Innisfree Farm: Planning spaces: working animals into a sustainable permaculture plan

I’ve learned a lot about utilizing the ground for food production over the past few years, and one of the things I have learned is that there is no space, whether it is a garden, a tilled field, or a pasture, that should ever be left for a single use. Nature multitasks everything, and the […]

I’ve learned a lot about utilizing the ground for food production over the past few years, and one of the things I have learned is that there is no space, whether it is a garden, a tilled field, or a pasture, that should ever be left for a single use. Nature multitasks everything, and the best farm plans do the same.

While that is true, I am surprised how many sustainable agriculture pundits leave the animals out of their plans. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few who advocate using animals, but for the most part, most of the people out there talking about sustainable agriculture keep their animals mostly seperate from their agriculture.

What I have come to realize is that the best way to utilize space is to have animals as part of every stage. For instance, we use goats to keep grass areas trimmed and chickens to keep the goat manure broken down. Chickens tend our gardens during the winter months, eating weed seeds and grubs we could never control otherwise. Cows, and eventually goats and chickens, patrol our pastures and keep them healthy through carefully managed grazing.

This year, I plan to experiment with using chickens to tend the aisles of our gardens using tunnels to keep them off the plants. Chickens are death on weeds and insect pests.

All of these ideas, and some yet to come, require some degree of consideration as part of planning our operations. I’ve found that we have to think differently about how we design our growing areas to accommodate animals as well as plants. The more we accommodate, the better things seem to work.

As far as I can tell, there is no foolproof method for such accommodation–that is, I have not identified one yet–but there is a question we should ask whenever we are planning a new space: how will I use animals here?

I think that including animals in an overall sustainable agriculture plan will make the plan that much better for us, our plants, and our animals.

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: Web roundup

Want to know what I’m reading about agriculture, food, and sustainability? Well this periodic post is the place to find out: Kajabi on the old wise farmer Treehugger on exploding pig barns The New York times on the rise of the artisanal food producer Scientific American on the impracticality of the cheeseburger Foreign Policy Magazine on […]

Want to know what I’m reading about agriculture, food, and sustainability? Well this periodic post is the place to find out:

  1. Kajabi on the old wise farmer
  2. Treehugger on exploding pig barns
  3. The New York times on the rise of the artisanal food producer
  4. Scientific American on the impracticality of the cheeseburger
  5. Foreign Policy Magazine on commodity induced food price inflation
  6. Popular Science on how feeding antibiotics to pigs is helping to create superbugs
  7. The Guardian on Monsanto being found guilty of poisoning by a French court
  8. Gene Logsdon at The Contrary Farmer on the need for secret crying places
  9. Wake Up World on bus roof gardens
  10. Treehugger on Seattle’s attempt to create the world’s first public food forest

You can also get these kind of links in real time by following me on Facebook or Twitter.

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: MENF 2011: Show me the money

Sometimes its easy to get lost in encouraging people to grow their own food and forget that this stuff still costs money. As idealistic as we may all want to be, at some point we have to pay the bills. It turns out paying the bills may not be as hard as you might think. […] Continue reading

Sometimes its easy to get lost in encouraging people to grow their own food and forget that this stuff still costs money. As idealistic as we may all want to be, at some point we have to pay the bills. It turns out paying the bills may not be as hard as you might think.

There are as many ways to make raising your own food pay for itself as there are people trying to do it, but I’ve noticed that most of the cash efforts seem to center around two kinds of things: greens and chickens.

First, the greens. Greens, sprouts, and salads have become the most common acknowledgement most people pay to trying to eat healthy. If you’ve noticed the lettuce display at your local grocer, you will have noticed people seem to be eating a lot of the stuff, and they seem to be willing to pay quite a bit for what they get. As an aspiring food grower, you can tap into that market, especially in the off-season.

The simplest way to grow such greens is to set up a simple greenhouse, hoop house, cold frame, or low hoop over a row of greens. One speaker I heard recently grows sprouts and microgreens on an Ikea bookcase fitted with cheap florescent lights from Lowes. While it is important to do your research and make sure you’re doing it right, growing greens can be simple and produce a good crop year around.

Of course, marketing such a product can be its own challenge, but that’s where due diligence comes in. Let’s face it, family and friends and word of mouth is the best way to sell your product. Local year around farmers markets and greenhouses are often looking for new sources of the products they sell, or you could sell them there yourself. Try getting your product into a local restaurant by giving them a sample of what you produce.

Second, we have chickens, and really poultry of just about any kind. Poultry flocks give food growers multiple benefits, but the one we’ll concentrate on here is the income from eggs and meat. Depending on your market, pastured chicken eggs can go for as much as $6 a dozen, and a flock of 12 birds can produce as much as 4 dozen eggs a week, though it’s sometimes a less. In addition, laying hens can pay for themselves twice, once in the eggs they produce and once again in the meat they produce later. Keeping a few roosters on hand can guarantee meat chickens as often as every 16 weeks depending on the variety you raise.

Granted, poultry has a higher start-up cost, and you may incur ongoing costs as a result of needing to buy feed, but I think in the long-run chickens are one of the simplest and most profitable undertakings any food grower can invest in.

There are many other ways you can make money from your food growing operation, limited only by your creativity and willingness to put out the effort. The key to these undertakings is to keep them as simple as possible and to remember that small steps are better than no steps at all. Don’t get impatient if things don’t happen right away and keep focused on the result instead of the work.

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: MENF 2011: Small steps are better than no steps at all

The task of becoming sustainable, local-reliant, and ready can be a daunting one. If you’re just beginning, it can seem impossible. Yet, it turns out that far too many people want to do it all instead of doing what they can do when they can do it. It turns out that small steps are better […] Continue reading

The task of becoming sustainable, local-reliant, and ready can be a daunting one. If you’re just beginning, it can seem impossible.

Yet, it turns out that far too many people want to do it all instead of doing what they can do when they can do it. It turns out that small steps are better than no steps at all when it comes to these sorts of things.

For instance, are you growing your own food? No? Well, that doesn’t mean you suddenly have to start growing tomorrow the 730,000 or so calories the average adult American should consume ever year. Instead, start with a window box planted with some herbs and lettuce. If that’s not enough for you, look into a desktop aquaponics setup. When you’re ready, plant a single 4 foot by 8 foot raised bed. Then move on from there.

As it turns out, it’s usually the small steps that produce the biggest changes in each of us and how we live our lives that then prepare us for the big stuff. We can learn to tend a potted food plant, change our buying habits at the grocery, recycle more, or stock up a few extra batteries long before we’re ready to learn to tend an acre garden plot, abandon the grocery, commit to a zero waste lifestyle, or stockpile a year’s supply of readiness goods.

But those small steps add up. Over time, and if you’re consistent, you’ll naturally gravitate toward the larger and larger commitments. That is what happened to me and to many people I know who are on the same path, and it cannot help but happen to you too.

So, your challenge now is to seek out your first small step and do it. Then seek out another one and do it. And keep doing that until you get where you wanted to go.

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: MENF 2011: It takes a village

While it is possible to do, there are very few people who manage to establish complete self-sufficiency, and it is my belief that such an effort is counter-productive and, in many ways, wrong. Perhaps a better term for the effort I advocate is “local-sufficiency” because I believe that it really does take a village to make […] Continue reading

While it is possible to do, there are very few people who manage to establish complete self-sufficiency, and it is my belief that such an effort is counter-productive and, in many ways, wrong. Perhaps a better term for the effort I advocate is “local-sufficiency” because I believe that it really does take a village to make things work the way they should.

In our efforts to establish things like sustainability, resource sovereignty, and long-term readiness, we have to realize we cannot do everything. Part of what we must do is build communities of people all working toward those common goals; communities that build on individual strengths and buttress individual weaknesses.

Unfortunately, Americans are a stubbornly independent lot, and we tend to think the pinnacle of success is “going it alone.” It is my experience that such thoughts are often a recipe for failure at the best and for disaster at the worst.

Instead of trying to make ourselves independent from everyone, we should be working to pick who we are dependent on and to develop relationships that can sustain us regardless of circumstances. In order to do so, however, such an idea requires us to rethink how we approach almost everything we do.

We have to identify the things we are good at, the things we do well enough to help others, and the things we won’t or can’t do ourselves. We have to identify that there are things we do right now that don’t work and find ways to do them better.

Once we do, we will realize how much of the way we approach life right now is inefficient, wasteful, and just plain wrong. It is at that point that we can look around us at our relationships and communities and start building the kinds of networks necessary for sustainable, sovereign, ready lives.

And once we do so, we will discover that we will have freed ourselves from so many of the problems that have dominated the last half of the 20th and first part of the 21st centuries. Such liberation should be something we all strive for.

DLH

Read more at my Farming blog...

Read more at my Innisfree Farm weblog...

Innisfree Farm: MENF 2011: It takes a village

While it is possible to do, there are very few people who manage to establish complete self-sufficiency, and it is my belief that such an effort is counter-productive and, in many ways, wrong. Perhaps a better term for the effort I advocate is “local-sufficiency” because I believe that it really does take a village to make […] Continue reading

While it is possible to do, there are very few people who manage to establish complete self-sufficiency, and it is my belief that such an effort is counter-productive and, in many ways, wrong. Perhaps a better term for the effort I advocate is “local-sufficiency” because I believe that it really does take a village to make things work the way they should.

In our efforts to establish things like sustainability, resource sovereignty, and long-term readiness, we have to realize we cannot do everything. Part of what we must do is build communities of people all working toward those common goals; communities that build on individual strengths and buttress individual weaknesses.

Unfortunately, Americans are a stubbornly independent lot, and we tend to think the pinnacle of success is “going it alone.” It is my experience that such thoughts are often a recipe for failure at the best and for disaster at the worst.

Instead of trying to make ourselves independent from everyone, we should be working to pick who we are dependent on and to develop relationships that can sustain us regardless of circumstances. In order to do so, however, such an idea requires us to rethink how we approach almost everything we do.

We have to identify the things we are good at, the things we do well enough to help others, and the things we won’t or can’t do ourselves. We have to identify that there are things we do right now that don’t work and find ways to do them better.

Once we do, we will realize how much of the way we approach life right now is inefficient, wasteful, and just plain wrong. It is at that point that we can look around us at our relationships and communities and start building the kinds of networks necessary for sustainable, sovereign, ready lives.

And once we do so, we will discover that we will have freed ourselves from so many of the problems that have dominated the last half of the 20th and first part of the 21st centuries. Such liberation should be something we all strive for.

DLH

Read more at my Farming blog...

Read more at my Innisfree Farm weblog...

Innisfree Farm: MENF 2011: More on not having to go it alone

I think it is a human trait to view new undertakings, especially ones that are large or difficult, as occurring in some kind of isolation. Yet the truth is that very few people are really going it alone at anything we try to do. The growing desire so many people have to establish sustainable, ready […] Continue reading

I think it is a human trait to view new undertakings, especially ones that are large or difficult, as occurring in some kind of isolation. Yet the truth is that very few people are really going it alone at anything we try to do.

The growing desire so many people have to establish sustainable, ready lives is a perfect example. I know when I took over Innisfree Farm, I felt like I was doing it all by myself, especially given the attitudes of the farmers I interact with most often. I believed that I had to figure this out myself and that I wasn’t going to get any help.

As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. While there is a dearth of sustainable agriculture and readiness mindset in my specific locality, thousands upon thousands of people around the US and around the world are doing some version of what I am doing. All I have to do is seek them out and ask for advice.

And that’s all you have to do too.

Whether you’re trying to plant a window box or a thousand acres, put together a 72-hour readiness kit or establish an off-grid thousand-acre farm, there are people out there trying to do the same thing you are doing. They want to talk to you, to share their experiences and advice. Not a small number of them even want to help you succeed.

None of this is to say such undertakings are going to be suddenly easy. It has been my experience on the farm that the most worthwhile undertakings are hard because they are worthwhile. Yet, knowing that there are people you can turn to to commiserate, ask questions of, and even ask for help makes the going easier even if the work is hard.

If I may suggest, the fact that you are even reading this blog post is the first example you can cite of there being others out there willing to offer advice and help. The whole reason I established this weblog is so that I can share my experience with others with the hope that it will help others struggling through the same things I am. I am always willing to hear from you, to listen to your stories, to offer advice when I am able, and to help build networks of people trying to do what we’re doing.

Over the next while–I can’t really say how long it might take–I hope to add to this site large quantities of information on organizations, publications, and resources I know and have used to make my effort easier. Along the way, I also hope to build a network of people who are doing the same thing and who are willing to offer the same commiseration, advice, and help I would like to offer.

And you should do the same. Maybe you don’t want to maintain a weblog, but you can still seek out your neighbor who also gardens or your local sustainable agriculture group. You can go to farmer’s markets and actually talk to the farmers or seek out conventions and fairs on the subject. By doing so, you’re helping build the network and make things a little better for all of us.

DLH

Read more at my Farming blog...

Read more at my Innisfree Farm weblog...

Innisfree Farm: MENF 2011: More on not having to go it alone

I think it is a human trait to view new undertakings, especially ones that are large or difficult, as occurring in some kind of isolation. Yet the truth is that very few people are really going it alone at anything we try to do. The growing desire so many people have to establish sustainable, ready […] Continue reading

I think it is a human trait to view new undertakings, especially ones that are large or difficult, as occurring in some kind of isolation. Yet the truth is that very few people are really going it alone at anything we try to do.

The growing desire so many people have to establish sustainable, ready lives is a perfect example. I know when I took over Innisfree Farm, I felt like I was doing it all by myself, especially given the attitudes of the farmers I interact with most often. I believed that I had to figure this out myself and that I wasn’t going to get any help.

As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. While there is a dearth of sustainable agriculture and readiness mindset in my specific locality, thousands upon thousands of people around the US and around the world are doing some version of what I am doing. All I have to do is seek them out and ask for advice.

And that’s all you have to do too.

Whether you’re trying to plant a window box or a thousand acres, put together a 72-hour readiness kit or establish an off-grid thousand-acre farm, there are people out there trying to do the same thing you are doing. They want to talk to you, to share their experiences and advice. Not a small number of them even want to help you succeed.

None of this is to say such undertakings are going to be suddenly easy. It has been my experience on the farm that the most worthwhile undertakings are hard because they are worthwhile. Yet, knowing that there are people you can turn to to commiserate, ask questions of, and even ask for help makes the going easier even if the work is hard.

If I may suggest, the fact that you are even reading this blog post is the first example you can cite of there being others out there willing to offer advice and help. The whole reason I established this weblog is so that I can share my experience with others with the hope that it will help others struggling through the same things I am. I am always willing to hear from you, to listen to your stories, to offer advice when I am able, and to help build networks of people trying to do what we’re doing.

Over the next while–I can’t really say how long it might take–I hope to add to this site large quantities of information on organizations, publications, and resources I know and have used to make my effort easier. Along the way, I also hope to build a network of people who are doing the same thing and who are willing to offer the same commiseration, advice, and help I would like to offer.

And you should do the same. Maybe you don’t want to maintain a weblog, but you can still seek out your neighbor who also gardens or your local sustainable agriculture group. You can go to farmer’s markets and actually talk to the farmers or seek out conventions and fairs on the subject. By doing so, you’re helping build the network and make things a little better for all of us.

DLH

Read more at my Farming blog...

Read more at my Innisfree Farm weblog...

Innisfree Farm: Figure it out

Let’s get something out of the way: growing food to feed yourself is not rocket science. Now, I understand that in the last half of the 20th century, a lot of rocket science found its way into growing food, and I think that fact is responsible for so many of the problems we face in […] Continue reading

Let’s get something out of the way: growing food to feed yourself is not rocket science.

Now, I understand that in the last half of the 20th century, a lot of rocket science found its way into growing food, and I think that fact is responsible for so many of the problems we face in food production today. Growing food and sending things into space are different kinds of magic, and what is good for doing one well is rarely good for doing the other well.

Over the past two years, I have learned as much about what I am doing and about myself as I think I have in the rest of my life up to this point, and I owe most of that education to a simple fact about the way I’ve taken over the farm I run: I’ve had to figure out most of what I am doing on my own.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had lots of help and advice along the way, most of it good and some of it bad, but at the moment when the work actually needs to be done, its usually me, the task, and my brain participating in accomplishing it. It has been mind expanding in ways that are hard to describe unless you’ve undertaken something similar.

What does this have to do with you? Well, if I can figure out how to run a 185 acre farm–and don’t get me wrong, I still have a lot to learn–you can figure out how to plant a salad garden in your back yard. If I can learn to master the raising of as many as 40 head of beef cattle, you can figure out how to plant a small plot of wheat for making bread.

There is a lot of talk these days about the cost of food, food security, and the threat hunger poses to national stability. One of the things nearly every policy maker and pundit gets wrong as they fret over these kinds of things is that they assume the solutions will involve massive expenditures of government programs that centrally manage food production. They get it wrong because they are trying to use political magic to solve a food growing problem.

The solution instead comes from when individuals establish food independence by growing it themselves. During the last days the Soviet Union, as the central government was collapsing and central food planning had reduced agricultural output to a fraction of what was needed for the Soviets to feed their citizens, as much as 70 percent of the calories consumed came from the roughly 4 percent of the land dedicated to small, individual farm plots tended by people after work and on weekends. To this day, as much as 50 percent of Russia’s agricultural output comes from about 2 percent of the land under cultivation.

What remains, then, is for people to figure it out. You can grow your own food and feed yourself and your family, and you don’t have to have a degree or a green thumb to do it. But, you do have to do it.

What are you waiting for?

DLH

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Innisfree Farm: Sometimes, the best way to learn is to do it all wrong

So, we had a bull calf born out of cycle last spring, and for some reason for the past year, I’ve assumed I was going to band him for a steer. Now, we don’t really need a steer that will be ready sometime in the fall, but that’s what I had in my head, so […] Continue reading

So, we had a bull calf born out of cycle last spring, and for some reason for the past year, I’ve assumed I was going to band him for a steer.

Now, we don’t really need a steer that will be ready sometime in the fall, but that’s what I had in my head, so that was what I was going with today when I marshaled him into the head gate to band him.

Or, that’s at least what I thought I was going to do. He had other ideas.

During the course of getting stepped on and almost kicked in the head, my mother-in-law remarked, “Just sell him,” and at first I balked. After all, I was intent on banding that bull for a steer.

But why?

After all, I put off banding him for a year, don’t need him for the meat, and frankly, he’s just too damned big to band now anyway. But, that’s how I did it last year, and that’s how I was going to do it again this year, right?

After thinking about it, I realized that the answer is really “no”. We have calves born around here every six months, and they’re far easier to band when they’re small and when I actually need them, so now the big guy is going to be sold as a yearling bull.

In the mean time, I’ve learned to think about the whole process a whole lot better than I was even just a few hours ago. I’ve heard what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I suspect that’s because we learn not to do that again.

DLH

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