An East Huntingdon farming family with a long history of soil and water conservation practices has been named the 2018 Conservation Farmer of the Year by the Westmoreland Conservation District.
The Forejt family — brothers Greg Forejt Jr. and Garrett Forejt and their mother, Lesley — has continued the operation of Windy Heights Farm following the accidental death of Greg Forejt Sr. in September 2017.
“Our father cared for the land and people with a great intensity, so we’re going to do the same,” Garrett Forejt said.
The Forejts will be honored at the Westmoreland Conservation District’s annual awards banquet at 6 p.m. Sept. 12 at the district headquarters, 218 Donohoe Road, Greensburg.
Also at the banquet, Westmoreland County Parks & Recreation Director Malcolm Sias will receive the 2018 J. Roy Houston Conservation Partnership Award and former board member Albert “Bud” Barnett will posthumously be inducted into the Hall of Honor. A board member since 1990, Barnett died on March 6 at age 90.
Windy Heights is an agriculturally preserved home farm of 149 acres on Route 31 in East Huntingdon and a network of 52 rented parcels that brings the total size to more than 3,000 acres.
The Forejts rely on a variety of conservation practices and produce a full farmer’s market variety of produce, along with chicken, beef and pork. This year, they also started raising turkeys.
Greg Forejt Jr. attributed much of the farm’s success to conservation practices started by Greg Forejt Sr. “What’s good for the environment is good for the bottom line,” he said.
The farm’s use of a split application of nitrogen lessens the chance that heavy rains will wash the important nutrient away, before the crops can absorb it. The practice also helps to protect water quality in the streams that run through the Forejts’ fields, including two unnamed tributaries to Jacobs Creek.
The Forejts also incorporate native grasses and legumes as a nitrogen source, practice crop rotation and use deep-rooted crops such as tilled radishes to relieve compaction. “They go down about a foot and a half deep, and act like a post-hole digger,”Greg Forejt Jr. explained.
Greg Forejt Sr. was an early proponent of the “no-till” planting method, which prevents soil erosion by planting crops directly into existing vegetation without tilling the soil. His sons have continued the practice with every field crop except early sweet corn.
A GPS-guided planter/sprayer and drift-reducing nozzles also support the Forejts’ conservation efforts by ensuring that chemicals aren’t over-applied and lessening the chance for drift. On pastureland, weeds are controlled by mowing instead of spraying.
Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding visited Windy Heights Farm in 2016 to tout the state’s farmland preservation program. Windy Heights was the first preserved farm in Westmoreland County, meaning the land can be used only for agricultural purposes.
Greg Forejt Sr. was named a Mid-Atlantic “Master Farmer” in 2004.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter @shuba_trib.