My grandparents lived in a small town in North Florida, and although I was a suburban kid I was always strongly drawn to the land. When I graduated from college I went looking for land in North Florida, and one day I drove down a dirt road and saw a hand-lettered sign offering 15 acres for sale. I called the phone number, negotiated with the seller, and bought the land owner-financed. Over the years I paid it off, and when new land around me would come on the market I would buy it. Now, twenty years later, I have about 50 acres. I recently made an offer on an additional 23 acres. We shall see....
When I bought it the land consisted of pasture that had given way to volunteer pines for a half century. I cut down a few acres of pines and converted them to pasture. Over time I built a house, outbuildings, and added a solar well and a windmill. Raised bed gardens and livestock pens were built. We dammed a creek and built a pond. Not incidentally, I also got married under a giant oak on our farm, and we raised four children.
Moving to the farm was one of the best decisions we ever made. There have been hardships, but there is immense beauty every day.
I wouldn't count on group hugs to solve your problem. I get along well with several of my neighbors, but there are people who through no fault of your own you will never be able to get along with, mostly because they're deranged.
I live in a rural area next to five run-down mobile homes, some of which may or may not be involved in artisanal meth production. And yet, I never have a problem with the neighbors. Why?
I fenced my property with a 4' tall field fence with a strand of barbwire on the top.
I have three dogs, one of which is a certifiable 140 lb. bad ass. (Google fila brasileiro and check out the videos on Youtube.)
I post No Trespassing signs.
I put a few game cameras around the property that text me a photo whenever they detect a moving object.
On some weekends I engage in noisy target practice with guns.
I'm not saying you have to do all of these things, but you can certainly pick and choose from the list. I'm now 20 years into my little rural adventure and never, ever have a problem with the neighbors.
You're basically complaining that society fails to provide you compensation for something you value. Your solution isn't to hope society comes around to your way of thinking. Your solution is to sell something people want.
It's surprising to me that among the many things you list as your offerings, none of them include food that you've actually grown using permaculture principles. If you can't offer a value proposition that is superior to the dominant paradigm --and demonstrate that it works through your own experience-- no people of modest means are going to want what you're selling. Frankly, caring about the secondary impacts of shortsighted agricultural practices is a luxury that only wealthy people can afford. If you're poor, pressed for time, and hungry, generally all you care about is filling your gut with the maximum number of calories, now. That's why for every permaculture calorie consumed, a million industrial agriculture calories are consumed in America.
In my view, permaculture should not be a system with the primary aim of effecting social justice. It should be a low-impact system for reliable food production. First, actually feed yourself using permaculture principles. Then, we can debate the many causes of income inequality.
I have serious doubts that permaculture, as often portrayed in some overgeneralized loopy Youtube video, will actually work in the real world. Permaculture enthusiasts often gloss over the many pitfalls of the system, including: 1) how long it takes to grow a productive food forest (answer: sometimes decades), 2) how many crop failures you will encounter from weather, pests, and a lack of adequate soil nutrients, 3) how much less effective nitrogen fixers are than a bag of fertilizer, 4) how difficult it is to manage pests using no chemicals, 5) how much hand labor it takes to eliminate weeds, and 6) how unaccustomed we are to dealing with the seasonality of food and how most people lack the experience or energy to store food when it becomes ready for harvest.
The reality is that growing food on a meaningful scale using permaculture is only suitable to a very few: those who have arable land, a benign climate, and the ability to live in one place for a lengthy period of time. But, the field is replete with people who will tell you about the many benefits of permaculture but who consume almost 100% of their food calories from sources more closely aligned with conventional agriculture. I think permaculture is very much an experiment that remains to be validated, and I often wonder whether a hundred years from now people will see today's permaculture movement as the beginnings of a transformational paradigm or a curious historical footnote that could never deliver on the outsized claims associated with it.
Good article but the single biggest omission is not mentioned auto-sexing chicken breeds. If you have auto-sexers (Cream Legbars, Bielefelders, etc.) you can determine the gender of your chicks on Day 1 and cull the roosters. This saves the homesteader a tremendous amount of wasted effort and feed. These breeds were only recently introduced in the US but should be at the top of the list when considering which breed to select.
My peach trees tend to drop leaves from a fungus in the mid to late summer. I just let them do it and don't treat for the fungus. In the spring the leaves come out healthy and stay healthy long enough to produce a crop of peaches.
I grow grapes on my fences and use them as an adaptive wall on one of my sheds. In the summer the grapes shade the interior where I grow tilapia, and in the winter the leaves fall off and allow the sun to shine inside the structure. And, of course, my wall also produces food.
I've been in a similar situation. If had to do it over again I would not raise large livestock. Cattle, hogs, and sheep require expensive fencing and then will spend the rest of their lives trying to destroy it. Also, transporting them to a slaughterhouse can be an expensive and stressful endeavor. Everything about large livestock is difficult for small operations.
Think niche markets and high-value-add products. If I were a short distance from a large city I would raise heirloom vegetables for upscale restaurants. Ask the chefs what they want. Don't assume you know the answer. I would also consider raising heritage breed chickens if you can find a local processor. Check out this article about the increase in interest in gourmet chickens.
Start small and use the feedback of the marketplace to direct your future expansion. A lot of things you try will fail. Don't invest enough where failure is catastrophic. I lost a lot of money for several years until I hit on the right combination of products. In 2014, I grossed $315,000 on less than four acres. Take your time, don't risk too much on any untested idea, and hoard your cash until you're sure you have a market-proven winner.
Miles Flansburg wrote:I think I would try the LLC idea. You are a stockholder who gradually earns more stock based on your work.
If/when your folks pass on, the farm LLC is not lost to lawyers or politicians, it passes on to the surviving stockholders.
The issue is who decides if you've performed adequate work to justify your increased ownership in the LLC? I don't just own a farm, I'll reluctantly admit I've also been a lawyer for 30 years. The problem with the LLC approach is that it takes the cooperation of people who are sophisticated enough to operate as a true corporation and not just have the company operate as their alter ego. I see the LLC approach as being too complicated for most people to properly handle, and the ongoing control of the LLC creates a whole universe of new issues.
My advice is carve off a chunk of land that you can afford under a legally enforceable lease-option arrangement, and religiously pay your monthly rent payments until you can exercise your purchase option. It's a simple solution that will survive the death of your parents and eliminate problems with potentially squabbling siblings who are fighting over the estate.
Until you have a more accurate idea of the true market value of the land you really can't know the size of the financial issue you're confronting.
Landowners often have an unrealistically elevated idea about the value of their land, even when landowners are family members.
Don't put sweat equity into land you may never own.
Don't rely on farm profits to pay for the land. The majority of small farms lose money and are subsidized by second jobs.
Blended families make a complex situation even more complex. Handshake deals and vague intentions often morph over time into disputes that tear apart families forever.
I'd consider offering to buy over time an affordable portion of the property. Get a real appraisal of the value from an MAI appraiser. Maybe your relatives will owner finance the purchase for you. Get a good lawyer to draft the documents to make it a legally binding agreement. Focus your efforts on this portion only; start small. Develop a business plan for the property that is actually potentially profitable. I speak from experience. I lost money on my farm for years until I figured out how to exploit a profitable niche market. Today, my farm is reasonably profitable, but it took seven years of losses to get there.
George Hayduke wrote:Plan enough to figure out the correct location of your fruit and nut trees, and plant them now (particularly the nut trees). You can figure out the rest later. It will take a decade before some of these trees are significantly productive.
Incidentally, I'm in Zone 8b and I've done a project very similar to yours. The good news is that you have great solar exposure, because now you're in the business of converting sunlight into food and electricity.
I was VERY disappointed to see that the house was not positioned north to south. This makes it super hard to install solar. So then I figured I will just move the house. Then I ran into the whole the septic and well are right here. So, now it looks like I will be building something, oriented properly, behind the current house between the well and septic. Once this dwelling is complete I will be sending the mobile home down the road where it and its gas appliance can be someone else headache.
I was referring to the solar exposure of your property generally. It's great that you don't have adjacent trees casting long shadows on your property.
Again, if it were me, I'd be planting pecans, chestnuts, walnuts, and ginkgo in the next four weeks while they're still dormant and easy to get rooted without a lot of artificial irrigation.
Yes, ideally all roof surfaces would be facing south and at the optimum angle to capture solar energy. Angling it properly does make for an unconventional roof but one that works well. You can see a pic of one of my solar sheds below. After you ditch the mobile home you might want to think about building a home out of shipping containers. They have flat, strong roofs that can hold a large solar array.
Plan enough to figure out the correct location of your fruit and nut trees, and plant them now (particularly the nut trees). You can figure out the rest later. It will take a decade before some of these trees are significantly productive.
Incidentally, I'm in Zone 8b and I've done a project very similar to yours. The good news is that you have great solar exposure, because now you're in the business of converting sunlight into food and electricity.
I strongly agree with Mark Fox's observation. The only difference between a completely self-sufficient homestead and a post-apocalyptic compound is that after the crash you'd need stronger lines of defense. Other than that, there's almost a complete overlap. I think survivalists focus way too much on the concept of storing things (food, water, energy) rather than producing them in the here and now.
FWIW, I believe the possibility of a rapid collapse is almost zero. Advanced societies almost never experience a rapid collapse. The worst case is a slow twirl down the toilet bowl that usually takes centuries, like Rome.
My advice: Build a self-sufficient homestead because it is beautiful, fulfilling, and grounds your activities and emotions in things that are real.
There is a huge amount of seasonality to food production and environmental challenges where I live. Probably 75% of the edible calories are grown in 50% of the year. This means preserving food for use in the winter and a lot of work in the summer. And yes, overwintering livestock is tough which is why the fall is a good time to slaughter them.
If you're talking about growing almost all the food you consume, you are essentially now in the business of converting sunlight into digestable calories. So, assuming you have adequate available water, the acreage required will in rough terms be a function of the number of people you have to feed and the amount of sunlight each acre receives. In some cases, you could probably produce enough food on one acre to feed four people in a sustainable way. (That's an average of 2,500 calories per day per person.) In a cold northern climate it might require several acres per person. Bottom line: local environmental conditions will dictate the amount of land you need to sustainably support human life.
I'm building a place capable of supporting several people on a very small amount of land. When I say "support" I mean provide virtually all of the water, food, electricity, and housing necessary to not only allow people to subsist but actually enjoy the abundance of the land. I'm in Year 3 of my experiment, and while I have much more to build out, based on my experience I think it's possible to achieve this goal.
I had a Simple Pump and found that it took a lot of physical effort to pump water from a depth of about 90'. It was well made (no pun intended), but was kind of noisy. I ended up installing a SunPump submersible and that seems to do the job with a minimum of fuss.
The perfect homestead is one that supplies all the food, water, electricity, and shelter you need to live for an extended period of time, together with the ability to defend it all. Depending on your locale, this isn't necessarily a large amount of land.
The first priority is to drill and equip a solar powered water well unless you have a natural water source on the property.
The next priority is to plant a diverse orchard because it needs a long lead time to become productive.
Then build a small house, gardens, and housing for small livestock.
All of this should be run off solar power (probably), or in the rare case with appropriate conditions you can use wind or water power. Avoid fuel powered generators as part of an extended survival plan. They will eventually run out of fuel and they are noisy when they're operating.
Permaculture principles are very relevant to a successful strategy.
First, do no harm. You've accomplished an extraordinary amount already --congrats!-- and if you have two acres that's more than enough to provide self-sufficiency for you and your family. My advice is to continue to pay off the debt on the property and do not move. Simultaneously, continue to build out the permaculture infrastructure to further gain independence. You now enjoy the best of both worlds, a semi-rural lifestyle while you're earning big-city salaries. Don't change that! You can survive and thrive on two acres, so spend your time maximizing the value of your land. Once you're debt-free and have invested to fund your retirement, then you can worry about what to do with any cash surplus. It's a good problem to have.
I've been doing permaculture-like stuff for a few decades, and while I obviously believe in the power of some its basic principles, I also think there are certain tropes out there that are, at their core, more smoke and mirrors than practical sustainable food production techniques.
One trope is closed loop aquaponics in which fish manure allegedly produces crops. No small aquaponics system is self-sustaining and also produces a significant number of consumable calories. It takes a lot of electricity to power a small system (water and air pumps, heaters, lights, filters, etc.), and untreated fish manure is barely adequate (and often less than adequate) to grow low calorie foods like lettuce. Fish manure is not a complete nutrient for most crops and nowhere close for calorie dense veggies like tomatoes. Nevertheless, people are enamored of these small aquaponic systems because they create the illusion that you're operating a perfectly balanced little artificial ecosystem. The reality is far different.
Another trope is that 1/10 of an acre urban homestead. It's easy to get caught up in the beauty and productivity of that homestead without looking behind the curtain. Behind the curtain I'm pretty sure you'll find lots of fertilizer being brought in from outside to keep the operation going, and I doubt it really feeds a family everything they eat throughout the year. It's still an impressive display of productivity, but when you think about it so is the amount of corn grown on 1/10 of an acre in Iowa. Today, the average production on a 1/10 of an acre in Iowa is about 800 lb. of shelled corn or about 320,000 edible calories per 1/10 of an acre. That's enough to feed an adult for about six months.
Dawn Hoff wrote:Is it the urban homestead that feeds four adults on 1/10 of acre? So one acre could feed 40? Or 90% of their food at least, and they sell their surplus. That does not account for clothing etc. but it proves that you don't need that much room to feed people.
I'm familiar with the urban homestead you're talking about, and while I agree that it's an inspiring story, I would suggest that it doesn't prove you can feed four people on 1/10 of an acre. You'll note that they don't really tell you how they revitalize the plant nutrients in their soil over an extended period of time. This is a critical component of any sustainable food production system. To me, it seems like they're running an experiment about how many edible plants you can cram into a small space, not how much food you can produce on a sustainable basis without external nutrient or energy inputs.
Freedom Rangers allegedly are derived from crossing heritage breeds, and I assume they can grow out to an old age. They have the body type of long-lived chickens. I wouldn't hesitate to keep them for months and then butcher them. Bresse chickens, the ultimate meat breed, are frequently slaughtered at an advanced age.
I'd suggest you butcher them over a period of months and not all at once. You're going to want to practice on a few to get it right. Like most things, butchering is a skill that needs to be learned, and you'll want to experiment with the right way to 1) kill, 2) scald, 3) eviscerate, 4) pluck, 5) chill until not stiff. I'd recommend you start with one or two birds. A week or so later do a few more, etc. After a while you'll be a pro, but it takes some trial and error. There's no way I'd jump in with 25 at once unless you have professional help.
Run this sort and see what pops out the other side in terms of where to move:
1. Enough rainfall to reliably grow plants without irrigation.
2. Four growing seasons.
3. Less than 30 minute commute to a jobs hub. (Think city of more than 100,000 population and focus on college towns.)
4. Abundant rural land for less than $5,000 an acre.
If you have these factors there is great potential for a permaculture farm. These places exist.
R Scott wrote:A gun is a highly specialized TOOL. Like all specialized tools--sometimes the job can be done with more common tools, sometimes it can't.
I have had to put down injured animals without a gun. I am not doing that again.
That is correct. I've noticed that if you didn't grow up with guns then the thought of gun ownership is freighted with all kinds of conflicted meanings. When is the last time you agonized over buying an electric drill? A gun is just a rapid, long range hole driller.
I use guns all the time on our farm. I put down animals to be culled. I kill predators. I shoot squirrels that are robbing the orchard. I've shot hundreds of animals over the course of my life; mostly cull chickens. At some point you see death on a farm for what it is: necessary and something that should occur instantaneously. Guns give you the means to accomplish this.
Yes, a gun is necessary on a farm where livestock is raised.
Well, OP, that sucks. I hope it works out for you.
I live in Florida and am in the process of building a residence out of shipping containers. So far I am very happy with the costs and results. I framed out the interior of the containers using conventional wooden framing (press fitted and glued in place to avoid penetrating the steel skin), installed electrical wiring in the walls, insulated with Icynene foam, and finished the interior walls with drywall. Currently the first module (8'x8'x20') has been occupied for five months and averages less than 4 kW hours per day in electricity usage including the use of a high-efficiency mini heat pump, lights, a computer, etc. That means four photovoltaic panels are sufficient to meet the electrical needs of this module.
Next year we swing two more modules into position and add a second floor.
There are 700,000 unused shipping containers in the US. The possibilities are endless.
So rivers of crap at Polyface? That's disappointing if it's true. There's always a tension between animal health and profit when you're determining stocking density on a farm, and if environmental conditions quickly shift (too much rain, not enough rain, etc.) what was once an elegant interspecies dance can pretty quickly turn into a train wreck.
I have found the fertilizer equation to be the easiest to solve, but I have about 400 chickens on our farm that are raised on hay litter, and the manure/hay combo makes for pretty awesome fertilizer when it is allowed to age. The high nitrogen of the chicken manure and the carbon in the brown hay work well together. We don't do anything too labor intensive. We stack the soiled hay in an uncovered mound and allow Nature to take its course. A few months of rain and sun reduce the nitrogen 'heat' to tolerable levels and we apply the aged compost around the base of fruit trees and use it as a cover mulch on raised bed gardens. The results are pretty fantastic. The problem that I wrestle with is how to create chicken manure in a permaculture environment because it necessarily means I need to raise the chicken feed on site. A free range chicken consumes 500+ calories per day. Twenty chickens consume as much as a family of four people. Thus, the challenge before me.
Now, I am curious, what draws the two of you to permaculture if not it's principles?
The principles drew me in, I've been reading, studying and doing for a couple of years, and now I want something to happen.
Maybe I need more patience, but meanwhile, my garden is the worst I've ever had.
If you don't like my principles, I've got others. - Groucho Marx.
So applying permaculture principles to your garden has thus far reduced its productivity?