As a waterfront farm, the connection between land and sea is on full display at Myrtle Grove.
When ecological relationships are intact, each ecosystem fuels the vitality of the other—the ocean yields rich micronutrients and provides a climate buffer, and the shorelands capture, filter, and direct water back to the bay. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Runoff and overapplications of fertilizers can create algal blooms that consume oxygen and lead to ocean dead zones that devastate biodiversity. Regenerative management is the key to avoiding further damage to the Chesapeake Bay and to facilitating its restoration.
Hemp fields are amended with biological products like composted food waste, sourced from Pluvr Compost, and local crab pickings. Compost adds organic matter to the soil and crab pickings are a natural source of nitrogen and phosphorus. Together, these inputs meet plant needs while turning waste into fertility.
Selecting for premier plant genetics is the foundation of product quality and reduces the need for extra inputs. Myrtle Grove monitors and stabilizes plant genetics on-site before planting.
Hand trimming and harvesting is a labor of love that increases cannabinoid content and decreases emissions. On-site curing eliminates extra transport miles and maximizes quality.
Closing the Loop
Hemp stalks are incorporated into the soil or burned and composted, which recycles plant nutrients. Cover crops and buffer plantings mitigate runoff and prevent erosion on field margins.
The Chesapeake Bay is the final destination of beautiful waterways like Goldsborough Creek and the Miles River (adjacent to Myrtle Grove). Unfortunately, the Bay also receives all the urban, suburban, and agricultural runoff that is gathered along the way. Plant roots allow water to penetrate and infiltrate through soil, which mitigates runoff and naturally purifies water. Keeping Myrtle Grove’s soil covered by active hemp roots and increasing soil organic matter restores the hydrological cycles that determine the health of the watershed.
Excess nitrogen and phosphorus are the pollutants most responsible for the Chesapeake Bay’s poor health. Every year, 300 million pounds of nitrogen enters the bay. 40% of that nitrogen is from agricultural runoff, and the percentage is even higher for phosphorus. However, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation acknowledges that responsibly managed farmland can become a green filter for the bay, rather than a grey funnel towards it. Applying the right amount and the right kind of fertilizers (like locally produced compost) can reverse the damage.
At Myrtle Grove, hemp fields are amended with biological amendments like compost instead of synthetic fertilizers. These inputs are processed and stabilized by the soil food web, which minimizes runoff potential and encourages plant growth. In this way, the fields at Myrtle Grove become a biological buffer for at-risk waterways.
Planting “fencerow to fencerow” may contribute to short-term profits, but maximizing immediate yield can cripple the health of agroecosystems, on land and off. At Myrtle Grove, 11.5 acres of the farm is dedicated to the Conservation Reserve Program—that's even more acreage than the annual hemp fields!
Sacrificing agricultural space for on-farm tree plantings sequesters carbon and captures excess nutrients and sediments. Similarly, preserving wetlands along working shorelines can remove as much as 46% of excess nitrogen inputs and 74% of phosphorus. Maintaining buffer strip plantings around fields also provides habitat for beneficial organisms and filters pollutants before they reach the Bay.
The shores of Myrtle Grove Hemp Farm are lined with nearly a mile of living shoreline. The roots of these plants stabilize the shore and provide a crucial buffer against erosion.
Designing for Ecosystem Health
Instead of allowing consumer demand to drive management decisions, the Myrtle Grove team monitors the health and carrying capacity of the farm’s ecosystem and designs the seasonal planting plan accordingly. At times this means actually decreasing the acreage or number of plants from what was produced the previous year. This flies in the face of conventional agricultural practice, but it is this act of stewardship that yields craft-quality products and contributes to the long-term health of the farm and the Chesapeake Bay.