The Lathrop Farm. Yes, Farm.

by Barbara Walvoord, May 15, 2014.

corn5 - group without Lynn, Chuck (Medium)Did you know that Lathrop Easthampton is growing crops?

On May 7, 2014, a group of Lathrop residents and management walked to two of our fields, where a local farmer is growing corn and hay.

The group included  members of the Land Conservation Subcommittee of the Green Committee: Adele and Jim Dowell, Chuck Gillies, Sharon Grace, Lyn Howe, Diedrick Snoek, and Barbara Walvoord, chair. Also walking were Lathrop’s CEO Thom Wright (in dress shoes he was willing to get wet), facilities director Mike Strycharz, and activities director Deborah Peavey. We gathered at the Inn at 1 p.m., and soon our consultant Tom Sullivan arrived in a fine old red Volvo station wagon  full of shovels and other tools of his trade. His firm, called “welcome pollinators,” helps landowners create habitats that nourish native plants and wildlife, especially bees –the many species of native bees that mostly live solitary, and the honey bees that live in hives.  Bees pollinate much of our food and play a critical role in the ecosystem, but their numbers are declining. The health of bees is one key to the health of our land.

So  we trekked across lawns, between town homes, across a very wet meadow coming up in hay, and past a copse of trees with a stream in it, to the corn field. We joked that this 3.2-acre corn field gets us the year’s award for agriculture that sustains wildlife. The farmer planted corn there last spring, and then, for some reason never harvested it, so it’s still standing in the field, a banquet for our deer, raccoons, and bears, whose tracks imprint the wet soil.

In other ways, however, that corn field is a disaster for our wildlife. The herbicides used there are poisonous to pollinators and wildlife, and they destroy the organisms in the soil. Corn heavily depletes soil nutrients , and this field has been in corn for as long as any of us can remember. The bare earth between the rows invites erosion.  In some states it would be illegal to plant corn that many years in a row.

Beyond the corn field is a 25-acre field of grass or hay that  our farmer plowed last fall but did not further cultivate, so the land is lying in clumps and ridges.

So here is the question: can we use our fields in a way that is consonant with our Quaker values and our stewardship for an embattled earth? Perhaps we could invite different farmers to practice sustainable, organic agriculture or permaculture. Perhaps we could plant a field of native grasses and wildflowers that would be full of bees, birds, and rodents to feed our hawks and our bobcat.  Perhaps we could create a model of land use that would be helpful to others who manage conserved land. Perhaps our land could be a rich source of nature’s peace for our residents, a powerful attraction for potential residents, and a rich avenue of collaboration with our surrounding communities.

Stay tuned. Those are the question that Lathrop’s Land Conservation committee, along with management and all of us who live on this beautiful land will be asking in the months to come. Your contributions and ideas are most welcome. Reach Barbara at walvoord@nd.edu.

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