As I considered becoming a new farmer last winter, I saw the many challenges that I could face taking on this new career. Long days, physically demanding labor, dealing with pests, broken machinery, and a difficult market. However, like many of my farmer colleagues, I want to provide healthy food and medicine, support my community, and work on the land.
Regenerative practices on small-scale organic farms help build healthy soil and healthy plants, but one a fragile component to farming is the reliance on fossil fuels and grid power to keep things running. If power is lost at the wrong time, farmers can quickly start to lose their produce along with all the time and money spent on soil preparation, seeds, irrigation and harvest.
Unfortunately, the cost of setting up an alternative power source for this scenario is often prohibitive, especially for a farm business. Reducing reliance on fossil fuels in agriculture is even a bigger hurdle to overcome, but I love the idea of a solar powered electric tractor – coming soon.
Every farm uses energy to grow, process and store goods to be sold. It’s proving to be a challenge to find a source for an off grid, low voltage heated table to germinate seeds, an affordable DC furnace blower for the heated greenhouse, a pump for my irrigation systems, heat lamps for livestock, and cold storage for produce. All of this farm infrastructure comes at an extra cost, is more complex to set-up, and some of the appliances I need are difficult to find.
Why do it? I have big dreams. I hope to be one of the early adopters of using renewable energy in farming – both by building an off grid system and by taking the time to design both infrastructure and plant systems to reduce the need for energy in the first place. Forest garden design for example, aims to work with nature by creating habitat for beneficial critters, building healthy soil, and incorporating native plants into the food system. These perennial food and medicine gardens create resilience against the pressures of climate change by working with nature and just like a natural system, having the ability to ‘bounce back’ if damaged.
Can an energy system provide that same reliability? Starting a farm is hard enough, but I believe that an off-grid farm is possible, even with the additional challenges this endeavor creates. The challenge is now, but what about the future?
Estelle is a gardener, homesteader, plant enthusiast, medicine-maker, and community educator, who owns and operates Understory Farm & amp; Design. Estelle has many years of experience working with communities to grow food, conserve land, and restore ecology and hopes to use her skills to bring nutrient dense food and high quality herbs into the local food system. Estelle will be offering a workshop at the upcoming ACORN conference on edible and medicinal perennial plants for the farm and garden.
Find her on Facebook and Instagram: @understoryfarmanddesign
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