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Monday, August 12, 2013

Weed Walk: Graminoids

Yesterday, a cool, sunny, breezy Saturday in August, members of the Pennsylvania Native Plant Society came to ChicoryLane Farm for a Grasses, Sedges, and Rushes plant walk led by Sarah Chamberlain of Riparia at Penn State University.

It was another of those perception-changing days on the farm for me, the novice in the group.  I shifted from landscape-view to microscopic-view of a whole category of plant life on the farm, grasses (or graminoids, as the botanists say).

It was scale-shifting to go from an everyday relationship with common plants in the wetlands to a botanical view.  Everyday either I barely noticed them on my walks around the vernal pools or the cattail marsh, or I might appreciate their colors in the the lush late summer palette of greens and emerging yellows or browns.  Yesterday, I experienced the botanical view, identifying and distinguishing among three plant groups according to details of structure, some so small as to be invisible to the human eye.   I had some relevant observation skills—I knew to observe growing conditions (eg, wet), growth habit (eg,branching), and large structure (e.g., stem, branches, leaves).  But yesterday, using a hand lens I zoomed in to look for small-scale features (eg, bristles, with or without barbs on seeds; wrinkles on stem-enclosing sheathes). When identification was uncertain, the botanists in the group bagged a stalk to take home for later viewing under the microscope.  For them, it was a regular day.  For me, it was exhilarating.

It was fun, too.  We laughed often.  I learned new lines for the old mnemonic ‘sedges have edges while rushes are round.’  Add: ‘and grasses have joints when cops aren’t around’  and ‘where cattails are around, willows abound.’  A dry wit in the group contributed this original joke: ‘grasses are depressing; they’re so glumey.’ You have to be a botanist to get that one.

In an earlier visit to the farm, leader Sarah had found the wetlands—vernal pools, farm pond, cattail marsh, wet meadow—most productive, so we focused on those areas in yesterday’s walk.  Most of the 30 or so graminoids in ChicoryLane’s wet areas are common in Pennsylvania wetlands, with a few being uncommon in central Pennsylvania where we are. (Source:  Sarah Chamberlain and plant lists I have consulted after the walk).

After observing in wetlands on the south side of the lane (under the crack willow, crossing the creek, and around the upper vernal pool), we stopped by the farm pond for more observations, then continued through woods past the wet meadow with soon-to-be-spectacular New York ironweed to the dry grasslands behind the farmhouse.  In farming times corn, soybeans, buckwheat grew there.  Now, warm-season grasses (timothy, orchard grass) and cool-season grasses (Big and Little Blue Stem, switchgrass, indian grass, side oats grama) have been introduced along with a wildflower mix in a restored Pennsylvania prairie.  Voluntary natives have come along, too, some welcome (giant sunflower) and some unwelcome (invasive teasel).  In this robust community the uncommon side oats grama is barely noticeable, but it's there.  Presently, only a few small clumps of side oats grama compete in a 12-acre field of switchgrass and blue stem grass.  Side oats grama is a destination plant, one you purposely visit, rather than a vista plant such as switchgrass or bluestem grass populating the field's horizon. 

After this fine walk in glorious weather, several in the group assembled on the porch at the Mt. Nittany Inn for supper.  For non-local (Pittsburgh, Altoona, State College) members of the group, there was another scale shift, as they scanned the panoramic view of Penns Valley seen from the Inn’s porch, looking for ChicoryLane Farm between Brush Mountain and Egg Hill.

At day’s end, John and I sat on the knoll behind the farmhouse to watch sunset and anything else happening in the scene.  In an hour of watching the sun go below Brush Mountain and the cloud colors change from white to pink, while hearing a neighbor’s beagle bark and bobwhite call, these sights were notable:

  •   two flocks of ducks flew over, circled, then settled on the farm pond (the first flock, after circling several times) or continued on (the second flock, after circling once, probably to Muddy Paws Marsh)
  • a lone cedar waxwing sat on various high tree branches, quietly looking around (maybe a lost migrator searching for its noisy group?)
  •  two fawns walked toward us, closer and closer, unafraid altho cautious until they decided to flee, thereby giving me a close look at the pattern of white spots: two straight lines (one on each side of the spine) of uniform-size dots linearly from base of neck  to tail punctuated by the white underside of the tail with a (random?) scattering of uniform-size dots on shoulders and sides. No dots on head, neck, or legs.  Like a designer’s baby blanket for deer.
To paraphrase Elam Beiler, it was another beautiful day in central Pennsylvania.

Next day, John added the 30+ newly identified graminoids to the 5+ already on the plant list on the farm’s searchable database.   I looked in Herrick, Iroquois Medical Botany, for Native American medicinal uses of grasses, sedges, and rushes. 

Catherine F. Smith
August 11, 2013

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Managing Land for Ecological Diversity

         According to the Penn State Center for Private Forests, there are some 750,000 owners of forest lands in Pennsylvania.  For those that manage their woodlots to support ongoing timber harvesting, there are a number of resources to guide them toward sustainable practices.  See, for example, Forest Stuardship Principles for Landowners and Forest Stewardship: Best Management Practices for Pennsylvania Forests.  However, only some 15% of these 750,000 landowners timber their holdings.  What about the other 85%?  What do they do with their woodlands?

Some, we speculate, don't do anything with their parcels and just leave them alone.  Others use them for recreation and aesthetic pleasure.  Others to provide privacy.  Some for financial investment.  And some to provide habitat for wildlife and/or to promote ecological diversity.  (More research is needed to pin down the proportions of this number as well as their different motivations, goals, and constraints.)

For the 85% who don't timber, what resources are available to guide them, especially those who wish to emphasize ecological principles on their lands? 

Many of the documents written for specialized practices also include information potentially useful for the ecologically intent landowner, as well. For example. in the discussion of best management practices referenced above, a number of suggestions are included for maintaining forest sustainability (e.g., preserving robust seed-bearing trees, controlling the canopy, protecting seedlings) and for mitigating the damage done by timbering operations on the overall ecology (e.g., preserving vernal pools and other sensitive areas, not compacting the soil unnecessarily,  and protecting water and soil quality).  But, as would be expected in a discussion of sustainable forestry, priority is given to full-size trees, especially those valuable as timber.  Preservation of woody or herbaceous plants, of shrubs, and of mid-canopy trees is secondary; and wildlife is often viewed as a factor to be controlled.

Other possible sources of information for the ecologically intent can be found in publications aimed at improving wildlife habitat, especially for game species.  For example, there is currently a concerted effort to re-establish habitat for the American Woodcock.  A number of publications describe beneficial practices, trace progress-to-date, and promote these efforts. Woodcock require different terrain for courtship, feeding, nesting, and roosting.  These include clearings, grasslands, shrublands, and new-growth areas such as alder and aspen stands.  These varied conditions are often beneficial to other species of birds such as the Golden Winged Warbler as well as a number of herbaceous plant species.  Thus, developing a site to promote a particular species of wildlife can extend the ecological diversity of a location; however, the particular requirements of that species will likely skew the ecology toward their particular needs as opposed to a more balanced overall ecology.

What is needed is a set of principles and a set of practices that can extend the ecological diversity of an area in a way that is consistent with both the underlying physical characteristics of the location and the desires and goals of the landowner. This approach would not replace guidelines such as those for sustainable forest management or developing wildlife habitat nor would it imply any criticism of those approaches.  Rather, it would complement them by offering an alternative for those landowners who wish to focus on ecological diversity. The discussion below includes five tasks that could provide a start in this direction.

1. Catalog plants

Identify the plants present on the site.  For easy reference, you may wish to create a list, a spreadsheet, or a database of them. Since these plants are already on the site, they provide a ready reference to those that are likely to survive in the current conditions.  Consequently, the landowner can increase their numbers to achieve various goals, such as increasing wildlife habitat or providing visual screening, with a degree of confidence.  When cataloging plants, note those that are generally regarded as native, since they are likely to be less invasive than introduced species, better suited to the local environment, and require less maintenance.

2. Identify plant communities

Plants in nature do not occur in isolation but in relations to one-another, to underlying conditions, and to wildlife.  An interconnected group of plants is often referred to as a plant community. Jean Fike provides a useful definition: "A plant community is an assemblage of plant populations sharing a common environment and interacting with each other, with animal populations, and with the physical environment." (Jean Fike, Terrestrial and Palustrine Plant Communities of Pennsylvania, 1999.)
A first step for identifying a plant community -- and offering a useful perspective in and of itself -- is to identify the underlying physical conditions of the site.  Important factors include the following:
  • geographic location (latitude and longitude)
  • elevation
  • topography
  • light
  • soil
  • hydrology
  • disturbance
These factors, along with the soil seed bank, strongly influence the plants that will be present and, hence, the resulting plant community.
To identify the actual communities present on a site, you need to take into account both underlying environmental factors and the actual plants growing there.  Fike discusses some 105 communities found in Pennsylvania.  Hers is a good reference with which to begin.  A second edition, by Zimmerman, et. al., is also available.  It updates the Palustrine portions of Fike and includes additional materials concerned with ecology, conservation, and management.  Identifying your particular communities can be done by matching the conditions and plants listed in these references with those that you have observed and cataloged.

3. Create a vision and a set of goals

A vision is a description of what you would like the site to become.  Goals are intermediate steps between the site as it currently exists and the site envisioned.  Thus, the goals constitute a kind of action plan.
A vision can be completely passive, involve an ambitious plan of execution, or anything in between.  At one extreme, with a more detailed understanding of the plants present on the land and the environmental conditions in which they live, simply watching them evolve over time can be quite interesting.  On the other hand, you may wish to actively intervene in certain areas.  For  example, if the plot is an old farm, you may wish to do a prairie restoration on some fields by planting warm season grasses or you may wish to restore a forest in a cleared area by doing a hardwood planting. Assuming, of course, that the underlying environmental conditions support these plant communities. You may wish to refine and/or extend an existing plant community, such as a marsh or vernal pool.  This could be done by clearing invasives or plants inconsistent with the community and by supplement those present with desirable additions consistent with the community.  One could even "swap" one community for another if the conditions are conducive to both.  Finally, a plan could involve certain construction tasks to provide access, barriers, features of interest, etc.
Don't worry about getting your vision completely "right;"  it can, and likely will, evolve as you become more familiar with the site.  As you make changes, new ideas are sure to emerge. 

4. Identify plants to be added or removed

Once you have a vision for your land, buttressed by a catalog of the plants growing on it and an awareness of its underlying physical attributes, a next step is to identify any plants you would like to add or remove. Let's start with removing plants.
You may wish to remove plants for any number of reasons.  For example, you may wish to remove a particular tree because it is diseased or injured, or a whole collection of trees to open up a view.  You may decide  to remove a particular species because you just don't like that plant.  But, by far, the most important reason for removing plants is to control invasives.  These are species that are likely to overrun and force out other desirable species, if left alone.  In central Pennsylvania, some invasives that must be controlled include Autumn Olive, Tartarian Honeysuckle, Multiflora Rose, Purple Loosestrife, and Japanese Knotweed.  Also threatening under some conditions are Bittersweet, Goldenrod, and Black Walnut.  For a comprehensive list, see the DCNR Invasive Plants list.  If you have any of these plants -- and you likely will -- you must reconcile yourself to ongoing vigilance and maintenance or suffer the consequences.  DCNR provides several helpful publications pertaining to controlling invasives.
Adding species is a lot more interesting than removing them!  Again, there are several reasons you may wish to do so.  You may wish to add a plant type that you don't have simply because you like it or it serves some landscaping purpose.  If you do, be sure that it is compatible with the conditions and plant community where you want to plant it.  You may wish to add one or more species to extend an existing plant community, thereby extending the ecological diversity of your property. Under some conditions, you may wish to "swap" one plant community for another, assuming the new one is compatible with the underlying environmental conditions of the location.  However, this is an extreme undertaking and, given the inherent power of the soil seed bank, probably one best avoided.

5. Develop plans for management, control, and financial support

What will happen to your land beyond your lifetime or your capability to manage it?  These are uncomfortable questions, but ones that should be faced, perhaps sooner than later.  Again, one option is to do nothing.  If your land has been managed for ecological diversity for some period of time, along with similar parcels by other landowners, collectively they will have contributed to the overall ecological health of your area.  Over time, the addition and subtraction of individual tracts to this collective should produce at least some benefits to the environment.  But, how much better it would be if individual tracts could be sustained indefinitely!  For this to happen, your tract is likely to need some type of perpetuating management and control structure as well as on-going financial resources.
Perhaps the simplest management and control structure is to be sure that the heirs to the property (e.g., your children) share your vision and goals and are willing to put the time and effort into carrying them forward.  But there is, of course, no guarantee they will follow through.  Adding a conservation easement can help to ensure that your primary objectives are continued, but even easements are not 100% certain.  An alternative is to assign actual ownership to some continuing entity such as a corporation or trust set up to maintain the property.  This is a complex process and will require serious negotiations among the interested parties.
Last but not least is the question of how the property will be supported financially beyond your lifetime.  A hard fact of reality is that maintaining a property with the intent of extending its ecological diversity is not likely to be financially neutral.  It probably has few, if any, ways of generating a cash-flow.  Perhaps you have been fortunate enough to receive grants or incentives to establish the ecological basis for the site, but such payments can't be counted on, especially if someone else will have to draft the proposals and manage any funded projects that result.  Moneys from admissions or fees are likely to be inadequate and, ironically, if public access could generate substantial resources, incursion by such numbers would likely be counter-productive ecologically.  You  may be able to identify an on-going organization, such as The Nature Conservancy, who could take ownership, but even they may not maintain the property in accord with your wishes.  One other possibility is to establish some type of financial trust or endowment with resources sufficient to maintain the property in perpetuity.  Not every landowner will have or wish to assign such resources, but for those that do, this option may be the most promising at the current time.


Why would a landowner devote a tract of land to ecological diversity? Whereas this may result in healthy soil and water, abundant plant and animal life, and a landscape with an attractive natural look, doing so is unlikely to maximize financial return. The reason is more likely to be personal. Doing so will almost certainly enable a broader as well as more detailed understanding of the land.  He or she will know more about the varied plants and animals living there, the underlying conditions that affect them, and the relations among them.  The landowner will see more and be more aware.  For better or worse, this is likely to lead to a more intimate relation between landowner and land, perhaps including affection for it.  I am reminded of Aldo Leopold's notion of a land ethic. Leopold believed that we live in an expanded community that includes not just other people but also soils, waters, plants, and animals, which he called the land. Implicit in this view is that we should cooperate with each other for the mutual benefit of all. By placing land stewardship in an ethical context, Leopold provides a means for us to decide what we should or should not do and for deciding what is important. Having an ethical and philosophical foundation for one's actions is reassuring, but such deep considerations will not be necessary or desirable for all landowners.  Perhaps, in the end, it may be sufficient that managing land for ecological diversity just seems like a good thing to do, the right thing to do.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Spring Weed Walk

Today (May 8, 2012) seventeen or so people gathered at the farm for the second annual “weed walk” or visit to (some of) the native plants with medicinal value that grow here.  We gathered in the barn around 9:30 on a rainy, gray day to meet each other and hear introductions by Cassie Marsh-Caldwell of PASA (the walk’s sponsor), James Lesher (leader of the walk, grounds manager here, and garden manager at nearby Rhonymede historical house and art garden), John and me (event hosts).  
     Wet skies and soggy ground did not dampen the enthusiastic group’s interest  in hearing James talk about native plants with healing properties.  He led us to representative plants in several locales—starting with beds created as landscaping around the house and encouraged from wild beginnings on the dry hillside across the creek; checking on wild spreads of nettles, bergamot,  and calamus along the creek, and ending at the wild spreads of cattails in the constructed vernal pools in the front field.   Identified along the way was a sampling of the diversity of medicinal plants and shrubs (roughly, 50 identified so far, although we know that’s a fraction) growing in varied habitats on this old farm.   We tasted a few of the edibles, sorrel, lovage, mints.  With his Japanese digging tool (the hori hori), James pulled up squirrel corn to show the edible and medicinal corm, leeks to show the edible bulb, wild ginger to show the edible root and strange little flower, Solomon’s seal to look for the signature ‘seal’ on the medicinal root.   
     As he focused on plant identification to help people sharpen their recognition ability, he commented variously on a plant’s healthful properties (lavender’s volatile oils, for example) or its value for gardening (beautiful natives such as bloodroot) or for both healing and gardening (solomon’s seal or wild ginger, for example).  Brief discussion at each location ranged widely.  By a goldenseal plant rescued before destruction by road building, for example, we talked about the need for plant rescues.  In the group were several who had done  such rescuing.  While James talked about the plants' medicinal value or properties, he did not specify its traditional or current medicinal uses.   He referred the group to Jennifer Tucker, the herbalist who led last year’s walk, for that information.  (I supplemented with suggested readings in the practice of herbal healing, including several from Jennifer’s recommended reading list.)  In addition, knowledgeable group members told us about their experience with eating wild plants for their nutritional value.  
  Altogether, a satisfying weed walk.  We're already planning follow-ups for other seasons.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Sense of Place

Sense of Place
A Sense of Place
Gaining a Sense of Place
Building a Sense of Place
Thinking about a Sense of Place
Thinking about Thinking about a Sense of Place

A Place Is What It Is

Bottom line -- a place is what it is.  A physical reality.  It exists, or at least we have to assume it exists if we and everything else are not to become part of the butterfly's dream.  It is not good, bad, beautiful, ugly, valuable, worthless, . . .  It just is

Everything  beyond what is is a matter of perception.  We sense it.  We see it.  We hear it.  We smell it.  We see beauty, ugliness, or we may not attend to it in an aesthetic manner.  We may attend to it abstractly, noting what others have said or measured of it.

Thereby, we may come to understand that any sense of place is one sense of place among many.  Thus, there is no The Sense of Place, only one sense of place that is likely to soon be replaced by another sense of place.

Over time, we may realize that in the accumulation of different senses of place we are gaining a sense of place -- a richer composite characterized by the multiple awarenesses that we have had over time but can recall on reflection.  And, thus, we can play one against another.

This gained sense of place may just happen.  Without any attempt on our part to direct or control our perception.  But, perhaps a bit mysteriously, we may find our interest piqued and we begin to direct our attention to specific parts or aspects of place.  We may focus on the native plants that grow there, or the birds that live or fly through, or the history of the place -- natural, cultural, or other.  Thus, we may more or less consciously begin building a sense of place.

As we continue building a sense of place, we may become more conscious that we can, at least in part, direct our perception and thought processes.  We may begin to see some larger pattern in the different facets of perception or information that are part of our sense of place.  If so, we may elect to extend some of them, or we may see that several of them suggest another line of inquiry that would complement them.  We may come to realize that our sense of place needs to take into account what lies beyond its borders, such as a neighbor's riparian area that extends our woodcock habitat, or his field of invasives that come to visit, or his plans to develop or drill.  We may also come to see how subtle but how strong a role language plays as we build our sense and try to describe it to others.  How easily and unconsciously we may write gain for build when we haven't really decided which it is.

So where does this leave us?  We began with the notion that a place simply exists.  Beyond that, we can gain or build an unlimited numbers of perspectives.  On balance, we optimists would like to believe that they give us an enriched sense of place.  But they are all snapshots -- in place, in time, in historical progression, in values.  Especially values, because they guide our efforts to promote ecological diversity in a way that probably never existed before or aesthetic appreciation for a landscape that was not seen previously.  There is no real notion of restoration, only a new and, according to our values, better future.  And it's so ephemeral.  Not just the place, itself, but our sense of it.  So we try to hold on to it as best we can.

One very reductive instrument we are using in our attempt to hold on to our evolving sense of place is the ChicoryLane Web Site (http://www.chicorylane.com).    It is a place we can put those understandings lest we forget them and where others can share them.  But it is a very crude instrument that in no way replaces the original.  We know that.  But, even with all its limitations, it has become a catalyst for us, exciting us and suggesting new things to do to gain fresh insights into our 68 acres and beyond.  We sense, vaguely, that it perhaps could, at some future time, become an instrument of discovery and pleasure, enriching one's sense of place without distorting or limiting it.  In the meantime, . . . 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Perceptions of the place

Since we (Catherine, John, Ian) have lived on this farm (since 1974), our perception of the place has changed several times. 

Early on, we occupied the house and used the barn (for chickens, geese, goats, and horses) while John and Catherine commuted to jobs elsewhere and Ian bussed to and from the local school.   We had little awareness of the place.   We weren't farmers.  We were apartment-dwellers who had moved to the country.   It was our 'place to stay, with weedy fields around it.'   The attention we gave went to the log farmhouse, remodeling it according to our ideas of loghouse living.   However, even then, perception of the surrounding grounds shifted when, around 1976,  we took a wild medicinal and food foraging class led by Evelyn Snook, Keith Wilson, and Bill Russell thru Penn State's Free University.  ("Stalking the Wild Asparagus" was the idea.)  As a result of that experience, the outdoors took on a special interest.  The weedy fields suddenly seemed a 'farmacopoeia' of useful plants for eating and for healthcare.   With Evelyn's and our plant-knowledgeable friends' encouragement, we began to pay attention to coltsfoot, golden seal, stinging nettles, skullcap for health care, added ground cherries to salads, and steamed lambsquarters and dandelions for side dishes.  (Nothing like Evelyn's and friends' creativity, but it was a change for us.)  We had a glimmer that plants required particular growing conditions ('habitat'' was not yet the term, but it was the recognition), but we didn't think much about it. 

In the late1990s,  James Lesher began working with us, bringing his eye as a landscape architect, his skills as a gardner, and knowledge of plants.  What decided his willingness to work with the place, he told us later, was not us.  It was a plant, the red Canada lillies growing one of the streams ('mountain runs') as he noticed driving in the farm lane the first time. He wanted to know more about the place where this rare (red color) lily grew.  Over some 15 years now,   James' artist's eye, skilled hands, and experience as groundskeeper at Rhoneymede (a historic farm and art garden nearby) has added to our emerging idea of  the place as a 'landscape' and to our aim of encouraging 'native' plants in it.  This was the 'garden' phase of perception.  (We had small vegetable gardens for a year or two, but not for long.  We started and have maintained a kitchen herb bed. The combination of native/nonnative occurs in beds all around the house and barn as well as in wooded areas.  This phase of perception is ongoing, while becoming  better informed.)  Meanwhile, we still perceived the place primarily as a 'farm,' with tillable fields rented to neighboring farmers for crop production and we (the 'hobby farmers') gardening isolated patches of it.

These relatively subtle perceptual shifts between 1974-approximately 2005 occurred within the frame of 'farm,' or agriculture.  In that frame, locations on the farm had value according to their usefulness or attractiveness to us or to renter-farmers.   Wet locations, for example, were ignored  because they were not useful or they required special treatment (usually more work) to make them useful.

     Around 2005, we stopped renting fields for farming.  The farm entered a post-agriculture life, in our minds.   (Meanwhile, without our noticing as it happened,  the formerly open, grassy, pastured hillside had gowrn up in a new, successional forest of elms and other trees along with brushy multiflora rose, autumn olive, etc.)    Gradually, we introduced 'conservation' practices of reforestation, wetland restoration and construction, prairie grassland development, plant and animal habitat improvement, and others.  Wet places became most interesting.  In this phase, Pennsylvania and US agents in government roles as biologists, wildlife managers, watershed specialists, and others are our educators and helpers.  This relatively strong perceptual shift  is still growing strongly.  Ecology is the new frame and 'old farm ecology' is our working concept.  'Sense of place' is evolving.   Now in 2012, we're fully in frame of trying to understand the place.   Related, we're trying to recognize our impacts on it and the ways we and it change reciprocally, in tandem.

   As one activity in that frame, we're tracing the place-people ('what the people living there then did on it and with it') in time.  We're trying to learn how place and people interacted over roughly two centuries (recorded)  before we came on the place, roughly 1760s to 1970s before us, then in our time 1974-present.   James is now using his historical research skills,  examining records of various kinds for references to land and water use or vegetation (forests, other plants) over time.  He and Catherine are gaining momentum in understanding the reciprocal impacts of people and place over several time scales.   John is building a website for the place that, among other functions, archives and invites discussion of our progress in historical study.    This blog entry is a way of opening the discussion.

   As James has pored over deeds, tax records, maps, atlases, and aerial photographs in times prior to 1974 when we took occupancy of the place, he has initiated several thought-provoking ideas that are directing subsequent research: 
- 'heritage forest (remnant woods on our property and surrounding properties of "The Pines,' a feature prominently marked for the area on the 1861 Tilden map (the first map) of Centre County).  Relates to nearby place names such as Green Grove Road.
- 'improved' land (indicator of change in land use such as clearing woods to create farmfields.  Example: tax records for '200 acres, 10 improved').
- 'released' or 'returned' fields (post-agriculture conservation)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Values and Goals

We have lived on ChicoryLane Farm for over 37 years.  During that time we have focused on several different things -- its nearly 200 year old log farm house, the yard, and the land. Here, I will comment on some of our thinking about the land.

We are trying to enhance the natural landscape of the farm.  In doing so, we have identified three key values and goals:

First, we are trying to extend the ecological diversity of the farm.  We have identified ten different plant communities in this relatively small, 68 acre plot.  We are releasing plant species native to the area by managing invasive species, particularly non-native ones,  that would crowd them out if left alone.  We are also supplementing these natives with new plantings to increase their numbers and varieties, where these introductions are consistent with the plant communities. To date, most of our attention has been directed toward plants; in the future we will be giving more attention to birds, animals, and insects, again to increase their numbers and varieties consistent with the plant communities where they live.

Second, we are trying to extend the educational and research potential of the farm.  Last summer, we hosted a workshop dealing with native medicinal plants.  That workshop will be repeated this summer and we have scheduled a field day dealing with Old Farm Ecology: Conservation and Habitat Improvement for different Conditions.  We are also in the planning stages for a field day for Plein Aire Drawing and Painting.  We have also worked with several Penn State classes on student research and application projects, and we hope to increase this activity in the future.  We have also begun a Web site (www.chicorylane.com) where we are lodging information, images, and perspective on the farm and its history, ecology, and landscape.  In addition to conventional pages, the site includes a database and GIS map and information layers of the farm.  These resources make the farm a potentially useful site for learning and research.

Third, we are trying to encourage an aesthetic awareness and understanding of the farm's  natural landscape.  "A wetland is not a wetland is not a wetland," to paraphrase Gertrude Stein.  There is great diversity in different kinds of wetlands, ranging from Wet Meadows, to Marshes, to Riparian Stream Banks, to Vernal Pools, to Old Ponds.   And in them there is considerable beauty and a variety of things to look at and to wonder about.  We are trying to see the different areas of the farm with fresh eyes and to encourage others to do the same.  We have put several slide shows of the farm on the Web site and will continue to do so, and we hope to host on-site field days so that others may come and draw or paint what they see as well as talk with others about what they see and what they think about it.

We invite readers to share their reactions to this post and to record their own views on such things.