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permaculture v. organic

 
                        
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just off the top of my head  but what about working with the wetland and developing it through wildlife encouraging plantings and such then have paid tours through to encourage people to see the wildlife (well, probably just plants to start with)  and explain the importance the wetlands have in the scheme of things?

Are buildings on wheels restricted? If not, could you do some sort of "retreat" advertising and tuck a nicely unique small caravan like a gypsy caravan in the woods for people to rent  to just get away from it all or to honeymoon or whatever close to or in the  second growth forest area?  People who are into bird watching or wanting to find some solitude even for a weekend might fit better with the mentality of the owners, and might well be mostly invisible from each other.

There is a very successful lodge close to where I grew up which has as well as a very modern and comfortable lodge, a number of cabins which have electricity but no phones, tv or  internet and  no running water (shared bathroom in another building) and people go up to the lodge to eat..it is reasonably priced (but NOT cheap!) and many people  have had standing reservations there for  every year for years; it's very difficult for new people to get a reservation unless someone cancels. Not all the rooms are like that, but it's an example of how you don't need to have everything swanky to get people to come.

Maybe run a maze or  labyrinth..maybe  familiar plants such as corn interplanted with either the usual companion crops or others such as amaranth ..labyrinths are different and could be even of vegetables (some are really very attractive plants) interplanted with herbs or other  "exotic" plants with explanations and taste test examples of how they are used at the end?

As far as demanding a wildly premium price for product...that seems to me to militate   against the spirit of the idea as that restricts access to whole, good food to people with extra money to spend.  On the basis of business, finding a good niche and filling it makes very good sense. On the basis of "doing a good thing while making a satisfactory living" I'm not personally sure it fits at all. OTOH hand, Paul, you have perhaps done your share about giving to the community with these forums so deserve to get a little slack


 
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No doubt:  For every $5000 ham, there are a hundred million hams sold for less than $20. 

Very few people have what it takes to sell a ham for more than a hundred bucks.  Most people will find reasons why they could never sell a ham for more than $25.

If folks wanna do farming small money, more power to them.  All I ask is that you leave my name out of it.



 
paul wheaton
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For years the general thought about electric cars was that they could not go faster than 30 or 40 mph.  And that they could only go about 60 miles before needing to get recharged. 

The along came the tesla.  Possibly the fastest car on the road and can go over 200 miles on a charge.  And people are not only buying them like crazy, but now they have blazed a trail for lots of other electric cars. 

Some people want to eat at mcdonald's for every meal.  Some people don't care if the food they eat is organic or not.  Some people only care about getting the cheapest possible food. 

And there are people willing to pay ten times more for far superior food.  And, yes, it is true that if you grow far superior food, and then try to sell it to the people that are not willing to pay ten times more, then they aren't going to pay ten times more. 

Yup, there are skillions of paths to going broke, and there are millions of paths to earning a little money.  And if you want to go broke or make just a little, that's great - I have no problem with that. 

And if you say



paul wheaton believes that switching to permaculture can lead to untold riches for more conventional farmers.  I sort of want that to be true, but I'm skeptical.  so I want to explore that idea.



then .... well .... that's an excellent topic!  Only a few hundred farmers are probably going to pull this off.  Most farmers will find reasons why they cannot do it and, therefore, not do it.

But just because somebody chooses to not do it, doesn't keep others from doing it.

Some permies think the permaculture way is lifelong poverty.  Good for them!

Other permies thing permaculture can be used to make the freaky big bucks.  Good for them!

I think folks can find poverty easy enough without the use of these forums.  So I would far prefer talking about how to make the freaky big bucks, rather than talking about how to work hard and make less than minimum wage.  But that's just me.


 
                        
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I think you are limiting things a bit when you talk about rich only in terms of money. Money is of no value in and of itself, only in terms of what it can get for you, and if what it can get for you is a lifestyle that makes you happy then no matter how much or little that is, you are rich.

The TED interview someone posted a link to re the guy that produced the winning foie gras was a super example of this. He clearly has a life he is absolutely happy with, and his values are not those of just making freaky big bucks, although clearly he could.

And another link  (I hope, I'm not good with computers) from an interview with Warren Buffett
http://www.budgetsaresexy.com/files/warren_buffett_forward.pps

A lot of the woes of the world are because  people are looking for "stuff" which can be got with  money, to make them happy. It doesn't work. Of course, if you are going to be miserable there is much to be said to being a wealthy miserable person as opposed to a poor miserable person, but misery is misery. Unless you are living in a Walt Disney movie, it's hard to find much to value in being without sufficient money to live with dignity. Being rich in terms of your bank balance just gives you more and different options.

 
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paul wheaton wrote:
then .... well .... that's an excellent topic!   Only a few hundred farmers are probably going to pull this off.  Most farmers will find reasons why they cannot do it and, therefore, not do it.



that is without a doubt a reason that some folks won't do it.  I would say another reason is that the niche is very small and there might only be room for a few hundred farmers.  and it might be temporary for even that many, as more follow suit and drive prices down.

and, just for the record, nobody at FARM is currently at any risk of poverty.

Pam wrote:
I think you are limiting things a bit when you talk about rich only in terms of money. Money is of no value in and of itself, only in terms of what it can get for you, and if what it can get for you is a lifestyle that makes you happy then no matter how much or little that is, you are rich.



I'm right there with you, Pam.  that may be a discussion for another thread, though, or maybe for another forum.  I would like to talk about why I don't believe high prices are sustainable or responsible, but I'll leave that out of this discussion.
 
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I just wanted to ask; regarding the high price (12.50/lb) potatoes that Paul was talking about (arbitrary number or not) I used to work with an organic farm who sold quarts of fingerling potatoes (which weigh about a pound) for $6 at Toronto markets, with only a few people batting an eye. Do you actually know of people able to get 12.50/lb Paul? Just curious, cuz thats like $2 per potato...




 
tel jetson
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paul wheaton wrote:
2204)  replace petroleum based tractor with electric tractor (electric is an excellent way to go for a tractor).



I could see FARM switching to electric when one of the current tractors finally dies.  I'm not sure it would save any money, though.  obviously diesel is no longer a cost, but what about maintenance and repairs?  are existing electric tractors easy to work on?  if it's beyond the owner, are there local outfits that can work on them?  I would guess that they're simpler than diesel motors, but I really don't know.  my feeling is that this switch would probably save some money, though not a lot.  diesel isn't a huge expense at FARM, though I wouldn't call it negligible.

I think the real benefit here would be to set the farm apart from others in a way that doesn't take more knowledge than most consumers have.  all the critical ins and outs of polycultures and keylines and stacking functions  and building soil would probably glaze most folks' eyes, but reducing fossil fuel use is an easy sell.

I would prefer to ditch the tractors altogether.  wouldn't work for FARM, but I would like to operate with no equipment that isn't meat-powered and deliver with bicycles.  limits the region we could sell to pretty substantially, but that's the way I like it.
 
tel jetson
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paul wheaton wrote:
2205) do not import organic matter if you can possibly help it.  Grow your own organic matter.



this is almost a no-brainer.  FARM is relatively good about this already, though definitely not perfect.  imports are limited to a couple of loads of chicken manure and some bagged organic fertilizer.  a lot of hay and straw are cut from the land for the animals then spread later.  lots of room for improvement here.

wouldn't save an awful lot of money, but I think it could work like the electric tractors to set a farm apart, because it's only slightly more difficult to understand than quitting diesel.
 
              
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Regarding what people will pay for produce

I heard a story about retailer who was private labeling certain produce under there own brand using different suppliers depending on the time of year. When a certain farmers produce came onto the shelf, the sales for the produce jumped. When they went to the next supplier, the sales fell back down. If you play around with the Price vs Sales numbers, you can calculate your optimum price point for profit. Add other laws in if you want to optimize farm income, liabilities, etc.

Another thing, my gut feeling on obesity is as follows: (pun intended). We are overweight for many reasons (toxins, lifestyle, but one of the major reasons we are overweight is nutrient deficiencies. If the food you consume does not have the nutrients you need, you suffer the consequences of deficiencies of that nutrient.
A dehydrated person chugs water. A well hydrated person may sip some water.
Guess i think of it like free choice mineral supplements for animals.
The kicker. If you need 1000 units of X, and you can eat one of Paul's Apples to get it, or 6 of my Apples to get it, which would buy? If the calories per apple are essentially the same, which would you buy? What if I apples come pre-marinated in chemsauce?

If your body puts the word out 'I need nutrients' and you feed it calories and toxins, it is going to continue to put the word out it needs nutrients. If you continue to eat nutrient deficient food, you will pay the consequences. I do not know much about this stuff. I have not done any studies outside my brain or read any books, though I am sure there are books and studies on the topic.

You take junk to market and people pay you for junk. You take quality to market, they pay you for quality. The may not be able to tell the difference on the outside, but they can once they eat it, so give them a sample if you need to. Which brings up a whole new marketing ploy. If you offer samples, and others do not, they will buy from you because they know what they are getting. If others start offering samples, they will buy the better produce. If you consistently have better produce, what a way to open up ears for listening.

Important to remember what you are trying to accomplish. If it is just money, then you may not be trying to get others into the venture. If you are a tree hugging peta pushing person, you would focus on something different than me in conversation. But at least we would eat good food and have good conversation. Ever try to talk to a hungry wild animal. .
 
              
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tel jetson wrote:
I could see FARM switching to electric when one of the current tractors finally dies.  I'm not sure it would save any money, though.  obviously diesel is no longer a cost, but what about maintenance and repairs?  are existing electric tractors easy to work on?  if it's beyond the owner, are there local outfits that can work on them?  I would guess that they're simpler than diesel motors, but I really don't know.  my feeling is that this switch would probably save some money, though not a lot.  diesel isn't a huge expense at FARM, though I wouldn't call it negligible.


Personally not sold on a lot of electric solutions. I think electric has its place, but where is the electricity coming from? I think there are a lot of good sources, but many people do not look at the solution as a whole. How many pounds of rare earth magnets go into a prius or a windmill? What nano particles am i putting into my soil with that new photovoltaic? What I do like is simplicity and options. With both diesel and electric, you have a lot of choices for fuel. With the right diesel setup, you have a lot of choices for fuel. Ethanol, coal dust, natural gas, propane, diesel, used oil, vegetable oil... Electricity is similar because you do not care where you get the electricity, you just care to have some.
 
              
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tel jetson wrote:I think the real benefit here would be to set the farm apart from others in a way that doesn't take more knowledge than most consumers have.  all the critical ins and outs of polycultures and keylines and stacking functions and building soil would probably glaze most folks' eyes, but reducing fossil fuel use is an easy sell.


Agree that people get lost in the details. Keep it simple and I think most people will get it. I haven't lost anyone yet (maybe because I do not know as much), and had several people relate it to other things. On a side note, I do tend to lose people when I explain traffic congestion and speed limits or how governments financially benefit from traffic congestion. So I can relate to people not being able to understand. Might have something to do with a persons background. Harder to convince a farmer how it works than a plumber or computer guy.
 
tel jetson
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Pam wrote:
Are buildings on wheels restricted? If not, could you do some sort of "retreat" advertising and tuck a nicely unique small caravan like a gypsy caravan in the woods for people to rent  to just get away from it all or to honeymoon or whatever close to or in the  second growth forest area?  People who are into bird watching or wanting to find some solitude even for a weekend might fit better with the mentality of the owners, and might well be mostly invisible from each other.



I don't think that would be restricted.  I do think that the issue of, um, human waste disposal would pose a problem.  there are plenty of responsible and clever ways to deal with and make use of shit, but very few that the local governments are fond of in this particular location.
 
                        
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well  there are always the usual ways that RVers use  for that issue..perhaps if it was inconvenient to move it you could have two tanks and alternate them. There are bound to be dumping stations somewhere in the vicinity..even if that system  doesn't exactly fit in the "useful" category
 
paul wheaton
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Pam wrote:
I think you are limiting things a bit when you talk about rich only in terms of money



I agree.  This is my intent for this forum called "farm income".  I think other perks are for some of the other forums.  This forum is for a rather strict focus on dollars.
 
paul wheaton
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Travis Philp wrote:
Do you actually know of people able to get 12.50/lb Paul?



Have you ever heard of a restaurant that gets $100 per plate?  How many pounds of food are consumed on that plate?  So how much money per pound did they get for the potatoes?


 
tel jetson
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Pam wrote:
just off the top of my head  but what about working with the wetland and developing it through wildlife encouraging plantings and such then have paid tours through to encourage people to see the wildlife (well, probably just plants to start with)  and explain the importance the wetlands have in the scheme of things?



it's really obnoxious how many good ideas can't happen because of regulation.  doing roughly anything to the wetlands is grounds for substantial negative attention from authorities.  about the only time we're allowed to even touch them is to eradicate purple loosestrife.  even actions that would positively impact wetlands and ecology are very, very difficult to gain approval for.

apart from that, quite a bit of the swampy bits are also the closest part of the property to the state route.  sort of detracts from the nature-viewing appeal.  there are an awful lot of critters around, though, despite the traffic.  five or so species of raptors, plenty of song-birds, elk, deer, coyotes, beavers, weasels, muskrats, woodpeckers, bears, herons, &c.  I even saw a marmot once, which was more than a little bit unexpected.


back to the caravans: yeah, there's probably a dump site in the valley somewhere.  the caravans would probably have to be stored off-site from late October through at least March.  I expect the high-season for vacationers would be somewhere in the March to October period, anyhow, so that might not be a big deal except for the issue of storage.  the powers that be would probably consider such an arrangement an RV park, though I'm far from certain about that.  I also don't know anything at all about the rules and regulations concerning operating an RV park.
 
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tel jetson wrote:
it's really obnoxious how many good ideas can't happen because of regulation.  doing roughly anything to the wetlands is grounds for substantial negative attention from authorities.  about the only time we're allowed to even touch them is to eradicate purple loosestrife.  even actions that would positively impact wetlands and ecology are very, very difficult to gain approval for.



I think this is really your issue, not so much permaculture.  With a permaculture mindset, you could do lots of things with a floodplain.  Build earthen dams to keep a section dry.  Impound some (again with earthworks) to build cranberry lagoons (plus whatever else grows in bogs - marsh mallow maybe?).  Put in undershot water wheels to at least grab some power from the floods. Buildings on stilts. The list is really only limited by your imagination.

But you keep saying you can't do any of these things because of the regulations, and I believe you. So it may be worth looking at selling the land, taking the proceeds, and buying a smaller acreage that will be more productive in the current political climate.
 
tel jetson
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tamo42 wrote:
But you keep saying you can't do any of these things because of the regulations, and I believe you. So it may be worth looking at selling the land, taking the proceeds, and buying a smaller acreage that will be more productive in the current political climate.



the land we're talking about doesn't belong to me.  it also doesn't belong to the folks who manage it.  so trading up isn't really a solution.  and for the purposes of this discussion, I'm interested in what can be done with this one piece of land given the fairly restrictive conditions that surround it.

I'm trying to take this out of the realm of a hypothetical situation where we can do anything we want to the land and where there's a ready market for anything we produce.  getting rich in that daydream isn't difficult.  FARM happens to be the land I'm most familiar with, so that seemed like a good place to start.  a real piece of land, with real idiosyncrasies and real people responsible for it.

the land that I'm now on is a whole other story.  there is much more lenient enforcement of rather more lenient regulations here.  so I've got a lot more freedom to modify the land here than the folks at FARM do.  the one big disadvantage I'm facing is demographic: the local market I have access to is much smaller than at FARM.  the actual acreage is much smaller, too, which I prefer.  but I'll leave that land out of this.
 
Neal McSpadden
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Ah, I didn't understand the situation then. Going back and reading your introduction, I see that FARM is flooded about twice a year. Is there a pattern in the timing of the floods? One in spring, one in fall? Two in winter? 

I do have a couple thoughts. 

One, it would be great if you could post pictures/maps/layouts of FARM so we could see how everything is organized. It's hard to get a real good idea from just 3/4 acres of potatoes and such.

Two, flooding is obviously a major constraint. You can't sell produce that has been touched by flood. This leads me to a couple things:

A, you need products that produce quickly. From establishment to growth to harvest to package to sale all during the inter-flood period. To me this suggests a fast market garden, rabbits, and chickens - which you say they have. But then you also say the pumpkins are really what subsidize most of the other operations. If that's true, don't grow the things that aren't profitable (either in monetary or ecological terms). 100 heads of lettuce (or whatever) that don't make money and don't really add anything to the site to feed the life and nutrient cycle are not worth growing. Use accounting as a tool to lead to better decisions, not just as a record for taxes.

B, can you sell non-produce food products that have a flood back in the supply chain? By this I mean, can you create a value-added product that comes from crops that were inundated. If so, this is a much better solution to the crops that the pumpkins are subsidizing. So instead of just growing potatoes, grow potatoes, oil-rich sunflowers, and chickens. Make sunflower oil, combine with eggs and make mayonnaise (except call it "farm fresh, pastured aioli"). Take the mayonnaise and potatoes to make potato salad. Voila, value added, sustainable, and much higher margin. You might be able to get away with this even without the flooding issue, depending on the timing of the floods again.

Three, if the woods do not have high value or high use trees, I would get to work on slowly replacing them with more useful species over time. Maybe take down the scrub trees, cut into 2' lengths, and create a rocket mass heater installation & supply firm.

Lastly, permaculture is not so much a set of tools and techniques as much as it is a way of looking at the world. The principles of stacking functions through time and space, semi-closed energy and nutrient loops, and so on allow us to create a place of abundance. But you still need to have a vision for where you are going. The managers might respond to my idea about creating a rocket mass heater company by saying they don't want to do that. That's fine, but it doesn't mean permaculture can't be profitable. Profitability has a lot more to do with your creativity and marketing skill than it does what and how you grow things.
 
              
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Okay, I was trying to hold off on this, but just have to go here. If you capture "All" of the energy coming into the property, and use some deep rooters to pull a bit from the depths, then over time, it will rise out of the flood plain. If you strategically grow your biomass on the property and redistribute it in key locations, you can modify the land structure and landscape slowly, overtime, using all on farm amendments (cover crops and part of the cash crop scraps). Call it part of the 25 or 50 year plan.

just a thought to ponder
 
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More ideas:

Re Flooding.  Flooding that often is a real pain.  How deep does it flood?  Is it reasonable to build a dike?  This will require a culvert with a gate to let natural drainage out during the year, and prevent the flood from coming in.  Of course this can be an issue when the land itself drains during spring runoff.

The dike is backed with a ditch, and this ditch is graded to a low point.  An irrigation pump can be used to handle the seepage. 

The problem with this is that it is likely to require dikes on 3 sides of the property.  Also dikes tend to move the problem down stream.  Flood plains are nature's relief valve.  Perhaps a compromise leaving half the land floodable.

You may be able to build market awareness by doing the farmers markets, and cooking samples of unusual veggies.  E.g. Do boc choi in a stir fry, hand out bite size portions for free, give a recipe card with every boc choi you sell.

A key part of market gardening is extending your season.  If you can provide stuff either earlier or later than the other people do, you will get a premium price for it.  You may want to look at additional greenhouse space.

A greenhouse frame with the ends open does a nice job of drying firewood.  Firewood also will mean that they can hire people for longer chunks of the year, as either cutting or splitting can be done whenever other things aren't happening. 

Cottonwood won't reproduce in its own shade, so firewood has to be cut in blocks.  He can add variety to this operation by buying truckloads of poor quality saw logs or pulpwood logs.  This would allow him to offer birch, pine, etc.

Larch is another possible tree to grow on the flood plain.  Depending on how consitently it floods either siberian larch or tamarack.  (If it grows grass, do siblerian, if jmossy, tamarack.)

Plant larch on 6 foot centres for non-preservative fence posts.  You have to grow them until the heart wood is FP diameter.  Larger logs are now used as 'hardwood' flooring.  Again, only the heartwood need apply.

You can grow river alder in the shade of the cottonwood.  It's a messy tree, constantly breaking.  Harvest and chip.  Sell for smoking fish, and other smoked meats.

A row of common pussy willow and one of french pussy willow not only can be done on the flood plain, but give an early spring crop.  Clip early, put in pails of water in the green house to force for early sales to florists.

The greenhouses can also be used for forcing spring bulbs.



Willow is often planted as an erosion control species.  Pound 1" diameter 2 foot long stems into the mud as the water recedes.  Put them on 4 foot spacing the first year.  Fill in. later.  A band of Golden willow 20 feet wide is unlikely to move with the floods unless the floods are moving very large cottonwood logs.  Plant a band of taller trees behind it.

This won't stop the flood, but it will stabilize the bank, and reduce the silt dropped by the flood.

For the log and mushroom production:  There are good (expensive) mushrooms that do well on cottonwood.  I think shitake is one of them.  If the floods aren't too deep, it may be possible to build log platforms.  E.g. Take 12 foot logs, notch and build a crib to a height above flood level, and the top deck you put the producing logs  If you take some extra work in setting it up, you may end up with a walkway around it to make harvest convenient.  Raised beds to a whole new level!
 
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Are the flood plain (and other) regulations sensible? If not what are the processes to change them?

It seems to me that should be part of medium/long term planning and at least on the back burner of yearly activities.


Rufus
 
tel jetson
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Rufus Laggren wrote:Are the flood plain (and other) regulations sensible? If not what are the processes to change them?



they're mostly sensible. somebody who didn't know what they were doing could easily cause a whole lot of damage to a sensitive ecosystem. somebody who did know what they were doing, or proceeded very cautiously, could improve on the current state of affairs substantially. unfortunately, most of the flood plain land-owners would probably fall into the don't-know-what-they're-doing category. that being the case, I'm not sure that I would be in favor of changing the regulations too much. probably making room for sensible variances would be a good idea, but I'm not sure about the processes involved to accomplish that. there is a fair amount of support for small agriculture in the county, so it might be plausible to change regulations, though certainly not quickly.

so the current state of affairs is a long and arduous permitting process. as far as I can tell, most folks tend to just go ahead and do work and hope the county doesn't notice. then, if the county does notice (maybe because a neighbor informed), they point out that things are working fine and a permit should be issued or the project ignored. sometimes that works. sometimes there's a stop work order. sometimes expensive mitigation is required. sometimes the project has to be removed. fairly unpredictable in my limited experience.

navigating the permitting system could easily be a full-time job, and it is for some folks. to get things done generally involves bending and/or breaking rules, but doing so in such a way that bureaucrats are left chasing their tails, or by securing a patron within the system. it's shady through and through.
 
tel jetson
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Location: woodland, washington
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S. G. Botsford wrote:
Re Flooding.  Flooding that often is a real pain.  How deep does it flood?  Is it reasonable to build a dike?  This will require a culvert with a gate to let natural drainage out during the year, and prevent the flood from coming in.  Of course this can be an issue when the land itself drains during spring runoff.



dikes are certainly out of the question, and with good reason. the place would probably be razed the first time a flood was worse for everyone else downstream because of a dike around this farm. one of those things that seems like a reasonable solution at first blush, but would lead to some very significant problems, at least in this specific case.

I like some of your other ideas, but don't have time to address them just now. perhaps soon.

back to reality, though, it seems as though the folks running the place are looking to wind things down over the next few years. hard work, and they've been at it for decades. I think retirement is looking more appealing to them.
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 28642
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
hugelkultur trees chicken wofati bee woodworking
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Helen Atthowe describes the profit benefit with permaculture farming over organic farming




 
Posts: 16
Location: boise, idaho
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I'm not so eloquent as you all so I'll just throw out here a bumper sticker I remember on this topic (sort a).

Some people are so poor all they have is money.

 
Posts: 41
Location: Slippery Rock, PA
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I like where some of these answers are going, and I'd like to expand on them.

FARM is on a flood plain.

Let It Be A Flood Plain.

You are not going to get anywhere fighting nature.

OBSERVE natural flood plains in your area, see what does well there. See how they arrange themselves.
(This is why I'm not offering specific advice, I have no idea what works for your area.)

Figure out how you can make a profit on what does well on flood plains in your area.

TRY putting those things in there and see how they do.
 
Men call me Jim. Women look past me to this tiny ad:
permaculture bootcamp - learn permaculture through a little hard work
https://permies.com/wiki/bootcamp
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