Feeding ourselves into the future.

may market lettuce
may market lettuce

This could be a big challenge(depending on who and where and what, but please start a garden), since so much of the energy and tools used to grow food are completely oil dependent. There is much to do to prepare. Even at the small scales considered in permaculture thinking, there is much to learn and ready. Consider fertility, for example. How prepared are we to forego imported amendments– most of which are industrial scale products– like fishmeal or caged hen manure or alfalfa meal or rock phosphate or even mulch or manure from some local mechanized farm? Certainly these will be around for awhile– but at what cost? Given the current price trajectories, both of inputs and produce, my sense as a market grower is that there will be less and less takers in the coming years, especially as job losses mount.  This of course may be good news if lots more folks begin to garden.  We’ll have to replace purchased inputs with imaginative innovation–starting with humanure setups, and if we are indeed to be ethical, can we really continue to rely  on industrial inputs? 99% of marketed organic food today has that reliance. And then there is grain– the cereal crops–pretty much everyone i know eats a lot of whole grain bread- i certainly do, a gaping weak link in our own self-reliance. We are growing some test plots of Red Fife wheat and hulless oats this year–we’ll see what happens. Much of the exploration on this site will be looking at how we eat, and what the opportunities might be.  

 The good news is that the know-how is there already, we just have to learn and then implement–and therein lies the task.  Creating aquaculture ponds, processing meats on the farm, doing with less(or no) purchased grains, utilizing old fields, and generally redesigning on a reduced energy budget.  My own experience tells me that dairy animals are to be valued highly, converting leaves and grass into milk, being fun companions, and  cycling fertility thru our growing systems. At Highland Farm we are also using and exploring dynamic accumulators– plants such as comfrey and elecampane, as well as various weed plants, to become a significant fraction of feed and compost. Everyday it seems we identify and munch new(to us) edible wild plants, as well as devising ways to expand the access our goats and horses have to them. Once our minds change direction, that is, less towards production and more towards obtaining smaller, yet more numerous yeilds from diverse sources, the more resilient and connected our system becomes, and yet the road ahead is long. Certainly we can ramp up our gardening efforts, explore the various ways of keeping food fresh, learn to better manage thru draughts, and search for ways to connect with others in viable long term land sharing possibilities. Permaculture is rich in such methods and approaches.

From my perch as a market gardener, i can see that i will have to spend a lot less time feeding others if i am to implement such strategies on our largish acreage(approx. forty cleared), or have a number of competent and willing folks around who want to participate in such an approach.  On the other hand, if we contain our focus to just a few acres near the dwellings, the near term ‘doability’ by only a few hands increases dramatically. So far however, the strategy that seems to have the most  potential for meeting the most (of all involved)needs is cooperating with like minded others, and it seems those others perhaps ought to live right here too. Having run a pretty ecological operation for over fifteen years now, with much of the motive power coming from a single horse, i still find it very daunting indeed to imagine having to make up for the fossil energy we  currently rely on. Whether it’sconsumed by our small tractor, in trips to the hardware or grocery store,or embodied in the purchases themselves, we are simply not ready to cut way back. Or maybe we are– maybe the shift is primarily psychological– but even making that shift is more viable and fun when done together. The key to feeding ourselves sanely will not be, i think, some well hidden rootcellar below a solar house, or homegrown seeds, or veganism or dairy goats, or lots of money,  but the willingness and ability to design and work together, especially in small teams and with little travel. This way, many more will learn to grow and forage and store food, which may be the only foundation for a sane future.

A simple example would be to for different farmers/ gardeners to grow various crops in rotation. Currently most all the market growers i know have problems with both cucumber and potatoe beetles. If we could  cooperate enough to make just these two crops happen, much time, money, and difficulty could be saved, which would be good for everyone, no? This could happen at different community scales as well, and perhaps get more people involved to boot.  Another example is the sharing of dairy animals. Though i won’t go into details here, if neighbors could take turns keeping/looking after(or at least milking) a dairy cow or goat(s), well…. many hands make less work, not to mention more time for other choices by the few who do it now, and there would be other benefits as well. Amazing how the circles widen.