During our recent soils conference, we learned of a farm that was going up for auction on the western edge of Yellow Springs. A few of our members approached us, asking us to take the lead on the purchase of the most ecologically sensitive parcel. The farm was a conservation concern of Yellow Springs Village and Tecumseh Land Trust, because it contains Jacoby Creek, and had been identified as part of the Village’s green belt. Over the next few weeks, support for the development of a regenerative agriculture research center grew, and Community Solutions was able to purchase 2 tracts that included 128 acres of rolling farmland, a house, a barn, and a workshop.
Community Solution’s vision for Agraria is to restore the land through wetland conservation and regenerative agriculture. Currently, business plans are being drawn and zoning regulations are being assessed so we can develop a clear plan for the land moving forward. In addition to working with the Nature Conservancy to restore the wetland areas, we aspire to perform research on the development of healthy soil, raise organic livestock and produce, offer affordable farmland for organic growers, and provide educational opportunities on the land.
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Community Solutions will be working with the Nature Conservancy and Tecumseh Land Trust to put up to 80 acres of the land into wetland conservation. The Nature Conservancy would de-tile the fields, re-form the original streams and wetlands, remove invasive plants from around the waterways, and re-plant the targeted areas with native plants. They would also construct paths and signage for easy access throughout the wetland areas, while providing continued management for 10 years.
Community Solutions will take soil samples this spring in the wetland and agricultural areas to get baseline data on soil pH, organic matter, mineral content, agrochemicals, oils, heavy metals, microorganisms, and respiration. Each sampling site will be GPS marked so that samples can be taken each year in the exact location. As the wetlands are restored and the fields are farmed organically, the soil tests will demonstrate the changes that occur in the soil such as organic matter content, sequestered carbon, deterioration of agrochemicals, and changes in micro-organism life. For comparison, soil tests will also be performed on conventionally farmed land nearby and a section of land at Agraria that will remain fallow. Specific research interests include how to most efficiently convert conventionally farmed land to organic land and which farming methods and cover crops sequester carbon into the soil most effectively.
Organic Agriculture Production
As part of the research on building healthy soils, Community Solutions plans to establish a variety of farm and garden operations to compare how they affect the soil differently and to provide food for the community. We are exploring the possibility of growing a biodynamic vegetable garden, raising grass fed, rotationally-grazed livestock, establishing a perennial food forest, and also growing perennial wheat. In addition to food crops, we hope to establish a pollinator garden near the entrance of the farm. Different cover crop methods will be utilized in the fields, as well, and their effect on the soil will be assessed.
For many potential farmers, the high cost of farmland is prohibitive to starting an organic farm. Community Solutions seeks to dedicate some of the land at Agraria as affordable, reliable farmland for new farmers. We would accomplish this through the community land trust model in which farmers could purchase a dwelling on the land and lease farmland for 99 years at a time. If we pursue this concept, we would aim to build small dwellings with passive or straw bale design. We would likely put in 3 dwellings, with an eventual maximum of 10 if the need is there.
Community Solutions is dedicated to working with area schools and institutions to utilize Agraria as a living laboratory and educational resource. This could include soil testing, water testing, assessing biodiversity in the wetlands and the fields over time, and more.