How Farm Bill Conservation Funding Supports Pennsylvania Farmers: Valley Grassfed, Centre County, PA

11-18-2013 11-08-13 AMThis 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.

"Our business, Valley Grassfed, would not be in existence if it weren't for the implementation of these practices providing for lush pastured paddocks." That's the way Jenne Senator, Owner and Operations Manager of Valley Grassfed described the many conservation measures that she and her husband, Bob, recently implemented on their farm near Spring Mills, Pennsylvania.

The Senators raise 37 beef cattle, producing ten head yearly for market, and pride themselves on the quality of their beef. Their cattle feed only on lush pasture and hay. "Our animals are free of growth hormones, antibiotics, and all grains," said Jenne.

Bob and Jenne are conscious about more than just their cattle. They are also quite aware of the impact that farming has on the land, and have taken many steps to ensure their farm has minimal impacts on their local stream.

When they purchased the farm in 1984, they planted 75 percent of the land in crops using tillage, and pastured just 25 percent. Today, the Senators pasture 93 percent of the land, planting crops on only four acres. They utilize 50 acres for grazing. This has dramatically reduced erosion and runoff from their farm.

Funding and assistance from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Chesapeake Bay Foundation has allowed their dream of being able to grow and sell their own beef to become a reality.

The Senators have installed streambank fencing, a livestock crossing, and a watering system all of which control the herd's access to the stream, while providing them with a clean source of drinking water. The watering system has enabled them to create pastures that are grazed on a rotational basis. Bob and Jenne aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, and have planted more than 200 native trees and shrubs in their streamside buffer, doing the work themselves.

The Senators have also installed a grassed waterway, half an acre of pollinator habit, and have developed nutrient management and rotational grazing plans. USDA's Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative funded all of the farm improvement practices.

—Frank Rohrer
CBF Field Buffer Specialist

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

Fourth Graders Work to Reduce Waste

NewAfter participating in CBF's Smith Island Education Program, our school (Chesapeake Public Charter School) realized how much of our food we might be wasting. So, we decided to start monitoring our lunch leftovers. We started small, just sorting the leftovers from 4th graders. Student volunteers, headed up by Smith Island alumna Debra Rosenstadt, began to help their peers sort their leftovers into: Recycling, Compost/Vermicompost, S.L.O.P. ("Stuff Left on Plate"), and landfill. 

Each day, these volunteers stayed in from recess to weigh the amounts of each and graph it on our class line plot (to the nearest ¼ pound). Certainly a dirty job, so look out Mike Rowe! Our S.L.O.P. Cops spread the word on how to reduce waste: saving it for later, snack share (a special bin to leave it in for others to take if wanted), etc.

As a school we have always recycled, composted, and vermi-composted (each grade has their own work bin). But, this school year, we decided to go schoolwide with the S.L.O.P. program as well. Two fourth graders each month volunteered to be S.L.O.P. Cops. They collected, consolidated, and weighed the S.L.O.P. from 331 students, grades K-8. The S.L.O.P. this year was picked up each afternoon by a local organic farmer, Brett Grosghal from Even' Star Farm. He uses the S.L.O.P. to feed his nine hogs and flock of chickens, so our waste was recycled back into food we could eat (a great lesson in where food comes from, especially bacon and eggs!). Chesapeake Public Charter School (CPCS) even has five resident chickens that take in some of our S.L.O.P., just on a smaller scale than the organic farm. CPCS chicken eggs are sold to our school families looking for a local, organic option. As Katelyn Kovach, 4th grader and CBF Smith Island alumna, puts it, "Your S.L.O.P. made my breakfast!"

Our 4th grade S.L.O.P. Cop volunteers learned other skills as well. They used Microsoft Excel to keep track of the data, researched facts about pigs, chickens, landfills, and made daily announcements to share the data and information with our school community. Included in their announcements were "SLOPPY Shout Outs" commending students or classes that did very well with reducing their S.L.O.P. that day.

During the 2012-2013 school year, Chesapeake Public Charter School prevented more than 800 pounds of unused energy in the form of food scraps from going to a landfill and instead helped recycle it into locally grown food.

April Skinner, Fourth Grade Chesapeake Public Charter School Teacher  

Teaming up with Maryland's Day to Serve

This is the second year that CBF has teamed up with Maryland's Day to Servea special initiative in partnership with various community and interfaith partners to work together to feed the hungry and heal the planet. This year, not only is CBF hosting volunteer events, it is also offering guidance to fellow Day to Serve participants. If any organization, church, or school group needs assistance developing plans, wants ideas, or is looking for a list of resources, CBF is here to help! Just shoot us an e-mail to the address below. 

Muddy river cleanup 017_smHeal the Planet 
On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, CBF will be hosting a River Cleanup at Sailwinds Park in Cambridge. As part of the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup effort, volunteers will remove trash and debris along the beach of the Choptank River—a major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay and the largest river on the Delmarva Peninsula. Last year nearly 600,000 volunteers across the globe participated in the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup, resulting in 10 million pounds of trash removed! Come be a part of this great effort. 


550875_10151230473305943_680609546_nFeed the Hungry
Each year, CBF's sustainable Clagett Farm provides roughly 25,000 pounds of free and reduced-price food to lower income communities through a partnership with the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington D.C. On Sept. 28, volunteers will further this effort by harvesting organic vegetables to be donated to Capital Area Food Bank. Participants will also learn about sustainable agriculture and how farms implementing best management practices are helping to reduce harmful nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. 

We hope you'll join us! 

—Carmera Thomas, CBF's Maryland Restoration Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator

 If you'd like to participate in this year's Day to Serve in another way and need assistance developing plans, want ideas, or are looking for a list of resources, please contact me at

The Ultimate "Senior Experience"

Boys with Michael on farmAlec Schadelbauer and Matt Slater with Clagett Farm Manager Michael Heller. Photo courtesy of Dave Slater/CBF Staff.

Learning Through Experience on CBF's Clagett Farm

At the end of every school year, the graduating seniors at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia, participate in a program called "senior experience." For the last month of school, seniors get the privilege of experiencing life in the real world. Some choose to get retail jobs to earn money for college, while others decide to volunteer or do their own, unique project.

For our senior experience, we decided to do something completely different from your average retail job at American Eagle or dull desk job working at a cubicle all day. We had the opportunity to work at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. It turned out to be a memorable experience that brought our book-learning to life.

Before we actually started, Michael Heller, the farm manager, invited us and our families out to the farm to show us around and give us an idea of what we would be doing. After a quick hello, he threw all of us, even the moms, into the back of his pick-up truck and took us out to see the cows. When we arrived at the pasture, Michael greeted the cows with his signature "Hey guys!" which immediately brought roughly 50 cows gathered around him at the gate, mooing their reply. He then gave us the job of herding the cows into the next pasture (easier said than done!). Much to our parent's, and Michael's enjoyment, we quickly found out just how fast and stubborn cows can be. Within minutes, we had stepped in at least five fresh cow pies and learned that these cows weren't going anywhere that they didn't want to go.

As the day went on, Michael explained the goals of the farm and how it works. His knowledge and enthusiasm toward reducing pollution that flows into the Chesapeake Bay assured us that we had made the right decision to work on the farm.

Each day that we worked with Michael, the connection to "saving the Bay" became clearer and clearer. Although we may not have realized it from the beginning, Clagett Farm uses many techniques to preserve the environment, especially through the elimination of harmful runoff. According to Clagett Farm’s website, there are "no GMOs, no antibiotics, and no hormones" used with the purely grass-fed cows. This means far less harmful substances being carried off by rain and causing pollution to our waters.

We also were introduced to small, separate strips of land that are used to test the amount of runoff that is released from different types of land. For example, in one test, there is a strip of heavily forested land, a strip of parking lot land, a strip of contour plowing, a strip of grass, and a strip of an average farm field with no contour plowing. At the end of each short strip, there is a funnel that gathers and collects the runoff from each. This gives Michael and his staff an idea of what type of land possibly does the most damage when heavy rains come around. Although these are not the only techniques, they accurately reflect the objective of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and were without a doubt a great way to educate us about the dangers of polluted runoff.

In four short weeks of working with Michael on the farm, we were able to experience almost everything that goes into running a 285-acre farm with more than 50 cows and countless fields of fruits and vegetables. From fixing barbed wire fences to unloading hundreds of hay bales to wrestling with baby calves, we were able to get a grasp on what it takes to manage an organic farm. Although we have both taken an environmental science course in our school, it was nice to finally experience what we had learned about the entire school year in a hands-on manner. It was interesting to see the different methods that Michael uses to reduce runoff and other pollution, and how easy it is for farmers to have a great impact on the health of the Bay.

—Alec Schadelbauer and Matt Slater
We wish Alec and Matt luck next fall as they head to Virginia Tech and James Madison University, respectively. Both plan to pursue environmental studies.

Learn more about how we are working with farmers across the watershed to clean up our waters!


We're Halfway There: Morningside Farm Successes

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 farm. As a result of these and other 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.

Tom Eavers and his wife Kaye own and operate Morningside Farm. Photo by Bobby Whitescarver. 

“You won’t believe this, but ever since I put those waterers in I haven’t had a single case of pinkeye,” exclaimed Tom Eavers, beef cattle farmer in Mount Sidney, Va. He was referring to the freeze-proof livestock watering stations he installed after fencing his cows out of a wetland area and a stream.

Eavers and his wife, Kaye, own and operate Morningside Farm, a 120-acre beef cattle farm in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley in Augusta County. They run a cow-calf business and a grass-finished beef operation on land in the Middle River watershed, a tributary of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River.

To get the watering projects done, they utilized the expertise of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and funding from the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Improvement (CBWI) programs.

“We did it for the health of the cows and for our customers,” Eavers said. “It’s not good for business to see a bunch of cows up to their bellies in muck and mud, and it’s not good for the cows either. We no longer have pinkeye or foot problems since we fenced the cows out of the wet."

He continued, “People today are more health conscious and care about the environment. I guarantee, when people see my cows and clean water and the farmer next door has cows knee deep in muck and water, they are going to buy their beef from me."

Charlie Ivins, District Conservationist for the NRCS, worked with Mr. Eavers and called the projects "the perfect candidate for the CBWI program. These programs continue to become more flexible as we learn more about customer needs."

The CBWI program also had funds to reseed the Eavers’ pastures with clover and add some cross fencing and an additional watering trough to enhance the existing rotational grazing system. He’s happy with the projects and everyone who helped get them installed.

—Bobby Whitescarver  

 Whitescarver lives in Swoope, Va. For more information, visit his website.

Ensure that people like the Eavers are able to continue doing these innovative things on their farms. Tell Congress to protect conservation programs--that are critical to restoring the Bay--in the Farm Bill!

What Are You Thankful For?

TikiThanksgivingIt's that time of year again: The time of sweet potatoes, turkey, and pecan pie!This week CBF staff celebrated with a potluck pre-Thanksgiving lunch yesterdayhighlights included oyster stuffing, lentil loaf, and every kind of pumpkin pie you could imagine.

Besides the glorious food, we were also thankful for the incredible efforts across the watershed that many of you have taken to clean up our Bay and its rivers and streams through the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Never before have we come so close to restoring the waters we all love. Thank you. Now, let's finish the job!

Finally, as you get yourself in the mood for my personal favorite holiday of the year, check out this yummy butternut squash gratin recipe courtesy of chef Rita Calvert.


Butternut Squash Gratin With Local Goat Cheese and Pecans:
8 to 10 servings
Squash is often sold already peeled and seeded, making this recipe even easier.
-3 1/2 pounds butternut squash (about 2 medium), peeled, seeded, cut into 3/4- to 1-inch cubes (8 cups)
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-coarse kosher salt
-4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
-3 cups sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only)
-1 1/ teaspoons chopped fresh sage
-5-ounces soft fresh goat cheese ( about 2/3 cup)
-1 cup heavy whipping cream
-1 teaspoon curry powder
-1/2 cup pecans coarsely chopped

DessertTableMelt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add sliced leeks and chopped sage; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until tender but not brown, about 15 minutes. Coat 11x7-inch baking dish with remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Spread half of leek mixture over bottom of prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with half of squash and half of cheese. Repeat layering with leeks, squash, and cheese. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Pour cream mixed with curry powder evenly over gratin. Sprinkle with chopped pecans. Bake uncovered until gratin is heated through and cream is bubbling, about 30 minutes (40 minutes if previously chilled).

TO GO: This gratin is a good choice for transporting because it travels well. Either complete the dish at home (wrap it tightly to keep warm) or wait until you get to your destination to add the cream and nuts and then bake.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!     —Emmy Nicklin

(Photos: CBF's Tiki Thanksgiving celebration. By Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.)


Chesapeake Notebook: The Saunders Brothers Orchard and Nursery, Part Four

The following is the fourth and final part in a series of blogs about how a third-generation family nursery, orchard, and farm market nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge is working hard to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time. Read the first, second, and third parts of the series.

Warm Season Grasses & Hedgerow
Saunders Brothers' warm season grasses and hedgerow, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Photo by John Page Williams/CBF Staff.

The Saunders family certainly cares about the Chesapeake and its tidal tributaries, but the family members especially love the mountains, the valleys, and the streams of their home county (just take a look at their blog). These are outdoor people, and it’s important to them to take care of the wildlife and aquatic habitats around them. They are keen hunters and anglers who also take great delight in the richness of non-game birds, mammals, and fish around them. One look at the kayaks hung under the front deck of the hilltop home that Tom shares with his wife, Lyn, confirms the degree to which Tye River water runs through his veins.

It’s no surprise, then, that over the years, Tom Saunders has developed some firm opinions about care of land, both agricultural and residential: “All farmers should have regular soil testing done on their properties. Applying nutrients without a soil test is like asking a doctor to prescribe a medication without seeing the patient. There are just too many people in agriculture who think annual application of the same amount of 10-10-10 and lime are the necessary tools for growing a crop of hay. Educating agriculturists to the soil’s satisfaction of building-block nutrients like P [phosphorus] and K [potassium] is essential."

More words of wisdom from Tom Saunders:

  • In urban and suburban America, homeowners should test their soils every three to five years. (What if soil testing results were required by retailers before lawn fertilizers were sold?)
  • Homeowners must understand that application of nitrogen on lawns in the spring is not a good idea.
  • Applications of nitrogen on turf are best in the fall.
  • Also applications of fertilizers prior to heavy rains do not do any good.
  • Weed-and-feed products may have to be altered to not carry fertilizer components during the March-August timeline. (This prescription is especially true when growing fescue and bluegrass sod.)
  • Companies who produce lawn-care products must direct their advertising to discourage fertilizer applications during the spring-summer months. They also must encourage soil testing. Soil testing for all is the key before nutrient application.

Tom also walks his talk on the land around his home, paying special attention to wildlife habitat improvement: “On a personal level, I have seen a remarkable jump in the numbers of quail and rabbits on my own property since I started killing stands of fescue [field grass] on field edges and planting native warm season grasses like big bluestem, little bluestem, Indiangrass, and switchgrass. I started this practice in 2008, working with Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage of Easton, Maryland. The habitat change has been remarkable. This year, I intend on killing more fescue and adding more warm season grasses.”

By hard work and deep commitment to good stewardship, Saunders Brothers, Inc. brings long-term value to its customers and to the lands and waters of the James River system, even as it helps to bring jobs and tax revenue to Nelson County. This company and the family behind it richly deserve our thanks for their stewardship of their lands and the waters to which they drain.   

John Page Williams

Nursery Road
The nursery road of the Saunders Brothers operation. Photo by John Page Williams/CBF Staff.


Chesapeake Notebook: The Saunders Brothers Orchard and Nursery, Part Three

The following is the third in a series of blogs about how a third-generation family nursery, orchard, and farm market nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge is working hard to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time. Read the first and second parts of the series.

Boxwoods in Greenhouse
Saunders Brothers' boxwoods in one of the many greenhouses. Photo by John Page Williams/CBF Staff.

What about nitrogen, phosphorus, and the other nutrients that growing plants need? First and foremost, Saunders Brothers, Inc. bases all nutrient applications on soil tests from an independent laboratory. Meticulously analyzing the results of those tests, they import many grades of bark soils and potting mixes with ranges of pH and particle size that fit the needs of the huge range of plants that they grow. A majority of the nutrients for field application come from Shenandoah Valley poultry manure. The cost has been considerably less than that for commercial grade fertilizers. Once composted, the product has worked extremely well.  

Keeping track of what’s going on in the greenhouses during the growing season is a critically important element in the business. One highly-trained (and fleet afoot) worker serves as the scout, inspecting the plants in the 375 greenhouses once a week (he does them all in three days!) and plotting the results on a custom spreadsheet. Yes, record-keeping and computer databases are very much a part of the Saunders Brothers, Inc. operation.

The scouting reports are especially important to determine when to apply pesticides in the greenhouses. This careful attention to plant condition results in selective Integrated Pest Management (IPM) spray pesticide applications and thus reduced environmental pollution. Once an insect infestation reaches an “economic threshold” of damage, based on the scouting reports, trained workers determine the linear extent of the affected plants and mix only the amount of pesticide necessary to match the spray distance. To accurately measure the spray, they use a water meter at the filling site. To improve the pesticide’s odds of working, they water the plants during the day before pesticide applications, with the next night’s irrigation cycle skipped for those plants. In addition, spray applications take place after hours to reduce the chance of contacting other employees. Most of the application takes place with an enclosed cab tractor using an airblast sprayer that is equipped with lights. 

For post emergent herbicide application, selective backpack spraying is the ticket. Targeting the weeds present in designated areas and preventing them from going to seed has been the “ounce of prevention” at the Saunders Brothers nursery. All application equipment is calibrated annually.  

Between the computer, the automated systems, and the skilled, hard-working personnel, it's easy to understand why Saunders Brothers customers see continuity in quality, even with a constantly evolving product mixture. Despite the current hard times for the landscaping industry, Tom says, “the phone keeps ringing if you sell quality.”

John Page Williams

Stay tuned tomorrow for more on how the Saunders Brothers work to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time.

Lots of Greenhouses
Rows and rows of greenhouses stretch across the Saunders Brothers' Farm. Photo by John Page Williams/CBF Staff.


Chesapeake Notebook: The Saunders Brothers Orchard and Nursery, Part Two

The following is the second in a series of blogs about how a third-generation nursery, orchard, and farm market nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge is working hard to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time. Read the first part of the series here.

Pallets of New Pots
Pallets of new pots. Photo by John Page Williams.

The Saunders Brothers' macro-site-design was only the first step. Next, the brothers switched the 200-acre nursery’s growing surface from gravel to plastic. They found that the plants’ containers dried out slower, thus reducing the amount of irrigation water needed, as well as the need for herbicides. Once a plant canopies the pot, its need for herbicide is reduced significantly.

Two more techniques for improving watering efficiency are grouping plants by container size and water requirement and using drip irrigation whenever possible. The Saunders Brothers distribute the ponds’ water through a sophisticated, computerized irrigation system designed to show vertical inches of water applied over a particular area during a set time.  The computer program has helped them know the exact amount of water scheduled for irrigation. As often happens with such conservation practices, Saunders Brothers, Inc. has realized significant operational cost savings from these investments.        

Last year, the family took a step further in irrigation efficiency. Tom takes up the tale: “During the summer of 2011, we invited two research professors from the University of Florida to help establish ET (Evapotranspiration) levels for all plants we grow. The work was the first of its kind in the United States and helped us establish definitive amounts of water needed by specific plants during the hottest times of the year. We plan to continue the work for two more years. Already we are seeing where we can cut irrigation levels, and we have found out that lower fertilizer levels due to the lower water requirement will actually grow an equally good plant at a savings.”

Between growing plants in plastic pots under plastic greenhouse covers and using plastic sheeting as the growing surface, the brothers found themselves accumulating a lot of that material. They are, however, innovative thinkers, so it’s no surprise that Saunders Brothers, Inc was the first container nursery in the United States to send its greenhouse film to Tyco Plastics in Monroe, Louisiana.

“In the early years,” Tom says, “our purchase of their plastic was dependent on them accepting our used plastic, which they then turned into garbage bags. We started this practice in 2002. For years, we have palletized and shipped our plastic propagation trays to the Canadian Poly Recycling Association. We also recycle plastic containers that we are not planning on reusing. Finally, we recycle all cardboard that plants or other products arrive in.”

John Page Williams

Stay tuned tomorrow for more on how the Saunders Brothers work to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time.

Chesapeake Notebook: The Saunders Brothers Orchard and Nursery, Part One

The following is the first in a series of blogs about how a third-generation nursery, orchard, and farm market nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge is working hard to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time.  


Tom Saunders and his Border Collie
Tom Saunders and his Australian Shepherd "Gypsy" in the foothills on the "Sunrise Side" of Virginia’s Blue Ridge. Photo by John Page Williams.

Environmental site design is a holistic concept increasingly adopted by landscape architects for their projects. If it makes sense for landscaping projects, shouldn’t it also make sense for the nursery that produces the plants for them? 

“Absolutely,” says Tom Saunders of Saunders Brothers, Inc., located along the Tye River—a major James River tributary—on the “Sunrise” [or East] side of the Blue Ridge foothills in Piney River, Nelson County, Virginia. “It took a lot of grading to make this operation fit the land.” That diverse venture of about 250 acres began with boxwoods (Tom’s father, Paul, is a world-class authority on them). They still form a major element in the nursery business, but Saunders Brothers, Inc. now also includes a broad range of woody ornamentals, flowers, and plants for wildlife plots. Also a newly added orchard with apples, peaches, and Asian pears, and a two-acre vegetable garden serves the Saunders Brothers Farm Market and a variety of wholesale outlets. 

Paul Saunders is now semi-retired while Tom and his brothers, Bennett, Jim, and Robert, run the day-to-day operations. The business mix is constantly evolving, as members of the family and the staff (now 100 people) visit and listen to their customers, attend trade shows, follow trends in the landscaping industry, serve on boards like the Virginia Agribusiness Council, generally “keep their eyes and ears open,” and use all of that input to plan strategically. It is, Tom says, “a good team.” 

The brothers stay close to several agriculturally-oriented academic institutions, especially Virginia Tech (Tom, a loyal alumnus, today drives the company’s maroon-and-orange Ford van), North Carolina State, and the University of Florida. They blend what they learn from these sources with professional advice from Charlie Thornton of Tellus Consulting, a Virginia-certified Nutrient Management Planner and Crop Advisor. “It’s important not to get complacent,” Tom says. “We learn a lot from trial and error. You get stung by the bee, you figure out what to do the next time,” he chuckles.         

“From the beginning,” he continues, “water conservation has been a big part of our container production philosophy. We pump water from the Tye to irrigate the greenhouses, but we designed the nursery to capture all runoff water and recycle as much of it as possible. We built four ponds and enlarged a fifth to supply our greenhouses [more than 375 of them].  Not only does this design allow us the ability to reuse water, it also allows sediment and nutrients in runoff to settle out of the water before any overflow makes it back to the Tye, downstream from our irrigation ponds. For years, part of our water management program has been checking the amount of nitrogen in this water before it reaches a public water source.  We take pride in knowing that the nitrate nitrogen has never reached levels unsafe for Virginia’s drinking water standard [8 milligrams per liter].” 

John Page Williams

Stay tuned tomorrow for more on how the Saunders Brothers work to produce healthy and sustainable trees, plants, fruits, and vegetables while restoring our waters at the same time. Read Part Two here.

Settling Pond
One of the four ponds the Saunders Brothers built to capture and recycle all runoff water. Photo by John Page Williams.