Cynthia may seem like an unlikely farmer, but from a young age she loved farm birds! As a city girl from Chicago, she would visit the chickens at the Lincoln Park Zoo and watch them until her mother pulled her away. But it took Cynthia many years and a career later to get to the farm.
A former trauma nurse and clinical researcher turned farmer and chicken guru, Cynthia has a passion for poultry unmatched by many. After retiring from nursing, she took her 20-year poultry hobby a step further by enrolling in TSU’s New Farmer’s Academy. Today her passion is on display at Heniscity Farm near Pegram, TN. Her farm sits atop an expansive meadow overlooking a riparian forest that protects the small tributary to the Harpeth River on her property. Her birds are cage-free, free range and well provided for.
Cynthia calls herself a “from scratch” farmer. She had a passion for the birds, but she would need to learn everything on how to run a farm that would provide for the community, the land, the water and of course her birds. To gain all the knowledge she could, she did her research and took any opportunity to learn from others by volunteering on a variety of farms.
As a livestock farmer, Cynthia had her work cut out for her. She knew that the farm was more than just the birds. The trees, the stream and the whole ecosystem was hers to steward. Livestock farming comes with its own conservation needs whether it is a few animals to a large herd or flock. With animals comes waste, (aka poop!) and how the farmer deals with that can make all the difference to the health of our waterways.
Conservation Practices Help Protect the Harpeth River
Heniscity has conservation practices on the farm to reduce the impact on the land and water. The birds are in a location that maximizes the buffer zone between the birds and the stream. Excess nutrients that come from the bird droppings will slowly make their way to the water by filtering through the meadow and forest before entering the water. These buffers help naturally filter out pollutants and improve water quality. Additionally, the birds are free range. This practice reduces the compaction of the soil where the birds are housed.
Growing into the Future
As the farm grows, Cynthia wants to ensure that the land and water around her are protected. She is currently working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to add conservation practices to the farm to prepare for that growth. Cynthia has plans to grow crops in the near future, with the help of NRCS, she will add a high tunnel to the property. High tunnels extend the growing season, improve plant and soil quality, reduce nutrient and pesticide transportation, reduce erosion, and require less energy to provide the community with nutrient-rich food. She also has plans to add cattle to the farm. NRCS will help build fences to exclude the livestock from the stream and provide an alternate water source for them. NRCS will also help with a grazing plan for the livestock to prevent overgrazing that can lead to erosion and increase runoff pollution.
Cynthia is also a member of the Livestock Conservancy. Their mission is to protect endangered livestock and poultry breeds from extinction. Modern agriculture has changed demands and often favors specific traits leaving birds with less desirable traits to decline. Cynthia works with breeders across the country to improve populations and enhance diversity among poultry producers.
As a girl from the city, Cynthia may not have always known she would be a conservation farmer, but her passion to learn and to provide for her birds and her community led her to seek the best. She knew she had a special place to raise her birds and with the help of partners like NRCS, she will install conservation practices that will protect the land and water for years to come.
Conservation practices on every farm are ever-evolving. Whether you are new to farming or new to conservation, Cynthia is an asset to the farming community and is always willing to mentor.