The element of Carbon, number 6 on the periodic table, is arguably the most important component of life on Earth. Carbon atoms form the building blocks of the cells of all of the planet’s living organisms. While it is vital to our lives, Carbon can also prove very damaging to the environment when it is present in the air. High levels of atmospheric Carbon, in the form of Carbon Dioxide, act as a greenhouse gas, trapping the Sun’s heat in our atmosphere. Over time, an increasingly high level of free Carbon has played a major role in fueling climate change. The only way we can hope to reverse this damage is by working to capture Carbon from our atmosphere, and return it to a solid form in our landscape.
Oakencroft is home to a 10-acre Pecan and Walnut orchard with Native Warm Season Grass (NWSG) alleys between the rows of trees. This production dynamic is called Alleycropping and will produce edible nuts, wildlife habitat, and rich forage for the livestock. As the trees will need almost a decade to reach full potential, this system allows farmers to produce a usable and/or marketable product in the alleys until the tree bear fruit. This makes sense in our context as the trees are a perennial source of food that continually sequester carbon and the NWSG will increase fauna diversity (Bobwhite Quail) while providing a perennial source of high nutrient livestock feed and high level of carbon sequestration. We have planted a multitude of Pecan and Walnut cultivars suited to the Piedmont region to see which do well in our local environment, to help inform others who are interested in growing these trees.
Silvopasture is the process of planting trees into existing pastures to provide shelter and food for the livestock and while providing the opportunity for future income through fruit, nuts, or timber products. With consideration of rebuilding the natural processes listed above, silvopasture is unrivaled in its capacity to vastly improve all. As the trees grow and canopy develops, we retain more moisture in our soils, store more carbon above and below the soil surface, improve soil ecosystem health through development of fungal networks, and support wildlife through food and shelter that the trees provide. At Oakencroft, we are endeavoring to develop a system of planting trees in pasture that retains the most amount of pasture in production. For tree species, we are focusing on planting pioneer tree species that grow faster and have a greater natural capability of colonizing grass land environments to prime the soil for later successional tree species.
Holistic Animal Management
Throughout history, ruminants like bison played a very important role in building and managing the grasslands and incredibly rich soils that occurred in these environments. Today at Oakencroft, we use sheep and cattle to mimic the effect bison had, by implementing a high degree of daily rotation management that maximizes the animal’s health while at the same time strengthening and re-building all of the natural processes listed above. Further, any animals that are sold are sent to grass-finishing outfits to keep them out of the conventional feedlot industry and the respective shortcomings of that system.
The perennial garden at Oakencroft was inspired by Stefan Sobkowiak’s Permaculture Orchard where a broad array of tree and shrub species are planted to maximize vertical space and to provide a large amount of biodiversity to break up pest patterns. As we apply this concept to our own context on the farm, we are accomplishing several important things. We learn which species and varieties grow best organically in our own micro climate and creating an insectary on the orchard floor with the specific intent of fostering an environment that beneficial insect species can thrive. Ideally, these species will have a direct role in reducing the presence of the insect pests that are common in apples, pears, berries, and grapes. In conjunction with silvopasture, this garden will be the biggest driver on the farm of rebuilding our native and beneficial insect wildlife populations.
When considering ways of building soil ecosystem health, compost has an unrivaled ability to improve that system. At Oakencroft, we compost leaves collected from the farm and dropped off by local landscaping crews with dehydrated dairy manure from a nearby dairy. This combination provides a nutrient and organic matter-rich compost which is then applied in the vineyard, garden, and lawns around the farm.