17 Nov Tiny farms on a large scale
by Ryan Meiring
Allan Savory’s theories and beliefs developed and evolved over a lifetime in the field were met, for many years, with resistance. It wasn’t until his TED talk went viral that the scientific community really started to take notice and that his principles for holistic management began to gain traction.
One of theses principles is using livestock to regenerate the soil. The underlying philosophy is based on mimicking the natural movement patterns of large herds on the plains. Ruminants have a very special way of processing grass and if we intensively control graze them they will keep the grasses in their rapid growth state, fertilising the land in the process. Herbivores naturally herd close together and move continuously to avoid predation and, in so doing do not overgraze. Somewhat counterintuitively, Savory proposes putting more livestock on the land rather than reducing numbers in areas of mass erosion or where desertification has taken hold. The key is management. In order to emulate the natural movement patterns on a smaller scale, more intensive programs are required to ensure that the natural balance is maintained.
The smaller you, go the more intensively you need to manage. The moment we put up the first fence we created a barrier to natural movement that affected the carrying capacity of the two new individual pieces of subdivided land. There appears to be a correlation between the amount of restriction and the amount of management required. The more you restrict, the more intensively you need to manage.
The caveat is that the fences are not coming down any time soon and the smaller we can go, the more inclusive and local we can make food production. We have, as a society, subdivided and fenced every arable plot or section of land in the suburban areas surrounding our highly populated cities. These tracts of land have the highest potential to provide food to our growing urban populations without incurring the usual environmental food miles. So although the line between regenerating soil and eroding soil becomes finer the smaller we try and farm livestock, it may be worth us trying to figure out how to overcome the management challenges.
Coupled with this is the growing consumer need to know where their food comes from and how it is produced. Imagine not just local food but hyper-local food. How satisfying to be part of a system where your land and efforts contribute in an integral way to the production of the food that ends up on your plate.
More and more people are becoming disillusioned with the overuse of technology and the constant distraction of screens and social media and are desperately looking to find ways to reconnect their families to things that are real. Growing up close to animals and understanding the cycle of life can help children better understand and respect all life, including other people and species.
Animal wellbeing is a heated topic and one that has spurred on a burgeoning vegan movement. This is not without validity as feedlots and other industrial means of producing the vast majority of meat consumed are a major contributor to the notion that our current food system is broken. Animals can only be a number in a system that is about volume and scale. In a decentralised model, individual animals are known personally and cared for individually. An animal on a smaller regenerative farm only has one bad day in its life.
People not willing to wait for change at a government or policy level are looking to become more self-reliant on their own terms and in some cases individuals have gone “off grid” and are homesteading. While these are inspirational stories, farming for survival is just not something that the general populace can risk. Generally, people that are genuinely interested are those that have invested significant years in a career and way of life that is very difficult to give up. Picture the executive who has forged out a career in a large global firm. After twenty years of dedicated and focussed commitment, he is the expert in his space and he’s been able to provide his family with an affluent life.
What if we could help the executive shift his family life closer towards one of production and away from one of consumption without costing him his career or drastically changing his current way of life? What if we could help him convert his suitable land into a more biodiverse environment while at the same time providing his family with wholesome and healthy produce?
“Tiny Farms on a large scale” is a project aimed at testing how far the envelope can be pushed with respect to farming livestock while maintaining an ecological balance. The Plug n Play Farm product provides the animals, tools, staff and management, while the clients provide the land and inputs like water and additional feed.
The project farms on their behalf and regenerate and build the soil on their land. Their children grow up closer to natural systems better understanding the cycle of life. Clients receive 10% back on the production off their own property in actual grass fed lamb, free range eggs and raw honey on an annual basis. In effect, we are helping the client create liquidity on his or her property asset that would otherwise be tied up until that property was sold. The project then ensures the balance of produce is sold as freshly and locally as possible.
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Ryan Meiring is Founder of Big Inja Farming