Sustainable farming has many more successful, thriving farms than just Joel Salatin’s. There are lots of farms making enough profit to keep going and pay down or even pay off infrastructure, and some of them are local to me. Yes, even in the regulatory nightmare that is Puget Sound, there are farmers making it happen. One of them is a local pig farmer, Bruce King. He is on my blogroll, and writes the most fabulously cool posts about the nitty gritty details of farming and navigating the regulatory maze in Snohomish County. His latest post as of this writing is about wetland regulations and how they have placed local farmers in a Kafkaesque bind.
When he’s not writing about regulations, he’s writing about his very clever methods of squeezing revenue out of the unlikeliest places, like being able to make money off the pallets he uses to feed his pigs grocery store delights such as slightly bruised produce and excess dairy. That sort of round-the-corner thinking is pretty important for a farmer. A certain inventiveness tends to separate the successful small farmers from the ones who work hard but ultimately go out of business. It indicates adaptability, which is absolutely crucial for smaller-scale farming. By all accounts, his pork is good stuff and I hope to actually succeed in buying a pig from him one of these days. I tried while pregnant with my latest child, but pregnancy hormones, moving out here to the country and various other stuff conspired to have it not work out.
But dude has a lot of pigs to sell, as his operation has grown and matured over the years into a steady, going concern. I feel that one will turn up when we’re ready to get a pig or two for the year.
Cool farmer, awesome blog, happy animals. What more could a locavore need in a regional foodshed?
My dear husband and I are Christians and this is not so unusual in the sustainable farming and food realms. Farming comes up repeatedly in the Bible, as well as the general principle of stewardship and taking good care of the temporal blessings we’ve been graced with. For us, growing and raising some of our own food and clothing and energy is part of the big picture of taking care of what the Lord has provided for us to tend.
We’re in it for our posterity. We want our children to see that hard work can have a connection to a good end result. We want them to know where food comes from and how it gets all the way to our plates. We want our children to understand that because we love God and His handiwork, we want to take good care of it, not use it up and toss it out and hope space travel becomes an option. It is about love and labor, and learning to love labor. I don’t think everyone needs to farm or homestead, but certainly a few more will have to try. It is not known how much longer this old rock will last, but in the time we have right now, it seems obvious as a Christian that excellent stewardship of land and the life upon and inside it is part and parcel of walking along His narrow Way. This is not the only choice a Christian can make to be a good steward, but we hope it can be considered a choice that demonstrates the light and love in our hearts.
As someone deeply interested in sustainable farming and gardening, but who also would like a little common sense about the profit motive to be part of the discourse, I used to be baffled by the expectations many small-scale sustainable farmers had about their potential earnings per acre. Loads of blogs are full of people “farming” as little as 1/4 acre and thinking they can eventually generate a median income off what is no more than a large backyard.
And one of the big reasons they think this way is vegetable farming. Vegetable farming is seductive because even with a small garden just for family one can garner an immediate savings and often a bit of extra income selling any excess. Vegetables scale very well. Additionally, one can leave a vegetable farm for a few days for a trip or break and those scallions won’t get eaten by coyotes (probably). There are also a number of ways to sustainably, organically grow vegetables with relatively modest labor input. All these things get people thinking that, say, the right kind of square foot gardening can turn half an acre into enough production that they can live on the income because one can receive dozens of dollars per pound of production and seed is often pretty cheap.
This kind of math fail is absolutely not a part of most sustainable farming conferences or other sustainable networking opportunities. It is one of the many ways in which genuinely local-regional foodsheds are prevented from being developed because people end up working themselves out on acreage too small to scale up to production levels that would return a median or bigger annual income. Or they experiment with livestock farming, failing to get the same benefits as if it were vegetables and don’t really understand why it’s not saving money, but losing money. Farming is hard enough without the pixie dust thinking that people with big vegetable gardens and a produce savings scatter around to earnest folks hoping in a small way to grow a little of their own food.
Not so long ago, my husband and I, both fans of eating whole, simple foods from healthy plants and animals, decided it would be good to buy a bit of land with a house on it to raise some of those plants and animals. To be sure we haven’t got the animals yet, but people don’t tend to sell them until spring and it is still the winter months until round about April or so. As for the plants, we’ll grab some to plant after we get the animals because it is easier to keep the animals out once you see where they are most interested in cavorting beyond their allotted ranging area.
In the meantime, as the one who is home all day, I try to keep up with local, regional and national food and farming issues when I’m not wrangling a couple of great children and managing our little household. This little blog is meant to chronicle our journey as we acquire livestock and plants and learn to live off our household’s production of meat, milk, produce and other goods. Along the way I will certainly describe some of the numerous issues that affect America’s food supply, policy and production on local, regional and national levels, though with a special focus on what the deal is here in the Puget Sound region of the Pacific Northwest.