A lot of the communal knowledge that we used to inherit about growing food and providing for ourselves, our families and our community has been lost. As a result, moving back toward that kind of lifestyle can be quite overwhelming. It requires changing the rhythms of life, reprioritizing things and learning new skills. All of that can be rather paralyzing. So, many of us stare out at our backyards and shame ourselves for not doing more.
Sometimes, we just need a little help getting started and, in our opinion, the most important first step is having a well thought out plan. That's why we put so much emphasis on both design and patience in execution. One of the most difficult and counter-cultural shifts we have to make if we're going to get involved with land is realizing that things take a long time.
Our pigs will take 6-8 months to get to market weight. Our food forest will take 6 years to be fully established. Our water harvesting systems will take about 5 years before they are completed. Our bees take at least one year before they have available honey, if they survive. Making healthy soil will take our lifetime. I say all this to say, stuff takes time, so don't stress.
Start by simply watching your property in all seasons. Where does the water flow? Where does the sun hit at various points in the year? In fact, don't do anything to your property until you've been paying attention to it for at least a year. Then you can start to make a plan that includes areas for peace, play and productivity.
We can really kill ourselves by diving headlong with missionary zeal into unproductive work that will leave us unsatisfied. You should start with design. Here are just a couple of the many reasons this is a very good idea:
1. Design Helps You Prioritize Work
We waste a lot of time doing the wrong things. Having a design and plan of attack helps us not get stressed about things not getting done that are simply not priorities. It also helps save labor and keep us from doing things wrong and having to redo them.
Allison and I (with the help of some friends) included a particular type of garden bed in our property that is quite challenging to build. We will post about that sometime, but it took a lot of labor and about 15 truck loads of logging debris and some 40 yards of manure and will take another many of soil before it's done. Many times when we were building them, Allison would say "Is this right" and I would say "Looks like it." Well, we put the logs and debris in place, spent many hours on it, and then realized that we had placed them incorrectly if we wanted to maximize water-flow. So we had to move them. We made a rookie mistake because we were impatient.
2. Maximize Resources.
Some things are obviously more expensive to pull off than others. And some take more labor or energy. By designing your approach you can be strategic about how you use available resources and what you will have to save for or rethink because of various constraints.
3. Maximize the Property Potential
When we don't take the time to think through why we are doing what we are doing objectively and with reference to everything else we are doing, we diminish our property's potential. A well designed balcony can often produce more food than a poorly designed back yard.
Most of us don't want our entire yard to be vegetables either, so taking the time to integrate the productive aspects of your property with areas for peace and play really takes your space to the next level.
4. Integration Creates Sustainability
The only way to really reach sustainability is to have a system with integrated components that feed each other. We want to get places to a point of having a positive energy audit. Meaning, they produce enough to feed back into the system and have a surplus on top of that. This is possible, but requires a lot of thought about how each element on your property interacts with each other element.
So there are a couple reasons you should start with design. Consider taking one of our classes if you are interested in designing your own space, or consider having us design it with you!