This evening, I will be participating in a panel discussion after a screening of the film A Farm for the Future. Below is a link to the first 10 minute segment of the film. (The film is about 50 minutes total and can be found either in segments here or in its entirety here.) I first discovered this film several months ago in my online ramblings, and I've been thinking about it ever since. I was thrilled and honored to be asked to participate in the event (find event info here).
Aside from being located in New York instead of the UK, my family farm is very similar to Rebecca Hoskin's family farm. On both farms, livestock is being raised on pasture. Both farms have some degree of diversification amongst the domesticated species (on hers, cows and sheep; on ours, cows, hogs and chickens, with sheep coming soon - hoorah!). Both farms have space for grazing as well as space for nature; pastures, hayfields, tillable ground, woodlots, natural meadows, swamps. And both farms absolutely depend upon tractors, and thereby on fossil fuels, to harvest, bale and bring home the winter's supply of hay. On our farm, we're also growing the grains which we use to make feed for our hogs and chickens - another completely fuel-dependent endeavor. Like Rebecca, I have done a great deal of research into alternative methods of farming, and, like Rebecca, I worry about how my farm will manage to change and adapt to a range of changing conditions in the future (climate and fuel availability chief among them).
At this point, I have more questions in my head than answers. I'll be experimenting with no-till vegetable growing come Spring, and I look forward to putting my team of light draft horses back to meaningful work. I'm interested by the principles of permaculture and biodynamics. But making hay for 75 head of cattle, by hand? Planting, cultivating and harvesting grains for a few hundred hogs and several hundred chickens, by hand? Even adding two small draft horses into the mix, these things, on their current scale, I know are not possible. So where do we go from here? Of one thing I am absolutely sure; humans are wonderfully adaptive, and have an unlimited capacity for creativity and resourcefulness. The history of farming stretches back into the far reaches of the recorded - and unrecorded - human journey. The history of conventional, petroleum and petrochemical-based farming? Just a blip in the timeline of our existence on this planet. Given our innate human abilities and gifts, we can and will adapt as our reality changes around us. The real keys right now are to preserve the land needed for growing food, to work to preserve and restore the natural fertility of that land, and to preserve and share the skills needed to coax food out of the earth.
It is fascinating to me to watch the trend of farming take hold. As Rebecca's father says, we're glorified lavatory attendants, and this career is trendy? Coincidental with the rise of the Small Farm is a widespread return to traditional pursuits and crafts - gardening, putting food by, beekeeping, knitting, sewing - creating one's own essentials. Perhaps like wild animals preparing in advance for a long and hard winter, we are feeling drawn to skills that may once again be essential.
So in the end, for me, it all boils down to this: farming matters.