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Conservation Stories

Since its inception in 1990, ASA has helped landowners protect a variety of working lands throughout Washington and Rensselaer counties.
Hay Berry Farm

Reshaping the Future of Hay Berry Farm

Farmland conservation encourages long-term investment in permaculture design & plantings on hoosick Farm

Lawrie Nickerson still remembers the drive to Cambridge in May 2019 for a presentation hosted by ASA on Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shepard. “I had read about Mark’s work and I was really interested in learning if I could apply some of what he’s doing to the terrain at Hay Berry Farm. I thought it was just an information-gathering mission but before I knew it, Mark was here reshaping our landscape and planting 7000 hazelnut trees!”

Harnessing the natural power of the landscape

Nestled between the Tibbits and Pittstown State Forests in Petersburg, NY, the 167-acre Hay Berry Farm is a popular seasonal pick-your-own destination for blueberries, lavender, flowers and herbs. The shelves of the modest on-site shop are filled with honey, mushrooms, herbal products, and handmade baskets, while the rafters are strung with bundle after bundle of dried flowers as vibrant as the prettiest backlit stained glass. But while Nickerson is happy with the business the shop generates, it’s what’s happening on the hills that surround it that truly inspires her.

“With nothing but an excavator and a lot of vision, we reshaped the landscape to create a more hospitable environment for all kinds of crops and, eventually, animals,” says Nickerson. “So much of modern agriculture, and the type of farming that was done here in the past, was really at odds with nature. When the hills and fields were cleared for grazing, it created the perfect conditions for run-off and erosion. What we’ve done is re-contour the slopes with long channels and a berm on the downhill side. We also carved out a series of catch-ponds that hold water. Run-off gathers in the channels and ponds, and slowly seeps into the soil rather than rushing down the hill, taking soil with it.”

The contours are readily visible lined with the hazelnuts planted in 2019 and 1300 chestnut trees planted this spring.

“If you needed any proof that the berm-system works, the drought we experienced this spring is it,” notes Nickerson. “We planted the chestnuts in early spring and saw some rain after they went in. Then the drought hit. I thought for sure after 6-8 weeks of no rain we’d lose some trees. But they all made it. The contouring worked exactly as planned.”

With 90’ between tree rows, Nickerson has left plenty of room for phase two of her permaculture project. “The next thing I want to do is establish some biodiversity through polyculture. I’d like to add more types of trees — white oaks and persimmons — and I’m considering planting crops like asparagus or hay between some rows. I then want to look at bringing in some animals. It could be turkeys, young cows, or pigs from other farms. Any or all would serve a purpose in maintaining the natural balance of things and in enriching the soil. I’m eager to connect with other farmers to see how we can work together to bring that balance to each other’s efforts.”

“Thanks to ASA and those who support it, I see a new future for my farm.”

Looking across the contours sprouting with new grasses and picketed with healthy young trees, Nickerson acknowledges, “It’s only because of ASA and knowing that this farm will be “Forever Farmland” that I am able to pursue permaculture on this scale. Creating the design, bringing in the equipment, and purchasing the trees…it was a huge investment. I could have never undertaken this work without ASA. Thanks to ASA and all those who support it, I see a new future for my farm.”

Your support makes a difference…

“It’s only because of ASA that I am able to pursue permaculture on this scale. Creating the design, bringing in the equipment, and purchasing the trees…was a huge investment. I could have never undertaken it without ASA.”

A heartfelt thank you

Lawrie Nickerson’s project is only possible thanks to generous donations from donors like you. Your donation enables ASA to invest the time and energy necessary to secure funding through various grants and programs. Funding for the Hay Berry Farm easement was provided, in part, by USDA NRCS through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.

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