February 5th, 2020 —The Agriculture & Natural Resource Center of Excellence attended an immersive small-scale Regenerative Farmscape Design Workshop at the Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education as part of the annual 2020 PASA Pre-Conference events. The PASA (Pennsylvanian Association for Sustainable Agriculture) Conference united farmers, food system professionals, educators, advocates, homesteaders, and others who are passionate about building a sustainable and resilient food system through regenerative and organic farming practices.
Located in the heart of Pennsylvania’s robust agricultural region, the 184-acre Horn Farm Center (HFC) was established in 2004 as a nonprofit committed to restoring the ecological health of both the fields and semi-wild spaces on the farm while providing healthy food to surrounding communities. The HFC emphasizes systems thinking in a highly integrated agricultural ecosystem by promoting the tenants of regenerative agriculture for small-scale, regenerative farming and permaculture-based production.
Since 2009, the HFC has been part of the incubator farm project, providing classes and workshops year-round on gardening/farming, cooking, ecological design, foraging, and wilderness skills. Incubator farms are a fairly new model in addressing the barriers to beginning farmers, including access to land, capital, and credit, and opportunities to learn and develop skills in farm business planning.
Mirrored in this model, the HFC is cultivating a community of agroecological minded next-generation farmers empowered to produce food that is sustainable, nutritious, and culturally-appropriate through their mission to provide workshops and classes to new farmers.
Today, designing a regenerative farmscape design has never been so relevant. Farmers are tasked with a daunting feat to produce more with less land and fewer inputs while combating the emerging effects of climate change on the farm. Intensified flooding and drought events, coupled with shifting precipitation cycles have stressed soil and water conservation efforts nation-wide.
Regenerative agriculture offers a potential solution. This farmer-led, science-driven movement offers a shining beacon in these uncertain times.
One of the first steps in developing a long-term regenerative farm plan is designing a regenerative farmscape design for your farm’s operations. At the root of our immersive Regenerative Farmscape Design Workshop at HFC were the tenants of the scales of landscape permanence —aiming to discover agricultural suitability based on the relative ease of alteration. The referred “ease” of alteration is constructed using the scale, climate, landform, water, vegetation and wildlife, access/circulation, infrastructure, and zones of use of a farm’s operation. This approach promotes the integration of nature-inspired solutions to address sustainability challenges on the farm.
In Pennsylvania, the farmscape designs generally encompass a smaller scale of production in contrast to Washington, where these designs would primarily need to fit into the context of large-scale production. This is a reminder of the contrasting scales and types of agricultural production across the US.
Here are some examples…
The photograph below is an artificial beaver dam in a small stream running through the HFC, these artificial beaver dams have the potential to improve topsoil retention while providing beneficial habitat for enhancing ecological stream diversity and improving water quality. This is a multifunctional ecological design that offers numerous benefits and can be implemented across various agroecosystems.
Photo Credit: Ceana Pacheco at the Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education
The photograph below is a riparian buffer zone on a conservation easement in Washington. Buffer zones between agricultural fields adjacent to riparian zones reduce soil erosion, flooding, and improve water quality. This is a prime example of a multifunctional ecological design within an agroecosystem at a larger scale.
Photo Credit: Spokane Conservation District Commodity Buffer Program
The contrasting landscapes in Pennsylvania and Washington illustrate the importance of the regenerative farming toolbox as management principles and practices that can be taken whole or in parts. Every farm has a unique history with strengths and vulnerabilities, knowing the context of your farm is key to successfully implementing or augmenting practices within the regenerative farming toolbox.
Both ecological farmscape designs embody a different approach to regenerative agriculture and permaculture design; however, both designs achieve a common goal to connect the invisible links between the fields and semi-wild spaces. Whether it’s a buffer zone between fields and riparian zones or an artificial beaver dam in incision streams, the goal is all the same: caring for the land for generations to come.
Dealing with climate change will require action on many fronts in addressing the global issues of the 21st century. Regenerative agriculture offers a potential vision for agriculture that is resilient while helping relieve the effects of climate change in its multifarious forms. Farmers have a critical role to play by integrating farming practices that improve soil health and increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil through the medium of regenerative farming to combat the looming effects of climate change from Pennsylvania to Washington and beyond. The secret weapon in the fight against climate change isn’t so secret, it’s right below our feet —soil is the solution.
Written by Ceana Pacheco