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Economically feasible permaculture system for northern prairies.

 
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Right now a farmer can make a reasonable living using a few thousand acres of land and a couple million dollars worth of equipment.

Problems abound with this:

* Erosion tilling
* Pesticide/herbicide use
* Monoculture.

Does anyone know of a permaculture system or something at least more permie than present practices that are productive enough to make a living ocmmercially in main-stream markets?

This rules out systems:

* Where one person working at it full time can create enough calories to feed their immediate family.
* Where a homestead produces a niche crop -- e.g. chocolate covered cherries, or christmas trees.


Shepherd's "Restoration Agriculture" is a step in this direction, although I question the ecomomics.  And it's not transplantable to Zone 3 northern Alberta.

 
pollinator
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How much land are you looking to farm?

If I wanted to farm the prairie I'd want to raise Bison.  So mainstream you can buy it at the grocery store.
 
Sherwood Botsford
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That's one thing.

Bison + pasture isn't really different from cattle+pasture.

How much am I looking to farm?  say a section.  Let's have a goal of being able to make a living, even if meagre, off a section.

We'll use a smaller tractor, and a smaller combine to reduce machinery costs.

We want a diverse operation so to not be dependent on any one market, to get a decent rotation, and to get some of the benefits of guilds.

We want to minimize input chemicals, and minimize soil disturbance.

We want enough edges to provide habitat for beneficial bugs and bird.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Sherwood Botsford wrote:
Bison + pasture isn't really different from cattle+pasture.



Bison graze differently from cattle, so the two are not necessarily interchangeable.  In small pastures this might not be an issue, though it apparently is on large acreage.

https://bioone.org/journals/rangeland-ecology-and-management/volume-66/issue-6/REM-D-12-00113.1/Bison-Versus-Cattle-Are-They-Ecologically-Synonymous/10.2111/REM-D-12-00113.1.short
 
pollinator
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Nuts like Hazelnuts and Chestnuts are a part of the permaculture business model for some farms.  Rotation of different animals can reduce pests and certain work.  If you followed bison with chickens or turkeys they could break up manure for example.  Perrenial grains are not very available however the land institute has had some success with their kernza and there is perrenial rye grain (Secale montanum).  good luck!
 
Tyler Ludens
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How is hunting in your area?  Can you earn income by improving game habitat and selling hunting leases?

 
pollinator
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I would suggest looking a bit deeper at shepherds system, it can be adapted to any temperate climate and remember that his personal farm in Wisconsin represents an extreme example of the diversity he promotes. You could create alleys of marketable nuts and then run either livestock or field crops in between them. The alleys could be 50, 60, 80 feet apart. As wide as you wanted really (it seems like good advice to start your alleys to your equipment so that each alley is an even number of passes with your tractor).
If tree nuts feel like too long to maturity you could run berry bushes
 
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wowie, just thinking about Zone 3 makes me cold!
i know i decided a long time ago that since i wanted to live so close to the land, it made snse to migrate to warmer climates than what i grew up in...but lately i have been reconsidering that. of course to me the thought of being in Zone 6 feels like...a whole challenge of itself...

but to add to the brainstorming - i think some good money making ideas could be :
~ medicinal herbs, some have very high value, most are easy to grow and harvest and dry
~ grains, are super easy, though some time  to process,
~ whatever fruit and nut trees can handle Zone 3, though long term strategy, the point where the growth finlly gets momentum you are getting hundreds of pounds coming off them every year that starts to look good from a $$ point of view..
~definitely berries, probably blueberry and cranberry grow where you are at?
~flowers, as in cut flowers for a florist, multifunctional for pollinator friendlies

and mostly - value added products. so preparing and marketing small batches of whatever you get inspired to make - smoked meats, making jerky, fruit leather, fire cider, rose hip honey, prepared meals, salsa and sauces, or even tea blends, herbal tinctures, alcoholic drinks, etc...
 
Sherwood Botsford
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Replying to a bunch:

Chestnuts are at best zone 4b.  While the original north american chestnut grew to zone 3, the  chinese chestnut broughtin for blight resistance also made it much more tender.

The tree form european hazelnut isn't hardy here.  

We have native beaked hazelnut, with a nut, including shell about the size of pencil eraser.  I'm experimenting with a north american bush form.

Interseted tht bison graze differently.  I will check this out.

***

I'm looking for NON-NICHE products Think in terms of "What if 10,000 farmers in this state/province did what I'm doing."  
 
Tyler Ludens
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Sherwood Botsford wrote:Think in terms of "What if 10,000 farmers in this state/province did what I'm doing."  



I'm not sure 10,000 people doing exactly the same thing looks much like permaculture to me.

One problem with 10,000 farmers growing the same thing can mean market over-saturation of that thing and consequent low prices.

Like you say, it would have to be something really basic, a staple.  Staple foods tend to be low priced, though.

 
pollinator
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Hmmm.... haskap, aronia, seaberry...(health benefits?) ?   Authors:  Gabe Brown, No Dakota; Don Quinn, Montana; Liz Carlisle, Montana... isn't Ben Falk in Maine?  Perhaps Google 'permies Alberta' will turn up info here on your area.  What are the major agricultural crops (albeit mono/agri-culture) in your area?  (BTW I think some types of quinoa are grown in Canada...somewhere :)
 
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As a former Albertan, and a former Zone 3b gardener - I've wondered about this too.

For those not from the prairies, a section is 1 square mile of land, and many farmers own multiple sections. 1 section = 640 acres. It makes "human scale" or work-intensive agriculture very difficult.

The major crops I recall - are canola and wheat, and some flax. Fields of yellow or blue as far as the eye can see. A field might easily be one quarter section.  Also lots of cattle. (I <3 Alberta Beef signs everywhere).  Also really delicious honey. I believe legumes are also common crops.

There are a lot of "less popular" fruits and nuts that grow well in Alberta - the wonderful thing about Alberta - and the thing I miss is that deep rich black prairie soil.

A few things I can think of that grow- choke cherries, sour cherries,  cold hardy apples, crab apples, haskaps, saskatoons, hazelnuts, raspberries, rhubarb, Canadian plums, some northern Chinese fruit (I think there's an apricot???), and some Russian fruit.  

Ok - so how could you use these things? Ideally, it would be great to cultivate a local demand for these untraditional fruits. But I haven't seen much of a demand yet.
Some ideas:

- Pastured pigs - fed from fruit/nut trees, maybe also from winter beets/turnips ???
- Cidery - crab apples and some of the cold hardy apples make good wine (maybe plus pigs for the excess/groundfall). Ontario has started to have an ever-expanding list of local cider producers.
- Grass fed dairy - Limestone Creamery in Kingston, ON is my inspiration for this one. I think they feed hay for winter. Yes, dairy quota is absurdly expensive, but, if you had 10 dairy farmers...  
- Revive the linen industry - flax

 
Tyler Ludens
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Michael "Skeeter" Pilarski does very cool things with medicinal plants and tree crops.  But, the medicinals are a specialty/niche crop grown while the trees are maturing. And he tends to work on a smaller scale.  Most permaculture is on a small scale.

Here's an idea my husband suggested:  Most farm income (in the US) is from government subsidies.  If there were subsidies for prairie restoration, that could bring in the bulk of income.  10,000 farmers in a region wanting to do the same thing could sure have some political clout.  Here in Texas we get a large reduction in our property taxes for Wildlife Management, much of which is land restoration (erosion control, restoring native plants, etc).  There may be restoration programs elsewhere which might provide income through grants or the like.  Prairie restoration could be done in concert with raising cattle or, ideally, Bison.  If a bunch of adjoining farmers could work together, they might be able to obtain grants or subsidies and work together to develop profitable strategies while restoring the land.

Obviously that would be a huge undertaking.  

Some folks have done it:  http://www.malpaiborderlandsgroup.org/
 
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Sherwood, have you checked out Takota Coen? His family is farming in central Alberta I believe, not too sure exactly how large an area. It seems that their business is based around pasture-raised meats. With modern technology,  some of these companies are doing well by selling online and shopping frozen meat through the mail.

Also Gabe Brown's book Dirt to Soil would be a good read; although his climate is slightly warmer it is still a template for a cold-weather large scale system.
 
steward
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I would want to add slope to the land, so i can eliminate frost pockets.

And then I suspect there is a lot of wind - so my next thought is a berms.   Lots of berms.  And then hugelkultur - tall hugelkultur.  

And for 160 acres:   16 to 32 people.

gift
 
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