What a crazy winter we've had! Our "hibernation" season of 2015-2016 has been one of growth, change and adaptation. Unfortunately at the end of the year, due to complications with our landlord we lost the lease on our land in Lakewood. A few days later, we were informed by our landlord that the house we were renting in Denver was hitting the market thus removing us from our current living situation as well. After searching and finding few options to continue the type of farming and living we originally set out to accomplish, we've had to reassess with open minds and hearts. Trying not to hold on to what's already gone, we kept keepin' on (poetic, yes but I can't take credit for those beautiful words - Current mood: "My Silver Lining" by First Aid kit).
In January, while searching for options on how to move forward we signed up for a Restoration Agriculture workshop with Mark Shepard at Sylvan Dale Ranch. Both of us are fans of his ideas and beautiful visions for a viable regenerative future for humankind using perennial agriculture to meet the demands for staple crops while simultaneously healing the earth. (If interested, check out his book Restoration Agriculture available here.) It was there where we found inspiration for our next steps. Mark showed particular interest in us, being young farmers with no land and nothing to lose, and invited us to use some of his land at New Forest Farm. So we bought a portable house (one that couldn't be sold from underneath us) and hit the road eastbound for Viola, Wisconsin.
So yes, this IS good news and we are still farming as Ayni Ecological; there's just been a little change in scenery...and climate region...and with that, native plants...and topography.... and social landscape. Hopefully this is testament to our dedication :).
So what are we doing now? And what do our new farming practices look like? I'm tempted to completely geek out and write all about perennial agricultural ecosystems, but I'll try to stick to the basics. At its simplest, this type of farming mimics nature. Our current food system and its staple crops call for extremely high input and low efficiency methods of farming. For example, if cultivating a new piece of land it would require the time, equipment and energy to clear the land of already existing forms of life, tilling and supplemental fertilizers. After those crops have been established, they take watering, weeding, fertilizing and pest control. After all of this, they require machinery to harvest and clear everything out, only to repeat this entire process year after year. But this is just a necessary process to feed the world! ....... or is it? Well you might have guessed it, but the answer is no it isn't.
Let's step out onto the edge of that annual crop field for a second and observe. We see trees, shrubs and an array of wild plants - thriving while requiring none of the maintenance stated above. These perennial plants have all established a thriving ecosystem with no outside inputs. It turns out perennial plants like these can act as alternatives for all our staple crops that provide our grains, carbs and oils. It also happens that the little maintenance crops like these if grown agriculturally would require can be managed by livestock, all of whom have evolved to do these things naturally (pruning, weeding and fertilizing). So there you have it. All of our requirements for proteins, carbohydrates and oils all met by nature just being nature. Some twenty years ago or so, Mark Shepard envisioned a farm modeled after just this. He found a beat up, former cornfield and started planting trees and shrubs on contour with the topography of the land for optimal water management. Hundreds of thousands of them. Now, the place is a thriving commercial scale perennial agricultural ecosystem. The farm still leaves pasture land for grazing and room for annual vegetable beds in between the rows of perennial woody crops called "alleys." This year, Ayni will be filling the needs of the grounds for "maintenance" via livestock and planting some annual crops in the alleys, and we couldn't be more excited!
We dream of one day having our own "forest farm," but are so grateful to have the opportunity to test the waters on a well established one. We're excited to announce we'll be raising some beyond grass-fed beef, pastured heritage turkeys and chickens, vegetables, and medicinal herbs.
We're in for a crazy season of learning. We have felt the heartbreak of leaving so much behind - family, friends, our beautiful urban farm, our home of several years, and the mountains, but we've decided to keep looking further down the road. A month into our time at New Forest Farm, we've already experienced so much beauty and contentment. The peaceful quiet of country living--awaking to birds singing and cotton candy sunrises on the ridge, having nothing to do but go on long walks in the woods, happy dogs with no more fences, playing old time string band tunes, and eating off the land. There is something to be said about going from being the majority species in the city with a squirrel here or there to being the minority surrounded by the buzzing, chirping and quaking of sacred wild life all around us. We've given up some comforts of the life we left behind, but are motivated by the small taste of true freedom which we've merely sampled. We're so grateful and filled with love and excitement for the season to come. I'll try to update as often as I can so we can learn together!
Peace and blessings,