Our move to the country was motivated by a desire to create a sustainable farm, meaning that it would work in tandem with our environment to enliven and enrich for generations, hopefully serving as an example for others to do the same. It’s a long process to attain that goal.
Sustainability isn’t just about one aspect of life. Most people think of sustainability as putting up solar panels or wind generators or organically growing produce. While those are all pieces of sustainable living, they are certainly not the totality of it. To truly create anything sustainable it is necessary to have a holistic approach addressing the environmental, economic, and community effects of what you are doing and make sure those effects are positive overall, are cost effective, and can continue long into the future. With that in mind we have key interconnecting goals that we are constantly working for.
Produce Renewable sources of food & farm products
Alpacas produce great fiber for clothing and other goods, as you’ve seen in our store. The fiber itself is naturally hypoallergenic. It doesn’t contain lanolin or anything else that requires the harsh chemicals needed to prepare it for use, is durable, an excellent insulator, is soft and comfortable to wear, and it is versatile. It is sustainable in nature partly because the alpacas constantly produce it, but also because of the alpaca itself.
Alpacas are very efficient animals and make use of a relatively small amount of land. It is possible to raise 10 alpacas on 1 acre of pasture. Further, unlike many other pasture herds, they are relatively kind to their pasture due to the way they forage, they shear the grass they are eating rather than pull it up, and owing in no small part to their padded feet, unlike the hooves of others that routinely tear the ground up. Our alpacas have a few acres of pasture and while they don’t damage the pasture, we further maintain pasture health further by fencing off sections and rotating the herd through each section.
Alpacas do require supplemental grain, but the cost of this per alpaca is about the same as feeding a pet dog. Similarly, alpacas make efficient use of water, allowing costs to be kept down and conserving a resource that life requires. Lastly, alpaca manure helps to make a great compost to be used in growing the vegetable garden. Thanks to our alpacas we maintain a decent sized compost pile, allowing us to naturally enrich the soil of our large garden. Keeping the soil healthy is the key to sustainable growing of fruits and vegetables, and we accomplish this in a few key ways- crop rotation, measured use of organic compost, and the labor of weeding.
We are proud that we have never used any chemical weeding or insecticides in our garden and never will. This requires more effort, but the end result is food that we are confident is truly healthy.
With healthy soil comes a variety of healthy vegetables. Having a diverse crop helps keep the soil healthy, provides for different nutritional requirements, and is insurance against some crop failure or some market devaluation. Nurturing a diverse crop also keeps a wide variety of food locally sourced, cutting down on the transportation, fuel, and emission expenses of shipping food across the country. We also have a small fruit orchard with apple, pear, plum, and cherry trees. The diversity of these fruit trees allows for fruit to be harvested in more than one season and with proper care provides for generations.
Our free range chickens have 2 important jobs in helping us to be sustainable- they provide eggs for consumption (eggshells for the compost), and they keep the pest insect and tick population down around the entire farm. Having the chickens free range also helps keep the feed cost down, helps to fertilize some of the plants as they walk around, and allows for a cleaner (and easier to clean) chicken coop. Finally, we have invested in apiaries for bee keeping, providing honey for our use but more importantly maintaining enough pollinators to ensure that our crops produce. In order to help the bees survive and thrive after the winter we delay mowing until after the dandelions have bloomed for a while and other flowers are starting to bloom, so that when the bees start foraging again they have something to harvest for themselves. We strongly encourage everyone to do the same for the bees in your area.
Renewable Energy Use
There has been a spotlight on renewable energy sourcing as sustainable because generally renewable energy sources have little to no emissions to pollute the air and contribute to the carbon content of the atmosphere (which is increasing the rate of climate change) and, in the long run, decrease energy costs. Both are important when considering how sustainable any enterprise is. Our first renewable energy project was a geothermal HVAC system.
When we bought our farm it had an oil burning hot water radiant system and a few electric baseboard heaters. We wanted to get rid of the oil burning system to get away from the expense and pollution of fossil fuel use, and after getting the funds together, we installed the geothermal system last year to provide for heating, air conditioning, and hot water using the natural constant temperature in the earth. After a year of operating the geothermal system and measuring what the electric usage is with that we plan on either a solar or wind electric generating system (or possibly a combination system using both). By switching to these energy systems we cut back on use of fossil fuels, decrease emissions, and, in the long term, decrease energy costs, enabling a long term, hopefully multi-generational, life to the farm.
Conservation and Efficient Use of Water
Water is life. It is one of our most precious natural resources and in recognition of that fact we are resolved to using it efficiently, keeping it clean through its entire cycle, and conserving it for future generations. Agriculture uses an immense amount of water in order to successfully maintain a high crop yield. Our plans to mitigate this is to collect rain (and snow over the winters) in rain barrels to help with irrigation of the produce garden. We are also in the process of redesigning our home’s gutter system to drain into the house cistern for washing water and irrigation. Conservation is also achieved by managing the nutrients feeding our crops. We don’t overuse the compost we use on the crops, limiting the nutrients that saturate the ground and drain through the groundwater into streams and lakes, keeping the water cleaner and reducing algal blooms that can lead to toxicity of water down the line, thus preserving ecosystems along the streams and lakes in the area.
Conservation of unused land for forests
About 2 acres of our farm can be considered woods and we are planting more trees as we progress. The sugar maples will eventually produce further product for us to sell, but the woods provide important functions for us besides. First and foremost the trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. It is admittedly a small amount when one considers the needs of the world at this point, but if we can encourage more farms to join in an effort of planting unused or unusable portions of their land with woods then our combined efforts may help to mitigate the effects of climate change. The taller trees act as a buffer for the higher winds we experience, sheltering the herd and the farm buildings from potential damage. The woods provide shelter for a small population of other wildlife, all of whom have important roles to play in our ecosystem.