Coverdale Farm Master Plan Phase One – Establishing the System

Coverdale Farm Regenerative Agricultural Program
Healthy Eating from the Ground Up

Delaware Nature Society has long recognized that how we grow food can have a profound impact on the environment. Now, we are taking the first steps to implement an ambitious plan to turn Coverdale’s stunning 377 acres into a model for land conservation, preservation, and wildlife habitat while growing food in a healthy, sustainable way. Honoring many years of conservation land-management strategies in the natural areas of Coverdale, the regenerative agricultural practices will mimic natural processes that attribute to healthy soil, animals, and ecosystems. The Coverdale Farm Regenerative Agriculture Program will be accomplished in phases, beginning with the three-year Phase One, focused on investments to establish the system.

Outlined here are our plans for this first phase, which will begin this year.
We hope you’ll join in our excitement and support!

Your Visit Begins at Coverdale Farm Marketplace and Welcome Center

Coverdale Farm is a bustling, growing community of thousands of program participants and visitors each year. With demands that will only increase, an obvious need is to build a welcoming space for programs and tours, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) pick up, Coverdale-generated product sales, and a place for local farms and purveyors to offer their products. Plans for this building may include a café for light fare and snacks, and a large wrap-around porch where adults and kids can appreciate the views while enjoying a healthy bite. In partnership with the Greater Philadelphia Green Building Council and Living Building Challenge, Phase One will fund conceptual drawings for construction of the Coverdale Farm Marketplace & Welcome Center with an emphasis on a sustainable, and low-carbon footprint.

Seed to Field to Table: Coverdale Farm Greenhouse, High Tunnels, and Hoop Houses

All gardeners understand that growing popular crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in an open field often exposes the vegetables to droughts, storms, voracious bugs, and even early frosts. A heated and irrigated greenhouse will provide three to four season growing for higher quality and a bigger yield. These cash-crops can then be sold to restaurants and retailers to rapidly bring a return on investment. Additionally, these methods are used to teach emerging farmers how high tunnels and hoop houses can help extend the growing season.

Growing the Next Generation of Farmers

Through our preliminary work with the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program and our organization’s long-term commitment to education, Coverdale Farm is well-positioned to incorporate a formalized training program for new farmers in methods that are both sustainable and economically viable. Phase One will support the hiring of three seasonal interns for on-farm apprenticeship programs. This program provides young people and agricultural graduate students the opportunity to specialize in aspects of farming that can further their professional development and experiences including animal husbandry, vegetable production, and the rotational grazing program.

The Farmers Guild

Fortunately, Coverdale Farm property has several buildings which can be re-purposed to best serve the transition to regenerative farming. Phase one funding will encompass essential restorations to establish The Farmers Guild. The historic Dilworth House, off Old Kennett Pike will be repurposed to become The Farmers Guild: a meeting space and community housing for farmer apprentices. With seven bedrooms and large meeting and kitchen spaces, the building will be retrofitted to provide communal living for seasonal interns as part of their stipend. Having the farmer apprentices living on-site is essential to demonstrating the demands of time and commitment to operating a farm.

Rotational Grazing – It’s All About the Soil

During Phase One, our perennial pastures leader-follower system will begin implementation. We will start with 30 acres of pasture fields in southeast quadrant of the farm. This system is the foundation of regenerative agriculture. It’s scientifically designed to contribute to the health of the soil and increase biodiversity simply by letting “animals act like animals” – eating pasture grasses and depositing manure. The animals pass through a pasture in succession – cows followed by sheep who are then followed by poultry – in a continual 40 to 60 day rotation, using the land more efficiently. The regenerative system requires pasture infrastructure for animal safety and to optimize the process.
The first phase will also include the foundation of the ‘leaders’ of the system, Red Devon cows. An initial small herd of Red Devons (8-10 cattle) will be integrated, followed by a flock of sheep, then, heritage turkeys and chickens. Building on the success of the current mobile units for pasture-raised poultry, additional flocks and movable houses will be integrated into the grazing system.
The farmers will need flexible fencing to keep the animals in their assigned pastures with water and shade to keep them protected and healthy. Livestock barns placed in several grazing areas, as well as the implementation of forested riparian buffers using a variety of deciduous trees.

Eating Experiences – Sharing the Fruits of our Labor

Our farm plans would not be complete without a mention of the important role of Coverdale in feeding our community. From seasonal pop-up dinners, to diversification and scale-up of farm-generated products for sale in our marketplace, to food access programs through collaborations with partnerships in community centers and food banks serving Wilmington, a focus of our phase one plans will be expanded food production to increase access and enjoyment of the nutrient rich, high quality food produced through our regenerative agriculture systems.

Delaware Nature Society extends our sincere gratitude to the following foundations, organizations, and individuals who have contributed to Coverdale Farm Preserve Master Plan and Phase One implementation: Crystal Trust; Patagonia; Harvest Market (Bob Kleszics and Karen Ashley); Peter Kjellerup and Mandy Cabot; Hank and Mary Davis; and Margaretta Frederick and Michael Martin. We also thank our Coverdale Master Plan Committee and co-chairs Eric Brinsfield and Margaretta Frederick.

Want to Learn More?

Contact Joanne McGeoch