Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What Is Permaculture?

This question seems to taunt both aspiring and experienced permies alike and most of the time the answers I hear people give fumbles the ball. At least in my opinion.

Most peoples first impression of permaculture colours all their future views of it either positively or negatively. Some enter through urban permaculture where it seems mostly like a bunch of fancy gardening techniques. Some enter from a traditional large scale agriculture background and see it as a bunch of hippy ideas without a solid business plan. Some enter it as big eyed idealists that grab onto it as a silver bullet that will hopefully save humanity, proven or not.

The honest truth is that permaculture is all of these things and none of these things. When faced with most questions, a curious person asks about how permaculture relates to their specific situation, the cliche answer tends to be "It depends". What this answer really means is that when designing using permaculture, there isn't a recipe. The more factors that are taken into account,the better design it will ultimately be.

The problem is that this answer is ultimately unsatisfying to the person that asked the question. So I've been searching for a simpler and more concise answer than just "it depends" or the alternative hour long lecture involving an extensive history lesson. What I've come up with is "It's a design philosophy that aims to reintegrate humans into their ecosystem". If I lead with that answer to what permaculture is, following up with the specific questions with "it depends" has a natural tag of "if it meets the overall goal of integrating you into an ecosystem."

For example;
Q: "Can I do or use <anything> in my permaculture design."
A: "Yes, as long as it meets the overall goal of integrating you into an ecosystem. Each designer and user of a permaculture system gets to decide what meeting that goal ultimately looks like though. Therefore, it depends"

For 500 Year Farm that means creating a successful, regenerative and ecological business I can be proud of and hand down to the next generation.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Fun Day Program

This post is a continuation of the post "Dreaming Big" please read that to get the context behind this post.

Not everything on the farm has to be educational or work. Play is an important part of a healthy life and I want that sense of fun and wonder to be a strong part of the farm too. So, during this planing stage I've been coming up with ideas for fun events that could be done at the farm that would also keep the farm afloat and moving towards the ultimate goal.

  1. Archery - Let me just say I love shooting a bow. It feels like it's satisfying something very primitive in me. I also find the challenge and focus very relaxing. I suffer from anxiety and this is one of the ways to relieve some of that. I plan on covering more about my coping mechanisms and how they will relate to the farm in a future post. I think an archery range could be a permanent feature on the farm.
  2. Youth theme days - Summers are ripe for finding fun things for the liberated child to do and the possibilities on a farm are almost endless. Once we have horses we can easily do a fun filled Western Day with hay rides, horseback riding and a cook-out. In fact most historical periods could be tuned into a theme where activities could be put together that are fun, informative, creating and educational for children. I grew up around the Wheat Ridge Historical Society and have been participating in demonstrations of early American life since I could crawl on a blanket.
  3. Adult fun days - these could be themed like the youth fun days or based more around fellowship with other like minded people. Things such as local artisanal wine and cheese tastings or a local foods pot luck. Tons of possibilities.
  4. Family fun days - Something that is fun for the whole family should be given attention. Having lasting quality family time and experiencing something unique can last a lifetime and influence people more than any corporate advertising ever could.
    1. In the winter I've always dreamed of doing a holiday event including a  sleigh ride with hot chocolate and carols and all that sappy stuff I can't get enough of. It's the stuff I've dreamt about since I was a little aspiring farmer.
    2. A spring family fun day could be a geo-located scavenger hunt around the farm. I've actually done quite a bit of research on this as I had the idea of self guided farm tours early on. I think spending the day going from place to place and reading something fun and/or educational could be a fantastic family experience. The great thing about making it digital is that it can be customized based on you families ages so everyone gets something out of it.
    3. A great heat of the summer activity would be a water fight day, I don't have any idea why there aren't places you can go to have a good ol' fashioned water fight but it's a tragedy to the whole human race that there isn't. A friend of mine suggested even doing water refill stations with ecologically friendly and not toxic dyes of different colours for even more fun factor.
    4. For fall, a harvest festival is a time honoured farm tradition that would be a crime to break. Of course there would have to be a 500 year farm spin to it.
I could spend all day writing and dreaming about my ideas but I think that gives the gist of what I'm thinking.

I'd love to hear what you think, so please drop a comment.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Farm Work Program

Recently Paul Wheaton has posted a series of Podcasts where he has very candidly discussed the difficulties in dealing with people volunteering to work on his farm project in exchange for food and lodging. In addition a friend of mine went with his wife on a trip to go Woofing on two different farms. Their feedback has given me a lot to think about and plan for how I should deal with this on my farm.

The issues I intend to address with my program are thus;

  1. Getting farm work done without it being more of a burden on me than a benefit.
  2. Allow people who just want to visit or learn have that opportunity.
  3.  Let very motivated people have the opportunity to make a little income by working above and beyond.
  4. Prevent people who don't complete work or worse, don't do any work, from hurting the farm and the community around it. (Without just kicking them out)
  5. Let people with specific diets choose to eat or not without it being perceived as an unfair system.
I think the best way to keep people honest is to have a pay for services used and get paid for services you provide system. I think if you just want to do enough work to cover your expenses and learn a few things, the money should work out to a wash. If you don't want to do work then you should pay for expenses your presence causes. If you want to work on the farm as a career, even a low paying one, you should be allowed that opportunity.

All that being said, I'm not looking to make a bunch of money for the farm off a work program, the money is mostly there to keep people honest. If no one who is staying on the farm signs up to work, no big deal they just pay for the time their presence costs me. Simple.

First, the issue of lodging.

I feel this should be handled quite simply using AirBnB.

Keeping with my theme of not reinventing the wheel when it comes to doing things if I don't have to, I'd rather just let the professionals handle the lodging end of it. I can add a security deposit and they have a dispute resolution system so I can possibly get paid if they just show up and trash the place.

If you are just looking to do a little agrotourism, no biggy, just don't sign up to do any farm work.

If you want to do farm work but don't want to stay at the farm, no biggy, they are kept separate for a reason.

Second, the issue of food.

Keeping with the theme of only paying for the services you actually use, I will use a Google form system to allow people to choose the meals they are interested in eating on the farm with a set menu provided for each day in advance of their visit. That means there will be a fee for each meal and you choose to either eat the meal on that date or provide for yourself. A week or two prior notice would be required so supplies can be purchased and help in prep and cooking can be arranged.

This should allow people with allergies, diet restrictions and alternate food lifestyles to pick and choose meals and not feel unfairly treated when there isn't an option that meets their particular diet.

All meal fees will be paid in advance of your stay on the farm.

Third, Skilled work.

If you want an opportunity to learn and work on a specific area of the farm that requires some skill, such as caring for the chickens. A way to deal with the issue of people who want to learn but don't want to do the work needs addressed. Therefore any on farm work that requires a specific skill set will only be available for you to work if you have taken a class in that area through the farms educational program. After that, any work done in these areas will be paid either per project or per day.

If after taking the class, the work you perform is deemed to be unsatisfactory, then you will not be allowed to work in that area without special permission or retaking the class.

Again a Google form would be used to find out what work you are interested in and what classes you would need to take to do them. A few weeks to a month before your stay you will be sent a confirmation that you have been assigned that work and the classes will be available. This allows me to delegate the work evenly among the people who are on the farm that day and give you a chance to plan out your visit.

A web page with some general info on what the work will be like, what the expectations are, what constitutes completion of the work, how many hours the work will take, and what you should bring with you will be provided for each work area you've expressed interest in.

Fourth, Unskilled work.

If you don't want to have to take a class to cover the cost of your stay there will be farm chores made available to you. These chores won't be glamorous of course but without someone doing them I won't have to ability to scale the work program. These would be chores like, hauling material, emptying compost, recycling and trash receptacles, meal prep, ect. Not glamorous work but if you want to make the visit profitable or if your plans for doing other farm work don't pan out, it could save you coming up short on the trip.

Again, if the work you perform is deemed to be unsatisfactory, then you will not be allowed to work in that area without special permission or paying to take a remedial chores class where you will be shown how to do a good job at basic life skills.

This would be handled in conjunction with the skilled farm work so that each persons trip can be planned in advance.

Again, a webpage detailing expectations for these duties will be provided.

Fifth, Farm tours.

A weekend farm tour should be offered for people who really want to see the farm and ask all their burning questions about how everything works and why. This would take a couple hours and cost a nominal fee.

Sixth, Building Managers and Teachers.

For those that want to transition to a more permanent role in the farm, after so many hours at a specific work area and pending approval you would be offered the opportunity to either teach the classes, collecting the fee paid by the students, or become a manager and take over scheduling duties for that part of the farm.

This allows me to hand pick the hard workers to take over programs so I can build another.

So what would a few weekend scenarios look like?

Scenario One: The tourist;

You just want to visit the farm.

$10 for a campsite + ($5 per meal x 3 meals a day) + $15 Site Deposit that you get back because you were a cleanly guest.

$5 to take the farm tour.

$55 per person for a weekend stay with home cooked meals and a nice personal farm tour. Not a bad way to spend a weekend.

Scenario Two: The learner;

You want to learn some, work some, and cover your stay.

$25 per day for food and lodging.
$25 for a chicken care class.
$5 farm tour.

$80 charged for a weekend stay.

Paid $20 per day for two days to care for the chickens.
Paid $5 per day to help with trash duties.
Paid $5 per meal to help clean up.

$40 for taking care of the chickens.
$30 for helping clean up after each meal.
$10 for helping with trash at the end of the day.

$80  Paid for a weekend of work.

Scenario Three: The hard working cheapskate.

You surf a nearby friends couch, eat granola bars for every meal, and only take the chicken care class.

$25 charged for the weekend.

Paid $20 per day for two days to care for the chickens.
Paid $5 per day to help with trash duties.
Paid $5 per meal to help clean up.

$80  Paid for a weekend of work.

You walk away with a cool  $55 in your pocket.

Scenario Four: The burn out.

You have it in your head that the Leaner Scenario above is perfect for you but you've never tried anything like it before.

$25 per day for food and lodging.
$25 for a chicken care class.
$5 farm tour.

$80 charged for a weekend stay.

After one day of working with the chickens you decide that farm life isn't for you and you'd rather just hang out for the rest of the stay.

Paid $20 to per day for one day to care for the chickens.

It cost you $60 to learn that farming just isn't for you. You learned a lot and salvaged a nice weekend anyways while eating some decent food with pleasant people.


Any left over money that this program would generate would go back into upgrades to the farms amenities and would thus improve the program as a whole.

I think this system is scalable, equitable and reasonable but I'd like to get any feedback you'd care to provide. Post a comment bellow.