Located in Callaway County, Missouri, Terra Bella Farm is 160 acres of mixed pasture, creek and woods, with 12 acres set aside for production of vegetables, herbs and flowers. Several farmers work the land together, including owner Margot McMillen, and the group uses a wide range of agroecological techniques. In addition to rotational grazing of sheep and crop rotation for produce, the farm also encourages wild plants and native pollinators to thrive, using chickweed and other “weeds” strategically to create a diverse on-farm ecosystem.
Crop rotation has kept production at Terra Bella relatively pest free, according to Margot. Since pests often feed on a narrow range of crops, rotating a new crop into the field can leave unwanted insects without sufficient food. Crop rotation can also minimize disease; the farm rotates in a crop that won’t host whatever pathogens are present, so they cannot reproduce.
Terra Bella farmers also experiment with rotating crops high in different nutrients or with symbiotic relationships to nutrient-fixing bacteria to help maintain soil fertility. Rotating crops with different root systems (taproots vs. fibrous roots) also helps improve soil physical properties and water retention capacity. The many benefits of crop rotation have helped to keep yields at Terra Bella high over the years.
In June 2014, pesticide drift from a neighbor’s farm damaged tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and lettuce at Terra Bella. The group now grows “defensively,” with the crops moved over a hillcrest, large bushes blocking wind from the road, and tomatoes safely inside a greenhouse. Without tighter regulation of drift or a change in the neighbors’ practices, Margot says that planting defensively is the best they can do. The farm also keeps communication open with neighbors and the larger community — especially younger farmers — hoping that practices will change.
Photo: Terra Bella Farm