Organic Farmers Concerned about Water

Leaf Myczack with Surplus Tank
Converted to Rainwater Storage
The rooster was crowing when my daughter and I arrived late in the morning at Broadened Horizons Organic Farm. It seemed a sure sign that we'd found an authentic farm with a diversity of plant and animal life. At noon, a siren crowed the reminder that this peaceful place is just ten miles from the Tennessee Valley Authority's Watts Bar Nuclear Plant and it was time for monthly siren testing.  The farm is also 20 miles downstream from the worst coal ash water pollution disaster in United States history, when a TVA impounded pond dam ruptured, accidentally spilling coal ash into the Clinch and Emory Rivers in 2008. Husband and wife team Leaf Myczack and Cielo Sand Hodson are mindful of environmental dangers to theirs and most all US farms these days. They're particularly sensitive to the water quality and quantity issues affecting the future of farming.

Composting Toilet Facility
Prior to settling on part of a former cattle farm along the Tennessee River, the couple spent 15 years traveling the Tennessee, Cumberland and Tombigbee Rivers in their hand-crafted, 30-foot ketch as Riverkeepers. They became disenchanted with efforts to clean up the rivers of mostly government-permitted, municipal, industrial and agricultural pollution. "Each state has their own set of lackluster environmental laws," explained Myczack, and he believes standards are not tough enough to keep our waterways clean. Of course, every waterway eventually becomes someone's drinking water.

Herbs Going to Seed
At the farm, Farmer Leaf and Cielo, as they prefer to be called, strive to restore the natural environment, improve soil health and create zero water pollution. Their sustainable, organic methods include using using natural inputs like animal wastes and plant residues for fertilizer and permaculture-based land design to ensure no polluted runoff goes into the river. "We can account for the quality of all the water that leaves this property," said Myczack. The farm uses neat, composting toilets instead of the common septic and drainfield systems in most rural areas. A comprehensive rainwater harvesting system that includes barrels, cisterns and ponds is used for livestock watering, poultry house washdowns and crop irrigation. 
Field Ready for Corn Planting

Rainwater Harvest System

The family is working to raise their own food, sell a few farm products, and model a permaculture-based environment where others can learn. Sometimes they get discouraged, "The whole effort we're doing is based upon intelligent design and we're working against the tide." Myczack had planned to have heirloom corn planted before I arrived. But he was still hoping for rain to create ideal conditions for sprouting seeds.  He can use irrigation when needed, either from the rainwater water storage system or pumped from the river. But he'd rather not go that route. Keeping detailed records of rainfall each month for several years, this small farmer is concerned about weather extremes, including an April and May that seem too dry for a field of corn. Myczack said, "I'm a firm believer that climate change is happening. I've been a farmer far too long to not see the significant climate changes over the last 20 years."

What we can all learn from a teaching farm...