Aerial view of Fortier’s farm project in Quebec, La Ferme des Quatre-Temps – an inspiration during our business planning process, as it is ecologically and economically impactful. Photo by La Ferme Des Quatre Temps

Growing from the Ground Up

Coverdale Farm Preserve, Phase I, Master Plan Progress Update

By Joanne McGeoch

In Fall, 2018, Delaware Nature Society, working with Ground Plan Studio, completed a comprehensive Business Plan and Farm Operations Strategy to coincide with our expansions associated with 2017 Coverdale Farm Preserve Master Plan. The business plan identified short-term investments needed to integrate our regenerative agriculture program. Working in phases, we will grow aspects of the farm that will yield a modest return on investment in the next 3-5 years.

Coverdale’s Market Garden Farmer, Patrick Eggleston, shows beautiful mixed greens growing under protected cover in our high tunnels.
Coverdale’s Market Garden Farmer, Patrick Eggleston, shows beautiful mixed greens growing under protected cover in our high tunnels.

These include:

  • investments in our grazing pasture zones (60 acres will be transitioned to livestock grazing in phase one)
  • investments in infrastructure (propagation greenhouse, high-tunnels, caterpillar house, fencing, and a wash and pack produce processing station)
  • transitioning our current vegetable production fields to intensive, organic farming methods
  • training the next generation of farmers in regenerative and organic agriculture

Our long-term vision for Coverdale Farm Preserve is to integrate these highly efficient, profitable farm operations strategies while achieving our mission to improve the environment. The outputs include making Coverdale Farm a regional source for our local foodshed, increasing productions on a diversity of vegetables, fruit, pasture raised poultry and eggs, adding pasture raised beef, pork, and lamb, while improving the biodiversity, soil health, and water conservation techniques used in our farming practices.

As an environmental organization, the way in which we farm the land needs to be not only financially viable and productive, but demonstrate that farming, while using regenerative practices, can be a form of conservation. Throughout this process, we’ve studied natural systems and mimicked them to the best of our abilities in our production system. We see the farm as an ecosystem where everything from the plants to the trees, the pasture fields to the vegetable crops, the livestock to the wildlife, are all interconnected.

In the last few months our farm team has made progress on integrating several of the objectives of the business plan, including redesigning our vegetable production fields to incorporate intensive organic farming methods. With consultation from renowned organic farmer, Jean-Martin Fortier, the 7-acre enclosed CSA zone has begun to transition to organic growing methods, using processes and techniques highlighted in Fortier’s Market Garden Master Class. Jean-Martin Fortier is a farmer, educator, and award-winning author of the best-selling book, The Market Gardener. A recognized authority on small-scale organic vegetable production, Fortier has inspired thousands of individuals and farmers to embrace a vision of agriculture that is human-scale, ecological, and profitable. Fortier’s farm project in Quebec, La Ferme des Quatre-Temps was an inspiration during our business planning process as it is ecologically and economically impactful.

Coverdale Farm expansion plans also include research and education, essential components in understanding and demonstrating the ecological impacts of regenerative and organic farming practices. As soil health is a key-pillar of regenerative agriculture, this past year we began the baseline sampling of approximately 100-acres from vegetable production to fallow fields. To enable the accuracy and thoroughness of our soil health program, we partnered with veteran Delaware Nature Society Teacher Naturalist Mary Ann Levan. Levan is a PhD Soil Scientist from Cornell University with post-doctorate work at University of Illinois studying tillage impact on root growth in soybeans. Over 50 composite samples will be collected over several months representing the complex topography of Coverdale Farm Preserve. The samples will be analyzed at the Cornell Labs following a soil health protocol that the University developed. The resulting data establishes our soil health baseline. Soil health will be tracked annually and inform our farm and land management strategies.
Additionally, Delaware Nature Society Ornithologist Dr. Ian Stewart has been mapping, banding, and tracking bird species in several areas of Coverdale, calculating the impact of our land management practices on bird habitat and diversity. One early indicator is the return of American Kestrels, a declining species in Delaware. Two of the six known pairs of breeding Kestrels spotted in Delaware have been found nesting in Coverdale’s expansive pasture fields.

Since its origins in 2000, Coverdale Farm Preserve has been a living classroom for visitors, program participants, children, and families where they can explore the expansive and diverse topography of rolling hills, farm fields, pollinator meadows, woodlands, streams, and ponds. Opportunities to engage and educate the public will only be further enhanced through our new farming methods while producing beautiful, organically grown food for our community.

Come by Coverdale Farm Preserve for our Farm Market Days on Saturdays, 9 am – 2 pm and Wednesdays, 11 am – 6 pm through October. Visit DelNature.org/FarmMarket to learn more and get a taste of items we may have on sale.

In December 2017, Delaware Nature Society began actively fundraising for this project. Since that time, we have secured over $1.2M towards phase one implementation costs. These include generous gifts and grants from the following individuals and foundations. We are tremendously grateful for their generosity and support!

Longwood Foundation, Welfare Foundation, Crystal Trust Foundation, Patagonia, Marmot Foundation, Frances Bayard, Eric & Martha Lynn Brinsfield, Margaretta Frederick & Michael Martin, Hank & Mary Davis, Allen & Marsha Barnett, Peter Kjellerup & Mandy Cabot, June Robbins, USDA Beginning Farmer & Rancher Program, Bill & Melinda Hardie, Harvest Market Natural Foods


Joanne McGeoch is Deputy Director & Chief Development Officer of Delaware Nature Society