Page 44 - The Hunt - Summer 2019
P. 44

                 Along Wilmington’s Winding Way Road, verdant hills roll into picturesque pastures hugged by old oaks, maples and poplars that watch over Coverdale Farm Preserve. Evoking an Andrew Wyeth or Peter Sculthorpe painting, the historic stone farmhouse and barn were once owned by the family who donated these 377 acres to the Delaware Nature Society nearly two decades ago. Cattle graze on sweet grasses while a herd of goats gets into trouble nearby and a pair of muddy pigs snoozes snout to snout, seemingly smiling. A symphony of bird caws, chirps and clucks fills the air, along with the aroma of hay.
A few yards from the farm’s vibrant vegetable garden and market, my 2-year-old plays peekaboo with a flock of fuzzy sheep through a rustic wooden fence. This is where the community gathers once a week in the summer and early fall to collect their CSA (community supported agriculture) harvests, socialize and get a healthy dose of vitamin N (for nature).
Coverdale Farm is a happy place, and
an event of this kind is at the heart of Delaware Nature Society’s mission to connect visitors with the earth and improve the environment through education and sustainable agriculture. “We’re developing the farm as a living classroom,” says Michele Wales, Coverdale’s manager, whose team offers ecological and culinary courses to deepen this connection between people and what’s on their plates.
What’s at the root of sustainability? Wales points to the dirt beneath our feet. “Soil is a highly diverse, rich ecosystem,” she says.
This moist, slightly sweet-smelling “dirt” we don’t think much about is home to billions of live organisms. It’s as essential to our existence as clean water and air. “These organisms range from single-celled bacteria, algae, fungi
and protozoa to larger, more complex earthworms, insects, small vertebrates and plants,”Wales says.
Each plays a role in the health of the soil, which provides nutrients and support for the very plants we grow and eat— directly from the ground or indirectly through the livestock that eat them first.
“I liken healthy soil to a beautiful natu- ral sponge,” says Wales. “It has pore spaces large and small that enable air and water to enter from the surface. They also allow the effortless movement of air, water, nutrients and biota below the surface.”
A vegetative layer is also critical to helping this “sponge” thrive. Strong soil is resistant to erosion from forces like wind and water, and prevents runoff during heavy rains, keeping fertilizers and other harmful chemicals (if they’re used) out of the watershed. Perhaps the most important way healthy soil protects the environment is by naturally storing carbon, the chemical element that gives soil its rich black color.
What lies beneath:
 a thriving ecosystem

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