My issue? I am entirely unconvinced that I moved up here to farm. Live off grid? Yes. Grow some degree of food? Yes. Eat happy eggs, thus become a crazy chicken lady? Yup. But actually farm? No.
Granted, I took some initiative a couple of days ago and went outside to practice my scything abilities. And we do happen to have what resemble gardens, and a heck of a lot of tomato plants. And blueberries. And Carl made mention that he needs to go check on the peaches and nut trees. But though we dabble in the gardens, we are not organized enough to be actual farmers. We have too much else going on. And when we focus on Darwin’s View, we get, frankly, overwhelmed. Where to begin? What project should take priority?
We need a plan, goals, and so Carl and I are working on our vision for Darwin’s View. After seven years, we figure it’s time.
There are a variety of ways to farm. There is conventional farming, using pesticides and herbicides. Conventional farming uses chemical fertilizers (NPK), antibiotics and herbicides. Whereas initially—after World War II when 1. a lot of these chemicals that hadn’t made it into bombs were sitting around unused and 2. it had been discovered that N (nitrogen), P (phosphorus) and K (potassium) are necessary nutrients for plant growth thus 3. NPK was sold to farmers (ca-ching!) and the Green Revolution was born—these practices boosted plant growth and crop output but, with time, the soil has become degraded. How so?
Crops use nutrients. Those nutrients need to be replaced by natural processes (plants die and decay) or by adding fertilizers—NPK. Those chemicals increase production (initially) but lower fertility, pollute the air and water, and decrease soil health by depleting the natural nutrients.1 In other words, chemical fertilizers don’t replenish the soil but deplete it, thereby requiring more chemicals and so begins an unnatural and expensive cycle. If conventional farming continues as it is, the soils will be dead in the next 40-50 years. Dead soils cannot grow anything, certainly not food. It erodes. Becomes dust. Carl and I aren’t going with conventional farming. It’s too expensive and unhealthy and our vision and hope is to heal the soil, not kill it.
Organic farming begins that process. Instead of chemical fertilizers it uses manure, compost, cover cropping2 and no till practices. All these promote and support the bacteria and good bugs that create the living matter that is soil.
Permaculture takes farming to yet another level. No more monoculture!3 Permaculture is a set of design principles that look at the big picture. It’s about ecosystems, sustainable practices, self-sufficiency and crop diversity. Permaculture requires an awareness of and working with nature.
The next step is regenerative agriculture in which the goal is to grow the soil. The crops are a value added product.
If a farmer wants to include a consideration of the planets’ influence, the breathing in and out of the earth’s energy, there is Biodynamics Farming, a practice that is scoffed at by some who don’t believe the planets can have any influence on how a plant grows. But to others, the spirit in nature is a given, and the influence of outside forces proven scientifically by the mother lode and health of the produce produced.
And then there’s agroforestry, growing food how nature grows it, with multistoried, layers of plants and a variety of animals.
Carl and I have 205 acres, 180 of which are in a conservation easement. (We just bought an 11 acre lot to our north that will likely go into conservation, too.) When we talk about energy, we talk about batteries, electric vehicles that run on the sun, solar power and maybe we should consider wind. We talk about conserving water and water storage. Every conversation that begins at point A ends, inevitably, at Q or W or Z. Because everything is connected. Energy. Life.
Our vision evolves. We are reading permaculture teacher/ecosystem designer David Jacke’s books Edible Forest Gardens, Volumes 1 & 2. So far we have learned this: we are both right side brainers; logical, straight lines don’t speak to us. And, though we use different words, we both have the same vague destination in mind, as stated at the home page of this blog: sowing hope, growing chaos, building soil. But we have a lot more work to do. Fortunately, we have nature at our backs.
2 Wikipedia: A cover crop is planted to manage soil erosion, soil fertility, soil quality, water, weeds, pests, diseases, biodiversity and wildlife in an agroecosystem—an ecological system managed and shaped by humans. Cover crops may be an off-season crop planted after harvesting the cash crop. The cover crop may grow over winter.
3 Big Ag uses mass production techniques. One crop in a field is easier to harvest. Thus, for example, Iowa’s corn fields. Some organic farmers follow this protocol. In terms of sustainability, adaptability and soil health, however, variety is the spice of life. The mid-west plains used to have thousands of diverse plant species feeding the soil, not one solitary crop.