Join the Rushton Farm Staff for an informative look at starting seeds for the upcoming season. We will look at how to select seeds, propagation techniques, soil preparation, and how to ensure your seedlings grow strong and healthy. We will use hands on demonstration to show how we grow over 40,000 seedlings each year providing 30,000lbs of food. You don’t need to have a green thumb to join us and learn how to make the most of your garden!
One Sunny midsummer day in 2012 on Rushton Farm, the bees decided to swarm. Noah, a certified apiarist–and the sustainable gardening manager teaching our cohort agro-ecology best practices–knew exactly what to do, and quickly sprang into action. He was able to quickly and safely locate the queen bee and remove the correct branch the swarm had formed on. It was a quick and mesmerizing event that created a lasting memory for all us interns and students who were there for the swarm…and then it was back to tending the row crops we were growing for the community supported agriculture (CSA) and food donations. It was a unique and fun way to work and learn, and an experience that would only have been possible due to the efforts of the Trust to not only create and restore the 6-acre sustainable farm but to make it accessible to us city dwellers and students that would have otherwise never known what existed beyond the hedgerows.
This experience reminded me of a time growing up in the Midwest. While playing outside in my backyard on a south facing slope, I discovered bees entering and exiting a nickel sized hole in the ground. Curious to see what they were doing, I went inside and got a jar. Then I put the jar over the hole, and for about 5 stings worth of time, or 20 minutes or so, I could study the bees. This event, like the swarm at Rushton, created an indelible and memorable window of observation that I would forever remember. As the interns and I worked with the staff and hosted student groups at the farm, I could not help but be reminded how such events can make a lasting and meaningful impact on young people as they begin to explore their natural world and make ecological connections.
As my internship progressed as part of the Penn MES program, the opportunity to study bees, and specifically native pollinators, arose. Working with Lisa Kiziuk and Fred de Long, I was able to reach out to bee expert Sam Droege from the Beltsville, MD bee lab. He assisted me with designing a baseline pollinator survey, told me where to get the glycol for the pan traps (painted yellow, blue and white solo cups with PVC holders) I would hand make and deploy in three areas around the farm, and even where to get the specimen collection bags and how to store the specimens for later ID (which Sam’s lab and interns there performed).
I would soon conclude my field research at Rushton after collecting the specimens from the pan traps throughout the summer and sending them to the Bee lab for ID. Thanks to the sustainable farming practices, focus on native plantings and abundant open space, we were able to identify 49 unique species of bees at Rushton Farm.
My capstone project at Penn would focus on deadly and pervasive insecticides and crop protection products called Neonicotinoids–which are used as seed treatments on over 95% of corn and soy planted in the U.S–and which were not used anywhere on Rushton Farm. At the end of 2012, after all the Rushton farm crops had been sustainably grown and harvested, I published “The Producer Pollinator Dilemma: Neonicotinoids and Honeybee Colony Collapse.” This project was the most in-depth project I’d taken on to date, and it began with “The Bees of Rushton Farm, A Pollinator Perspective on Sustainable Agriculture,” which was the independent project preceding the capstone, and where we published our baseline pollinator survey with the native pollinators we observed and collected in and around the farm that summer.
What began as a summer internship spurred a lifelong academic and ecological interest in native bees, agro-ecology, and how we can all work together to restore our land with an optimal mix of wildflowers, native grasses, and sedges. This is how the PollinatorPatch nonprofit campaign to restore One Million Acres, One Backyard Patch at a time, soon evolved from my new job with Applied Ecological Services as part of the large scale Restoration Field Crew in the Midwest, and then Project Manager for the Wetland Reserve Program in Iowa, in conjunction with the NRCS and State DNR.
It was during these projects and assignments that I realized a pollinator optimized seed mix was needed, by eco-region, and bloom period, and with more than the CP42 standard of 9 forbs (3 in each bloom period). On Earth Day in 2015 PollinatorPatch.com was launched to offer folks the best available 30+ species seed mix for their backyard and to show them why it’s important to help the bees, just like Noah did that one sunny midsummer day on Rushton Farm when the bees swarmed.
This past summer the entire experience came full circle when Monarch Joint Venture conducted a vegetation survey to see what native plants and wildflowers particularly were in bloom from a pollinator-optimized seed mix in the 3rd year of maturation.
“Everything is everything,” and we are all connected on our planet and by our collective actions. Small events can lead to bigger learning experiences and the unique and memorable outdoor education offered at Rushton is invaluable and makes bigger impacts in time thanks to the work of the Willistown Conservation Trust and its dedicated team.
Ben Reynard | was an Intern at Willistown Conservation Trust’s Rushton Farm in 2012. After earning a Masters’s degree in Environmental Studies at Penn, Ben went on to work for Applied Ecological Services as an Ecosystem Restoration Supervisor. Additionally, he has launched the nonprofit, Pollinator Patch to restore backyard habitat. Ben is father to a three year old son and is restoring a 3-acre goat prairie and an 1850’s pioneer cabin he hopes to make into an eco-home for his son to learn eco-homesteading and ecological restoration. To learn more about Ben and his path visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/benjamin-reynard-03a4b358/ or https://www.lps.upenn.edu/degree-programs/mes/community/0514.
Excerpt from The Wild Carrot, October 27, 2020, a weekly newsletter from staff to Rushton Farm CSA members.)
|I love the picture above because I have never seen Noah as happy as he is when he is in the company of his son Owen. I have had the privilege of farming with Noah for the last twenty years and we have seen and experienced a lot in those twenty years. It has only been in the last couple of years that I have seen Noah settle down, buy a house, and spend his free time enjoying the company of his wonderful family. Of course, it was not always that way….|
Noah and I first crossed paths in the early nineties on Martha’s Vineyard. Noah was working at Solviva farm and greenhouse in West Tisbury while I was working on boats sailing out of Vineyard Haven. At that time, the Vineyard still had a somewhat rustic appeal and you could have beach party’s or camp out in cabins where you felt removed from the tourists who frequented the Island. Those who worked on the Vineyard and year-round “Islanders” knew all the great spots to hang out and fun places to go. There were a lot of fun times and crazy stories. Noah and I socialized in some of the same circles but never met.
Noah left the Vineyard in the late nineties and returned to West Chester where he showed up at Pete’s Produce Farm one day looking for land to farm. I was in my first year managing Pete’s Produce Farm and we (along with Pete) agreed that having a young organic farmer working some of the lands would be beneficial to the growing business. It was not long before Noah and I were sharing stories about the Vineyard, farming, and life in general. We hit it off immediately and have been working together, and telling stories, ever since.
Telling stories. That is where The Old Salt title comes in. Little known fact, while on the Vineyard Noah was also a licensed commercial fisherman. An “old salt” is a sailor or fisherman who is a raconteur or teller of stories. These individuals often keep the history of an area by recanting stories of past times and events. Ever since I first met Noah he has regaled me with stories ranging from boating misadventures to farm misadventures (we both have a lot of stories about misadventures). We have cataloged many stories over the last twenty years and the Rushton Farm Staff gets to hear them regularly. All the time. Nearly every day (ok every day) Noah and Fred tell stories of their past much to the amusement, ok, sometimes frustration, of a staff that occasionally shows interest but often just wants to eat lunch or go home. “The Chelsea shuffle” is named for the way Chelsea Allen would slowly move away as stories got longer and longer hoping we would not notice as she tried to get away. Now, The Purple Chill takes a different approach, and just says “I’m going home, feel free to keep talking”.
The reality is that Noah and I have learned a lot from the “old salts” who entertained us as we grew up. We have also learned a lot about each other after twenty years in the field. Noah is my brother in farming and life and I am lucky to have had him by my side through the good and the bad. This season has proven a challenge from the beginning but I knew if anyone could make it work it would be Noah. Thanks, Noah for all you have done during this difficult season. Of course, I am quite sure the “old salt” will turn the events of this season into some entertaining banter in the future. Look out, 2021 interns.
Excerpt from The Wild Carrot, June 23, 2020, a weekly newsletter from staff to Rushton Farm CSA members.)
|Last week was our first big harvest with the spring vegetables finally making an appearance. With the abundance of produce coming out of the fields I wanted to take the opportunity to have our family take the first food donation to the West Chester Food Cupboard. Lisa Kiziuk (Bird Conservation Director, UPenn Professor, College Ref, Master of All), Katerina (precocious teen), and I (happy farmer) gathered up 70lbs of fresh vegetables harvested by the tremendous Rushton Farm Staff and headed to the Cupboard to provide produce to members of our community who need it most in these uncertain times.|
I realized the importance of our donation when the staff at the West Chester Food Cupboard welcomed our delivery after closing hours. We were greeted with the smiling faces (behind masks) of volunteers who make sure the donated food gets to the people who rely on it. Being able to share this experience with Katerina made me understand why I became a farmer. A farmer’s primary job is to provide. Provide not just to those who can afford food, but those who cannot.
Of course, you do not need to have a farm to provide food for area food banks. If you have a garden consider donating a portion of your harvest. If you do not, consider donating healthy canned goods or volunteering time at a food bank. As always, you can donate your CSA pick-up. All food left at the end of a pick-up day is donated to the West Chester Food Cupboard.
I do think that it is important to share any of these efforts with your kids. My parents involved me in food donation at an early age and it has impacted me ever since. Over the past 10 years, Katerina has helped plant, harvest, and donate food and I would hope it has given her some insight into helping others.
Of course, right now she is helping her friends load up the car for a trip to the shore. Seems about right for a 17 year old rising senior. We still have the rest of the summer to get her into the field and back to the food bank. I can hear her exhausted sigh from here.
Rejoice with the Staff at Rushton Farm as we celebrate the start to a new season. Hear first hand from the farmers what is going on, and growing, in the fields at Rushton Farm. Get a look at the landscape of newly planted crops at Rushton Farm and get gardening advice for your own plants. Learn how you can promote pollinators and other beneficial insects.
Participants will include Field Manager and beekeeper Noah Gress, Production Manager Molly Clark and Willistown Conservation Trust Community Farm Program Director Fred de Long as well as guests from our field staff. Get a view of the farm from the Rushton Conservation Center and enjoy an hour with the people growing food in concert with the surrounding natural landscape of Rushton Woods Preserve.