Wilhelm Farm

Intensive Production

Wilhelm Farm follows several principles that guide the core of its intensive culture practices on our farm landscape. By principles, we mean sets of scientific hypotheses that are so well tested that we accept them as core knowledge. These principles, when understood, are the basis for managing landscapes sustainably and assisting in reducing global climate change.

  • Photosynthesis & Plant productivity – All agriculture and forest practices begin with understanding photosynthesis as the basic biological process. The sun’s energy is used to combine water and carbon dioxide into simple sugars. Chlorophyll, the green stuff that makes green plants green, is the catalyst that enables this conversion of solar energy into stored energy.

    The simple sugars are the raw material, which are combined with nutrients, so that plants can grow leaves, stems, roots and other plant parts. Plants, like all other living things, metabolize, which burns energy. Net biomass is what is left after metabolism. The net biomass created per acre and year is a basic measure of productivity.

    The goal of agriculture and forestry is to manipulate how cultivated plants allocate the net photosynthate toward what we want; for examples, roots (carrots), seeds (corn), fruit (apples) or stems (pine trees). We do this with irrigation, fertilizers and spacing of plants, plus breeding of plants to have desired traits and responses to these inputs. A couple of simple examples on our farm: we thin our carrots to have fewer but bigger individuals; we also space our pine trees, sometimes by thinning, to have fewer but bigger central stems or logs. Sometimes our manipulation reduced total net biomass productivity, but the tradeoff is more productivity of biomass that we value, like carrots or pine logs.
  • Animals. All animals, domestic or wild, are dependent upon green plants as the basic elements of the food chain. Consequently, many of our manipulations of green plants are to favor parts that animals need, like forage (cows, sheep) or browse (deer, moose) or grain (humans).

    We manage part of our landscape for domestic livestock, like chickens and beef cattle, and we use goats (with maybe sheep and pigs in the future) to reduce brush competition in our silvopasture units and woods. A by-product of the rush munchers will be meat for our use and possibly for sale.

    For at least 25 years, we have managed the Wilhelm Farm woods to favor birds. Over the years, we have increased both the number of birds and the number of species that visit our farm. Birds need food, protected habitat for breeding, and a variety of niches, including tree heights, to encourage the desired diversity. WSE work with Connecticut Audubon and the Forest for the Birds project of the US Forest Service to learn more about bird habitat and food needs.
  • Soil Health. If plants are our fundamental building block, soil is the next most important element. Our soils developed from three different parent materials – granitic rock (the Berkshire shield emerges on our back 15 acres); glacial till from northern New England that was left as the glaciers retreated; alluvial soil deposited by Mountain Brook and Salmon Brook in an earlier geological era.

    Soil is much more than the parent rocks. It is like a living organism with roots, mycorrhizae, insects, rotting leaves, and many other organic elements. A healthy soil supports its own complex system and the broader plant and animal systems that live in context of a soil type.

    We manage our soils carefully to maintain or increase productivity. The vegetable production area is lightly tilled or no till at all. The pastures and hayfields are not mined for nutrients, and the selective logging methods used protect soils in the woods by not removing all the vegetation during harvests. Compost and animal manures are replacing chemical fertilizers, which lead to more porous soils with rapid water absorption and little to no runoff into the nearby brooks.
  • Ecology. Ecology is the study of how biological systems interact. The systems may be natural, but most often in today’s world they are manipulated by human interventions. Some are intensive, like much of agriculture or aquaculture; some are light or extensive, like wilderness areas or nature preserves; some are unintentional, such as climate change. Understanding ecology brings together our understanding of individual plants and animals into systems of interacting parts.

    Over the past five decades, the study of natural ecosystems moved from being largely descriptive to being quite quantitative with many predictive models. This is even more noticeable in production ecology – ecological models applied to agriculture, forestry and other managed ecosystems.

    References for agroecology and forest ecology will be found in the References section below.
  • Permaculture and Landscape Design. Wilhelm Farm historically was based on permaculture in the simplest sense that the great majority of its land area was covered with perennial plants. The grasses of the hayfield and pastures are perennials; the trees and brush of the woods are perennial plants; some of the crops are perennials (e.g., rhubarb, berries, fruit trees).

    As we move toward our future, Wilhelm Farm is becoming more deliberate in our used of permaculture systems. The grant that prompted our webpages is Demonstrations of Silvopasture & Other Agroforestry Systems, which are permaculture. Our collaboration with Sven Pihl, CT Edible Ecosystems, LLC. CT Edible Ecosystems, LLC, is moving the farm toward increased biodiversity, enriched soils, improved water cycles, and increased sequestration of carbon in soil and aboveground biomass. The results are increasing product yields, creating resilience to climate instability, creating nutrient rich food for human, livestock and wildlife health, which in turn, strengthens ecosystem services.
  • Resilience. We live in a dynamic world where our context changes constantly. The three most important sources of change for Wilhelm Farm are:
    • Climate change – We believe he scientific evidence that climate change is real and that the rapid recent changes are caused by humans. Changes in extreme temperatures, rainfall and drought, and timing of seasons will affect our crop choices, some selections of animals, and shifts in the species of trees that grow naturally. It also will affect our insect pests and diseases. One obvious change for woods and field work is ticks and the incidence of Lyme disease. Deer ticks were virtually unheard of in Granby 30 years ago, but are now more than common during the warmer months. Asian fruit fly, Woolly Adelgid, Asian long horned beetle, and other exotic insects now are critical to maintaining permaculture systems.
    • Social change – Globalization is much like climate change –a meta-scale change that has widespread effects on markets and political systems. In the Wilhelm Farm case, prices for many foodstuffs are declining because of global competition. On the other hand, we now have many more niche markets created by changing consumer tastes, preferences for locally gown, and higher incomes that enable additions of more fruits and vegetables to daily diets. Social change also affects our political system and seems to be creating more uncertainty and instability in long-standing institutional, arrangements. Changes in USDA program and possible disappearance of the CT Department of Agriculture are example that make the future of Wilhelm Farm more opaque and uncertain.
    • Community –Our community building efforts, coupled with many other families and individuals, create social resiliency. This strengthens our collective ability to deal with external forces like climate change and globalization.


  • Homestead skills and practices. We believe old-fashioned homestead skills like canning and other food preservation techniques are regaining importance. In part, these skills make us more cognizant of our dependence on our local and global ecosystems. Perhaps more critical, however, is that they bring joy from our experience with nature and our gardens. Over time, Wilhelm Farm will offer more workshops and training in homestead skills and collaborate with other local organization on education and training.
  • No till. Much of our vegetable cropping is no till and where tilling is used, the disturbance of the soil is minimal and often accompanied by compost and other amendments to=hat increase soil health.
  • Community involvement. For 80 years, our family has been an integral part of the Granby community. We participate in the support system for local churches, youth organizations like 4-H, food systems for people in need in the Greater Hartford area, and many other traits of healthy, engaged communities. These efforts will continue and expand as we become more involved with outreach and training.