Successful “Ecovillage” close to home
-By Jaedyn Allen
On September 26th, 2015, six Groton High School students taking a food systems science elective, taught by Chad DeVoe, traveled to Kestrel Perch Berry Farm and the Ithaca Ecovillage. While we were there, we toured and helped Katie Creeger at her berry farm, then took a tour of the Ecovillage just down the road. The berry farm is CSA (community supported agriculture) operated and the Ecovillage is made up of about 100 privately owned homes.
First, we stopped at Kestrel Perch Berry Farm where we met Katie. Katie was a gardening instructor at a school for the disabled for 14 years. After that, she went to school and studied horticulture for two years before eventually landing at Kestrel Perch where she shared over 30 years of gardening experience with us. She was a very informative, sweet lady that showed us around the farm then allowed us to help weed and top-dress some currants with compost.
Since 1992, John and Jen Bokaer-Smith of West Haven Farm have been growing vegetables for the members of their CSA. Katie, who moved to Ecovillage in 1999, thought the village needed fruit to supplement West Haven. So in 2005, Katie continued her love of farming and began her career at Kestrel Perch Berry Farm. At the beginning of her career at Kestrel Perch, she had a difficult time planting because of the extremely rocky soil but got help from West Haven farm by being able to use their tractor to work the ground.
Today, on about 4 acres of land, Katie (along with the help of many others) has groomed the land into a successful farm. She has one hired worker this year, but sometimes hires college students who work part-time. Some of the CSA members also work for a discount on their shares. She also has annual work parties where she gets between 15-30 people. Next year, she’s planning to have weekend work parties once a month for CSA members. Unfortunately, over the years the CSA has gotten smaller. Currently there are about 75 CSA members, but only 10 are working members.
Katie grows many different plants, including; four varieties of strawberries, red currants, raspberries, black currants, cherries, two kinds of blueberries, elderberries, gooseberries, and has wild black caps on the land. She uses daikon radish as a cover crop and biofumigant. She gets most of the plants from family owned/operated farms in Massachusetts and Potsdam, NY. She’s happy to have bees (owned and cared for by a local beekeeper) on her farm for pollination and honey.
With all of the different plants, she tries a variety of pruning and planting techniques to get the most success. Some techniques include drip line irrigation for raspberries and strawberries. One of Katie’s significant challenges is weed due to her commitment to farming without the use of toxic herbicides. She sometimes uses a natural white clay spray, however, to help keep some bugs and fungus away. Katie has been experimenting with a lot of different techniques to see which method is best to rid weeds.
Afterwards, we took a tour of the Ithaca Ecovillage. Our tour was led by one of the residents. In the village, there are three groups of housing; the first built in 1997 (Frog) has thirty homes varying in sizes. All the homes use solar power energy and share a common house, tool shed and many other things. The common house is a place where they have community meals and many events. The second group of houses (Song) was built in 2006. Unlike the other two groups, the owners of Song were allowed to semi-choose the exterior style of their houses. Song contains thirty houses. Then finally, the third set of houses built in 2014 (Tree) also has forty homes.
With a total of one-hundred homes, on 175 acres, over 80% of the land is planned to remain green space, including 55 acres in a conservation easement held by the Finger Lakes Land Trust.
I really appreciated having the chance to visit the berry farm and the Ecovillage. The farm and Ecovillage were both beautiful and well-maintained to make for an amazing experience. I definitely do wish to come back some day. After learning so much, I now view my everyday surrounding differently. Now I’m constantly wondering how many chemicals are in all the food I receive from the grocery store. Therefore, after listening to Katie and taking the tour of the Ecovillage, I believe these people are in it to influence others of simple everyday ways we could better our world!
Jaedyn Allen is a Junior student-athlete at Groton high school and plans to attend college for occupational therapy.
Image credit: Photo courtesy of Kestrel Perch Berries