[Orange_County_Permaculture] Farming for the Future - despite what the neighbours think
Wesley Roe and Santa Barbara Permaculture Network
lakinroe at silcom.com
Sun Apr 29 07:42:54 PDT 2012
Farming for the Future - despite what the neighbours think
Rebecca Hosking | Tuesday, 24th April 2012
Ever feel you are swimming against the tide? Rebecca Hosking describes
the sometimes lonely and uncomfortable position of being a farmer
willing to experiment with new techniques and practices used in Holistic
Management, Permaculture Design and Renegenative Agriculture and
therefore face a sea of criticism from local (conventional) farmers.
A permaculture garden or weedy mess?
Over the past few of weeks I've been reflecting on those common cultural
barriers and mental blockers that we feel have hindered our progress
toward a sustainable, resilient future on our farm.
I've already had a go at 'Received Wisdom' and 'Money and Fossil Fuel'
so this week I'm going to try to address the last one on the list, "What
the Neighbours Think'.
Not so long along ago I had phone call from a very exasperated friend of
mine. Having carefully planted her newly acquired allotment using
permaculture principles, a couple of months into the growing season she
received a stiff letter from her allotment association requesting her to
tidy up her 'messy planting', informing her there were standards she was
required to meet if she wished to continue utilising that allotment space.
Being a considerate soul she pulled up a few 'weeds' she would rather
have kept and scaled back her nettle and comfrey patch. My friend was
sure that gardening with permaculture principles was the right way to go
but not only was she finding it increasingly difficult to accommodate
the arbitrary rules of her allotment committee, she was also feeling
rather uncomfortable with the noticeable disapproval of the more
conventional gardeners around her.
After some more tutting at her unruly green manure cover crop and on
hearing the 'absolutely no trees' ruling she ended up letting the
allotment go and concentrating her efforts on her considerably smaller
back garden. My friend is not a weak person but, on this occasion, she
was not in the mood for a fight. The point is that even if we are
absolutely sure everyone else around us is on the wrong path, there is a
relentless human pressure to conform. As a social animal, it is normal
to crave acceptance and inclusion.
Now, apart from the obvious issue of scale, forging a new direction for
a farm is like changing the way you grow vegetables on an allotment.
Whatever you do to the land, it never goes without being noticed by
someone and commented on.
A love affair with neatness
Most of the farming families that surround us I've known since being a
little girl. For the most part they are good, kind people so we don't
really mind them thinking we're a bit wacky and a bit 'eco' or
'greenies' or whatever else they call us – that's fine, it goes with the
territory. However, for us personally, this is a bit by the by because
we have to answer to an older generation on this farm and they are very
much concerned about upholding their local public image and not standing
out from the farming crowd.
Not bucking the trend
We, like my friend with the allotment, have found ourselves curtailing
what we've wished to do to avoid arguments. For instance, we would like
to move to smaller native hardy breeds of livestock for a number of
sound ecological and economical reasons but we're blocked from doing so
because 'proper farmers have big animals, small ones are for hobby
farmers and smallholders'.
Conventional farming shares with conventional gardening a love affair
with order and neatness. Straight lines, clipped hedges, uniform crops
and pasture that looks like the fairway at Gleneagles is a strange
shorthand for 'good farming'. No matter how gruff and self-assured
farmers may appear, none of them want to be thought of as bad farmers
and there is nothing that says 'bad farming' in pasture more than weeds.
There is a big storm brewing on the horizon here regarding what we call
'The Weeds of Shame'.
It is our desire to turn this farm into a shining example of
regenerative agriculture. As such, there are management practices we
wish to introduce that actively and deliberately encourage the
proliferation of 'weeds'. We even want to go as far as broadcast sowing
'weeds' into our pastures because as an animal fodder they are highly
nutritious, being high in trace minerals and proteins.
Additionally by introducing them it will increase stabilisation of the
pasture root structure drastically improving the water cycle, build
topsoil, sequester carbon, accumulate minerals, hugely benefit insect
life and pollinators which will benefit our fruit trees and the wild
bird population... so the list goes on. However, 'weeds' in your fields
are something to be ashamed of!
The weeds of shame?
Conventionally, docks, dandelions, thistles, nettles etc. means poor
pasture management and the worry will be your neighbours will be judging
you for mismanaging the land. No one wants to be ridiculed or judged and
I do understand my family's concerns; however, the reason we are trying
hard to shed the worry of what others think is that we have seen what
those who have freed themselves from those shackles have managed to achieve.
Weeds are our friends
Pioneers Joel Salatin & Neil Dennis
For some it's come more naturally, and some positively thrive off
standing out from the crowd and being different. Fast becoming the
poster boy of holistic farming, Joel Salatin revels in it. I've heard
him described as a punchbag whose smile gets bigger the more he gets
hit. But I doubt anyone could argue with what he has achieved at
Polyface Farm in terms of land and business health.
Similarly, in Canada, on the holistically managed ranch of Neil Dennis
the land speaks for itself. Every year there is more biodiversity and
more resilience as his business goes from strength to strength. And his
main tool for achieving this is a massive steaming, stomping mob of over
1000 cattle. Neil says that becoming a Holistic practitioner means you
simultaneously provide your local community with a free service. He goes
on to describe how his farming neighbours are now all so busy
criticising and bitching about his farming methods that they forget to
fight amongst themselves anymore.
We view ourselves very much as second or even third wave following these
pioneering farmers. But even so these farming methods are still very
much viewed as 'fringe' by conventional agriculture, much as
permaculture is viewed as 'fringe'. As such one of the toughest things
to cope with on a regular basis is that feeling of isolation from those
Find like minds
Isolation can induce horrible negativity. We've found it saps our
energy, stifles us and slows down making actual physical progress on the
farm. It's a struggle to keep up enthusiasm and as a result we have in
the past ground to a complete halt. For us, the easiest way to cope is
to occasionally change our neighbours for the day. By that I mean go out
and find like minds.
Luckily on the rare occasions we attend courses and events there are now
the same sustainable-minded farmers turning up and it's a real joy to
see their faces. You know you're in good company for the day where
everyone has an interest in what's being debated and nobody is there to
belittle or put it down. On those days you know you can openly talk
'shop' in great detail and get valued advice from on hand experts. There
is a huge relief in knowing you're not alone.
The importance of finding like minds (image courtesy of 'RegenAg UK
We've had friends ask in the past, "I want to buy a plot of land what
should I be looking for?". Now we know how relatively straightforward it
is to heal land using regenerative/ecological/permaculture principles
our recommendations have changed from just looking at the topography and
quality of the land.
Who lives next door?
I would still say ideally look for south facing land with its own water
supply but, after that, really the most important thing of all is to
have like-minded folks around you. The land in a way is the easy part,
you can practically transform that relatively quickly. What takes far
more work and can be a lot harder to build are personal connections,
rapport and affiliations with the community around you. As you're
starting up it helps so much if at least one other person close by
understands what you are trying to achieve.
I guess we all desire a level of social acceptance, and not to feel too
fringe from society or be judged. For anyone practising permaculture
there is a keenness for the ecological concepts we're working with to
have greater understanding from a wider part of society. It would
certainly help with a vast number of ecological problems we're facing.
Until that time we all have to contend with what the neighbours think.
Be aware of it and be neighbourly but don't let it hold you back.
Rebecca Hosking and Tim Green made the BBC2 film 'A Farm for the Future'
and write a regular blog about their experiments and experiences putting
permaculture, holistic management and other regenerative agriculture
techniques into practise on the farm and in their garden. To find out
more click HERE.
For more information about Renegnerative Agriculture & Holistic
Management courses worldwide see http://regenag.com
For upcoming courses in the UK see http://www.regenerativeagriculture.co.uk/
More information about the Orange-County-CA-Permaculture