By LYLE T. GALLOWAY
BETHANY, PA — Take a walk through a hayfield and you will see a lot of the same things: endless sprouts of timothy grass, buttercups, asters and maybe a few blossoms of clover. One local farm is looking to add more plants to the mix to turn a three-acre field into an area teeming with wildlife.
Anthill Farms Agroforestry took part in a “biodiversity planting” workshop at the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale. The farm is operated by couple Monique Milleson and Sky Ballentine. They’re often accompanied by their two young daughters, Cecilia and Matilda.
Locally, the farm is well known for its CBD hemp production and organic produce. Biodiversity and restoration plantings are a relatively new venture for them.
Although many farmers in the past have clear-cut groves of trees to make room for farmland, some have realized the benefits of keeping the trees on the land. Throughout most of their plantings, the farm utilizes agroforestry, a process that combines the planting of crops with forestry. Through this process, it’s possible to capture more carbon. The roots of the trees also go deeper into the ground than those of annual plants, leading to less erosion, reduced runoff and an improved nutrient intake for the area.
The agroforestry system also utilizes strips of land, or “alleyways” in between the rows of trees. This allows for more sunlight, and the native wildflowers provide sustenance for the pollinators.
“When you have enough sunlight, you have flowers, you have fruits and nuts. In a closed forest, there’s too much competition and a lot of times understory trees and fruiting trees aren’t successful. We’re leaving plenty of light so that you can have these trees that are going to feed a lot of wildlife,” said Milleson.
The biodiversity plantings aim to inject new life into the area.
“A biodiversity planting is meant to kickstart a plot of land or an ecosystem like an old hayfield that is pretty minimal in terms of biodiversity. A lot of times you’re going to have a dominant grass, things like buttercup or clover. It’s meant to seed this environment with an infusion of plants that aren’t in the typical mix. It’s meant to shift the dynamic there and create a new ecosystem,” said Milleson.
Extensive research was done regarding the selection of plants for the project. Plants native to Northeastern Pennsylvania and the surrounding area were selected. A special focus was put on plants that weren’t as common, or ones that lost a foothold in the area over time.
A personal connection to the Himalayan Institute was also a driving force behind the project. Ballentine’s parents were part of the institute. His father, alongside the institute’s founder, Swami Rama, oversaw many of the beautification projects on the grounds. “Since he’s been coming here since he was a kid, he’s always thought ‘it’d be so cool to maybe plant some trees’ and give back to this place that kind of raised him in a way,” said Milleson.
“Swami Rama was crazy about stuff like landscaping. There were always planting projects going on all over this place…I’m sure he would be pumped because we always spent a lot of time doing those projects growing up around here, just planting stuff,” added Ballentine.
Anthill Farm hopes to become somewhat of a mission-driven business doing more plantings like this one in the future. They also hope to be able to implement educational programming into the work that they do. They are currently speaking with the Delaware Highlands Conservancy to do a similar planting.
Ballentine is planning to go back to school for environmental and computer science. He hopes to utilize this new knowledge at the planting sites later on. “Tracking the biological changes over time is something that I really want to get into. That’s a big part of the work that I’m planning; data management, wrangling and then visualization as well, to be able to show visually what is going on,” said Ballentine.
The area will reach its peak within three years. The couple hopes that the site of the planting will become a hub for environmentally curious community members as well as local wildlife like cedar waxwings, oriels and monarch butterflies.
To learn more about Anthill Farms Agroforestry and the work that they do, visit their website at www.anthillagroforestry.com.