Infrastructure Beginnings

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When we bought the farm in August 2006, there was no infrastructure in place.  The farm was leased to a local farmer from 2006 – 2016 so this was not an issue.  When we took the farm back in November 2016, the first thing we did was move a 40’ x 8’ steel storage container to the farm equipment site.  It is a water- tight structure used to store a 4-wheeler, small trailer, and tools.

We moved our large implements and trailers to the farm in 2016 and realized that an equipment shed was necessary to protect them from the weather.  We wanted a three-sided shed facing the east due to prevailing winds which are predominately from the southwest.  In the fall of 2016, we began work by digging 2' holes with a tractor auger for 18 footings.  Work was discontinued during the winter and resumed May 2017, when we helped a local contractor pour the footings.  We used a mobile concrete company to provide the concrete.  We had hoped to build the shed ourselves, but when construction of the frame began, we realized that it would require professional builders with specialized equipment and training to build it.  So we hired a local builder and his crew to build the shed during the summer and fall, 2017.  The walls are constructed of vertical boards, with battens covering the seams.  We were able to finish the shed ourselves, installing the battens during January and February, completing the shed in March 2018.  The 75’ x 20’shed with 5 bays is made of locally milled Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir with a tin roof.  

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Initially, we drove to the equipment area on a primitive dirt road that runs along the edge of the farm ground on the north side of the property.  The dirt quickly turned to mud after a rain or snow storms, so road improvement was another priority in 2017.  A local dirt contractor built a driveway with a culvert to connect our property to the county road; and built the road out of 6” sandstone road base.  Since the road crossed a gas pipeline, we were required to get approval from the pipeline company before crossing it.  After the shed was completed, we had 60 yards 3” sandstone road base delivered in December 2017 which we spread around the exterior and inside the bays of the equipment shed.

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Amazing Conference!

We were honored to attend the “No-till on the Plains” 22nd Annual Winter Conference, January 30 – 31, 2018 in Wichita, Kansas.  No-till on the Plains, Inc. is a non-profit educational group that works to educate farmers and others on the benefits of continuous no-till farming, plus all that goes into creating a profitable and regenerative farming operation.  The emphasis of this year’s conference was soil health, systems agriculture, and management strategies, with a no-till foundation.

The presenters and speakers were phenomenal and included no-till producers, soil scientists, researchers, agronomists, and other leaders in the field of regenerative agriculture.  One of the highlights of the conference was keynote speaker, Allan Savory, founder and president of the Savory Institute, South Africa.  Savory discovered the cause of the degradation and desertification of the world’s grassland ecosystems.  He has worked for over 50 years to develop a sustainable solution that involves using livestock in a structured system of planned grazing that mimics the behavior of the formerly vast herds of wild grazing animals.  

We learned the importance of incorporating no-till planting with cover crops, diverse crop rotations, and animal impact (grazing) for a systems approach to promote soil health.  Presenters emphasized the importance of soil health based on soil microbiology, nutrient cycling, and soil aggregation.  Healthy soils produce healthy food, healthy people and a healthy planet. For the producer, healthy soils result in reduced input costs for more profits.  There are multiple ways to implement regenerative farming practices as we heard from presenters from across the United States and France.

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A Road Map for Arcadia Farm

Arcadia Farm's project is divided into two segments of development, infrastructure and land.  At the beginning of the project in 2016, the land components were composed of 116 acres of dry land farm ground and 93 acres of native pinyon/juniper forest.  There was no infrastructure (homestead, outbuildings, fencing, roads, water or electricity).  To provide direction for the development of Arcadia Farm, we contracted with a land design consultant, Owen Hablutzel with Whole Systems Transformations in October, 2016.  Owen visited the farm in October, 2016 and created a fully integrated farm development plan encompassing grazing systems, water, farm roads, structures, and perennial diversified polyculture systems based on the Regrarian Platform.  This plan will serve as a road map for the farm development. 

We began our work by walking the farm ground and collecting soil samples to determine soil fertility, organic matter, and soil microbiology using the Haney and PLFA soil tests.  To begin the conversion of the farm ground to a perennial system, we applied for and received a USDA "EQIP" contract that would pay for a multi-species perennial grass seed/legume mix, as well as shelter belt trees.  A wheat crop was harvested by the lessee on the farm ground in August, 2016.  At that point our main focus was to prepare it for optimum germination of perennial grass seed that we planted in the fall of 2017.  Keeping in mind that our ultimate goal is to be organically based, we knew that we would possibly need to use herbicides this first year to have a clean seed bed for planting the perennial grass seed. 

As we began to explore the native ground, we observed  that the predominate tree species were pinyon and juniper, with several areas of oak brush.  In addition, we discovered at least 5 species of perennial grasses, 7 species of shrubs and flowers, and numerous species of undesirable weeds.  We saw evidence of numerous types of wildlife including birds, deer, foxes, coyotes, rabbits, and migratory elk.  

For infrastructure, our first priority was to provide protection for the farm equipment and tools, so we focused on getting a storage container and an equipment shed.  We also needed a firm road from the county road to the home site and equipment area.  Through out the first year, we worked on cleaning out old fencing and trash; and cutting dead trees that  would be used for firewood.  

 

 

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Establishing a Baseline

 

The baseline serves as a beginning point that will be used to monitor key data of the project.  The primary goal for Arcadia Farm is to transform the farm to a perennial based ecosystem that will support regenerative and long-term health of  the land.  Going hand in hand with these regenerative practices is carbon sequestration, which means capturing carbon from the atmosphere for long-term storage in the soil profile.  The Haney and the Phospholipid Fatty Acids (PLFA) soil tests taken in August, 2016 provide a soil health analysis which includes the amount of organic matter, the total living microbial biomass and mineral content.  These values will be indicators of improved soil health, together with improved water and mineral cycles.  The tests will be performed every 3 years to monitor changes in the soil analysis.  An infiltration test will be taken in 2018 to determine the field capacity to store water and this test will be repeated once a year to monitor the moisture-holding capacity of the soil.  A physical observation of the soil will be performed annually to assess the amount of soil aggregation and to perform a physical count of earthworms in a 1' x 1' x 1' area at various locations on the property.  Future blogs will address the soil tests in detail.

 

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