Why sustainable organic farming is important to your farm future

Why am I writing about sustainable organic farming? Because I believe we are headed for changes of massive proportions in the near future. I believe that declining oil, increasing social and financial upheaval and the devastation of our environment will irrevocably change how we live in North America.

We are consuming resources at a rate far in excess of the capacity of the planet to sustain. Here’s an Amazing Fact – if the whole planet was to live at what is considered the poverty level in Canada (or the US) we would need 4 more Earths to support everyone.

Now you might be saying to yourself ‘Scary, but so what? Why do I care about this on my small farm?’ You need to care because if you plan to even HAVE a farm in the future, you better think about sustainable organic farming as the model that will feed your family and your community.

There are a couple kinds of sustainability that are critical to a small farm. The first is ecological sustainability; by this I mean trying to reduce the amount of stuff you have to ‘buy in’ to operate your farm.

Here’s another Amazing Fact – 38% of the petrochemicals used on a conventional farm are found in fertilizers. This is only possible because of a cheap and reliable supply of oil. If oil becomes harder to obtain, or priced beyond reach, most farms are in serious trouble. Switching to sustainable organic farming is much easier if you don't wait until there is a crisis.

So, one way to increase sustainability is to reduce off-farm inputs, particularly petroleum. Consider using natural means to maintain soil fertility.

Employ animal power (and I don’t mean draught horses, although they are a good idea.) Here’s yet another Amazing Fact for you: I don’t own a tractor! I use my pigs to bust up new ground for me.

The pigs are kept where I want ‘em by electric mesh fencing (see raising pigs on pasture ) I can run the fencing off a battery if the power fails. The pigs root up the soil, bring up large rocks, and fertilize as they go. I pick up the rocks, and use a small gas-powered walk-behind rototiller to level the ground after the pigs have passed.

The tiller will run for a couple hours on a litre of gas. On the occasions a tractor would be useful, I have lots of neighbours who will rent me theirs, or do the job for a few bucks.

I also use the pigs to root up and help compost the manure in the horse stalls. They turn over the manure and bedding searching for dropped bits of grain. I let the compost age for a year, and then it goes to the garden, one wheelbarrow at a time.

This means I wheel out about 200 loads of compost each season, but I don’t do it all at once. I put the compost just on the raised beds that need it, and I keep track of where crops have been planted. This is good exercise, too; why pay $65 a month at the gym to lift heavy stuff when I can do it for free at home? ;-)

In a similar fashion, I rotate my chickens through my fields to keep them fertile.(see how to raise meat chickens ) And, we are bringing in honeybees to help with pollination in the garden, and to eventually add another cash crop.

Look for other ways to reduce your energy use. I heat my home with wood. I have a 30-acre woodlot; it’s one of the reasons I bought this particular farm. The ashes from the wood-stove go in the garden beds in the spring (especially good for root crops).

This brings me to the other kind of sustainability – economic sustainability. We grow multiple crops on our farm, to create multiple streams of income. And the streams work together synergistically; the pigs, chickens, and bees bring in income but also improve the farm. In the future, we will be adding tree fruit and nuts, and some perennial crops like asparagus and rhubarb. We are following sustainable organic farming practices in all these endeavours.

And of course, the bonus to all this is, the more food you can grow for yourself, the less you need to buy. If the compost REALLY does hit the fan, at least you will be able to feed yourself and your family.

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