Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Learning from others
One of the things I picked up right away on this farming business is that there's no point in re-inventing any wheels. I've yet to stumble across a problem or challenge that someone somewhere hasn't solved already. In fact, that was a major goal in beginning this blog - to in some small way provide insights to other folks thinking about starting up with chickens or raising meat or growing their own veggies. Or just learning where food comes from and how and why.
But, still, I am continually amazed at how much I pick up each time I visit someone else's operation or even just talk to folks who've been at this for a while. The last few days have been a veritable crash course.
I spent Saturday in the company of probably 100+ amazing women (and one amazing man) who come from all over the Northwest to spin together once a year here on our island. The first thing I learned was how to set up my wheel, which took a respectable amount of time. The second thing I learned was that my wheel was not functional. And while I spent most of the rest of the time trouble-shooting, it was still a very enjoyable and educational day.
Just seeing all the different types of spinning wheels and catching snippets of old friends' chattering were worth the day's commitment. And, I am happy to report that Mark has successfully fixed the wheel - no small feat, it turned out - and we are all looking forward to mastering this skill over the next decade. It's not only Rome that took more than a day to conquer. But, developing the skill to turn our sheep's outer layer into a marketable product is incentive indeed.
Monday was the third in a 3-part series of small-scale farming workshops here on our island. All 3 have been instructive, but this final class was especially useful. Farming 5 or 10 acres is a completely different animal to farming 50 or even 20. Diversification is the name of the game, and few resources out there really address what a successful 5 acre farm really looks like - mostly because there are few places in North America where you could actually hope to have a productive farm on such little land.
The big question for us, I think, is how much of our property are we willing to develop into a working farm versus a pretty spot? After running some sample numbers in class yesterday, I was heartened to see that there really is a way to make this financially viable - but a garden plot, one greenhouse, and a couple acres devoted to pasture isn't the path to getting there.
So, I've been trying to do some wandering about with fresh eyes. We can grow mushrooms in our forest, instead of viewing it as a good place for tent-pitching. We can link 3-4 greenhouses side-by-side out front to produce at the best time of year the high-value fruits and veggies Puget Sounders are willing and eager to pay for. And our animal operations should probably stay about where they are, in number. For now anyway.
But, all this requires seeing our little piece of paradise in a whole new way, through a very different set of lenses. And it precipitates some choices. So, that's the hard part - but I have to admit that it was inspiring to see inputs and outputs up on the white board with significant dollar signs - on the plus side - at the bottom. With 40 or 50 farmers markets within an hour of our little island, any island farmer who's willing to travel can do well - if they do it right.
Time + money + experience + hard work + a little bit of good fortune. Like most things, that's all it takes...