Journey to Soil Health… with Stephen Kraszewski, Mason’s Heritage Farm

Journey to Soil Health… with Stephen Kraszewski, Mason’s Heritage Farm

Established: Since 1900

Farm Size: 900 acres

Product/Output: Organic corn and soybeans

Region: Delmarva, Queen Anne’s County

Favorite Piece of Farming Equipment: No-till roller crimper

Farming has always been a part of Stephen Kraszweski’s life. He grew up on a small cattle farm in upstate New York, so he didn’t have to travel far to attend Cornell University, where he studied “just a little bit of everything” related to agriculture and the environment. 


At Cornell, he met his wife, Katherine, who was also in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, where she studied economics and agriculture. “We bonded over their shared experiences of growing up around farming and around a rural lifestyle and community,” recalls Stephen. Together, they decided to take their farming skills to the Chesapeake Bay region to work with Catherine’s father on his farm, Mason’s Heritage Farm. 


With the strong farming community and focus on the health of the Chesapeake Bay, Stephen found the region to be a great place to put his agriculture and environmental knowledge into practice. Before working full-time at Mason’s Heritage Farm, Stephen was a nutrient management planner for University of Maryland Extension. He learned the intricacies of the regulations in the state, which aim to help farmers grow productive  crops while protecting the Bay. 

In 2006, Stephen’s first year working on the farm full-time, his father-in-law planted the first of three years of crops necessary to transition the farm to organic production. Even though Mason’s Heritage is now a certified organic farm, they are still looking for innovative ways to ensure their farm’s soil and environmental health. 


One way they accomplish this goal is through “purposeful cover cropping,” a term Stephen uses which was coined by farmer and cover crop specialist Steve Groff. Cover crops are plants that are planted to cover the soil rather than for the purpose of being harvested. Cover crops can help the health of soil by managing soil erosion, soil fertility, soil quality, and preventing weeds, pests, and diseases. Purposeful cover cropping means when farmers get even more inventive and adapt their techniques to the unique challenges they face. 


“For cover cropping, up until this current season, our corn fertility has hinged upon our ‘workhorse’ legume: crimson clover,” Stephen explains. “However, with the entirety of our corn cover crop centered around a single legume, it created logistical issues when we needed to manage too many acres all at the same time.”


To adapt to this issue, the farm has started staggering the corn planting season by growing another legume species. This cover cropping allows them to stretch out the corn planting season from the beginning of May to the end, so they have more time to manage their fields. 


Stephen finds these adaptations to improve soil health are necessary to create a more resilient crop and prepare the farm for climate change.


“In the last 10 years, the windows of opportunities to get in the field seem to be getting shorter, infrequent, and unpredictable,” Stephen recalls. “Adding cover crops has been a way to level the playing field and hedge against some of these natural events and the shift in climate.” 


For other farmers interested in pursuing similar practices, Stephen also notes that they have received support to implement these programs through Natural Resources and Conservation Service EQIP/RCPP as well as a new Maryland Department of Agriculture soil health grant initiative.


In the coming years, Stephen looks forward to continuing to find new ways to protect the health of the farm’s soil. He describes the process as one of continual learning, which is what led him to join the Million Acre Challenge–to stay current in soil health practices, while working together with other Maryland farmers to create one million acres of healthy soils.