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#Fridaysonthefarm: Small-Scale Conservation Brings Big Yields

#Fridaysonthefarm: Small Scale Conservation Brings Big Yields Web HeaderStory by Robert Hathorne, NRCS Oregon; photos by Robert Hathorne, NRCS Oregon, and NRCS

Each Friday, meet farmers, producers and landowners through our #Fridaysonthefarm stories. Visit local farms, ranches, forests and resource areas where NRCS and partners help people help the land.  CLICK HERE to view all #Fridaysonthefarmstories.

This Friday, travel to Fiddlehead Farm in Corbett, Oregon, where Katie Coppoletta shares the benefits of conservation planning on a smaller organic farm.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Small Scale Conservation Brings Big Yields Web Map


Small Scale, Big Yields

Fiddlehead Farm is not large. And if you ask owner Katie Coppoletta, it doesn’t need to be. 

Careful conservation planning allows Katie and her team to maximize production on just six acres of cropland and in three seasonal high tunnels in Corbett, Oregon.

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“It’s much more efficient to be a small organic farm. Input costs are lower,” says Katie.

For its size, Fiddlehead produces an impressive harvest. Their organic vegetables and herbs can be found at two farmers markets, two retail grocers and in the ingredients lists for Portland Juice Press and Hot Winter Hot Sauce.

But maintaining a high output on just a handful of acres means taking special care with the farm’s most precious resource — soil.

A Good Foundation

Working with her local NRCS field office and the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Katie has developed a conservation plan to give her farm an edge in productivity and resiliency.

The biggest difference at Fiddlehead starts when the last vegetables are picked from the field. Rather than letting the soil rest until spring, Katie gets right back in the tractor and sows a crop she never intends to harvest.

Cover crops are used to protect the soil from erosion, restore nutrients lost in the previous harvest and maintain biological activity critical to plant health. In a very real way, cover crops keep the soil at Fiddlehead Farm alive during a time when many farm soils sit idle.

When it comes time to plant in the spring, those extra nutrients combined with less erosion give food crops a head start.

“Our soil organic matter is incredible!” says Katie. “We have great water retention and less watering is needed in the summer. It’s been interesting to observe the benefits of working with the ecosystem and see the economic benefit conservation has through reduced erosion, the abundance of pollinators, so many things.”

Cover crops have also led to weed suppression—a challenge on organic farms—and less fertilizer usage. It’s a major step to sustainable food production that makes Fiddlehead more resilient to fluctuations in the market and climate; and for Katie, it’s just the beginning.

Healthy Growth

Fiddlehead Farm sports three seasonal high tunnels, one of which was acquired with assistance through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) High Tunnel System Initiative.

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Essentially greenhouses without a heating system, high tunnels can extend the growing season and even open up the possibility to harvest crops not common to the area or particular season.

Fencing has been erected to protect the small acreage from wildlife that could make quick work of Katie’s peppers and snap peas. And hedgerows full of native flowering plants border the fields to attract pollinators and support the micro-ecosystem that keeps her crops productive.

“Hedgerows are an easy, beautiful way to build biodiversity,” she says.

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NRCS has also assisted with protecting high traffic areas with gravel, a practice that reduces erosion and improves water quality downstream.

Value of Partnership

“It’s been cool to see NRCS also support smaller farmers,” says Katie. “I lean really heavily on NRCS and the SWCD for assistance, and with someone else there, it’s nice to have that accountability.”

Conservation planning and assistance is available from NRCS regardless of farm size. Find an NRCS office near you.

Join the Conversation

Follow the #Fridaysonthefarm and other voluntary conservation stories on @USDA_NRCS Twitter and @USDA FacebookView the interactive ESRI storymap of this #Fridaysonthefarm feature.