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Much like a chef handpicks ingredients that culminate into a delicious dish, organic farmer Fred Forsburg carefully chose what production areas to incorporate into his sustainable farm model for Honeyhill Farm.
"From the start we realized that sustainability on a small farm required a diversified model," Fred explains.
Honeyhill Farm's recipe? Pastured broilers, grass-fed beef, seed garlic, heirloom tomatoes and select vegetables.
Disappointed with corporate culture, Fred made the jump from software engineer to organic farmer 12 years ago and hasn't looked back. Fred is joined by his wife, Susan, who is in charge of the farm's heirloom tomatoes and broiler chicks, and Manager of Horticulture Kira White who is responsible for the vegetable operation. The trio oversees the 50-acre farm located in upstate New York, which consists principally of managed pastures, three acres of vegetables, and additional rotation areas in cover crops. Seeds are purchased from independent organic operations.
While Fred admits no one he knows has a "perfect" farm site, he says that success can be defined by how one manages the advantages and disadvantages of any given site. One demonstration of this motto is the farm's decision to employ management-intensive grazing in their grass-fed beef operation. This practice has allowed their cattle to obtain 100% of their feed through grazing while continually improving the quality of their pastures. The beef enterprise, in its sixth year is expanding as more fence and pasture are brought online.
While the farm enjoys ready access to a solid customer base, good soils, and a climate conducive to what they grow, they also have had their fair share of challenges, including drought, pests, and blight.
Honeyhill Farm alleviates the stress during dry seasons with an irrigation pond constructed in 2005 that is recharged by rainwater rather than deep groundwater – eliminating buildup of salts. An efficient drip irrigation system feeds off the pond water and applies a precise and metered quantity of water and as required fertilizer at the appropriate time directly to the growing zone. This eliminates erosion caused by run-off and encourages optimum growth.
As a result of experiencing a devastating tomato blight in 2004 and the real potential for same in two subsequent years, the farm has adapted high tunnel technology which, if properly managed, protects their tomato crop from the disease. High tunnels require no supplemental energy inputs and support the farm's commitment to producing high-quality products without the need for pesticides. Utilizing high tunnel technology for season extension allows Honeyhill Farm to diversify crops and expand seasons.
"We have five tunnels now and grow tomatoes exclusively under cover; this allows us to offer perfect tomatoes at market to the delight of our customers. It additionally expands our opportunities into exotic species like ginger," Fred says. "Fresh ginger was a big hit in the farmers market with its neon pink color attracting attention but the incredible flavor not previously experienced in our area brought them back for more!"
Yet another sustainability goal for Honeyhill Farm is to continually improve the soil. This is accomplished through a comprehensive crop rotation schedule and incorporating cover crops and compost. "Soil is our most valuable resource!" Fred says. "Rather than depleting it, our soil is continually improved."
Honeyhill Farm also uses cover crops to protect soil from erosion, scavenge available nutrients from previous cash crops that would ordinarily be lost through leaching, and smother weeds. Managing a comprehensive and multi-year soil rotation plan has been a crucial management practice for the farm. They are also careful to select the appropriate tools for the job to help minimize soil compaction.
Fred explains the tangible result of the farm's commitment to eco-friendly practices. "Our food tastes better and is both safe and healthful. The intended consequence is an improved environment for current and future generations and thatHoneyhill Farm is a functional example of a sustainable system." The farm has placed 17 acres of potentially erodible land in the Grass Land Reserve Program (GRP) where it will remain pastures forever.
Honeyhill Farm sells their products at a popular producer-only farmers market in Brighton, NY, high-end restaurants and a local Food Hub. Their grass-fed beef is sold directly to consumers in boxed quantities as small as 1/8 of a beef, and their garlic is sold nationally, primarily as seed stock to other growers.
"We strive to maintain cutting-edge knowledge of both sustainable and organic methodology and believe in and practice buying locally," Fred says.
In a quest for further information, Fred has consulted ATTRA on many subjects. Recently, he spoke with ATTRA agriculture specialists who assisted in both creating an efficient cattle-handling system as well as supporting the design of an efficient produce-cooling system.
Fred suggests new farmers read as many legitimate sources on the subject of sustainable farming as possible. He also encourages interning on a successful farm to gain experience.
"Be tenacious – expect failure and learn from it. Invest and grow your operation concomitant with your success. Do not price your product too low! Get to know your local Extension Service and cultivate a local support system with other farmers."
For more information on Honeyhill Farm visit HoneyhillOrganicFarm.com.
The Sustainable Producer Spotlight is offered as a celebration of those who practice sustainable and organic agriculture and is not intended as an endorsement of the featured operations or products.
This page was last updated on: December 15, 2014