The Land Stewarts: Longview Agricultural Center links communities through organic agriculture

Land_1.jpg

story by dana henry"Food is a great way to bring people together,” says Jennifer Brodsky, Greener Partners’ chief operating officer. At Longview Agricultural Center, a 90-acre certified organic farm in Collegeville and hub for Greener Partners, food is at the heart of their mission.

The 25-employee operation offers canning and cheese-making for local food hobbyists, healthy snack-making and cooking classes for public school youth, and two-year agricultural apprenticeships for young farmers committed to the business of local organic growing. Farmers give educational tours to curious visitors, and offer bi-weekly planting and harvesting opportunities for those who want to get their hands dirty. Their four-season CSA and on-site market, sourcing regional produce, meat, cheeses and baked goods, gives testament that sustainable food production is a year-round activity.

The farm itself is also a kind of experiment in agricultural restoration. When the property’s owners, Drew and Melissa Smith, bought the family farm 10 years ago—then named Willow Creek Orchards—it was a 150-year-old mono-cropped soy and corn farm. Years of pesticide and synthetic fertilizing practices had leached the soil of its nutrients. The couple got to work planting fruit trees, diversifying the vegetable crops and introducing strawberry patches. They were able to purchase the development rights to keep the lands preserved and built the market. In early spring 2011, they asked Greener Partners to lease the farm.

Land_2.jpg

Instead of planting every inch of land, Greener Partners focuses on balancing yields with healthy ecology and rehabilitation of the soil. For example, four acres of strawberry patches are divided by large greenways to strengthen stormwater management and reduce erosion. Pumpkins, tomatoes, 50 varieties of winter squash and lettuce share space with planted meadows, walking trails and buffer strips (areas of natural vegetation). Bison manure from a nearby farm is added to Longview’s crop compost to supplement and revive the soil.

One of the biggest challenges, says Brodsky, has been maintaining an organic orchard. Fruit trees are prone to mold and fungal disease, particularly during stretches of heavy rain, which can compromise the plant, leading to further attacks of apple scabs and stink bugs. When Greener Partners took on Longview, there were 14 acres of unpruned apple, pear and peach trees. Rain proved plentiful in the coming season. Yet, Greener Partners maintained a “passive” approach, rigorously harvesting fruit before it could fall to the ground and attract further contaminants. Still in their first year, an abundant yield of Asian pears—which are sold at their market alongside Longview Asian pear cider and Asian pear gelato made in partnership with Capogiro—is an accomplishment.

Brodsky says they decided to be certified organic, despite the expense and bureaucracy, because it adheres to their stewardship standards. In the coming years, she expects Longview will continue to refine their farming practices while growing the farming apprenticeship program to include training in human resources, budgeting and other business-savvy skills. The program, she hopes, will grow more small, high-standard organic farms in our region. “We renamed it Longview because that’s our goal,” Brodsky affirms. “We take a long view on agriculture, on land stewardship, connecting with the community, and really acting as a heart and center.”

Longview is located at 3215 Stump Hall Rd, Collegeville. To learn more about the Center, their market and upcoming events, visit greenerpartners.org.