I’m Jason Townsend, owner and manager of Kingfisher Farm. After more than 10 years working for and managing other people’s farms, I started Kingfisher Farm in 2015 on a 10 acre hillside plot that had been in hay and row crops since at least the 1960s. Long before that it was a mix of woods, creeks, ephemeral pools, and Haudenosaunee agricultural fields, revealed by the stone tools I find each year, some of which date back more than 2000 years. Like many settlement patterns across the Northeast, we still follow the paths and fields of the original people here, often without thinking about it. I like thinking back over all the generations of abundance this hillside has produced and I try to bring that kind of respect to my farming. During my time on the hillside, I have been transitioning the land to organic, soil-building farming practices. In the spring of 2018, we received organic certification from NOFA-NY.
We grow a wide variety of vegetables, along with strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Our apple, pear and plum orchard went in the ground in the spring of 2016, began to produce some beautiful apples in 2018, and is moving steadily toward full productivity. The orchard is made up of a mix of heirloom varieties, cider apples, and traditional favorites like Honeycrisp and Northern Spy. It is one of only a handful of organic orchards in New York and the only one in Oneida County!
My farming practices focus on soil health. To work a small plot of land year after year requires a lot of attention to fertility, soil tilth, and erosion control. Humans have been farming for more or less 10,000 years and most of that time has been marked by shifting agriculture, where plots are used for a time, then left fallow for many years to recover fertility. That’s fine for a time when we lived at relatively low population densities; but of course 7 billion people (and exponentially growing) demands something different. One answer is the application of annual fossil fuel-based soil amendments to prop up an otherwise poor-condition soil. Another is to use crop rotations, rest periods, natural compost, and nitrogen-fixing cover crops to maintain high soil fertility even while maintaining high intensity farming. In a nutshell, that is the dividing line between organic and conventional agriculture.
At Kingfisher Farm, we rely on organic, soil-building farming practices to maintain our 10 acre hillside farm as a sustainable, balanced farming system. The majority of the acreage is actually NOT growing crops, but rather is seeded to cover crops or simply fallowed — in a state of rest and recovery from the large fertility demands of intensive vegetable farming. In any given year, we grow ~ 2 acres of market crops and ~ 6 acres of cover crops (with the remainder in perennial crops and tree fruit).
Aldo Leopold, the grandfather of wildlife management in the United States, wrote that “the oldest task in human history is to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.” On my hillside 10 acres, I am trying to farm in a way that builds soil, provides habitat for wildlife, produces abundant healthy food for the local community, and remains an unspoiled part of the broader ecosystem.