WV CRAFT Recap: Kickoff at Harmony Farm in Morgantown, WV

August 6, 2017  

Starting from Scratch on Leased Land + Innovations for the Small Farm to Increase Productivity and Efficiency

On Sunday, June 25th the West Virginia Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (WV CRAFT) kicked off at Harmony Farm’s Pig Roast in Morgantown, WV. Sky Harman, owner and operator of Harmony Farm, leases 5 acres of land on the Ridgeway Farm that overlooks a gated housing community. Perched on top of a hill, Harmony Farm stands out against the development of large, single family homes that peak through the black metal fence tucked beneath a tree line. The solid, uniform surfaces of the development are stark against the slightly rolling three acres of vegetables surrounded by soft grass, a natural fence line of brush and trees, and a deer fence that allows Sky a restful sleep during those few special hours and no more dreams about deer. Farm infrastructure dots the property, laying hens are nestled behind the brush separating them from the rows of vegetables, farm equipment and their implements are laid out on display for us, and picnic tables sit next to a roasting pig producing smells that make your belly rumble. The setting of the farm represents the increasing conflict between rural and suburban development that continues to encroach on farmland in West Virginia and the rest of the country. The location of Harmony Farm is an anomaly.

Because of the generous support of the late Pat Keith, and Harmony Farm’s partnership with Jean Meade and the nonprofit Human-Animal Bond, Sky Harman is growing a successful farm business in Morgantown, WV. But, the 5-year lease agreement also presents many challenges that impact major business decisions for Harmony Farm and become evident as we participate in the tour. For example, the long-term goals of Harmony Farm to expand production depend on access to additional acreage of farmland which is not currently an option on the Ridgeway Farm property. The three acres of cultivated land is the most the property allows and Sky’s temporary tenure and the unknown prevents Harmony Farm from reinvesting back into the farmland, a major part of the farm business. The lease agreement ends in 2019 and Harmony Farm will begin competing with major developers in the Morgantown area for healthy farmland.

Sky Harman introduces us to Harmony Farm’s processing space.

In the short-term, Harmony Farm’s lease agreement influences the infrastructure they invest in on the farm. Sky jokingly refers to himself as a “refugee farmer”. Most of the infrastructure on the farm can be picked up and moved. The processing area is made up of sinks, handcrafted tables for spraying root vegetables, and food grade bins for harvesting that all rests on tightly stapled ground cover. They use collapsible canopies for protection from weather. The farm’s future cold storage will be in a retrofitted truck on wheels.

 

 

While Sky led us on a tour of the farm he pointed out innovations that the small farm incorporates to increase productivity and efficiency. Below is a list of some of our favorite tools and implements highlighted during the tour.

“Tomato Taper”

Sky recently discovered an alternative use for a nursery plant tying tape tool. In the first high tunnel we come to on the farm tour, tomatoes are neatly trellised using string suspended from the top of the high tunnel. As opposed to using the traditional plastic clip that fastens the tomato plant to the string, the tape tool quickly fastens sections of the main stem to the string.

“Tool Kiosk”

        

A crowd favorite was surely the tool kiosk. Sky constructed this shed to house the various hand tools used on his small-scale farm. The kiosk opens on both sides to reveal the selection of easily accessible, neatly hanging tools. Tools included a broadfork, wheel hoe, scuffle hoe, collinear hoe, trapezoidal hoe, landscape rake, and more.

“Mr. Shaw”

Traditional farm and garden manufacturers and retailers often times do not offer tools or the volume of supplies that are appropriate for farms that are a similar size to Harmony Farm. This gap in the market has inspired farmers to begin constructing tools of their own based on their needs. For example, “Mr. Shaw”, a rickshaw carriage designed by Eliot Coleman and built by Sky, has the perfect dimensions for harvesting in Harmony Farm’s fields.

Water Wheel Transplanter

Towards the end of the tour, Sky walks us over to his lineup of farm equipment. Several tractors, a flame weeder, a mechanical greens cutter, a broadcast spreader for amendments, rototiller (for sale), and other various tractor implements. The water wheel transplanter guarantees plantings to be evenly spaced, planted, and watered efficiently. Exact spacing of crops allows for the IH 140 Cultivator tractor to effortlessly cultivate between plants without uprooting or decapitating. Otherwise, Sky and interns spend several hours hand cultivating with the assortment of tools mentioned above. Need a calculation for how many hours, minutes, and seconds this saves the farm? Sky has the answer.