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Cedar Mountain Farm: A Horse-Powered market garden

The fields we work now at Cedar Mountain have been in continuous agricultural production at least since the 1770s. That is some incredible resilience! When we arrived on this old Vermont dairy farm in 1999 and surveyed the rather beat-up acreage we were assuming stewardship of, the question we asked ourselves was, “Can we make a living off this land and at the same time engage in a soil-building program?” The great question all of us face as farmers is whether or not there is truly such a thing as “sustainable agriculture.” It is a question every farmer has wrestled with to some degree for the last 10,000 years. It is our Holy Grail and we need to discover the answer now more than ever.

As farmers who work with draft horses and maintain a dairy cow herd, we are operating on the premise that livestock are the essential component to land restoration and maintenance of a healthy farm system. The second major component to building soil on our farm is the use of cover crops. Composted manures from our horses and dairy cows along with cover crops feed the land. We do not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Cover crop seed is accounted for as a fertilizer expense within the farm budget.

We grow 26 varieties of vegetables and herbs on 4 acres. Managing the garden primarily for a CSA allows us to plant a wider variety of produce.

We continue to experiment with applying the bio-extensive concepts as outlined by Anne and Eric Nordell of Beech Gove Farm in Pennsylvania.  A major component of any sustainable market garden is factoring in a long-term crop rotation. Crop rotation is a key component for building fertility, reducing weed pressure, and controlling pest and disease cycles. Green manure and cover cropping are integral pieces of such a rotation. For example, our market garden comprises sixteen ¼-acre sections, and we reserve four of these sections for a cover crop/fallow sequence each season. This fallow season is patterned after the bio-extensive method (where half of the market garden is placed in a cover crop/bare fallow sequence each season), but because our limited irrigation capacity determines the size of the garden, four sections in a season are all that we can afford to hold back from vegetable production. These fallow sections are separated by 3 years of vegetable production, mimicking the old European 7-year fallow. We also make use of cover crops, catch crops, and inter-planted cover crops within other sections of the garden at intervals throughout the growing season.