Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Sustainability by Planning on Doing

There are times when you embark on a project and you make headway - and then something happens and all progress stops.  Once example of such a situation is the series of three blog posts I undertook to write in May 2019.  

I succeeded in publishing Sustainability By NOT Doing and the follow-up Sustainability by Doing - but I failed to get the Sustainability by Planning on Doing post out there!  So, here we are in February, 2021 and I looked at the stub for this post and realized just how forlorn it looked.  Sitting there all by itself!  Let's see if we can make it feel better by giving it a little love!

The Sustainability Triangle

I like the analogy of the three-legged stool to talk about sustainable farming, but some people prefer the "Sustainability Triangle." 

From our perspective, a sustainable farming operation needs to take care of all three points (or sides if you prefer) of the triangle.  There must be care for the environment, for the financial viability of the farm, and for the farm's place in the community of people that interact with it (which includes our own well-being as the caretakers of this farm).  

It is not too terribly hard to see how too much emphasis on any one of these aspects can short-change the others.  For example, if profit is my primary motivation, I will likely exchange some of my well-being in the community or my own personal well-being for more profit.  Or perhaps, I will take short-cuts that deplete the soil and reduce the pollinator population to ensure my profit making venture.  On the other hand, if I make every farming decision based only on environmental or social concerns, I may find that I am rapidly out of business - which means I can no longer make progress on the other two parts because I can no longer operate the farm!

Things We Don't Do Review

In the first post of our series, we highlighted some of the things we have chosen specifically NOT to do at the Genuine Faux Farm and the logic that drove us to those decisions.  

The three things we highlighted in that post were:

  1. No plastic mulch
  2. No pesticides
  3. We do not pre-pack CSA shares

We won't revisit the logic for each here as you can go to the original post to see that.  But, I will tell you that we continue to stand by our decisions to avoid using plastic mulch and to eschew (ah! what a fun word!) pesticides.  On the other hand, we no longer do CSA shares - so that one is now a moot point.  But, I am pretty sure if we did CSA shares, we would still adhere to that as it was a sound decision for our farm.

Review of Some Things We Do

The second post of the series focused on things we do at the Genuine Faux Farm and the logic behind those decisions.  Again, you can go to the post for the background and logic behind those decisions.

  1. Re-using and re-purposing what we can
  2. Using renewable and natural resources when possible
  3. Balancing farm use of our land with natural spaces
  4. Local sales and connections
  5. Charging what food is worth
  6. Always seeking to improve

The first of this set is the one with the most tension because there are many times when re-use and re-purposing takes a great deal of time and effort.  And, as we just mentioned in yesterday's installment - time is our most valuable resource.   We do our best to re-use and re-purpose, but there are times when that is the wrong answer. 

The others also require fine distinctions - which is unlike our first list where we just say we are not doing something... period.  For example, nature would probably be happiest if we did our best to put it back into a natural state and left it to itself, but then there would be no farm.  So we work to find that proper ratio of wild and tamed areas at the Genuine Faux Farm.

And then there are...

The Things We Planned To Do - and Did!

 Solar Panels

The interesting thing about this that some of the things we were planning on writing about in 2019 have a different status now.  For example, we actually managed to get the solar project completed on our farm that we had been dreaming about even before the Genuine Faux Farm was a real thing.  

Putting up the solar panels is, in our mind, a net "win" for the environment.  We are certainly aware that solar panels require natural resources to build, etc.  But, overall, our research seemed to indicate this was going to be a good thing.  From a financial standpoint for our farm, it will likely be a net loss in the short term with it slowly balancing out over time.  So, we had to consider the cost on the economic corner of the triangle and whether it could justify the gain on the environmental corner.  But, we also considered that there is also a gain on the "social" corner as well, which helped to sway our decision.

After over one year of production, the solar panels are more than covering the farm's electrical use and we continue to find ways to convert other power uses to the electric power this system generates.

Honey Bees

We were also going to talk about a foray into bee keeping.  The plan was to maintain a hive in 2019 and then expand to two in 2020.  Believe it or not, we actually succeeded in that project as well.  Now - we have yet to see if our bees survived this Winter.  But, we intend to continue with this project in 2021.

The key components for this decision were primarily economic and environmental.  We were not intending to gather and sell honey, so there was not going to be a direct income to offset the expense the honeybees were going to incur for our farm.  We were looking at some economic offset by hoping the pollinator services would help offset the decline of natural populations of pollinators in our area.  

We were concerned the introduction of non-native bees to our landscape might hurt those native populations further.  So, we did a fair amount of reading on how honey bees may impact the workers we already had on the farm.  Once we were fairly certain that we had plenty of habitat for all interested pollinator workers, we went ahead with the project.

It turns out that there was a social aspect because it drew even more positive attention to the farm and set some examples we think were good ones for those we know sometimes look at what we do here.  But, even more important is the social aspect that covers the health and well-being of the farmers themselves.  We enjoyed having the bees around and they reinvigorated our interest and enjoyment of the farm itself.  And, as it turns out, we did gather some honey for ourselves simply as a part of hive maintenance.  I know we'll be sad when we consume the last jar in the next few weeks.  But, wow!  It has been so good!

Other Projects

We also planned on reintroducing the use of grass mulch and increasing the use of cover crops on the farm.  The grass mulch idea also came to fruition in 2019 with good success in a wet year and decent success last year as well.  We did better with cover crops last year, but that one is an ongoing battle because every season is just different enough that we have to keep adjusting.  Case in point, our late attempt at lentils showed a good deal of promise in 2020, so we expect to do more with them in 2021.

What's Next?

It's great to be able to look at some of our past decisions and be able to still say that we think we're doing a decent job of supporting our farm's Sustainability Triangle.  This is supposed to be a positive post, so I won't go into things that I am not as happy about.  But, that's the whole point.  The triangle requires continuous maintenance to keep it balanced.  

During this off-season Tammy and I have been working very hard to plan for things that deal with an imbalance in the "Social" corner of the triangle.  It should be no surprise that some of the social things actually stem from doing an even better job with environmental balances on the farm - while still maintaining a healthy financial outlook (both for our farm individually and how our farm balances with the larger economy).  The biggest issue continues to be how we maintain our own personal mental and physical health so we can continue to make the Genuine Faux Farm go.

 Perhaps our plans for 2021 will cause us to write a 4th installment to this series?  Odds are pretty good that will happen.  But, like this post, you just never know when!

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