Stacey Costner and Alex Fear, Wild Dahlia Homestead

Native and Perennial Food Crops in a Forest-Edge Permaculture Design
Grant Award: $6,000


Stacey and Alex are growing native plants and forest food crops using permaculture methods, revitalizing compacted soils on forest edges at Stacey’s family farm. Crops include Jerusalem artichokes, American hazelnuts, pawpaws, Rabbiteye blueberries, American groundnuts and King Stropharia mushrooms.

“One motivation for emphasizing the use of native plants along the forest edge is the restoration of native habitat,” Stacey said. “By applying the concept of ‘conservation through cultivation’ we can produce food and income while enriching the forest.”

American groundnuts are intercropped throughout the forest garden to provide a nitrogen boost to the soil through symbiosis with soil bacteria. Hardwood mulch is inoculated with King Stropharia mushrooms and distributed throughout the forest floor, building soil fertility and encouraging symbiotic relationships between the roots of the neighboring crops and the mushrooms. Woodland strawberry is established as a perennial groundcover to retain moisture and stabilize surface soil.

Azolla, an aquatic fern resembling some mosses, is cultivated in rainwater catchment ponds to be used as a plant-based fertilizer. Azolla fertilizer contains 4 to 5 percent nitrogen and contains significant amounts of phosphorous and potassium.

In addition, Stacey and Alex are constructing an open-air timber frame structure with a metal roof to shed rainwater into collection tanks. The building doubles as a processing area and an outdoor classroom. They plan to lead annual workshops on mushroom cultivation, earthworks for water conservation and soil building, plant-based fertilizers, and perennial foods.

Stacey and Alex are also using permaculture techniques to conserve water in the forest garden. Water is stored in the ground near tree crops by constructing hugelkultur (“mound culture”) berms, which act to slow water runoff on compacted or sloping land. As water is slowed, it percolates into the surrounding area. Logs buried within the berms decompose, releasing nutrients and absorbing water. Water is then wicked into the surrounding soil.

Wild Dahlia Homestead has created a strong niche market, selling at the Foothills Farmers Market since 2010. In addition to sustainably raised vegetables, they sell unique items such as wild foraged foods, luffa sponges, and rare medicinal and edible potted plants. Stacey and Alex both graduated from the Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine, where they first met. Stacey is a certified clinical herbalist, offering consultations at the farm.

“We refer to our farm as a ‘homestead’ because our livelihood and quality of life are completely intertwined with the stewarding of this land,” Stacey said. She chose “Dahlia” after her grandmother’s favorite flower, for which she was known in the community “We are wholeheartedly committed to preserving and regenerating the Costner family farm,” Stacey said.

See or look up Wild Dahlia Homestead on Facebook.

Cleveland County

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