Conservation Practices Produce Fresh Outcomes
In the true spirit of Community Supported Agriculture, Mike and Jodi Lenz’s veggie farm produces impressive yields in conservation, community benefits, and educational comradery with assistance from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
Mike and Jody Lenz have owned and operated Threshing Table Farm, a Community Support Agriculture (CSA) vegetable farm, in St. Croix County, Wisconsin for 15 years. With 300 subscribers and four full-time employees to keep them busy, they have prioritized efficiency, ingenuity, and sustainable cropping practices on their 10-acre vegetable operation. Mike came to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) looking for help upgrading an inefficient irrigation system and with hopes of incorporating cover crops into his crop rotation. After successfully installing two high-tunnels with NRCS in prior years, he knew he wanted to continue partnering with NRCS to achieve his conservation goals.
When Mike first contacted NRCS, a site visit was scheduled with NRCS engineering and resource staff to determine resource concerns and discuss options. His existing irrigation system only allowed him to water half of a management unit at a time, and it could not pump water to the fields furthest from the well. He was also interested in using cover crops to assist with weed management and soil quality improvement in the crop fields. NRCS discussed possible cover crop strategies, gathered information about the existing irrigation system and well, and discussed the possibility of planting pollinator habitat along the neighboring cropland. This would attract more pollinating insects for vegetable production and provide more forage for the honeybee hive on the property. NRCS staff helped determine the appropriate practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that would help solve/improve soil quality, inefficient irrigation water use, and terrestrial wildlife habitat resource concerns.
Less than a year after Mike first approached NRCS, an EQIP contract was awarded to install/implement the recommended practices. NRCS designed the irrigation system, assisted with planning the cover crop system, and planned site preparation strategies and a seed mix for the pollinator habitat. Within 6 months, the irrigation system had been installed, the organic site preparation for the pollinator habitat was completed, and seed had been purchased to start planting the 3 acres of cover crops for the year. Mike could not be happier with the early results he is seeing with his irrigation system, stating that “the irrigation system upgrade is life changing.”
Mike can now irrigate two full management units and easily move this system between units throughout the entire property, which will help improve production on soils that are underlain by sand. Mike is also excited about the impact the cover crops will have on weed control and soil health.
The Lenzes hosted a field day at Threshing Table Farm last summer for NRCS employees to learn about the conservation challenges vegetable operations face and ways to overcome them. “Mike is a very forward-thinking, conservation-minded farmer, and it was rewarding and fun learning from him,” said Dana Swanson, Resource Conservationist at the NRCS Baldwin Service Center.
Mike plans to use a soil moisture probe to record and track irrigation water usage in order to develop an irrigation water management plan and ensure over-watering does not occur. He plans to seed his pollinator habitat in the spring and is looking forward to learning more about which cover crops work best on his farm.