Peacework Farm

Peacework Farm

Peacework Farm

Elizabeth Henderson, Peacework Farm, Newark, New York. Credit: Elizabeth Henderson.

When I started farming there was a pattern to the weather, one year was kind of like the one before. I think it’s more challenging to be a farmer now. No two years are alike. You have to be more flexible, you can’t rely on a plan. You have to learn as many tricks as possible, because it might be dry or it might be wet. You have to be so nimble these days.

Liz henderson

Peacework Farm

Northeast Region | Newark, NY

Main Product: Vegetables

Scale: 20 acres under management

Featured Resilience Behaviors:

Add wells/irrigation, shift work to cooler hours, agricultural justice.

This story is based on a 2013 interview.

Elizabeth Henderson has grown organic vegetables for more than twenty-five years in Wayne County, New York, and is a founding member of Peacework Organic CSA. Peacework is located on 109 acres of prime farmland that has been protected from development in a unique community collaboration that enabled the Genesee Land Trust to purchase the farm and then lease it back to the farmers on a twenty-five-year rolling lease. The farm grows more than seventy different crops on 20 acres, including a wide variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers. The produce is marketed through a 300-member CSA over a six-month harvest season.

Designed to maintain soil quality and reduce pest pressures, cropping systems on the farm focus on summer and winter cover crops, organic mulches and some purchased compost. A greenhouse and hoophouses are used to produce vegetable transplants and extend the season in the spring and fall and ample water is available for drip irrigation from three wells on the farm.

Managing the effects of heat, drought and excessive rain on the crops and people of Peacework has got Elizabeth Henderson wondering about the challenges facing new farmers these days. Hotter summers, heavy rainfall, drought and novel diseases have required some adjustments to the farm’s management practices. “When we started farming, we didn’t have any irrigation. We could rely on the rain and the soil’s organic matter to get us through. There would sometimes be a couple of dryish weeks, but then there would be rainstorms in July, you know, thunderstorms and we could get through a season. Since about 2000, no two years have been alike. Really wet years, dry, dry drought years — and you never know at the beginning of the season what to expect. With the really erratic weather we found that we had to install trickle irrigation and dig a well in each field so we could have reliable water. And then when you have to use irrigation, about a quarter of your time goes in to managing that.”

Elizabeth experienced her first severe drought as a farmer in 2005, a year that the Farmer’s Almanac predicted would be average rainfall. “There was a quarter inch of rain between the beginning of May and the third week of September that year. One quarter inch! We had never had that before. And then it rained every day in October, so it WAS an average rainfall year!”

Higher summer temperatures and particularly heat waves have challenged both the plants and people at Peacework. “People who live in the South are used to really hot weather, but my partner and I are Northerners and heat just makes us totally miserable. We just have never experienced weather of over two weeks in a row over 90 until the past two years. That just makes the working conditions extremely difficult, and of course you get up earlier so that you can try and do harvesting during cool weather, but when it never goes down below 90 degrees there isn’t any cool weather for really good harvesting. It’s much harder on our people. It’s grueling.”

Elizabeth is thinking about how to apply some of the crop management practices she observed in South Korea and Taiwan to manage crops in the heavy downpours that have become more frequent at Peacework. “It’s getting harder to manage water on our farm. When rain comes, it isn’t just gentle rain, it comes in two or three hour downpours of three inches. When I visited Taiwan the first time, I noticed that they have tomato trellising that was three times as sturdy as I thought you would need, not just a tripod with three bamboo poles, it would be a tripod with eight or nine bamboo poles. And then I saw a typhoon, and I saw that their tomatoes were still standing, because they have learned how to make trellises that can stand up to a typhoon.”

“The kind of rain I saw while I was in South Korea and Taiwan explained why they use hoophouses in the summertime to protect their crops. Rain coming down so hard that it washes the crop out of the ground, or flattens it. Or if it’s seed, it could bury it or wash it out. They’ve been managing heavy downpours a long time.” Peacework has four hoophouses that have been used in the past for season extension and disease management, but recently there is talk about how to use them to protect crops from heavy rains.

There is also discussion about returning to some water and wind management practices that were used in the past. “We are lucky that we have sandy loam over gravel. We used to have it set up with grass strips between the beds, and that was a pain in the neck because you had to mow those strips. So we took most of them out, and I’m thinking that was a mistake. With the grass strip you can get on a bed way earlier, because the whole field doesn’t have to dry out. You can ride your tractor on the grass strip and do light tilling of a bed, where it would be too wet if there weren’t the grass strip there.” Because the Peacework property is level, water erosion is not a concern, but the soils, plants and people are exposed to wind. “In a very dry summer there can be a lot of real painful wind erosion, with the wind whipping through the sand. So I think being careful to have grass strips and windbreaks of bushes or trees is essential for a changing climate.”

Like other growers in the humid East, Elizabeth has seen a startling increase in crop disease with the changes in weather over the last decade. “In my first fifteen years of farming we never lost an entire crop to a disease. You would have some disease on some of the crop, or some pest, but in the past ten to fifteen years, we’ve had things like powdery mildew blow in and entirely wipe out all the cucumbers. Or late blight totally wipe out the tomatoes and potato crop. That was just not an experience that I’d had before.”

Elizabeth expressed concerns about the lack of federal crop insurance programs for diversified vegetable growers faced with managing the novel risks she has experienced from climate change effects on her farm. “The crop insurance that is available is not appropriate for our farm. It’s getting better. They have some new policies that are more accommodating to a farm growing seventy crops, but for the most part up until now they haven’t had that. You get the insurance, you pay by the crop. It hasn’t been a good fit. And it is very irritating to me, that despite the hazards for farmers, insurance companies consider crop insurance really a nice profit area, because they get subsidies from the government. They are subsidized by the federal government. Their guaranteed profit is higher than any farm ever gets.”

Looking to the future, Elizabeth believes we have the knowledge we need to sustainably manage soils and crops in a changing climate. She believes that efforts to improve the adaptive capacity of farms are best focused on the human dimensions of agriculture. “I think we’ve paid plenty of attention to soil and crops and not enough attention to people. The past ten years I’ve been working on the Agricultural Justice Project, which addresses issues of domestic fair trade. It’s developing standards for fair payments to farmers that fully cover production costs and fair labor standards on the farms, so the people who actually do the farm work are treated better, given more respect and are involved more in the farming. I think that’s what we need to understand better because in these very, very challenging times, having one manager is not enough. Everybody on a farm has to be constantly observing, trying to understand, and working out how to be nimble together.”

Elizabeth has been an active organizer, advocate and author for organic farming, sustainable agriculture and food justice for many years and represents NOFA on the Board of the Agricultural Justice Project, which offers Food Justice Certification. She has been nationally recognized for her work as a recipient of the Spirit of Organic award (2001), Cooperating for Communities award (2007), a NOFA-NY Lifetime Achievement Award (2009) and, most recently, the Ecological Farming Association’s Justie Award (2014). She co-authored the book Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture (Chelsea Green, 2007), which has helped many farms connect directly with supportive customers willing to share the risk with their farmers. Although Elizabeth retired from full-time farming in 2012, she remains active as a mentor, food justice activist and author.

New Morning Farm

New Morning Farm

New Morning Farm

Jim Crawford, New Morning Farm, Hustontown, Pennsylvania. Credit: Jim Crawford.

I realize now how lucky we were for so many years. We didn’t see many of the classic vegetable diseases at all for most of our years. But in the last 5 to 8 years things have really changed. Why is it that we suddenly have seen a whole range of really devastating diseases that we never saw before?

Jim Crawford

New Morning Farm

Northeast Region | Hustontown, PA

Main Product: Vegetables

Scale: 45 acres under management

Featured Resilience Behaviors:

Add protected growing/organic pesticides, floodplain retreat.

‘This story is based on a 2013 interview, with a 2021 update.

For more than forty years, Jim and Moie Crawford have owned and operated New Morning Farm, a 95-acre certified-organic vegetable farm in south-central Pennsylvania. Jim and Moie manage a diverse mix of vegetables and small fruits — about fifty different kinds — on 45 acres of the farm’s best cropland. They also sell eggs produced on the farm.

New Morning Farm has a greenhouse and four high-tunnel cold frames for transplant production and season extension, access to ample surface water for crop irrigation with sprinkler and drip systems. Soil quality is maintained with a diverse crop rotation that puts about a third of the land in cover crops each year and includes the regular application of purchased and locally-made composts and plastic mulch. The farm employs six to eight year-round employees and twenty-five seasonal workers, including those participating in the farm’s well-respected apprenticeship program.

About two-thirds of the farm’s produce is marketed directly to consumers at markets in Washington, DC., while one-third is sold wholesale through Tuscarora Organic Growers, a marketing cooperative that Jim helped to organize in 1988 to coordinate the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables to retailers, restaurants and institutions in Washington, D.C.

Growing vegetables on bottom land in Central Pennsylvania has brought Jim Crawford a lifetime of intriguing challenges most of them related in one way or another to water. “I can remember my very first year farming, the big issue was it just kept raining all spring. The dry days were so few that we just couldn’t farm. People said, ‘Oh that’s just Pennsylvania. That’s just the way it is here.’…. Basically, our biggest challenge was to figure out how to farm when it was always raining.” Paradoxically, learning how to manage crop irrigation during frequent summer dry spells typical of the region was another big challenge. According to Jim, “Irrigation in this part of the country is a way bigger factor than many people realize. It’s just a huge issue for yields, quality and profitability, and production in general. Irrigation is an enormous challenge.”

About fifteen years ago, Jim began to notice shifts in weather on the farm. Temperatures seemed to be getting more variable and there was a definite increase in both heavy rainfall and summer drought. These changes seemed to intensify after 2010. “It’s really hard to draw conclusions, but the variability just seems so extreme in the last few years. We saw 80 degrees in April, in March and then in January. Those highs are then followed by real, real cold temperatures. Just extreme shifts in temperature, extremes you did not used to see so often. And there has been more drought and more flooding. We’re going through a drought right now that’s one of the most extreme that I’ve ever seen in forty years. I’m not complaining because we have been able to irrigate. It’s just that I think it’s another sign of extremes.”

One key to Jim’s success in managing vegetables in the typically wet conditions on his farm is the use of black plastic mulch as physical protection. The plastic mulch allows Jim to do much of his fieldwork during the fall and winter, when conditions are more often right for incorporating soil amendments and shaping planting beds. “What we have done now for six or eight years is to prepare beds and put plastic down on large acreage before we need it. That way the land is standing by and it’s ready when we need it. So the tillage is done, the spreading is done. Of course, we get weed control and moisture control out of it too, but the biggest thing it does for us is it keeps us on schedule.”

Like many other farmers, Jim has used the lengthening growing season to his advantage. For example, with the addition of physical protection in the spring and fall, he has been able to extend his harvests of sweet corn and snap beans. “We have actually doubled the number of weeks that we harvest sweet corn and more than tripled the weeks of green beans. We’ve drastically increased the length of our season for those two crops.” But Jim acknowledges that improved season-extension practices have played a large role in lengthening harvests too. “It’s definitely not all weather. We’ve also had big successes on season extension with various techniques. But it does indicate that the growing season is longer. And I have to say we have made money on it, even though it makes me very uncomfortable because I know it is a sign of climate change.”

Another sign of a changing climate may be the increasing costs and management challenges created by a growing number of novel plant diseases. Late blight arrived on the farm for the first time in 2003 and has been a frequent disease problem in Jim’s tomato crop since then, significantly reducing yields in four of the last ten years.

Another recent arrival to the farm is downy mildew. “We didn’t see downy mildew in cucumbers until 2007. Now we see it every year, around the first of August. It wipes out the cucumbers. No more cucumbers. It’s really dramatic. It’s amazing to me. We used to have a full cucumber season from June to October and I can remember beautiful crops of cucumbers in October. Cucumbers lying everywhere. Now, we don’t see a cucumber here after the beginning of August.”

Other costly new diseases that have arrived on the farm in the last decade are Alternaria in brassicas, a mildew in basil and a rust in their raspberries. Jim explains, “We grow a lot of basil, it’s one of our bigger crops. It’s in our top ten of the fifty crops that we grow. We went for decades never having a disease problem with the basil and now we have disease all the time, every season, all season long. But the biggest new disease is this rust in our raspberries, which are a pretty big crop for us. We never saw it until last year when it wiped out the whole crop starting in July. We thought we were on top of it this year and now here just this week, it’s back and it’s wiping us out again. Thirty-eight years, we never saw it. Now we’ve seen it two years in a row. It isn’t a little problem. It destroys the crop.”

Central Pennsylvania is in the path of Atlantic hurricanes, which make a regular appearance on the farm. “Hurricanes are the single weather events that have definitely cost us, by far, the most money over the years,” says Jim. “They usually come in September. That’s been our most vulnerable times. Although we’ve had them through the years, the biggest ones ever have both hit in the last decade. Both came in September and both wiped out probably a third of our year’s production all in one day.” Jim has investigated insuring his crops through the USDA, but found that the programs available to him were not appropriate to his farm because of his crop diversity and the value of his crops relative to conventional vegetable farms.

In 2019, Jim and Moie began transitioning the business to Jenni Glenister, a long-time member of the management team who joined the farm as an apprentice in 2009. The sale was completed in June 2021.

Over the last decade, Jenni and Jim have made major changes in farm operations to manage increasingly challenging weather related risks. They have moved crop production out of low-lying landscape positions on the farm to reduce the risks of heavy rains and flooding, dropped some profitable crops – such as fall brassicas, strawberries and raspberries – that have become too risky as weather patterns and pest pressures have changed, added some redundancy into crop planning to allow for weather-related adjustments during the growing season, and dropped wholesale markets in order to maintain revenues at a lower volume of production.

Jenni and Jim continue to rely on some proven climate risk management tools at New Morning Farm, including: the adaptive analysis of risk and profit for individual crops; a focus on soil health; an effective irrigation program; fieldwork flexibility through the use of physical protection and multiple strategies for accomplishing specific tasks such as planting, cultivation and harvesting; and active participation in research and educational programs hosted by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.

 Jim regularly leads farming workshops, gives lectures and hosts field days at the farm for farm organizations and local colleges and universities. In 2002, the Crawford’s were recognized for their long and active support for organic farming with a Leadership Award from the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.  New Morning Farm was featured as one of sixty model U.S. sustainable farms and ranches in the 2005 USDA-SARE publication The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural Innovation.


Twin Oaks Community

Twin Oaks Community

Twin Oaks Community

Pam Dawling, Twin Oaks Community. Credit: Twin Oaks Community

We’ve tried leaving more things to overwinter because it doesn’t get as cold as it used to, but it’s a bit trial and error because we just never quite know what’s going to happen. Winter weather in Virginia is all over the place. It just seems more that way recently.

Pam Dawling

Twin Oaks Community

Southeast Region | Louisa, VA

Main Product: Vegetables

Scale: 4 acres under management

Featured Resilience Behaviors:

Add protected growing space, monitoring.

For more than half of her nearly 50 years of farming, Pam Dawling has grown food at Twin Oaks, an intentional community and ecovillage of about a hundred people located in central Virginia near Louisa. Pam managed vegetables and fruit production on the community’s organic farm, which also produces dairy, beef, poultry, honey, herbs, tree fruit, mushrooms, seeds, ornamental flowers and forestry products. The garden produces a diverse mix of vegetables and berries on about 3.5 acres of cultivated fields, raised beds and undercover in a high tunnel. Crop rotation, cover crops, and the application of compost, plus careful attention to season extension have been key production practices in the market garden. In 2017, Pam’s role shifted from manager to support staff at the garden, but she brings her full range of experience at Twin Oaks to this story.

Pam’s early experiences as a member of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms introduced her to organic farming as a healthy way to live — as well as to the difficulties of solo farming — and sparked her interest in living and working collectively. Growing for a community food supply allowed Pam to center vegetable production on crops with high food value, rather than high market value. She also managed production to include specific crops favored by community members and to meet community needs for vegetables throughout the year. To achieve these goals, Pam focused production on a select group of crops: leafy greens like lettuce, chard and kale that can be grown year-round using some combination of field and protected growing space; summer crops that are equally tasty fresh or processed such as tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and peppers; and root crops like sweet potatoes that are easy to store with minimal processing for use throughout the year.

Want to read more? You can find the full version of this story in the Second Edition of Resilient Agriculture, available for purchase here.

Perry-winkle Farm

Perry-winkle Farm

perry-winkle Farm

Mike Perry and Cathy Jones, Perry-Winkle Farm. Credit: Local Harvest

Cathy Jones & Michael Perry

Perry-Winkle Farm

Southeast Region | Chapel Hill, NC

Main Product: Vegetables

Scale: 10 acres under management

Featured Resilience Behaviors:

Intensive cover cropping.


Maple Spring Gardens

Maple Spring Gardens

Maple Spring Gardens

Ken Dawson and Libby Outlaw, Maple Springs Gardens, Cedar Grove, North Carolina. Credit: Debbie Roos.

The frequency and intensity of extreme weather seems to be increasing, which presents all sorts of challenges, the unpredictability of it. The last year that I remember as what I would consider a really good growing season was 2001. Since then, we’ve seen it all. We’ve had the driest years ever and the wettest years ever and the coldest winter in decades and the hottest summer in 100 years. The extremes are just becoming more extreme.

Ken Dawson

Maple Spring Gardens

Southeast Region | Cedar Grove, NC

Main Product: Vegetables

Scale: 14 acres under management

Featured Resilience Behaviors:

Shift growing season, drop sensitive species, shift to heat tolerant cultivars, add protected space.

This story is based on a 2014 interview.

Ken Dawson has raised organically grown vegetables for more than forty years in the community of Cedar Grove, North Carolina, located about twenty five miles north of Chapel Hill. Ken and his wife, Libby Outlaw, established Maple Spring Gardens in 1983 on leased land and moved their farm business to a worn-out tobacco farm in Cedar Grove that they purchased in 1990. Their long experience growing for high-value markets and using sustainable practices like composting and cover crops to build and maintain soil quality swiftly transformed the badly neglected land into a productive and profitable farm.

Today, Ken uses crop diversity, crop rotation and cover crops to maintain soil quality and reduce pest pressures and insectary plantings and OMRI-approved pesticides, when needed, to manage pests and diseases. Maple Springs Garden has a 5-kW photovoltaic array tied to the grid and ample water for irrigation from a pond and a well on the farm. With the help of a seasonal crew of six to eight fieldworkers, Ken and Libby grow more than eighty different varieties of vegetables, cut flowers, small fruits and medicinal and culinary herb starts on 6 acres of seasonal production rotated through 14 acres of cropland. They market their produce through direct sales to a 200 plus member CSA and at farmer’s markets in nearby Durham and Carrboro, and to local businesses.

The Southeast has always been a difficult place to grow vegetables. Poor-quality soils, fluctuating winter temperatures and hot, humid summers encourage pests and diseases and reduce crop yields.“It’s my perception, and I certainly don’t have the weather records to document it, but my perception is that the variability is becoming greater both in temperature and precipitation. Obviously the variability in precipitation is always a challenge, but the more extreme it gets the more of a challenge it is. For, example, in 2002, we had the driest year in a hundred years in central North Carolina. In 2003, we had the wettest year in a hundred years in central North Carolina. In 2007, we had the driest year ever recorded in central North Carolina. This year, we had the coolest, wettest season anybody living can remember.”

“Likewise in temperatures. The winter of 2010 was the coldest year in thirty years here and that summer was the hottest summer ever, with July and August just constantly setting temperature records for most days … hitting 105 for days on end here and the most 90-degree days ever recorded. Variability is always a challenge, that is a given in farming. It’s not like we’re seeing things we haven’t seen before, just more so. The high temperatures, the heat waves, it’s all just seems to be becoming more extreme. The extremes are just becoming more extreme.”

Hotter temperatures and more frequent heat waves have begun to interfere with crop production on Ken’s farm and others in the region. “Flowering, pollination and fruit set had never been an issue for us prior to 2010. In the 2010, ’11 and ’12 growing seasons we had very poor fruit set on our late tomatoes due to excessive heat in July. That’s something I had never encountered before. Early September, when we normally have a lot of late tomatoes, there just weren’t any. They were great-looking plants with nothing on them.” The late crop of tomatoes is an important crop for many growers in the region, including Ken, but many have now given up on the crop. Ken is thinking about trying some heat-tolerant cultivars for the late planting.

The increased summer heat may be the reason Ken has had to adjust the seasonal planting schedule for tomatoes. “I have worked for years with essentially the same timing of my tomato plantings. We do one hoophouse planting and then four in the field. That’s intended to give us tomatoes to harvest from June until mid-October. What I’ve noticed in the last four or five years is our late planted tomatoes that we have for years targeted with putting in the field around the twentieth of June, that planting is too early. Those tomatoes seem to be growing faster and ripening earlier, whereas we always wanted that last planting in tomatoes to begin being ready for harvest in early September. So we’re starting to plant them later than we ever have before.”

Like many other growers around the country, Ken has had to adjust his crop mix and planting plans to adapt to warmer and more variable spring and fall temperatures, though the length of the growing season does not seem to have changed in his area. He has found opportunity in season extension and has been successful in increasing cool-season crop production on the farm by expanding greenhouse and hoophouse space. But more variable temperatures in spring and fall, plus falling market prices led him to drop one of his major crops. “For about twenty years lettuce was our main crop. We used to grow it for the wholesale market. We don’t grow much lettuce anymore. It was always susceptible to hot spells early in the spring season, or too much rain, or too early a cold spell in the fall and so forth, whereas other crops are not nearly as sensitive to that kind of variability.”

The well-documented earlier arrival of downy mildew, a devastating disease of melons and cucurbits, has required Ken to adjust his plantings of crops like cantaloupe and winter squash. Downy mildew spends the winter down south in Florida and moves up the east coast as summer temperatures increase. “It used to be that downy mildew would appear in eastern North Carolina in early August and then move westward. We could safely grow susceptible crops up until sometime in August and then those diseases would come. In the last three or four years, downy mildew has started appearing in North Carolina in June. In response to that, we shifted our plantings of susceptible crops earlier by at least a month because if we plant it later, it all dies before it matures.”

Ken is fairly confident that under current climate conditions, he has the resources he needs to continue to farm successfully. “There’s really a lot of variability here in central North Carolina, probably more so than in a lot of other parts of the country. We kind of take it for granted that there’s going to be wet periods and dry periods and unusual hot and cold here. We’re kind of used to it already. It just seems like climate change will require us, at least in this part of the country, to kind of up our game of adaptability and diversity and so forth. I think the reality is we’ve got to recognize changes are happening and adapt to them. It’s high time that we take that seriously and get on with it.”

Ken has served the Southeast for many years as a respected leader in sustainable agriculture and local food systems. In 1993 he was named Carolina Farmer of the Year by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, a regional sustainable agriculture organization serving North and South Carolina.