Dane County Extension Educator Awarded Second SARE Grant for On-Farm Research

Claire Head1

Claire Strader, Small Scale & Organic Produce Educator

North Central SARE recently awarded Claire Strader, Small-scale and Organic Produce Educator with Dane County UW-Extension and FairShare CSA Coalition, a $30,000 grant to fund on-farm research with local organic farmers. This is Strader’s second SARE Partnership grant in as many years.

“One of the biggest criticisms of organic vegetable production is its reliance on tillage,” explained Strader.  “These two grants are especially exciting because they are helping us explore new and innovative uses of cover crops that can reduce tillage and control weeds while also improving soil quality. ”

SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) Partnership Program grants are intended to foster cooperation between agriculture professionals and small groups of farmers. The goal is to catalyze on-farm research, demonstration, and educational activities related to sustainable agriculture.

Strader’s research developed directly from fielding farmer questions about reducing tillage and increasing cover crops in organic vegetable systems. Her first SARE project, initiated in 2015, is assisting four farmers in examining the effects of using cover crops as living mulch under organic vegetables. [See the short SARE video on the project, here.]

Strader’s 2016 project will again focus on cover crops, this time exploring the use of high-residue, winter-killed cover crops in no-till organic tomatoes on three farms. The main cover crop will be sorghum sudan grass, known for its weed smothering properties and high biomass content.

“Plastic mulch, while effective and affordable, and allowed in organic production, is problematic because it is a petroleum-based product that is difficult to recycle,” explained Strader, who coordinates all project field work. “If successful, this research could not only help organic vegetable growers reduce tillage but also offer a sustainable alternative to plastic mulch.”

Project results will be posted on SARE’s http://www.sare.org/Project-Reports/Search-the-Database beginning in 2017.

Farms in the 2015-2016 project (cover crops as living mulch):

  • Blue Moon Community Farm, Kristen Kordet, Stoughton, WI
  • Equinox Community Farm, John Binkley, Waunakee, WI
  • High Meadow Farm, Mike Kelly, Johnson Creek, WI
  • Roots and Shoots, Heidi Accola, North Freedom, WI

Farms in the 2016-2017 project (organic no-till tomatoes):

  • Blue Moon Community Farm, Kristen Kordet, Stoughton, WI
  • Crossroads Community Farm, Mike Noltnerwyss, Cross Plains, WI
  • Equinox Community Farm, John Binkley, Waunakee, WI

Prior to working at Dane County, Strader grew food on a 5-acre organic farm in the city of Madison to supply produce for a 150-member CSA.  She splits her time between FairShare CSA Coalition and Dane County UW-Extension , where she works with small-scale producers by helping them develop productive and sustainable farm businesses.

For more information about her research, contact Claire Strader, strader.claire@countyofdane.com, 608-224-3710.