Pine Island Community Farm shows how a working farm can coexist with nature. The farm sits on the Winooski River, which flows into Lake Champlain. The farmstead area sits high up on the land; to the north, there are 77 acres of wetlands. There are also 52 acres of woods that often flood; this type of woodland is called a floodplain forest. The forest and wetland areas are home to many animals.
This farm, its wetlands, fields, and floodplain forest are home to many birds, such as ospreys, which thrive on the banks of the river, where they swoop down and grab fish with their talons, or belted kingfishers who often make themselves known through their coarse rattling sounds.The river itself is home to at least seven rare fishes and mussels. In the community gardens and hayfields, northern green frogs are commonly seen leaping along. There are also many mammals, including white-tailed deer, river otter, muskrat, mink, beaver, and fisher.
A wetland is a community of plants, animals, insects, bacteria, and other organisms that all live in a place that is, well, wet! Wetlands have soils that are often, if not always, soaked with water. The plants that live in wetlands must love water to survive here. Many types of grasses, sedges, cattails, and alders can be seen in these wetlands.
Wetlands are important to protect because they support a huge variety of life. They are also important for clean water. Wetlands are like sponges; they hold and filter water before it enters rivers and lakes. Without wetlands, sand, soil, and pollutants would flow freely into our rivers. This would dirty the water, making it hard for fish and other creatures to live. Because wetlands can hold a lot of water, they also can slow flooding and prevent damage to nearby towns.
A river’s flowing water is not always contained within its banks. When the Winooski River floods, the water spreads into the flat landscape that surrounds it. This flooding often occurs in the spring, when rain and melting snow cover the land around the riverbanks with water. The flood water carries fine sediment that is deposited as the water spreads and slows across the flat land.
This process creates very fertile soils, which is why many floodplains have been cleared for farming. Pine Island Community Farm has 52 acres of floodplain forest that are part of the larger Winooski River floodplain.
The floodplain forests here give us an idea of what the landscape may have looked like before most of it was cleared for farming. These forests have silver maple, red maple, and green ash trees, with a lot of ostrich fern and sensitive fern growing closer to the ground.