Watch the inspiring story of Greenfield Farms
The Greenfields say their topsoil is more valuable than any of the crops they grow.
Preventing soil erosion at Greenfield Farms is important because most of its corn, soybean, hay, oat, and wheat fields overlook Skaneateles Lake, which provides the drinking water for Syracuse and seven other New York municipalities. The rest of the farm drains toward Owasco Lake, which supplies drinking water for the City of Auburn’s 36,000 residents. Jim, Tom, Bill and TJ Greenfield utilize agricultural conservation practices to make their farm act as a 1,400-acre sponge that absorbs rain and snow melt and keeps topsoil in place.
Improving water quality through municipal-agricultural partnerships is a new concept elsewhere in the nation, but Greenfield Farms and its neighbors have been part of such a public-private partnership for decades.
It was 30 years ago when the New York State Department of Health gave the City of Syracuse a choice. It could either build a $70 million water treatment plant (with an estimated $6 million annual operating expense), or it could begin working with farmers and other landowners in the watershed to improve water quality before it reached the existing plant. In collaboration with farmers like Jim Greenfield, Syracuse opted to do the later. Jim was one of seven farmers who agreed to help encourage other landowners across the 37,952-acre watershed to voluntarily participate in the program.
As one of the founding fathers of Syracuse’s Skaneateles Lake Agricultural Watershed Protection Program, Jim started making changes to the way things were done at home. The Greenfields sold their mold-board plow in 2000 and were among the first farms in the area to invest in no-till technology to plant crops. To improve their soil’s ability to infiltrate water, add organic matter, and reduce erosion, the Greenfields began planting cover crops.
The Greenfields established more than 12 miles of grassed waterways, and edged all of their crop fields with grass buffers to control runoff. They have also installed and maintain more than two miles of stabilized access roads at the farm to keep their tractor tires from spreading clumps of soil onto public roadways.
Their farm also features 20 water and sediment control basins that capture clean water and move it underground (away from potential contaminants) and release it safely to a stream or ditch. By having an industrial forester advise the Greenfields on the best management of their natural resources, they benefit the local forest industry and provide wildlife habitat.
Greenfield Farms uses smart technology to help apply, by variable rate, the amount of lime, fertilizers and other soil amendments required to grow crops. This technology showed them that shade from hedgerows eliminates the profitability of nearby rows of corn. After converting these under-producing areas to grassed buffers, they saved approximately $400 per acre in time, fuel, crop inputs, and topsoil resources.
Jim’s involvement with Syracuse’s Skaneateles Lake Agricultural Watershed Protection Program has not waned through the years. In addition to mentoring the next generation of board members, he gathered the sons and daughters of participants for a dinner meeting in 2017. He explained how hard that he and his peers had to work to get the innovative partnership off the ground, and instilled in them why they need to carry it forward.