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

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.

 

Bishop’s Orchards

Bishop’s Orchards

Bishop’s Orchards

Jonathan Bishop, Bishop’s Orchards, Guilford CT. Credit: Jonathan Bishop.

We always talk in the course of a year, about how the weather seems one way or another, how it’s different from normal. I think it also gets to the point over time, of not really knowing what normal is. I can remember unusually warm spells and cold spells from when I was a kid. I think what may color my responses somewhat is that Guilford is a shoreline community. Our orchards, many of our orchards, are within a few miles of the coast. So we get a very moderating influence from Long Island Sound.

Jonathan Bishop

Bishop’s Orchards

Northeast Region | Guilford, CT

Main Product: Fruits & Nuts

Scale: 320 acres under management

Featured Resilience Behaviors:

Increase field equipment, diversify perennial crops, add annual crops, shift to direct markets, add agrotourism and on-farm retail store, add on-farm processing (winery).

This story is based on a 2014 interview.

Effective adaptation to changing market conditions has been a hallmark of Bishop’s Orchards, a 140-year-old farm located near Guilford, Connecticut. Through six generations, the Bishop farm has evolved from a small general farm peddling ice, milk, fruits and vegetables door to door in the local community, to a wholesale grower of fruits and vegetables supplying regional markets, to a thriving retail market offering a diverse line of fresh and processed products, many produced on the farm.

Jonathan and Keith Bishop are cousins, fifth-generation co-owners and managers of Bishop’s Orchards and related businesses. Jonathan is responsible for production, harvesting and warehousing of all crops on the farm, including disease and insect control, integrated pest management (IPM) and the management of farm equipment. Keith is responsible for retail marketing, sales and management of the family business, and is also Bishop’s winemaker.

While apples are a focus of production on the 320-acre farm, Jonathan also manages a diverse mix of vegetable, berry and flower crops for direct sales through an on-farm, full-service retail market and bakery, a winery, a pick-your-own operation and a CSA. Bishop’s was an early innovator of IPM methods for fruit production in Connecticut. Jonathan has reduced the use of pesticides on the farm by up to eighty percent through a program featuring scouting, fumigant cover crops, trap crops, agroforestry and other practices that serve to increase biodiversity and reduce pest pressures. The farm and associated packing/cider operation at Bishop’s Orchards employs a full-time staff of fifteen and adds as many as thirty seasonal employees during the growing season, while the retail side of the business employs about fifty-five people year-round with an additional sixty seasonal staff.

When Jonathan thinks back over the thirty-five years he has been managing production at Bishop’s Orchards, several long-term production challenges come to mind. Changes in pesticides, novel pests, insects and disease management and wildlife — particularly deer and voles — have been continually challenging. “Most of the complication on the insect and disease side,” Jonathan explains, “is changing chemistries, the phasing out of the organophosphates and some of the longer residual fungicides, the pest-specific nature of the replacements, and some introduced species.

The spotted wing drosophila [fruit fly] has become a huge pest for small fruit growers and the brown marmorated stink bug is another one that, knock on wood, we haven’t had to deal with yet. It’s another one that’s out there. These recent pest introductions have happened, I think, as a result of global trade, the nature of trade these days. We’ve maybe let down the guard a little bit over the years and the focus has shifted towards trying to find terrorists and bombers and not concentrating so much on some of these other imports that can have major impacts on agriculture.”

Weather is always a challenge in fruit and vegetable production and that has also been true at Bishop’s. Like many fruit growers, Jonathan has continuing challenges with variable spring weather, summer drought and periods of moisture that encourage plant diseases. He thinks that dry periods might be the biggest challenge because of all the extra work involved in watering. “On a lot of our small fruit crops, we have trickle irrigation in place,” he says. “With the tree fruits and some of the vegetable crops, you get involved in moving pipe around and getting water to the pipes. The dry periods are difficult to deal with in that regard.”

Jonathan can’t say that he has seen any kind of changing trends in weather. There have always been extreme events through the years and he doesn’t think these have increased in frequency or intensity during his lifetime. He can recall some extreme weather events throughout the years. “For instance, we just went through a pretty cold spell with the Polar vortex [in 2014]. Yet I can remember in 1981 we lost our peaches from three days of minus 12 temperatures. We haven’t had that kind of cold since then. We had a really warm February in 1976, the apple buds actually started to swell, and then it dropped back to normal winter temperatures, and some varieties were 100-percent loss that year. The earliest season I can ever remember was in 2012. We started five weeks earlier than normal, but it was followed by last year [2013], which was a fairly late season for us. Of course, there was the Halloween snowstorm in 2010. It’s hard to say that there is a trend even in the variations because there’s been some pretty big swings going back thirty-some years. Like I said, I’ve seen extremes but I haven’t seen an increase in the extremes.”

Jonathan thinks that the farm’s location on the coast of Long Island Sound may have provided some buffer against weather extremes. “The sound may be moderating the absolute cold temperatures in the winter and the hot temperatures in summer. Growers inland often face much bigger issues with spring cold temperatures or frost than we do. That maybe part of why our experience may be a little different from what other people might have noticed.” Over the years, Jonathan has learned to be prepared for whatever the weather might bring. “Every season we plan for the quote-unquote normal situation,” he says. “We’re prepared for reacting to unusual events. If we had an unusually heavy rain and we needed to reapply a protectant to a crop or something, we just figure out what we’re going to need to do in terms of having the systems ready to go when we need them. I guess we just try to be prepared for anything.”

Although the last thirty years have brought a lot of changes to Bishop’s, most have been driven by marketing considerations, not changes in weather, Jonathan explains. “There are so many factors other than weather that are driving crop choices. We’ve been moving very steadily away from apples, which used to be our biggest crop by far. Apples tied us to wholesaling. Since then, over time we’ve been using alternative marketing methods that are pick-your-own, through our own retail or the CSA. We have been trying to adjust our mix of crops to match our production to our retail needs. We have been expanding into other crops like peaches, small fruits and a number of vegetable crops. If one thing doesn’t work out one year, it’s better the next. We’ve always looked at our diversity as our insurance.”

Jonathan appreciates the benefits to risk management provided by diversity, even within just one crop. “It’s always interesting — even within a single crop like apples, there will be a year when one particular variety is just outstanding and the quality of another one is just not what you’d hope it would be. We’re always looking at our diversification and adding different things to the mix, trying them out, sort of move it around and doing a little bit of our own research and development in-house to find stuff that hits a niche that we want to try to hit.”

A number of severe storm events over the last few years confirmed the benefits of scale, experience and crop diversity. Jonathan explains, “Because we’re a fairly good size farm for our area and we’re pretty diversified, when we do get a bad weather condition, something that might drive another farmer to have a bad crop, typically has less of an effect on us.” One example is with the CSA. “There are quite a few CSA’s starting up in our area. There’s a small farm not too far from us who suffered pretty badly a year or two ago. And that’s okay, their CSA members understood that it was a bad year. But the following year when they’re looking to be in a CSA, and they have a choice between a CSA that’s supplied people with something all season long or a CSA that basically gave up in July… We have a lot of people that have previously been with somebody else who signed up with us because we have more capacity to make sure people get their value. It’s a scenario where both the scale and the diversification mattered.”

Jonathan is upbeat about the future of Bishop’s Orchards. He believes that the diversity of their crop production and marketing practices will help the business remain successful even if weather becomes a more important risk factor as climate change intensifies through mid-century.

Jonathan Bishop has been active in local and state civic and agricultural organizations for many years. He has served as a member of the USDA Farm Service Agency State Committee and is currently on the board of New Haven Farms, a nonprofit organization that promotes health and community development through urban agriculture in New Haven, CT. In 2001, Bishop’s Orchards was named the Mass Mutual National Family Business of the Year. Bishop’s Orchards was one of sixty American farms and ranches selected for the USDA-SARE publication The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural Innovation.

 

Sap Bush Hollow Farm

Sap Bush Hollow Farm

Sap Bush Hollow Farm

Jim and Adele Hayes and family, Sap Bush Hollow Farm, Warnerville, New York. Credit: Jim Hayes.

Variability in precipitation is always a challenge when you are producing livestock on pasture. It wasn’t too bad here until around 2000. But since then, particularly in the last couple of years, we’ve seen more variability with respect to some drier periods as well as excess moisture and flooding which is causing some problems.

Jim & Adele Hayes

Sap Bush Hollow Farm

Northeast Region | Warnerville, NY

Main Product: Livestock

Scale: 160 acres under management

Featured Resilience Behaviors:

Shift to intensive grazing multispecies pastured livestock production, direct markets, add backup solar, drainage, raised barn, ponds, reinforced poultry shelters, FAMACHA monitoring system, mob grazing, shifted lambing season.

This story is based on a 2013 interview.

At Sap Bush Hollow Farm, three generations of the Hayes and Hooper family produce grass-fed lamb and beef, pastured pork and poultry, all-natural wool fiber, organic honey and all-natural handcrafts in the hills of Schoharie County, New York. All these products are sold through direct markets on the farm and at local farmers’ markets, and the non-perishable products are also marketed through the farm website and a regional foods website.

Jim and Adele Hayes established Sap Bush Hollow Farm in 1979 on 160 acres of upland pastures and wooded mountains near Warnerville, about an hour west of Albany, New York. With the goal of slowly building a pasture-based livestock business, they concentrated on sheep for the first decade, producing lambs for seasonal holiday markets. As they gained experience and marketing knowledge, they next expanded into pasture-based poultry, both layers and broilers, and finally added beef and pork, all in an intensive grazing management system.

Today, Jim and Adele manage a 200-ewe flock to produce their lambs and purchase all the other livestock they finish each year. The ruminants — beef and sheep — are 100-percent grass-fed and are rotated through a system of twenty paddocks on the farm, while the poultry and pigs spend their lives on pasture and are fed grain sourced from neighboring farms. The Hayes appreciate the multiple benefits of their diversified, pasture-based livestock production system to soil quality, pest management and marketing. They use no pesticides, other than worming medications when needed for the sheep, and there is virtually no soil erosion on the farm. They have not used any soil amendments, other than lime, for more than thirty years.

Over the last decade or so, more variable weather and extremes have created new challenges at Sap Bush Hollow Farm. Jim and Adele have adapted to more dry periods and drought by leasing some additional pastureland to increase their capacity for forage production and they have built ponds to provide water to every paddock on the farm. Stronger and more frequent winds are also challenging farm operations, even though the farm is in a sheltered location, and they have had to reinforce their portable poultry huts with steel bases to withstand higher winds.

In 2011, Sap Bush Hollow was right in the path of two back-to-back hurricanes — Irene and Lee — that caused catastrophic flooding in South Central New York. Jim says that the storms were an eye-opening experience for everyone in the community, particularly with respect to how quickly the road system in the area was destroyed. “The damage that those storms caused was very frightening,” Jim recalls. “That really reset our thinking in a lot of ways. Within a three-hour period the stream that runs along the state road below our house flooded and gouged out the entire road, the whole fifteen feet of macadam.” Jim and Adele had moved their flock of sheep to a neighboring farm that is at a higher elevation to protect them from the storm and were disturbed to learn that they could not get to them after the storm passed.

Although the sheep were less than a mile away, the flooding had destroyed the two bridges between their farm and the farm where they had sheltered their flock. “With the help of neighbors, we were able to repair the bridges enough so that we could walk over them. And so we were able to go up and drive the sheep home.”

Loss of power after the storm was also a worry. “We didn’t know how long we would be without power,” recalls Jim. “I thought we would be out for weeks at least and we have usually several tons of meat here in storage in our walk-in freezers. We have a generator that runs off our tractor but we only have storage for about three hundred gallons of diesel fuel on the farm.”

Another worry was feed. The hurricanes hit near the end of the poultry and pork production cycle, so the farm did not have a lot of feed on hand. “We were near the bottom of the line for feed,” Jim recalls, “and we had maybe a thousand chickens out here and hogs which needed grain. Fortunately, the power and roads in our area were repaired quite quickly. We were lucky in that respect.” Since these storms, Jim and Adele have put in a significant amount of solar power on the farm because of concerns about the reliability of the power grid. They are now looking into adding a reserve battery system to give them additional options for powering the walk-in freezer in the event of a major disruption of the electrical supply.

An indirect effect of the storms was a loss of farmers’ market sales, which are a large part of their business. “My daughter goes to a farmers’ market about twenty-five miles south of us, which is a little closer to New York City. That area has a lot of second homes. During Irene and Lee, they got hit pretty bad and got pretty much wiped out. That reduced our income by about thirty percent for quite a while. I would say that this year [2013] is probably the first year it’s been about fully recovered.”

Over the last fifteen years, heavy rainfalls have become more frequent and have increased in intensity at Sap Bush Hollow Farm. Jim and Adele have made a number of changes on the farm to try and manage the increased surface water flows during the heavy rains. “We were getting quite a bit of flow down the valley,” explains Jim, “and quite a bit of groundwater coming up and saturating the areas where we keep the livestock during the winter.” They built a new drainage system to redirect surface runoff and built a new barn with a raised concrete floor to provide dry shelter for livestock.

Jim and Adele have also noticed warmer temperatures, particularly in winter, and longer growing seasons, which create some new challenges and some new opportunities. “As far as normals go, we’ve been here a long time and the winters are not anywhere as near as severe as they used to be,” says Jim. The warmer and wetter conditions increased parasite pressures in the sheep flock. “About eight years ago or so, we started really having problems with heavy parasite loads,” explains Jim. “Because of the lack of effective deworming medications, we started using the FAMACHA System which is an eyelid test that allows you to estimate the level of infestation of Haemonchus, which is a major parasite of sheep. Overtime, the use of the system increases the flock’s natural resistance to parasites. It’s a whole new system and I think it does work.”

Jim also shifted to mob grazing, a special type of rotational grazing, to reduce parasite pressures. This involves managing pastures in more mature growth phases with high-intensity grazing over very short time periods. “Now we’re letting the grass grow longer,” Jim explains, “and we may only take 30 percent of the available forage from the top down. We have a higher residual level of thatch and the sheep aren’t grazing so close to the ground, so we’re having less parasite problems.” Jim has noticed some other benefits of mob grazing as well, including increased forage production, better production during dry periods, faster recovery after grazing, better weight gains and improved soil quality. “Many producers in the area are reluctant to use it because of the amount of forage that gets pounded into the dirt,” says Jim, “but I think the benefits are worth it.”

Jim and Adele have made some changes to capitalize on the longer growing season and to put their new barn to good use. They have shifted their lambing season from May to April. If April weather is cold and wet, they can lamb in the barn; if it is dry and warm, they can lamb in the open as they used to do in May. Earlier lambing gives the lambs more time to grow and mature during the best part of the grazing season. Jim explains, “We’re looking at a longer grazing season and we’re stockpiling more for winter grazing, two changes that are really going to help us because the difference between winter grazing versus purchasing hay is almost a factor of ten, as far as cost. We hope to get a higher percentage of our animals finished before the grazing season ends and it looks like we may be able to finish an additional batch of chickens each year as well.”

Jim says that most farmers in his area have noticed similar weather changes — more variability, warmer winters, more extreme events — and have adapted in different ways to them. Grain farmers are taking advantage of the lengthening growing season by shifting to longer-season corn varieties. Vegetable farmers are putting up more high tunnels to protect their crops from more variable weather and extend the growing season. Some sheep producers are switching from wool sheep to hair sheep, which have higher resistance to parasites, as a way to manage higher parasite pressures in the longer, warmer and wetter growing seasons. Hay producers have shifted to baleage or silage because more variable weather has made traditional hay making so difficult.

Jim and Adele’s experiences over the last decade have made them realize that they are quite vulnerable to heavy rainfall and more extreme weather events. “It’s come to be a major issue,” says Jim. They are actively working to identify and address major farm sensitivities to more variable weather and extremes and they appreciate the resources available to support their efforts over the last few years. “When we built the new barn we got some cost-sharing through NRCS on part of the flooring,” Jim explains. Federal cost-share money also helped with the project to divert surface water flows on the farm. The Hayes’ have considered federally-subsidized production insurance, but don’t think it would be beneficial because of their product diversity and the cost. Thinking about the future, Jim laughs and says that he isn’t very confident in their ability to manage changing climate conditions. “We’re doing this as best as we can,” he says, “but we realize that these things aren’t going to go away.”

Jim and Adele welcome their customers to the farm regularly and are active in civic and agricultural organizations in their region. Sap Bush Hollow Farm was profiled as one of sixty model U.S. sustainable farms and ranches in the USDA-SARE publication The New American Farmer: Profiles of Agricultural Innovation.