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Sylvester Manor exec on water quality and conservation

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REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Farmers at work at Sylvester Manor. Executive Director Cara Loriz addressed the Irrigation Committee on the Manor farm's methods.

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Farmers at work at Sylvester Manor. Executive Director Cara Loriz addressed the Irrigation Committee on the Manor farm’s methods.

The Irrigation Committee got a lesson at its February 20 meeting on how Sylvester Manor’s farm operation employs irrigation to limit water consumption while providing for the needs of its crop.

Executive Director Cara Loriz told the committee that the fields at Sylvester Manor aren’t certified as organic, but she talked about efforts to avoid using fertilizers that could adversely affect the water supply.

She described her presentation as “more qualitative than quantitative” in its approach to the water supply. Reviewing history of farming on the land, she said there are indications that Native Americans used methods such as controlled burns, encouraging the growth of beneficial species of nuts and berries, while eliminating invasives.

Since 2011, Sylvester Manor has received United States Department of Agriculture grants that have enabled work on soil conservation and forestry management of the more than 150 acres of woodland.

Under the direction of farm manager Julia Trunzo, the effort has changed from growing a market garden to developing a farm system with crops, sheep and chickens. An irrigation system installed in the Windmill Field has been used for watering with plans to install a second well.
The effort is underway to water only when absolutely necessary and to depend on rain whenever possible. The farmers try to do most planting just before rain is expected. When they must water, it’s done only in the early morning or early evening to avoid evaporation.

In place of fertilizers, the process is to use sheep and chicken manure to provide nutrients to the soil, avoiding anything that could affect water quality.

While there are plans to expand the growth of vegetables on the farm, it wouldn’t take up more than 10 acres and there would be no effort to sell Sylvester Manor grown products beyond the Island. There are plenty of farms and farmers markets on both the North and South forks, Ms. Loriz said.

Following Ms. Loriz’s presentation, committee member John Hallman, who although characterizing it as interesting, asked chairman Thom Milton what it had to do with the committee’s charge to determine whether or not to ban use of automatic underground irrigation systems.

Mr. Milton maintained it was part of the educational effort the committee should be making to the public.

On March 1, the public and committee members will get a briefing from Cornell Cooperative Extension turf management and pest specialist Tamson Yeh. That meeting at Town Hall is slated from 1 to 3 p.m.
But while committee members familiar with Ms. Yeh’s work have praised her knowledge and work and her presentation skills, they made it clear they want more emphasis on irrigation than pesticide use.

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