By the end of this article, you should feel confident about creating a self-supporting farm/garden….
1:1 Farming definition
A mode of farming in which all inputs necessary for sustaining and evolving a farm are acquired from within the bounds of the farm itself.
Depending on who you ask, it takes from 4 to 7 years for a photovoltaic solar panel to produce more energy than was consumed by its manufacture. It takes from 4 to 7 years to break even energetically.
Why that matters
It means that the energy required to manufacture, assemble, transport and install a typical pv panel will not be offset by the energy produced by that solar panel, ie energy produced by the panel using the sun's rays, for 4 to 7 years. Those are the energetic inputs and outputs of a solar panel.
Does this mean we should stop using solar? Of course not.
It means that, as Permaculture designers, we need to constantly scratch below the 'surface' information and get to the real facts that underlie the decisions we make.
This is how a discussion on Sustainable Farming can begin – by looking at our designs through the eyes of an energy accountant.
Energy in, Energy out.
I’ll cut to the chase – I don’t believe in purchasing a lot of inputs from outside of the farming area. If your farming area is a balcony or a rooftop then, of course, you have no choice really but to bring in a lot of inputs from outside of your area. I’m speaking here of areas which are at least 1/10 of an acre or more. With an area of 1/10 of an acre, we should be able to design a system which requires almost no external inputs.
I’ll explain why.
Our planet is solar-powered.
Remove the sun, and life ceases to exist.
The same sun’s energy that we enjoy here on earth is also present on the surface of the moon, yet the moon is unable to convert the sun’s energy into life, as the earth does.
Why is that?
Have you ever thought about it?
The answer to this question holds the key to providing our farms with the inputs they need – from within the bounds of our farming areas.
The moon does not convert solar energy in the same way as the earth because it lacks sufficient living organisms (plus the fact that the moon has no protective atmosphere and therefore no rain).It is the life in a system that convert energy into more energy, whether that energy comes from the sun, the rain, the wind, the animals, etc.
So how does this relate to your farm?
There is a saying in Permaculture. Yield is limitless. The only limit to yield is the designer’s imagination. It says that there is always another root, another vine, another opportunity to catch rain or condensation, another surface that can be utilized, another waste to be converted within the design. It challenges designers to look at their surroundings with fresh eyes, and to imitate natural systems. Natural systems maximize harvest in remarkable ways.
As applied to the farm, this means that we can design our systems as to:
1. Catch and reuse all the water we need
2. Harvest the maximum amount of solar energy possible in the living organisms we design into the system
3. Grow all the food necessary for any animals in our systems
4. Plant and harvest all necessary products for pest control
5. Grow our fencing and structural materials
6. Give back to the soil by growing all necessary mulching/composting materials, as well as cycling all waste material
7. Feed ourselves and our loved ones with what is grown. In addition, if things are going very well, then we might...
8. Give or trade the surplus of our system with neighbors or friends or even local businesses. Then if things are REALLY going well we might...
9. Sell our surplus to Consumers (Farmer’s Market, CSA, etc)
This is basically how Permaculture proposes we proceed on this path of self-sufficiency and resiliency.
At this point we should need to clarify
Proportion and balance become paramount to the design guidelines listed above. For example, perhaps we will be unable to provide all necessary food and inputs for 12 cows on 1/10 of an acre. We could, however, provide what is necessary for 6 guinea pigs – also an excellent source of fertilizer for the garden.
Most people who dream of a Permaculture life wish to focus directly on step 9, quit their day jobs, and try to earn a living directly from their system.Although this is certainly how professional farmers have lived for Millennia, and it may be an immediate possibility for some, it is not something Permaculture advises immediately (see steps above). It may cost quite a bit of time and money in the beginning. Instead we suggest following the slow and steady path as outlined above.
In the Industrial Farming world, much attention is given to quantity of yield. The boasting rights of the proud farmer are centered on how many bushels he can produce on a single acre of land. But yield alone is not the whole story.
Spending money to chase yield has its limits. A farmer can earn a million dollars from the yield of his land, but if he is spending a million and one dollars on inputs, then he is going backwards.
However, a 1:1 farmer who carries with him an awareness of sustainability, and who is aiming to harvest all of the needs of the farm from within the farm itself – without spending precious money at the farm supply center – will find himself/herself with an additional yield which is seldom discussed...Freedom.