Chestnut Creek Farm owners partnered with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to install environmental improvements on their farm. (Michel Elben / Carroll County Times)
Walking along his farm's newly installed shallow water impoundment, Chestnut Creek Farm owner Jeff White explained why sustainability is important.
"Nothing is permanently sustainable, but we want to minimize depletion and try to recycle the farm's nutrients," he said. "We're still exploring and adapting."
White's pasture is wet for most of the winter, so he conferred with Natural Resource Conservation Service specialists. They suggested the area would make a good shallow water impoundment. The impoundment will function as a wetland that intercepts nutrients and soil before it gets to the waterways. NRCS and Carroll County Soil Conservation office assisted in funding many of the farm's improvements, including exclusion fencing and wetland construction and design.
"NRCS and Soil Conservation did all the homework," White said. "They did the design and elevations, took soil samples, and helped install plants on the water's edge. All the plants produce food for wildlife."
Chesapeake Bay Foundation officials helped White plant trees near the impoundment. White now has alders, silky dogwood, elderberry, switchgrass, blue irises, winterberry, white fringe trees, pawpaws and native wildflowers surrounding the project. The venture will be part of White's Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan next year. CNMPs are conservation plans unique to livestock operations. These plans document practices and strategies adopted by livestock operations to address natural resource concerns related to soil erosion, livestock manure and disposal of organic byproducts.
White had already planted a variety of trees on the farm, including American Elm, Chestnut and sugar maple trees. Because a lot of the farm's land was in rotational crops and required a lot of fertilizer, White converted the cropland to pasture. He wanted a field for his Katahdin, natural color, and Corriedale sheep to periodically graze.
White also put in buffers around the farm to protect the tributary that connects to the Morgan Run watershed, a brook trout cold water fishery.
"Instead of animals defecating near the stream, I kept grass strips that act like filters," White explained. "You don't want manure in the stream."
White, 60, began farming with his wife, Janice, on a part-time basis in 2005. Both have full-time jobs.
White has been an aquatic ecologist for 20 years. He said he helps the Maryland Biological Stream Survey develop metrics for aquatic life to get a sense of Maryland's water quality. White also has a master's degree in agronomy and soil science from the University of Maryland.
"My weakness is that everything interests me," White said. "I've always had a interest in growing stuff. We spent 10 years looking for a farm. The farm had to be an easy commute. For me, farming is stress relief. You're doing something soothing for yourself that's outside and in nature. I like to get my hands in the soil."
White said the couple chose their 65-acre Baker Road farm off Md. 27 for its habitat diversity. He said they never had a particular goal in mind for the farm, but they decided to grow vegetables. They direct market them at the Carroll County Agriculture Center's farmers market.
"There's only 35 acres of tillable land with woods and wetlands," White said. "I had to subdue my enthusiasm when I saw it. It had native plants, trees and plenty of wildlife diversity."
NRCS district conservationist Eric Hines said the farm was a good site for the project. Hines said everything planted is native vegetation. He said the venture expands the farm's buffer area, improves water quality and helps wildlife like migratory birds.
"It was already a lowland area, so we sort of restored it back to its natural state," Hines said. "It's a good site because any runoff that comes from the farm can be filtered through the wetland."
Chesapeake Bay Foundation's farm stewardship coordinator Rob Schnabel said he has worked with White for a number of years.
"He's definitely put in the time to put in water quality practices," Schnabel said. "By planting that pasture he's reduced any potential sediment loss by 80 percent. His farm is a perfect example of how we hope agriculture moves. It's a farm that is really ecologically balanced, which greatly reduces pollution."
Schnabel also lauded White's direct marketing strategy.
"It's a way for local consumers to see where their food comes from," Schnabel said. "By direct marketing his goods he's getting more for what he's producing by cutting out the middle man. When a consumer goes to a national grocery store and buys something, only 30 cents on the dollar stays in the community. Direct marketing multiplies the dollar within the community two or three times. That's sustainable economically and environmentally."