MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — Mountain Harvest Farm was established in 2012 by Mary Oldham and her husband, Chico Ramirez all with the goal to farm produce in a sustainable way.
All of their work paid off this past October when the pair won the West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year Award. The award granted the couple $1,000 and 200 hours or three months of use of a John Deere tractor with an option to later purchase it at the end for a discounted rate.
”We wanna grow healthy food for people, and we also wanna be able to keep the farm in good shape for the future, so if we use these practices, then we’re keeping the soil in good shape and we’re improving it,” Co-Owner Mary Oldham said.
Ramirez, who is originally from Honduras, met Oldham when she was working there through the Peace Corps. Ramirez said Oldham introduced him to organic produce and they learned more sustainable and conservation practices when they moved to Morgantown such as crop rotation, cover cropping, drip-irrigation and omitting the use of synthetic pesticides.
“We don’t plant the same crops in the same fields every year, and that helps the soil recover each year, and it helps the plants have less problems with diseases and pests,” Oldham said.
In addition to crop rotation, the farm does cover cropping which is done right after big crops like corn that take a lot of the soil’s nutrients out.
“Planting things like rye, and oats and clover that help pull up the nutrients from the soil for the plants and build the soil structure, so that we can grow the soil instead of depleting it,” Oldham said.
Oldham said that if they test the soil and it’s still not ready for a new crop they will continue with the cover cropping system, as its one good way to ensure there’s no soil erosion and they can continue farming on the same land for years to come.
“Farming can be very extractive, if you just come in and we plant these crops, and we harvest them and we’re taking away all the nutrients every time we harvest a crop, so after time the soil is going to be weaker,” Oldham said.
What’s grown during cover cropping is not harvested as its full duty is to give nutrients back to the soil. In addition to this, Oldham and Ramirez plant wildflowers to attract pollinators and help take care of the wildlife at the farm.
Oldham and Ramirez take soil samples at least every other year of their 10-acre farm to make sure the topsoil can withstand future crops grown on it.
In order to be able to do cover cropping, and still produce vegetables and fruits to sell, the farm has three high-tunnels and one greenhouse. The high tunnels they operate allow for year-round production and are warmed up and powered by the sun. The tunnels are protected by two different layers of plastic held up by a fan which is powered by solar panels.
The farm was able to get equipment like this thanks to grants and other funding meaning that its 2023 conservation award could help with expanding the farm’s capabilities with similar equipment. The farm also has partnerships with other local farms in order to sell items like eggs and other locally sourced items.
Not only is the pair giving back to the land that has provided so much for them, but they’re also giving back to Ramirez’s community in Honduras by hiring three people on work visas for eight months every year for the past four years. The pair also spreads awareness in the community of their sustainable practices that can allow for family farms to be successful and produce quality products.
“What I would like to do is teach all the practices we know, is working very good for us. Special that D.R.E.A.M.E.R.’s they wanna become a farm, and they don’t know how to do it or they don’t have the opportunity of where to go so this— here at Mountain Harvest Farm they can, you know, they can have a little bit of learning,” Ramirez said.
Mountain Harvest Farm is part of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Oldham said this is a mutually beneficial relationship between the producer and consumer, as consumers pay an upfront fee for the season, which allows for the farmer to invest that into growing the produce, and provides a commitment to give back that investment. This practice allows farmers to become more profitable, as consumers know they may pay a bit more for what they see as higher-quality produce.