About a half-hour outside of Louisville, Kentucky, is the small town of Goshen, where Woodland Farm is located. Farmed for over 200 years by different owners, the site is now on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1996, Louisville entrepreneurs Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson purchased the 1,000-acre farm to save the property from development.
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The farm focuses on sustainable growing practices, using both heritage livestock and heirloom crops to meet this end. In the world of agriculture, the word “sustainable” refers to any farming method that produces food, fiber or other agricultural products while protecting the environment, humans and animals. It may or may not be organic. Though some organic methods are used at Woodland Farm, the farm is not certified organic. To learn more about its sustainable practices, I contacted farm manager, Kristopher Kelley.
Diversity Is Key
It was 7:30 in the morning when I met up with Kristopher, who is also the nephew of the owners. According to him, the key to making a farm such as this work is diversity. Produce is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or chemicals. The bison, hogs and chickens are all pasture-raised.
About 300 head of bison are raised for their meat. The bison, as well as the hogs, are processed at Laura Lee and Steve’s USDA-inspected facility, Memphis Meat. Heritage breed hogs, both Mulefoot and Hereford, are raised for their meat. Many breeds of laying hens roam free-range with mobile coops that follow the bison in their pasture rotation. All livestock are raised without steroids, stimulants or non-therapeutic antibiotics. In a few pastures, you also see horses and rare French donkeys.
An orchard features heirloom apples, crabapples, pears, peaches, plums and cherries. Kristopher said that minimal inputs, such as dormant oil, are used to control the pests and diseases that attack fruit trees. If a significant mass of larvae is found, it is manually pulled from the trees and fed to the chickens.
The produce grown includes dozens of varieties of tomatoes, greens, peppers, beans, beets, radishes and others, many of which are heirloom varieties. Produce, both meat and vegetable, from the farm graces the tables of local restaurants and is sold in an on-site store that is open once a week.
Solar panels power the chicken tractor designed by Kristopher. Kelley Green Biofuel, which has a processing facility on the farm, produces biodiesel from used vegetable oil to run the farm’s vehicles.
Kristopher was gracious enough to show me where the biodiesel is made. In 2008, starting with nothing but a dream, he built a small refinery with salvaged and repurposed tanks and equipment. This design makes an already environmentally friendly product even more so by using material that otherwise would have been scrapped or discarded.
Through a process that he has perfected over the last few years, Kristopher can now produce 75,000 gallons of biodiesel per year. Perhaps the most impressive thing is that his process is extremely efficient and is essentially water free.
We also visited the on-site sawmill where much of the lumber used on the farm is milled. I watched as an oak and a red cedar were milled. Kristopher explained that there is always a need for lumber on the farm or culinary-grade firewood at Steve and Laura Lee’s pizzeria, the Garage Bar. The staff rarely cuts live trees, instead they mill standing dead trees or trees that have fallen down during storms, often on a fence or in a location where they need to be removed. So, problematic trees become useful in other ways—that’s sustainability in motion!
Garden Balancing Act
The last stop on my tour was the garden. Just about every kind of produce that you can imagine, from onions, lettuce and tomatoes to Asian cabbage and kale, are grown here. Everything is done by hand, from working the soil to harvesting the vegetables. No pesticides or herbicides are used in the garden. Pests are controlled by natural means, including beneficial insects. I was able to speak with Stephanie Tittle, the horticulturalist on the farm, about all of this. She’s been at Woodland Farm since 2007. Before she started there, she worked in nursery production and was a plant propagator.
I asked her about other pests that plague the garden. She told me there is very little you can do about birds, especially in such a large garden. Beneficials, such as parasitic wasps, are used to help control non-beneficial insects, along with sticky traps and pheromone lures. “We don’t spray pesticides,” she said.
As far as mammals go, she told me that the most common visitors to the garden are deer and rabbits. The deer usually stay away, because of the activity happening in and around the area. When they do visit, Ferdinand and Eloise, the resident Great Pyrenees, generally chase them away. The rabbits are another story. The dogs don’t bother them, so Stephanie told me they just plant extra.
If you want to see sustainability in action, visit Woodland Farm. Diversity, a great deal of effort and some long-term planning are the reasons for its success. Seeing this operation not only gave me ideas about what I could try on my own property, but also hope for what can be done when people work in cooperation with the land and not against it. To learn more, visit woodlandfarm.com.
This article was originally published in the NEW PIONEER ™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.