Strawberry Moon Farm is located on ten acres in Franklin, Indiana. It is a family home, a farm, and a homestead. The land is of mixed topography, including a wetland flood plain, a steep wooded slope, and some higher ground that is mostly flat and does not flood. At the time we purchased the land, about 6.5 acres (including the wetland) were leased out for large scale corn and soybean farming, and about 3.5 acres were already wooded. The land is surrounded by a wooded riparian zone on one side, by a corn/soy farm on two sides, and by a former corn field that has recently been reforested as a part of a wetland remediation project across the street.
When my husband Andrew and I purchased the farm together, we didn’t fully understand the wetland. The seller had disclosed that 2.4 acres of the land floods, but FEMA categorized that land as a once in 100 year flood plain. We didn’t expect that water would shape our lives so completely. The land was flooded on our moving day, and two more times that first year. On average, we see 3 to 4 floods every year. While this was surprising to us and disappointing at first, we soon learned that a wetland is a gift, not a curse. With the help of our local NRCS branch, we developed a project plan to rehabilitate the wetland, and received an Environmental Quality Incentives Program grant. We also made a plan to revitalize the crusted, compacted, tired soil in the upper fields with cover crops.
Influences & Traditions
I am very passionate about organic agriculture, local food, reducing carbon emissions and pollution, animal welfare, and healthy ecosystems. I never intended to keep this land as a corn/soy farm, but my original vision for the land changed significantly over the years as I’ve grown to understand the land and its needs more fully. The project has become a collaboration between farmer and land and water. Butterflies, toads, and squirrels have all participated. I no longer know exactly what to call this style of growing, as it has evolved into something that is influenced by many distinct traditions including permaculture, regenerative agriculture, organic farming, restoration agriculture, traditional ecological knowledge, native plant agriculture, and ecological conservation.
The wetland field was in the most urgent need of transformation, so the majority of my efforts over the first few years were focused there. By establishing a dense permanent ground cover, the soil is now much better protected from erosion damage. The myriad plant roots knit the soil together to hold it in place. In addition, this helps keep the soil healthy and porous so that when floods come, they can percolate down into the soil where the water is naturally filtered and cleaned through all the layers of rock and sand and soil before it enters the groundwater table. The water drains much faster through healthy soil, which means less stagnant water for less time, and that means fewer mosquitoes. The plant roots also soak up some of that water, and later release it into the atmosphere through transpiration, which contributes to healthy rain cycles. Our ground cover includes lots of native wildflowers and herbs that provide food and habitat for wildlife, pollinators, butterflies, and birds. It also includes weeds, because we don’t spray any chemicals on our land.
Once the groundcover was in place, tree planting began. About 2,000 trees have been planted in the wetland field in total. All the trees are Indiana native species, and all the trees will produce food when they mature. Not every tree has survived, but many have thrived and some are even beginning to flower and fruit. If a tree dies, I plant a new one in its place.
Some of the species include American Elder, American Hazel, Spicebush, Swamp White Oak, Pecan, Serviceberry, Highbush Cranberry, American Plum, Shellbark Hickory, and Red Maple. These trees were all planted by hand without machinery. When these trees mature, this 2.4 acre planting is estimated to produce 28,411 pounds of food per year. That’s more food than an industrial non-organic corn crop would yield in the same space, and it’s food that is nutrient dense, delicious, and intended for local consumption. Although the technical term for what I’ve done to this field is “taking the land out of production”, I believe that the productivity of the land will increase over the long-term. You can read more about wetland projects at Strawberry Moon on the blog.
The land has 3.5 acres of already established woodlands. One future goal for this farm is to cultivate mushrooms and woodland medicinal herbs in these woods, in the shade of the tree canopy. Many of our native medicinal herbs are threatened or endangered due to habitat loss. When old growth forests are cleared, these plants are often lost completely. And when new trees are planted, these precious herbs do not usually return. By clearing some of the invasive overgrowth such as bush honeysuckle (but keeping our trees) and intentionally replanting woodland herbs, I hope to re-establish healthy populations of native woodland medicinal and food herbs. I am a member of the United Plant Savers, and am currently studying herbalism in an effort to learn more about these plants. You can read more about woodland projects at Strawberry Moon on the blog.
The land had three corn/soy fields on higher ground that does not flood. The soil in these fields did not have the characteristics of health and tilth. I planted multiple rounds of cover crops in succession over these fields in an effort to rehabilitate the soil. After the cover crops were complete, I planted a mix of pasture grasses and clovers as a permanent cover crop for these fields. Keeping the soil permanently covered by plants reduces erosion, keeps the nutrients cycling, and builds healthy soil over time. Note: this is not a lawn. This is a ground cover base for native plant orchards, brambles, and vineyards. It does not require irrigation, fertilizers, or sprays as lawns do. You can learn more about soil building, foraging, and other work from these fields on the blog.
The Orchard In Progress already contains about 50 young Pawpaw trees and about 30 young persimmon trees. More will come with time. Another field is planned to become a native grape vineyard and native berry patch. The woodland edges are all gradually being planted with herbs and shrubs, and eventually sheep may move in to take over all the mowing responsibilities in these fields.
Most of the original back yard is now a vegetable garden of all heirloom plants. I am a sustaining member of the Seed Savers Exchange, and I am working to breed locally adapted seeds to share with the wider community. Gradually over time, I plan to expand the vegetable garden into the field behind the current garden. Before this can happen, infrastructure must be built around the edges to block chemical drift from the neighboring field. This is a necessity because, in addition to the desire to produce organic vegetables, most of the chemicals sprayed on the neighboring corn crop are herbicides. The GMO corn and soy crops are resistant to herbicides, but garden plants will be directly damaged or killed by small droplets of these chemicals that may float in on the breeze. A filtration trench and a solid privacy fence on two sides should be adequate to protect the garden. I am currently working to raise money for this project by selling vegetables at the local farmers market. You can read more about organic gardening on the blog.
This farm is too small to be certified organic by the USDA, but it is tended with the highest organic standards. No chemicals or GMO seeds are ever used, and the land is stewarded in a way that improves soil and water quality for a healthier future.
The land is certified by the North American Butterfly Association as a Monarch Butterfly Habitat and a general Butterfly Habitat. The land is also home to Eastern Red Squirrels, Fox Squirrels, Big Brown Bats, Raccoons, Whitetail Deer, Wild Turkeys, Red-tailed Hawks, Bald Eagles, Blue Herons, Pileated Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Songbirds, Snakes, Toads, Tree Frogs, Rabbits, and more. Their needs are considered in every farm decision.
The chickens at Strawberry Moon are valued members of the team. There are three coops: one for hens, and two for roosters. The roosters get to stay, even though they do not contribute to egg production, and all the chickens will have a home here until the end of their natural lives. The chickens (hens and roosters, all) are fed a healthy organic whole-food diet. They help to produce lots of compost to keep the gardens growing. They also help to clear weeds and grubs from new garden beds before planting. Since we have such an active population of predator animals, the chickens do not free-range full time. However, they all have generously sized outdoor runs so they can be outside in a protected area whenever they want, and they take supervised free range forays whenever possible. You can read more about the chickens on the blog.
Visits and Tours
We are frequently asked about visits and tours. We hope to offer this someday in the future when our project is a little further along, but we are not yet ready for visitors. This farm is our family home and it is a work in progress.