wish every student could take advantage of the opportunities they have to offer.

Inside CBF: Carrie Vaughn, Clagett Farm

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Clagett Farm's Vegetable Production Manager Carrie Vaughn. Photo by Hannah Holt.

If you live in an urban area, your food source may not be top of mind. However, a farm is always close by in the D.C. region, including CBF's own sustainable Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

Clagett produces organic vegetables for a weekly community-supported agriculture (CSA) share as well as donates produce to local non-profits such as the Capital Area Food Bank. This takes a lot of coordination I soon discover, most of which is managed by Carrie Vaughn, the farm's vegetable production manager.

On a sunny Wednesday, I visit Clagett Farm to help with the harvest and to meet with Vaughn. Several volunteers greet me as I arrive and immediately put me to work unloading freshly picked heirloom tomatoes followed by harvesting onions and setting up baskets of vegetables for CSA pickup.

The farm schedule is somewhat predictable: Wednesdays and Saturdays are harvest days, when Clagett Farm staff direct hard-working volunteers who help pick the vegetables. The rest of the week is dedicated to managing other volunteer projects on the farm. Today being a Wednesday, Carrie determines which vegetables are appropriate for this week's share. After deciding on heirloom tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants, squash, and the onions we'd just dug up, Vaughn oversees the CSA pickup and then settles in for a chat.  

"It varies a lot," says Vaughn of her typical day on the farm. "I think that's one of the nice things about the job: That it's not the same thing day after day. Sometimes I'm working on the tractor alone; sometimes I'm with a lot of people I've never met before; and sometimes I get to work with people that come back all the time, [that become] friends."

Photo by Hannah Holt.

Vaughn started her career at CBF as a volunteer fresh out of college where she had studied biology and decided she wanted to pursue a career in agricultural research. But, as we know, some things don't always go to plan in life. "I came here to learn about what it's like to be a farmer, so I could be a better researcher. I guess I just fell in love with farming and never left!"

As Vaughn and I continue to talk through the morning, there are many things, I learn, that you can do while gardening or selecting your food to help restore the Bay and its waters. Allowing native plants to flourish and grow is just one of them. "People have to let the clover live in their yard. All that diversity in their lawn is really helpful," says Vaughn. "It's naturally fertilizing."

As expected Vaughn is a tremendous advocate for supporting local agriculture: "A lot of people think that buying organic is about being healthy for the consumer, but for me the purchasing decision has a lot more to do with the health of the whole ecosystem. You want to make sure you're supporting a healthy ecosystem through the farms that are giving you food."

—Lindsey Kellogg, CBF's Communications Intern 

Click here to learn more about Clagett Farm and how you can get involved!

How Farm Bill Conservation Funding Supports Pennsylvania Farmers: Saxe Family Farm, Sullivan County, PA


Saxe Family Farm. Photo by Jennifer Johns/CBF Staff.

This is one in a series of articles about farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality and efficiency on their farms. As a result of these success stories, we're halfway to achieving the nutrient reductions needed to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waters. View the rest of the series here.

For Mike Saxe Jr., a fourth-generation farmer, farming is more than a job: It's a way of life. The family farm, located in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania, has been operating since the late 1800s. 

Together with his father, Mike Sr., they plant 150 acres of corn and 300 in hay annually, while managing another 200 acres of forest and pasture land. Twice a day, 365 days a year, they milk more than 140 cows with just one full-time employee to share the load.

It's a life he wouldn't trade for any other; but the demands are high. "If you're going to make this your life and your living, you've got to be efficient all the time," said Saxe. "The thing that's keeping people like us going is good management."

Farm Bill Helps Saxe Farm Make Improvements
That, he said, is where programs funded in large part by the federal Farm Bill come in. Funding programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP, have enabled them to make on-farm improvements like the installation of a concrete barnyard and a manure storage facility. Both help to improve farm production and water quality. "The importance of those programs can't be understated," Saxe said.

Funding through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program was used to establish forested buffers along the streams that run through the property, which are tributaries to the North Branch Mehoopany Creek. These forested buffers will provide habitat for wildlife, help keep water temperatures cool, and filter pollutants before they reach the water. "Saxe Farms is a good example of how farmers can utilize these programs to not only improve their operation, but to also help the environment," said Stephanie Eisenbise, CBF's Pennsylvania Watershed Restoration Manager.

Saxe Family Farm. Photo by Jennifer Johns/CBF Staff.

"The stream can have more biodiversity with a healthy forest surrounding it," says Jen Johns, Pennsylvania Stream Buffer Specialist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "The tree root system traps nutrients that might be coming off of the fields, while also providing shade to cool the water. Both are critical to fish habitat and a healthy stream."

Saxe Farms has taken other measures, too. Roof gutters were installed on the barn to direct rainwater toward a grassy area, away from manure and a major walkway for the heifers. "None of these improvements would have been possible without the aid of agencies and groups like the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sullivan County Conservation District, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation," Saxe said.

A past recipient of the Sullivan County Conservation District's Conservationist of the Year Award, the Saxe's see themselves as stewards of the land. "It's easy to see that they care for the countryside and recognize their role in protecting it; that's important to them, especially given that Mike Jr.'s 13-year-old son is next in line on the farm."

—Jennifer Johns
CBF Pennsylvania Stream Buffer Specialist

Ensure that people like the Saxes are able to continue doing this good work on their farms.
Tell Congress to protect conservation programs in the Farm Bill!