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Old-time Methods, Modern Results the Goal

Grandview Orchard is turning to some old friends to propel it to new heights.

Owner Lisa Rettinger has added natural plants, chickens and now pigs to the venerable orchard just east of Antigo, with a goal of creating a holistic, sustainable environment that benefits the trees, boosts soil nutrients and produces healthy livestock as well.

It’s going back to what makes sense, Rettinger, who specializes in regenerative agriculture, said. The goal is to leave it better than you found it.

It sounds like old-time farmsteading, but Rettinger, with a degree in agronomy, is using scientifically-proven methods, and that has won her grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to quantitatively study the results.

The program, known as SARE, or sustainable agriculture research and education, awarded  Rettinger a two-year farmer-rancher grant, this spring.

The orchard will also be part of a sustainable farm tour on Aug. 25 that will also include Organic Valley Dairy, McDougal’s Farm LLC, Canopy Gardens, Igl Farms Organic Spuds, and Tapped Maple Syrup.

The latest projects started this spring, when Rettinger installed 80 chicks in the orchard to do what chickens do so well, scratch around the soil, eat bugs and poop.

That batch of chickens is now in the freezer, replaced by a new flock of Red Ranger chicks along with four piglets—Larry, Daryl, Squirt, and Itchy— who are performing a similar service in the orchard, loosening soil, providing natural fertilization, and suppressing disease.

It seems very low tech, but Rettinger is using high tech methods to measure the results.

This is a more structured idea, she said. There are some people who are doing bits of the process but this is the first time we are measuring the results to see if it is viable on a long-term basis. They are being quantified through soil tests, pest monitoring, disease monitoring and net revenue on the meat products.

The pigs are a mix of Idaho pasture pigs, known for their grazing affinity, and Yorkshire Hampshire crosses.

I’m comparing the two different breeds to see if one works better for this purpose, she said.

The animals are no stranger to the orchard. Grandview’s original owners utilized pigs for similar purposes a century ago.

The pigs will be doing their thing in the orchard for about six months, before they too will be on their way to the freezer, and depending on results the cycle will repeat in spring.

Rettinger is augmenting the soil at the orchard with a variety of other natural materials, including hay, which she called pretty outstanding material for soil-building, and Sweet Thyme coffee grounds, outstanding soil conditioner, and fertilizer.

She has also added a variety of plants which aerate the soil and send sugars down through the roots to feed microbes, which in turn help make nutrients available, fix nitrogen levels and provide beneficial insect habitat.

The idea is gaining traction, so much so that the SARE Committee for the North Central Region will visit in September for a first-hand look. The group only picks one project a year to tour in an effort to plan sustainable agriculture professional development in Wisconsin.

Rettinger said she welcomes the attention, and through tours and visits, hopes to educate more and more growers about the benefits of regenerative agriculture.

The goal is to determine how you can make things work together to make truly a sustainable farm, she said. All the pieces work together.

Source: Antigo Daily Journal