Category: Featured

07 Dec 2021

$19 Million Research Project Seeks to Understand How Management Impacts Soil Health, Farmer Well-Being

$19 Million Research Project Seeks to Understand How Management Impacts Soil Health, Farmer Well-Being

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC – An international coalition announced a $19 million research project aimed at understanding how a farmer or rancher’s grazing management decisions impact soil health on pasture and rangeland (commonly called grazing lands) and – in turn – how soil health can positively impact a producer’s land and well-being.

Entitled Metrics, Management, and Monitoring: An Investigation of Pasture and Rangeland Soil Health and its Drivers, the project was announced today at the National Grazing Lands Coalition triennial meeting. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research awarded Noble Research Institute a $9.5 million grant to lead this critical research that is improving soil health on grazing lands. Noble Research Institute is providing $7.5 million to this project with additional financial contributions by Greenacres Foundation, The Jones Family Foundation and ButcherBox.

Pasture and rangeland soils contain about 20 percent of the world’s soil organic carbon stock but have largely deteriorated in many regions due to poor management, fragmentation or conversion to cropland. As soil health decreases, the land loses its viability to grow healthy plants, maintain flood- and drought-resilience or filter water.

For decades, farmers and ranchers who have implemented soil health principles have improved the overall health of their land and have experienced more profitable operations, however, these observations have – to this point – been largely anecdotal. This research is quantifying these observations and examining how management decisions on grazing lands are connected to the overall health of the ecosystem, including the social and economic well-being of the farmer, rancher and land manager.

“Enhancing soil resilience and productivity necessitates a major investment in research that provides farmers and ranchers with the best tools and information to make informed decisions benefitting their operations, said FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “FFAR is proud to fund this audacious research that supports thriving farms and ranches while improving overall environmental health for the betterment of society.”

The project brings together researchers from 11 nonprofit organizations, for-profit businesses, private research institutes and public universities in the United States and the United Kingdom. Led by Noble Research Institute, Michigan State University, Colorado State University and the University of Wyoming, collaborators include Oregon State University, National Grazing Lands Coalition, USDA-ARS (Maryland, Colorado and Wyoming), Savory Institute, Snaplands LLC,  The Nature Conservancy and  the UK’s Quanterra Systems.

The project will provide farmers and ranchers tools that simply and accurately measure outcomes of soil health in grazing land environments to guide management decisions and quantify the impact of intentional management. Measuring soil health requires techniques that are often site-specific and costly for ranchers.

“Our focus is to develop strategies to increase the value of measurement, reduce the labor and cost of measurement, and increase our understanding of soil health beyond a single site to the ranch as a whole,” said Rhines president and CEO of Noble Research Institute. “This information – in conjunction with working directly with land managers – will help us better understand the drivers that inform producers to adopt and implement soil health-focused management practices.

The study is unique in that it will focus on the soil health of grazing lands. Most soil health initiatives explore cropland, failing to address the hundreds of millions of acres of degrading pasture and rangeland. These acres are best suited for livestock production and are incapable of sustained production of crops for human food.

Pasture and rangelands are among the largest ecosystems on the planet, covering 70 percent of the world agricultural area. There are 655 million acres of pasture and rangeland in the United States. This is 41 percent of the land usage in the continental United States, making it the single largest use of land in the nation – more than row crops, cities and timberlands.

“Improving the ecological management of these hundreds of millions of acres, farmers and ranchers can be catalysts for sequestering carbon, better managing fresh water, reducing typical greenhouse gas emissions and building soil health, which all benefit society at large,” said Dr. Jason Rowntree, professor of Sustainable Agriculture at Michigan State University and project co-lead. “In addition, applying these core agricultural principles also helps producers be more sustainable and profitable, ensuring they can leave a legacy of healthy land and brighter futures for their children. It’s a win-win.”

The project is exploring why some producers adopt soil health building principles, such as adaptive grazing management, while others do not. It is also examining social and economic sustainability (commonly called producer well-being), which have rarely been studied in agriculture, or in particular, livestock agriculture. Anecdotally, producers report that their profitability and/or quality of life improve when they adaptively manage their assets, including the soil, plants and grazing animals, according to Rowntree.

MEDIA INQUIRIES:

Colleen Klemczewski
Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research
Phone: 574.386.0658
Email: cklemczewski@foundationfar.org

Adam Calaway
Noble Research Institute
Phone: 580-224-6209
Email: jacalaway@noble.org

28 Sep 2021

Summer 2021 Update

Summer 2021 Update

Pasture Monitoring

Monitoring plays a large role in the research department.  In addition to monitoring the woodlands, we also monitor the pastures.  Collecting data on soil health and vegetation can inform management decisions made by the livestock team.  Data collected include comprehensive soil tests (encompassing the physical, chemical and biological components of soil), water infiltration and compaction.   Plant species diversity is measured along with an overall assessment of ecosystem health.  Finally, photos document the visual features of the pasture.  Continuous improvement in soil health and desired pasture species is the goal. The photo below visually shows the improvement in vegetative cover, species richness and desired species over 3 years.  This land was a former soybean field in Brown County and is now a native warm season pasture.  We recently developed a comprehensive monitoring schedule for all of our pastures.

Use the image slider to see the 3 year change.

Preserving a Piece of History

Built in mid to late 1920’s as part of the original architecture of the stable facilities, the grain silos at our equine center are an iconic piece of scenery for visitors to the Greenacres Arts Center and Riding Facility. During an annual inspection by our Buildings & Grounds team in June, a number of age related issues affecting the safety of the structures were discovered. “These buildings are in remarkably good shape given their age, however, we did find that certain components were starting to show their age which is nearly 100 years of service. The design, craftsmanship and method of construction was lightyears ahead of their time” says Alex Saurber, Director of Buildings and Grounds. “Our goal is to make sure these buildings continue to withstand the test of time while preserving their historic look. By making these improvements they will remain a unique site for our visitors”.

After careful review and planning, work began in August to restore and replace these critical components. These repairs are expected to be completed before the end of November 2021.

Expanding Flower Production

Flower production on our farm started small in 2019, as a pilot project by Sam Dunbar, Aesthetic Garden Coordinator, when she was a farm intern. Now in her second full season of production, our flower program has grown by leaps and bounds. At Greenacres, we seek to encourage biodiversity, grow organically, and provide quality experiences for our guests – flowers bring together these fundamental tenants of our farm in the most beautiful way. “Most of our vegetable crops rely on pollinators to produce fruit, and interplanting flowers among the vegetables is one of the best ways to encourage pollinators to visit.” says Dunbar, “We plant more flowers than we will harvest, ensuring there’s plenty left for our pollinators to enjoy. Honeybees from our onsite hives are a common sight, busily working away.”

We also plant flowers of different shapes – round, trumpet, umbel shape, etc., encouraging many different kinds of pollinators to visit and build biodiversity. Each species of insect searching for nectar or pollen is seeking a flower shape that suits its specific anatomy and preferences. Hummingbirds like trumpet shapes, bees like round shapes, and wasps prefer umbel shapes. These specific preferences are something our education staff can share with students who visit our gardens.

As with everything in our gardens, our flowers are grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or non-organic fertilizers. Flowers from a florist or grocery store may be grown using a wide array of chemical inputs, most of which are detrimental to our environment and pollinators. They’re also typically grown on farms far away and transported thousands of miles to their final destination. Seeking out local flowers can sometimes require a bit more effort, but are well worth the benefits. Customers take home gorgeous flower bouquets while our pollinators and gardens benefit from the increased plant diversity. We’re looking forward to refining and expanding flower production as we enter our third growing season!

“Most of our vegetable crops rely on pollinators to produce fruit, and interplanting flowers among the vegetables is one of the best ways to encourage pollinators to visit.

-Sam Dunbar, Aesthetic Garden Coordinator

The Magic of Summer Camps

Our 2021 summer season revealed the true magic that camp brings. It seemed even nature itself cheered when little boots, water bottles and tie dye shirts arrived in June! Once Upon a Camp, Fun on the Farm, Nurture Nature, Arts in the Natural World, Gone Fishin’… all camps sold quickly and the waiting lists filled up.

Education Administrative Coordinator, Katie Brown explained, “After the 2020 pause, the heightened interest in Greenacres Summer Camps became clear. Even so, we did commit to maintaining small groups with an average of one Greenacres Educator to five children, putting the safety of our families first.”

With camps returning, it was a great opportunity for local high schoolers to once again build their leadership skills over the summer. 31 local high-school student volunteers for the Greenacres Leaders-in-Training (LIT) Program. Under the guidance of the same Greenacres Educators that host thousands of children for field trips each school year, our LITs learned valuable skills on how to safely run a camps, helping ensure that over 290 children enjoyed a safe and magical summer.

“After the 2020 season pause, the heightened interest in Greenacres Summer Camp became clear. Even so, we did commit to maintaining small groups with an average of one Greenacres Educator to five children, putting the safety of our families first.”

-Katie Brown, Education Administrative Coordinator

Camp magic continues with the release of the 2022 guide before the end of the year and registration to open in early 2022 on our website, https://www.green-acres.org/camps/ .

A Roost for Turkeys

Our livestock team is always looking for ways to increase the quality of life for the animals we raise at Greenacres. Whether it’s shade structures for our cattle or improved chicken tractors for our broilers, no detail large or small is over looked in the process. Even though turkeys are only on our farm for a short period of time, we treat them with the same care and respect that we give to all of our animals.

Every year after Thanksgiving, our team sits down and reviews what they can do to improve our ability to raise turkeys. “Our turkeys have always had access to clean water, fresh pastures, and the safety of our poultry tractors, but we were overlooking their natural instinct to want to roost” says our Livestock Manager, Leevi Stump.  “We looked at our options and decided we could come up with a solution to this challenge before we brought turkeys back onto the farm”. Working with the some of the master welders on our estate crew, a roosting system was designed and construction began in (June?). The build went smoothly and the roosts went out into the field in August waiting for our turkeys to get big enough to use them over the fall.  “We think these will go a long ways to making our turkeys more comfortable” says Stump, “it helps protect them from ground predators and lets them exercise that natural instinct to be in trees”.

“Our turkeys have always had access to clean water, fresh pastures, and the safety of our poultry tractors, but we were overlooking their natural instinct to want to roost.

-Livestock person, Livestock person

A Pollinator Garden for the Farm Store

We’ve enjoyed seeing all of you in the Farm Store this summer. The most noticeable change is our new pollinator garden. In late winter, spring, and early summer of this year, a thick, black tarp was covering the landscaping in front of the store. This tarp prevented the growth of the plants underneath, which had become overgrown. The heat and moisture trapped by the tarp also acts to supercharge the biological activity in the soil, helping the microbes break down the decaying plant material underneath, in a process known as ‘solarization’.

When we removed the tarp in early summer, the soil was beautiful and much improved. A layer of our own compost was added, and a thick layer of natural wood chip mulch to retain moisture and suppress weeds. We’ve intermixed native and ornamental perennials and annuals, to provide year-long flowers for the visiting pollinators. Some of the species we’ve planted are also host plants for caterpillars, such as butterfly weed, a type of milkweed that serves as a host plant for Monarch butterfly caterpillars. Over the next few years we will be adding additional perennial species, and mixing in different annuals to see what produces the most beautiful results. We are very grateful to our garden crew for providing such a beautiful and beneficial garden to enjoy.

Summertime Music

Our friends from the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra returned this summer for another great series of “Music Under the Stars” events.. The sellout crowds enjoyed beautiful evenings in July and August listening to members of the Pops play summertime favorites in the gardens at the Arts Center. Late in the summer the entire Cincinnati Pops, and members from the Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati May Festival, and Cincinnati Ballet, returned for our annual Celebration Concert in the Grand Tent. It was an amazing performance and a perfect cap to end summer.

Between our concerts, we hosted nine weddings from June through September. “We were thrilled to host a full slate of weddings this season after so many couples had to postpone their 2020 wedding dates. We know that was a really tough decision for them, so it was nice to finally see them get to have the event of their dreams.” says Diana Wheeler, Private Events Manager.

“We were thrilled to host a full slate of weddings this season after so many couples had to postpone their 2020 wedding dates.

-Diana Wheeler, Private Events Manager

Ohio Native Warm Season Grass Trials

This past summer our Lewis Township site became one of four test sites in Ohio for establishing native warm season grasses under various management regimes. This three year experiment is being coordinated through the Ohio State University under the direction of Dr. Marília Chiavegato. Three different establishment protocols were used representing both conventional and non-chemical management strategies. Big bluestem, Indian grass, eastern gamma grass and switchgrass were planted and their growth and development will be documented. Increased pasture diversity in Ohio is important for ecosystem resilience under a changing climate. “Doing collaborative research with external institutions is extremely important as it allows Greenacres to develop relationships with scientists and experts in fields that support our mission. At the same time it allows Greenacres to share their expertise and promote research and knowledge to a much larger community,” says Research Director Chad Bitler.

The research team collecting data in treatments sown in cover crop.

“Doing collaborative research with external institutions is extremely important as it allows Greenacres to develop relationships with scientists and experts in fields that support our mission. At the same time it allows Greenacres to share their expertise and promote research and knowledge to a much larger community

-Chad Bitler, Research Director

02 Sep 2021

Raising Turkeys at Greenacres

Raising Turkeys at Greenacres

Commercially produced turkeys are usually raised in huge indoor warehouses, a completely different life than turkeys raised at Greenacres. From August to November, our livestock crew cares for hundreds of turkeys that arrive as day-old poults. They spend their first few weeks in a brooder, a heated housing unit, until they’re old enough to regulate their own body temperature and live outside.

Turkeys Belong Outside

After 4-5 weeks, the young turkeys are big enough to move outdoors, but still too small to leave unprotected. They spend the next 3 weeks on pasture while housed in our poultry tractors, protected from predators while being moved to fresh grass daily. Their nitrogen- rich manure is a key component in building our soil fertility.

Once they are large enough to no longer be attractive to a hawk or owl, they are released from the tractors to large fenced paddocks where they are frequently rotated through the pasture. We keep our bulls nearby to discourage coyotes. Turkeys instinctively roost up off the ground to protect themselves from predators, so we provide roosting houses that were custom designed by our livestock manager and fabricated by our estate crew.

A Healthy Lifestyle

What do our turkeys eat? Birds are omnivores, needing a variety of plant and animal foods to stay healthy. In addition to the insects, grasses, clover, etc. they forage, we also provide a locally produced, non-GMO turkey feed. This well-rounded diet, in addition to all the exercise they get from roaming the pasture, results in a much more delicious turkey.

All livestock handling and housing arrangements on our farm meet or exceed Certified Humane guidelines. Our turkeys are carefully loaded into our trailer the Monday before Thanksgiving and driven by our staff to our poultry butcher; a small, family owned, USDA inspected facility only 80 miles from our farm. Here they are humanely processed and packaged for your Thanksgiving dinner.

The Greenacres Difference

So what’s the difference? Why go through all this trouble to raise our turkeys? Because all these choices make a difference. Our efforts result in healthier birds who live happier lives, healthier conditions for our staff, healthier soils, and a healthier, more delicious turkey to grace your holiday table. A note about feathers… The turkey you typically buy at the grocery store has been bred to have white feathers, a genetic trait selected so feathers aren’t as visible, at the expense of overall turkey health and flavor. Our turkeys have bronze feathers, which may occasionally be visible on the turkey you bring home – simply remove before cooking.

14 Jul 2021

Greenacres Acquires Michaela Farm in Oldenburg

Greenacres Acquires Michaela Farm in Oldenburg

Greenacres has officially acquired Michaela Farm from the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg. Conversations and visits between the Sisters and Greenacres began in 2019 and it quickly became apparent that the missions of both parties were very much aligned, eventually leading to formal contract negotiations beginning in 2020 and the closing being finalized this past week.

“We’re excited for what’s next,” says Carter Randolph, Greenacres president. “When working on a project with so much history in the community you want to make sure things are done the right way. For us, that meant taking our time working with the Sisters, learning the values of the organization, and the things that make it so special. As we work to incorporate our mission in Oldenburg, we want to make sure that we preserve those ideals too.” says Randolph.

Now that the sale is official, Greenacres will begin the process of evaluating the property and what it will need in order to begin field trips for local school children potentially as early as spring of 2022. This means looking at things like improved school bus access and accessible trails for all visiting children. Currently, Greenacres serves about 30,000 students in Cincinnati and hopes this acquisition will help expand their ability to educate surrounding communities.

In addition to the education enhancements, Greenacres will maintain the traditions of the farm using generative practices to produce healthy, sustainable products to offer in the Farm Store. “Knowing that the farm will continue to thrive with an agriculture system that we believe in is everything we could have asked for,” says Daniel Wilds, Greenacres Michaela Farm Manager. “We hope our customers stick with us through the transition, as we will still have the products they have come to love and we are thrilled to be able to expand those offerings in coming years,” says Wilds.

Being good neighbors is a key component of the Greenacres mission, so community engagement will also be a top priority. As part of this process, Greenacres will continue to work with the Sisters of St. Francis to learn about the relationships that built Oldenburg and Batesville. “We feel blessed to pass on these sacred acres to a non-profit organization that will honor our farm’s 167-year history and enhances our vision and hopes for its use. The influence of Michaela Farm will expand as its treasures will be shared by a growing number of people, both students and adults, who visit there.” says Sister Delouise Menges, OSF.

Greenacres Foundation was founded in 1988 and was Louis and Louise Nippert’s gift to the community. Combining their love of the land and farming with their appreciation of Cincinnati’s classical arts, Greenacres provides educational programming to over 30,000 local students annually while preserving and generatively farming over 1,200 acres in the Greater Cincinnati area.

The Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg, Indiana are the modern legacies of the 800-year-old Franciscan traditions. They are part of a worldwide community of over one million vowed and secular Franciscan men and women who live and pray with us and around us. In 1851, they began an educational endeavor—the foundational seed of the Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception, and later Marian College—as a way to fulfill the mission and requirement to provide education to the community.

For more information please send inquiries to: mail@green-acres.org.