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. 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. 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 in order to get our fields prepared. In the 2020 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. 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 membership program, our farmstand, and at the Lansdowne Farmer’s Market is bundled using compostable twine instead of elastic bands. We also only sell our baby leaf greens by bulk weight and do not supply them as pre-packaged greens in a plastic bag. We understand that these are very popular and convenient however we do not believe that the amount of plastic used each year is worth the environmental cost. We ask that our customers bring their own bags or containers to purchase our bulk greens. Check out our Produce section for storage tips. If a bag is ever needed, we use recycled paper bags. All of our paper bags, as well as our promotional materials (business cards, pamphlets etc.) are printed on recycled paper, using soy-based inks.
There can also be a lot of single use plastic waste on a farm as well. Seed starting is usually done using plastic trays that often only last one season. At Catena Farm we start our seeds in freestanding soil blocks made using a metal block maker. This eliminates all plastic seed trays and encourages the healthy root growth of our young seedlings. To learn more about soil blocks check out this link. We have also built wooden trays to start all of our soil blocks in and completely eliminated any plastic used in the seed starting process.
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.