The Yardstick of a Farm

Individual instinctual expression and ecological harmony.

When I stop back to dwell on what it is to have a farm that is most in line with my ideals, I come back to two main concepts: are the humans, plants, fungi, bacteria, wildlife, livestock, fish, worms, rolly pollys, and so on having an opportunity to express the traits of a flourishing individual? and does the whole system seem to be experiencing harmony, wholeness and health?

pasture farm grass fed

Human Flourishing

First, since our ability to engage in all of our goals is reliant on our continued presence here, we have to observe if the humans are flourishing. Are we living lives of health and wholeness? Are we able to make a living from this place long-term? Is the compensation for the work we do sustainable to allow us to continue to do it? Will another generation be able to step in and join us before we run out of energy? Will the life built here cause them to want to? In my mind these questions and the others that follow as we flesh them out are as much economical and tangible as they are idealistic and theoretical. And I place these questions first because if we value the work we're doing, and believe it can achieve the goals to follow, we're going to have to, as the flight attendant says, secure our own oxygen mask first.
family farm
Every piece of what is required to continue to be in this place and doing this work is necessary to consider. Any who would look at the sustainability of economically productive systems to the exclusion of ecological context would be ensuring eventual collapse. And anyone who would look at the health of farmers and the ecological systems they manage without a mind towards economic success would be assuring  even quicker demise, once the money runs out, the banks take over, and the new owners and tenants come in to extract any resources we've built up.

All the Other Living Things

Secondly, are we doing the work we do in such a manner that the plants and animals under our care are showing signs of thriving? Are the wild and native partners In this place also flourishing? The products we bring to market, their quality, nutrient density, terroir, flavor, and beauty will all show evidence of flourishing. When it comes to the wild and native elements, keen observation and continued presence in the space will indicate to us the results of our work on the biosphere that supports all of life. The nice thing is that we can look at a group of growing calves -with their fat, sleek mothers looking on as they enjoy a romp in the grass between milk binges -and we can know that the living things in the space are flourishing because of our care and our partnership with nature. The evidence is there, as well, as we notice individual butterflies, birds, wildflowers, and the like growing in number and evidence of health.
pastured chicken louisville

Harmony and Beauty

Lastly, we have something a little less tangible. But something every bit as important and wonderful to observe: The harmony of all things in this place cannot be measured on a graph the way that total revenue or a soil test or a wildlife census can. But it can be observed in the ways each element functions, and more-so the interactions between the elements. Are the pests in balance with the fruit trees, indicating functioning natural defenses and overall health? Are the people enjoying the gifts of the land and interacting with it in a way that fosters their creativity and mutual health? Are the wildlife finding sufficient habitat and food to maintain a healthy population? Are cycles of rest and intense disturbance and work showing their benefits across the system? Can each member of the ecosystem find a niche in space and time to exercise its symbiotic role?
While it may not be easy to sum up in a metric, these questions point to the kinds of realities that we can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste as we occupy the spaces where we engage with our ecosystems.
If any of this sounds compelling, and you'd like to see the ways we are working towards making this a reality, we'd love to have you out to our farm this October. We're hosting a workshop for farmers, homesteaders, and future farmers who want to learn how to plan, build, produce, and sell. Its coming up on October 19 and 20. And as of the time of writing, we've got about 1/3 of the tickets remaining. Check out our link below if you'd like to see what we're offering in the course.