Can Farming and Wildlife Coexist? | Chronogram Magazine

Can Farming and Wildlife Coexist?

Recent biodiversity decline can be partially attributed to agricultural causes, but a new film from Jon Bowermaster profiles local efforts to improve the ecology of farming.

Farming is ever-evolving: especially true here in the Hudson Valley these days, where farms big and small are booming, and many are experimenting with new ways.

Today, when we think about what’s to come next for farmers, a key question is: “How do we produce food, ensure that farmers can make a living, while at the same time respecting the needs of other organisms that share the land?” 

For the past four years, the Applied Farmscape Ecology Research Collaborative program, based at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub in Hurley, has deployed a team of scientists and researchers to monitor soil, water, and wildlife to discover how—to prove?—that farming and wildlife can coexist.

My film company, Oceans 8 Films, spent six months in 2019 observing and monitoring the research done by the collaborative team, which represents a sizable swath of Hudson Valley scientists and farmers, from Hawthorne Valley, Bard College, SUNY New Paltz, Hudsonia, and the Hudson Valley Farm Hub. Our short film is called, simply, “Farmscape Ecology,” and it’s the latest in our Hudson River Stories series. The film profiles the various partners as they dig into how changes in everything from where you plant native flowers and how many insects are collected to the moisture and microbiology of the soil can impact crop growth.

https://vimeo.com/396778059

It is a multiyear project for a variety of good reasons: these are scientists looking for trends rather than black-and-white results at the end of each season. As a journalist, the research can be a bit frustrating, because we like concrete answers now. (Q: Are more insects in the field good for crops, or bad? A: Far too early to tell, ask me again in three years.) These scientists seem happier the longer the study goes on, giving them lots to ponder over our cold winters, while waiting for the fields to green again so they can keep trying to prove, or disprove, what they observed last season.

One thing this team has definitely learned is that it takes a village to change soil, water, insect, and farmers’ habits. Once you think you’ve learned something on a farm, it can take some hard convincing to get your neighbors to sign on to conducting similar experiments, whether it’s encouraging certain insects or planting specific flower mixes irrigating more, or irrigating less, or deciding which organic chemicals to use…or not. All are ultimately discoveries to be shared, which is the goal of farmscape ecology.

Can Farming and Wildlife Coexist?
Kenny Fowler, a field technician at the Hawthorne Valley Farmscape Ecology Program, uses a net to “sweep” vegetation in order to help monitor insect life at the Farm Hub. It’s amazing how many bugs are netted in a thirty-second sweep.
Can Farming and Wildlife Coexist?
A late-summer aerial of the Native Meadow Trials shows the three test fields: 1) a flower-heavy seed mix, 2) a grass heavy seed mix, and 3) the control plot without any added seeds. The seed mixes perform differently depending on the soil type and the crop history where they were established.
Can Farming and Wildlife Coexist?
Assessing how much water farm fields need, whether naturally or by irrigation, is studied by a team from SUNY New Paltz, led by Shafiul Chowdhury, director of Environmental Geochemical Science at SUNY New Paltz. Testing for water quality in adjoining streams and creeks is also observed.
Can Farming and Wildlife Coexist?
Anne Bloomfield, Applied Farmscape Ecology Program Manager at the Farm Hub, studies both the wilder ecology of the farm as well as the pests and diseases found in cultivated fields.
Can Farming and Wildlife Coexist?
Gabriel Perrone and a team of students from Bard College document and study the microbial diversity found in the soil in the Native Meadow Test plots.
Can Farming and Wildlife Coexist?
A turtle wears a tracking device that allows biologists from Hudsonia to track its movement week-by-week, to see just how deep into the farm fields he moves…or if perhaps he stays put near a stream. Farm activities using heavy equipment as well as farm roads are a couple obvious potential hazards for any wildlife that make their home next to farms.


Jon Bowermaster is a writer, filmmaker, and ocean advocate. Follow his work at Oceans 8 Films and Hudson River Stories and tune in weekly to the Green Radio Hour on Radio Kingston.