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Mark Shepard on Perennials, Getting Started and Animals

 
David Wright
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Thanks for answering questions in this forum! I was able to attend the Acres conference and asked some questions in the Q&A session there, but of course didn't think of all the right questions at the time. Some of these also come after reading your book.

1) You mention in your book that no civilzation based on annual crops has ever survived. What civilizations that were based on perrenial crops survived?

2) It seems like your push to sell wholesale limits your revenue... do you think there would be enough of a local market to be able to sell everything locally? I'm also wondering if it would be cost prohibitive to try and process the nuts into flours, breads, pastas, etc. to replace the grain based corresponding products, but do it for the local market to eliminate the waste of transportation fuels. I know a number of people on no-grain or paleo diets who struggle to find sutiable replacements. I've also met a number of poultry farmers who have a hard time finding organic corn; perhaps the nut meal would work as a replacement?

3) What do you think are the biggest barriers to entry for someone who wants to be a restoration ag farmer, other than fear and psychology?

4) How many grain based products do you and your family eat?

5) How soon will you have your nut processing equipment that you are patenting available for purchase?

6) Do you keep separate flocks of meat chickens, egg layers, and breeding chickens?

7) Do you keep your bulls separated from your cows in your system? Do you also have dairy cows that are separated from your beef cows?

You mentioned in your talk at Acres that you spend 15 minutes doing chores in the morning, including gathering eggs and feeding animals from a central location. I'm having a hard time visualizing how this aligns with keeping the animals in paddocks in the alleys between trees. Can you help elaborate?

9) Have you experimented with almonds in your system? Are they like acorns and beechnuts in that they have roller coaster yields?


Thanks again for your time to respond.
 
Mark Shepard
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Q 1) You mention in your book that no civilzation based on annual crops has ever survived. What civilizations that were based on perrenial crops survived?

Mark: There are indigenous hunter-gatherer and pastoralist cultures still existing on nearly every continent. This brings us to the definition of "civilization" and I qualify any long-term cohesive human group that has art, language, tools, and a distinct culture is a civilization whether they build ziggurats or not...

Q: 2) It seems like your push to sell wholesale limits your revenue... do you think there would be enough of a local market to be able to sell everything locally?

Mark: Our push to sell wholesale is consciously intended. If we were classic "niche" marketers, the "big boys" would poo-poo it as another itty-bitty market-gardeners play-game. ALSO... We live 4hrs from the nearest market that will actually buy enough stuff to generate enough cash to pay our bills. We also live within the largest concentration of organic growers on the planet and we're between Madison and Viroqua, WI where every other person has either a large home garden, market garden or CSA... when we have product EVERYBODY has it! This problem exists around the world... Buying and selling local is only SO good... There are things that you cannot grow where you live and what you can grow where you live is in overabundance when it's in season. The global food market evolved in part as a response to this conundrum.... How can I get rid of 35,000lbs of zucchinin when all of my neighbors also have 35,000lbs of zucchini... Well... let's trade it for some coffee that my buddies is in overabundance in XYZ country...

Q: I'm also wondering if it would be cost prohibitive to try and process the nuts into flours, breads, pastas, etc. to replace the grain based corresponding products, but do it for the local market to eliminate the waste of transportation fuels. I know a number of people on no-grain or paleo diets who struggle to find sutiable replacements. I've also met a number of poultry farmers who have a hard time finding organic corn; perhaps the nut meal would work as a replacement?

Mark: Absolutely the nut meals are a nutritional substitute. In fact, they are nutritionally SUPERIOR to the annual grains. HOWEVER.... "Cost prohibitive" is a concept that has been generated from within the industrial monocrop model. If you raise fruit and nuts THAT way and expect do deliver them at a similar price as corn or beans, you will fail....
Two chapters in my book REstoration Agriculture ( http://www.forestag.com/book.html ) deal with nutritional values of a perennial polyculture system, and the whole book is basically a treatise on the fact that by planting ecosystem mimics, and by designing a zero input system, we can produce twice the human staple food calories per acre as monocrop corn, at 1/3 of the cost. Fortunately for us, prices for our crops (chestnuts, hazelnuts, etc... ) are set by the "industrial" system which means that we get really SWEET prices for our products which cost us less to grow...

Q: 3) What do you think are the biggest barriers to entry for someone who wants to be a restoration ag farmer, other than fear and psychology?

Mark: The only REAL barrier to entry for someone who wants to be a restoration ag farmer is their own personal decision to do otherwise. This is a free country and you can CHOOSE to do whatever it is you want to do... Most people choose to live in circumstances other than they "think" they would really like. Some people "sacrafice" and "risk" it all to live the life of their dreams...
It's all a personal choice... If you choose to NOT live the life of your dreams, you're playing right into the hand of those who ARE living the life of their dreams and you're paying their mortgages and paying for their second homes in Switzerland and Yachts in the Indian Ocean...
"If there is something you can do or dream you can do BEGIN IT! Boldness had genius, power and magic in it." Goethe....

It's your life... I know what I'm doing... NO MATTER WHAT... I'm going to figure out a way to keep doing this even with the whole culture crashing down around me....

Q: 4) How many grain based products do you and your family eat?

Mark: Grain? directly none. Every once in awhile we'll give in and buy the kids some bread or tortillas... We just don't eat that way... I DO grow annual grains on around 3% of our land area... I have a technique of planting and harvesting where I only have to plant once every 3 to 5 years. We either 1) mow it and let it fall (all for soil building) 2) bale it for winter animal feed & bedding 3) combine it (with a neighbors equipment) for sale or animal feed or 4) "Hog it down" by turning the cattle, pigs and poultry loose in the grain fields...

Q: 5) How soon will you have your nut processing equipment that you are patenting available for purchase?

Mark: You can buy the cracker from Pendragon Specialties tomorrow if you want to... Cracks a bit over 100lbs an hour once you turn it up....

Q: 6) Do you keep separate flocks of meat chickens, egg layers, and breeding chickens?

MArk: Yes... In the fall the "genetic winners" get collected, wintered over and then their multi-breed offspring get hatched for next season's fun...

A: 7) Do you keep your bulls separated from your cows in your system? Do you also have dairy cows that are separated from your beef cows?

Mark: Heretofore we have only been operating a stocker operation, raising steers. We're so surrounded by dairy that its more cost effective to pay the neighbors for dairy. Remember, we're 11miles from Organic Valley Headquarters and I was Organic Valley member #24.... We're also surrounded by raw milk criminals, so we have no need for dairy cows... There actually IS a certain efficiency to a certain degree of specialization... My wife and I could never have raised 12 Acres of organic produce all by ourselves with minimal equipment if we grew a CSA-style garden with 50million varieties... We grow 3-4 things... Mostly asparagus, cucumbers, peppers and acorn squash... We're in the largest produce growing region east of the rockies, so we've got neighbors all over the place with everything we could ever want...
 
Tyler Ludens
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David, here are some more ideas about civilization and agriculture: Toby Hemenway - How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Earth, but Not Civilization
 
David Wright
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How about questions 8 and 9?

8. You mentioned in your talk at Acres that you spend 15 minutes doing chores in the morning, including gathering eggs and feeding a
nimals from a central location. I'm having a hard time visualizing how this aligns with keeping the animals in paddocks in the alleys between trees. Can you help elaborate?

9. Have you experimented with almonds in your system? Are they like acorns and beechnuts in that they have roller coaster yields?

And I thought of one more question...

10. If thousands of people get started with a savanna perrenial staple crop farming, which I think is a great idea, prices for chestnuts and hazelnuts will necessarily go down. Right now you're getting $5/lb for chestnuts, but it seems very conceivable that *if* every corn farmer in the US switched to chestnut/hazelnut, then the market would be saturated and prices could fall to $0.50/lb pretty quickly. New Forest Farm is in a great spot to enjoy the high prices for the next 15 years while the rest of us are waiting for our first crop, but then we finally get the crop and we're bringing in a tenth the projected revenue. I know this isn't very realistic (near impossible to convince corn farmers to switch, let alone changing the eating habits of an entire country), but the principle still applies even if the affects aren't quite as dramatic: prices go down when production increases. Suddenly, you're in a commodity market instead of a niche market. Any thoughts about what to do about this?
 
Tyler Amphlett
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David Wright wrote:And I thought of one more question...

10. If thousands of people get started with a savanna perrenial staple crop farming, which I think is a great idea, prices for chestnuts and hazelnuts will necessarily go down. Right now you're getting $5/lb for chestnuts, but it seems very conceivable that *if* every corn farmer in the US switched to chestnut/hazelnut, then the market would be saturated and prices could fall to $0.50/lb pretty quickly. New Forest Farm is in a great spot to enjoy the high prices for the next 15 years while the rest of us are waiting for our first crop, but then we finally get the crop and we're bringing in a tenth the projected revenue. I know this isn't very realistic (near impossible to convince corn farmers to switch, let alone changing the eating habits of an entire country), but the principle still applies even if the affects aren't quite as dramatic: prices go down when production increases. Suddenly, you're in a commodity market instead of a niche market. Any thoughts about what to do about this?



I have thought about this same idea since researching and planning permaculture. I think the goal of most permies is to have everyone switch to a sustainable lifestyle. So, if everyone is farming, what will we do then?

I have at least one brainstorm solution that sounds ethical. Our society would at the bare minimum need every local city/township to be fully supplied with true permie organic foods in every store/market. That would require a LOT of farmers, which is a good thing for the trade and income. If and when we finally reached that reality, we could then branch out and have people specialize in other fields like natural crafting, handyman work and whatever else is necessary AND sustainably ethical. These people who branch out from farming would be pioneers in living naturally on the grid without homesteading.

Just an initial idea, but interesting hopefully.
 
David Wright
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Thanks, Tyler. Yeah, good idea. I'm not worried that everyone will suddenly wake up and start growing nuts instead of corn. I think the niche market will remain for a long time.
 
Tyler Amphlett
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Thank you for the link!

I saw the 7 minute food forest video of his, and then he popped up in a few other places and I started wondering who he was. This is such a convenience to find out that it is geoff lawton. I need that DVD!
 
John Polk
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Mark brings up an excellent argument for the "wholesale" selling of your product.

How many times have you been to a farmer's market, and every stand there has tomatoes for sale?
You think you're gonna make a million bucks selling $5/lb tomatoes, but you only sell 1 pound (to a cheap skate).
So, next week you try $4/lb...still only sell 4 pounds.
Most people have their 'trusted farmer' that they buy from.
If you keep cutting your price, you'll eventually increase sales (& piss off all of the local farmers), but how much gas have you burned?

I almost bought a property in an area where 'organic' would most likely hurt sales..."threatening the way things were done".
I went to a local veggie store 100 yards from the property, and made a deal with the owner...
...I would sell to him, at slightly above wholesale...but what he didn't sell, I would buy back at the same price.
Pigs, chickens, worms and compost would take care of any 'losses'.
He agreed...win/win situation for both of us. He had zero risk, and I spent zero time/gasoline marketing.

Moving a lot of product at retail prices can become very 'iffy'.





 
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