Farm Practices for Good Land Stewardship
The Geyers are proud to grow 100% safe, nutritious, and delicious food. Further, they understand the responsibility they carry for providing safe food, for providing a safe workplace for their employees, and for protecting their land, waterways and the diverse community of pollinators and resident wildlife with which they share their fields. They use a balance of the best practices available to grow the healthiest, highest quality fruit with the least possible impact on the environment.
What Tools Does Agriberry Farm Use?
The Geyers practice Integrated Pest Management at Agriberry Farm. IPM is a modern farming philosophy of combining cultural, biological and chemical interventions to reduce damage to crops. Whether Farmer Chuck is working to keep his beloved peach trees from blooming too early (he’ll apply a coat of white latex paint, which helps reflect the sunlight, keeping the trunks from warming too soon,) running the sprinklers to keep the strawberry blooms from freezing during a cold snap, or applying a fungicide to prevent the growth of molds and mildew, the mindset for the farm is that healthy soils grow healthy plants, requiring the minimum amount of intervention.
What Are Pests?
In farming terms, a “pest” can be anything that might reduce a harvest, ranging from weather (think late frosts or early warming, excessive rain, humidity and excessive heat) to foraging wildlife to molds to invasive weeds and, of course, insects. Each of these threats warrants a specific management strategy, which must be implemented in concert with all the other management strategies in play. These overlapping strategies are supported by scouting information from the fields, along with the best available information about weather prediction and pest development models, to enable the most effective opportunity for intervention.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) involves:
- Identifying pests and habits to carefully target control measures for greatest effectiveness.
- Using comprehensive information about the life cycles of insect and diseases affecting the fields.
- Seeking the path of least risk for all interventions to reduce or eliminate possible adverse impacts.
Cultural IPM refers to how we farm and harvest. Some examples of Cultural IPM farm cover the “basics” required to grow the most robust plants and trees possible, such as full sunlight, well nourished soil, and adequate water. Modern specialty crop farming embraces the understanding that healthy plants are more likely to be able to withstand the challenges posed by pests, so that’s the first line of defense.
Agriberry Farm’s fields are covered with an underground irrigation system, which ensure that the plants receive the even supply of water they need to stay healthy and minimizes the potential for wasted water. The underground system also delivers the blend of nutrients (known as “ferti-gation”) the plants need to thrive.
The trellising system and pruning techniques used throughout the farm means the plants and trees get the maximum amount of sunlight and airflow, boosting fruit development and reducing the risk of disease. Other tools for encouraging healthy soil and plants include traditional “organic” farming practices of cover cropping and green mulching. Other examples include sterilizing pruning tools when moving from one plant or tree to another.
Biological interventions require a deep understanding of the lifecycles of specific pests, and using “Mother Nature’s” tools to help control or discourage a pest. For example, reproducing the female sex pheromone of some insect pests can “confuse” the males so they never find a mate, thereby controlling future generations without the use of pesticides. Another well known example is using “good bugs” such as Lady Bugs to work against “bad bugs” such as Aphids.
The application of pesticides and fungicides are an integral part of any IPM program, using targeted products–at the correct time in a pest’s lifecycle–to kill only the pest instead of killing all the beneficial insects in the fields. Based on exhaustive research, the Geyers know that the fruit they bring to market is 100% safe and healthy, despite the concerns that may be perpetuated by misinformation and misunderstanding.
Is Agriberry Farm “Organic?”
While Agriberry Farm is not Certified Organic, it uses many organic practices, and the fruit produced is 100% safe and nutritious. You are encouraged to visit the farm and fields during the Open Farm Visits during harvest season to see the vibrant community of flora and fauna at work making your beautiful fruit.
What Does Organic Certification Actually Means?
There’s a lot of information, and mis-information, out there about what “Certified Organic” actually means. Many consumers believe that “Organic” means the same as “No Spray,” but that’s not true: sprays are permitted but are limited to an approved list. While some synthetic substances are prohibited for use by Organic guidelines, many are actually permitted, along with a host of “natural” substances that are available for use by Organic farms.
While we’re not knocking anyone’s practices or buying choices, we feel that the question, “Are you Organic?” deserves more than just a one-word answer. Want to learn a little more about what the Organic label really means? Here’s a great article from back in 2011 in Scientific American that still holds true today. Thanks for taking the time out to read this, and for being willing to think a little more deeply about the complexities of our food systems.
Staying Committed to IPM
Certified Organic production is very popular in today’s marketplace, but it is not necessarily a safer, healthier, or more environmentally friendly method of fruit production. The Geyers firmly believe that being an IPM Grower and making use of ALL the crop protection resources available is the best option for their farm and community. Because some of the most effective IPM sprays do not qualify for use by organic standards, organic producers may need to use larger amounts of other non-synthetic sprays to try to control the same pests IPM growers control with their integrated approach.
With that philosophical distinction aside, as a consumer, you can feel confident that all the fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S. today were grown in a safe, environmentally friendly manner and that whichever producer you choose to support will fight to keep it that way.
Ready for a little more information? Check out this article from the Alliance for Food Safety, offering “A Dozen More Reasons to Eat Fruits and Veggies.” We love that their bottom line is that whether conventionally grown or Certified Organic, the fruits and vegetables available to U.S. consumers today is safe. Further, the article confirms the mounting research that shows eating four or more servings of berries, fruits and vegetables per day is proven to help you live a longer, healthier and happier life, and that seven or more servings is closer to the optimum. Why not make life just a little bit sweeter by having several of those servings of your favorite berries and fruit come from Agriberry Farm?
Where Would We Bee Without Our Pollinators?
We hope we never find out, that’s for sure. In addition to our hives of European honeybees, our fields are home to myriad native pollinators, including many other types of native bees, butterflies, moths, birds, bats, beetles and other insects. One factor that makes the Agriberry Farm fields such a haven for pollinators is the diversity of plantings, surrounded by native woodlands: the blooms start in early spring with the peaches, and don’t stop until the red raspberries are done with the first hard frost, typically in October or November.
Filling the GAP
In 2016 Agriberry Farm was awarded full accreditation in accordance with the USDA’s new Good Agricultural Practices program, developed to help ensure that food produced on U.S. farms is safely handled and traceable from the farm of origin all the way to the consumer. The farm was re-certified during the 2017 and 2018 audits, and similar success is anticipated in 2019.
As part of continuing efforts to improve farm practices and to ensure that we adhere to the highest possible standards for food safety, Agriberry Farm has chosen to not to re-use pulp or plastic containers. The farm will, however, continue to collect and re-use cardboard “flats” and other cardboard boxes of various sizes used to hold individual fruit containers throughout the harvest season.
One of the most frequently asked questions at our markets is, “How long will you have strawberries?” Among farmers, strawberries are considered to be one of the most finicky fruits to grow, partially because they are so sensitive to temperature variations. Among customers, strawberries are considered by many area fans to be their absolute favorite of the year, and our market tables are never busier than when strawberries are in season.
One thing we CAN say is that Memorial Day weekend is the traditional peak of the Central Virginia strawberry harvest. The other advice we can offer is that if you see (and smell) good-looking strawberries at market you should grab them, because you never just never know what the coming days or weeks will bring.
As examples of how widely the seasonal norms can vary, in 2017 we brought our first strawberries to market in late March and were still going strong deep into July. An unusual combination of record-mild January and February temperatures, followed by a cooler-than-usual spring made for the longest strawberry harvest in Anne and Chuck’s 30+ years of growing experience. In contrast, during the “Polar Vortex” season of 2015, we didn’t even begin our harvest until May, and we were done harvesting in mid-June, thanks to several days of high heat in early May that stopped the plants from blooming.
That said, you CAN count on Agriberry Farm to start bringing strawberries to market earlier and keep them coming longer than most other farms in the area, which causes some to wonder if the strawberries we bring to market are “legit.” Absolutely, they are. Without giving away the family’s Secret Sauce, here are we a few of the investments that Anne and Chuck make each year to help extend their delivery of America’s favorite berry each season:
- Early Planting: Like many growers, they plant their young strawberry plants in the fall, allowing the plants to develop strong root systems before the spring surge.
- Row Covers: Unlike many growers, they take the expensive and labor intensive step of covering the field during the deep cold of winter, keeping the plants healthy and protected. They remove the row covers when the worst of the cold is past, and even have been known to put them back on again in the event of unexpected returns to cold temperatures. This gives the plants a jump start, enabling them to bud, begin blooming, and set fruit ahead of seasonal norms for unprotected field grown plants.
- Research: In consultation with Partner Farmer Aaron Goode of Chesterfield Berry Farm, Anne and Chuck work closely with the top nurseries to keep tabs on promising new varieties being developed, looking to hedge our bets to the greatest degree possible against varying weather conditions. One of the most exciting advances in strawberry growing is the progress in “ever bearing” varieties which can continue blooming deep into the summer season.
- Education: During the off-season Anne and Chuck attending key conferences and grower’s meetings to keep up-to-date about new growing practices.
We hope you enjoy the fruits of their labor!