Windfall Farms has always been interested in experimenting with new methods for accomplishing our goal of providing quality produce with minimal impact to the environment. For example, we currently make biodiesel at the farm (from used cooking oil we pick up at restaurants in the city) to power our tractors, market buses, and small machinery. However, not all endeavors (even if they are embarked upon with the best intentions) turn out to be something economically or practically feasible.
That is why we were very excited when one of our employees applied for and received a grant from SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, www.sare.org) to research and compare different methods of growing crops without plowing or tilling the soil. There have been ample studies on the positive environmental impacts associated with the no-till system (http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/PDF/consertill.pdf, http://attra.ncat.org/downloads/notill_veg.doc, http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~news/story.php?id=2007) such as the reduction of soil erosion, conservation and improvement of water quality, storing more carbon in the soil, and reduced compaction. Unfortunately, a large portion of the farms utilizing no-till methods do so in conjunction with herbicide applications.
For those of you familiar with Windfall Farms, you know that we follow a strict "no" rule (no herbicides, no pesticides, no insecticides, no fungicides, no chemical fertilizers) when it comes to our philosophy on farming. During the 2010 growing season we will be setting up test plots to determine whether tilling or using the organic no-till method under varying circumstances will provide us with a clear picture of the most economical and environmentally sound system for a small farm in the Northeast. Right now we are mostly in the planning stages but a cover crop of winter rye was planted in the fall and is rapidly growing in the back field (see picture above) where the research will occur. So stay posted for updates, we'll keep you informed as we move along with the experiment.