So I have written a couple of blog posts now on permaculture and I wanted to write one more on what the farm I work at can do to become more sustainable by following some permaculture practices.
This farm is a little different in the way that the land we use is not ours. We lease the land year to year so putting permanent structures is not a real option right now. It is also a bit different because the person who does own the land is putting it up for sale. He has another business that is doing well and is no longer interested in running the extra property. So the owners of the farm I work at are trying to find a way to purchase all the land so that they can create a real farm that they can do with whatever they like. If that all works out the way they hope, then I will have a lot more suggestions that, at the moment, just don't make sense.
The one thing that we could start doing right away is moving towards no-till practices. I talked in the first permaculture post about how turning the soil is harmful to the ecosystem in a few different ways. The reason that most farmers still till today is because farmers don't know how to do it any other way. We have been taught the benefits and reasons for tilling because it has been the practice for generations, but if you want to know the benefits of no-till you have to really do research on your own and then take a risk at putting it into practice instead of using the old tried and true. Also in our particular situation because we run a community farm with lots of different people on tiny plots, we're not the only ones who need to turn a new leaf, we'd have to ask every person that leases a Mini Farm from us to use our same practices. That is another risk to take in a business, but maybe we'd only stick to no-till for our u-pick veggies.
There is also the practice of planting different kinds of plants together that are complementary (such as beans corn and squash) and help each other grow better, but at a u-pick our costumers would probably like to know what is planted where without the confusion of many different kinds of plants all strewn in together. Before I started farming I didn't know how to tell many plants apart, which ones are leaks and which ones are onions and which ones are garlic? I can't expect customers to know the difference if we plant them all in one thing together (I still don't think I could tell those three apart if they were all mixed up). It is a lot easier on everyone to have rows with a single kind of plant to each row, so with our current business model it's not very plausible.
The rest really relies on perennial plants and trees which is not currently realistic because we only lease the land year to year, there is a serious risk of lots of flooding (sometimes up to eight feet like last March) in the winters and now that it is up for sale, we may have to find a new spot all together. Fingers crossed that the farm owners can find a way to purchase the land and then create their dream farm which is a vision I truly believe in. Until that happens, permaculture may just have to wait a little while.
What we can do is provide information on it to anyone who comes to the farm. One Mini Farm family is doing their best to practice permaculture in their 300sq ft plot and it is a wonderful looking plot! It would be great if we could spread the knowledge to anyone who wanted it while offering a tiny plot to get started and try it out.
Some day everyone will farm no-till because we won't know how to do it any other way, so that is what we have to start teaching.