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I'd like to thank those readers who wrote to me asking for more information about small-scale restoration farming. My advice is usually the same: Look for level land in a poverty stricken county that has been trashed and overgrazed, has utilities in place, has ground water, rainfall, and moderate weather. Such property can be cleaned up and the fertility restored with little expense or labor, although that will take time. For a high-tech urban dweller, that means the place is only useful as a private vacation spot.

I saw a perfect place on the western slope of the Olympic Mountains recently. Ten acres in a flat spot on a valley floor beside a year-round creek, covered in weeds from overgrazing, a trashed doublewide, junk and garbage scattered around, the kind of place a spouse might condemn on sight. What I saw was restorable land with utilities in place in an excellent spot for a vineyard. I would pick up the trash, give the mobile home away, remove the cross fencing, hire a guy or rent a tractor to disc it down, sow in clover, and forget it for a season. With nothing to steal showing, I'd use it as my personal campground (I live in an old motor home) once or twice a year, bring up the fertility, and get up to speed on viniculture.

A person could plant ten acres in commercially valuable timber and more or less forget about it for 20 years. Or a person could divide the space into woodlot, garden, and orchard, which means a bit more on-site work. Or a person could add a greenhouse and raise something exotic for sale. More work, and now somebody has to live there, maybe a four-hour drive from the money-tree. But what about livestock?

We drive along and see cattle lolling around a pasture, and maybe we think that's a way to go. Raise your own meat! Sorry to disappoint anybody, but that's no way to go on a small property. Animals are high-risk and high-maintenance, whether we're talking about cattle, horses, sheep, goats, or pigs. Animals do not respect enclosures and try to break them down to escape. Animals are dangerous and unpredictable; I've seen serious injuries inflicted by all on the list, and two deaths (when I was working in the ER). Livestock absolutely requires on-site management 24/7, lots of food and water, shelter, and a good veterinarian. Oh, and good insurance too, since the owner is liable for escaped animal damage, including car wrecks. Livestock also destroys the land. The idea defeats the purpose. (I would consider free-roaming chickens in a garden for bug control, and honey bees for pollination.)

And what is that purpose? One algorithm goes like this: If the supermarket is running out of everything, then retreat to the farm. But this presupposes some careful planning. If there is nothing on the farm except fertile soil and a hedgerow of trees, a well, septic system, and power pole (not connected), then one immediately needs food, shelter, and tools. A secure storage unit in a nearby town could conceal a lot of goodies, while an old restored travel trailer with solar panels on the roof could serve as an instant cabin. Another algorithm goes: If nothing awful happens, then the land is still there, getting better, awaiting whatever use money will buy in the future. Fertile land is like gold, it's there if you need it, and it's there if you don't.

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Robert Klassen's picture
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Robert Klassen retired from a career in respiratory therapy, and is the author five books, two of which describe a solution to political government.  Please visit his website.