Saturday, December 08, 2007

Nature's Harmony Farm Q&A - Part 2

Yesterday I posted the first part of my question and answer interview with Tim from Nature's Harmony Farm. Today is round two, so dig in and enjoy! Also, I'm going to ask a few follow up questions. If you have any you would like to ask, just comment in the post or shoot me an e-mail.

The Beginning Farmer - What are some of the sources you used when looking for your land?

Nature's Harmony Farm - Our criteria were to be within 2-3 hours of Atlanta and to have at least 50 acres. We used online resources extensively, such as, etc. We knew that we would have to generate some income from home and not have traditional jobs, so we looked at income opportunities such as getting into real estate, etc. We looked into that because everyone says that you can’t make a living just in farming. In the end, we decided to commit ourselves to farming and to find a way to make a living in it once we’re up and running. That requires us to direct market to consumers and restaurants, handle the meat processing and retail cuts and run the farm like a business. That was something that I did understand.

The Beginning Farmer - Do you have an overall plan for your farm as far as livestock, products, or management systems? What are they?

Nature's Harmony Farm - Our plan is to mimic nature as closely as possible. That achieve that, there are three things I want to focus on. 1) a multi-species animal environment, 2) a multi-species grazing environment, and 3) no artificial inputs into those environments.

1) Nature doesn’t raise just one animal. To achieve our goals (which include improving nutrient cycling, increasing topsoil and decreasing parasite loads) we could not have just cows, even if we wanted to. We have to have chickens (or birds) to follow their grazing patterns. It’s nice that a lot of people want farm fresh free range eggs and pastured poultry, and we will attempt to fill this need. But, really, we don’t have a choice. We have to do this to accomplish our larger environmental goals.

2) In our part of the country, lots of people grow Coastal Bermuda or another mono-culture species of hay. Mainly this is for horses. Closer to us, most farmers grow another mono-culture crop, cotton. While I appreciate that and love cotton T-Shirts it’s not exactly the best thing for the soil and requires TREMENDOUS inputs. I’m not interested in advising others what to do, especially people who have far more farming experience than I. However, to meet our objectives, we needed to NATURALLY encourage the growth of a multi-species grazing environment. Largely, this is accomplished by frequently moving animals to fresh grazing areas after they’ve uniformly grazed down the previous area. This is accomplished via portable electric fencing. Before you ask “how is using an electric fence mimicking nature?”, I’d like to suggest that the electric fence plays the role of the predator in nature. It keeps the grazers mobbed together for protection, and keeps them moving. We mimic that behavior.

3) Grazers have thrived LONG before our celebrated chemical creations of the past 60 years. There is nothing that traditional farmers put on their crops that I want in my body. Is it easier to add chemicals? Sure...there are times I’d love to reach for RoundUp. But there are other ways. One way is to mix the animals. Just as we feel the need for chickens to follow the grazers, we feel the need to mix sheep with cattle, as they have different grazing preferences. We may even add goats, although I think we may not need to. Another way is to manage the rotations so that the weeds don’t have a chance to shade out grass and inhibit growth, but rather are mowed down (by the grazers) which stimulates their growth and thickens the sward. Over time, other plant species come back and the goal of a multiplicity of plants should be accomplished. When it is, the animals will be able to thrive, and we’ll all be happier. All it takes is some patience and the ability to get out of the way.

Another thing we believe in and that we think is sorely missing is complete transparency. Anyone is welcome to visit our farm and see exactly how their food is being raised and what they are eating. We have nothing to hide, everything to share and lots to learn.

The Beginning Farmer - What are some of your short term goals and do you plan to work off farm for a while?

Nature's Harmony Farm - We will work off farm some for one year. Actually, I’m not sure we have to, but agreed to get the farm going, market some products in 2008 and commit ourselves full-time to the farm thereafter. We have already had more requests for product than we will likely be able to fulfill in 2008. So, why aren’t we fully committing ourselves to the farm? Because we must resist the short-term temptation to just “sell product”. I could probably sell a lot of grass fed beef next year, but if I did and culled too many cows, then how would I establish the size herd that our land needs for the above mentioned goals, and to supply the demand that will come in 2009 and beyond? We have more flexibility with pork and chicken, given the size of litters and/or length of time to harvest, so we’ll probably emphasize those products more this year. But it is important to keep in mind our larger ecological goals and not give in to the temptation to make a buck. I mean, if we were all about “making a buck”, I would have stayed in the corporate world.

**If you would like to read part one of this interview click here. Also, don't forget to check back next week for some follow up questions.**


John said...

Ethan, here is my question, after reading their archives for a few hours...

Tim, you made a pretty big cultural change from having a high-tech career and income to farming. Looks like this kicked off in earnest in 2007 and will be in full motion in 2009. What do you miss from that former way of life? What did you do right? What would you do differently if you had to do it again?

The reason I ask is that we just bought the land, with no house, no utilities, no fencing. We are selling our house in Texas and moving to Illinois. We plan to live on the farm in our camper while we construct the new house this next summer. I will keep my high tech job for a while (all I need is telephone and internet access) until we are debt free, then I will retire. Hopefully in a year to 18 months.

So, reading your blog, Tim, it looks like we are on the same path as you. Any advice?

Devin Rose said...

Ethan and Tim, thank you for this interview: It is very encouraging and cool to read about how and why you are getting into farming.

I have a question: I have read Joel Salatin's books as well, and I recall in You Can Farm, he recommends first leasing land and gaining experience for some number of years, then after that buying a plot of land, that way you know what to look for better, have experience without having sunk a lot of money into land, etc.

So why did Tim buy land right away instead of leasing it?

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