Making Small Farms Work follows the first seasons setting up what has quickly become one of Europe’s flagship farm scale Permaculture and regenerative agriculture sites. From a rural situation, nestled in the heart of Scandinavia, Ridgedale is a dedicated high-quality local food producer engaged in educating the next generation of agrarians with the design and management strategies to create farms for the future. The face of small-scale agriculture and the future of our food supply chain is changing. Pioneer educator and farmer Richard Perkins has dedicated his life to sharing effective solutions around the world, and this relatively remote farm has been receiving a lot of international interest as increasing numbers of people seek to participate in a regenerative economy. Covering every aspect of designing, installing and managing this diverse and productive farm, including the crucial decision-making processes and economics that make it all work, this book is full with hundreds of colour photographs, spreadsheets and details capturing the rapid development of the farm, with practical information on:
This book is a milestone for farm scale permaculture. Richard Perkins is a well-known teacher that has worked in many different countries and projects, building a wide personal experience over the last 15 years. Now that he has settled to set up his own farm, Ridgedale Permaculture, in Sweden (at 59°N), the moment has come for him to share his knowledge not only with his students that take his courses up at Ridgedale but with a larger community.
He has achieved this objective writing a book that is one of a kind. In more than 300 pages he helps the reader deal with the complexity of designing, installing and managing a regenerative agriculture farm. To do this he shares a toolset that integrates three different foundational systems of design and management. These three are what he calls “the three legs to the stool we use in our work”: Permaculture, Holistic Management and Keyline design.
Richard suggests Permaculture is best integrated with other approaches to deal with the complexity of farm scale projects that want to be profitable, as he aims to “meet all our human needs whilst restoring soils, ecosystems & communities”. The complexity lies in the fact we don’t have to deal only with design but also installation and management, to reach regeneration and permanence. Permaculture helps design whole systems that regenerate, Holistic management gives a decision making matrix and Keyline design offers an organising pattern for Permaculture at a farm scale.
I believe this book is the result of the author’s capacity to take his skill in teaching from class to written word. But the book is not only text, maybe half of it is made up of photo’s, images, charts and excerpts of spreadsheets. This is the actual strength of the book, because it communicates visually what the author has put in word on page. Richard Perkins has been able to do all this because he has worked so much in the past years on visual communication.
Step by step, through the story of the first two years of Ridgedale Permaculture, the reader is capable of actually seeing how we go from theory to practice, from the first survey of a site to its management and product marketing. Ridgedale is the case study, yet this book shares the story of the farm not in a biographical way but as a practical example of how one applies design.
This book focuses on finding solutions, not applying recipes. There are no shortcuts, you can’t read this book and find the recipe for setting up a farm, but you can understand the approach and use the given toolset to develop your own specific context and breakdown complexity. There is no easy way, instead there is a very well-known risk that farms without adequate planning become wells without an end in which money just disappears. Turning this around is possible only through design and holistic management and Richard shows the reader how to do this.
One of the finest examples on how to design, shared in this book, is the use of Keyline’s Scale of Permamence, the true legacy of Yeomans’ work, that actually sets the pattern for the chapters of the book. Keyline is much more than only ploughing around offset to contours, and this is well explained in the pages Richard has written.
The power of the images is seen when the author shares step-by-step what has to be done to build an Eggmobile or building one of the cheapest small scale licensed slaughter facilities in Europe, from setting up agroforestry assemblies, to installing the beds of the vegetable garden, or water management systems. The photos don’t only document some achievements but are part of the process of sharing the knowledge.
Design is mostly about collecting data, and putting it together. Let’s take the example of observing and analyzing the quality of pasture on farm, central to being capable of having pastured animals as is at Ridgedale. One can’t improvise, it counts for responsibility towards the animals wellbeing and clients of the farm.
Having pastured animals requires we have a clear knowledge of the quality of the pasture and how this can be improved if needed. Observation in time is necessary, but we have to know what to look for and how to collect the data. The field surveys done in the first two years at Ridgedale on the field pasture assessment and field pasture diversity printed in the book are really interesting.
Working on the farm financials means every enterprise needs to have a clear knowledge of investments, running costs, and income. This is explained in the book in a very clear way from broiler management, to tree assembly in the field, or setting up a vegetable C.S.A box scheme. Having a clear idea of the cost of the investment, means we don’t take any chances. This is heavily emphasized and indeed central to building sustainable and profitable farms.
This is when the spreadsheets or charts become central to understanding how to take only the steps we can. The subtitle of the book sums it up: “A pragmatic whole systems approach to profitable regenerative agriculture” and “an experience-based handbook for the holistic design, installation and management of farm scale permaculture”.
Reading this book has been a pleasure as it is well written. But it is hard work; every page is fact-filled, and shares heavyweight information.
“Information is only beneficial if it leads people to carefully considered action. I sincerely hope this book contributes in some small way.” I think this book will, and in a very meaningful way, and I see many more people will be inspired to get involved in regenerative agriculture. I guess that a farmer or wannabe farmer will be more attracted to tackle a mind opening book like Making Small Farms Work, rather than one that makes farming seem like a stroll in the field.
But to finish always with Richards words: “if, when you have read it, you decide it does not [reach your expectations], I suggest you soak it in good clean water, inoculate it with choice oyster mushroom sawdust spawn and post me the dried mushrooms that I might eat my words.”
I am setting up my own farm too at present, and this book has arrived at the right moment. It has already helped me think about my design, about my whole project in a new light. For sure I’m not going to make mushrooms of its pages.