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Between Land and Water: The Deep Roots of Foster Family Farm

Dean Foster’s deep ties to the land and water is evident from the ocean view surrounding his potato fields—believed to be the only farm from Maine to Delaware that’s set on the ocean. Dean considers himself a sixth-generation farmer, though his family arrived as whalers to Long Island’s South Fork in the 1650s. The Fosters traded their life on the water for one working the land. They raised dairy and beef cattle until the late 1800s, when the farm transitioned to potatoes.

Like his family history, the roots of Dean’s love of the land run deep. “Working the land for generations, you get a feeling for what to do and what not to do,” says Dean. “It’s a living organism that needs constant attention.”

In recent years, Dean has started to rotate his acres of potatoes with plantings of field corn. Changing crops helps build healthy soils by retaining nutrients and water and reducing the amount of fertilizers needed to keep plants healthy. Leaving corn stubble in the field also replenishes the soil and slows water runoff.

“We’ve found corn to be a fantastic biomass crop and rest crop for potatoes,” explains Dean, adding that it is good for the land and for the farm’s economic viability. “By being a good steward of the land and resting the property with the right crops, we’re finding that it’s bumping up our yield for the following year.”

Dean has an eye to the future for his family’s farmland. Where not bordering the shoreline, his fields are surrounded by large homes – evidence of development pressure that is among the highest in the nation. He sold the development rights on more than 100 acres of his land in partnership with a local farmland preservation program to protect it as farmland forever and reinvested the funds by purchasing additional farm acres in the community. For Dean, it is not a matter of preserving the farm for his family alone. “To me, that’s not what counts,” he explains. “It’s that this natural resource is being used to feed good food to the American public.”

STEWARDSHIP IN ACTION

ACRES IN FARMING:

About 490, equivalent to 245 New York City blocks

FARM PRODUCTS:

Potatoes, field corn

CONSERVATION PRACTICES:

Crop Rotation, Controlled Release Nitrogen Fertilizer, Cover Crops, Soil Testing

“I constantly think of the stewardship techniques and the farming techniques of doing a better job and growing a better product because of it.” – Dean Foster

Between Land and Water: The Deep Roots of Foster Family Farm (pdf)

 

 

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