Monday, January 02, 2017

Farm Bulletin: The Ecological Mosaic that is Ayers Creek Farm

It is appropriate that the first post of this new year is a short essay by contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm, taken from the 2017 farm calendar. His Farm Bulletins, about the intricacies of a farmer's dance with nature, have been an integral part of Good Stuff NW since 2007. I am gratified that he allows me to continue to share them with you.

Ayers Creek Farm has nearly 80 acres of ground suited to the production of crops. The remaining 64 acres include a 40-acre open wetland, 20 acres of oak savannah and some swales of green ash and hawthorn. A little over half the farm is a managed landscape, a little under is largely unmanaged. It is hard to imagine the farm without its two hemispheres. For us, a highly productive square of farmland would be a dull place indeed without the messy exuberance of the wild areas bleeding into our efforts at an organized ecology. Even on the managed parts of the farm, we seek to keep a light footprint on the landscape.


In both natural and managed ecosystems, dead plant material is the substrate of life. It can be seen as a stock market where the ecosystem stores and exchanges capital built up through the summer. The crop residue is still a productive part of life, but in a different way. During the winter months, these old cornstalks protect the soil from the driving rains, and as their roots decay, the resulting passages ease the path of the water in the soil. As the plants decay further, they contribute to humus in the soil, which provides nutrient and water storage. At first glance, it may seem messy, or even a sign of laziness, but as you observe it functioning there is actually great beauty, vitality and order in the tangled mass of death.

Photos by Anthony Boutard.

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