Thank you Andy for taking the time to both read what I wrote,
and then to write a thoughful and lengthy reply. Because you
have so many points to address I am basicaly addressing them
together in one also lengthy response.
From: "Andy Lee & Pat Foreman" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: March 23, 2000 2:33:45 PM GMT
Subject: Realities in micro farming
> Essay by Lion Kuntz, March 22, 2000
> I assert that intelligent designs and management practices can allow one
> farmworker to provides a balanced diet to 30 CSA subscribers meats, eggs,
> fish, vegetables, herbs, and fruits, for a $30K to $35K annual income
> farm-related expenses are deducted) to the farmworker, on two acres of
> Many farmers are unable to assure themselves that much dependable income,
> and in fact often work at least part time in outside employment because
> cannot obtain the median income despite many acres of land cultivated.
> I further assert that about 40 hours weekly is sufficient to manage a well
> designed micro-farm, which is another challenge to the credibility of
> farmers who are expecting to give 80 hour work-weeks for more than half of
<Andy> Lion, I appreciate the amount of energy you have expended <Andy> in
<Andy> this "micro-farming" idea, as well as the time it took
<Andy> you to phrase it so
<Andy> well in your essays.
<Andy> For several years I've been designing a similar model
<Andy> that I term the "Fifty
<Andy> Family Farm", wherein the farm family and a couple of
<Andy> assistant farmers has
<Andy> a fifty acre farm and is supported "at par with other
<Andy> professional pay
<Andy> rates" by a group of 50 families that buys everything the
<Andy> farm can produce.
<Andy> Like you, I think it is possible to support really small
<Andy> farms using the CSA
<Andy> marketing concept, combined with immense crop diversity.
<Andy> My model even
<Andy> includes dairy.
<Andy> I'd like to encourage you to keep going with your design.
<Andy> Here are some
<Andy> 1. Until this has actually been done we won't know if it
<Andy> is possible. Your
<Andy> thesis reminds me of John Jeavons' claims, where you can
<Andy> grow a total diet
<Andy> for a family of 4 on just 1,000 square feet of land.
<Andy> Provided of course,
<Andy> that the family eats potatoes for 3 meals each day for
<Andy> the entire year.
Everything has been done, as individual molecules, and there are exhausting
lists of webpages of people who are meeting their measure of success
(which is the only measure which really matters). Combining molecules
has already been successful building macro-molecules. The micro-farming
I described is a long-chain polymer, combining molecular arrangements
in ways which have been done, but not to this level of fullness.
<Andy> 2. The farm plan you lay out requires superb horticulture
<Andy> and livestock and
<Andy> poultry knowledge, and enormous physical energy. Many of
<Andy> us have been market
<Andy> farming for 50 years, and still don't have the skills and
<Andy> knowledge required
<Andy> to pull it off.
I cannot argue with a person's experience. You lived your life
and I didn't live your life, so you know what is true for you.
Other people have lived other lives and I am depending on their truths,
which differ from your experience. I am flattered that you attribute
"superb horticulture", when I am thinking in terms of concepts easily
learned by children. "Square-Foot Gardening" is a book on simplifying
plant cultivation, and it is popular in many countries. You should see
the long list of websites of grade schools doing square-foot gardening
in various countries.
The many kids pages on poultry and rabbit raising are also inspiring.
My basic statement for two years on SANET has been that it requires
about two years to acquire the bits of essential knowledge through
wide and deep reading, plus "monkey-see-monkey-do" hands on
involvement. Some people less, some people more than two years required.
<Andy> 3. Your income figures may be a bit overboard. Based on
<Andy> what I see happening
<Andy> in other CSAs that have vegetables, fruits, poultry and
<Andy> meats, the average
<Andy> family will spend about $800 per year at the farm. If the
<Andy> farm expenses (not
<Andy> including farm and home purchase) are $12,000, that
<Andy> leaves the farmer with a
<Andy> paycheck of $12,000. Divided by 2000 hours per year, that
<Andy> comes to $6 per
<Andy> hour. From that salary the farmer has to pay the
<Andy> mortgage, food they can't
<Andy> grow, transportation, utilities, income and real estate
<Andy> taxes, insurance,
<Andy> etc. Not many farmers can survive on $12,000 per year for
<Andy> a pay check.
I agree that your arithmatic checks out without error, but your
assumptions or experiences diverge from other data. I have stood
in line in supermarkets where the person in front of me spent a
total of $180 in one shot. The kind of person they were and the
stuff they were buying was not the kind of shopper who would support
a CSA or that a CSA could afford to take care of.
Your income figures come to $12/week, which is too low to make
a CSA worth bothing with. Others have a $30/week requirement.
People who do not eat $30 worth of meat, fish, eggs, vegetables
and fruits per week for their entire family are hard to find in
my neighborhood. The gross income is closer to $60K/year, not the
$24K/yr you came up with.
Farm expenses are not a magic fixed number: they relate directly
to the farm management systems and input costs. $12K figure you
toss out has no relationship to what is actually being bought
and paid for.
The micro-farm I illustrated has very few bought-in expenses:
few seeds, few starter livestock, no fertilizer, no
herbicides/pesticides, no large equipment.
The big-ticket items are described in response to your next paragraph,
mainly, alfalfa hay, straw, some cracked corn, some costs for
buying waste cardboard and recycled newspapers. A part-time helper
to get days off is a necessity because livestock need to be feed
every day whether you are at Disneyworld or not.
<Andy> 4. You are assuming each CSA member family will eat 100
<Andy> chickens per year.
<Andy> Not likely. I sell thousands of broilers each year, and
<Andy> only have one
<Andy> customer that buys more than 25 per year. Also, to raise
<Andy> 3120 broilers per
<Andy> year requires 9 acres of grain producing land (based on
<Andy> my experience as
<Andy> well as information from Penn State). I don't have
<Andy> figures for rabbits and
<Andy> fish, but am thinking they too will require food from
<Andy> several acres more of
I an assuming that people will eat a wide variety of foods
including ones that will not grow in my bioregion. But I am
expecting that people like variety in their diets, and if the
price is right I can be supplier of a lot of that variety.
What does Penn State say the poultry feed value of earthworms is?
OSU says it compares to meat and fish meal. Worms are the reason
I include so much alfalfa ration, who can live off much of the
garden wastes which are inedible by people (either because they
have cosmetic damage, or (like sweet pea vines) they are too
tough and unappealing in taste). An acre of alfalfa, at two cuttings
per year yields about 220 3-string bales, or food for 700 bunnies
raised to market weight, if they eat primarily alfalfa. It feeds
more like 1500 if the alfalfa is suplimented by the garden wastes
Rabbit manures are superior to most mammal manures in plant
nutrient content, and the manures of worms who digest the rabbit
manures increases the plant-available contents significantly.
The rabbit manures feed the multiplying worm populations. The worms
have harvestable mass of poultry/fish feed of 200 lbs per week
(bait worms sell for $15 to $20 lb, much more than rabbit or
The slaughterhouse scraps suppliment the diets of worms, and fish.
Three species of fish (top, middle, bottom feeders) effectively
divide the waters efficiently. The catfish and the koi feed the bass
through their young and eggs, but the bass are never effective in
getting all the young, so the replacement stock is produced.
Blood-meal, feather-meal, bone-meal, furs and scraps feed the
wormbeds and plant beds. You should investigate the laboratory
typical analysis of these organic fertilizers.
The fish manures feed the duckweed and the duckweed suppliments
the duck feed. The fish and waterfowl manures also feed the
water hyacinth, which is harvesting Nitrogen for the worm/plant
The alfalfa is brought in as micronutrient replacements for the
plant growing soil, but first it is fed to the rabbits and then
fed to the worms to properly prepare it.
Additional bugs doing decomposing on the water hyacinths,
manures, etc., are ideal highly nutritious feed for fish and fowl.
Mealworms turn into bass fillets in nature as well as on the
farm or in the aquarium.
When I said four to twelve times efficient, I guess that did not
register. A pond can stack five crops vertically on the same square
foot of land that can only produce one crop as produce.
Finding the right mix of producers, consumers, and decomposers is
the real trick, and I have published the book free online, at not
one thin dime cost to you.
<Andy> 5. Attempting to raise 3120 broilers per year on 2 acres
<Andy> would very quickly
<Andy> lead to a mess. We limit our stocking rate to 500
<Andy> broilers per acre per year
<Andy> as the minimum free range space required to keep from
<Andy> over grazing and too
<Andy> much manure, not to mention parasite and disease loads in
<Andy> the soil.
I don't go to broilers. Fryers are better turnover, more tender,
cost less. They are on the land for 12 weeks at most, often 8.
They turn-over at a rate of say 90 per week chicks hatched.
For those of you wondering how many acres this takes, go to a
store and look at 8 dozen eggs lined up in a row. Out of these
60 will make it to maturity, with possems, coons, hawks or
maybe snakes taking 25% to 30%, or microscopic predators like
parasites or pathogens. Being careful to quarantine your
animals who come onto the land is very important to
restrict these opportunistic predators from getting in.
There is another whole essay of material here on integration
of the "free-range", "pastured" poultry. I will send you a
copy when I write it.
<Andy> 6. Your climate zone, Santa Rosa, California, lends
<Andy> itself to year round
<Andy> production. Most parts of the Earth don't have this ideal
The book "Four-Season Harvest" has some ideas which work for the
author in Maine, and the book "Solar Gardening" has other ideas
which work for that author in Vermont. The common denominator
is that none of the ideas accomodate heavy machinery.
<Andy> 7. Public acceptance is another concern. Probably 99-1/2%
<Andy> of the population
<Andy> will never join a CSA because its too "inconvenient". Ten
<Andy> years ago I helped
<Andy> start the Intervale Community Farm in Burlington,
<Andy> Vermont. This is a 40,000
<Andy> population city, in a county that has a 120,000
<Andy> population. My dream at the
<Andy> time, was that within 5 years there would be at least 5
<Andy> CSA farms serving
<Andy> that county, all with enough members to support a full-
<Andy> time farmer and
<Andy> several helpers. The reality is, however, that even after
<Andy> advertising and public promtions, the Intervale CSA just
<Andy> barely has enough
<Andy> members to remain viable, and no new CSAs have started up
<Andy> in that county.
Promotion is a way to take a large fortune and turn it into a small
fortune. Perhaps now you are learning to value the trademark
contribution of "Demeter", "Certified Organic by xxx", "MOA
Certified" and other mechanisms who sell by word-of-mouth based
on high scruples and defense of integrity.
<Andy> Lion, I'm not saying your idea can't be done, I'm just
<Andy> encouraging you to
<Andy> try some of these things so that you can report from the
<Andy> advantage of
<Andy> experience. You are definitely on the right track, and
<Andy> your essays are very
<Andy> interesting and thought provoking. I intend to adapt some
<Andy> of your methods to
<Andy> my own farm.
<Andy> Thank you,
<Andy> Andy Lee
<Andy> Good Earth Organic Farm
<Andy> Buena Vista, Virginia
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