In my quest of continuous learning and networking, I have signed myself up for a variety of online mailing lists, forums and listservs. One listserv, connected to the Small Farms Program at Washington State University, has been a very active contributor of interesting invitations to a wide array of educational opportunities, including one a couple of months ago to sign up for a new online workshop through Rural Roots.
The course, Planning for Profit: Using Farm Financial Planning and Direct Marketing to Improve Your Bottom Line, sounded intriguing, promising topics such as farm financial management, goal setting, and planning. I sent away my $15 and signed up, receiving by mail a short time later a fat packet of information. The workbook, "At Home with Holistic Managemet: Creating a Life of Meaning," by Ann Adams, pulled me in immediately, although didn't seem directly related to the workshop, at least as I envisioned it.
No matter...the reading is easy and interesting, focusing on creating not just a farm but an entire life built around one's holisticgoal (yes, one word), which is a carefully crafted roadmap for a family, a business, a farm, to reflect on and use to make wise decisions to move the family/business/farm forward in a way that reflects the entity's values. The workbook is published by Holistic Management International. Being the designated learner in this household, I'm stalled right at the creation of the holisticgoal, trying to set aside time for a thoughtful discussion with my husband and farming partner so that we can talk this through. Once we have it in writing, I can take that holisticgoal and finish the rest of the coursework. Oy, but time is a precious, rare thing in the summer (work, farming, animal husbandry, feeding ourselves, and, of course, fishing!). I'm peaceful with the fact that I may not finish the course on time. I'm pretty sure they won't send me hate mail.
The first four chapters, which wrapped lessons on our ecosystems and communities around personal and farm goal setting (such as living a green life, capturing solar and wind energy and water), really got me thinking about permaculture.
My brain is really full, but suffice it to say I researched and bought one of my new faviorite books, Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture (Second Edition), by Toby Hemenway. I'm hooked, flipping randomly through pages and learning about new shapes for garden beds and herb spirals, how to site an orchard, an herb garden, salad greens, even poultry, in zones around the house to minimize the farmer/gardener/eater's time and energy expenditure while best using the land available.This is quite timely, as Paul and I plan to remove our existing veggie gardens (yes, all that broken concrete!) and build a new chicken coop and run in place of one, while giving the other back to the sacrifice paddock. Now I'm considering vegetable garden shapes...should we forgo row crops (which gives up a lot of space to weedy paths between rows) and go with boxy raised beds, or should we go really nuts and build keyhole designs, nearly circular shapes with the path in the middle, and veggies all around? Should we put it over here, or over there? What about a greenhouse, where could that go? Maybe the orchard should live in the front pasture, not over by the garage. My brain cells can hardly take all the thinking and scheming, but then I look at the wonderful photos on the cover of this book, take a nice breath, and get back to flipping through pages, taking it all in.
I'm not sure where this will lead, or how long it might take, but I'm open to the possiblities. What I know is Paul and I want to better use our land, plant shade trees where they'll help cool the house but not block the veggies' precious sunlight, berries close enough we'll actually remember to pick them, but not too close, and a chicken house we can delight in from inside. I'd like a small pond or swale or something, and would like to harvest some of the rainwater that falls on the barn roof. I think permaculture may have all the answers, but it's a big topic. And I've just stuck in my big toe.