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Dirty Boots Farm: Transitioning the Land and Growing Healthy, Local Food for New York

Posted by Suzanne Pender on May 02, 2016 at 05:57 PM
Shayna Lewis examines the winter greens growing inside her high tunnel.

Shayna Lewis examines the winter greens growing inside her high tunnel.

The six-acre Dirty Boots Farm in the town of Chester is the first farm Shayna Lewis and her partner Matt Hunger have run on their own, though both have plenty of organic farming experience.

Shayna said, “What I love most is this is the first time I’ve been in charge and worked for myself. I get to make decisions and see what happens. It makes you better and makes you try harder.” It’s going well, she said. “Last year, our first here, we had a bumper crop.”

They started working with NRCS after hearing about the agency’s High Tunnel Initiative, and Shayna and other local farmers went to the field office to learn more. The plastic covering provided by high tunnels enable farmers to grow in-ground crops year-round, ensuring a healthy local food system, and reducing inputs.

On a cold March day, the high tunnel at Dirty Boots Farm had plenty of crops growing. Their seasonal vegetables include spinach, peas, salad mix, squash, cucumbers, carrots, okra, tomatillos, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, melons, radicchio, beets, rutabaga, and even some rare things like husk cherries.

Shayna Lewis, of Dirty Boots Farm, in front of her NRCS-supported high tunnel.Though the high tunnel brought them into the NRCS field office for the first time, Shayna and Matt’s assistance from NRCS has gone beyond that into many other conservation practices. Their NRCS conservation plan will help them with their certification application package; they expect to receive organic certification by 2017, after the required three-year waiting period.

Shayna has always farmed organically, saying, “Just organic is not enough. We want to really focus on building soil fertility.” Wind is an additional challenge in the valley, so planting a variety of cover crops to prevent erosion is extremely important. Shayna said, “I’ve learned a lot about topsoil loss in this country, so stopping soil erosion is a big priority of mine. Next year, I hope to expand with perennial green mulch.”

Helping others through farming is a passion of Shayna’s. She got the farming bug after college where she became interested in other cultures’ food and land issues. She farmed for urban agriculture non-profits in Brooklyn, New York, including “Added Value” at the 2.5 acre Red Hook Community Farm, and “Project Eats” on farms that work with homeless shelters and high school kids.

Right now, she and Matt do all of the farming on their own, but in the future she wants to grow an internship program and maybe offer some Brooklyn high school students the opportunity to live in the country for the summer and earn a good wage on the farm.

Beyond helping other people, Dirty Boots Farm sees the evidence of their farm’s harmony with nature. The wildlife in the area is abundant. “There are lots of critters in the canals–fish, herons, and pollinators,” said Shayna. “The other day I saw a beautiful blue heron fishing in the ditches, and a huge snapping turtle,” she said.

She sees the relationship with NRCS as continuing, pursuing her current conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative (EQIP-OI) and eventually applying for other programs to pursue additional conservation actions. Much like getting organic certification, “With NRCS there is a lot of paperwork, but it’s also good for us to keep the records,” she said.

Click on these links to learn more about NRCS assistance for high tunnels and for organic producers.

Related Links

Tags: Environmental Quality Incentives Program, beginning farmer, crops, financial assistance, technical assistance, soils, greenhouse, organic, New York

categories Farmer & Rancher Stories , Conservation Programs

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