By Kelsey Felter
With spring in full bloom, now is a great time to start thinking about local produce! Local produce was certainly on my mind as I spent two weeks experiencing and learning about sustainable farming at University of Maryland’s (UMD) Terp Farm. Because the Terp Farm is a sustainable farm, it is able to produce crops without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet its needs. The crops that the farm grows all go to UMD to be served to students in the dining hall or sold at UMD’s farmers market. The Terp Farm has helped the school increase its sustainable practices and reduce its carbon footprint. Emily, my internship partner, and I spent a split two-week rotation there; we had one week in early March and another week in the middle of May. As you would expect, the farm was a very different place between these two experiences! Just during these two week stints, we were able to see much of the full agricultural circle: prepping for spring season, planting seeds, transplanting seedlings, harvesting crops, and distributing to the community.
Winter: Prepping for Spring
You may be thinking, “What could possibly be growing in the 30-degree weather of early March?” This was my thought before visiting the farm for my first time. As Emily mentioned in her blog, “Preparing for a Successful Harvest on the Terp Farm,” mixed greens were already growing in the farm’s high tunnel, but other than that, the colder months are all about preparing and maintaining the farm’s soil to be ready for spring and summer’s most fertile months. So what benefits are there with local, sustainable farming? The advantages of sustainable farming are numerous!
After our first, chilly visit to the Terp Farm, Emily and I realized how much preparation goes into the crops that the farm yields throughout the spring and summer season. If you have not had a chance to read Emily’s blog about our experience on the Terp Farm, check it out here so you can experience the amazing transformation of the farm from winter prep to spring in full bloom!
Spring: Planting, Growing, and Harvesting
Two months after our first visit to the Terp Farm, my partner and I went back to the Terp Farm for round two of our adventure. This time it was sunny, with temperatures in the high 70’s, blue skies, and lots of green seedlings growing in the greenhouse. We got our hands dirty as we planted hundreds of flower seeds that will be sold at UMD’s farmers market throughout the summer. To plant the seeds, we used the trays we had cleaned back in March! It was wonderful to see this process in full circle, from preparation to actual planting season.
At the end of the day, we transitioned to the high tunnel where we helped Guy harvest spring mix that would be transported to UMD’s dining halls and served to students. The last time we had been in the high tunnel, there were just three rows of spring mix growing. This time, we opened the doors to the tunnel and were blissfully blinded by five rows of beautiful spring mix, all different shades of green! Guy used a portable machine to cut and gather the spring mix, and we walked through the rows behind him, gather the spring mix in large buckets. After our harvest, we had filled nine large baskets of fresh spring mix to be transported to UMD dining halls!
Our last day at the farm, we took on a new task: plotting a field for future crops. We were honored that Guy trusted us with this task. This will be the home of thousands of new seedlings and we got to create it from ground zero! Together, Emily and I used a 100-foot measuring tape to plot the dimensions of a 300’ by 430’ field where future crops will be planted. We spent hours in the field, using flags to indicate where each section would be mowed and tilled. We tediously measured, twelve beds measuring 40’ by 200’ with 10’ gaps in between each bed. After we perfected our plots, I felt that I truly understood the full circle of life at the farm, from planning to planting to harvesting.
Distribution: UMD’s Farmers Market
The Terp Farm not only grows produce, but it also grows flowers and then sells them by single bouquets or through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. This CSA encourages the UMD and local Maryland community to attend the farmers market and purchase flowers from the Terp Farm. By purchasing a CSA membership for 96 dollars, members receive a bouquet of flowers (20 stems) every other week for the duration of the season. If customers are not ready to commit to the CSA membership, they can buy a single bouquet at the farmers market. The benefit of the CSA is a reduced cost per bouquet as well as a guarantee that you will receive your bouquet at each farmers market, because the flowers often sell out! My partner and I helped promote the flower CSA by handing out a sunflower seedling to anyone who stopped at the Terp Farm’s table to learn more about the CSA program.
I left the Terp Farm with a lot of dirt in my shoes and a lot more knowledge on sustainable farming in my head. There is extensive manual labor, planning and patience required with sustainable farming, but I feel it is worth every second to be a part of it. From what I could tell, Buddy, the Terp Farm’s biggest and fluffiest fan, agrees!