At Catena Farm we believe that soil health is the key to growing great produce. As our name suggests, the link between the sun, water, air, microbiology, animals, and soil come together to create beautiful, nutritious produce. As farmers, we try to ensure that all of these factors play their part to the best of their ability.
Our produce is always grown without the use of any kind of chemical fertilizer, pesticide or herbicide. We try to grow our food the way nature intended and never use any kind of sprays on our crops, organically certified or not. We don’t believe there is a spray out there that can differentiate between a pest and a beneficial insect and for that reason avoid them all together. As frustrating as some pests may be, they still play a role in nature, oftentimes as a food source for beneficial larvae or native birds. If preventative measures do need to be taken we use insect netting, or hand pick, but more importantly, we create localized habitats for beneficial insects and birds around our property as a proactive approach.
We are not organically certified, but perhaps may be in the future. For now, our customers know that we go over and above organic regulations because we truly believe in the health of the soil, plants, and ultimately, ourselves. After all, you are what you eat. What’s important to us is that our customers know our farming methods and feel comfortable asking us any questions they may have.
Our ultimate goal for farming is to run completely on a no-till system, without the use of a tractor. Due to the fact that we are on rented land and had a very short amount of time to prepare for our 2019 growing season we needed to till once in the fall of 2018 so we could prepare our beds before winter. In the 2019 growing season however, we will use no-till methods while in production. When we finally find our dream spot to purchase, we plan to use 100% no-till methods from the very start and then continue for the rest of our growing careers.
Tilling, in essence, means inverting the soil and breaking apart large clumps. Why do we avoid this? Tilling disrupts the soil structure, breaks up the beneficial connections of mycorrhizal fungi, and destroys the habitat of the very important earthworm. We rely on these guys for biological tillage and their beneficial worm castings and so we try to create the very best environment for them. All our beds are formed by hand and the only soil moving we do is occasionally using a broadfork. This aerates the soil but doesn’t invert it, keeping the structure and those beneficial habitats intact for our soil dwelling friends. Other than that, all of our cultivation is done using small handheld tools, nothing mechanized. It keeps things simple for us and we both agree we’d rather hear the hum of a bee rather than a tractor when working.
The soil under our feet is also a huge carbon dioxide 'sink', meaning it can sequester a large amount from the atmosphere. Tilling soil year after year releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, accelerating the greenhouse effect. By using no-till methods, the carbon 'sink' is left intact and plants and soil capture carbon dioxide and convert it to sugars inside the plants that we eat. For more information, check out this link.
To maintain and improve soil health, we aim to minimize soil disturbance when we harvest by keeping the roots of the plant intact and cutting just below the soil line. Plant roots are home to many beneficial organisms and worms seem to love winding themselves around them. We then apply organic compost and natural soil amendments directly on top of the beds. A new succession is planted as soon as possible afterwards. This ensures as much carbon sequestration and soil coverage as possible, reducing erosion and nutrient loss through leaching.
It is very important for us to minimize the amount of waste that our farm produces. The produce we sell through our CSA program, our farmstand, and at Farmer’s Markets is bundled using compostable twine instead of elastic bands. We have also made the difficult decision to not grow leaf greens that are sold as bagged and prewashed lettuce mix. It is understood that these are very popular however we do not believe that the amount of plastic used each year is worth the cost. At our farm we focus on growing a wide variety of full, delicious heads of lettuce. We also have options for a few choice bulk greens but these will be sold by weight and we ask that our customers bring thier own container or care bag. Please see our Produce Section for storage tips.
At Catena Farm we also try to use homemade wooden crates instead of plastic containers, our produce is never packaged in plastic bags, and we promote the use of cotton bags or containers for storage of our vegetables. If a bag is ever needed, we use recycled paper bags. For our CSA baskets we ask that all of our customers bring their own packaging when picking up produce. All of our promotional material (business cards, pamphlets etc.) are printed on recycled paper, using soy-based inks.
All in all, we try to keep things small and relatively modest, focusing our attention on growing quality produce. For us, this means respecting nature and making an attempt to mimic her long-lasting success.