By the end of this article, you should feel confident about creating a self-supporting farm/garden….
1:1 Farming definition:
A mode of farming in which all inputs necessary for sustaining and evolving a farm are acquired from within the bounds of the farm itself.
Depending on who you ask, it is said that it takes 4-7 years for a typical solar panel to produce more energy in its functioning than was consumed by its manufacture. I’m speaking of energy here, not financial cost.
What does this mean, exactly?
It means that the energy required to manufacture, assemble, transport and install a typical solar panel (PV) will not be offset by the energy produced by that solar panel – from collecting the sun’s rays and converting them into electricity – for 4-7 years. Those are the energetic inputs and outputs of a solar panel.
Does this mean we should not use solar? Of course not.
What it does mean is that we need to be aware of the bigger energetic picture in all that we do.
This is how a discussion on Sustainable Farming can begin – by looking at what we create through the eyes of an energy accountant – an energy audit – like a balance sheet.
Energy in, Energy out.
I’ll cut to the chase – I don’t believe in purchasing a lot of inputs from outside of the farming area. If your farming area is a balcony or a rooftop then, of course, you have no choice really but to bring in a lot of inputs from outside of your area. I’m speaking here of areas which are at least 1/10 of an acre or more. With an area of 1/10 of an acre, we should be able to design a system which requires almost no external inputs.
I’ll explain why.
Our planet is solar-powered.
Remove the sun, and life ceases to exist.
The same sun’s energy that we enjoy here on earth is also present on the surface of the moon, yet the moon is unable to convert the sun’s energy into life, as the earth does.
Why is that?
Have you ever thought about it?
The answer to this question holds the key to providing your farm with the inputs it needs – from within the bounds of your farming area.
The moon does not convert solar energy in the same way as the earth because it lacks sufficient living organisms (plus the fact that the moon has no protective atmosphere and therefore no rain).
It is the living organisms of a system that convert energy into life, whether that energy comes from the sun, the rain, the wind, the animals, etc.
So how does this relate to your farm?
There is a saying in Permaculture. Call it a design principle. It basically says that yield is limitless – that the only limit to yield is the designer’s imagination. It says that there is always another root, another vine, another opportunity to catch rain or condensation, another surface that can be utilized, another waste converted, etc in a system. It challenges designers to look at their surroundings with fresh eyes, to imitate Nature in her design, and to maximize yield in new and creative ways (and then share those ways on YouTube! ha )
As applied to the farm, this means that I can design my system in such a way as to:
1. Catch and reuse all the water I need
2. Harvest the maximum amount of solar energy possible in the living organisms I design into the system (non-living means as well, ie solar panels)
3. Grow all the food necessary for any animals in my system
4. Plant and harvest all necessary products for pest control
5. Grow my fencing and structural materials
6. Give back to the soil by growing all necessary mulching/composting materials, as well as cycling back all waste material
7. Feed myself and my loved ones with what is grown
…in addition, if things are going very well, then I might
8. Give or trade the surplus of our system for additional products with neighbors or friends or even local businesses
…and if things are REALLY going well, then I might
9. Sell my surplus to Consumers (Farmer’s Market, CSA, etc)
This is basically how Permaculture proposes we proceed on this path of self-sufficiency and resiliency.
At this point I need to clarify that proportion and balance become paramount to the design guidelines listed above. Obviously I will be unable to provide all necessary food and inputs for say 12 cows on 1/10 of an acre, but I could provide what is necessary for 6 guinea pigs – also an excellent source of fertilizer for the garden. This may seem like a silly example, the 12 cows, but I have seen such situations cause havoc in certain cultures throughout the planet.
In addition, I must say that I would certainly not refuse free cow manure from a neighboring offer, should the situation arise. However, I try and stay aware of the fact that this input might not last forever, and avoid becoming too dependent on its presence.
The temptation of course is to focus directly on step 9, quit our day jobs, and try to earn a living directly from our system.
Although this is certainly how professional farmers have lived for Millennia, and it may be an immediate possibility for some, it is not something that I advise trying immediately. It may cost you dearly in time and money. Instead I would suggest following the slow and steady path as outlined above, and then document and share with others exactly what steps you took to arrive at success.
Finally, I would like to examine one additional subject regarding 1:1 Farming, and that is money .
In the Industrial Farming world, much attention is given to quantity of yield. The boasting rights of the proud farmer are centered on how many, say, bushels of corn he can produce on a single acre of land. With the advent of hybridized seeds in the 1950’s, and more recently with the development of GMO strains – which are able to grow abnormally close to one another – these farmers often reach yields of 220 bushels/acre, even more (in 1940 the average yield of corn in the U.S. was 30 bushels/acre).
This all seems terrific, no?
The truth is that most corn farmers today (in the U.S.) are not earning a living. The production has skyrocketed, but so have the expenses involved in farming. A farmer can earn a million dollars from the yield of his land, but if he is spending a million and one dollars on inputs, then he is going backwards.
However, a 1:1 farmer who carries with him an awareness of sustainability, and who is mindful to harvest all of the needs of the farm from within the farm itself – without spending precious money at the farm supply center – will find himself/herself with an additional yield which is much appreciated but seldom discussed. And that is freedom.