The philosophy behind our family farm has evolved over the years as we’ve learned more about farming, the world around us, and ourselves. What began as “let’s have a few chickens for fun” has quickly become a holistic microfarm who’s purpose is to produce virtuous homegrown goods for a happy, healthy life. Our farm philosophy is inseparable from our approach to life: anything that takes this much work has to have roots deep in our souls!
Every farm is different, and that’s the way it should be. If you are looking to start your own farm, maybe learning a bit more about ours will be helpful to you. Maybe you just want to learn a bit more about holistic or microfarming, or are looking for a farm in our community to support. Whatever the reason, we’re glad you are taking the time to learn a bit more about us and why we do what we do.
What is a microfarm?
We own 9 acres in upstate New York. When we first moved from England, 9 acres seemed like more land than we could imagine: our entire English village (including the school and chip shop) could fit in our back yard! But as our hobby homestead of 6 chickens and a vegetable plot grew into a real farm, we needed to become more mindful stewards of our space. A microfarm is able to produce abundantly on a small amount of land: many microfarms operate on only 2 acres or less! It requires meticulous planning and management to create a tiny ecosystem. The management method we use to make our microfarm a success is holistic farming.
What is your farm’s vision?
Anyone will tell you farming is a lot of work. Even having a small hobby farm requires every day, round-the-clock dedication to keeping your animals happy and healthy, your farm mutually beneficial, and your bank account solvent! You really have to believe in what you’re doing if you are in it for the long term. When things get tough, I like to remind myself of the reasons we do what we do. Some of the benefits of producing our own food we knew from the outset, and others we have discovered along the way:
- Conscious consumption: our farm decisions reflect our life decisions. There are many things in the world that “taste good but have no nutritional value.” Social media supplanting real relationships, drug and medication over-reliance, self-centered consumerism, commercialized food produced in questionable conditions; much of our society is sold to us as a “tasty treat” that actually holds no value (except to those who make money from our purchase). Farming makes us more conscious of what we are consuming in all aspects of our lives. We make better use of our time. We educate ourselves to make better decisions. We making feeding our bodies, minds, and souls the best things a priority.
- We understand the value of hard work, and teach it to our children. Absolutely nothing compares to the physical, mental, and emotional work of farming. It produces immediate and long-term, visible results that literally become a part of who you are.
- We are self-reliant. We have years of staple foods grazing in our backyard. The food we eat isn’t subject to the same price fluctuation, shipping and quality issues, policy changes, or other problems as grocery store food. Our animals not only produce our food for today (eggs, milk) and tomorrow (meat), but also reproduce – ensuring the future of the farm and our food supply. We also can, freeze, and cold store food for months when we can’t grow it. We’ve learned how to pressure can and vacuum freeze all different kinds of foods: the week or two or hard work is more than made up for in the convenience of opening a couple of jars to make a quick, healthy meal! Farming also gives us skills that make us more self-reliant: we know how to grind our own wheat, mix our own animal feeds, and slaughter a chicken, but we also are able to endure harsh weather conditions, overcome physical challenges, and push past problems to get the job done without giving up.
- We are vitally connected to our community. This may seem at odds with our goal of self-reliance, but having intimate local connections actually makes us more independent. I know my suppliers: I can store up a year of hay in advance, know if there is a shortage or windfall of grain, and can call on friends and family to help me when I can’t do something alone. I add value and goodness to my community, and they strengthen me. My family apply the values we have on the farm to everything we do, making our community a better place. Just as their patronage, help, resources, and support make our farm better. We are also more connected as a family; we and our children experience firsthand the necessity of sharing the load – sometimes quite literally! We value the power of a team, and our ability to be a real contributor.
- We foster gratitude. My son recently said to me “Mum I love helping you in the mornings because it makes me so happy to hear the little piggy noises when we go out to the barn.” Getting to see the sun rise and set every day brings a profound sense of appreciation for nature and the blessings of life.
- We treasure humility and simplicity. There is nothing like farming to keep you humble. Sure, we take pride in hard work and a job well done. But when you know that any day could bring flooding, escaped animals, a fox attack, a stillborn animal, a downed tree… your wants become simpler and you acknowledge that you cannot always be the master of your own destiny.
- We make real change. The change we have seen in our own lives since starting the farm is incredible. Our children are more resilient. They prefer (and expect) homemade food over prepackaged or storebought. We spend more quality time as a family, and take those moments to have quality discussions and interactions. Our new ‘default’ is health, quality, and simplicity.And the impact of farms like ours on the community shouldn’t be underestimated either: each farm makes virtuous food that much more available, affordable, and better known. Studies increasingly show that local efforts to fight poor health, malnutrition ,and poverty are not only the most effective, but actually integral to improving well being. Local farms with integrity contribute to the local economy in positive ways, and avoid the negative impacts of not-in-my-backyard industrial farming.
How do you decide what to grow/raise on the farm?
We look at a lot of different things to decide how to use the space on our farm. The first year, I tried to plant many different foods in our garden. It ended up being a lot of work for not a lot of yield. Now I plant foods that are harder to get locally, or that we eat a lot of, or that we want really fresh (like lettuce!). Conversely, we’ve found that having more animal biodiversity has benefited the farm. We now have ducks, pigs, cows, chickens, and turkeys. Each has a role to play not only because of what they provide us to eat, but also because they keep our micro-ecosystem balanced.
Holistic management is an important part of our decision-making. You can find out more about this below, but the concept is about taking into consideration the big picture every time you make small decisions. Economics is part of that picture. For our farm, we aren’t looking to make a profit, but we do choose to raise animals that can “pay for themselves” in one way or another.
When choosing what foods we will consume as a family, we tend to follow our own “food pyramid” of sorts. It helps us be mindful of our values and the food priorities we have, but is flexible enough for different situations. For every meal we can ask: “what can we prepare ourselves from our own resources? from local resources? What will we need to buy, and of that what can be reasonably purchased more ethically (organic, fair trade, etc)?” Following the values above helps us provide as much as we can from our own resources: I make smoothies in the winter from berries we have picked and frozen in the summer, for example. But when things get busy or if we are on the road, we consciously consume foods that meet our needs and our standards as best as possible.
What is holistic management?
Advocates of holistic management are turning up everywhere, and people and organizations are benefiting from a holistic approach to all aspects of life. Holistic management focuses on conscious decision-making and an awareness of the ecosystem in which those decisions are made. Holistic management can be applied to capitalism, leadership, medicine, meditation, and virtually any decision-making process.
As it applies to our farm, holistic management requires an awareness of how every decision affects the farm as a whole. It means having a plan for our finances, our animals, each family member, the soil, our animals’ food sources, our time, and every other resource on the farm. We have seen the positive effects of a holistic approach on the farm, and the negative effects when we are less mindful of the big picture.
Here is an overview of our farm’s holistic management plan. The beauty of holistic management is that it isn’t a one-size-fits-all: it provides a framework to help you meet your goals. We highly encourage any farm big or small to use a detailed holistic management plan: keep track of your expenses, your goals, your pastures, your animals’ health… everything that contributes to the whole picture!
Wensleydale Cottage Farm
The Big Picture: Self-reliance! Confidence and independence in providing for our needs on all levels (physical, food, energy, emotional). Building a local network to support a self-funding and sustainable farm.
Financial: Every animal pays for itself: run a break-even operation with the opportunity for the kids to learn to make a small profit on their businesses. For example: buy four pigs, keep 2 for our own food storage and sell 2 to pay for the ones we keep. Teach the boys how to save, how to create a spreadsheet to keep track of their expenses and payments received. Plan to repay farm start-up costs (selling calves), plan for future seasonal and long-term costs,