Laura's Lean Beef to Mt. Folly Farm
In 2007-2008, as we were selling Laura’s Lean Beef and I was recovering from a horseback riding smash-up, a Donella Meadows fellowship focused my attention on climate change….or more correctly, the fine instructors at the fellowship whacked me hard enough on the head that I couldn’t miss the point.
I had gone into the program thinking the biggest environmental problem we could confront in agriculture had to do with the use of chemicals in farming, and, in economics, externalities, and, related to this, industry concentration.
Our science advisor, Dr. Susan Shore, will be here this summer to work on carbon sequestration in our organic soils.
What I learned changed my mind. The science is there – climate change is an existential threat. So my husband and I gathered up our possessions, and moved back to the farm in Kentucky. It took several more years to figure out how to approach this. We are 60 (me) and 70 (Bill), so no spring chickens, but we have a young team capable of pulling this off.
Our approach is three-pronged:
1. Using organic and no-till farming, make the farm a carbon sink.
2. Become a change agent in our regional economy, which includes our beautiful but bypassed small town, and thus become part of a sustainable economic solution.
3. Become part of a learning community, including Berea College, Kentucky State University, travelers who attend our environmental field days, and the many people we know who are working on these problems.
To be a part of the revival of downtown Winchester, we are putting in a craft distillery, Wildcat Willy’s Distillery. To impact the region, we are developing The Moonshine Trail and Laura’s Mercantile.
Mt. Folly Farm, Laura’s Mercantile, Wildcat Willy’s Distillery and The Moonshine Trail exist in response to the challenge of sustainable business, a world I know and seek to improve.
What about the farm? It is possible, at least theoretically, to make the farm a carbon sink. Photosynthesis sequesters carbon , in that carbon dioxide + water —> glucose + oxygen + water.
Thus, as long as we keep plants growing, including cover crops in the winter, the crop ground is sequestering carbon. We’ve been working on cover cropping systems for a decade, but, like many things farming, it is easier said than done. Plus, we have not known how to measure the amount of carbon sequestered, so are unable to decide if this practice could make a significant contribution.
The even more complex challenge on the farm is evaluating the climate effects of organic cropping systems, compared to no-till systems. We want to look at how both are executed in reality, given the learning curve and other farm exigencies.
We were incredibly lucky that within a week of my worrying about this, Dr. Susan Shore, an old high school friend, emailed. After graduation, she’d gone on to obtain her PhD in physics, worked internationally in the semiconductor industry, and in addition to long-distance bicycling, seemed ready for a new challenge. Since climate change is the biggest challenge there is, she signed on to be our Chief Science Officer.
Dr. Shore and people I have come to know through my service on the policy committee of the Organic Farmer’s Association are developing ways to measure the amount of carbon sequestered in agricultural soils. This spring we had a soils professor with experience cleaning up agricultural runoff from the Chesapeake Bay evaluate our composting program, and we are experimenting with rolling down cover crop rye on organic soils to reduce tillage. Indeed, reducing tillage on organic soils is our #1 priority.
We host farm field days where we concentrate on the economic and environmental results of our farm program. In the Homestead log cabin, we have experimented with mortar made from hemp and have left this exposed, so visitors can see a new way to make chinking.
We’ve installed solar panels, and are working with fiber hemp as a biodegradeable solution to plastic.
Behind the cabin is a granary, where we grind our heritage grain for cornmeal and flour, and a little farm store.
Laura Freeman and Solar Panels on the Farm