The Perfect Farm/The Perfect Farm Community
The perfect farm is one that is resilient; it can survive storms both economic and those thrown at it by Mother Nature. Resilience means independence. It is energy independent, free from the control of giant agricultural corporations and from reliance on distant markets over which it has no control. Energy independence is achieved by renewables. The perfect farm house and buildings are designed, or retrofitted, to derive as much energy as possible from passive solar. That includes south facing triple pane windows, the addition of mass for storing the incoming solar, and high value insulation. It means active solar panels and a wind generator to supply off the grid electricity, and when that production is inhibited by cloud and calm, the farm burns wood from its own woodlot or some other renewable fuel. The farm machinery runs on electricity and/or on methane from a methane generator operation, which brings us to the mix of plants and animals. As we mentioned, it will have a mixed species woodlot. Then an animal operation to maximize manure for the generator and for replenishing the soils. The perfect farm is no till. Green manure is also used to replenish the soil and that includes agro-ecology practices such as cover cropping with dozens of carefully chosen plant varieties. Nothing is wasted on the perfect farm. The perfect farm is organic. It is a mixed farm with a variety of crops and animals. The perfect farm practices animal husbandry and major gardening. It has hogs, dairy cattle, chickens, goats, et alia. The perfect farm is self-sufficient in necessary foods including proteins, starches and fruits and nuts. It has a small orchard. The perfect farm is designed and run according to the principles of permaculture, meaning that its array of crops and animals is fitted to what the land knows is best which means that the farmer must know the land, the climate, and the seasons intimately, as well as the history of the place. What was done here before? What mistakes were made? What was done right? What is sustainable over generations? The perfect farm protects the soil from erosion and chemical poisoning. It protects the surface waters and the ground water. It protects pollinators and other forms of wildlife. A major portion of it is managed for meadow and hedgerow. The perfect farm maximizes perennial crops to the degree possible. The perfect farm generates more income than outgo—it is profitable, but we must understand that profit is not measured only in dollars paid selling for crops, animals and animal products such as milk and eggs. Farm income also includes the food and fuel it produces for itself, and the money saved by not buying fossil fuels and fertilizers, by not being in debt and having to pay interest, and the value of bartered goods. The perfect farm also engages in agro-tourism and internships for young people, creating both cash income, help with the work, and new insights into how nature works for urbanites.
Is there such a thing as the perfect farm? Probably not. No farm can do everything. So we must think further in terms of the perfect farm community. Some farms must specialize if only because of the requirements of the land. But no farm should be producing just a single product: grain, or apples, or steers. The good farm is a mixed farm to the greatest degree possible. Then it relies on its neighbors (and we can define the extent of neighborhood variously), for that which it doesn’t produce, bartering with them for what it does produce: apples for goat cheese, bread grains for meat, etc. Furthermore the good farm does not need to own every piece of equipment necessary to a farm; it can be part of an equipment coop with its neighbors and it can also rely on help from them with the farm labor. The good farm is much more labor intensive than today’s mechanized operations. After all, what is wrong with more people on the land? More people on the land means more eyes and minds to know it intimately so as not to make mistakes, to say nothing of the joy of being out in nature. We need to repopulate our rural areas. The perfect farm community supplies most of its own food and fiber needs, locally or at least regionally. The farm family at the dinner table does not have to rely entirely on food that has been transported a thousand miles and then processed in some factory. Farmer’s markets and CSAs thrive in the perfect farm community, and here we extend the boundaries of community. The villages and even our great cities can be surrounded by farms like this that supply them with the necessities so that food arrives fresh from a trip that id only dozens of miles instead of hundreds or even thousands. Here is where the farmers will earn the cash they might want to buy a banana at the grocery, since in the U.S. at any rate, no one in the community will be growing them. And this raises the question of how much and what are enough for the good life? Do we need the 50 inch flat screen TV and the latest I-phone in order to be happy and fulfilled? Or do we need meaningful work, families, making our own music, and living a thriving, active community life? Have we not gone far off course in agriculture—gigantism, dependence, erosion, water pollution, debt, loneliness on the land, bad food and the other ills of modern agri-business? Let’s get back to real farming and real communities.
The perfect farm community is a two-way street. It requires not only healthy and sustainable changes on our farms, but the same is required for consumers. It requires them to know what is in the food they buy, including at the Farmer’s Market. It requires them to know where that food comes from, how much energy was wasted in transport. And it requires all of us to ask if we really need to eat avocados every night, and grapefruit every morning. We need to return to the joy of eating seasonally, so that when certain fruits and vegetables are in season, we can relish them.
In the perfect farm community—and here we are extending the boundaries of that community to the entire nation including its big cities for we all depend of farms in order to live—more and more we garden. The urban gardening movement is thriving today. And more and more we cook our own food AND we preserve it through canning and freezing. This is what makes us free and healthy. The two-way street also requires us as consumers in the perfect farm community to support CSAs. It requires us to participate in our democracy by making sure the federal government allocates subsidies, if it is going to allocate them, to the small organic farms and the local processing plants, the local dairy, the local mill for making bread grains, and so forth. We need to urge the government to break up the big agri-business monopolies that arrogantly think they can control what we eat and how it’s produced.
One path to that end is for all of us to contribute through the tax system to young would- be farmers, to make it possible for them to learn about sustainable farming and then to buy a farm. As the big farms come on the market, the government can buy them, break them up, and sell them at a discount to young aspiring farmers. Local governments can support internships for high school and college age kids to work on local organic farms. The schools can be a big part of a program to revivify our food system. Every school can offer classes in gardening and sustainable agriculture, and not just theory, but courses grounded (literally) in a school garden. And such courses would include not just planting and harvesting but food prep and preservation and, in addition, instruction about the politics and economics of the food system.
There is much we can do locally and nationally. Let’s rebuild agriculture. Let’s save our food system, our rural communities, our urban landscapes, and our health before it’s too late.