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Conservation nets better irrigation, saves money and doubles growing space

Conservation Showcase

Matt Churchill & Jennifer Christian | Pariah Dog Farm | Falmouth, Massachusetts

Stephen Spear of NRCS talks with Jennifer Christian and Matt Churchill in their high tunnel at Pariah Dog FarmFilling up 500-gallon water tanks with a garden hose overnight, then hauling them out to the field the next morning is not the easiest or most efficient way of irrigating crops. Yet, that’s how Matt Churchill and Jennifer Christian, owners of Pariah Dog Farm in Falmouth, Massachusetts, were doing it. That is until they got help from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“Our relationship with NRCS started in 2014. They helped us to design a drip irrigation system and they helped us develop a conservation plan,” said Churchill who grows mostly truck crops for farmers’ markets, specialty grocery stores and restaurants. The farm is also a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation.

“We had quite a water bill. We still do but it’s a lot less now,” said Christian of the irrigation efficiencies they were able to implement by partnering with NRCS.

Steve Spear, NRCS Soil Conservationist based in West The irrigation system at Pariah Dog Farm that was installed with help from NRCS.Yarmouth, Mass. worked with the couple to drill a well and then to set up feed pipes to the drip irrigation system, which conserves water. “We broke the field into zones so that he could irrigate much more efficiently and quickly,” said Spear.

Spear explained that Churchill and Christian not only needed a better way to irrigate, they also wanted to extend their growing season while protecting natural resources.

“We did a conservation plan, noted all the resource concerns, and a number of practices were installed, including a high tunnel,” said Spear.

Pariah Dog Farm is located on scenic Cape Cod, where the affluent population swells in the summertime. “If we were going to farm anywhere in the country this this would be it, just because the market’s really good here,” said Churchill, adding that the Cape Cod weather is relatively predictable year round.

“We did a lot of winter production, considering the small greenhouse space we were working with,” said Christian, noting that with a new high tunnel installed with NRCS assistance, they will double their wintertime growing space. A seasonal high tunnel, also known as a hoop house, is conservation practice that also helps increase the amount of locally produced food available to surrounding communities.

This high tunnel under construction at Pariah Dog Farm was installed with financial help from NRCS.“It's great to have the income in the wintertime,” said Christian. “That's the lull for us.”

Financial and technical assistance was provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Because Churchill and Christian have been farming for fewer than ten years, they received a higher rate of financial assistance that the program offers to beginning farmers.

“Being a new farmer and a first-generation farmer there's no hand down of land, there's no hand down of equipment, there's no hand down of knowledge,” said Christian.

“We probably wouldn't have been able to assemble this high tunnel or put in that well without NRCS,” added Churchill.

“You want to have young people go into farming but it's very expensive to get started,” noted Spear. “You want to give them all the help you can to get their basic conservation needs met.”

These young farmers are finding their farming endeavors rewarding. “Despite the hard work, long days and late nights, it’s satisfying to do this work,” said Christian.

“It's nice to go to the grocery store and see your stuff for sale. You're appreciated as a farmer. You know, there's not a lot of us anymore,” said Churchill.

“We want to be doing this or we wouldn’t be doing it,” added Christian.

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