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Students Explore Sustainable Agriculture at McEnroe Farm

By Noah Morgenstein

IMG_0679On September 20, students in the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development and the Master of Science in Sustainability Management traveled to Millerton, New York to tour the McEnroe Farm, one of the area’s largest organic farms. Each semester field trips such as this are offered to students in the Earth Institute’s sustainability education programs, to complement their classroom learning and show them local sustainability initiatives in action.

The McEnroe Farm opened in the late 1980s, with the help of the McEnroe and Durst families of Duchess County, who had a shared vision for the future of sustainable agriculture. Over time, their endeavor has grown from a small farm with a roadside stand to one of the largest organic farms in the Northeast, with a farmers market in Millerton, and an interstate compost business.

Students had the opportunity to visit the farm’s manure and composting facilities, greenhouses, pastures, and market, learning about McEnroe’s innovative business. McEnroe’s has built its compost business model on the utilization of excess food waste produced on surrounding Duchess County farms. McEnroe collects excess compost and manure from these other farms, processes it and transports it to places in need of high quality soil. Over time, the farm has been able to update its operations and adopt new technology to address difficulties such as how to refine food waste in a cost-effective manner. Today, McEnroe sells its compost along the East Coast as far down as Georgia and has been certified by the NOFA-NY Certified Organic, LLC.

IMG_0656Education coordinator, Suko Presseau, explained some of the regulatory,and technological challenges facing the organic agriculture industry, and how McEnroe is operating in this complex environment. She talked about the paradox of the organic label, and whether farms collecting and using compost from local non-organic farms could still be considered organic.  Students raised questions about the tradeoffs associated with composting, such as emissions produced from transportation of food waste and the final product, and from the composting process itself.

At the greenhouse, students learned about the technology the farm uses to heat crops in a cost-effective, and environmentally responsible manner. One of these methods includes greenhouse windows that automatically open or close depending on the outside temperature. This innovation allows the heating system to shut off when the weather is sufficient for raising the crops.

IMG_0661After an organic lunch, students walked through the pastures of turkeys, lambs, and pigs, and visited the animal slaughterhouse where they saw the technologies that the farm uses in its meat production.  The last stop of the tour was the farmer’s market, where students and faculty picked fresh berries in the nearby fields and purchased fresh farm food to take back to the city.

Students were impressed by the farm’s innovative operations and left with a more informed appreciation of the complex challenges facing sustainable agriculture.

 

Noah Morgenstein is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute. He attends Columbia College and will graduate in 2015 with a degree in economics and political science.

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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