Farm at Sunnyside earns conservation honors

The 2017 Rappahannock County Bay-Friendly Farm Award has been presented to The Farm at Sunnyside in Harris Hollow along the banks of the Rush River.

The annual Conservation Awards dinner was held in Culpeper and honors residents who have demonstrated leadership in the stewardship of local soil and water resources. Awards presented were for Educator of the Year, Forest Stewardship, and Bay-Friendly Farm Awards in each of the district’s 5 member counties, as well as Conservationist of the Year and Wildlife Habitat.

(Left to right) Rappahannock County Board of Supervisor Chris Parrish, Rappahannock Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation Director Dr. Monira Rifaat, Sunnyside Farm Manager Casey Gustowarow, Award Recipient Nick Lapham, CSWCD Board Chair Lynn Graves, Conservation District Coordinator Debbie Cross. and Rappahannock County Board of Supervisor Mike Biniek Courtesy photo

The Clean Water Farm Award Program recognizes farms in the commonwealth that utilize practices designed to protect water quality and soil resources. Within the Chesapeake Bay watershed the program is known as the Bay-Friendly Farm Awards and as the Clean Water Farm Awards in all other areas of the commonwealth.

Central to The Farm at Sunnyside’s mission is managing not only for food production but also for native wildlife and beneficial services that come from a healthy ecosystem. The farm strives for conservation practices that improve soil quality, while protecting the area’s water resources.

Sunnyside encompasses 420 acres, with 200 of those acres being in forest land. The farm adjoins Shenandoah National Park on its northern boundary and lies in the shadows of “The Peak,” one of the highest points in Rappahannock County.

The farm is certified organic with the USDA and primarily grows over 75 varieties of fruits and vegetables. Just less than 25 acres of the farm is used for outdoor vegetable production, which is mostly all enclosed using deer proof fencing. The outdoor plots produce a huge variety of vegetables like asparagus, eggplant, kale, melons, okra, pumpkins, summer and winter squash, tomatoes, turmeric, and turnips. They also offer a wide selection of herbs, including basil, cilantro, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme. Several high tunnels and greenhouses also produce vegetables and herbs.

The conservation practices that are used are as varied as the produce that grows at Sunnyside. These include planting multi species cover crop mixtures during the summer and winter seasons, natural pest and weed control using chickens, composting crop residues, mulching, crop rotation, minimized tillage and drip line irrigation.

Since growing vegetables can be water intensive, the farm pumps water from several ponds for irrigating the crops. All the ponds are tested on a monthly basis for parameters such as pH, temperature, total dissolved oxygen and salinity. All this information is recorded in a database and tracked over time. Many of the riparian corridors that feed into the ponds have been re-established with native species like pickerelweed, red osier dogwood, and native oak species just to name a few. Biological assessments are made of the riparian areas on the farm to monitor the many species of salamanders, turtles and birds that rely on these areas for their habitat and food.

Other habitat measures on the farm have been planting native meadows, establishing warm season grasses, building wood duck boxes, and using game cameras to document what wildlife species that inhabit the upland forests that border the national park. Invasive species have also been an uphill battle at the organic farm.

In addition to the vegetable and fruit production, owner Nick Lapham recently decided in was time to exclude the cattle on land that was rented to a local cattleman. While a separate business venture from The Farm at Sunnyside, Nick was able to use this stream corridor as another way to study and monitor how livestock exclusion can bring back biodiversity and heal a natural ecosystem.

The mission of Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District is to promote the stewardship of soil and water and the conservation of our natural resources by educating and providing technical assistance to manage, protect, and enhance the land and water for the benefit and enjoyment of the citizens of Culpeper, Greene, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock counties.

Rappahannock County is represented on the Culpeper Soil & Water Conservation District Board by Directors Mike Peterson and Dr. Monira Rifaat.

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