As designers of livings systems in New England, we are often approached with the question, “What do you do in the winter?” The answer is simple: we plan for summer. For many of our most innovative projects, this means pursuing seed money (literally) to make our warm-weather endeavors possible. Lately, we’ve been applying for several grants to make progress with our Productive Conservation ambitions.
As pointed out in an earlier blog, Productive Conservation is a promising means of producing crops in the erosion-prone soil of a floodplain, an especially important technique in our changing climate. The RDG team is looking to test the economic feasibility of this model at the Florence Community Gardens, a site we’ve been involved with since 2011. At the end of 2017, RDG applied for two grants: the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Partnership Grant and the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) Research Grant. This funding will help us partner with Sawmill Herb Farm to trial various establishment techniques and refine a model for perennial floodplain agriculture that regional farmers can replicate.
The experiments we designed revolve around elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), an underutilized crop that can stabilize floodplain soils and be processed into several value-added products. Our experiments are an attempt to develop cost-effective methods of establishing farm-scale elderberry plantings by addressing the four main costs: weed suppression, fertilizer, irrigation and labor. If successful, these projects will provide regional farmers with perennial models that are economically and ecologically sustainable.
We will continue to pursue grant funding for our riverside endeavors, hoping for a bountiful growing season this year. If we win both grants, our capacity to understand the full cost of establishing elderberry buffers will be significantly improved, and our regional food system will be just a little bit stronger. Wish us luck!