Sunday, August 17, 2014

Different Farming Styles

I get asked a lot of questions about how I'm farming, what method do I use to grow our food. People often are looking for the ultimate answer, the one true method to raise food for themselves. Well, there isn't any one true method, I tell them. It all depends.....on a lot of different factors. Every person has to decide and discover for themselves what works for them. 

To develop what works for me, I had to make a lot of decisions. Did I want to use the chemical approach, organic, biodynamic, permaculture, natural farming, etc? But why not use a mix of these methods? The purists act like one cannot use a little of this, a bit of that. But I've found that small growers working "down in the trenches" have no qualms of mixing the methods. I talk with plenty of successful small growers who do not adhere to any one particular farming philosophy. 
Today I briefly visited a small farm down the road from me. He's gradually expanding the square footage of growing space. He's approaching my own square footage, though 100% of his production is geared for human consumption while I have over half my growing area in livestock feed production. 
He's operating primarily as a CSA with 25 members. He's soon expanding that to 35 members. He's been pretty successful in his efforts. But boy, we both have quite different approaches to producing food. 

In some ways we've both discovered similar things that work for us. Like-- beds rather than rows; permanent  walkways; mixed farming philosophies rather than adhering to just one method, rototilling for bed preparation. 

We differ in a number of ways.....
...He bulldozed off the top 4-6 inches of soil in order to eliminate grass, weeds, and to flatten the area. I retained all my topsoil, filled in low areas to achieve a flat growing space, and tackled the weed problem with close grazing, tilling, mulch, and ag vinegar sprays. 
...He installed an extensive drip irrigation system. While I have dreamt about having such a system, I have not been able to justify the expense of the pipes, pumps, filtration, fertilizer injector, and miles of hose. Keeping such a system working can be a real headache. Plus I'd have to purchase commercial fertilizer for such a system which is contrary to my self-sufficient approach. While he has county water that is relatively clean and under high pressure, I have catchment water that is "dirty" and requires the use of a home pump. He also has grid electricity while I work off of a small solar system for the gardens. Thus he has the necessary basics for a drip system, and I don't. 
...He opts to use liquid fertilizer delivered via drip irrigation. His set up is "one size fits all" meaning that everything gets the same amount of fertilizer. Much easier on him, but wasteful of fertilizer which eventually escapes into the water table. Not my choice. I prefer to go with nature's method of decomposing organic material and micro organisms, plus re-mineralization of the soil. Less fertilizer escapes and ends up in the ground water this way. 
...He prefers working with bare soil. I prefer using mulches. 
...He has two very large greenhouses for crops wanting higher temperatures. Here again, I have a difficult time justifying the expense at this point in my homestead development. So I have to fiddle with alternative methods. 
...He uses a mix of methods for controlling pests and diseases. I opt to use organic or non-chemical methods. 
...He uses numerous people to operate his farm. I prefer to work alone. 
...He grows only vegetables. I grow fruit, veggies, grain, livestock feed, plus chickens, rabbits, pigs, and sheep. 
...He targets a retail market in order to create cash income. I grow food to feed ourselves and share with others. 

We both produce food. We both seem to be pretty happy with our methods and results. So who has the best method? Both! It comes down to what works best for each of us and what we're satisfied with. 


  1. Interesting post. I so agree about using the techniques and methods that work best for individual gardens and homesteads. Very nice to have a neighbor with similar interests to compare notes with.

  2. Looks like two very different paths to similar ends. Maybe there is learning from each other about specific varieties of veggies for best yields, or fine points about succession plantings, or rotation planting to help soil recover or prevent pest build-up, but I agree, no one best way for all.