It was the first sunny day after weeks long of rain, and two UMD dietetic interns got the chance to work along side Guy, the farmer at the UMD Terp Farm. Terp Farm, UMD’s Sustainable Farm located in Upper Marlboro, is busy producing crops to feed students this summer. Campus may be slowing down, but Terp Farm is gearing up!
Neither one of us had any experience working on farms and have only dabbled a small amount in home gardening (mostly container gardens). But that did not stop Guy Kilpatric, Terp Farm’s Lead Agricultural Technician, from getting us out into the fields to get our hands dirty! The goal of the day was to learn why Guy farms the way he does and what makes his practices more sustainable than a conventional farm. Here is a rundown of what we learned:
What Should We Grow on a Sustainable Farm?
When Guy is thinking about what seeds to plant for the farm, his goal is always trying to produce nutritious food for the people that eat from the Terp Farm. He shared with us his favorite gardening quote from famous gardener Masanobu Fukuoka, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings”. Guy talked about how sustainable farming works best when it is focusing on growing crops that can make peoples’ lives healthier.
“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings”
How Can We Reduce Use of Chemical Sprays?
In just one short day at the farm, we learned so much about being true animal tricksters! Since Guy is trying to use less chemical sprays on his plants, he needs to think of creative ways to disguise his crops so that pests and other animals like deer don’t bother it.
When choosing cover crops, Guy picks crops that are nice and tall and plants them in alternating strips with his actual crops. This helps hide each separate row from deer and other animals; if they can’t see the crops, they won’t be able to bother them! It also helps to control smaller pests as it is hard for them to move from bed to bed if they have a whole bunch of cover crop to trek through.
Guy also keeps pests away from Terp from by leaving a 15 foot gap at the beginning and end of each row before he plants the first plant. Since most bugs enter the field at the front of the row, this can confuse the bugs into thinking there is nothing growing. If there is empty space, pests often won’t make it to the crops and you can save them for yourself!
Check out this infographic to see how these planting strategies work!
Soil often needs some other substance added to it for more body; most soils use peat for this. However, peat is a non-renewable resource and many are worried about a diminishing supply. Enter: Coconut husks! Coconut husks are a by-product of the coconut industry, so there is no extra waste or product being produced. Guy adds coconut husk to his soil to add body to it and it is also great at retaining water for the plants to drink!
Coconut husk soil
Though you may not taste sustainability when you eat your food, it feels good to know that what you put into your mouth is both nutritious and helpful to the environment. The Terp Farm makes it easy for UMD students to choose foods that they can feel good about eating all while making the Earth happy!