While the earth’s population keeps growing, its capacity to grow food remains the same.
Sustainable agriculture — producing food without harming the environment — is a way to balance that lopsided equation and was the topic of a Solebury Farm Committee forum that drew experts to discuss solutions at the Municipal Building on Oct.3
Before long “we will have 9 billion people to feed on this planet,” Cathy Snyder, founder and executive director of Rolling Harvest Food Rescue,” told the audience, many of them local farmers.
The forum called “Cultivating a Sustainable Community: Agriculture’s Role in Achieving Solebury Township’s Community Goals,” featured six speakers.
They included Snyder, Jackie Ricotta, a teacher at Delaware Valley University; Amy and Gary Manoff, owners of the 35-acre Manoff Market Gardens and Cidery on Comfort Road; and Kaitlin Farbotnik and Ryan Burton of the 76-acre Shady Fox Farm at Street and Saw Mill roads.
The benefits of sustainable agriculture, such as healthy forests, pollination, tourism and carbon suppression are “invisible” and “under- appreciated” by the general public, said Dr. Ricotta.
Practices such as no-till and cover cropping – not tilling the old crops but leaving them on the ground – reduces runoff into streams and enriches the soil, she said.
Also, leaving the old roots in the ground absorbs and stores carbon dioxide in the root mass, Ricotta explained.
“It’s better to keep carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in the soil,” she said.
Snyder explained that Rolling Harvest collects dumpster-bound crop surplus and blemished vegetables from small local farms and donates it to the needy.
With all the local agricultural bounty, “57,000 people in Bucks County are still food-needy,” she said.
Farmers have to plan for all contingencies – floods, droughts, insects, storms – and therefore usually plant 20 percent more than what they think they can sell, she said. That means there can be quality leftovers as well as visually unattractive leftovers.
“Farmers can’t sell it when it looks wonky,” Snyder noted.
And that’s where Rolling Harvest comes in. It has 175 volunteers that collect produce from 43 farms in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and donates it to food pantries, senior citizen groups.
It is a free pickup, delivery and distribution service for donated food with a motto of “connecting local farmers with neighbors in need.”
The next speakers, Amy and Garry Manoff, have been farming for 35 years.
The Manoffs bought an abandoned and overgrown farm from the Bucks County Conservancy (now the Heritage Conservancy) in 1984.
“It gave Amy and me a start in farming,” said Gary. “There was nothing here when we started. In the beginning it looked like Sleepy Hollow. We didn’t have any money and we didn’t have any tools. I had a chainsaw, as I recall.”
They grew vegetables in the beginning, waiting for their fruit trees to mature. They followed a soil conservation plan to preserve soil, created waterways and terraces to control rain water runoff and connected drip irrigation lines.
Today they grow 25 types of apples, three varieties of berries, many varieties of pears and peaches.
Planting several varieties of a fruit is important, Amy said, because some years any one variety could be wiped out.
The Manoffs recently obtained a limited winery license and started a hard cider operation – fermented cider from fruit grown on the farm – which calls for another 10 varieties of apples.
So, a farmer always has to be “prepared for the next thing,” Amy said, whether it’s hail or drought or coming up with that next sure-fire product.
Kaitlin Farbotnik and Ryan Burton of Shady Fox Farm, on the other hand, have only been farming for a couple years. They raise 40 grass-fed cows, pork and free range poultry.
“We try to raise healthy and happy animals,” said Farbotnik, who chairs the Solebury Farm Committee.
They operate a member-supported CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where people buy “shares” of the farm’s harvest in advance and then receive a portion of the crops – meat in this case – as it is harvested. They also sell meat at local farm markets.
Farbotnik and is the fourth generation to grow up on the family’s preserved farm.
Delaware Valley University, Ricotta said, is compiling a list of area farms willing to offer acreage to young farmers who cannot yet afford to buy there own farms due to the high price of land.
Solebury Township also is interested in doing the same thing, noted Supervisor Kevin Morrissey, liaison to the farm committee.