Sunday 7 February 2016

Interview With a Future Farmer

This is an old post from an old blog but I like it so I want it here. (updated contact info)


My friend Adrienne agreed to ask me some questions so I could sort out my thoughts on the whole farm idea in a way that isn't just an info dump.

Thanks for talking to me about your plans I've also been interested in the farm life. How long have you been planning this, and what sort of time-line are you looking at?

I've been planning this for my whole adult life but most of the time I've been struggling to make ends meet and for a few years I was supporting a partner who was using me for my meagre paycheck. He's been out of my life since 2011 and it's taking a while to get back on my feet. I now have a wonderful S.O. named Megan and I started dating my O.S.O. Eric this past autumn. Eric also has a dream of a farm; it's one of the things that drew me to him.

I'm now starting to get super focused and I was trying to figure out why I was content to putter along last year and not work towards my dream. I think it was because I figured Megan wasn't coming with me. I was thinking she'd be with her current job for many more years and also that she would not choose to leave London because she's lived here for so long. She has however become so fed up with her boss and the Ontario winters that she's considering applying at businesses in BC, right near where I want to farm so my fears were unfounded.

Whether Megan goes to BC this year, or stays in London Ontario with me, I'm going to move this spring to somewhere inexpensive, work on saving up a down payment, and work on becoming as healthy as possible. I'm going to need to be fit financially and physically to pull this off. I can have my debts paid off by Spring 2015 and a down payment ready by Spring 2016. From Spring to Fall 2016 I'll find my land and save for the move.

Mom's said she and my little sister might be interested in moving to BC with me, and I'm hoping Eric feels ready by that point because it would be really hard to do everything myself (that and there would be way too much food). Megan might live in the city and visit the farm on the weekend, but she said she's not wholly opposed to living on the farm. It's just one of those things that will have to be decided later.

I'll have to have a "proper" full time job for a few years to get the farm going. Even at min. wage that should be enough to pay the mortgage and property taxes, and after that it may be sufficient to have a small amount of income from farm sources (sales of soap, cheese, milk, eggs, etc) and the odd job.

I think that it is a great plan. I also love the idea of having a dairy farm with the prospect of eggs. I think that is the most lucrative idea. Have you done any farming before?

I have had some minor practise with the care of farm animals and a ton of research since. My goal is to have a piece of land that provides all the necessities for the household (minus ungrowables like rice, salt, and chocolate) and is self sustaining(no outside seeds or fertilisers) plus a small income for land taxes, clothes, and ungrowables. The goal is an extended household (perhaps multi-home) lifestyle that allows community, peace and space/time for personal endeavours. With home and food secure, people have freedom to explore their true interests and I'm excited to see what brings people to life.

Sounds like a hippy commune know but it's not free love and getting wasted I'm looking for. I want community and security and tangible results after a days labour.

You're looking for real peace. That amazing! Are you looking to build your own homes as well?

I had thought about it but that involves even MORE time before actually setting in. I might be interested in a chunk of land with a less than perfect old house with the idea of building a better house later, straw-bale construction has come a long way and I adore the idea of in floor passive heating, but starting with no house is much less appealing because it means living in a trailer til the house is built and trailers cost as much as houses sometimes.

I would like to keep my modern conveniences like washing machine and internet but some of them (like hot water or heating) might be done a different way to be more efficient and less dependent on outside resources. I'm highly interested in the German ceramic stoves and in-floor geothermal options for heating.

I'd like to be on the city water for the convenience and peace of mind but I'd also like a well on the property as a "just-in-case" if (like Walkerton) the city water's no good for a while.

I'd also like to be on the main electric grid but with solar panels, a battery bank, and a Net-Meter so our over-flow can pay for any extra juice we might use on cloudy days and the battery bank means the freezer will not defrost just because someone hit a power station.

So lets say every goes smoothly. How long til you expect the farm to be self-sufficient?

If everything goes smoothly? Hmm... well if I could get one other wage earner partnering with me on this project and adding a portion of their wages as capital to the project, we could be completely set up by 2020. If it's just me and possibly another person who can help with the work but not the money, all the important things like a roof and food would be taken care of, but the stuff that makes it truly self-sufficient (solar panels, aquaponics, etc) may take an extra 5-10 years. I have some friends that may be interested in joining the project but it will just be a matter of time to see if there's 3 people or 9 to start, and 5 or 25 by 2020.

I've found that increasing the number of people on the farm makes the calculations for food and time easier. It takes just as long to feed two chickens as it does to feed twenty, and a cow or even a mini-cow makes WAY too much milk for one person. So if it's just me or just two of us, it's going to be harder and longer to actually get everything done. There's a reason for the saying "many hands make light work".

Wait, Mini-Cow? What kind of exotic animals are you planning on keeping on this farm?

A mini-cow is a special type of breed that's 1/2 the size of a normal cow. The main reasons I'm thinking mini is because cows are HUGE and they produce way more milk than can be reasonably consumed by less than 6 people. At 22 litres a day per cow, even if you make all the "extra" into cheese, butter, and yogurt... you're going to have a lot of spoilage. Getting mini-cows means we can have a few at a time so they're less stressed and less stress equals healthier animals.

Other than the size of the cows I don't think you'd find anything else too exotic. I plan to have chickens for eggs and meat, maybe some ducks for their meat, cows for milk and meat, rabbits for meat and fur, a horse or two to help with the heavy stuff and to provide transportation, a new pig each year to turn food scraps into bacon, cats to catch the rodents that are bound to show up because there's grains, bees in the fields for honey and pollination, and hopefully some fish.

So do the mini-cows come in all the usual breeds? and if so, what breeds would you have?  

Yes they do and I was thinking meat breeds because they give milk too, just not as much. We probably won't need a milk breed because a full sized jersey will give 22L of milk PER DAY, that likely means a mini would produce 10-11L per day! I can't see needing that much milk and if need increases, so can the size of the herd. I need to look up the stats on meat cow milk production because those numbers aren't cemented in my brain. The other option is to breed a dairy cow(for increased milk production) with a meat cow(for fast & furious body weight gain) and wind up with a cross-breed in the freezer.

Don't the different breeds eat different foods?  

Not really, it's mostly genetics. In the industrial farms they do feed the beef cows a high protein diet to increase the production numbers and they feed the dairy cows something else to increase milk production but I don't see that as desirable. Think of human body builders. They eat a TON of high protein foods to help them bulk up, but this isn't necessary and it's debatable if it's healthy. I'd rather have healthy animals than risk their health for the chance to get another pound or ten of beef when they die. Cows are built to eat grasses, leafy greens, and some grain. That's what mine are going to get.

Okay, so you're definitely NOT a vegetarian. Do you think you can handle raising something from a baby just to kill it?

I don't see that being a problem. My animals are going to have a nice, comfortable life and a quick torture-free death. That's a lot better than any factory-farm that serves the grocery stores can claim and I've been eating that meat all my life. I'd be a hypocrite if I could only eat animals someone else killed. That being said, I don't think I'll be doing the butchering of the larger animals for several years. The rabbits and birds I can do with a good knife, but a whole cow(even a mini-cow) is over 400lbs! Until I learn how and get the correct equipment, that's just a bunch of accidents waiting to happen.

You mentioned fish but you're going to be in BC where fresh fish are abundant. Isn't stocking a pond more trouble than it's worth?

I was thinking more along the lines of an aquaponics system in a greenhouse. We may choose to buy fish at the port but I want to have the option of using our own. Not only that but their waste water will be perfect to nourish the greenhouse plants and the duckweed used to feed the fish and birds.

The circle of life. I can see you've done your research.

Yeah, like I said, I've been planning this my whole adult life. I have lapsed into periods of "I'm never gonna get there so why bother" but they haven't lasted more than a few months total.

That whole plan just sounds amazing. How can people follow this story? 

I'll be blogging about this [here].

Well, thanks again for talking to me about your plans and good luck.

Thanks for helping me sort out my thoughts. This was fun.

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