Slow Farming, Slow Food & Sh*t

One of the many permaculture principles from the literature is: Use Small & Slow Solutions. I was asked to write a small Permaculture Explained back-page article on this for the Permaculture Association members’ newsletter a little while back. The article was not included, which I think is a pity, since most PA members are sufficiently well-versed in sh*t (the topic of the article which was published instead – well, sh*t and compost toilets); you don’t have to wait too long to hear about compost toilets in the permaculture world, whereas practical permaculture approaches to smallholding with livestock are, in my experience and as far as I can see, overlooked in the vast majority of permaculture courses. Not even the substantial, and otherwise comprehensive,  Sustainable Land Use course I attended addressed pasture management and ruminants – despite being held on a ‘demonstration permaculture farm’ with acre upon acre of pasture; with all cooking on the course vegetarian/vegan, it’s perhaps understandable that discussion of meat production was tactfully omitted! Since I took the time to write the piece, though, I might as well publish it – see below.

Re-reading the piece now, one of the lines that deserves development is: Slow Farming for Slow Food. This is a theme that I would like to develop over time; one of the saddest aspects of the modern mainstream Western ‘culture’ is the de-valuation of the eating experience through ‘fast-food’ and ‘TV dinners’ – the beautiful remedy to this exists in the form of the Slow Food movement. One of the most sublime eating experiences we occasionally look forward to is a slow-roasted leg of mutton (after browning, 7 or so hours on a low heat, studded with garlic and rosemary, and with a little red wine to help proceedings!) – although it falls off the bone (fork and spoon to serve), the dark meat has a firm texture and is not fatty like typical lamb – the flavour is amazing – words cannot explain how good this meal is, but we prefer it to any other roasted meat dish – and we have a range of high-quality meats available!

Permaculture and Slow Food are natural bedfellows: both are appreciated by people who care. That phrase in itself – people who care – is something I muse upon now and then; no matter how much information is put out there for people (whether it concerns a food supply riddled with agro-chemical toxins, the downside of allowing children too much screen-time instead of active engagement and exercise, or any other sad aspects of contemporary Western ‘culture’) people have to care about the issues – and about the impact on their and their ‘loved ones’ lives to act on the information. Reigning this in a little (mild rant over), this plays out in the difficulty in engaging people in the merits of organic food and the ever-increasing dangers from toxic (especially heavily-processed) food with little or no nutritive value. As any producer of organic/natural food knows all too well, relatively few people care enough about what they put in their mouths to change their shopping and eating habits. As well as fighting for a share of the ‘people who care’ market, I try to build this market a little by including an educational message as part of my marketing – but to be honest I sometimes think that I might as well be talking (in strange gibbering tongues) about men in the moon for as much impact as this makes! Still, as long as there are a few customers who care – and there are, thankfully – then the game is worth the candle. So, after a meandering introduction, here is the article (most of it reflects material found elsewhere on my website, but it was intended for a permaculture audience less familiar with smallholding, but who might be interested in how permaculture might be applied):

Permaculture Explained: Use Small & Slow Solutions

As a smallholder, most, if not all of my activities and projects are slower and smaller compared to mainstream farms: from the bicycle commute to and from the holding to my recent adaptation of Yeomans’ Keyline Scale of Permanence (KSOP) for smaller land projects. My holding’s development has been steadily-paced: even after the 12 months observation period I did not want to commit to lots of permanent fencing, so when I needed sub-divisions for rotational grazing paddocks I used portable electric fencing; coupled with a wide-spaced grid of wooden fencing stakes, this system has been extremely flexible as well as effective. I have been able to change paddock size, shape and arrangement many times for various reasons – electric fencing also protects apple trees from grazers. I have found ‘slow and small’ to be complemented by ‘flexible’ and ‘adaptable’.

My livestock, being primitive breeds, are smaller than ‘improved’ commercial types: more manageable and easier on the land. The Shetland sheep and Dexter cattle are renowned for their thriftiness, hardiness and the quality of the produce. They grow slowly on pasture, and my system takes advantage of this: late lambing in May means plenty of pasture for milk production (and better weather!), and since there is no rush to ‘finish’ lamb in the first year, the ‘hogget’ get a second spring and summer of pasture without the need for any grain-based supplements – the mutton comes from animals that have had a year or two more grazing Spring and Summer Pasture: Slow Farming for Slow Food.

Using hand rather than power tools means that some tasks, e.g., digging swales and other land-works, take longer – implementation is slow and steady, not big-bang/big-budget. I rely on niche marketing: small volumes of good quality produce sold at the village market and through direct sales, and have been slowly building up a group of regular customers.

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