Mt. Folly Farm and Climate Change

      In 2007-2008, as we were selling Laura’s Lean Beef and I was recovering from a horseback riding smash-up, a Donella Meadows fellowship focused my attention on climate change….or more correctly, the fine instructors at the fellowship whacked me hard enough on the head that I couldn’t miss the point.
      I had gone into the program thinking the biggest environmental problem we could confront in agriculture had to do with the use of chemicals in farming, and, in economics, externalities, and, related to this, industry concentration.

Dr. Susan Shore Blog entries regarding Mt. Folly and Climate

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Our enterprises are building the local economy

    What I learned changed my mind. The science is there – climate change is an existential threat. So my husband and I gathered up our possessions, and moved back to the farm in Kentucky. It took several more years to figure out how to approach this. We are 60 (me) and 70 (Bill), so no spring chickens, but we have a young team capable of pulling this off.

Our approach is three-pronged:

1. Using organic and no-till farming, make the farm a carbon sink.
2. Become a change agent in our regional economy, which includes our beautiful but bypassed small town, and thus become part of a sustainable economic solution.
3. Become part of a learning community, including Berea College, Kentucky State University, travelers who stay at our B&B, and the many people we know who are working on these problems.

Laura Freeman
Mt. Folly Farm

To be a part of the revival of downtown Winchester, we are putting in a craft distillery, Wildcat Willy’s Distillery. To impact the region, we are developing The Moonshine Trail and Laura’s Mercantile.
Mt. Folly Farm, Laura’s Mercantile, Wildcat Willy’s Distillery and The Moonshine Trail exist in response to the challenge of sustainable business, A world I know and seek to improve.

What about the farm? It is possible, at least theoretically, to make the farm a carbon sink. Photosynthesis sequesters carbon , in that carbon dioxide + water —> glucose + oxygen + water.
Thus, as long as we keep plants growing, including cover crops in the winter, the crop ground is sequestering carbon. We’ve been working on cover cropping systems for a decade, but, like many things farming, it is easier said than done. Plus, we have not known how to measure the amount of carbon sequestered, so are unable to decide if this practice could make a significant contribution.


Cover-crop peas, planted in early march.


Crimson clover and rye, planted in
late October of the preceding year.

      The even more complex challenge on the farm is evaluating the climate effects of organic cropping systems, compared to no-till systems. We want to look at how both are executed in reality, given the learning curve and other farm exigencies.
      We were incredibly lucky that within a week of my worrying about this, Dr. Susan Shore, an old high school friend, emailed. After graduation, she’d gone on to obtain her PhD in physics, worked internationally in the semiconductor industry, and in addition to long-distance bicycling, seemed ready for a new challenge. Since climate change is the biggest challenge there is, she signed on to be our Chief Science Officer. For the rest of the year, she is developing a project to measure the impact of cover crops and other practices that build organic matter. She is reviewing relevant literature, and my daughter, Alice, is sifting through this too. The goal is to decide what questions to ask, and form an alliance with a local university to further develop the farming practices and evaluation of them.

We are experimenting with hempcrete
as a building material.

Solar Panels feed into the
East Kentucky Power Cooperative’s Grid

      We invited folks to come to our historic B&B, listed on Air B&B. It has solar panels which feed into the grid, with all the modern amenities. Even better, part of the rental is a log cabin built in the 1790’s! We have experimented with mortar made from hemp and have left this exposed, with a succinct analysis of its impact.
      Behind the cabin is a granary, where we grind our heritage grain for cornmeal and flour, and a little farm store.

Laura Freeman and solar panels on the farm