While it can be more broadly and more specifically defined, we're using agroecology here to refer to the ways in which nature, or more specifically native organisms, interact with agricultural production. Clearly, pest damage can be part of that and needs to be taken into account. Pests have generally been quite thoroughly researched. Less researched, but increasingly becoming a focus, are beneficial organisms: the pollinators, the pest parasites, and the pest predators. Our particular interest, reflecting our general focus landscape patterns, is on how semi-wild areas around farms (including orchards) interact with the production of those enterprises, while at the same time enhancing on-farm biodiversity conservation.
Our initial work was descriptive - exploring the plants and invertz associated with various, semi-wild habitats on working farms. Since 2016, we have devoted our efforts to long-term experimental work in collaboration with the Hudson Valley Farm Hub. In this research, we have tried to recreate wilder on-farm habitats using techniques that farmers can get cost share for through NRCS. Our basic question has been: in our area, do those techniques work in terms of enhancing agroecological services and biodiversity? As the reports below indicate, in some ways the jury is still out....
Here's a summary of the projects in which we've looked at aspects of that theme, together with links to more information:
In 2009, we looked at the ebb and flow of insects in and around Hawthorne Valley Farm's main gardens; our goal was to start getting a feel for distribution and seasonal dynamics. We prepared a web page illustrating those results.
In 2010, we worked on 19 different farms around the County, exploring the interaction of landscape, soils and agriculturally-relevant insects. Some of that work is summarized in this 2012 report.
In 2014, we undertook a pilot project to look at how interchange with surrounding 'wilds' influenced orchard production at seven Hudson Valley apple orchards; those results are summarized here.
In 2012 through 2014, we explored the insect communities of wild fields and planted native-species meadows. While not directly related to agroecology, this work did provide insight on the potential of some of these habitats to provide habitat for beneficial species. This report summarizes that work.
In 2016, we began work at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub, again looking at some of those 'edge effects', but this time in the context of farm fields, a draft report appears here.
This 2017 presentation summarizes data from across those studies and reflects on lessons learnt.
For an early glimpse of the results of our 2020 field season, see the handouts from our Sept 2020 Twilight Walk discussing preliminary findings. They are available in English (pdf) o en español (.pdf).
For a photographic tour of some examples of on-farm habitats we have established and are maintaining to support pollinators, pest predators, and general biodiversity at Hawthorne Valley Farm, please check out On-Farm Beneficial Habitats 2017-2020.
If you prefer videos...
you can watch us present some of these data at the 2019 Perspectives on Farming with Nature event sponsored by the Hudson Valley Farm Hub and held at the Ashokan Center: Claudia on plants and Conrad on the insects.
check-out Farmscape Ecology, the movie. Created by Jon Bowermaster and featuring many of our collaborators, this gives an introduction to the context in which we're trying to work.
Interesting academic pages:
(Each of these professors is working, in very detailed ways and with more expertise, on themes related to our own. Many kindly post free digital versions of their articles)