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!
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
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...
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 :)
It's time to get positive about negative thinking -Art Donnelly
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.
- 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
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.
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.