Kendra, we are not all that far ahead of you. I'd like to suggest that you
see if there is a week long or several weekends Permaculture Designers
Certificate course conducted anywhere climatically relevant to your
conditions. Apart from a lot of valuable learning about ecological
principles and about leaving a light footprint on the land, you may meet
others of similar mind. Americans on the list [I am in Australia] will have
more ideas on location for that.
The most exciting, rewarding experience for me, in the decade we have been
getting our very very small farm under way, is in the realisation that is
can be very enjoyable developing a system attuned with nature, rather than
trying simply to do something mechanical and get a product. Especially when
you aren't there with a tractor to bully things every day, you find it makes
so much more sense to watch natural processes and see how you can work with
them. We've had the force of floods and drought to help us realise this, but
the more time you can make, just to sit and watch the ants and birds go by,
the better. Go camping.
We have spent an awful lot of time reviewing whether we really want to do
this, and lots of thoughts have gone through our minds along the way. If you
are planning to grow organically, if you are planning to do something small,
money and land wise, energy and staffing wise, then you have to look at
diversity and making sure that you do things you really like to do, and that
you spread the workload over time (we have 150 fruit trees whose crops need
harvesting at different times, and different trees may do better in
different years; a neighbour, b contrast, has 200 cherries in a row, meaning
two weeks of too much labour, and anyway cherries are wrong here [a] because
the birds eat them and [b] because they are ripe here too late for the
lucrative Christmas cherry market (maybe cherries at Christmas is one of the
really interesting aspects of summer down-under). It is also in the nature
of organic produce that lots of it will have marks that sprays may prevent
in conventional farming. This means you may think it would be good to
process food or fibres, to sell jams or fabric or art items. And a very
important issue, which bears heavily on the choice of land, is whether you
want to be remote from traffic, enjoy tranquility, or catch the passing
trade, have people dropping in without notice. You have to know a lot about
yourself and what you want to be doing day to day. Gord Hawkes, outside
Ottawa, has a shopfront, and a great new website, can't find the address,
you there Gord? Promote yourself, man!
The vision you have, Kendra, with its diversity, is certainly our ideal,
too, but each item demands so many skills. Can you keep hens where you are?
That's an excellent start in animal husbandry and they give insight into
whether you'd rather watch TV, read a book or sit out with the girls in the
chook run. I think our hens are smarter than most TV commentators, and have
more depth of personality.
Remember too that the practical skills mount up, and you have to apply them
when not expected, and in clumps, not in neat order. The last time I was at
the farm there was one lunchtime when the missing parts for the shed I had
come to build had still not turned up; I was way behind with wood cutting
and poor maintenance meant I had let the chain come off the chainsaw and I
had to get a flat file to take burrs off the drive teeth; and I realised the
water tank (for house and orchard) was just about empty and I took the
slasher (brush hog) off the tractor (fighting with the joint on the lower
link that's gummed up) to attach the trailer to cart wood and take the pump
to the creek - but then the tractor, having been working hot all morning,
blew all the water in the radiator out of the bottom hose... and still we
had to get lunch, light the wood fired hot water service to wash at the end
of the day. All these things got fixed - except the shed, we are off to
finish that in the morning! - but Margaret remarked that the need to sort
out all the little practical things ourselves reminded her of her
astonishment when she was young and her boyfriend's car broke down - she was
then really worked up about not getting to do something important that day,
she recalled, and she just couldn't understand (I suspect that was putting
it politely) his calm. He [not me], a farmer, simply started on fixing the
car, postponing whatever else to a later date. There is something very
different about the way you have to follow the machine's whim's as well of
those of nature, when you are out on your own. You can't afford - in time,
money or distance, not to mention pride - to cart the problem off to town;
you'd never do anything else.
I think there are so many differences between organic farmers it's hard to
generalise, but there is perhaps a broad difference to be made between those
who have taken their conventional farming, on broadacre scale, over the line
to organic, for various reasons, and those who are, like you, working in
from this other direction. That's why I think the permaculture course is
In the early 1980s a book from our local agriculture department 'Farming in
a Small Way' said that you needed $500,000 to $750,000 to make a full income
off a small farm. I don't know what our local figure is now. I don't know if
US contributors have figures to suggest. What the numbers meant was that we
could only look at the farming side as income supplementation, some modest
degree of self-sufficiency, but most of our return is psychological, not
that that is a small thing. But money is important in your calculations.
Strategic planning and budgetting are essential.
You may want to look at eco-villages, where people share skills and space
and values. Here are two very different examples in this country. Not sure
what is on offer in the U.S.
http://www.rosneath.com.au/index.html looks interesting, lovely location -
though it's as far from us as from Baltimore is from the top corner of
Washington State, in distance and state of mind.
http://www.crossroads.org.au/ is near at hand, but looks absolutely bloody
terrifying, maybe because I know some of those involved, and I know the soil
is terrible and the weather runs from hot dry to bleak cold. And leaving the
car at the gate, dressing medieval and leading the horse home in the rain -
you've got to be kidding.
You need to be happy to share bonnet bees, or at least a lot of time, in
such communities. The Rosneath example seems open-minded, but I got an
e-mail from the key organiser the other day apologising for not replying to
a message of mine in July saying they had not had a night without visitors
in the house. Choosing lots of company or tranquility is a key issue.
so, going to the country does seem to involve making a lot of lifestyle
decisions all in a package, in a way that is not necessary in town, where
you can alter aspects of life more easily and bit by bit.
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