Another common misconception we face when explaining to people that we are aspiring farmers (beyond the WWOOFing vs. apprenticeship confusion that Lana addressed) is the perception that “farming” means something like this:
Let’s say this image represents something called ‘conventional farming’. In my opinion, ‘conventional farming’ is large-scale, involving hundred-thousand dollar equipment, producing monoculture crops or livestock. I’m sure there are other caveats to the definition, but let’s leave that as the benchmark for argument sake. Please don’t get me wrong, I have friends and family who ‘conventional’ farm, and I hold no objections to that. I get that there are a million and one reasons one might choose to farm this way, and that’s cool.
Now, let’s move on to what Lana and I hope to do. On the other side of the farming coin is what could be describe as ‘organic’, ‘permaculture’, ‘biodynamic’, ‘sustainable’ or a combination of these. We’re not necessarily bound to any of these, but rather the idea of self-reliance (another keyword, I know… allow me to explain).
When I say we strive to be self-reliant I mean towards a closed system in which we function with limited dependance on external inputs, making use of what we have and recycling nutrients/water/etc. We want to avoid, as much as possible, the conventional model whereby industry owns the seed, crops rely on chemical fertilizer, pesticide, and desiccants, and animals rely upon growth hormones and antibiotics. I realize that ‘this is the way it is’ for many, but let’s stop and think about this scenario for a second. We use fertilizer/pesticides to grow crops and antibiotics/hormones to raise animals, then we harvest our crops and slaughter the animals to have those nutrients removed from the system. And repeat.
So you may be asking what is this utopian farm system I dream of? Here are a few themes we want to roll with:
This may not seem revolutionary, but to have healthy animals and grasslands, we need to treat both as they are designed by nature/evolution. Animals such as cattle, goats and sheep (+ others) are ruminants meaning they have a special organ developed to allow the breakdown of grasses, amongst other plants. Therefore, for animals to function as nature intended they should be grass-fed. This is opposed to grain/corn-fed. As Joel Salatin would say: we need to allow cows to express the essence of ‘cowness’ and sheep the essence of ‘sheepness’, meaning as they were designed. It would make for better/healthier meat, no? The other side of the grazing ideal is the health of the grass. Grasses have evolved to be grazed. Here is a great video outlining the technique we would love to implement, which involves high-intensity grazing and continuous movement between pastures. Mimicking nature for the health of the ecosystem.
Fruits & Veggies
We need to be able to feed ourselves healthy, nutrient-rich food. With an abundance of health ailments floating around and an aging population; it’s imperative that we need healthy inputs to fuel ourselves and overcome/avoid illness. The plant-aspect will undoubtably take a lot of effort, at least initially, including: hand watering, weeding, soil amending, rock picking, etc. But through use of native and heirloom species well-suited to the ecosystem/plant hardiness zone, polycultures and layering of plants to reduce space/nutrients/sunlight for competitive weeds (+ a long list of other potential techniques) we aim to devise a dynamic system that works for us. A well-known quote by one of the founders of permaculture, Bill Mollison, goes “you don’t have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency.” I like this quote in that it challenges us to consider simple solutions to otherwise daunting dilemmas. ‘Let nature do the work’ as another permaculture guru, Paul Wheaton, would say.
There is an aspect of stewardship in what we hope to achieve as well. We want to leave this world a better place than when we arrived. We are simply borrowing this land for the short term and have a responsibility to do well by nature’s rule. This will involve striving to improve, or at least maintain, the system in which we are fortunate to borrow. One being to protect this world for future generations. To quote Neil Young:
I’m into believing in a higher source of creation, realizing we’re all just part of nature.
We want to emphasize community a.k.a. the concept of tribe. Ideally we would have a co-operative (or other system) set up with friends and family to share the toil and the bounty! Here is an excerpt from a TED talk featuring Dan Buettner, who is the author of the book “The Blue Zones Solution” where he and a team investigated 5 areas around the world (Okinawa; Japan, being one of them) where people live the longest/healthiest lives:
…Okinawa has a few social constructs that we can associate with longevity. We know that isolation kills. Fifteen years ago, the average American had three good friends. We’re down to one and half right now. If you were lucky enough to be born in Okinawa, you were born into a system where you automatically have a half a dozen friends with whom you travel through life. They call it a Moai. And if you’re in a Moai you’re expected to share the bounty if you encounter luck, and if things go bad, child gets sick, parent dies, you always have somebody who has your back. This particular Moai, these five ladies have been together for 97 years. Their average age is 102.
Could/Should It Be Done?
Our ideal farm would be ‘small’ scale, which to us is between 10 and 40 acres. That seems like quite a bit of space, but not when compared to 2011 national stats that said the average size of a farm in Canada was 778 acres. You may be thinking small-scale organic farming may not be financially viable. Au contraire mon frere: check out this article, which discusses a study from Washington State University, that finds organic agriculture is more profitable than conventional. Take that with a grain a salt, as it is just one study, but food-for-thought (pun!). Furthermore you may think to yourself: we need big conventional farms to feed the world. This argument may not necessarily hold water, however, as a 2013 UN report said that the only way to feed the world is through small-scale organic farms.
Who Inspires Us
Joel Salatin @ Polyface Farm – Joel uses tons of creative techniques to encourage self-reliant operations, including: polyculture crops, mimicry (observing how plants and animals behave in nature and then applying those learnings), and grass fed animals (as opposed to grain, which is not what ruminant animals are designed to eat). Here is a video describing Joel’s farm.
Vandana Shiva – Vandana is a strong advocate of seed freedom, that is: the right of all to free seed. I stumbled upon Vandana through my grandpa, who put me onto an episode of CBC’s Ideas in which she was the featured guest. This episode can be heard here. She is one of my favourite contemporary wise-person.
Allan Savory – Allan’s big schtick is preserving soil, specifically eroding topsoil, through use of grazing animals. His concern focuses on desertification and nonreversible loss of topsoil. I’ve shared this video in previous posts, but it bears repeating.
Geoff Lawton – Geoff is a wealth of knowledge and inspiration when it comes to permaculture. He puts together frequent videos on a range of subjects, often testimonials. His videos can be viewed here.
Charles Eisenstein – He’s one wise dude, weaving words unlike any other. His essays are well constructed, eye-opening and inspiring. His website can be found here. Topics include: human nature, addiction, gift economy, issues with our current system, trusting ourselves, etc.
Helen Grond, Middle Mountain Mead – Helen has put us on to so many inspirational folks/resources. Not only that, but she’s got some solid ideas/theories of her own! Her facebook page is a perpetual wealth of interesting stories and her own insights. We have so thoroughly enjoyed working with her day in and out. She also practices which is probably our biggest inspiration!
-Tutterite Colony (obvious choice),
-Big Farma (named after Big Pharma <— short for ‘pharmaceutical companies’. The irony being that we are hoping to avoid pharmaceuticals all together through healthy diet and lifestyle),
-Little Farma (same irony implied as above, but more accurate in terms of the size of our future operation),
-Tuttly Farm (thumbs down… I’m a man of puns/wordplay),
-We are open to accepting other suggestions! Hit us up in the comment section 🙂
So there you have it! This was a challenging post for me! There are just so many wonderful resources and ideas that require contemplation. I guess that’s what this whole homesteading/farming movement is about: stopping to consider what does and doesn’t make sense, then taking things in the direction that does. Keep in mind these are simply ideas at this point, and are subject to reform. This is a snap-shot of where our head’s are today. Who knows about tomorrow! We’ve got the dream and the work-ethic, now we just need an opportunity!