NEFA’s three agricultural centers can yield even greater benefits than tons of clean local food. They can play a critical role in enhancing wildlife and pollinator habitat and groundwater quality, and reinvigorating the area economies—all factors in what is referred to as agroecology.
NEFA’s new Agroecology Program, made possible with donor support, is designed to conduct scientific and social-science research and implement practices to bring each property to fullest functioning on every level.
Agroecology links ecosystems, native plants and beneficial insects, and social systems, too—the people side of farming, from engagement of neighbors in public areas of the properties to issues of farmworker justice—to sustain agricultural production, healthy environments, and viable food and farming communities.
The NEFA Agroecology Program’s plans go beyond practicing organic and sustainable agriculture guidelines—which all NEFA centers adhere to. Conventional agriculture, such as was practiced on the land that is now our Copake, Chester, and Kingston centers (192, 194 and 214 acres, respectively), is the leading cause of habitat, soil, and biodiversity loss and nitrogen and phosphorous pollution (University of Vermont, 2015).
By applying ecological principles focused on creating vibrant ecosystems—whether restoring native riparian habitat, or planting orchards and native-heavy insectary strips and hedgerows to support pollinators at Copake, for example—both the farms’ productivity and the larger environment are substantially improved. We have so many opportunities like these to make a difference, with your help:
- The Kingston area center for example, NEFA’s newest, hosts significant natural resources, including species of conservation concern like the bald eagle and river birch; wetland complexes that absorb flood waters; and approximately 2,000 ft. of frontage along the Esopus Creek. Extensive community spaces are also part of the social aspect of the plan.
- At Chester, we have initiated alternative management efforts of sensitive irrigation and drainage waterways in the unique black dirt, miles of ditches that were managed with chemical spray programs until now that affected on-farm, and downstream pollution and diversity loss.
- Livestock integration is already under way at Copake; water management has been enhanced; nursery crops for future buffers and orchards are being raised. Farmstay visits will connect the center to a wider audience.
NEFA’s Agroecology Program is managed by Dr. Claudia J. Ford, an interdisciplinary scholar with a MA and PhD from Antioch University in Environmental Studies, and the program benefits from the guidance and expertise of ecologists at Scenic Hudson Land Trust, the Hudsonia Institute, and Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program. NEFA’s agricultural centers and agroecology partners will in turn gain insights from the results of the Agroecology Program’s research and practices, as will others in organic farming in the Hudson Valley region and beyond, when program results are disseminated at regular intervals.