Much went right this inaugural season for the Headwaters Incubator Program (HIP), beginning with the five new farm businesses and future stewards being cultivated at Headwaters Farm. These farms were able to successfully grow vegetables, cut flowers, and raise bees in a developing program with a rapidly changing farmscape. The late start to the season—farmers weren’t notified that they were in the program until March!—proved no hindrance to their ability to grow quality produce or maintain a positive outlook on their future farm prospects.
From a conservation standpoint, the first HIP season could only be viewed as a success. Soil fertility has been improved immensely through the use of cover crops, riparian buffers have been established, drainage has improved through reduced compaction, policies have been adopted to encourage drip irrigation, and pollinator habitat has been developed. Incubator farmers are also being assisted in the development of their own nutrient management plans to ensure that fertilizers are applied in the correct quantities and at optimal times of the growing season.
Infrastructure and equipment available to HIP farmers has changed greatly over the course of the season as the site has been adapted to meet beginning farmer establishment goals. For example, at the onset, outside of their own personal tools, farmers had relatively few options for weed management at their disposal. Now, at the culmination of the first growing season, farmers can rent access to a BCS walk-behind tractor, flame weeder, wheel hoe, or select from a myriad of hand tools. Other developments this year include irrigation improvements, a propagation house with germination chamber, a wash station and walk-in cooler, and a new barn for storage and other farm operations. As farm development wraps up, HIP can now offer new farm businesses a full suite of tools for success.
No season can be without its own set of challenges, especially for a young program with lofty goals. The major issue this year was the unexpected prevalence of Canada thistle across the farm. A key objective for next year will be to use timed cultivations to exhaust the underground rhizome network and set the stage for future management of this noxious weed. Much attention will also be paid to ensuring no more thistle goes to seed.
Moving forward, HIP will continue to add new farmers to the four-year program and put more land into agriculture. If this inaugural season is any indication, there is much to be excited about as the program and Headwaters Farm continue to evolve into an effective launching pad for local new farm businesses.