Around the Island

Mashomack and Manor partner to improve soil, reduce carbon

By Delaney Sondag

What does composting have to do with climate change? And how can a partnership between an organic farm and a nature preserve help keep the major source of climate pollution — carbon dioxide — out of our already overloaded atmosphere?

The Nature Conservancy’s Mashomack Preserve and Sylvester Manor Educational Farm are working together to create a win-win system for the farm and our climate by turning the Preserve’s excess leaves and wood chips into compost at Sylvester Manor.

Sylvester Manor currently cultivates three acres of vegetables, with plans to expand in 2021. The farm operation is transitioning toward reduced tillage, a farming practice that seeks to disturb soil as little as possible. The practice improves soil health, captures carbon from the atmosphere and stores it in soil, which helps slow climate change.

Using this method requires large amounts of compost. Sylvester Manor is implementing a large-scale composting program, but getting a continuous supply of chemical-free composting matter has proven to be a challenge on the Island.

The fallen leaves and brush in Mashomack’s 2,039 acres of natural habitat serve as the perfect source for Sylvester Manor. Not only does composting these materials help the farm increase the fertility of its soil, but the removal of fallen branches, leaves and storm debris from trails and around buildings prevents their over-accumulation in Mashomack’s forests, lowering the potential for forest fires.

Food waste from Mashomack will also be composted at Sylvester Manor. The goal is to expand this program to Shelter Island residents in an effort to redirect food waste to the farm.

Sylvester Manor will begin composting food scraps from members of its community-supported-agriculture program in 2021.

This partnership moves Shelter Island in the direction of sustainably managing waste and establishing a scalable compost system that returns nutrients back to the soil. Using so-called “waste” to enrich Sylvester Manor’s farmland while providing disposal solutions is an inspiring example of local ingenuity and sustainability.

Delaney Sondag is a farm apprentice and soil fertility/compost intern at Sylvester Manor Educational Farm.