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Aroostook farmer named ‘Outstanding Conservationist' for 2015

By Angela Wotton
Southern Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District

Aroostook farmer Greg Schools (right) speaks with NRCS and legislative staff during a visit to his farm in September 2015. Photo by Thomas KielbasaHOULTON, Maine (Oct. 22, 2015) -- When the Southern Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District’s (SAWCD) board voted to recognize Greg Schools with their 2015 “Outstanding Conservationist” award based on his on-farm work in building his soils, a USDA-NRCS employee summed up the decision by saying, “We just gave Greg the carrot and he’s completely run away with it.” That metaphorical carrot was evidenced when I happened to be driving a back road in Monticello, crested the hill, and noticed a field planted in alternating strips of potatoes and grain. Strip cropping, as it is known, was once widely used as a tool to effectively reduce erosion. The field looked beautiful and I pulled to the side of the road to text the office and ask whose field it was. The answer? Greg Schools.

Farmers in this area are, in general, a pretty quiet bunch when it comes to talking about themselves. Get them out in the field however and they open up and share what they have growing, what they are trying, failures, and successes. Nineteen of us got this kind of information and more when the SASWCD and NRCS hosted a farmer coffee and field tour this summer. Two of the stops on the tour included Greg’s fields where he has been experimenting with multi-species cover crops including a mixture of 14 different legumes, grains, and flowers. These plantings, along with strip cropping, are done as a way to build soil health, or as Greg said during the SASWCD awards dinner and presentation, “Going back a bit to the way our grandfathers farmed.” Farming as our grandfathers once did is not going backwards but is actually moving forward in enriching the soil. It is inspiring when a local farmer, like Greg, adapts his or her focus on improving crops by building the soil through the planting of diverse cover crops, integrating livestock and longer crop rotations that will, in the end, not only benefit the cash crop of potatoes but improve the health of the soil. There are so many outside factors affecting agriculture that the soil needs to be strong enough to withstand fluctuations like extreme storm events or drought or disease pressure and still produce quality crops. Greg’s commitment and investment in the land and willingness to adapt are qualities that stand out with Schools Farm. They are also just a few of the reasons why Greg Schools was appropriately chosen as this year’s “Outstanding Conservationist.”