By Emily Glass
As the trees begin to blossom and flowers pop out of the ground, spring is most definitely in the air. But before the weather started to warm up, there was a lot of work that needed to be done at the University of Maryland’s Terp Farm. The peak seasons for growing and harvesting at the Terp Farm are summer and fall. When I visited in late March, the farm was just starting to get ready for the upcoming spring months when planting will begin.
As I drove up the road to the farm, my car read 33°F; I couldn’t help but wonder what I would be doing on such a cold day. First, I met Guy, the farm manager and his dog, Buddy. Guy started the day with a tour of the farm, showing the tall house, the green house and the field.
Guy spends the winter months planning the next season, prepping the grounds, and doing maintenance work around the farm to ensure all the tools and equipment are in good working order. As we looked out over the field at the farm, we saw it covered in rye and clovers. These two crops act as a cover crop. The role of a cover crop is to protect and nourish the soil. The clover adds nitrogen back into the soil, while the rye’s long roots pull nutrients from deep in the soil towards the top. Theses crops also keep the soil from drying out and blowing away. Prior to planting, the ground of the field will be tilled. By tilling the cover crop and incorporating it back into the soil, the need for fertilizer and pesticides is greatly reduced. Additional pre-planting preparations had begun inside!
As the door slid open to the tall house, I was amazed to see three rows of beautiful mixed greens. This house is heated during the day by the sun, but during the winter months it gets very cold at night. This type of cycle in temperature is actually perfect for the mixed greens. After the tomatoes were harvested and the plants removed in late fall, oats were planted for the winter as a cover crop. Just before the greens were planted, the oat was removed and the soil was tilled. More greens will be planted as the temperatures get warmer and then they will eventually move outside during the summer. For now, the harvested greens go to catering events on campus. When the farm is able to produce more, they will be used throughout the dining halls on campus. Next up, I headed to the greenhouse.
As I entered the green house, I was quickly warmed with the 60° temperatures. Here a couple trays of flowers were just beginning to sprout. These little sprouts will eventually be planted in the field. As they continue to grow they will be sold at the flower stand at the farmers market on campus. In addition, there were stacks and stacks of trays from the last season that needed to be washed and sanitized before they could be used again this year. I learned it is vital that they be properly cleaned before using again to prevent the spread of disease from plant to plant. Tray after tray I thoroughly washed away all of the left over dirt and organic materials from the trays. In the following weeks, the trays would be sanitized as the final step before they were ready to be used again. By reusing trays, the Terp Farm reduces plastic waste and saves money.
It was amazing to see what the Terp Farm is capable of doing. For a campus so large, it is refreshing to see so many efforts towards sustainable farming and protecting the environment. I had no idea how much work it took to maintain a farm. Even during the winter months, there are many important things that must be done to make sure the growing season is successful. I am so grateful I was able to gain a better understanding of how food is grown and learn about sustainable farming. I hope as an dietitian I am able to use the lessons I have learned at the Terp Farm to educate community members about their local food systems; from the farm to their plate.