Jim Crawford, Pennsylvania Vegetable Farmer
For Jim Crawford, who raises more than 40 kinds of vegetables in Pennsylvania, a well-structured "green payments" program, with priorities set at the county level, could allow him to make basic improvements in his farm. "We have a million things we'd like to do," Crawford says. "Creating a healthy, naturally balanced environment is good for us and for our productivity and profitability. And we think it's the right thing."
After farming for more than a decade, Crawford found a new way to profit from his 25 acres of vegetables: He and his wife Moie gathered similar-minded growers and co-founded a growers' co-op. Today, 20 farmer members centralize and co-manage their harvest with a 5,000 square-foot office and warehouse equipped with coolers. They sell the produce to direct markets in Washington, D.C. The lucrative trade, combined with lower per-farmer marketing costs, makes the co-op a great option for Crawford.
Crawford has perfected a cropping system that relies on innovative plant rotations, fertility management and cover cropping. Cover crops—non-cash crops planted for soil-enhancing benefits—add organic matter, fix nitrogen and restore nutrients that may have leached during the off-season. Crawford uses the manure from his 250 laying hens, along with composted manure from neighboring chicken farms, as a major source of fertility on the fields.
"By using chicken manure from chicken farms and recycling nutrients, it's a big benefit to the whole ecosystem and the whole community," he says. "When farms were more integrated, you had animals spreading their own manure on fields, but the way agriculture has specialized, we really have to think about recycling those nutrients back to the farm where they started."
The manure buy-back is indicative of Crawford's approach on the farm. "We don't think about short-term gains, we concentrate more on the long-term," he says. "The basic values of organic farming are that it builds soil for the long-term with a balanced fertility that lasts and regenerates and replenishes. Over the long term, that is profitable for us. Our fertility is higher, our crop quality is better; our yields are better. Even after 35 years they continue to get better."
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