Tag Archives: Planning

Fields of Farmers

Fields of FarmersThere are two attitudes toward farm internships prevalent in America today. The first is that of stubborn individualism, the rugged “gonna do it my way” philosophy commonly associated with farmers. The second is best described as, “What I need is some interns to get this place in shape!”

In Fields of Farmers: Interning, Mentoring, Partnering, Germinating, Joel Salatin tackles both mistaken viewpoints head-on. Salatin views internships as a ministry, an investment in the next generation—not an opportunity for cheap labor.

This book was clearly written for both the mentor and the mentored. After an overview of education and how it works, particularly in a real-world context, Salatin proceeds to urge both groups of people to give and to serve. Experienced farmers are counseled to put time and effort into guiding young people, even when it isn’t easy, while aspiring land stewards are admonished to put their best into their work and forego the “I’m owed” mentality.

But Fields of Farmers is about far more than the philosophy that should go into an internship program, as foundational as that is. It is also about the mechanics necessary for making things work—the process of selecting, housing, training, and setting mutually respectful boundaries for interns. It seeks to find equitable answers to prickly questions about whether interns should be paid and what to do when a new intern is doing the farm more harm than good.

Rounding out the book is a fascinating look at the history of apprenticeship written by a Polyface apprentice.

If you are casually considering adding an internship program to your farm, Fields of Farmers may very well scare you off. But for those who are determined to play a role in training the next generation of farmers, it is an essential manual to navigating some dangerous waters in a way that enables both parties involved to succeed.

What is Permaculture?

What is Permaculture?As you enter the field of sustainable agriculture, one term you will come into frequent contact with is permaculture. Permaculture is a very complex, systems-oriented topic and is thus difficult to summarize without leaving out any pertinent information. This discussion is intended to be merely an introduction.

In short, permaculture seeks to imitate natural systems and take a holistic approach to sustainable living and growing food. This emphasis on natural design results in a system that can be modified and applied anywhere around the globe (thus its appeal to urban gardeners). No design element is emphasized more than another because the key lies in the interaction of elements. In other words, the whole is larger than the sum of the parts.

The word permaculture was originally a portmanteau word combining permanent and agriculture. It is now considered a combination of permanent and culture, reflecting an expansion of the system into all aspects of society.

Note that, while permaculture is usually organic in nature, it is much more than simply growing things without chemicals. What is typically regarded as “organic farming” is often a prime example of a focus on one part of the system to the exclusion of all others.

A Little Background

The roots of permaculture go back as far as interest in sustainable farming practices. The term itself, however, originated from the subtitle of a 1929 book by Joseph Russell Smith, Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture. The concept of forestry agriculture sparked interest among those seeking ways of making farming sustainable.

Besides forestry agriculture, other ideas and systems from the early and mid-1900s that may have influenced the various renditions of permaculture include:

In the late 1960s, Australian scientist Bill Mollison and his student David Holmgren began their observations of the rise of industrial agriculture and its consequences. A brief examination of the loss of biodiversity, topsoil, and water quality associated with commercial farming convinced them that a more sustainable system needed to be developed. As a wildlife biologist, Mollison was particularly disturbed by the effect farming was having on natural ecosystems. However, he quickly came to the conclusion that he wanted to respond with a positive solution rather than impotent rage. The result was the term permaculture (coined in the mid-1970s by the scientific duo) and the system it represented.

Permaculture has continued to evolve since its creation. One of the earliest changes came in the 1980s, when the focus shifted from farming specifically to society as a whole.

Permaculture is now popular among sustainable farmers across the world. Elements of permaculture design have influenced many more farmers who do not adhere dogmatically to any particular theory (e.g., Joel Salatin).

The Three Core Tenets or Ethics

  1. Earth care. This implies provision for all forms of life. The idea is that a healthier earth will better enable humans to thrive. This first tenet of permaculture trickles down into all aspects of the system. While permaculture recognizes that not everyone is in a position to grow all of their own food, it does require that all choose to make purchases that are compatible with a healthy environment.
  2. People care. This implies that all people should have access to the resources necessary for life. Enjoyable lifestyles free from tedium are also a priority. Permaculture emphasizes that all people have value and should be treated with respect. It also encourages strong community ties, fostered by local trade.
  3. Fair share. This implies that no one should take more than they need from the system and that all should return what they do not need back to the system. Permaculturists tend to view the third tenet as the antithesis of the industrial model.

The 12 Principles of Design

  1. Observe and interact. Food systems truly customized to our unique circumstances cannot be achieved without observing how nature works. This demands that the farmer slow down and take time to think, rather than constantly rush from one to-do to the next.
  2. Catch and store energy. Surplus energy should be harvested and stored for times of need, whatever form it takes. Solar energy can be captured in a cold frame or greenhouse. Water energy running out the downspout can be stored in barrels or cisterns. Nutrient energy in the form of surplus animal manure can be conserved in the form of compost.
  3. Obtain a yield. Work without an adequate return is a waste. Permaculturists fully expect to eat the fruits of their labor. They may even trade or sell the surplus. They also tend to expect a harvest of intangibles, such as satisfaction with their work.
  4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback. No one escapes responsibility for their own actions.
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services. Examples of this principle include saving seeds, growing mostly perennial plants, and building a house out of local natural materials.
  6. Produce no waste. Permaculturists are often advocates of recycling and composting everything from paper to dinner scraps to household wastewater. They are also big fans of labor efficiency—the system is typically designed with a view to letting ecosystems sustain themselves with as little effort as possible.
  7. Design from patterns to details. Stepping back and observing patterns and interactions comes first in permaculture. The details can be filled in as necessary.
  8. Integrate rather than segregate. Permitting interactions between different parts of the system promotes sustainability. Permaculture seeks to build “guilds” of symbiotic plants and animals rather than a patchwork of “vegetables here, chickens there, and corn field over yonder.”
  9. Use small and slow solutions. The bigger the design, the more inputs it will require to keep it running. This principle precludes allowing huge multinational corporations to handle the world’s food supply (even the world’s organic food supply).
  10. Use and value diversity. Diverse food systems are less likely to collapse under pressure than monocultures. Furthermore, diversity within the system maximizes efficiency. Diversity is reflected in the emphasis of permaculture on layers of food production. For example, a tree canopy will be supplemented with an understory layer of smaller shade-loving trees followed by a layer of shrubs such as berry bushes. No permaculture system can ever be labeled “cash crop farm,” “poultry farm,” “pig farm,” etc.
  11. Use edges and value the marginal. Permaculture practitioners believe that the transition zone from one ecosystem to another is often the most productive part of either ecosystem. This principle is utilized by maximizing the area devoted to edges and borders. For example, a pond might be constructed with a meandering shoreline to increase the amount of area devoted to the transition zone between land and water.
  12. Creatively use and respond to change. In fact, despite its emphasis on “permanent,” permaculture allows for relatively little permanence, mimicking nature’s pattern of ecological succession. Livestock is rotated, crops are rotated, etc. Even fruit tree plantings are mixed up, with different species and varieties intermingled.

The Benefits

Permaculture advocates often list the following benefits of their system:

  • Innovation.
  • Better quality of life for the farmer due to increased variety and lowered risk of crop failure.
  • Beautiful natural landscapes.
  • Adaptability to any environment, even an urban backyard.
  • Inexpensive production.
  • Reduced labor requirements.

The Challenges

It has been noted that a permaculture system is only as good as the designer. Because permaculture is inexorably founded on ethics and observation, the whole system breaks down in the hands of the unethical and the unobservant. The permaculturist must be willing to continually learn, grow, and plan.

Permaculture and agroforestry are not inherently synonymous (although one might think so reading some descriptions of permaculture systems). Permaculture is, by design, adaptable to any ecosystem. But the heavy emphasis on creating forests may present a challenge to those seeking knowledge on practicing permaculture in native grassland environments. Building a grass-based permaculture system will require particularly close attention to nature and some dedicated research.

And, of course, conventional agriculturalists argue that permaculture cannot match the yields of modern farming methods. But they are not the only ones. Some biologists also note that the natural forests permaculturists seek to mimic are not capable of feeding the world—in fact, that is why humans developed agriculture.

Again, this post is merely an introduction to a complex topic. Permaculture is an involved subject in and of itself; plus it takes on a variety of forms as it is adapted to varying circumstances. Farmers of all stripes and beliefs use permaculture, and the system tends to reflect their different values. If you are interested in permaculture, take the time to search for a presentation that will fit with your values, as well as your natural ecosystem.

Helpful Resource

You Can FarmYou Can Farm
This book from Joel Salatin is an excellent demonstration of permaculture-influenced agripreneurship. Read our full review.

Pros and Cons of Selling Direct On the Farm

Pros and Cons of Selling Direct on the FarmRather than bringing fresh produce and meat to the customer, such as at a farmers’ market, some agripreneurs opt to have the customer come to the produce, perhaps picking it up at a stand or perhaps by participating in a CSA program. While there are definitely advantages to this style of marketing food, such as transparency, it is also definitely not for every farm.

Deciding to sell food directly from the farm is a step that requires extensive research and preparation. Here are a few of the most important pros and cons to get you started.

 

Pros

  • Transparency. Selling direct from the farm adds transparency to the food supply. Customers have an opportunity to see the farm for themselves, and this builds trust, which in turn builds loyalty. A truly dedicated agripreneur will take it a step further and use the opportunity to share information on sustainable practices with his customers.
  • No travel required. Selling at a farmers’ market generally requires farmers to hit the road early in the morning so they can set up shop at the venue and spend the day away from the farm. If this sounds burdensome to you, you might prefer to sell directly from home.
  • Seasonal production. When selling produce wholesale or to a restaurant or similar business, small farmers are frequently pressured to provide the same goods in large quantities all year long. Selling directly from the farm reduces this pressure.
  • No middleman. And no middleman means that you have an opportunity to reap the full profits of your harvest.
  • Opportunities to pair up streams. Already have customers coming out to the farm? Add new streams of income! For instance, many agripreneurs find it quite easy to add handcrafted gifts or their own books to the product lineup. Others add agritourism elements.

 

Cons

  • Location, location. Where your farm is located makes a big difference in the feasibility of this option. Farms in remote areas can rarely pull this one off.
  • Mishaps. Inviting people to your farm means that accidents could happen. A self-pay system is prone to theft. A U-pick farm is prone to plant damage due to inexperienced hands wrestling with the berries.
  • Legal liabilities. If a personal injury occurs on your premises, you could be a prime target for a lawsuit.
  • Regulations. Are there regulations and codes that apply to your proposed business venture? Do zoning restrictions preclude this option in your area? Will inspections be required? It is essential to know this up front!
  • Potential for increased costs. What type of structure will you be using to sell your produce? Do you need to build a shed or stand? Will you be able to serve all the customers who come to this facility, or will you need employees?
  • Marketing and advertising. Selling food at a farmers’ market reduces your marketing workload to some degree because the market will pick up some of that responsibility. Customers who have been attracted to the farmers’ market will have the opportunity to discover you just by walking by your table.
  • Lower sales volume. There is a certain degree of security farmers feel in being able to sell large quantities of produce. How much volume a small-farm direct marketing situation can achieve will vary based on many factors. U-pick operations are notoriously low-volume. On the other hand, a CSA can achieve high volumes if marketed well. Of course, a lower volume may be ideal for a small farm.

 

Conclusion

Selling fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, and more directly from the farm is a tried-and-true method of cultivating a healthy relationship between farmer and customer. Under the right circumstances, it can also be quite profitable.

Before leaping into this sales option, however, it is crucial to examine the pitfalls. In particular, make sure that you have a sound marketing plan and that you are prepared to meet any and all legal requirements. Also be prepared for the potential downsides that come with inviting people out to the farm, such as unsavory characters and the risk of lawsuits.

If this sounds daunting to you, perhaps you would be better off looking into another marketing possibility, such selling at farmers’ markets, marketing to other businesses, or even offering your products online, depending on what you are raising. But if you are prepared for the challenge, this option just might be for you. Good luck!

 

Helpful Resources

Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm BusinessStarting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business
This helpful book nutshells the pros and cons of a variety of venues quite nicely. Read our full review.

Kansas Department of Agriculture Licensing Guides
Good starting point for research on legalities.

Water For Every Farm

Water for Every FarmMany sustainable farmers are fascinated by the concept of allowing the land and its contours to dictate the best practices for every acre. For those of you who are looking for some grist to add to the mill on this subject, give Water For Every Farm: Yeomans Keyline Plan by P.A. Yeomans a try.

After a brief explanation of what keyline is (a plan of irrigation custom-tailored to the lay of the land), the book launches into an examination of land contours and how they should be treated when tilling and irrigating. These contours then become the basis of choosing the best sites for dams, roads, trees, fences, and more.

While the book is heavy on theory (e.g., the chapter on city planning), it is backed by practical experience. Yeomans implemented his ideas in the challenging landscape of Australia and by all appearances made highly efficient use of his water resources for irrigation.

Water For Every Farm is not exactly a resource for beginners. It’s rather technical and not always easy to follow. However, if irrigation is a topic of interest to you, you will probably find the time spent studying keyline principles to be valuable. Even if you are simply interested in making the best possible use of your land, there is still information here you can use.

Perhaps for the average reader, the best way to make use of this book would be to read the first four chapters to gain an understanding of what keyline is, why landscape geometry is so important, and how to identify the contours of the land. After that, the reader may choose to skip to any relevant chapters, such as those on cultivation, development of water resources, planting contour strip forests, or soil fertility.

Water for Every Farm is rather heavy reading, but it does present some information well worth considering on adapting farming practices to the land.

Intensive Grazing: An Introductory Homestudy Course

Intensive Grazing: An Introductory Homestudy CourseLooking for an easy introduction to the complex topic of grazing management? Give this bulletin a try—Intensive Grazing: An Introductory Homestudy Course by Burt Smith.

Intensive Grazing starts with information, introducing the three necessities of grazing:

  1. Objective.
  2. Flexibility.
  3. Control.

Next comes the basics of the four tools that are used to balance the three necessities:

  1. Density.
  2. Animals.
  3. Residual.
  4. Time.

Once these principles are discussed, the beginner is given the opportunity to practice using them in the field. The included exercise walks the grazier through the process of starting a very simple intensive grazing system—from choosing a site, a small herd, and some electric fencing to accurately managing grazing to leave a consistent amount of grass behind.

But there is still more! Next comes some math. A sample problem is provided to teach beginners how to calculate:

  • The average area required for the herd for one day.
  • The growth rate of the forage.
  • The time it will take to replace the grass consumed.
  • The number of paddocks that will have to be made before the first one can be grazed again.
  • The amount of land required to graze the herd one full cycle.

Then the grazier gets to substitute his own numbers from the field exercise, making the lesson still more practical.

Finally comes a quiz to assess progress on the course, plus a grazing glossary.

This power-packed bulletin condenses the most important points of management-intensive grazing into less than 20 pages. But don’t think for a minute that the topic gets short shrift! This is an extremely well-organized resource with a hands-on bent. Think of it as an essential crash course in grazing.

7 Cold-Weather Country Living Projects

7 Cold-Weather Country Living ProjectsLooking for something to do indoors on those cold, cloudy days of winter? Put that time to good use with one of these projects:

  1. Set goals for the new year. And schedule time to work on them. When pursuing an objective that requires a long-term commitment, writing down your goal is the first step to making it happen. Planning time into your day for zeroing in on that goal is the second step.
  2. Research a new enterprise. Get a head start on that new project you were contemplating and do some research. Winter is a great time for reading, making notes, calculating budgets, and laying plans.
  3. Plan a garden. Don’t waste a minute of the growing season! By preparing for spring gardening now, you will give yourself plenty of time to create a planting schedule, purchase seeds, and start vegetables indoors.
  4. Learn a new craft or skill. Many crafts typically considered hobbies can be enjoyed for their own sake, but they can often be put to practical use, as well. Hand-knit scarves for the family will be greatly appreciated during winter chores. Original art can be sold for extra income. Woodworking can be useful in hundreds of ways around both the farm and the house.
  5. Overhaul your web content. Are your links (both internal and external) still functional? Is your more timeless content still up to date? Is your about page still relevant? Are there tweaks you could make to your design or taxonomy to make your content easier to find?
  6. Start a reading challenge. Is the weather outside frightful? Sit down with a good book. Taking up a reading challenge is a good way to stretch yourself by reading about topics you might otherwise have overlooked, thus expanding your knowledge base.
  7. Write a book. While you’re reading broadly and acquiring new knowledge, take some time to put your own knowledge into a form that others can benefit from. Research, writing, and editing all take time—what better time than when the outdoor chores have let up a bit?

Get Ready for January 2017

Get Ready for January 2017January is a great time to plan for a new year! Take some time to shape your philosophy and develop a farming or gardening approach.

  1. Plan a garden.
  2. Discover community-supported agriculture.
  3. Learn the pros and cons of gardening in Kansas.
  4. Study the farming practices of the Plains Indians.
  5. Define sustainable agriculture.
  6. Preserve Kansas heritage.
  7. Evaluate the interstate highway system.
  8. Find out how compost gardening works.
  9. Examine your horse’s conformation.
  10. Read about the peopling of the plains.

Family Garden Journal Introductory Price Ends January 2017

The Family Garden JournalThe new compact edition of The Family Garden Journal, published by Homestead on the Range, is currently available for $19.99 at Amazon.  This offer will end at the beginning of the new year!

This beautiful paperback journal can help you or a loved one develop a green thumb while creating a keepsake:

  • Start by planning for success with our Step-by-Step Gardening Guide.
  • Check items off of your shopping list as you collect seeds for the growing season.
  • Mark each plant’s place on your garden map.
  • Build a customized schedule to ensure that each seed makes it into the ground at the proper time.
  • Divide the work among several family members with one handy table.
  • Build your own gardening manual with attractive reference pages and a 366-day journal—now in a handy, compact size.
  • Find out with the turn of a page which plant varieties were your favorites, which pest control methods worked best, and how much produce you harvested.

The Family Garden Journal makes a great gift, so take advantage of the introductory pricing and order a copy or two before Christmas.  Don’t forget to buy one for your own family!

Sample pages are available for preview here.