Sustainable principles involved in our farm plans
In this post, rather than talk about plans for specific areas of farming on our property as outlined a few days ago (see Farming plans #1), I would like to try and explain what we mean by “sustainable farming” and give some examples of what that might look like in the various areas of the farm.
Simply put, “sustainable farming” seeks to be sustainable for the long term by relying less on outside ‘inputs,’ (bringing stuff in from far away) and relying more on what we already have on the farm or is available locally. It is more sustainable because it uses more of what is already available rather than spending money, time and fuel bringing in resources from outside the area.
Another way to put it is that we try to work with the natural systems in place, rather than against them. Or, in different language, it is an attempt to work with the Creator’s design for animals and plants, letting them behave as they were created to behave and fulfil our purposes that way. Some people use the term “permaculture” to describe the principles. Regardless of what one calls it, we think that it is just common sense and is good stewardship of money and other resources to try and follow these principles.
Here are three examples:
1. Goats. As indicated in Farming plans #1, we have a problem with wild grape vines and other bushes overwhelming certain areas of the farm and that we hope to use goats to help us control them. This is an example of a sustainable principle because goats, unlike cows or horses, were created to thrive eating brush and vines more than if they were on a diet of grain and hay. Some people have been convinced to spend money bringing in expensive feed for their goats, rather than letting them eat the brush and vines which they really prefer. Sometimes the same people then spend money on machinery and fuel in order to try and keep their land clear of brush and vines. We say, why not make the farm more sustainable by letting the goats do the work that they were created to do and eat the foods that are best for them and, at the same time, help reduce our overgrowth problem?
2. Pigs. We plan to raise pigs and they need lots of bedding that keeps them warm and dry, especially during our cold Ontario winters. Rather than buy sawdust or straw for their bedding and have it trucked in to the farm, we plan to use a resource that is already either on our property or very close at hand and which will do the job just as well – dried leaves. Bordering our property on the north side, a number of cottages nestle in nearly 10 acres of magnificent hardwood forest. As you might be able to guess from these photos, they produce an abundance of leaves each Fall.
We noticed last Fall that the cottagers spent a great deal of time and effort raking up mountains of leaves that fall on their properties from those trees and then they made a large number of trips hauling them to a County composting dump about 10 kms away. Some of them do it themselves and others hire contractors to do it for them. We have already begun talking to some of them about an alternate plan that is simpler and cheaper for them, takes less fuel and provides us with a valuable resource for the farm. We are asking them to dump their leaves less than a kilometre away from their homes at a place we designate on our property where we hope to raise pigs.
Our idea is that the pigs would be kept warm and cozy as they sleep in mounds of leaves which is something that they would seek to build nests with in the wild (we would have a large supply stored nearby to be used to refresh their bedding). In addition they would be able to fulfill their created inclination to root through the mounds of leaves and, in the process, find some acorns, beechnuts and other tidbits to supplement their diet. A big benefit of their rooting and of their deposits of nitrogen in the form of urine and manure would be a speeding up the composting action of the leaves which would provide us with wonderful compost for the gardens that we are eager to develop. With that good compost from resources at hand, we won’t have to buy soil or compost for our garden. (You may recall that we have limestone bedrock very near the surface in the area by our house.)(see New House Construction)
We all win by making use of this bountiful local resource: the cottage owners save time, fuel and money by not having to take the leaves 10 kms away; the pigs get good leaves to sleep on in and they are able to fulfill their created inclination to root; and we save money on bedding and gain good compost for our gardens as a by-product.
3. Orchard. Many orchardists spend a lot of time, fuel and money mowing the grass and weeds between the trees. Our plan is to use livestock to graze between the trees (whether that be goats, sheep or geese is yet to be determined and depends largely on our ability to protect the little trees from animals munching on them). Not only will the grass and weeds provide good food for the animals, we won’t need to spend as much time and fuel to mow the orchard. Other benefits include the animals becoming fatter and their meat more tasty as they eat the fruit and nuts that fall on the ground. In addition, by cleaning up the fallen fruit and nuts they remove those potential breeding grounds for insects and diseases, thereby reducing the risk of infestation from them in the next growing season.
Again, we all win by this. The orchard grasses and weeds are controlled without our having to spend time and fuel to mow, animals gain good food in the form of pasture and fallen fruit and nuts and the trees benefit from control of insects and diseases.
These examples could be multiplied (e.g. using pasture and the product of local orchards and cheese factories to feed pigs instead of buying expensive grain brought in from far away) and we hope to be creative to in implementing more good ideas but hopefully these examples help illustrate what we mean when we talk about developing a sustainable farm here on Morrison Point.