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New Leaf Farm - Case Study
Lead Author: Kim Stoner, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station
Contributing Authors: Steve Gilman, Steve Vanek, Cornell University.
Dave and Christine Colson
Farm at a glance
Full case study (1.1 MB .pdf)
Case study chapters (.pdf files):
New Leaf Farm at a glance:
Diversified vegetables and herbs with emphasis on salad mix
6 restaurants, 2 natural food stores, and 40-family CSA
Total Farm Acreage:
2 to 3 acres in vegetables each year, with an additional 6 acres in cover crops as part of vegetable rotation (9.5 acres total for vegetables); 1 in fruit trees, 0.2 acres in high tunnels, 14.5 in hay and pasture
Year at Current Location: 1982
Year first certified organic: 1985
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) Certification Services, LLC
Soil Types: fine sandy loam
Hardiness Zone: 5b
Androscoggin River, entering the Atlantic Ocean at Brunswick, ME
Rainfall Average: 42-46 inches per year
4 wells: 70' for household and vegetable wash water, 12' for greenhouse, 16' and 100' for field irrigation
Over 20 years, the Colsons have created a thriving organic farm that provides high quality, fresh vegetables to their local community. With three field acres plus some greenhouses in production each year, they support two families, interns and workers.
Essential to their success is marketing. Chris spends most of two days per week calling their accounts. This effort supports the premium prices that they receive, reflects their business philosophy of local marketing through relationships, and also exemplifies their personal philosophy of working with and serving their local community. It has also allowed the Colsons to rapidly adapt to changing market conditions.
Since they have a short field season, the Colsons rely on season extension through use of permanent greenhouses, high tunnels, black plastic mulch, and both clear plastic and woven row covers to be able to serve their markets from May through Thanksgiving. They also creatively exploit the side benefits of many season extension techniques for pest and weed management. The plastic mulch reduces weed pressure and row covers and low tunnels exclude insect pests and to reduce exposure to disease. They look to cultural methods of pest management first, with little use of sprays, but some organic sprays are still used, especially for disease management in tomatoes.
They have built their management upon cover cropping to control weeds, provide nitrogen, and build soil. This has reduced their workload so that they can then focus their labor on producing and harvesting vegetables. Their commitment to cover cropping is so absolute that of their vegetable acres, only one quarter is ever in production at any one time. The rest is in cover crops.
Their cover cropping system generally succeeds in managing weeds without excessive hand-labor. Among the NEON farms, there are some farms that try to manage the weed seed-bed, taking on the challenge of trying to keep any weeds from going to seed, with the hope of reducing weed problems for years into the future. New Leaf Farm illustrates both the benefits of this approach, in the relatively low amount of hand-weeding required to get excellent weed control in most crops.
These cover crops also do significant work contributing to the farm nutrient budget. Basic mass balance analysis indicates that major nutrients were well-supplied, with some possible excess N and P but not at levels that would lead to a risk of pollution from leaching or run-off.
New Leaf Farm is an exemplary small organic farm that demonstrates that farm size does not have to restrict use of cover crops and other important soil building techniques. The Colsons commitment to organic agriculture continues to inspire young interns, their local community and the Northeast organic farming community.