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Saving Energy and Soil at Davidian Farm

Conservation Showcase

Mike Davidian | Davidian Farm, Northborough, Massachusetts

All the produce picked on Davidian Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts throughout the summer is put into a 40 by 40-foot cooler until they are ready for market. That cooler was installed in the 1960s, so it was no surprise that an energy audit done with the help of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) revealed that the cooler mechanicals and insulation weren’t working efficiently.

“The first thing we did was come up with an energy plan,” said owner Mike Davidian. Mike is the fourth generation on Davidian Farm, which was founded in 1918. Today, the farm is about 150 acres, producing apples, peaches, corn, tomatoes, peppers, a variety of cucurbits, pumpkins.

“We've used NRCS for several things: one was a conservation plan and also for an energy audit, which established what we're using as far as energy resources and to see what kind of upgrades would help us achieve less of a carbon load,” said Mike.

“The state helped us facilitate upgrading some of the mechanicals and NRCS helped us facilitate the rest,” said Mike. “They helped us with the insulation and some additional mechanicals. It worked out well for us, we're now using less energy. It works out well for the environment and for everyone.”

“I've worked with Mike Davidian now for about three years. He approached us regarding cover crops and soil health practices,” said Robert Purcell, NRCS Soil Conservationist. “It's been wonderful to work with Mike because each year he has really tried to progress further and further in what he can do to benefit his operation.”

Standing in one of his fields, Mike explained that the cash crop there was sweet corn, but once the sweet corn was harvested, they used a variety of cover crops to help keep the soil active and help stabilize nutrients.

“We use tillage radish and crimson clover. We also have some rye underneath that will come back next year, and we'll use that for our no-till corn practice,” said Mike. “We came to the conclusion that I have compacted soil, so we're going to use the tillage radish to help us alleviate some of the compaction.” He will use these cover crops to improve soil health and will plant no-till sweet corn next year.

Mike currently has an adaptive management field trial where he is comparing three different cover crop blends. The purpose of the trial is to see which blend works best prior to planting his sweet corn no till in the spring. The goals are to assess the differences in the blends for nitrogen fixation, biomass established for next year’s weed suppression, and the ease of planting sweet corn through the residue.

“You need a natural balance of bacteria that helps break down nutrients and make it available for your plants,” Mike explained. “Good soil health means you're helping out with carbon retention; it also means you're not leaching nutrients into the environment. So, soil health is pretty important.”

Last year, Davidian Farm tripled its yield on tomatoes and zucchini. “And quite frankly, the quality of the product is far superior than what we were getting five years ago,” said Mike.

“We're in central Mass., outside of the city of Worcester. Boston is only a 45-minute drive. A lot of farmers in this area have success because we have people to sell directly to,” said Mike. “That's why we're able to have a nice farm stand. The demand for quality products is really high.”

“We tell our customers that we're proud of how we grow,” said Mike, adding that the farm’s soil health efforts have been a great success so far. “And we're not even where we want to be yet, so the future is going to be very bright.”