Good Life Farm: Thanksgiving Turkeys and Cider Apples

Just north of Ithaca, New York and Cornell University is Good Life Farm. Melissa Madden and Garrett Miller manage 69 acres of orchards, pastured poultry, and grass-fed beef cattle. Their operations is truly breathtaking. The farm grows high-value crops such as cider apples, peaches, asian pears, salad greens, and even ginger and turmeric in the greenhouses. The Finger Lakes Cider House serves as a sister-business of the farm.

Propagate.org's mission is to walk you through multi-species farms in both The United States and abroad. We use the term "multi-species agriculture" to describe the integration of both permanent and annual crops on the same piece of land. As an example of this, consider pastured turkeys or geese being raised between rows of peach trees, as opposed to simply rotating different grains and vegetables across one plot of land. See the photos below.

 You may know asparagus as a simple spear-like vegetable, but those spears grow into larger bush-like stems. Asparagus season is in May, so during the rest of the year, the same piece of land can be used to raise geese on. Goose meat is a deep red, and is similar to duck. 

You may know asparagus as a simple spear-like vegetable, but those spears grow into larger bush-like stems. Asparagus season is in May, so during the rest of the year, the same piece of land can be used to raise geese on. Goose meat is a deep red, and is similar to duck. 

 If we zoom out, we can see that the asparagus lies between rows of peach trees. Asparagus is harvested in May, peaches in the height of summer, and poultry can be processed just afterwards in late fall. All three of these yields are produced on the same piece of land.

If we zoom out, we can see that the asparagus lies between rows of peach trees. Asparagus is harvested in May, peaches in the height of summer, and poultry can be processed just afterwards in late fall. All three of these yields are produced on the same piece of land.

 In past years, Good Life has raised several hundred Thanksgiving turkeys. Geese are grazers that mostly eat grass: they need less supplemental grain. Garrett and Melissa are currently exploring the viability of raising geese. Pictured above is their mobile turkey roost that their draft horses pull from paddock to paddock.

In past years, Good Life has raised several hundred Thanksgiving turkeys. Geese are grazers that mostly eat grass: they need less supplemental grain. Garrett and Melissa are currently exploring the viability of raising geese. Pictured above is their mobile turkey roost that their draft horses pull from paddock to paddock.

Do you eat apples and/or eggs? Many of the eggs we eat come from chickens that are kept in large confinement houses, and many of the apples we eat are grown in orchards that are sprayed with insecticides. While many egg packages in the supermarket say, "100% vegetarian-fed," chickens are omnivores like us humans. In a pastured system, they eat grass as a vegetable, grain and fruit as carbohydrates, and bugs as protein. Instead of spraying an orchard with insecticide, multi-species systems turn the insects, that once may have been pests, into eggs, via laying hens.

 At left in this photo, you can see a brown hen. The henhouse at center is mobile, as is the white electro-net fencing. When one section of ground has had sufficient animal-impact, the birds are moved to a fresh patch of ground.

At left in this photo, you can see a brown hen. The henhouse at center is mobile, as is the white electro-net fencing. When one section of ground has had sufficient animal-impact, the birds are moved to a fresh patch of ground.

Systems like Good Life Farm require more time and attention than ten-thousand-acre swaths of corn and soybeans, but we and many others propose that they are much more resilient. Consider a football stadium full of people that must live there for one month. If one person there is carrying a virus, the likelihood of many other people getting sick is very high, because that virus can be easily transmitted between individuals. This same concept holds true for pieces of land with a single species on them. We grow these conventional monocultures with inputs such as herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and synthetic fertilizers. This is analogous to preventing our stadium population from becoming sick by medicating them heavily. In addition to dispersing the people, providing them with healthy food and fresh air would do much for their health. Our food and the landscapes it comes from are no different.

 Good Life Farm raises grass-fed beef. Diversifying yields not only increases a farm's ecological resiliency, but greatly contributes to it's resistance to financial shock.

Good Life Farm raises grass-fed beef. Diversifying yields not only increases a farm's ecological resiliency, but greatly contributes to it's resistance to financial shock.

With multiple species come diverse cash flows throughout the year: asparagus is cut in May and apples are picked in October. Multiple species also distribute revenue over the lifespan of the farm. When Melissa Madden and Garrett Miller first acquired the property in 2008, they used the land primarily for grazing. A grass-fed beef herd becomes profitable once a herd is well-established: calves raised from birth to freezer literally turn grass into cash, but the process takes about two years. In Good Life Farm's early years, Melissa and Garret derived much of their income from high-value annual vegetables and poultry. Eight years on, the orchard has begun to mature, generating annual apple revenue. In the coming years, the team plans to continue establishing apple trees (among other species) in their pastures to create what we call a "silvopasture." They will raise both cattle and poultry between those rows of trees.

In conclusion, we'll draw a parallel between a multi-species farm and a diverse investment portfolio. If the year were 2007, and you had $10,000 to your name, putting it all in publicly-traded equities would be ill-advised. Multi-species agriculture is a diverse portfolio in itself. For more information on Good Life Farm, please visit their website. If you are interested in adding multi-species investments to your portfolio, please click through to Propagate Ventures

Additional Photos from Good Life Farm:

 Apple trees need not be heavily sprayed to be productive. Cider-variety apples at Good Life Farm abound.

Apple trees need not be heavily sprayed to be productive. Cider-variety apples at Good Life Farm abound.

 Ginger is usually a tropical crop from places like Hawaii and Peru, but it can be grown in northern climates in high-tunnels. 

Ginger is usually a tropical crop from places like Hawaii and Peru, but it can be grown in northern climates in high-tunnels. 

 Salad greens are grown outside.

Salad greens are grown outside.

 Cider apples are smaller, but have different, more aromatic flavors.

Cider apples are smaller, but have different, more aromatic flavors.

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