FAQs On Aldermere Farm, Erickson Fields, and the Campaign Now Underway
We’re committed to providing you with all the information you’re looking for! Below are answers to some of the questions we’ve been hearing lately—many about the ongoing Campaign.
Not seeing answers to the questions you have? Please don’t hesitate to contact us — we love hearing from you. And, if you’re in the area, come see what we’re all about and ask your questions at the Aldermere/Erickson Fall Celebration at Erickson Fields Preserve on October 15!
1. Why do you need a barn for the cattle?
It’s true that Belted Galloways are hardy, bred to thrive in the windswept moors of south-western Scotland. Their coarse outer coat helps shed the rain, while their soft undercoat provides insulation and waterproofing, making it possible for the breed to winter outside. Our Belted Galloways spend a lot of time out in the Maine cold, but we’re committed to providing them with a barn to shelter in. Here’s why:
We’re educating the community. Aldermere Farm isn’t just home to a world-class herd of Belted Galloway, it’s also a public preserve and community gathering place home to youth programming like 4-H and Farm Hands.
To run programs and invite people to experience the farm, it’s critical for us to be able to manage how and when people and cows come into contact, and to closely monitor the cows when necessary. Safe, efficient, and modern equipment and facilities will allow us to properly demonstrate and teach best agricultural practices and herd management.
A new barn with a wheelchair accessible visitor center will further our mission to connect people to a working farm, as visitors will be able to stop by Aldermere in any season and view day-to-day operations within the barn, something that has not been possible in the past. New facilities and equipment will also help us expand our technical and educational support of regional farmers.
We prioritize soil health. Having a barn allows us to better manage when and where the cows roam and graze on the pastures. During the growing season, cows are carefully rotated through the pastures, spreading their manure’s nutrients to the growing plants, creating indentations for water to seep into the soil, and eating the multitude of pasture species, which stimulates growth of pasture species grasses and maintains pasture and edge habitat ecosystems. This type of pasture management leads to increased carbon sequestration, species and habitat diversity, and water infiltration and retention.
At other times of year, when the ground is saturated and plants are dormant (think: mud seasons), those same hoofprints can lead to tree and pasture root damage, soil compaction, soil carbon loss, opportunities for invasive species to outcompete natives, and nutrient runoff. Under those seasonal conditions, it’s important for both ecosystem and animal health to bring the cows into a dry, covered shelter and off the pasture and forest soils.
In New England, climate change is expected to exacerbate the unpredictability of those conditions, leading to warmer and wetter winters, shifting and unpredictable dormancy conditions, more extreme weather events, and increased periods of drought. These factors will require many New England farms to make infrastructure updates.
2. You’ve allocated funds for pasture renovation. What’s involved?
Through the campaign now underway, we’re fundraising to renovate our pastures, which will involve coaxing the cows to eat as many invasive plants as possible before removing the remainder. (Learn more about how invasive plants impact biodiversity and how MCHT (Maine Coast Heritage Trust) manages them on the lands we own and care for.) Making improvements to the land’s ability to hold and absorb water will be even more important as rain patterns become less predictable, and fencing in old pastures that have been out of use will allow each pasture paddock more days to rest before we rotate the cattle through. This will be especially helpful in the summer when pastures don’t always pop back as fast as we want them to.
3. How will the campaign impact programming?
MCHT typically hosts 10 – 20 program participants and volunteers at Aldermere Farm and Erickson Fields on every day of the work week. We provide short-term, medium-term, and long-term opportunities for people to get involved—from one-time volunteer opportunities to free, three-week-long afterschool programs (with transportation provided) to 4-H and Teen Ag, which can be years-long, life-changing experiences. (Learn more about our programs!)
Through community listening sessions hosted in 2021, we heard that these programs, developed through partnerships with local schools and organizations, are meeting important needs and providing valuable experiences to people in the Midcoast area. We plan to continue to run these same programs, with the same approximate number of participants, after the Campaign. While the Campaign is ongoing and facilities are limited, programming has temporarily decreased. With new infrastructure in place, MCHT staff will be more efficient and effective in managing programming along with other daily tasks on the working farms.
4. Do you expect more visitors to the farm upon completing the campaign and new barn and visitor center? What’s the plan for providing parking?
Aldermere Farm and Erickson Fields currently receive dozens of visitors a day and manage well with the amount of parking available. At Erickson Fields, people regularly visit and enjoy the trail system or care for their community garden plot and at Aldermere Farm people often walk or park briefly at the barn or alongside Russell Avenue to drop off or pick up program participants or take in the views of open fields and grazing cows.
With a new barn and visitor center at Aldermere Farm, we’re excited to give these visitors—and folks discovering us for the first time—the opportunity to stay a while longer and learn more about what goes on at the farm and about sustainable farming and land conservation more generally.
To accommodate the increase in visitation we expect following the opening of the barn and visitor center at Aldermere Farm, we will be adding five more off-street gravel parking spaces on Russell Avenue. MCHT is committed to maintaining the aesthetic quality of this iconic Rockport Street, and the visual impact will be minimal. During our larger events, which happen infrequently, we may open pastures for parking. During our two major community-wide annual events, people may continue to park on Russell Ave as they’ve always done. Thankfully, this road is not a major thoroughfare.
1. Aren’t cows bad for the environment?
Agriculture is a pivotal player in human-related greenhouse gas emissions. Half of the greenhouse gas released by the agricultural industry are due to poor management and degradation of soils. (This is why healthy soil is so important!) The livestock industry specifically contributes significantly to deforestation, soil degradation, and methane emissions. Methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas, which is why so much global attention has been brought to the question of whether or not livestock—and in particular cows—are bad for the environment.
About 25% of human-related methane emission result from the natural digestive processes of ruminant animals (hoofed herbivorous grazing or browsing mammals). This digestive process, called enteric fermentation, is shared with sheep, goats, deer, elk, and buffalo. Our 4-H participants can tell you all about! (Keep an eye on how farmers are experimenting with seaweed, which can have a significant positive impact on the amount of methane released through ruminant animal’s digestion.) However, the industry’s greatest impact on climate change relates to converting forests to cropland for animal feed, the trucking and refrigeration required of a global beef and dairy industry, fertilizers and pesticides to grow grain on a massive scale, and the treatment of manure as waste that results from raising animals confined in feedlots and out of the pastures and woods (where they evolved over millennia to live).
Ninety-nine percent of U.S. beef come from these types of factory farms, which keep cows in feedlots, treat manure as waste, and feed animals a diet of grains and supplements grown through soil-destroying crop-growing methods. (Keep in mind: poor treatment of our soils to grow both animal and human feed crops makes up 50% of agricultural-related greenhouse gas emissions!) It doesn’t have to be this way! At Aldermere and Erickson Fields, we are deeply involved in how food is produced, and understand this is critical for the health of our planet.
At MCHT’s Aldermere Farm, the cows are a critical symbiotic part of the ecosystem, the way grazing animals were always meant to be. Manure is not treated as waste, but returned quickly and directly to the soil to build organic matter and feed the plants. While cows are in the barns for the winter, manure is mixed with locally produced sawdust bedding (a waste/biproduct of local sawmills) and composted until we can spread it on our veggie gardens and hay fields, returning the cow’s winter feed to the soil.
Thanks to the cows grazing, our carefully managed pasture system acts as an efficient solar panel. The pastures capture the sun’s rays to grow as much green plant matter as possible. These green growing leaves capture the carbon dioxide from the air and store it long-term in the form of healthy living soil. In harsh (think Maine’s winter), rocky, and hilly landscapes the world over, ecologically raised livestock are an important asset in converting sunlight into food and fiber while contributing positively to ecosystem cycles.
Livestock play a critical role in providing a calorie-dense source of nutrients for food-insecure communities all over the world. Right here in Maine, Aldermere’s cattle are processed locally and help us feed our community, with hundreds of pounds of beef donated to area food pantries annually.
Well-managed, ecologically driven, and community-based livestock production systems have the potential to help preserve biodiversity, sequester carbon, and improve water retention and quality, all while contributing to food security and healthy local communities. The cows here at Aldermere work hard with us to protect our environment, demonstrate regenerative agricultural practices, educate our community, support local farmers, and raise the next generation of land stewards.
2. What do your cows eat?
The primary feed source for mature Belted Galloways at Aldermere Farm is local grasses or hay made from local grasses. Most of the herd—99%—is fed exclusively grass, with less than 1% fed grains and minerals. The grains consist of oats and barley that we source from Aroostook County and some that come from the Midwest U.S.A.
The young stock (less than two years old) get grain supplement to support growth (consider the needs of a teenage kid!). In these growing calves, grains and minerals make up no more than 10% of their diet; the other 90% is grass.
3. What’s your approach to soil and pasture management at Erickson Fields and Aldermere Farm? How does climate change factor in?
A major contributor to climate change is carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Thankfully, trees, plants, and soils can draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and respirate out oxygen. (That’s one of the many reasons why we love them so much!) As farmers, we’re particularly focused making our soils as effective as possible at storing carbon.
At Erickson Fields, where we grow vegetables, we avoid annual row crop farming. This is a common farming practice that often involves monocropping (growing a single crop on many acres), heavy tillage, chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and whole crop removal, which strips soil of existing carbon wells and degrades its ability to store carbon in the future.
Instead, we prioritize biodiversity by growing dozens of varieties of crops in our four-acre garden to teach local youth and supply area food pantries with thousands of pounds of healthy fresh veggies every year! We utilize techniques like no till or minimum tilling, ‘natural farming,’ cover cropping, intercropping, compost made from Belted Galloway manure, and integrated pest management to enhance soil health and improve the soil’s carbon-storing powers. Our farming practices at Erickson Fields aim to remove rather than add carbon to the atmosphere.
At Aldermere Farm, where we graze livestock, we thoughtfully manage our pastures. You may be surprised to know: when it comes to storing carbon, not all grasslands are equal. For example, there’s a very big difference between the size of the carbon well beneath your manicured lawn and the ancient prairies.
A simple soil test is one indicator of the soil’s total carbon reservoir. At Aldermere, our established pastures average around 8-9% organic matter, which is quite high, and indicates our established pasture system is already protecting a large well of carbon. Other fields, managed differently, show more like 5-6% organic matter content. As participants in the first Maine Soil Health Network cohort, we’re excited to be involved in more complex soil testing, data sharing, and studying the effects of different management practices.
As we seek out and adopt more environmentally sustainable practices, we’re sharing what we’re learning with other local farmers and backyard gardeners. Most working farmers don’t have the time and resources to try out regenerative techniques; we’re happy to be able to experiment and collect and share data as well as hands-on skills and knowledge of what works.